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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Even nuclear weapons are going green

Pantex Plant
Pantex Plant
The project's logo.

If the nuclear apocalypse comes, at least it will be a little more climate-friendly.

Construction of five 400-foot wind turbines is beginning today at America's main site for assembling, disassembling, and maintaining its nuclear arsenal.

The 2.3-megawatt turbines are expected to produce more than half of the power used at the Pantex Plant in the Texas Panhandle. When the blades start spinning next summer, the facility will be the largest federally owned wind farm.


Climate-denier politicians under attack by new ad campaign

Sen. Rod Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson will be the target of a new ad from LCV.

Here comes more bad PR for climate change–denying politicians.

Barack Obama's advocacy group, Organizing for Action, began trying to embarrass denier Republicans earlier this year. Now the League of Conservation Voters is piling on, spending nearly $2 million on TV advertisements aimed at four GOP flat earthers.

Ads unveiled Monday ridicule the voting records and anti-scientific statements of Reps. Dan Benishek (Mich.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), and Rodney Davis (Ill.), and a fourth ad will soon target Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.). From a League of Conservation Voters press release:


Ozone hole could be making global warming worse

Hole in the ozone layer
A record-breaking hole in the ozone layer in September 2000.

It's like Lord Voldemort joining forces with The Penguin.

Two of the globe's most epic environmental threats appear to be ganging up on us: The hole in the ozone layer could be hastening global warming.

Yes, the hole in the ozone layer. It still exists, though it has been getting smaller because the world rightly panicked and began phasing out the use of CFCs in the 1980s. It was previously thought that the hole was helping to slow down global warming, but new research published in Geophysical Research Letters suggests the opposite. From Nature:

Read more: Climate & Energy


White House calls for more grid spending as climate changes

Power pole felled by Superstorm Sandy
Superstorm Sandy got the better of this power pole in New Jersey last year.

An era of ferocious storms and wildfires is not mixing well with America's aging electrical grid.

The White House published a report Monday calling for a substantial amount of money to be spent fortifying the country's electrical grid, better protecting transmission lines and other infrastructure from storms, floods, and other severe weather events. From the report [PDF]:

Severe weather is the number one cause of power outages in the United States and costs the economy billions of dollars a year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production, inconvenience and damage to grid infrastructure. Moreover, the aging nature of the grid -- much of which was constructed over a period of more than one hundred years -- has made Americans more susceptible to outages caused by severe weather. Between 2003 and 2012, roughly 679 power outages, each affecting at least 50,000 customers, occurred due to weather events.


Carbon offsets plan stirs up controversy in California

Oil refinery
California polluters will soon be able to buy CO2 offsets.

The owners of California’s most polluting industries will be breathing a little easier under a greenhouse gas rule being developed by the state — but their neighbors will not be so lucky.

Californian businesses will soon be allowed to purchase carbon offsets to help them achieve up to 8 percent of required greenhouse gas reductions under the state’s climate change rules. So an oil refinery or factory could sink some funds into a reforestation or energy-efficiency project somewhere else in the U.S. and not reduce its own pollution as much.

The carbon offset rule, being developed by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), will help ensure that the state’s climate change regulations do what they are intended to do — reduce the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.


Sometimes a hybrid is greener than an electric car

green-colored car
Which car is greenest in your state? Find out.

If you live in California, the most climate-friendly car you can drive is a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. If you live in Ohio, you could go easier on the climate by driving a regular ol' non-plug-in Prius. And in Vermont, the best pick would be an all-electric Honda Fit.

That's according to a new report from Climate Central: "A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars." Here's how the researchers explain the state-by-state differences:

An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars.


Can a giant ice wall stop Fukushima radiation from leaking into the sea?

ice wall
The Fukushima ice wall would not look anything like this.

It's been almost two and a half years since the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the place is still a huge, scary mess.

Here's how The New York Times introduced this week's grim news from the plant:

First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.

It turns out that radioactive water has been spilling into the sea almost since the initial disaster, at a rate of 75,000 gallons, or 300 tons, a day.

So now Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which owns the plant, has a plan to build an underground wall of frozen earth to stop the radioactive water leakage. NPR explains:


Electric roads could make plugging in your EV a thing of the past

Alas, in real life, you can't actually tell it's electric.
Alas, in real life, you can't actually tell it's electric.

One major barrier to bringing electric vehicles to the masses is range anxiety -- not the fear that you left the stove on at home, but the fear that your EV will run out of juice before you can get to the next charging station. But creative solutions are in the works. This week, South Korea debuted the world’s first electric road, 15 miles of city streets with underground cables that charge EVs parked or driving above -- no plug-in stations necessary.

In the city of Gumi, two commuter buses will be the first to test the program, and the city plans to add 10 more over the next two years. Known as Online Electric Vehicles or OLEVs, the buses have batteries about one-third the size of the typical electric car battery.


Is Keystone XL a distraction from more important climate fights?

Keystone protest sign in front of White House
Emma Cassidy
Say what you will about the anti-Keystone movement, but it's gotten a lot of activists enraged and engaged.

A new article in Nature highlights a supposed rift among some scientists over Keystone XL: Is it a smart focus for climate activists or a distracting sideshow?

There doesn't seem to be nearly as much of a rift as author Jeff Tollefson suggests, but he does talk to some scientists who are conflicted over the Keystone focus:

The issue has ... divided the scientific community. Many climate and energy researchers have lined up with environmentalists to oppose what is by all accounts a dirty source of petroleum: emissions from extracting and burning tar-sands oil in the United States are 14–20% higher than the country's average oil emissions. But other researchers say that the Keystone controversy is diverting attention from issues that would have much greater impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, such as the use of coal.


Steve King insults climate scientists and religious Americans simultaneously

Steve King
Gage Skidmore
Steve King knows that cantaloupes don't grow in seawater.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has, shall we say, a vivid oratorical style.

Last month, he noted that not all of the young immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act are star students. “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said.

This week, he turned his eloquence to the topic of climate change. Here's what he said on Tuesday at an event sponsored by the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity, as reported by The Messenger of Fort Dodge, Iowa:

King said efforts to fight global warming are both economically harmful and unnecessary.

"It is not proven, it's not science. It's more of a religion than a science," he said.