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


Bobby Jindal doesn’t think Big Oil should have to clean up its mess

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal
Derek Bridges
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants everyone to stop picking on poor oil companies.

Oil and gas companies have ruined coastal wetlands that formerly helped protect Louisiana from storms and floods, but Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) doesn't believe they should have to pay to repair the damage.

The governor opposes a lawsuit filed last month by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit seeks billions of dollars from energy companies, including BP and ExxonMobil, to restore coastal ecosystems that have been trampled to make way for oil and gas infrastructure along the state's coast. The Times-Picayune explains:

Jindal said the state needs to protect and restore the coast, "but this lawsuit is not the way to do it." [His] statement also called the lawsuit "a potential billion dollar plus windfall" for the attorneys representing the levee authority.


Superstorm Sandy washed away half of Fire Island’s sand

Fire Island after the storm
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Cleaning up Fire Island after Hurricane Sandy.

It was obvious to locals that Fire Island, N.Y. -- Long Island’s longest barrier island -- lost a lot of sand during Superstorm Sandy. And now federal scientists have quantified the staggering loss: 54.4 percent.

The researchers warn that the disappearance of more than half of the island's sand dunes and beachfront sand has left the tourist mecca more vulnerable to further storms and floods.

During winter storms that followed Sandy, the shoreline on the exposed island was sucked back a further 200 feet in one place, though most of the sand lost during those smaller storms washed back into place by April. Much of the sand lost during the superstorm, by contrast, is still missing.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fukushima keeps on leaking, Japan keeps on issuing confusing explanations

Oh, fuk ... ushima.

Problems continue to burble up at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant -- or, in this case, gush out.

We learned last month that contaminated water has been leaking from the plant into the sea at a rate of about 300 tons a day. Then last week came word of a more serious spill of 300 tons of extremely radioactive water, which the government classified as a level 3 incident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.

The scale runs from zero, where everything is peachy, past level 3, which indicates a “serious incident,” up to level 7, which means the kind of living hell that engulfed the facility when its reactors melted down following an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

From CNN:

The decision to issue the level 3 alert came two days after a Japanese government minister had compared the plant operator’s efforts to deal with worrying toxic water leaks at the site to a game of “whack-a-mole.”


U.S. government paid $17 billion for weather-withered crops last year

Drought corn
Drought-ravaged corn.

Desiccated corn and sun-scorched soybeans have been in high supply lately -- and we're paying through the nose for them.

The federal government forked out a record-breaking $17.3 billion last year to compensate farmers for weather-related crop losses -- more than four times the annual average over the last decade.

The losses were mostly caused by droughts, high temperatures, and hot winds -- the sizzling harbingers of a climate in rapid flux.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen

Could some of these costs have been avoided? The Natural Resources Defense Council says yes. In a new issue paper [PDF], NRDC analyst Claire O’Connor argues that these taxpayer-reimbursed, climate-related losses could have been largely avoided if farmers used tried-and-true conservation-oriented strategies. But she points out that the Federal Crop Insurance Program provides little incentive to farmers to employ techniques that save water and soil.


Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to shutter

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee, on the Connecticut River, will soon be shut down for good.

Yet another American nuclear power plant is going to shut down permanently, giving New Englanders reason to be as excited as the nucleus of a decaying uranium isotope.

Entergy Corp. announced Tuesday that it will power down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant next year.

This is just the latest in a string of bad news for the industry. Nuclear plants are also being shut down in California, Florida, and Wisconsin, and plans to build new ones are being canceledFrom Reuters:


Wind turbines don’t hurt property values

Stone house
The owners of this Flintstones-style house are no poorer because of the neighboring wind turbines.

Some people who learn that wind turbines are going to be built in their neighborhood freak out about a couple of things, but science can help put their minds at ease.

First, they worry that their health will be harmed if they develop so-called "wind turbine syndrome." But there is no evidence that wind turbines actually cause any of the ailments commonly blamed on them.

