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Clean Water Initiative of FLorida

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CREDIT: Sunswift

The Sunswift eVe solar-powered car broke a 26-year-old land speed record for electric vehicles on Wednesday at the Australian Automotive Research Center in Victoria. While the record still has to be ratified by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, it would make eVe the fastest electric car to ever compete a 500 km set distance course by a significant margin, Gizmodo reported. The previous record, set in 1988, was an average speed of 73 kilometers per hour; the Sunswift eVe reached 100 km per hour average over the 500 km course.

Sunswift eVe, designed and built by students at the University of New South Wales, seeks to overcome the traditional obstacles that have impeded solar-powered cars, namely, offering both speed and range in the same vehicle.

“There are many solar cars out there with a long range, and many other solar cars capable of even higher speeds,” Rob Ireland, business team leader at Sunswift, told International Business Times. “However, we’re trying to do something ground-breaking and overcome both.”

The zero-emission solar and battery storage electric vehicle is capable of covering 800 km on a single charge and has a top speed of 140 km per hour (87 miles per hour). The car’s solar panels have an 800-watt output and when the sun isn’t shining, eVe relies on its battery pack, reducing drivers’ range anxiety. The car’s motor, “supplied by Australian national science agency CSIRO, operates at 97 percent efficiency, meaning eVe consumes as much power as a kitchen toaster,” according to IB Times.

For Wednesday’s record attempt, the solar panels on the roof and hood were used to charge the battery, but were covered for the actual run, as the attempt had to be completed on a single charge.

While the Sunswift eVe is not fully road legal, the team believes that isn’t far out of reach, telling Renew Economy they hope to have the vehicle on Australian roads within the year as “a symbol for a new era of sustainable driving.” And Ireland said the practicality of the two-seat, four-wheel car is unmatched among solar-powered vehicles.

In the run-up to their attempt at the land speed record, project director and third-year engineering student Hayden Smith explained to Renew Economy why it was so significant. “Five hundred kilometers is pretty much as far as a normal person would want to drive in a single day,” Smith said. “It’s another demonstration that one day you could be driving our car.”

Watch the Sunswift eVe here:

The post This Solar Car Just Set A New World Land Speed Record appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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CREDIT: shutterstock

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback expressed support for gradually phasing out the state’s Renewable Energy Standard (RPS) during an impromptu meeting with reporters on Wednesday morning. Later that afternoon the Republican governor’s office said he wasn’t actually proposing to phase out the clean energy policy, but meant to refer to the federal energy production tax credit (PTC), which expired last year.

Brownback, a far-right Republican affiliated with the Tea Party, is involved in an unexpectedly tight reelection campaign this year against Democrat Paul Davis with a recent poll showing Davis up by as much as six points. Brownback’s deep tax cuts have left the state facing a large budget shortfall and a number of more moderate Republicans have come out in support of Davis having lost faith in Brownback’s approach to governance.

On Wednesday, Brownback, who called Kansas “a fabulous wind state,” acknowledged the RPS’s role in supporting Kansas’s rise to the forefront of wind energy production before going on to say that he supports phasing it out in four years. Kansas has the second highest wind potential in the country and ranks third for percentage of electricity coming from wind at nearly 20 percent — the same percentage of energy that the RPS requires that utility companies get from renewable sources by 2020.

Kansas is also home to Koch Industries, led by Charles and David Koch. Koch Industries opposes renewable energy mandates and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity made repealing Kansas’s RPS a major agenda item this year. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, also associated with Koch Industries, backed repealing the mandate as well. In the end the legislation failed to pass through the Kansas House of Representatives. A second bill that would have gradually phased out the RPS failed to pass the House on the final day of the legislative session.

According to the AP, lobbying reports show that American For Prosperity’s state chapter spent $383,000 from January through April on media advertising to build support for repealing the RPS while two pro-wind groups spent about $57,000.

Brownback said he has “a lot of people pushing on me” about the issue and that he wants to “get something agreed to between the wind people and the people who are opposed this.”

Late Wednesday afternoon Brownback’s spokeswoman Eileen Hawley clarified that Brownback had actually misspoke and meant to say he wants to phase out federal tax credits for wind energy production.

