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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Al Gore, raising the heat on Obama, calls Keystone an “atrocity”

Center for American Progress Action Fund
The Goracle does not like Keystone.

From one Nobel Peace Prize winner to another, this whole Keystone XL thing is an "atrocity."

Al Gore has been calling on Barack Obama to step up the fight against climate change and Keystone, most recently during an interview with The Guardian:

The former vice-president said in an interview on Friday that he hoped Obama would follow the example of British Columbia, which last week rejected a similar pipeline project, and shut down the Keystone XL.

"I certainly hope that he will veto that now that the Canadians have publicly concluded that it is not safe to take a pipeline across British Columbia to ports on the Pacific," he told the Guardian. "I really can't imagine that our country would say: 'Oh well. Take it right over parts of the Ogallala aquifer', our largest and most important source of ground water in the US. It's really a losing proposition." ...


Climate change 101 with Ernest Moniz: “Count.”

basic math
Basic math.

For the sake of any slow ones in the room, how can we be so sure that humans are responsible for climate change?

Basic mathematics is a good place to start.

That's how Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz explained his confidence that humanity is to blame for climate distruption. He was addressing Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), a climate skeptic, during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday. McKinley was questioning whether humans or natural cycles were "primarily" responsible for climate change.

"The rise in CO2 emissions in the last half century is clearly tracked to our global increased energy use," Moniz replied. "I know how to count. I can count how many CO2 molecules have gone out from fossil fuel combustion and I know how many additional CO2 molecules are in the atmosphere."


No, we’re not running out of people

crowd of people
No shortage in sight.

Every few months we see a spate of "news" stories warning that population growth rates are declining in the U.S. and/or the world, potentially leading to a shortage of babies and outright "demographic disaster." In an extreme (and extremely stupid) example from January of this year, one Slate writer warned that if trends continue over the long term, "we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity."

Well, you can strike that worry off your list, according to the latest stats from the U.N.

The Associated Press sums up the news:

The United Nations forecast Thursday that the world’s population will increase from 7.2 billion today to 8.1 billion in 2025, with most growth in developing countries and more than half in Africa. By 2050, it will reach 9.6 billion. ...

Read more: Living


Batteries included: New wind turbines and solar panels come with built-in storage

GE’s 2.5-120 wind turbine
General Electric
A new GE wind turbine comes with battery included.

If you want to use solar power at night or wind power on calm days, you need batteries that can store energy after it's produced. But why bother with two pieces of equipment when you could have one?

Engineers are now beginning to build batteries directly into wind and solar systems.

Combined renewable generation-storage systems are just starting to be deployed in the wind sector. From a report last month in Quartz:

[W]hat if every wind turbine became a node in an energy internet, communicating with the grid and each other to adjust electricity production while storing and releasing electricity as needed? That’s the idea behind General Electric’s new “brilliant” turbine, the first three of which the company said ... will be installed at a Texas wind farm operated by Invenergy.


Feds, Arkansas sue Exxon over tar-sands spill

Cleaning up after Exxon's Arkansas oil spill
Office of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
Mopping up after Exxon in Arkansas.

You gotta feel for ExxonMobil.

Mere months after the oil giant was mildly stung by a $1.7 million fine for its 2011 spill in Yellowstone River, federal and Arkansas prosecutors have filed a lawsuit against the company seeking compensation and cleanup costs related to this year's tar-sands oil pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Ark.

From the L.A. Times:

The Justice Department and the state of Arkansas filed suit against the oil giant ExxonMobil over a March 29 pipeline rupture that spilled 210,000 gallons of oil into a residential neighborhood and waterways in the small town of Mayflower.


Pipeline spills oil waste on more than 100 acres in Alberta

A major spill of toxic oil waste has wiped out trees and vegetation across a 104-acre swath of Alberta, Canada. The apparent cause of the spill: The rupture of a five-year-old pipeline that was designed to last at least 30 years.

Alberta oil spill
Dene Tha via Nathan VanderKlippe
Apache's oil spill in Alberta

The pipeline spilled 2.5 million gallons of a waste mixture of oil and water, which the company responsible, Houston-based Apache Corp., downplayed as "salty water" with "trace amounts of oil."

Whatever you call it, it's nasty stuff. “Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, says the chief of the nearby Dene Tha First Nation, while The Globe and Mail reports that "aerial photos show a broad strip of trees that have turned brown."


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. ...