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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Frackers are chewing up Pennsylvania’s forests

A Pennsylvania road
Roads carved through Pennsylvania's forests cause habitat fragmentation and reduce biodiversity.

Frackers don't just foul the air and the water -- they trample nature and carve up ecosystems into inadequate little pieces.

That's the message coming out of the U.S. Geological Survey, which studied aerial photographs of a handful of Pennsylvania counties where gas companies are using hydraulic fracturing to tap deposits in  the Marcellus Shale. The survey's analysis revealed sweeping damage and forests fragmented by new well pads, roads, and pipelines.

Jason Bell, a member of Marcellus Outreach Butler, told the Valley News Dispatch that the new study offers yet another example of why more careful regulation of the fracking boom is needed. "Often we don't get a bird's-eye view of what's happening," he said. "It's easy to see one or two wells and think it's having isolated effects."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate adaptation goes mainstream in Wisconsin

Federal agencies released their plans for adapting to climate change in February. The European Commission approved its adaptation strategy in April. New York unveiled a $19.5 billion plan in June, prompted by Hurricane Sandy to join the likes of London, Chicago, and Quito, Ecuador.

But climate adaptation isn't just for the big players. Today, Dane County, Wis., which has a population of 500,000, will propose a budget that includes nearly $1 million worth of climate-adaptation spending -- aimed at everything from new storm water infrastructure to sand bags and other emergency equipment.

A storm over Madison
Richard Hurd
A summer storm over Wisconsin's capital, Madison, which is in Dane County.

“We’re looking at warmer and wetter weather and preparing for the potential challenges,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told The Cap Times:

Dane County may have already experienced what a warmer Wisconsin could look like. Last year saw a summer drought, a winter of few but major snow events, a quick spring meltdown and then summer thunderstorms that brought flooding.

UW-Madison climate scientists are now predicting that by 2050, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, with three or more weeks per summer where temperatures exceed 90 degrees.

Read more: Climate & Energy


In the renewable energy race, solar power is hot hot hot

Solar panels and wind turbines
It's all good.

Solar power installations are expected to edge out new wind farms this year for the title of fastest-growing clean energy source.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected that photovoltaic plants will add 36.7 gigawatts of capacity this year -- up 20 percent from last year. New wind farms, meanwhile, will add 35.5 gigawatts. That's an awesome figure, too, but it's nearly a quarter less for wind than in 2012. From Bloomberg:

Lower panel costs and government support are accelerating deployment of solar energy even as growth slows in the mature European markets. Wind installations, more than double solar before 2011, are also being slowed by Europe, as well as a lack of clarity on policy in the U.S. and China.


North Carolina rejects federal funds for fracking studies

Smoky Mountains
North Carolina is begging for some fracking.

North Carolina's water department doesn't know if fracking will poison drinking water or despoil wetlands -- and that's just how department leaders like it.

We told you recently that the state is pushing to allow oil and gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing without property owners' permission. It's part of a Republican-led push to hurry-the-fuck-up-already on fracking, environmental and health concerns be damned.

Now comes news that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's administration has turned down a pair of EPA grants that would have paid for monitoring of water quality and wetlands as the much-ballyhooed fracking bonanza gets underway. Because, um, well, they say it's because the fracking boom isn't happening quickly enough to justify any pre-fracking baseline environmental monitoring.

The state wetlands program's development unit applied for the two EPA grants before Gov. McCrory was sworn into office in January. Under McCrory, however, the unit was dissolved amid a bureaucratic restructure, and the Division of Water Resources turned down the nearly $600,000 worth of federal assistance that the state had previously requested.


Al Gore: Gutless media caves to climate deniers

Al Gore
CGIAR Climate
Al Gore

Should the media be giving as much ink to fossil fuel-funded shills as it gives to the hundreds of climate scientists who collaborated on reports being published by the United Nations?

As coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest assessment report reaches fever pitch, some mainstream media outlets are treating climate science as if it were just an abstract political debate. They are falling into the trap of treating it as a mind-numbing to-and-fro argument with no right and no wrong -- instead of something produced through good old-fashioned scientific rigor.

