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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Cuba is finally embracing solar power

Havana, Cuba
Even Havana might one day get solar power.

Cuba has been slow to catch on to the clean energy trend, but it's now giving solar a go. The Communist nation's leaders know they need new energy options "after four failed attempts to strike it rich with deep-water oil drilling and the death of petro-benefactor Hugo Chavez," the AP reports.

The country's first solar power plant opened in the spring, and six more are in the works. More from AP:

The solar farm now generates enough electricity to power 780 homes and had saved the equivalent of 145 tons of fossil fuels, or around 1,060 barrels of crude, through the end of July. Peak capacity is expected to hit 2.6 megawatts when the final panels are in place in September.


TransCanada plans colossal trans-Canada oil pipeline


While the Obama administration dithers over whether to approve TransCanada's planned Keystone XL pipeline, the pipeline builder announced Thursday that it will pursue an even bigger project connecting Alberta's tar-sands oil fields with refineries in the nation's east.

The 2,700-mile, $12 billion Energy East Pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels per day, making it more than a third larger than Keystone XL, which is intended to carry 800,000 bpd.

From Reuters:

The line, which still needs regulatory approval, could be in service by late 2017 for deliveries to Quebec and 2018 for New Brunswick, potentially reshaping the Atlantic Basin oil market and opening up new markets for Canadian crude.


Former Republican EPA chiefs back Obama on climate change

elephant on a tightrope

What do Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush have in common?

Yes, OK, obviously they were all Republican presidents. But now there's something else that ties them all together.

EPA administrators who worked for all of those presidents have come out in support of stronger actions on climate change, co-signing a powerful op-ed in The New York Times supporting Barack Obama's climate plan and arguing that "the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change."

Here are some highlights from the op-ed, which was written by William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman:

The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”

A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but that is unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington. Dealing with this political reality, President Obama’s June climate action plan lays out achievable actions that would deliver real progress. He will use his executive powers to require reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation’s power plants and spur increased investment in clean energy technology, which is inarguably the path we must follow to ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate. ...


Sally Jewell doesn’t want any climate deniers at Interior

Sally Jewell.
BLM Oregon
Sally Jewell.

Obama has staffed his second-term team with a couple of kickass women ready to take the lead on climate action. Two days after EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called bullshit on the notion that environmental regulations kill jobs, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, in an address to her employees, made clear that she won’t tolerate any debunked theories, either. “I hope there are no climate change deniers in the Department of Interior,” she said.

E&E News reports:

If there are any [deniers], she invited them to visit public lands managed by the agency — be it the melting permafrost in Alaska or shrinking snowpacks in the Sierra Mountains — as proof. “If you don’t believe in it, come out into the resources,” she said.

Interior will be following through on President Obama’s climate change plan, including achieving 20 gigawatts of renewable power on public lands by 2020, she said.

“You and I can actually do something about it,” she said several times. “That’s a privilege, and I would argue it’s a moral imperative.”

Moreover, the former head of REI said the federal government is able to take action on climate change on a scale “orders of magnitude” larger than any individual business, even one as huge as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Right-wingers flipped out over Jewell’s comments about employees who might not be conversant in basic scientific facts.


Should we turn deserts into carbon-sucking tree plantations?

Jatropha curcas
A Barbados nut plantation.

To fight climate change, some scientists think we should vegetate the hell out of deserts. The latest such idea calls for large plantations of a hardy species of Central American tree to be planted in near-coastal desert areas and irrigated with desalinated water.

While forests soak up carbon dioxide, deserts do comparatively little to help with climate change. So should these seas of sand be planted and watered out of existence in a bid to reduce CO2 levels?

Some say yes. The approach would be like geoengineering, but rooted in a more natural system. Scientists call it bioengineering or carbon farming.

The idea of replacing deserts with forests to help the climate is not brand new. A few years ago, for example, scientists proposed planting eucalyptus trees through the Saharan and Australian deserts to help absorb carbon dioxide.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Koch brothers hire lobbyists to fight carbon tax, save poor and old people

Charles and David Koch
Charles and David Koch really, really don't want a carbon tax.

Carbon-tax proposals are going nowhere in Congress, but the Koch brothers aren't taking any chances.

A few non-office-holding Republicans and a few actual-office-holding Democrats are calling for a carbon tax, but the current Congress would never pass one, and even the Obama administration has said it doesn't want one.

Still, a grandstanding Republican representative, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is pushing a House resolution declaring that "a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy" and "to American families and businesses," and that it would "fall hardest on the poor, the elderly, and those on fixed incomes." (Never mind that many carbon-tax proposals are designed specifically to ease burdens on low-income Americans. Facts are not of interest here.)

The billionaire oil-mogul Koch brothers -- who've convinced many politicians to sign a "No Climate Tax Pledge" -- have now hired a gang of lobbyists to push Scalise's pointless resolution, The Hill reports.


Alaska’s heat wave breaking records, killing salmon

A grizzly bear lapping up Alaska's warm summer.
Douglas Brown
A grizzly bear basks in the Alaskan sun.

Something smells fishy about a record-breaking heat wave in Alaska.

It might be the piles of dead salmon.

The Land of the Midnight Sun has been sweating, relatively speaking, through a hot and sun-soaked summer. From the AP:

Anchorage has set a record for the most consecutive days over 70 degrees during this unusually warm summer, while Fairbanks is closing in on its own seasonal heat record.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Offshore auction signals start of wind bonanza

Offshore wind turbines
Coming soon, to a coastline near you ...

Wind developers have accepted invitations to the government’s New England offshore wind energy party.

There are currently no offshore wind farms in U.S. waters, but the Obama administration intends to change that. On Wednesday, the government auctioned off the right to construct turbines in nearly 165,000 acres of federal waters south of Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- the first of many offshore auctions the Interior Department has planned.


BMW’s i3 electric car earns gushing praise

The BMW i3 electric sedan, officially unveiled this week, is getting rave reviews.

The car sells for as little as $41,350 -- not bad for a Bimmer, and that's before the $7,500 federal EV rebate. Those with range anxiety can drop a few grand more for a small backup gas-burning engine (or just take advantage of BMW's nifty SUV-sharing offer).

BMW i3
BMW i3

Here's some of what Wired has to say about the car, which weighs in at 2,700 pounds:

The reason the i3 is so svelte compared to other EVs is two-fold. First, it was designed to be an electric car from the beginning. Unlike BMW’s previous EV efforts — the Mini E (3,300 pounds, the same as a Nissan Leaf) and the BMW ActiveE (4,000 pounds) — they shaped the chassis and body around the motor and batteries to create a compact package with a low center of gravity. And then they got serious about weight savings.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Company to start slaughtering horses next week, despite arson and lawsuit

Hey, horse, did you try to burn down that New Mexico slaughterhouse?

A New Mexico slaughterhouse plans to begin killing horses for meat on Monday -- despite a looming lawsuit and an apparent arson attack.

Refrigeration units at the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell., N.M., lit up in flames on Tuesday. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but not before five compressors were damaged beyond repair. The company pledged to replace them in time to begin slaughtering horses and chilling their meat on Monday. From Albuquerque's KOB Eyewitness News 4:

Chaves County Sheriff’s Department said substances that could have been used to start the fire were found on the units and there is reason to believe it was arson. The owners are sure of it.

We're not endorsing arson. But this was the same meatpacking company whose worker shot a horse in the head on camera and said, “All you animal activists, fuck you.”

Perhaps an animal activist out there reciprocated the "fuck you" sentiment.

Read more: Food