Skip to content Skip to site navigation
Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Wolves are no longer endangered, so go kill some wolves

After almost 40 years on the endangered species list, good news for the American wolf population: The animals are no longer considered endangered. And, therefore, it's once again OK to hunt them. From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration has declared all but two small populations — Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, and red wolves in North Carolina — fully recovered. On Oct. 1, Wyoming will become the fifth state with a significant wolf population to legalize hunting.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe called the wolf comeback “a great success,” but it means that wolves are now fair game, and he noted that not everyone likes the idea of killing them.

“When you look at our friends in the environmental movement, there are a lot of people out there who just don’t like the idea of animals being shot,” Ashe said.

One can assume that as he said "our friends," Ashe rolled his eyes dramatically and made air quotes while nudging the guy standing next to him loading a rifle.

A wolf that you could kill if you want. (Photo by dansapples.)
Read more: Climate & Energy


Romney advisor and oil billionaire Harold Hamm is just a humble patriot

Photo by David Shankbone.

Remember Harold Hamm? Hamm is the billionaire oil executive who serves as an advisor to the Romney campaign while he throws a million bucks or so into a pro-Romney super PAC. He's basically the epitome of the worst of oil industry politics.

He's up on Capitol Hill today, talking to politicians. But, not as an oil man, or a Romney backer, or a Romney advisor, or as a guy whose company has contributed almost $1.3 million to political campaigns so far this year. Nope.

I am not here representing Continental Resources, any political campaign or political party. I am here as an American patriot that loves my country and a person that is grateful for the opportunities I have been given by being an American.

Sure, giggle if you must. But that's part of his prepared testimony [PDF] to Congress, advocating …


Manufacturers of pink slime sue ABC for reporting on pink slime

Gross. (Photo by Cobalt123.)

South Dakota's evocatively named Beef Products Inc., incorporated makers of beef products, is suing ABC News for economic damage wrought by the network's use of the term "pink slime" to describe the slimy, pink filler material that BPI once proudly ginned up. Earlier this year, BPI announced that it was halting production of the horrifying concoction, largely because people find the concept of finely mushed animal parts treated with ammonia to be unappealing. Or, as BPI sees it, because of ABC.

The company filed its lawsuit in a South Dakota state court seeking at least $1.2 billion in damages under a state law that gives agricultural companies the ability to sue when their products are criticized.

Dan Webb, a lawyer representing BPI, said ABC defamed its products by simply calling the beef additive "pink slime." Mr. Webb said BPI blames ABC for causing consumers "to believe that our lean beef product, which is 100% beef, is something called pink slime; that is some type of unhealthy and repulsive liquid product that is not even meat."

The beef product was referred to as "pink slime" in national news coverage earlier this year. The company in May suspended operations at three plants after the beef additive fell victim to an online social-media campaign to get the additive removed from school lunch offerings.

It's worth noting that ABC didn't invent the term. Fox News describes its origin:


New York City bans large, sugary drinks

Well, it's done. The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously (with one abstention) to ban the sale of large, sugary drinks -- with a few caveats.

The measure, unless blocked by a judge, will take effect in six months. The health board vote was the only regulatory approval needed to become binding in the city, but the American soft-drink industry has strongly opposed the plan and vowed this week to try to fight the measure by other means, possibly in the courts. ... The soda measure would bar the sale of sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, smaller than the size of a common soda bottle. It would affect a range of popular sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, presweetened iced teas and common brands of nondiet soda. The restrictions would not affect fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; no-calorie diet sodas would not be affected, but establishments with self-service drink fountains, like many fast-food restaurants, would not be allowed to stock cups larger than 16 ounces. Only establishments that receive inspection grades from the health department would have to obey the rules, a group that includes movie theaters and stadium concession stands. Convenience stores, including 7-Eleven and its king-size “Big Gulp” drinks, would be exempt, along with vending machines and some newsstands.

Read more: Cities, Food


Expect a colder winter thanks to Arctic ice melt

We've been talking a lot about the ice loss in the Arctic. It’s a broadly understood marker of climate change, an immediately tangible metric that shifts every day (it hit a new all-time low yesterday!).

But this year's unprecedented melt could also have direct effects on you this year.

From Nature:

[T]his year’s record sea-ice melt might foreshadow a harsh winter in parts of Europe and North America. Recent research, although preliminary, suggests a connection between late-summer Arctic sea-ice extent and the location of areas of high and low atmospheric pressure over the northern Atlantic. The highs and lows can remain relatively fixed for weeks, shaping storm tracks and seasonal weather patterns such as extended cold surges.

Ralf Jaiser, a climate scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, found a significant correlation in 1989–2011 meteorological data between late-summer Arctic sea-ice extent and atmospheric-pressure anomalies that favour extreme weather such as prolonged cold snaps in winter. He reasons that in autumn, the open Arctic Ocean sheds heat to the high-latitude atmosphere. The warming tends to reduce the large-scale atmospheric-pressure gradient and weakens the dominant westerly winds in the Northern Hemisphere. Those winds normally sweep warm, moist Atlantic air to western Europe; their weakening leaves the region more prone to persistent cold.

“The impacts will become more apparent in autumn, once the freeze-up is under way and we see how circulation patterns have influenced the geographical distribution of sea ice,” says Judith Curry, a climate researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. But, she adds, “We can probably expect somewhere in the mid/high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere to have a snowy and cold winter.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


After 99 years and one revolution, Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth

Congratulations, Death Valley! You are the new record-holder for hottest temperature ever recorded -- for a day in 1913.

