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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


This is how little it costs for states to go renewable


States can boost renewable energy capacity at bargain-basement prices, a new study finds.

Federal researchers examined the 29 states where renewable portfolio standards (RPS's) have been in place for more than five years. They concluded that these standards, which require utilities to generate a certain percentage of power from clean sources, led to the development of 46,000 megawatts of renewable capacity up until 2012 -- and that they raised electricity rates by an average of less than 2 percent.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.


Chicago area off the hook from climate lawsuits

Rain in Chicago

Chicago-area residents got soaked by floods in April 2013, but at least they've now avoided getting soaked by an insurance company.

As we reported last month, the Farmers Insurance Group filed class-action lawsuits against Chicago-area municipalities, charging that they failed to prepare for flood-related impacts of climate change, which led to major flooding last year. But the company has unexpectedly dropped the suits.

“We believe our lawsuit brought important issues to the attention of the respective cities and counties, and that our policyholders' interests will be protected by the local governments going forward,” Farmers said in a statement. From the Chicago Tribune:


D'oh, Canada

Canadian meteorologists barred from talking about climate change

Stephen Harper
Shutterstock / Nic Neufeld

In the U.S., President Obama recently invited meteorologists to the White House to talk about climate change. In Canada, federal government meteorologists are banned from talking about climate change.

But maybe that shouldn't be a surprise in a country that's become a rogue petrostate.

Environment Canada, the national environmental agency that also serves as the government's weather service, does not allow its weather forecasters to discuss climate change publicly. "Weather Preparedness Meteorologists are experts in their field of severe weather and speak to this subject," an agency spokesperson told journalist Mike De Souza. "Questions about climate change or long-term trends would be directed to a climatologist or other applicable authority.” Here's more from a blog post by De Souza:


Even Republican voters support Obama’s new climate rule

Republicans not listening to leaders on climate

Republican politicians are railing against President Obama's new draft power-plant pollution rules, portraying them as job killers that will leave the economy in unrecognizable tatters.

But their rank-and-file voters haven't yet gotten the message.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted from Thursday to Sunday as the media was ramping up coverage ahead of the rules' release, included this question: “Do you think the federal government should or should not limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants in an effort to reduce global warming?”

Not only did 70 percent of all respondents reply in the affirmative, but more than twice as many Republicans said "yes" as said "no." Check it out:


Did China just outdo Obama on climate action?

China power plant

Just one day after the Obama administration proposed new power plant CO2 rules, alerting the world that the U.S. is finally starting to take climate action seriously, the planet's other climate-polluting giant is making similar headlines. China is considering imposing an absolute cap on carbon emissions in 2016, a senior government official announced in Beijing on Tuesday.

Few specific details are available, but a cap on emissions, which would likely incorporate the country's nascent carbon-trading system, is being seen as a potentially major step in curbing the nation's climate impacts.

"We hope to implement this in the 13th five-year plan, but the plan has not been fixed yet, so it isn’t government policy yet," Professor He Jiankun, vice-chairman of China’s National Experts Panel on Climate Change, told the Financial Times following the announcement. "This is our experts’ advice and suggestion."


Cow causes oily spill; energy companies ruminate over whether to cow-proof facilities


What did the cow say to the tank valve holding back barrels of fossil fuel waste?


Last week, an oblivious cow in North Dakota triggered the release of 20 barrels of natural gas condensate, a byproduct of natural gas drilling:


quel soulagement

World cautiously relieved by Obama’s climate announcement

world relieved by Obama climate news

Sighs of relief are being heard around the world as Obama proposes new domestic climate regulations.

The U.S. has long obstructed global efforts to rein in climate change, perhaps most notably by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Now the international community is hoping to craft a new global climate deal next year in Paris, and many see Obama's rules as a good sign.

“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action -- action that can set the stage and put in place the pathways that can bend the global emissions curve down in order to keep world-wide temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius this century," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which guides international climate negotiations.

"The decision by President Obama to launch plans to more tightly regulate emissions from power plants will send a good signal to nations everywhere that one of the world’s biggest emitters is taking the future of the planet and its people seriously," she said.


Obama gears up for his big climate move

Obama and flag

President Obama is about to launch what may be the biggest climate change initiative of his presidency, and the biggest in U.S. history -- and it's not because he's a tree-hugging hippie. As he lays the groundwork for introducing landmark regulations on power-plant CO2 emissions on Monday, he "wants to shift the conversation from polar bears and melting glaciers to droughts in Iowa and more childhood asthma across the nation," as Bloomberg reports.

He pushed that message home in his weekly video address on Saturday:

I’m here at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., visiting with some kids being treated here all the time for asthma and other breathing problems. Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution -- pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change. And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it. ...

This week, we’re unveiling ... proposed guidelines [that] will cut down on the carbon pollution, smog, and soot that threaten the health of the most vulnerable Americans, including children and the elderly. In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided -- and those numbers will go up from there.


How the melting Arctic could spread invasive species far and wide


After 300 years of fruitless (and sometimes deadly) attempts to find the fabled Northwest Passage, a sea route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Arctic, global warming’s shown up all those hard-man sailors by suddenly making the journey easy. In 2007, higher temperatures had melted enough of that pesky Arctic ice to open the passage up to non-icebreaking vessels for the very first time, and since then the ice has only continued to melt -- meaning more and more shippers will be using this efficient trade route.

But what's good news for shippers is not necessarily good news for the rest of us: More vessels taking the northern course is also projected to spread harmful invasive species.

The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage

“What’s happening now is that ships move between oceans by going through the Panama or Suez [canals], but that means ships from higher latitudes have to divert south into tropical and subtropical waters,” says Whitman Miller, who recently wrote about the issue in a commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change. “[S]o if you are a cold water species you’re not likely to do well in those warm waters.” And, since freshwater flows through the Panama Canal, critters that cling on to hulls often die from osmotic shock as they go from saltwater to freshwater and back again.

But as more ships take a northerly route, the barnacles, mussels and crabs that hitch along for the journey won't be exposed to those shocks, and so will be more likely to survive the ride. 

Read more: Climate & Energy


Don't ask me

Republicans confirm they don’t know squat about science

John Boehner's Flickr feed
House Speaker John Boehner -- not a scientist

GOP politicians are using a new tactic when they talk about climate change: playing dumb.

As the Huffington Post reports, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told journalists on Thursday that he's "not qualified to debate the science over climate change" -- but he does know that Obama's "prescription for dealing with changes in our climate" involves hurting the economy and "killing" American jobs.