“The Governor made a comment intending to say he supports phasing out production tax credits (not RPS) and emphasized his continuing support for all forms of energy production in Kansas,” Hawley said.

The PTC expired in 2013, but projects under construction before January 2014 remain eligible. Congress’s wavering on the PTC has set back the industry but recent news such as a Colorado wind turbine manufacturer hiring 800 people show the industry is persisting in the face of congressional inaction.

Even with Brownback’s correction, his position still seems tentative. After all, it was former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who signed the RPS into law in 2009.

Kansas Chamber President Mike O’Neal told the Wichita Eagle that the compromise Brownback urged them to pursue “was definitely RPS,” and that “the Legislature have no role in the federal PTC. That’s Congress of course.”

By trying to please both the growing wind industry in the state and the anti-clean energy corporations with money to burn, Brownback is toeing a precarious line. His opponent Davis is yet to speak directly about his energy policy, but as Democratic minority leader in the state House he voted against both bills this session aimed at repealing or weakening the state’s RPS. He also voted against expanding coal-fired power plants.

Brownback is clearly looking for ways to make up lost ground in his bid for reelection. Even if the state’s RPS of 20 percent by 2020 has already basically been achieved via wind power, keeping the RPS sends the message that the government values wind power and the jobs and economic growth it offers over the demands of the coal and utility companies to keep profits high and business-as-usual.

“Having the policy on the books in Kansas communicates that we value the industry,” Karin Brownlee, who works for Kansans for Wind Energy, told E&E News earlier this year. “It communicates stability and predictability.”

A January poll found that 91 percent of Kansans support using renewable energy, and 73 percent of Republicans support the renewable standard.

The post Kansas Governor Suggests Phasing Out Renewable Standard, Then Backpedals appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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A nesting California condor in Pinnacles National Park.

A nesting California condor in Pinnacles National Park.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pinnacles National Monument

A California judge has struck down plans for oil drilling near Pinnacles National Park, saying county officials failed to account for the numerous environmental risks of the drilling project when they approved it.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled Monday that San Benito County did not adequately consider the risk of spills, water, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions that would have resulted from the project, which planned on drilling 15 pilot wells near the national park but could have ended up drilling many more after the pilot project was complete. The ruling was for a case put forth by the Center for Biological Diversity in July 2013, after the San Benito County Board of Supervisors approved the 15-well drilling project planned for a site about nine miles from Pinnacles National Park.

“This project could turn this beautiful area into a massive new oil field,” Deborah Sivas, who represented the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

The county also did not consider the risks the drilling project posed to the critically endangered California condor, a species that became extinct in the wild in 1987 but, with the work of conservationists, is slowly being brought back. Pinnacles National Park is home to about 24 of the roughly 160 California condors living in the wild today. According to the ruling, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had recorded California condors drinking at a water trough within three miles of the proposed drilling site in 2012. And in 2010, a California condor laid an egg inside the Pinnacle National Park boundaries for the first time in more than a century.

The project would have used cyclic steam stimulation, a process also known as “huff and puff,” in order to extract oil. The process injects high-pressure steam underground, creating cracks in the earth from which oil can escape. It’s the process used at an Alberta tar sands site that’s been leaking oil since last year. It’s also a highly water-intensive method: the proposed project, according to the judge’s ruling, would have required more than 17.5 million gallons of fresh water. In an already drought-ridden state, this heavy demand for fresh water caused several residents near the proposed drilling site to worry about how the project would affect their freshwater supplies.

“I have a water shortage to begin with, and my concern is the water, what’s going to happen to our ground levels when they start taking 17 million gallons of water,” one said, according to the judge’s ruling.

“Now, if they’re going to get water out of the ground there that could very well drain our water. We run two thousand head of stockyard cattle. What do we have left?” said another.

If the company in charge of the proposed drilling, Citadel Exploration Inc., wants to apply for a new permit for the project, a full Environmental Impact Report will first have to be completed.

