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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Dead zone could break records in Gulf this year

Dead zone
The possible dead zone is shown in red.

Get ready for a swath of marine sterility the likes of which Gulf fishermen have never seen.

NOAA warned Tuesday that a dead zone the size of New Jersey could break records this summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Heavy rainfalls are washing a stew of pollutants and nutrients into the Gulf, feeding outbreaks of algae that will rob the waters of oxygen as they die and decompose. In these oxygen-deprived waters, marine life either flee or die.

The Gulf dead zone is caused every summer by fertilizer and animal waste running off from farms, including those along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Sewage and other sources of nutrient-loaded pollution, such as lawn fertilizers, also play a role. From a NOAA press release:

Read more: Food


China begins carbon trading

Made in China

The latest knockoff to be produced in China is the carbon credit.

On Tuesday, the nation's first carbon-trading program was launched in Shenzhen. Under the small pilot project, 635 companies responsible for 38 percent of the city's carbon pollution began trading emission allowances. The program is scheduled to be expanded to six other areas by next year and then to the whole country before 2020. It will help China meet a national carbon cap that's expected to be imposed by 2016.

China's carbon-trading plans are modeled on similar programs underway in Europe, Australia, California, New England, and other large economies. In fact, carbon trading seems to be catching on with governments everywhere -- except the United States.

Though the Chinese program is starting off small, it's expected to have big ramifications. From Reuters:


Keystone XL won’t use state-of-the-art spill technology

women protesting Keystone
Dan Holtmeyer
These women don't trust TransCanada's assurances about safety.

TransCanada swears that once the Keystone XL pipeline is operational, it will be totally safe. The company is apparently so confident -- despite already having had to dig up and replace faulty stretches of the pipeline’s southern leg -- that it doesn’t see the need to invest in state-of-the-art spill-detection technology. TransCanada is like that obnoxious seventh-grade skateboarder too confident in his sick moves to bother with a helmet.

The internal spill detectors TransCanada currently uses -- in which sensors alert remote operators if pressure along the pipeline drops -- are standard for the industry, but they’re designed to catch high-volume spills. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Keystone XL would have to be spilling more than 12,000 barrels a day -- or 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity -- before its currently planned internal spill-detection systems would trigger an alarm, according to the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing the proposal.


Chinese science academy slaps down climate-denying Heartland Institute

Heartland Institute
Translated, yes. Endorsed, no.

Well, that was embarrassing.

The Heartland Institute -- the right-wing group best known for its Unabomber billboard -- recently boasted on a blog about successfully spreading its message of climate denial to the Chinese:

The trend toward skepticism and away from alarmism is now unmistakable ...

Publication of a Chinese translation of Climate Change Reconsidered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences indicates the country's leaders believe their [failure to sign a global climate treaty] is justified by science and not just economics.

But really all that happened was that one of Heartland's climate-denial reports, "Climate Change Reconsidered," was translated into Chinese [PDF].

And translation does not mean endorsement. Even the translators' preface says the work was undertaken “to understand different opinions and positions in debates on climate change" and "does not reflect that [those involved in the translation] agree with the views" in the report.


Indianapolis to get nation’s largest EV sharing program

Bolloré Group's Indianapolis EV-sharing program would mimic its French ones.
Bolloré Group's Indianapolis EV-sharing program would mimic its French ones.

Are you a fan of electric vehicles who doesn't want to own your own car?

Get thee to Indy.

A company that operates electric-vehicle sharing programs in France is looking to expand, and its executives have settled on Indianapolis for their first American foray. Bolloré Group's $35 million plan will provide 500 shared cars and 1,200 charging stations at 200 locations throughout Indiana's capital. The company's inaugural American initiative will be modeled on its French Autolib program, with sharing slated to begin next year.


Obama says a climate plan is coming next month, so climate hawks delay lawsuit

Shutterstock/ mistydawnphoto
"Sit tight, guys. Climate rules are coming soon, I swear."

A cavalry of lawyers representing states and environmental groups was expected to launch a legal assault against the Obama administration this week over its slow movement on climate rules, but the charge was postponed at the 11th hour.

What changed? Obama has been telling donors that he plans to unveil new climate change regulations as part of a larger climate strategy next month.

