One of the great features of California's cap-and-trade program is that all the money that the state raises by selling carbon allowances to polluters is supposed to be plowed back into initiatives that help cool the climate. So not only does the program limit and reduce carbon emissions; it also forces polluters to pay to undo some of the harm that they cause.
But with such a big stack of green sitting there, staring the notoriously cash-poor state of California in its desperate face, how can a government resist?
And so it's starting to look as though $500 million raised by selling carbon allowances could be funneled away from green programs and loaned instead to the state's general fund. The L.A. Times reports:
Gov. Jerry Brown sparked controversy Tuesday when he proposed to shift $500 million out of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and loan it to the state general fund as part of the effort to balance the budget. ...
The Earth revolves around the sun. Also, it's overheating because we're burning fossil fuels.
Can you guess which of those two long-established facts just received an additional jolt of publicized near unanimity among scientists?
It was, of course, the latter. (The oil industry has no economic interest in attempting to debunk the former, and you can no longer be persecuted for claiming it.)
An international team of scientists analyzed the abstracts of 11,944 peer-reviewed papers published between 1991 and 2011 dealing with climate change and global warming. That's right -- we're talking about 20 years of papers, many published long before Superstorm Sandy, last year's epic Greenland melt, or Australia's "angry summer."
About two-thirds of the authors of those studies refrained from stating in their abstracts whether human activity was responsible for climate change. But in those papers where a position on the claim was staked out, 97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position that humans are, indeed, cooking the planet.
Tea Partiers who watched gleefully as the sequester slashed government spending are welcome to douse forest fires near their homes with teapots full of Earl Grey this summer. Across-the-board budget cuts mean federal wildfire fighting efforts could be overwhelmed.
The U.S. Forest Service will hire 500 fewer firefighters this year and 50 fewer fire engines will be available than previously expected, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week. The Interior Department also plans to pare back its firefighting crews.
The seasonal firefighting jobs are going up in smoke because of Congress's inability to come up with a national spending plan. President Obama called for spending cuts and tax increases to help balance the budget, but Republicans would have none of the latter.
Salt’s membership in junk food’s holy trinity (along with sugar and fat) means it’s one of the food industry’s essential tools for making its products addictively good. (Journalist Michael Moss reveals this in his eye-opening book Salt Sugar Fat, but if you’ve ever housed a box of Cheez-Its solo, you already knew that.) For decades now, limiting salt intake has been part of the public-health mantra; groups like the American Heart Association vilify salt for its links to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and recommend that we all aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of salt consumption.
But all of a sudden a new report is causing a stir by saying that recommendation may be meaningless, and that consuming extremely low levels of sodium could actually be harmful.
Far out. Pass the Cheez-Its!
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple. The report, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confuses more than it clarifies. It looks at studies on sodium intake and health outcomes conducted since 2005 — the last time the U.S. issued dietary guidelines on salt. Back then, the USDA recommended that the general population consume 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day, and that populations at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure limit intake to 1,500 milligrams. The more recent evidence calls those guidelines into question. The New York Times reports:
“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death. …
There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.
“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”
Medical and public health experts responded to the new assessment of the evidence with elation or concern, depending on where they stand in the salt debates.
Some experts worry the report will send the wrong message -- that we’re off the hook in terms of watching our salt. A spokesperson for the AHA said the group “remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back.”
"Terribly sorry, sir. It seems that the kitchen was running a little low on maggots."
If we want to satiate the world population's ever-growing appetite, insect farming should be the next global foodie fad. Or at least that's the gist of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The thorough 187-page report [PDF], published Monday, covers everything from different cultures' attitudes towards eating insects to farming methods to tips for using insects as emergency food during disasters.
Benefits of bug munching are manifold: The report points out that farmers can raise insects on human and animal waste, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and produce less pollution than cattle or pigs, and they use substantially less land and water than other livestock.
Schools and roads are nice to have. But what American taxpayers are really dropping serious money on, through no direct choice of their own, is cleaning up and helping out after all those climate-related disasters.
A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the federal government dished out $96 billion last year on what the NRDC calls "federal climate disruption costs." That works out to $1,100 per taxpayer, or one-sixth of the government's non-defense related spending. It's more than the feds spent last year on education or on transportation.
The unwelcome spending spree came during the second most expensive year on record for such disasters. Superstorm Sandy hit last year, as did the drought-induced failures of federally insured crops. Floods and forest fires also racked up sizable bills.
As if the swelling number of kids in the world isn't enough to keep him busy, Santa Claus is being forced to shift his home eight inches every year to keep up with climate change.
Assuming I'm getting this fable right, the jolly old dude who rose from the dead and ascended to the North Pole to construct a toy-building redoubt and a reindeer-based delivery system could consider himself one of the many refugees of the changing climate.
That's according, more or less, to the findings of a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which used satellite gravity measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment to monitor the recent meanderings of the precise location of the North Pole.
Is it OK to slaughter hundreds of thousands of birds every year in the name of clean energy? Is it OK for a luxury home developer to kill California condors in its quest for profits?
The Obama administration seems to think so. It is flexing little to none of the legal muscle needed to encourage wind energy companies to avoid killing eagles, hawks, and other birds that can be fatally drawn into their spinning turbines.
An Associated Press investigation revealed that the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing a bird. Many of the avian victims of the fast-growing wind sector are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and some are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
At Grist, we’ve been onto the trend of the youngs losing interest in driving for awhile now. And every time a new study or survey comes out to statistically corroborate the anecdotal evidence we see every day, we hear the same responses from skeptics -- it’s just the economy, just a stage of life. Wait til those millennials get real jobs, get married, have families, and move to the suburbs. Then you bet they’ll start driving.
But the latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”
The U.S. PIRG study reveals how, after six decades of steady growth, both total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and VMT per capita have been falling since 2007. Total VMT is now at 2004 levels, while VMT per capita has fallen to 1996 levels. And once again, it’s those meddling millennials who are reimagining one of the pillars of American culture. Young people ages 16 to 34 drove an average of 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001, according to the report. If you consider that more than half the people in that age group were old enough to drive in 2001, too, that suggests that even as those at the older end of this generation enter their 30s -- presumably settling into more stable jobs and in some cases starting families -- they’re still not switching over to a car-centric lifestyle at the same rate as generations before them.
North Carolina's numerous coal plants might be driving Tar Heel State residents to kill themselves.
Suicide is a leading killer in America, and links between air pollution and suicide rates have been known for years. Breathing in bad air might drive people to take their own lives by worsening their health problems, affecting their nervous systems, or generally lowering their life satisfaction.
So Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researcher John Spangler set about trying to understand how polluting coal-fired power plants might affect county-by-county suicide rates in North Carolina, where the statewide rate is higher than the national average [PDF]. What he discovered was an alarming correlation.