The post Judge Halts Plans To Drill Near California National Park appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

CREDIT: AP Photo / Mark Humphrey

Iowa recently missed out on a $1 million federal grant to beef up its use of solar power — and State Sen. Jack Hatch, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate for governor, took Gov. Terry Branstad (R) to task over the loss on Monday.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) announced back in November that its energy office had acquired the three-year grant, which was designed and provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. The purpose was to speed up solar installations across the state by updating the rules regarding permitting, inspections, and connections to the grid. A press release at the time quoted Branstad as saying that “Iowa should be at the front of the pack” in solar energy. But after months of wrangling over the terms of the project between the two offices, negotiations fell apart in April and both sides agreed to terminate the grant.

On Monday, Hatch held up the grant as evidence that “the current governor is giving in to special interests in the utility industry,” the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

“That’s the only reason Iowa is giving up the federal solar energy grant, and I believe we can do better.”

According to a story by the Associated Press, the failure of the grant was due at least in part to a successful lobbying campaign the Iowa Utility Association brought to bear on officials in Branstad’s administration. After the initial grant announcement, the Association’s president, Mark Douglas, described himself as caught off guard, and added that it was inappropriate for the IEDA to study unsettled issues around solar policy and financing.

At the time, the Iowa Supreme Court was considering a case brought by some Iowa utilities, arguing that it was illegal for smaller solar companies to sell power directly to consumers through power purchase agreements, and that under state law only the larger utilities could sell electricity in defined territories.

In December, one month after the grant announcement, the IEDA’s director wrote a letter to the Department of Energy, which was obtained by the Associated Press under a public records law. The letter echoed Douglas’ concerns, saying it would be inappropriate to make policy recommendations that could be impacted by the pending case. The letter said there should be “greater participation by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities,” and noted that both the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities — which were subcontractors for the grant — had intervened in the case to support the utilities.

One month later, in January, the IEDA’s general counsel inserted language into the grant concerning the “limitations” of solar, along with other changes sought by Douglas. Those changes were opposed by a Department of Energy analyst, who said they “seem to suggest a significant scaling back of the ambition of the award and a generally adverse/suspicious viewpoint towards solar, which is not acceptable.” The analyst added it was essential to study policy, which every other grant team was doing.

Once the differences between the IEDA and the Energy Department couldn’t be hashed out, the grant was terminated in April. The decision was not announced.

Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against the utilities, saying the power purchase agreements were legal. The result will most likely be more affordable solar power for schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and cities throughout the state.

According to the Des Moines Register, Hatch also called on Branstad to embrace the Court’s ruling, adding that he would not have given back the $1 million grant.

“The governor needs to rethink his authority,” Hatch continued. “To be controlled by special interests of the utility companies that pressured his department to return a million-dollar grant; that in itself shows the interests of this governor; not so much in renewable energy, but in protecting the larger corporations and the larger interests of this state at the expense of the smaller producers and the individual homeowners who could benefit dramatically from this.”

“Gov. Branstad has been a champion for renewable energy in Iowa and has the results to prove it,” shot back Tommy Schultz, Branstad’s campaign spokesman. “Jack Hatch can continue to bloviate from the sidelines, but all Iowans know that the Branstad-Reynolds administration has fought to expand and protect American energy resources so that Iowans have cheaper costs at the pump, their homes and their businesses.”

Hatch has $183,000 in his war chest for the gubernatorial campaign, way behind Branstad’s $4 million.

Branstad has been pressed on climate change before, and acknowledges it’s occurring — though his administration has also expressed concern that the Environmental Protection Agency’s “latest unilateral, ideological action” to cut carbon emissions from power plants will hurt Iowa consumers and cost jobs. Branstad is also a keen supporter of wind energy, which is becoming a major economic force in the state.

Solar power, however, remains an up-and-comer in Iowa. And the recent Iowa Supreme Court case is just the latest example of how solar’s distributed nature is igniting something of a policy panic among major utilities across the country.

The post Iowa Governor Accused Of Passing Up $1 Million For New Solar appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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CREDIT: A.P. Images

The largest wildfire in Washington state’s history is now 52 percent contained after powerful storms swept through the area on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and even hail.

But now, a new threat has emerged, even as the massive fire begins to come under control — floods and landslides. On Wednesday firefighters battling the Carlton Complex blaze had to be pulled out of the area after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch.

According to the warning, “It takes as little as 10 minutes of heavy rain to cause flash flooding and debris flows in and below areas affected by wildfires. Rain runs off almost instantly from burned soils, causing creeks and drainages to flood at a much faster rate than normal.”

