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Seattle mayor wants to block Whole Foods because of its low wages

Mike McGinn
Dave Lichterman
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says Whole Foods should pay more or get lost.

The Washington, D.C., city council made national news earlier this month with its effort to force Walmart to pay higher wages at six new stores the company hopes to build in the city.

A similar fight is afoot in Seattle -- but over Whole Foods. Mayor Mike McGinn, who's up for reelection this year, is leading the charge against a proposed new store in the West Seattle neighborhood. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat reports:

“I’m setting a new standard here, that we are going to look at the wages they pay, and benefits, when a company wants to develop with land that involves public property,” McGinn told me in an interview. ...

McGinn contended in a letter that the nonunion Whole Foods pays “significantly lower” wages and benefits than other grocery stores, including some already in West Seattle. So the idea of allowing Whole Foods to go in there violates the city’s social and economic justice goals.

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Wild thing, I think I need you: How weeds could save dinner

Wild strawberries
Kim Hummer / USDA
This wild species of strawberry was recently discovered growing in the Oregon Cascades. Researchers say it could be bred with other species to create new disease-resistant or delicious varieties.

Who needs weeds? In a climate-changed world, we all do.

Wild relatives of potatoes, peas, eggplants, and lentils, among many other crops, are often thought of as weeds, but they could help us produce healthier harvests even as we face water shortages and other climate-induced challenges.

Nature explains:

Faced with climate change, plant breeders are increasingly turning to the genomes of the wild, weedy relatives of crops for traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance. But a global analysis of 455 crop wild relatives has found that 54% are underrepresented in gene bank collections — and that many, including ones at risk of extinction, have never been collected.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Here’s how wind and solar can save more lives and prevent more pollution

These solar panels, being installed in Ohio, will not produce as much electricity as they would in California -- but they will be better at reducing fossil fuel pollution.
Gary Chancey
These solar panels, being installed in Ohio, will not produce as much electricity as they would in California -- but they will be better at reducing pollution.

America’s renewable energy boom could protect more lives and prevent more climate pollution if wind turbines and solar panels were being installed in different locations, a new study suggests.

Solar and wind energy is most valuable to society when it replaces coal burning. But most of the new solar and wind capacity is being installed outside America’s coal-powered states. It's going where the wind blows the hardest, where the sun shines the strongest, or where states have renewable energy mandates or incentives.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University compared the benefits of installing a wind turbine in 33,000 locations across America, factoring in the positive impact of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and avoided death and disease. They repeated the exercise with a solar panel, comparing nearly 1,000 potential locations.

From their paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Thirty percent of existing wind capacity is installed in Texas and California, where the combined health, environmental, and climate benefits from wind are among the lowest in the country. Less than 5% of existing wind capacity is in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia, where wind energy offers the greatest social benefits from displaced pollution. …

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No one knows how to stop these tar-sands oil spills

Oil spill at Cold Lake, Alberta
Photograph obtained by the Toronto Star
Oil polluting the ground at Cold Lake in Alberta.

Thousands of barrels of tar-sands oil have been burbling up into forest areas for at least six weeks in Cold Lake, Alberta, and it seems that nobody knows how to staunch the flow.

An underground oil blowout at a big tar-sands operation run by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has caused spills at four different sites over the past few months. (This is different from the 100-acre spill in Alberta that we told you about last month, which was caused by a ruptured pipeline.)

Media and others have been blocked from visiting the sites, but the Toronto Star obtained documents and photographs about the ongoing disaster from a government scientist involved in the cleanup, who spoke to the reporter on condition of anonymity. The prognosis is sickening. From Friday’s article:

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Electric vehicle sales are skyrocketing

Chevy Volt
Chevrolet
Chevy Volt

Americans bought 40,000 new electric vehicles in the first six months of this year -- more than twice the number purchased during the same period last year. And that was after sales of plug-in cars tripled from 17,000 in 2011 to 52,000 last year.