Next, they worry that the value of their property will fall. "Here come those eggshell-colored spinning things that produce energy but no pollution," they might mutter to one another in hushed tones. "There goes the neighborhood."

Fortunately, this concern is equally unwarranted, according to a comprehensive new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers [PDF]. From the study:

We collected data from more than 50,000 home sales among 27 counties in nine states. These homes were within 10 miles of 67 different wind facilities, and 1,198 sales were within 1 mile of a turbine -- many more than previous studies have collected. The data span the periods well before announcement of the wind facilities to well after their construction. ...


Vanishing ocean smell could also mean fewer clouds

Beach smell
Open your eyes: The clouds are disappearing, too.

Next time you're at the beach take a deep, long sniff: That special coastal scent might not last forever. While you're at it, put on some extra sunscreen: As that smell dwindles, cloud cover could, too.

The unique oceanside smell that flows over your olfactory organs is loaded with sulfur -- dimethylsulfide, to be exact, or DMS. It's produced when phytoplankton decompose. And it's a fragrant compound that's as special as it smells: In the atmosphere it reacts to produce sulfuric acid, which aids in the formation of clouds.

But it's a smell that's endangered by climate change. Experiments have linked the rising acidity of the world's oceans to falling levels of DMS. A paper published online Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change warns that ocean acidification could reduce DMS emissions by about one-sixth in 2100 compared with pre-industrial levels.

Clouds do more for us than just dispense  quenching rain and snow: They also reflect light and heat away from the earth, helping to keep temperatures down.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Maryland chickens out on farm pollution rule

Poultry produces lots of poop.

The Chesapeake Bay is shit out of luck.

The state of Maryland planned to tighten the rules on how much chicken manure farmers could spread over their fields -- part of an effort to slow the flow of nutrients into the East Coast's largest estuary. That would have helped reduce the size of the bay's dead zone, but it would have left the state's powerful chicken farmers in a smelly bind: What would they do with their copious streams of waste?

Read more: Food


Syngenta to take a continent to court to upend pesticide ban

Dead bee
Dead bees? Who cares?

Syngenta is preparing to spray its lawyerly might all over Europe in a bid to be allowed to keep killing bees.

The agro-chemical giant announced Tuesday that it would haul the European Commission before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in an effort to block the looming suspension of its neonic insecticide thiamethoxam -- aka Cruiser.

The commission voted earlier this year in favor of a two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, beginning in December, because scientists have found that they slaughter the bees that suckle at the stamen of treated plants.

Syngenta's lawyers and executives claim that the company's product does no such thing -- even though killing insects is exactly what it's designed to do. From an AFP report:

"The Commission took the decision on the basis of a flawed process, an inaccurate and incomplete assessment by the European Food Safety Authority and without the full support of EU Member States," the company insisted. ...

Syngenta said the EU suspension was causing deep concern among farmers, who once the two-year-ban takes effect in December will need to replace "an extremely effective, low dose product (with) much less sustainable alternatives."

Sustainable, you say? Not many things could be more critical to a sustainable food supply than thriving pollinators.

Read more: Food


Is the NSA surveillance program really about spying on environmentalists?


At the Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, has an idea about what might be driving the massive expansion of the NSA's domestic surveillance program that we’ve learned so much about lately. It’s not concerns about religious fundamentalists who hate America. Instead, he suggests, the government is worried about environmental activism:

But why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis -- or all three.

Who would have thunk? It turns out the U.S. government is worried about climate change, after all. At least if being worried about climate change lets them use all their cool spy gear.

Across the government, security professionals are fretting about natural disasters and global oil shortfalls, Ahmed explains. The Department of Defense has written that "climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked." They're nervous about what this means: What are people going to do when they realized they're, to use the technical term, totally screwed? The Army's Strategic Studies Institute has suggested that, in the case of a total freak-out, it might be necessary to "use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States."

Who are those hostiles? Why, they might just be environmentalists.