The Carlton Complex fire, which grew from four separate lightning strikes on July 14, has scorched over 400 square miles of forest in the state, leaving vast areas denuded of the vital vegetation and tree roots that hold soil in place and help absorb water.

“The cooler temperatures and the higher relative humidities will allow the firefighters to get in and get a better handle on the fire,” Katie Santini, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, told the LA Times. “But it brings in the possibility of flash floods and makes travel around the fire more difficult.”

Tens of thousands of people lost power during the storm , which saw winds from 50 to 70 mph. The weather service reported more than 5,500 lightning strikes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

“I thought we were in a tornado,” Krystle Schneider, who lives in Northwest Spokane, told the Spokesman-Review.

In central Washington, flash floods were reported along the Entiat River in a burned out area. The Spokesman-Review reported that the flood waters brought down debris at mile 11 at the Entiat River and boulders were dislodged during a storm near Tommy Creek

President Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight Western wildfires. Speaking at a fundraiser earlier this week in Seattle, he noted that spending on fires has been steadily increasing and made the link between the increased fire activity and climate change. The cost of fighting U.S. wildfires has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000. Last year, the price tag was $1.7 billion. Twenty-five California Democrats recently signed a letter urging House and Senate members to take action on addressing firefighting funding shortfalls.

“A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” Obama said.

Late Tuesday, Obama signed an emergency declaration that authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief for Washington state.

The post Danger Of Flash Floods And Landslides Grow As Washington Wildfire Slows appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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water view

CREDIT: DEERNS International

DUINDORP, THE NETHERLANDS — When most people think of harnessing renewable energy from the ocean, the gigantic spinning blades of offshore wind farms are probably the first thing that come to mind. Or maybe it’s gracefully bobbing buoys capturing wave energy or dams that skim power off rushing tides. Very few people, however, think of the oceans as a vast source of renewable heat that can be used to keep homes warm and showers steaming. But that’s exactly what a growing number of seaside towns in northern Europe are doing, despite having some particularly chilly ocean water.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the ocean can be used to climate control our homes. After all, the Earth’s oceans essentially climate control the entire planet. The more than 70 percent of the Earth that is covered by water serves as a kind of global thermostat. Oceans take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to moderate temperatures, and they also emit heat from the sunlight they absorb. Clouds, too, which perform a variety of cooling and insulating functions to help regulate temperature on Earth, form from water evaporating off the ocean.

Harnessing just a tiny fraction of the heat stored in the world’s oceans has theoretically been possible for many years, but has only recently been put into practice. One of the first places in the world to draw on the ocean for residents’ heating needs is Duindorp, a small harbor town near the Hague in the Netherlands.

Being dependent on the ocean is nothing new for Duindorp — for decades, the small fishing village relied almost entirely on the water for its economic lifeblood. Fishing in the harbor has since declined, but now a new era of reliance on the ocean for energy has begun.

Ariel view of Duindorp, the Netherlands.

Ariel view of Duindorp, the Netherlands.

CREDIT: DEERNS International

The project began nearly a decade ago, as 1,200 cramped fishermen houses dating back to 1915 were taken down in town to make room for 800 new homes that met modern standards for affordable housing in the Netherlands.

“Residents wanted their homes to be heated using renewable energy,” said Paul Stoelinga, senior consultant at Dutch environmental engineering firm Deerns International, which designed Duindorp’s current heating system. “But how to offer that for low-income residents was a problem. Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.”

District heating using seawater turned out to be the most affordable solution, insuring no resident would have to pay more than the national average of €70 (about $94) a month for heat and hot water.

While deeply connected to the sea, Duindorp seems like an unlikely place to take advantage of heat in the oceans. The birds skimming over the choppy harbor are mostly cormorants, familiar cold-weather birds that proclaim the fact that the water here is hardly warm. For most of the winter, the temperature in the harbor is right around 35 to 40° Fahrenheit, although in summer it can climb to near 70° Fahrenheit.

The harbor at Duindorp, the Netherlands.

The harbor at Duindorp, the Netherlands.