Photo by ejharaldseid.

Here's what happened. On Oct. 7, 1913, Greenland Ranch in Furnace Creek, Calif., recorded a temperature of 134 degrees F (56.7 degrees C). Just for the sake of emphasis, consider a balmy 67-degree day in early summer. The temperature in Death Valley was twice that.

That all-time high temperature stood for nine years, until a reading in the northwest corner of Libya, at a trading post called Al Azizia, recorded 136.4 degrees F (58 degrees C). Death Valley was bumped to No. 2.

Until 2010. Christopher Burt, a blogger at the Weather Underground, wrote a post with the matter-of-fact title, "A challenge to the validity of the world record 136.4°F (58°C) at Al Aziza, Libya." Burt detailed the long history of questions concerning the Al Azizia reading, noting statistical aberrations from the weather station around the time of the reading.

Read more: Climate & Energy


As Congress lets wind tax credit die, the wind industry struggles to finish key projects

Midwest Energy News profiles the push to build the Wildcat wind farm in Elwood, Ind.


[A] major construction project is under way on these 1,700 acres of central Indiana farmland. The goal: build more than 100 wind turbines, each 30 stories tall, and get them running by midnight on December 31 … Access roads have to be built into farm fields; foundations have to be excavated. To hold up a single turbine it takes 400 cubic yards of concrete and 36 tons of rebar—meaning the entire wind farm will use enough concrete to pour a 3-foot-wide, 4-inch-thick sidewalk from central Indiana to St. Louis. Each of the five sections of each 300-foot tower is transported to the site on a semi, then stacked in place with the sort of crane used to build skyscrapers.

The nacelle—a fiberglass-encased box with more than 70 tons of equipment inside, including the electricity-generating components of the turbine—is placed atop the tower. Then each of the 160-foot blades must be mounted on top of the tower.

All this work means jobs, and lots of them, [construction manager Mike] Behringer said. One hundred seventy people, including iron workers, crane operators, laborers, and linemen are all employed building the first phase of the Wildcat wind farm, which will have the capacity to produce 200 MW of energy.

Why that Dec. 31 deadline? On the last day of the year, the production tax credit (PTC) for wind power expires, eradicating a significant support for the growing industry. By some estimates, the expiration of the PTC could cost nearly 40,000 jobs -- as Midwest Energy News notes:


Japanese prime minister suggests the nation will go nuclear-free

Photo by Gonzalo Déniz.

Two months after a series of massive protests in Tokyo, Japanese anti-nuclear activists appear to be close to victory. During a debate this morning, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suggested that he supported a phaseout of nuclear power within the next few decades.

From the Washington Post:

[Noda] said the new policy, expected by end of the week, would be a major shift from Japan’s decades-long advocacy of nuclear power.

Japanese media reported Wednesday that Noda and key Cabinet ministers have agreed that the new energy policy will include an abandonment of nuclear power by the 2030s, mainly by retiring aging reactors and not replacing them.

Based on the party proposal, the new policy would include a 40-year cap on reactor lifespans, no construction of new nuclear reactors, and strict safety checks before any reactors are restarted. It also says Japan should make greater use of renewable energy and undertake greater conservation efforts, such as using smart grids.


Big-box stores go big on solar

There are two things you notice when you see a Google Maps view of a big-box store: a lot of parking lot and a lot of roof. That first thing is a problem: Big-box stores are a symptom and a facilitator of sprawl, encouraging people to drive in and consume. For most such stores, even someone living across the street would have to walk about five minutes across asphalt before they could make a purchase.

Panels on a Sam's Club in Puerto Rico. Walmart (parent company of Sam's) has a large gallery of images of its solar rooftops.

But those roofs? The roofs are an opportunity -- for the company and for the environment. As The New York Times reports:

Led by the likes of Walmart, Costco and Kohl’s, commercial installations of solar power have increased sharply in recent months. More than 3,600 nonresidential systems were activated in the first half of 2012, bringing the number of individual solar electric systems to 24,000, the report said.

Whether driven by brand identity or cost concerns, almost half of the top 20 commercial solar customers are major retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Staples.

Ikea, one of the chains in the top 20, plans to have solar arrays on almost all of its furniture stores and distribution centers by the end of the year, Joseph Roth, a spokesman, said.

This is obviously good news. Looking down on a big-box site and seeing a parking lot surrounding an array of solar panels isn't ideal, but it's better.


Sweden recycles so effectively that it has to import garbage to incinerate

Every country should be so lucky as to have Sweden's problem: It doesn't produce enough garbage.

As reported by Public Radio International, Sweden has a remarkably effective recycling program. Only 4 percent of the country's waste ends up in landfills, with the other 96 percent being reused in some way. There is one problem with that, however: The country has incinerators that burn waste to create heat (a must-have in the region) and electricity. And too little waste means not enough fuel for those fires.

Sweden's electricity production, in kilowatt-hours by population. Note that the country is increasingly using incinerated biofuels and waste (green line). (Data from Wikipedia.)

Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, said the country is producing much less burnable waste than it needs. ...

However, they’ve recently found a solution.

Sweden has recently begun to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants. The majority of the imported waste comes from neighboring Norway because it’s more expensive to burn the trash there and cheaper for the Norwegians to simply export their waste to Sweden.