Why are Americans so gung-ho on EVs? Caring about the environment is one reason. But the Energy Department highlighted another good reason on Friday when it released the plug-in sales data. From a department press release:

The eGallon, a quick and simple way for consumers to compare the costs of fueling electric vehicles vs. driving on gasoline, rose slightly to $1.18 from $1.14 in the latest monthly numbers, but remains far below the $3.49 cost of a gallon of gasoline.

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Ice, ice, maybe: Snow and ice melting at record speed

Take a picture -- it'll last longer than the snow cover.
Shutterstock
Take a picture -- it'll last longer than the snow cover.

You may have noticed it’s been a hot summer so far. June temperatures were above average across the world, and both NASA and NOAA ranked the month among the top five warmest since record keeping began in the late 1800s.

Not surprisingly, snow extent in the Northern Hemisphere was at its third-lowest on record by June. But what makes the current paltry snow cover more significant is the fact that, just a few months ago, the Northern Hemisphere was unusually snowy -- April 2013 had the ninth-highest snow extent since 1967. A month later, half that snow had melted away. The Washington Post reports:

“This is likely one of the most rapid shifts in near opposite extremes on record, if not the largest from April to May,” said climatologist David Robinson, who runs Rutgers University Global Snow Lab.

The snow extent shrunk from 12.4 million square miles to 6.2 million square miles in a month’s time. By June, just 2.3 million square miles of snow remained in the Northern Hemisphere (a decline of 63 percent from May), third lowest on record.

“In recent years it hasn’t seemed that unusual to have average or even above average winter snow extent rapidly diminish to below average values come spring,” Robinson said.

It’s the same story for ice.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Dozens of new oil rigs planned for Gulf of Mexico

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico
kris krüg
Somebody ordered a couple dozen more of these?

It's open season for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

A five-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling was imposed after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, but those days are long gone. Now a record-breaking number of rigs are coming to the Gulf to tap gas and oil beneath the sea floor.

More than 60 rigs are expected to be operating in waters deeper than 1,000 feet by the end of 2015, up from 36 today, Bloomberg reports:

Demand is driven in part by exploration successes in the lower tertiary, a geologic layer about 20,000 feet below the sea floor containing giant crude deposits that producers are only now figuring out how to tap. Companies such as Chevron Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. must do more drilling to turn large discoveries into producing wells -- as many as 20 wells for each find.

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Harry Reid blames climate change for fires ravaging his state

Harry Reid
Center for American Progress
Give 'em hell, Harry!

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has no doubt about what's causing this summer's disastrous Western fire season: climate change.

During a meeting with reporters this week, Reid linked global warming to a 28,000-acre blaze in Nevada that caused hundreds to be evacuated from their homes. After being mocked by conservative media, he doubled down and made his points again in front of a group of reporters.

Bison Fire, Nevada
Steve Dunleavy
This month's Bison Fire burning in Carson Valley, Nev.

"The West is being devastated by wildfires. Millions of acres are burning. Millions of acres have burned," Reid said on Thursday. "Why? Because the climate has changed. The winters are shorter; the summers are hotter; the moisture patterns have changed."

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Crude on the tracks: Oil spills from trains skyrocket

As more oil is being shipped by train across North America, more oil is being spilled from trains. EnergyWire reports:

The number of spills and other accidents from railroad cars carrying crude oil has skyrocketed in recent years, up from one or two a year early in the previous decade to 88 last year.

rail-accidents-oil-chart

Most of the spills are relatively small -- nothing like the deadly disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, earlier this month -- but with oil shipments on the rise, there's cause to be concerned.

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Monsanto virtually gives up on growing GMO crops in Europe

Farmer in a corn field
Shutterstock
Europeans who don't want Monsanto's GMO crops on their land can rejoice.

Monsanto has pretty much given up any hope (at least for now) of selling its genetically engineered seeds for corn, sugar beets, and other crops in Europe, where opposition to GMO food is overwhelming.

From the L.A. Times:

Monsanto Co. said Thursday it will largely drop its bid to grow some of its genetically modified crops in Europe.