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Tesla Model S rocks safety tests, gets highest possible score

Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S: sexy and safe.

First the Tesla Model S got the highest score of any car Consumer Reports had ever reviewed, blowing testers away with its “innovation,” “world-class performance,” and “impressive attention to detail.” Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has awarded the car its highest rating possible, a five out of five in every category. (Note to luxury sports-car enthusiasts: Grist does not condone reckless driving no matter how high a car’s safety rating or how low its emissions.)

According to Tesla, “approximately one percent of all cars tested by the federal government achieve 5 stars across the board.” More from the company's press release:

Of all vehicles tested, including every major make and model approved for sale in the United States, the Model S set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. While the Model S is a sedan, it also exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans. This score takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.

The Model S achieved such a high score in large part because it's an electric vehicle. The front of the car has only trunk space where a gasoline engine block would normally be, so it has a much longer “crumple zone” -- the part of the car that absorbs impact in a head-on collision. And the battery pack’s location beneath the floor gives the car a low center of gravity that substantially lowers its rollover risk.

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Fracking frenzy slows as oil and gas assets plummet in price

Not pumping as much as predicted.
Shutterstock
Yes, we know this isn't a fracking pump, but it's way prettier.

You know that domestic oil-and-gas boom that’s been sweeping the country for the past few years, turning places like Williston, N.D., into Sin City? Well, the party’s winding down -- or maybe it was never that ragin’ in the first place. Oil and gas shale assets, possibly overvalued to begin with, are plunging in price thanks to an oversaturated market and wells whose production hasn’t always lived up to expectations.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

The deal-making slump, which may last for years, threatens to slow oil and gas production growth as companies that built up debt during the rush for shale acreage can’t depend on asset sales to fund drilling programs. The decline has pushed acquisitions of North American energy assets in the first-half of the year to the lowest since 2004. …

North American oil and gas deals, including shale assets, plunged 52 percent to $26 billion in the first six months from $54 billion in the year-ago period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. During the drilling frenzy of 2009 through 2012, energy companies spent more than $461 billion buying North American oil and gas properties, the data show.

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Democrats will soon have a big, fat fight over fracking

man and woman boxing
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Most Democratic politicians say nice things about renewable energy and less-nice things about coal and earnest things about the need for climate action. But when it comes to fracking for natural gas, Dems and enviros are increasingly at odds.

Exhibit A: President Obama. He's provided unprecedented support for clean energy. He's making moves to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants. He's saying climate change is a top priority for his second term. But he's just fine with fracking. His administration has yet to impose any regulations on the process; it's only offered weak draft rules so far. It recently approved plans for a third project to export fracked natural gas. Obama thinks natural gas is part of the climate solution, a bridge fuel that will help us make the transition from coal and oil to renewables, as he made clear in his big climate speech in June:

We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions. ...

The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills. And it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.

Even California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a long-time booster of clean energy and climate action, is open to fracking.

But as anti-fracking activism heats up around the country, pro-fracking Dems might find themselves increasingly at odds with their base. As we near 2016, any Democrat who wants to replace Obama might have to start singing a different tune.

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Climate scientists are 95 percent sure that humans are causing global warming

When it comes to climate change, the writing is on the wall.
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When it comes to climate science, the writing is on the wall.

Climate hawks are buzzing over leaks from the fifth big climate report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be officially released in September. Spoiler: Scientists are pretty damn confident that we're screwing up the climate.

An earlier draft was leaked in December by climate deniers trying to undermine the case for anthropogenic climate change. News of more recent leaked drafts comes to us from Reuters, which has no such agenda. Reuters sums up the report this way:

Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major U.N. report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades. ...

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the U.N. panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities -- chiefly the burning of fossil fuels -- are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Don’t expect that hybrid minivan any time soon

Toyota Estimate Hybrid
Toyota
The Toyota Estima Hybrid. The Japanese text translates to "Ha ha, you can't have one."

For years, Grist readers have yearned, ached, and virtually begged for a hybrid minivan. Sorry, folks. Keep dreaming.

Toyota has sold its Estima Hybrid minivan (44 mpg) in Japan since 2001, but it has no plans to sell a hybrid or plug-in minivan in the U.S., a spokesperson tells the Chicago Tribune.

Why not? Green-car expert Jim Motovalli explains:

I have brought up the concept of a plug-in hybrid minivan several times to automakers, and they always dismiss it. Their claim: Minivans are big and boxy, and the fuel economy wouldn’t improve that much with a hybrid drivetrain. Plus, they’d be expensive (the Estima is $50,000). Besides, that segment of the market is really not that big, they say.