CREDIT: Joanna M. Foster

The system is based on a district heating plan, which is quite common in Europe, but only recently starting to catch on in the U.S. District heating systems warm water at a central location and then distribute it through a system of underground pipes. None of the water in the pipes is used directly in homes, but the heat from the water is skimmed off and used to warm showers and floors.

The process is similar to the circulatory system in a person’s body. Blood gets oxygen from the heart and then delivers it through the body, returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart to start the process all over again. Likewise, the water in the pipes that services the neighborhood is heated at the central facility and then runs through town distributing heat and eventually loops back to the power plant to be heated up once again.

In the summer, creating warm water to flow through the district heating network of pipes is relatively straightforward. Intake pipes at the harbor draw in about 25,000 to 50,000 gallons of warm seawater every hour. An extensive series of filters throughout the intake system ensures that no sea life is sucked into the plant. That seawater is then used in a heat exchanger to heat freshwater for the pipes to around 54° Fahrenheit. The warmed freshwater is then sent out along a five mile network of insulated pipes that services the 800 homes in the new affordable housing neighborhood. At every house connected to the system, a 5 kWh-capacity heat pump raises the temperature of the water to between 110-150° Fahrenheit, to then be used for heating and warm water.

In the winter, the system is more complex.

“Just at the moment when you really want a hot shower and need heating in your home, that’s when the ocean is at its coldest,” said Stoelinga. “Sometimes just 2° Celsius. It’s a tricky contradiction, when you need the heat, its not there.”

During these chilly months, a heat pump is used to transfer heat from the seawater to the district heating system. Every home in the U.S. uses similar technology in refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat pumps don’t create heat, they merely transfer it from one medium to another. Heat pumps require a source of energy as they push heat against its natural gradient — heat naturally wants to flow from hot to cold until an equilibrium is reached. In a refrigerator, they push heat from a cold area, the inside of the fridge, to a warmer area, the kitchen. Unlike a typical fridge, the heat pump in Duindorp uses ammonia as the refrigerant. It’s extremely efficient, but also quite toxic, and not something any homeowner would want in their kitchen.

These pipes draw in between 26,000-190,000 gallons of seawater from the harbor every hour.

These pipes draw in between 26,000-190,000 gallons of seawater from the harbor every hour.

CREDIT: DEERNS International

Much more water is needed in the winter, compared to the summer, to keep the system running. About 190,000 gallons of water is taken in every hour when the ocean is at its coldest and only a few degrees of heat can be transferred.

“You can’t get much heat out of water which is just a few degrees above freezing” explained Stoelinga, “so you need much more flow.”

Originally, Deerns planned to make the system 100 percent renewable by building two 1.5 MW wind turbines in the harbor to supply all of the energy needed to run the heat pump during the winter. Unfortunately, local zoning codes didn’t allow wind turbines to be built in the area, so the electricity needed to run the heat pumps, about 3 MW, is taken off the grid. The system is still extremely efficient, however, generating 15 kilowatt-hours of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity pumped into the system. This reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent when compared to conventional heating using natural gas.

Stoelinga explained that while district heating systems and heat pumps certainly aren’t new ideas, making the system run smoothly with an affordable price tag was a massive undertaking.

“I would say that about 80 percent of the engineering work we did at this site was dedicated entirely to battling the problem of corrosive seawater,” said Stoelinga. “We are dealing with huge volumes of very salty water in our mechanical systems every day and finding ways to cut down on how often we had to replace corroded components was by far the biggest challenge. ”

Now that solutions to that problem have been designed, Stoelinga says that seawater district heating is a promising alternative for any community near the shore. The system will be most cost effective in areas where new development is taking place. Since district heating depends on an underground network of pipes, retrofitting a community to run on a district heating system would add considerably to the price tag.

“This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater,” said Stoelinga. “If you don’t have to worry about saltwater ruining equipment, it’s much simpler.”

In the U.S., any town or city on the coasts, along the Great Lakes, or even near large rivers like the Mississippi could benefit from a similar system.

For Stoelinga, the next project is a seawater cooling system based on the similar principles for resorts in Aruba. In order to cool the resort, intake pipes will be built to collect the cold water deep in the ocean. That cold water can then be used in a heat exchanger to provide cold water in taps and air conditioning throughout the hotel.