Those regulations are expected to include a long-awaited rule on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, which would likely make it impossible to build new coal plants unless they have carbon-capture technology. The administration has been delaying release of that rule, reportedly working to improve it so it can better withstand the inevitable industry lawsuits. That delay in turn prompted states and environmental groups to threaten their own lawsuit.

From Reuters:


Facing climate reality, cities look for ways to adapt

The East Village.
The East Village after Hurricane Sandy.

Since the 2007 release of PlaNYC, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sustainability vision, the city has chipped away steadily at its carbon emissions, cutting them to 13 percent below 2005 levels already. But nothing New York does on its own to mitigate climate change can save the city from future Sandys and the sea-level rise that will make such storms even more destructive going forward.

Last week, Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious, expensive plan to fortify the city against the kind of extreme weather that's fast becoming the “new normal.” The event amplified a message more local leaders are embracing: Climate change is already upon us, and adapting to it will be essential to prevent massive losses of money and life.

On Monday, the mayors of Washington, D.C., Denver, Nashville, and 42 other U.S. cities signed a “Resilient Communities for America" agreement, pledging “to prepare and protect their communities from the increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change.” According to a press release about the campaign, $1 spent on disaster preparation saves $4 in potential losses (consider that Hurricane Sandy caused almost $20 billion of damage). The local leaders also called for more support and cooperation from the federal government. Although, as Bloomberg himself has pointed out, cities are in an ideal practical position to start taking immediate climate action, the scale of work to be done to strengthen urban infrastructure requires all the federal dollars they can get.

The Associated Press explains how, in green circles, a focus on adaptation was once frowned upon, out of concern that it would distract from efforts to address the source of the problem or downplay its importance. That concern still exists, but as a climate-changed world becomes reality much faster than a global climate solution, government officials figure they’d better prepare for the worst.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Wind farms seek federal OK to kill eagles, pissing off both left and right

eagle near wind turbine
Watch out!

It’s not easy to unite the right-wing Heartland Institute and bird-loving environmentalists.

But that’s what some wind energy developers appear to be doing by proposing to the federal government that they be allowed to kill bald eagles and other protected species with their turbines.

Across the country, 14 wind projects have applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permits that would let them "take" -- aka harm or kill -- a certain number of eagles each year. That includes four wind farms in California, one in Minnesota, and one in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma project could be the first in the nation to actually receive such a permit. The company behind it, Wind Capital Group, wants permission to kill up to three bald eagles every year for 40 years on its proposed 94-turbine wind farm. A Native American tribe in the area is protesting, as are some conservation groups. The Daily Ardmoreite reports:


Nicaragua OKs plan for cross-country canal, environment be damned

Nicaragua map
"Let's cut it in two and let shipping through."

Nicaragua is one step closer to being carved in half by a massive cross-country canal. Leftist President Daniel Ortega rammed the project through his country's congress last week.

The lawmakers gave the Hong Kong-based HKND Group a 50-year concession to excavate and operate the canal, which is intended to rival Panama's. If it's actually built -- and that's still a big if -- it promises to give an economic boost to the bitterly poor country. Nicaragua would get a minority share of profits and, say backers, tens of thousands of jobs too.

But critics warn that would come at the expense of the environment and clean water supplies. From Agence France-Presse:

Centro Humboldt environmental group deputy director Victor Campos told AFP the project to link Nicaragua's Atlantic and Pacific coasts will jeopardize the watershed that supplies water to most of the impoverished country's population when it transits through Lake Nicaragua. ...


Al Gore, raising the heat on Obama, calls Keystone an “atrocity”

Center for American Progress Action Fund
The Goracle does not like Keystone.

From one Nobel Peace Prize winner to another, this whole Keystone XL thing is an "atrocity."

Al Gore has been calling on Barack Obama to step up the fight against climate change and Keystone, most recently during an interview with The Guardian:

The former vice-president said in an interview on Friday that he hoped Obama would follow the example of British Columbia, which last week rejected a similar pipeline project, and shut down the Keystone XL.

"I certainly hope that he will veto that now that the Canadians have publicly concluded that it is not safe to take a pipeline across British Columbia to ports on the Pacific," he told the Guardian. "I really can't imagine that our country would say: 'Oh well. Take it right over parts of the Ogallala aquifer', our largest and most important source of ground water in the US. It's really a losing proposition." ...