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Yes Men prank the Chamber of Commerce — and get away with it

A Chamber of Commerce official interrupts a fake news conference by the Yes Men in 2009.
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A Chamber of Commerce official interrupts a fake news conference by the Yes Men in 2009.

If you're going to prank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, you'd better brace yourself for a long legal battle.

It's been almost four years since the Yes Men conned reporters into thinking the chamber was finally warming up to the dangers of climate change. The tricksters put up a fake website and sent out a fake press release under the chamber's name, fooling a number of mainstream news outlets into believing that the business group had reversed course and decided to support climate legislation. The Yes Men also held a fake news conference, which went on for a number of minutes before an actual chamber spokesman barged in and busted it up (video is below).

Laughs were had, feelings were hurt, confusion reigned for the better part of five minutes, and then, of course, the stodgy old men in ties talked to their lawyers and filed the inevitable lawsuit.

On Friday, with court proceedings in the stalled case finally set to get underway, the stodgy old men in ties backed down. From The Wall Street Journal:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Say bye-bye to cheap food

$1 burger sign
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They won't be $1 for long.

The days of agricultural plenty are over and it's going to keep getting harder for everybody to afford enough food to eat.

That's the somber conclusion of a new international report, which warns that low food prices "seem now a feature of a bygone era." Blame climate change, degraded land, growing populations, and increasing energy costs.

"[W]ith energy prices high and rising and production growth declining across the board, strong demand for food, feed, fibre and industrial uses of agricultural products is leading to structurally higher prices and with significant upside price risks," states the 10-year agricultural outlook [PDF] published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

From Think Progress:

The report notes that “increasing environmental pressures” — which include climate change-fueled storms, drought and flooding — will be one of the main factors slowing the growth of food production around the world. In China in particular — a country the report focused on, with a fifth of the world’s population and steadily rising income levels — water shortages will be one of the key problems facing food production as rainfall becomes more variable. And there will be other risks for China as well. As the report notes: “Food availability will be impacted by changes in temperature, water availability, extreme weather events, soil condition, and pest and disease patterns.”

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BP stops cleanup in three Gulf states — and starts funding a new beachfront hotel

Image (1) oil-spill-bp-sign-marsh-Greenpeace.jpg for post 37416BP's oil-spill cleanup operations have formally wrapped up in three of the four states that were polluted following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010.

After more than three years of cleanup, that sounds like an occasion to party and then relax. But it isn't. Not only has the Gulf Coast not recovered from the oil spill, but the hard work of environmental restoration has barely even begun. From the Associated Press:

The London-based oil giant said the Coast Guard has concluded “active cleanup operations” in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, but the work continues along 84 miles of Louisiana’s shoreline. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Coal companies get sweetheart deals on federal leases, shortchange taxpayers

coal on money
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As if climate disruption, air pollution, health problems, and landscape destruction weren’t bad enough, here's another reason to hate the coal industry: Coal companies are shortchanging U.S. taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars they should be paying for the rights to mine federal land.

A new report [PDF] from the inspector general of the Interior Department reveals that the Bureau of Land Management routinely underestimates the value of coal, letting companies like Peabody and Arch Coal snap up federal mining rights for a song, often with little or no competition. More than 80 percent of coal leases up for auction in the past 20 years received only one bid, the report found.

The New York Times reports:

The report said that the process by which the value of the leases is computed is faulty, costing the government millions. At the current rate of coal leasing, the inspector general found, every penny-a-ton undervaluation costs the taxpayers $3 million.

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Bloomberg unveils ambitious plan to protect NYC from climate change

Michael Bloomberg
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Michael Bloomberg.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out an ambitious plan today to fortify the city against the extreme weather and storms we can expect thanks to a changing climate. “This is a defining challenge of our future,” Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The plan, estimated to cost $20 billion, includes 250 recommendations in all, covering everything from erecting bulkheads and levees to retrofitting old buildings to protecting the city’s power infrastructure. (Fifty-three percent of NYC’s power plants currently sit within the 100-year floodplain, and by the 2050s, 90 percent could be in that danger zone.)

The New York Times reports:

The plan covers so many different parts of the city and calls for such a wide array of proposals that the estimated price tag could change – and given the history of large infrastructure projects, that means the cost is likely to grow.

The price estimate also does not include some of the more ambitious projects envisioned in the report that require further study, like the construction of a so-called Seaport City, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, modeled after Battery Park City, which would protect Lower Manhattan but cost billions.