The post This Town Is Using The Ocean To Provide Heat To Low-Income Residents appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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An aerial view of a mining site for Canadian tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

An aerial view of a mining site for Canadian tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

CREDIT: Josh Burstein/NextGen Climate Action

Twenty-one activists in Utah were arrested Monday after they chained themselves to fences and equipment at a site planned to become the first to mine tar sands in the United States.

The activists, who were released on bail after spending Monday night in jail, are facing possible charges of trespassing, conspiracy to escape, and interfering with arrest, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The 21 arrested were part of a group of about 80 protesters with the Utah Tar Sands Resistance group, who set up a blockade at the PR Spring mine site.

The activists say one protester was injured while he was being arrested and was targeted by sheriff’s deputies because he was filming the protest. Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said that the effort to arrest the protesters “became physical” after protesters resisted arrest. Protesters claim they were “grabbed in an aggressive manner” and that some were “thrown to the ground” by police, while the Sheriff’s office says one deputy was punched in the head by a protester.

Calgary, Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands, the company that plans to mine for tar sands at the Utah site, has been cutting down trees and clearing vegetation from the site to get it ready for mining. So far, though, no tar sands oil has been extracted. The protesters, who erected banners with messages like “You are trespassing on Ute land” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” wanted to highlight the environmental damage tar sands mining will impose on the area.

“These projects do nothing but devastate the land and pollute the water and air,” Tar Sands Resistance spokeswoman Jessica Lee said.

Tar Sands Resistance has been working since 2012 to stop plans for tar sands mining in Utah, organizing protests and announcing in late May that they would be holding a “permanent protest vigil” at the mine site. About 20 protesters set up a vigil near the site soon after U.S. Tar Sands announced in mid-May that it had enough funding to begin mine operations, and the stakeout has remained ever since, with additional protests like the one on Monday also taking place at the site.

Tar sands has been labeled the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel,” one whose extraction creates toxic holding ponds that have proven deadly to birds and requires four barrels of water to make each barrel of oil, a high demand that’s particularly concerning in dry Utah. Tar sands extraction could also put groundwater at risk — one University of Utah scientist warned in 2012 that the same tailings ponds that have killed birds in Alberta, Canada could also leech toxic chemicals into groundwater.

Extracting tar sands oil is also at least three times as carbon-intensive as conventional crude oil. The PR Spring site encompasses more than 5,900 acres and U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day.

Lee said Tar Sands Resistance plans to continue protesting the planned mining site.

The post 21 Protesters Arrested While Attempting To Block The First Tar Sands Mine In America appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Iceberg surrounded by sea ice in Antarctica

Iceberg surrounded by sea ice in Antarctica

CREDIT: Eva Nowatzki, distributed via

A new study finds that the change in the trend of Antarctic sea ice growth over time is “not as extreme as the published literature indicates,” as one coauthor put it.

The most important thing to know about Antarctica and ice is that a large part of the South Pole’s great sheet of land ice is close to or at a point of no return for irreversible collapse. Only immediate action to sharply reverse CO2 emissions could stop or significantly slow that.

And that really matters since 90 percent of Earth’s ice is in the Antarctic ice sheet, and even its partial collapse could raise sea levels tens of feet (over a period of centuries) and force coastal cities to be abandoned.

So you can imagine why the people who don’t want to take any action on climate change focus on floating Antarctic sea ice, which has been increasing (unlike Arctic sea ice, which has sharply declined). In particular, articles on Antarctic sea ice extent had reported an 8-fold jump in the rate of increase between 2000 and 2012.

For the dwindling number of people who seriously deny the objective reality of man-made warming, this is “proof” that their anti-scientific views are right. For the 97% of climate scientists (and world governments and others) who understand the reality of human-caused climate change, this is an intriguing puzzle to be solved.

In the reality camp, Skeptical Science reviews the scientific literature (here) and offers this summary explanation:

Antarctic sea ice has been growing over the last few decades but it certainly is not due to cooling – the Southern Ocean has shown warming over same period. Increasing southern sea ice is due to a combination of complex phenomena including cyclonic winds around Antarctica and changes in ocean circulation.

Now “The Cryosphere” has published a new study on “A spurious jump in the satellite record: has Antarctic sea ice expansion been overestimated?” (European Geosciences Union news release here).