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Your iPhone uses more electricity than your fridge

So much power at the tips of our fingers.
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So much power at our fingertips.

The global digital economy, also known as the ICT system (information-communications-technologies), sucks up as much electricity today as it took to illuminate the entire planet in 1985. The average iPhone requires more power per year than the average refrigerator. It’s like you’re walking around all day with a fridge’s worth of electricity in your pocket (but no hummus!).

This info comes from a report [PDF] by Mark Mills, CEO of the Digital Power Group, sponsored by the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. So part of the report’s point is that coal keeps the iPhones on. But instead of inspiring gratitude for coal and all the blessings it bestows on us, knowing the source of all that juice just makes the digital economy’s ginormous energy footprint of even greater concern.

As Bryan Walsh points out in Time, the ICT system’s power hunger only stands to keep growing as our devices become ever more powerful and ubiquitous.

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Why your hybrid doesn’t get that promised mileage

Ford C-Max
Ford Motor Company
The C-Max had a mileage fail.

Are you a hybrid owner who's never managed to get the high gas mileage advertised on the car window? You're not alone.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Bowing to criticism that its C-Max hybrid didn't get the fuel economy claimed on its window sticker, Ford Motor Co. has restated the compact car's mileage ratings and said it will ... make a "goodwill" payment of $550 to people who purchased the C-Max and $325 to those who leased the vehicle.

Ford had previously claimed the 2013 C-Max hybrid got 47 mpg for combined city and highway driving. Now it's saying 43 mpg. That's still higher than the 37 mpg that Consumer Reports got when it tested the model.

And it's not just Ford. More from the L.A. Times:

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The White House goes solar — again

350.org makes the case for solar panels on the White House in 2010.
350.org
350.org makes the case for solar panels on the White House in 2010.

Nearly three years after the Obama administration promised to install solar panels on the White House roof, the plan is finally moving ahead. A White House official confirmed today that installment of American-made solar panels has begun. Bill McKibben, whose climate-action group 350.org led the original push to get the panels up, called the news “better late than never.”

In October 2010, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that by the end of spring 2011, “there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.” The failure of those features to materialize provoked criticism from environmentalists, who saw it as symbolic of Obama’s larger lack of follow-through on sustainability goals.

Jimmy Carter with the original White House solar panels.
350.org
Jimmy Carter with the original White House solar panels.

The recent campaign for a solar-powered White House wasn’t an original idea. Way back in 1979 -- before global warming became a household phrase -- President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels that graced the White House roof until 1986, when President Ronald Reagan had them removed (ugh). The Washington Post reports:

In 1979, Carter had predicted the solar water heater and panels on the White House grounds will "either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

For awhile, it was the lack of those panels that symbolized the road not taken. Climate activists hoped their reappearance would point the way back.

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Australian floods lowered worldwide sea levels

Flood-inducing rainfall in Australia in 2010 was so severe that it lowered worldwide sea levels.

Scientists have been puzzled by satellite data that shows sea levels fell in 2011. A paper published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters attributes a lot of the surprising sea-level decline to antipodean deluges -- record-breaking rainfall that was linked to climate change.

Seas have been rising by about 3 millimeters a year in recent decades. But from mid-2010 until 2011 sea levels dropped by 7 millimeters, as shown in this graph:

Click to embiggen.
CU Sea Level Research Group

Australia is home to geological formations similar to lakes -- scientists call them arheic and endorheic basins -- that do not flow to the ocean. Instead they empty by gradually evaporating. About 40 percent of precipitation in most continents flows into the ocean, but in dish-shaped Australia, that figure is just 6 percent.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Vermont can’t shut down nuke plant, court says

Vermont Yankee
NRC
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, on the Connecticut River.

An unwanted nuclear power plant is going to be sticking around in Vermont like a drunk uncle after the party has ended.

State lawmakers have been trying to force the closure of the 41-year-old Vermont Yankee plant by denying it permits following radioactive leaks and other safety concerns. But a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that doing so was beyond the legislature's power, upholding a lower court's ruling that states are “pre-empted” by federal law from regulating nuclear safety.

“The nuclear power industry has just been delivered a tremendous victory against the attempt by any state to shut down federally regulated nuclear power plants,” Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for power plant owner Entergy, told The New York Times. From the Times article: