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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Colorado city wants more than just a ban on fracking

Lafayette, Colo.
Let Ideas Compete
Lafayette, Colo.

The latest effort by a group of Coloradans to protect their community from frackers goes further than the bans and moratoriums recently put in place by Boulder, Fort Collins, and Longmont.

Residents of Lafayette, Colo., which has a population of 25,000, are collecting signatures in an effort to place a charter amendment on an upcoming ballot that would ban all new oil and gas extraction and establish a far-reaching community bill of rights.

Among other things, the bill of rights would proclaim that residents "possess a right to a sustainable, healthy energy future" and the "right to be free from involuntary chemical trespass including toxins, carcinogens, particulates, nucleotides, hydrocarbons and other substances." It would also declare that ecosystems "possess unalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Lafayette."


Five pest species now immune to GMO corn and cotton

Field of corn.

Yum, genetically engineered corn and cotton.

That isn’t what most people would think. (Especially the cotton bit. And especially the GMO bit.)

But a growing number of pests appear to share this sentiment. They've developed immunity to corn and cotton crops genetically engineered to contain the pesticide Bt, so they're now munching away with impunity.


Colorado is burning as climate change extends wildfire season

Colorado burning
Phillip Stewart
Smoke from the Black Forest Fire.

Hellish wildfires are ravaging parts of Colorado. Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 360 homes have been destroyed by the Black Forest Fire, currently burning northeast of Colorado Springs. It's just one of many blazes being battled by firefighters in the state and across the West.

Hot and Bothered - small x  200
Susie Cagle

This year's Western fire season began early with blazes in Southern California -- a phenomenon that California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) blamed on climate change. Last week, the head of the U.S. Forest Service warned Congress that climate change is prolonging the annual wildfire season.

The Associated Press reports that the Black fire is "the most destructive in state history" -- and it's still raging.


Chevron CEO admits fracking raises “legitimate” safety concerns

Chevron sign

Is Chevron more clued in to the dangers of fracking than the federal government?

It would seem so. The company's CEO said this week that the industry needs to do a better job of resolving concerns about the safety of the practice. From Bloomberg:

Energy producers must deal with the “legitimate concerns” that gas development associated with hydraulic fracturing is unsafe by adopting tougher standards, Chevron Corp. Chief Executive Officer John Watson said. ...


Bee-killing pesticide companies are pretending to save bees

honey bee

Even as bees drop dead around the world after sucking down pesticide-laced nectar, pesticide makers are touting their investments in bee research.

Nearly a third of commercial honeybee colonies in U.S. were wiped out last year, for a complicated array of reasons, scientists say: disease, stress, poor nutrition, mite infestations, and — yes — pesticides. Neonicotinoid pesticides seem to be particularly damaging to bees, so much so that the European Union is moving to ban them (but the U.S. is not).

Now the two main manufacturers of neonicotinoids, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, are promoting their commitments to bee health, as is agro-giant Monsanto. From a feature story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:


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.
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


Say bye-bye to cheap food

$1 burger sign
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.”


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


Coal companies get sweetheart deals on federal leases, shortchange taxpayers

coal on money

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.


Bloomberg unveils ambitious plan to protect NYC from climate change

Michael Bloomberg
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