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Hostage reporters ‘chained’ in Syria

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Four French journalists who spent 10 months in captivity in Syria were chained to each other and kept in basements without light, one recounts.

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Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

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Danny E HooksThe oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How’s it faring now?On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it. But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it. “Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.” There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered. The blog was created in response to the BP oil spill by Gulf Coast residents and activists who have a direct stake in their communities’ recovery. Many of them have struggled under prior Gulf disasters, like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and the most recent, Isaac. It’s where you can read about Turkey Creek, Miss., the historically troubled black community that’s the subject of the new documentary Come Hell or High Water. It’s also where you can read about a bunch of other places across the Gulf that have been pricked by storms of both the political and ecological variety. Disclaimer: I served as an editor of the blog in 2012, so I’m biased. But as someone who’s a relentless consumer of news from media sources across the Gulf — and who’s written for many of them — I can assure you that you won’t find a grander assembly of authentic voices and primary sources from the Gulf anywhere else on the web. Among the Bridge the Gulf writer corps are people like Kindra Arnesen, who was a first responder when the BP rig initially broke, and also voices from the Gulf’s top community organizations like Gulf Restoration Network, t.e.j.a.s., Women With a Vision, and the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Bridge the Gulf just relaunched with a new website design, but with the same strong repertoire of Gulf renewal narratives. Below are a few examples of blog’s best content over the years: “On the Road With Cherri Foytlin”: You may have read about Foytlin in Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of “The New Green Heroes” of the fossil fuel resistance — she’s the “Angry Mom.” She walked from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about health problems along the Gulf believed to be the result of the BP oil spill. She’s been a contributor to Bridge the Gulf since the beginning, as a writer, photographer, and videographer, but here is a rare glimpse of her in front of the camera. “Gulf Coast Residents Appalled by Lack of Concern for Safety After EPA Drops BP’s Ban on Federal Contracts”: The whole BP Deepwater Horizon saga is summarized in this nugget from long-time Bridge the Gulf contributor Karen Savage: “The EPA banned BP from obtaining new federal contracts and oil leases from November 2012 until the ban was lifted on March 16th. Last year, the oil giant pled guilty to illegal conduct leading to and following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of US Congress and violations of both the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. Through their guilty plea, BP admitted to obstructing an inquiry by the US Congress, providing ‘false and misleading’ information regarding flow rate and manipulating internal flow-rate estimates.” On Friday, the Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and dozens of other environmental groups demanded that EPA against suspend BP from receiving for federal leases and contracts. “What you missed last week at the BOEM …”: People want to know what the federal government has been doing since the BP oil spill to tighten safety regulations around offshore drilling — especially since it has allowed BP back out to drill in the Gulf. Those safety questions have been handled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management mainly through a series of nauseatingly boring public meetings. Fortunately, Bridge the Gulf editor Ada McMahon made it unboring for us by attending one and then reporting back in the form of a comic strip: Ada McMahonFiled under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

Continue reading Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

Syria-held French journalists freed

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Four French journalists held captive in Syria for months have been freed and are in “good health”, says President Francois Hollande.

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Millennials and the American City

Michael Tubbs, a 23-year-old councilmember in Stockton, California, and the star of the documentary ‘True Son,’ says that now is the time for young people to engineer social change.

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Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

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When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP’s oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, “Fuck this.” He dumped his family’s $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further. But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well — by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn’t just make Seilhan an awful person — it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday. “The complaint alleges that within days, Seilhan received nonpublic information on the extent of the evolving disaster, including oil flow estimates and data on the volume of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf,” the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in its announcement. Without admitting or denying guilt, the Texan, who has since left BP, agreed to pay the government a penalty equivalent to double the $105,409 that he allegedly gained through the trade.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

