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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Seas may rise 10 yards during centuries ahead

Under water.
The future view from your favorite beach.

Sea-level rise is currently measured in millimeters per year, but longer-term effects of global warming are going to force our descendants to measure sea-level rise in meters or yards.

Each Celsius degree of global warming is expected to raise sea levels during the centuries ahead by 2.3 meters, or 2.5 yards, according to a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The world is currently trying (and failing) to reach an agreement that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Business-as-usual practices could yet raise temperatures by 4 (or even more) degrees Celsius.

Multiply 2.5 yards by 4 and you are left with the specter of tides that lap 10 yards higher in the future than today. That's 30 feet, the height of a three-story building. For comparison, the seas rose less than a foot last century.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Tea Partiers fight over solar power in Georgia, and the solar fans win


In Georgia on Thursday, the Tea Party scored a victory against the Tea Party by helping push through a plan requiring the state’s largest electric utility to increase its capacity for solar power.

Never a dull day in Southern politics, is there? A proposal by Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald to more than double the amount of solar energy produced by Georgia Power pitted the Tea Party Patriots against the local chapter of Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (of the notorious “No Climate Tax Pledge”). Virginia Galloway, director of AFP for the state, warned the group’s 50,000 Georgia members that the proposal could increase electricity rates by up to 40 percent, and that this “mandate” -- as she called it -- would “reduce the reliability of every appliance and electronics gadget in your home.” But the Patriots see an increase in the availability of solar as an expansion of the free market and the ratepayers’ right to choose their energy sources.

Those on the left might have a hard time distinguishing between brands of Tea Party, but there are real differences. From the Athens Banner-Herald:

Disagreement between the two groups isn’t unusual. [Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Patriots,] says Galloway is using outdated figures since solar-panel prices have dropped by more than half in the last three years. She also accuses Galloway of being swayed by the fossil-fuel interests that contribute to AFP nationally.

And, to hear Dooley tell it, AFP’s opposition to solar may not reflect the will of the people (or at least the people comprising its target audience).


Fracking industry cleanup workers exposed to benzene in Colorado, feds allege

Parachute Creek, Colorado
Parachute Creek

We told you about the drawn-out spill of 241 barrels of natural gas liquids earlier this year at a Williams Energy plant that handles fracked gas in Colorado. It turns out that Parachute Creek and its wildlife weren't the only things exposed to cancer-causing benzene because of the accident.

The toxic contents of the mess were kept secret from workers sent to excavate it, and the workers were not kitted out with the proper safety equipment.

That's according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which fined a Williams Energy subsidiary and two other companies a total of $27,000 this week for what it described as "serious violations" related to the cleanup work. From The Denver Post:

As workers began digging for super-concentrated hydrocarbons, the companies "did not inform (them) of the nature, level and degree of exposure likely as a result of participation in such hazardous waste operations," OSHA documents said.

Workers dug trenches along the pipeline, west of Parachute Creek, to find and remove toxic material, documents said. "This condition potentially exposed employees to benzene and other volatile organic compounds."


Solar installations soar in California

solar on a house roofThe Golden State is going into overdrive on solar power.

California utility customers installed a record-breaking 391 megawatts of solar power systems last year. That was a banner year for the nation's largest photovoltaic rebate scheme, with installations up 26 percent compared with 2011.

Those panels were installed with the assistance of the California Solar Initiative [PDF], a $2.2 billion program started in 2007 that aims to help residents meet the costs of installing 1,940 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of 2016. The program is on track to meet that target well ahead of schedule, meaning incentives will begin to dwindle.

From the L.A. Times:

The bulk of that money has been poured into incentives, per-watt rebates that have gradually declined as the solar industry grows. This is on top of the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit -- 30% of the cost of each residential or commercial system is paid back to the owner of the home or business -- and the net metering that accounts for all but 92 megawatts of the state’s existing solar capacity. Net metering doles out energy credits to customers for the solar power they produce but don’t consume, easing the strain of monthly electric bills. ...


Illinois town bans stripping because of fracking

Phoenix strip club
There will be no more of this in Fairfield.

