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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Voters may care about climate change — but not nearly enough to make a difference

Our partners at Climate Desk have an overview of a series of recent polls that lead to one conclusion: People are increasingly concerned about climate change. And "people" obviously means "undecided voters" -- since those are the people who count for the next 34 days.

The findings, in summary:

[I]t is not that any type of climate communication is a guaranteed win—just that it is far from a guaranteed loser. But that still leaves a growing disconnect between politicians' fear of the climate issue on the one hand, and emerging public opinion data on the other. "Democrats don't need to be as afraid of this issue as they are," says [Harstad Strategic Research pollster Andrew] Maxfield. From President Obama on down, if candidates who talk about climate change win in 2012, expect that situation to rapidly change.

For all of the optimism that climate and the environment will become a point of political leverage for candidates, it won't. And the reason is apparent if you dive a little deeper into the numbers.


New coal ads: Industry hits Obama, Obama hits Romney

Coal ads! New coal ads, everyone! You may never see these ads yourself on TV, so it is incumbent upon us, the News Media™, to bring them to your attention and laugh at / laud them.

Before we begin, let's take a minute to appreciate that bits of rock we take out of the ground and burn warrant millions of dollars in expenditures on TV ads. That's weird.

OK. The ads. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (not affiliated with the American Coalition for the Tooth-Fairy Power or the U.S. Association of Energy Created by Bigfoot) has a two-minute spot that makes the case that we've used coal for a long time and how dare you suggest that we stop.

The ad is two minutes long and, according to National Journal, will run on national cable networks. Featuring lots of shots of Good Ol' America™, the ad argues that coal is our "home-field energy advantage." That a "can-do" attitude has led to "proven" clean coal technology. That "heavy-handed EPA regulations" threaten the universe, or some subset thereof. It shows Scary China™, but doesn't name it, for some reason.


Why won’t Obama address rising grass prices?

We're accustomed to odd stories of raw materials being stolen for resale. Copper, for instance, has been a popular target of thieves over the past several years due to its ubiquity and spiking market price. The higher the value of a commodity, the more likely it is to be stolen.

Basically a big field of money.

Even if that commodity is grass. From the AP:

With drought drying out grazing land and driving up hay prices, some ranchers in New Mexico have started cutting neighbors' fences or leaving gates open so their cattle can graze on greener pastures.

Authorities in other drought-stricken states say they've seen similar fence cuttings, along with thefts of livestock and other materials as ranchers struggle to stay in business. In some cases, stealing a neighbor's grass may be the only way for a rancher to feed his livestock, but victims say their livelihood is being threatened too.

That's passive grass theft, letting your cattle munch it into nonexistence. There's also active grass theft (a term commonly used by law enforcement).

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Yet another oil sheen spotted in Gulf of Mexico

One-and-a-half bird.

The toxic, unpleasant sheen that had the country abuzz a few months ago is back. No, not that Sheen. The one in the Gulf.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts it drily:

This hotline is being started for new reports of sheen of unknown origin in and near lease block Mississippi Canyon 252. This incident is likely related to reports in August 2011 ... Although the source of these sheens may be the wrecked BP Macondo Well, this relationship has not been established at this time.

If the mystery sheen is from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, does that mean that this thing is just going to keep leaking forever? That, like Charlie, we'll never be rid of it, despite its noxious odors and massive societal damage?

Environmental lawyer Stuart Smith -- who, we'll note, is involved in legal action against BP -- says: yeah, maybe.


Local chambers of commerce ask Romney and Obama for clean energy support

A photo of Sen. Inhofe's tattoo.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not a clean-energy-friendly organization. Ninety-four percent of its 2010 political contributions went to climate change deniers; it has fought for years to undercut the clean economy. ran a campaign calling on businesses and local chamber chapters to resign from the national organization. According to 350's website, 56 local chambers have made statements opposing the national body's climate and energy position. I suspect it will now be easy for 350 to quickly goose those numbers.

From The Hill:

A coalition of Chamber of Commerce chapters want President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney to take a pledge emphasizing federal support for the clean energy industry.

The 240-chapter Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy sent a letter to the candidates Tuesday urging them to “take a stand and prioritize clean energy as an economic development solution.”

350, start workin' those phones.