The abstract explains:

Recent estimates indicate that the Antarctic sea ice cover is expanding at a statistically significant rate with a magnitude one-third as large as the rapid rate of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. However, during the mid-2000s, with several fewer years in the observational record, the trend in Antarctic sea ice extent was reported to be considerably smaller and statistically indistinguishable from zero. Here, we show that much of the increase in the reported trend occurred due to the previously undocumented effect of a change in the way the satellite sea ice observations are processed … rather than a physical increase in the rate of ice advance.

The study found that this change in data processing “caused a substantial change in the long-term trend.” The authors note that “our analysis does not definitively identify whether this change introduced an error or removed one, the resulting difference in the trends suggests that a substantial error exists in either the current data set or the version that was used prior to the mid-2000s.”

But one of the co-authors, Dr Walt Meier, a cryoscientist, explained to me that the climate scientist who maintains the data set for NASA has rechecked it — and found the error was in the original processing. In other words, “the most recent Antarctic sea ice trends are correct” but “the earlier published trends are incorrect and the change in trend over time is not as extreme as the published literature indicates.”

Bottom line: Antarctic sea ice trends are an intriguing scientific puzzle worthy of academic interest, whereas Antarctic land ice trends are like the planet running around with its hair on fire, yelling “stop the madness of denial and delay before it’s too late.”

The post Change In Antarctic Sea Ice Trend Not So Extreme, Study Finds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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A thunderstorm with heavy rains approaches downtown Chicago, Monday, June 24, 2013.

A thunderstorm with heavy rains approaches downtown Chicago, Monday, June 24, 2013.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Scott Eisen

Add sewage in homes and maggot infestations to the list of what climate change can bring to American life.

A big report in the Washington Post on Wednesday laid out how Chicago’s aging infrastructure is intersecting with climate change’s tendency to drive heavier bursts of precipitation in some parts of the country, with some exceedingly unpleasant results. As in other older cities like Boston, the design of Chicago’s waste water system is 120 years old, and as a result handles both storm water and sewage. The city’s system was constructed for a much smaller population, on the assumption the biggest storms would hit once each decade. So when more than one inch of rain hits in a single day, the system overflows into the Chicago River — and when 1.5 inches or more hits, the system backs up into basements and homes across the city.

Lori Burns, a resident of Chicago’s South Side, told the Post that her home had flooded four times between 1995 and 2006, with the inundations recently increasing to every other year. In April 2013, her home was one of roughly 600 Chicago buildings that was flooded by sewage. It ruined her rugs, clothes, and family heirlooms, and forced Burns and her brother to go through the house with bleach. A week later, Burns entered her basement only to find a horde of maggots had occupied it thanks to the sewage bringing eggs up the drain.

“It was like a scene from Amityville horror,” Burns told friends. “I couldn’t see past the staircase!”

According to the Post, rains of 1.5 inches or more in Chicago have noticeably increased in recent years, and projections say rains of 2.5 inches or higher should ramp up another 50 percent in the next two decades. The National Climate Assessment paints a similar picture: annual precipitation in the Midwest has already gone up 37 percent since 1958, and is anticipated to go up another 10 to 20 percent by 2100.

“Designs are based upon historical patterns of precipitation and stream flow,” the assessment says, “which are no longer appropriate guides.”

Nor does the impact end with residences and buildings; the overflows from increased precipitation are also bringing more sewage and fertilizer and other runoff into the Great Lakes. As a result, the west side of Lake Eerie is now often overrun by algae blooms during the summer.

This past May, Farmer’s Insurance brought a landmark suit against the City of Chicago in Illinois court, citing the April 2013 sewage flooding as a preventable failure. The lawsuit alleged the city “should have known that climate change in Cook County has resulted in greater rainfall volume… than pre-1970 rainfall history evidenced,” and that its existing infrastructure is inadequate.

Chicago’s own 2010 Climate Action Plan acknowledges the way humanity’s carbon emissions contribute to climate change and help drive up the odds of extreme weather events. It outlines new energy efficiency targets, efforts to build up reliances on renewables, and pollution cuts, among many other goals. But the city is still grappling with some of the fossil fuel industry’s dirtiest actors: another lawsuit has been brought against the Koch Brothers and 10 of their companies, over the health effects of petcoke pollution. The substance is a byproduct of tar sands oil refining, and the Koch’s companies allegedly stored it in large piles along the Calumet River on Chicago’s southeast side. As a result, clouds of petcoke dust have plagued low-income residents in the area.