Continue reading Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

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I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job — or, let’s be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking. Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me — and almost none of them did — I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.) It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news — probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to. Cities are often more progressive than the states that surround them. And while city governments that set out to plan for a future that will have more bike traffic and public transit and fewer personal automobiles can be jerked around by their states, they can also make inroads against more conservative state and national policy. In the case of NACTO, they accomplish this by working together to form a giant multi-city Voltron. In 2007, a traffic engineer in Portland, Ore., named Rob Burchfield set out to design away a particularly common car/bike accident – the one in which a car turns right without noticing the cyclist in the right-hand bike lane coming at it. The fix he developed — brightly marking off a specific box for cyclists that leaves them in front of any car, in the driver’s line of vision — was common in Europe, but not in the U.S. Burchfield encountered some red tape from the Federal Highway Administration for his decision. It was the last straw for Burchfield. He’d come up with the designs in response to two fatal accidents that had occurred within a two-week period. So he partnered up with Portland’s former city bike coordinator, Mia Birk, and began compiling a set of street design guidelines that they called Cities for Cycling. Portland was a member of NACTO, and it persuaded the group to adopt the standards for their own. Anyone designing roadways is trying to do so with an eye towards avoiding lawsuits or unwanted attention from the Federal Highway Administration for getting too creative. By adopting the Cities for Cycling guidelines, the cities of NACTO saved themselves the hassle of designing their own individual standards for, say, what is the appropriate signage for a contra-flow bike lane. In the process they also created a grassroots urban policy that could someday be adopted by the federal Department of Transportation and become truly national policy — instead of just a set of standards that happens to have “National” in its name. When I began biking, San Francisco seemed like a city primed to become the bike capital of the country. It was only seven miles square, it had nice weather, and it was full of both hippies and people who liked to exercise compulsively. (The hills, you say? They added drama. Plus, they were easy to cut around.) But creating bike safety infrastructure, like bike lanes that were separated from car traffic, was a process that took much, much longer than I, in my idealism, ever expected. Often, at the last minute, changes would be overruled. Or they’d have to go through an $900,000 Environmental Impact Review. Or they’d just be taken out altogether, because Caltrans had declared that a road was too critical to car transportation to put in a bike lane. According to the categorization developed by the Portland Department of Transportation, I, as a young cyclist in San Francisco, was one of “The Strong and the Fearless.” This sounds like a soap opera, but in reality describes the 0.5 percent of the population who will ride a bike regardless of the dangers of the road they are traveling. As cities have put in more bike lanes, they have brought out onto the road more of the cyclists classified as “The Enthused and Confident” – the 7 percent who are happy to take on the risks of cycling, as long as there’s a bike lane. Cities that are serious about making it safer to bike are now going after a tougher crowd: the 60 percent of the population that actually fears death on two wheels. The elderly. Parents with kids. People who haven’t been on a bike since they were kids. To accomplish this, communities face the prospect of going back into the bicycling infrastructure that they’ve already built and changing it even further — taking out street-side parking that can result in cyclists being hit by car doors; adding concrete barriers between car traffic and bike traffic; even making entire streets bicycle-only. That’s going to be a massive project. As of this month, San Francisco — and any other city in California — is one step closer to it.Filed under: Article, Cities, Living, Politics

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BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ

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BP this week metaphorically hung a “mission accomplished” banner over the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems that it wrecked when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up and spewed 200 million gallons of oil in 2010. Funny thing, though: BP isn’t the commander of the cleanup operation. The Coast Guard is. And it’s calling bullshit. Here’s what BP said in a press statement on Tuesday, nearly four years after the blowout: “The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident. These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013.” Helpful though it may have seemed for BP to speak on behalf of the federal government, the Coast Guard took some umbrage. From The Washington Post: Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, the federal on-scene coordinator of the Deepwater Horizon response, sought to stress that the switch to what he called a “middle response” process “does not end cleanup operations.” “Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned,” said Sparks. “But let me be absolutely clear: This response is not over — not by a long shot.” The Gulf Restoration Network tried to explain the semantics behind BP’s deceptive statement. “When oil washes up on shore, BP is no longer automatically obliged to go out there and clean up the mess,” spokesperson Raleigh Hoke said. “Now the onus is on the public, and state and federal governments to find the oil and then call BP in.” We get why BP would wish that the cleanup were over. The efforts have already cost $14 billion — a fraction of the $42 billion that the company expects to pay out in fines, compensation claims, and other costs related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s a nightmare that we all wish were over — but wishes and rhetoric do not remove poisons from an ecosystem.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

Continue reading BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ

Airbnb can make your dreams of running a brothel come true

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Thought you were renting your place so an exhausted sightseer could crash? Oh, she’s definitely sleeping … with some horndog and his hundos. In an unexpected result of the sharing economy, Airbnb rooms might be replacing NYC hotels as primo sex worker spots. As one anonymous 21-year-old escort told the New York Post: It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf. Hotels have doormen and cameras. They ask questions. Apartments are usually buzz-in. Her escort agency rents apartments for a week at a time through Airbnb, she told the Post, then cycles sex workers and their clients through. The agency avoids detection (or it did til recently) by having the ladies pay for the rooms with their personal plastic. Clever yet illegal! Sure, the sharing economy functions under the assumption that others will use your lawnmower, car, or apartment as gently and upstandingly as you do, and one Post report doesn’t mean you necessarily have to sideeye every pillow in your pad. But carnal embraces are bound to take place in rented rooms, hotel or Airbnb, pro bono or on spec. So if you aren’t cool with finding 10 used condoms and baby wipes at your place (or worse), as a New Yorker in the Post story did, maybe don’t put your home on Airbnb.Filed under: Cities, Living