It's bad enough that the fracking boom is making it more difficult for Americans to breathe clean air, feel safe drinking their water, and stand on steady ground. Now the boom is preventing anybody in one Illinois town from dancing with their clothes off.

Fairfield, Ill. (population 5,000 and shrinking) is bracing for an influx of frackers, most of whom will be men from out of town. (Despite promises of jobs associated with fracking, fracked communities normally discover that most of the work goes to experienced hands who fly in from Texas and other industry hotspots.)

A city committee charged with preparing the town for fracking warned that it could create a market for strip clubs. So, acting on the advice of the committee, the Fairfield City Council unanimously passed an ordinance this week that prohibits nude, seminude, and exotic dancing. It doesn’t even matter whether the stripping is done for profit or if it’s, er, gratuitous. From the Evansville Courier & Press:


You can look forward to more blackouts in a climate-changed world

Fire near power lines
Julian Bravo
Climate change can bring with it forest fires, which can threaten power lines.

More global warming will mean a less reliable power system.

That warning comes from the Department of Energy, which released a report [PDF] on Thursday detailing the threats posed to the nation's power infrastructure by rising temperatures, droughts, storms, floods, and sea-level rise.

"Climatic conditions are already affecting energy production and delivery in the United States, causing supply disruptions," the report states. "The magnitude of the challenge posed by climate change on an aging and already stressed U.S. energy system could outpace current adaptation efforts, unless a more comprehensive and accelerated approach is adopted."

Some of the threats listed in the report:


A Republican calls for climate action — and has to remain anonymous to keep job

faceless man

A Republican staffer at the U.S. House has written a fervent call for conservative action on climate change, winning second place in a young conservative writing contest sponsored by the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. But he won't be collecting his prize in person. He's afraid to reveal his name or face.

The piece was published yesterday on the Real Clear Science website under the pseudonym of Eric Bradenson. The author explains that he is "writing under a pen name to protect his boss and himself." Here's how his piece kicks off:

Someone in the GOP needs to say it: conservation is conservative; climate change is real; and conservatives need to lead on solutions because we have better answers than the other side.

... conservatives have long fought to protect the natural rights and property rights of individuals, living and unborn, from infringement by environmental degradation and pollution.


Diet soda won’t save you from obesity or diabetes

Diet cokes
Niall Kennedy

Bad news for everybody who drinks diet sodas instead of the sugary varieties to help stay healthy.

In an opinion piece [PDF] in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, Purdue University professor Susan Swithers writes that drinks containing such chemicals as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin have been found to contribute to excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Her piece summarizes studies on the health effects of artificial sweeteners:

Recent data from humans and rodent models have provided little support for ASB [artificially sweetened beverages] in promoting weight loss or preventing negative health outcomes such as [type 2 diabetes], metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular events. Instead, a number of studies suggest people who regularly consume ASB are at increased risk compared with those that do not.

Read more: Food


U.S. and China continue to play nice on climate

China and America

China and the U.S. continued their climate-protecting love affair Wednesday, agreeing to cooperate on five initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiatives range "from bread-and-butter steps, such as boosting building efficiency, to what officials said would be a leading-edge effort to improve the technology for capturing carbon as it is released from power plants," reports The Washington Post.

Wednesday's announcement follows an agreement struck last month during meetings between Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to work together to reduce climate-changing HFC emissions.


Arkansas tar-sands spill was an accident 60 years in the making

Mayflower cleanup
National Wildlife Federation
Cleanup crews at a marsh covered with oil from the Mayflower spill in April.

The pipeline spill that flooded Mayflower, Ark., with up to 290,000 gallons of tar-sands oil in March was an accident that had been waiting to happen — for more than 60 years.

The pipeline that ruptured beneath the town was defective, with manufacturing flaws going undetected since it was laid in the 1940s, according to independent laboratory tests. ExxonMobil released a short summary of test results Wednesday.

The findings bring into question the integrity of the entire Pegasus pipeline system — and other oil pipelines that crisscross the nation. The Pegasus system, which runs from Illinois to Texas, was laid in 1947 and 1948. The pipeline manufacturer, Ohio-based Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., is no longer in business but was reportedly one of the leading suppliers of pipelines in the 1940s.