The administration said that roughly half of the currently estimated $20 billion cost of the next decade would be covered by federal and city money that had already been allocated in the capital budget and that an additional $5 billion would be covered by expected aid that Congress had already appropriated. Most of that money was allocated, through a variety of programs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to the report.

While a $20 billion price tag sounds staggering, Bloomberg pointed out that Hurricane Sandy alone did $19 billion in damage to the city, and that a future storm could cause as much as $90 billion worth of destruction.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Here’s how the world can get on track with climate goals

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Take the off-ramp, please!

The world is driving itself into a future of climate hell, but experts say it's not too late to take the off-ramp.

Despite declining greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and other developed nations, global emissions broke a new record last year. They were pushed 1.4 percent higher than the year before by rapid growth in China and India, and by Japan turning to fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.

During U.N. climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009, most of the world agreed to aim for a post-Industrial Revolution temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world keeps traveling along its current path, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report that long-term average temperature increases of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C are more likely.

Climate negotiations are underway to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which could help stem the tide of rising emissions. But no new agreement is expected to come into force until 2020 -- and who knows if it would even be strong enough to make a difference.

So it would be easy to conclude that we're royally fucked.

But in its new report, the IEA outlines four strategies that countries could pursue during the next seven years to help spare us the "royally fucked" scenario of skyrocketing temperatures -- all at zero net economic cost.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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NOAA weather-monitoring program hit by sequester cuts

COSMIC satellites. Sequester cuts could see the planned second generation of this weather-monitoring array axed.
NASA
COSMIC satellites. Sequester cuts could see the planned second generation of this weather-monitoring array axed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to figure out how to meet sequester cuts demanded by Congress -- without upsetting Congress by furloughing the agency's weather forecasters.

One proposed solution might sound fine if you just want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow, but it's not so fine if you care about improving the accuracy of such forecasts in the coming years.

An earlier proposal from NOAA that would have required employees of the National Weather Service to take some furlough days this year was recently nixed amid tornado-induced horror at the thought of meteorologists being kept away from work.

The agency's new plan would see funds drained instead from the COSMIC-2 satellite program, the second phase planned in a joint U.S.-Taiwan project that aims to improve weather forecasting. From Politico:

“The beauty of this program is it generates an extraordinary amount of useful data and we don’t have to pay the whole freight,” said Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

“It is an extraordinary mistake to take away the money,” he told POLITICO. “This will be really controversial in the discipline.” ...

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Organic farmers lose court battle with Monsanto

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"Trust us, we're Monsanto."

That's pretty much all the untrustworthy company had to say to win yet another round in a drawn-out court battle with organic farmers and seed producers.

The U.S. court system is refusing to protect the organic growers from future Monsanto lawsuits in the event that traces of genetically engineered genes accidentally end up in the farmers' crops. That's because of a single paragraph on the biotech giant's website that says it has no such litigious intentions.

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EV owners jolted by new taxes

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States have begun introducing taxes on not using gasoline.

As the number of electric vehicles on the roads starts to climb, a number of states are introducing new fees to offset the projected losses in gas-tax revenues.

The AP reports that at least 10 states have considered or passed legislation that would impose such fees on electric or hybrid cars.

The new charges could help governments build and maintain the roads and bridges upon which the new generation of vehicles are being driven. But it seems that owners of gas-free cars are also being eyed to plug holes left in government budgets by the improved efficiency of traditional vehicles.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Gas taxes are one of the main sources of funding for bridges and roads. But people are driving more fuel-efficient cars, and many states’ tax rates haven’t kept up with inflation during the past decade. That’s left less money available for repairs. Nationwide, gas tax revenue declined every year from $40.7 billion in 2004 to $37.9 billion in 2010, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research group in Washington.

That’s a big reason Virginia and Washington State are levying green-car taxes and New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana, and at least four other states are considering doing the same. “The intent is that people who use the roads pay for them,” says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat who wrote a bill to tax electric-car drivers 1¢ for every mile they log on state highways under a yet-to-be-devised tracking system. “Just because we have somebody who is getting out of doing it because they have an alternative form of fuel, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay for the roads.”

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Boulder and other Colorado cities try to fight fracking

Boulder, Colo.
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Boulder tells frackers to piss off -- for the next year, at least.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) loves fracking -- he once even drank fracking fluid to prove it -- but other elected officials in the state are not so gung ho. A handful of Colorado cities are trying to limit or ban the practice -- and are finding that it's not so easy to do.

Boulder is the latest Colorado municipality to take on the frackers. Last week, its city council unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on fracking within city limits and on city-owned open space, and council members are considering options for a more long-term policy. From the Boulder Daily Camera:

Read more: Climate & Energy