Sea levels could rise 22 feet by the year 3000

From the Institute of Physics:

Our greenhouse gas emissions up to now have triggered an irreversible warming of the Earth that will cause sea-levels to rise for thousands of years to come, new research has shown.

Oh, neat.

The research showed that we have already committed ourselves to a sea-level rise of 1.1 metres by the year 3000 as a result of our greenhouse gas emissions up to now. This irreversible damage could be worse, depending on the route we take to mitigating our emissions.

If we were to follow the high A2 emissions scenario adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a sea-level rise of 6.8 metres could be expected in the next thousand years. The two other IPCC scenarios analysed by the researchers, the B1 and A1B scenarios, yielded sea-level rises of 2.1 and 4.1 metres respectively.

So by the year 3000, unless we take action, we can expect the ocean to be 6.8 meters higher. As in, 22 feet.

Your house, eventually.
Read more: Climate & Energy


New poll shows that politicians can say people like solar, if they want

The Solar Energy Industries Association commissioned a poll of American voters and -- guess what? -- American voters like solar!

The industry advocacy organization released the results of its poll today for an obvious reason: to argue that voters support government investment in solar energy, which they do, generally, and to encourage Congress to enact policies supporting solar. Solar solar solar, we want solar!

Before we undermine the findings -- which we will -- let's look at the findings.

Energy is an important issue!

Everyone loves solar!

There were other findings, too, which are about solar and how solar is great. And I'll jump in here to note: It is! It is great! But SEIA doesn't really help itself (or the industry it represents) here.


The Ohio State University will soon be 25 percent wind-powered

About 10 years ago, the Ohio State University was not great for your lungs. I am not only referring to the exhortations of fans cheering the football team to intermittent success over the loathsome Michigan Whoevers, but to the on-campus power plant that ran on coal and oil.

McCracken Power Plant.

In 2001, the McCracken Power Plant -- located just west of the heart of campus, about two blocks from the main library -- switched from natural gas to coal and oil. Natural gas costs were skyrocketing at the time, and the university moved to dirtier fuel sources to save money. In 2007, after years of fighting with the EPA, it switched back.

But now, at last, the Ohio State University is really starting to get green. (In addition to scarlet and gray.)

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


TransCanada protests reveal a bum deal for Texas landowners

For weeks, protestors affiliated with activist group Tar Sands Blockade have tried to halt construction of the southern leg of TransCanada's pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. On Monday, one protestor chained himself to an underground piece of equipment, delaying for hours a crew tasked with clearing the the pipeline's path.

Tar Sands Blockade
The protestor, in position.

The local ABC affiliate, KLTV, covered the story.

What's remarkable about this isn't just the protestor's action. It's also striking to note how the landowner feels about TransCanada.


How Gov. Romney threw his climate plans into reverse

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine features a long retrospective on the tenure of a particular Massachusetts governor. You know the guy: salt-and-pepper hair, winning smile, 45 kids. Name escapes me.

It's the sort of article that responsible citizens should carve out 30 minutes to read. For the first time that I've seen, it walks through how Romney governed -- and how, halfway through his first and only term in office, he began to rejigger his positions with an eye toward the presidency.

Mitt Romney

What's most notable, and most of interest for the average Grist reader (if I may be so bold), is how Romney reversed (or, if you will, substantially amended) his position on the environment. His 2003 declaration that coal plants kill people gets the press during this election, but his 2004 outline of a comprehensive plan for combatting climate change was probably a high-water mark.

According to one of a half-dozen environmental officials with whom I spoke (and all of whom insisted on anonymity so they could speak candidly about their experiences), the governor sat through more than 20 hours of briefings on the climate-change plan: “We went through about 80 measures. He left almost everything in, and the things he took out weren’t because they were ideologically off-base but because they weren’t well thought out.”

A sentimental subtext underlay his conservationist outlook: his father’s company had produced one of the world’s first fuel-efficient cars. And when discussing the global dimensions of climate change, the governor displayed a level of humaneness that fellow congregants in his Mormon church often saw but that his current presidential campaign has been at pains to highlight. Two environmental officials recall him saying: “I think the impacts of this are going to be large. We in the Western world may have the money to work our way out of the problem. But what are poor people in Bangladesh going to do?”

And then the tide receded.