That pisses a lot of people off. One of them is Al Gore.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Government shutdown would close EPA, too

John Boehner
John Boehner's Facebook page
Republican House Speaker John Boehner loves America as much as he loves a styrofoam cup full of coffee.

The chief aim of the congressional Republicans who are poised to shut down the U.S. government over the next 24 hours or so is to block the implementation of President Obama's health plan. But if they do live out their fantasy of paralyzing the federal government, there will be plenty of other consequences -- including the effective shuttering of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here's the latest from Reuters on the looming government blackout:

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives early on Sunday passed a measure that ties government funding to a one-year delay of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare restructuring law. Senate Democrats have vowed to quash it.

Read more: Politics


How to clean a lake with an unstoppable oil spill: Drain the lake

Oil spill at Cold Lake, Alberta
Photograph obtained by the Toronto Star
Oil polluting the ground at Cold Lake in Alberta.

We told you in July that tar-sands oil had been leaking into the Canadian wilderness from a drilling site for well over a month -- and that nobody knew how to stanch the flow.

It would be nice to update you on how that leak was finally fixed. No such luck: The oil is still leaking.

More than 12,000 barrels of leaked bitumen has been mopped up, but at least 100 animals have died at the Canadian Natural Resources' Primrose oil extraction site. So much bitumen has flowed into a 131-acre lake that Alberta's environment department has ordered the company to drain it and dredge it before the waterbody freezes over. From Reuters:

The leak, one of four on the sprawling project site, sprung up from an oil sands reserve produced by a process that melts bitumen with high-pressure steam so that it can be moved and processed. The leak has yet to be stopped, and has become the latest focus for environmentalists concerned about the impact oil sands production.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Can’t afford a Tesla? Rent one in California

Tesla Roadster
Tesla Motors
Can't afford to buy a Telsa Roadster? Head over to California and rent one.

Next time you're visiting California, you can race along famous Highway 1 without making a sound: Hertz is adding electric vehicles manufactured by Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors to its fleet. (Catch: You can only rent them from San Francisco and Los Angeles.)

You might want to book in advance, though. Hertz is starting with just five vehicles and two models: the Model S sedan and the Roadster.


Super foodie Alice Waters launches anti-fracking fight

Alice Waters
David Sifry
Alice Waters loves natural food and hates fracking.

Some of California's best-known chefs and restaurateurs are whipping up a fight against fracking in the Golden State.

High hopes that California would impose a moratorium on fracking, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to extract oil and gas, were dashed on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that regulates the process but does not stop it. Opponents say fracking pollutes water and threatens farms. California is the source of 15 percent of the nation's crops.

On Wednesday, foodies led by slow-food movement champion Alice Waters launched an anti-fracking "cook's petition" to pressure the governor and legislature on the issue. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chez Panisse chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag today launched a chefs’ petition urging their colleagues to take a stand against fracking in California. Working in collaboration with Food & Water Watch, founding member of Californians Against Fracking, the chefs are concerned about the threat fracking poses to the world-renowned food and wine that is grown, served and sold in California. The petition includes a letter calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Cow farts still stink up the climate — but relief is possible

Cow behinds
There's your biggest problem right there.

The latest official estimate of the extraordinary role that livestock-rearing plays in global warming comes with a glimmer of hope: Switching over to established best practices could slash the sector's emissions by a third.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations caused an international stir when it estimated in 2006 that livestock contributed 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Some critics derided the claim, saying T-bones and Big Macs couldn't possibly be so bad. The FAO has since updated its numbers, checked its facts and performed new calculations based on newer standards. The latest conclusion is little different from the earlier one: Livestock contributes 14.5 percent of worldwide emissions.

Flatulent, manure-dropping cows are by far the largest contributors to the problem. Beef production is responsible for 41 percent of the sector's emissions, and dairy farming can be blamed for 19 percent. Pig meat, poultry meat, and eggs are responsible for a little less than 10 percent apiece.

Why are cows so harsh on the climate? The same reason Auntie Flora doesn't get invited to parties: Because they belch and fart so damned much. Only the FAO doesn't say it like that. Rather, it blames the "enteric fermentation" of cattle and the methane that bovine rumination produces for 39 percent of the livestock industry's emissions.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food