Farmer’s Insurance eventually dropped their lawsuit. But the firm hopes the attempt will “encourage cities and counties to take preventative steps,” while laying precedent for future such lawsuits across the country if climate change persists.

As for Lori Burns, she reacted to her experience by joining an urban flooding support group, writing the city, and speaking up at council meetings. Chicago’s South Side is one of the city’s most socio-economically diverse areas, with many residents who don’t have the resources to deal with sewage floods every few years.

“What are we supposed to do on the South Side,” she asks. “What are old or poor or sick people supposed to do? Surely not be forced out of their homes every year?”

David St. Pierre, head of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, told the Post the city is working to upgrade its storm and waste water storage system. It can now take on 2.7 billion gallons of overflow, and should be able to 7.5 billion gallons by 2015 and 17.5 billion by 2029. Chicago’s Climate Action Plan also includes adding French drains to highways, repaving roads, and adding $50 million in flood prevention infrastructure — rain barrels, permeable alleys, trees, and other natural ways to cut storm runoff by 250 million gallons. Other cities like Boston are gearing up for similar efforts.

“I don’t see any overflows happening when that’s done,” St. Pierre said. “We’re getting this under control, maybe more than any other city in the U.S.”

The post Storms, Sewage, And Maggots: Climate Change Comes To Chicago appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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Wind turbines stand  behind houses of the village of Feldheim near Berlin, Germany.

Wind turbines stand behind houses of the village of Feldheim near Berlin, Germany.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

The European Union has introduced an energy savings goal of 30 percent by 2030, a goal that goes beyond the EU’s current energy efficiency target of 25 percent by 2030.

Now, EU member countries will decide whether or not the goal will be implemented at a country-wide or EU-wide level. The EU’s new proposed goal of 30 percent energy efficiency by 2030 builds on the union’s current goal of 20 percent by 2020, a goal the EU says can be reached as long as all member countries fully implement agreed-upon climate legislation.

A higher goal by 2030 will save EU consumers money and help wean member countries off fossil fuels, the Commission said in a release. For every 1 percent increase in energy savings, EU gas imports are predicted to fall by 2.6 percent, according to the commission, and energy efficiency policies are expected to create new jobs in construction and manufacturing.

EU Energy Chief Günther Oettinger said in a statement that the 30 percent goal was ambitious but realistic.

“Our aim is to give the right signal to the market and encourage further investments in energy saving technologies to the benefit of businesses, consumers and the environment,” he said.

The goal falls short, however, of the 40 percent energy efficiency target that some environmental groups were pushing for, saying it would result in further reductions of gas imports. Oettinger ruled out the 40 percent goal earlier this month.

The EU’s proposal to up its energy efficiency goal comes as a new report shows the group of nations are already leading the world in terms of energy savings. The report, released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), ranked the world’s 16 largest economies and found that Germany ranked number one in energy efficiency, while Italy was number two and the rest of the EU came in at number three.

The U.S., on the other hand, came in at number 13 on the list, ranking above just Russia, Brazil and Mexico. In 2012, ACEEE ranked the U.S. in ninth place, due largely to its focus on expanding car infrastructure rather than public transportation. Since then, the group says, the U.S. has made little progress in energy efficiency. However, the EPA’s proposed rule on curbing emissions from power plants could help the U.S. rise in rankings by spurring investment in energy efficiency, ACEEE says. Additionally, earlier this year the Obama administration announced that it would invest $2 billion into making federal buildings more energy efficient.

And though the EU does lead the world in energy efficiency, its coal plants are still standing in the way of some of its goals on climate, according to a new report. The report looked at the most heavily-polluting coal plants in the EU and found that Germany and the U.K. each have nine of the dirtiest coal plants in Europe. Despite leading the world in energy efficiency, Germany uses more coal to generate electricity than any other EU country, according to the report.

The post The EU Wants To Get 30 Percent More Energy Efficient By 2030 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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