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Screw being ladylike on a bike

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Turns out the sexist soap bubble we live in doesn’t pop when you hop on a Surly. If anything, people get MORE judgey: Ladies, you better not get to work sweaty and unpretty! But how dare you ride in a skirt and heels? I half expect some guy with a handlebar mustache to promote riding sidesaddle. (Lest you think we live in a post-gender society, know that women in the U.S. only take 1-in-4 bike trips.) Former Grist editor Sarah Goodyear reached out to female cyclists, asking what it means to be feminine on two wheels (if there even IS such a thing). Reading the smattering of responses she got over at Atlantic Cities was both reassuring and eye-opening, reinforcing that there’s no one way to be a woman on a bike, just as — WAIT FOR IT — there’s no one way to be a human on Planet Earth. (Crazy, I know.) Here are a handful of ruminations on cycling, fashion, and gender (all of which you should read, BTW): “I like to hope that I’m changing/expanding the perception of what is feminine when I zip around on my bike while wearing a dress.” — Emily “It’s not that I want to avoid looking feminine, but that I want to be seen primarily as a cyclist. Yes, I’m a woman who rides, but how often do we talk about masculinity and riding?” –Caitlin Cohn “I weird people out when I show up in a public space and take off half my layers. Women are expected to show up to places already presentable.” –Melody Hoffman “I was always turned off by the pandering-seeming marketing of ‘feminine’ bike products: cute cruisers, wicker baskets, and that ‘I’m just always constantly biking to some cutesy-picnic-date’ vibe … ‘Feminine’ can be having really strong, shapely legs! ‘Feminine’ can be taking up less physical space, using less fossil fuel, and caring about the environment!” –Ruby Gertz “Cycling is one of life’s greatest joys for me. I couldn’t care less what it implies about my femininity.” –Nsedef YEAH. So eff gender expectations of being sporty or sexy or both. Wear what you want; just get your feet on the pedals!Filed under: Cities, Living

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New hurricane maps will show whether your house could drown

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The federal government will begin making its hurricane warning maps more colorful this summer, adding a range of hues to represent the danger of looming floods. Red, orange, yellow, and blue will mark coastal and near-coastal areas where storm surges are anticipated during a hurricane. The different colors will be used to show the anticipated depth of approaching flash floods. Severe flooding that followed Superstorm Sandy helped prompt the change — NOAA says it had a hard time convincing Manhattanites that they faced any real danger from such floods. “We are not a storm-surge-savvy nation,” Jamie Rhome, a storm surge specialist with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, told Reuters. “Yet storm surge is responsible for over half the deaths in hurricanes. So you can see why we’re motivated to try something new.” Here’s a hypothetical example of what one such map might look like for Florida. Beware, Ft. Myers! National Hurricane CenterClick to embiggen.Filed under: Climate & Energy

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Ask Umbra: How do I know if my local swimming hole is safe?

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Send your question to Umbra! Q. Summer is coming, so I wonder if the river near my house (the famous Kamogawa) is safe for my kids to splash in. There is a garbage incinerator upstream, though not directly on the river, and the operators *swear* it does not leak. Is there a water testing kit? What kinds of things would I want to test for? And what kinds of safety limits would I want to look for? It does not have to be drinking-water quality, just safe enough to stick their little feet and hands in. GabiKyoto, Japan A. Dearest Gabi, You’ve just officially made it Water Week here at Ask Umbra. On Monday, we waded into what kind of substances we can safely put in the water; today, let’s address whether or not we can put ourselves in as well. I hope you’ll forgive me for answering your question broadly. I don’t know how clean the Kamogawa is, nor will my expense account cover phone calls to Japan to check. But I can share some information I hope will be useful to you and anyone else longing for a warm-weather dip in a local waterway. When water-quality monitors talk about a lake or river being safe for swimming (or splashing), they’re almost always talking about bacteria – whether or not there is any, and in what numbers. Specifically, we’re concerned about the infamous E. coli: Not because it’s dangerous in and of itself (most strains aren’t), but because it’s a good indicator that other, nastier bugs are invisibly doing the backstroke in there. Why? E. coli is commonly found in human and animal poop – so if it’s in the water, then sewage probably is, too. This doesn’t necessarily mean the local sewage treatment plant is overflowing into the river (though it might). High E. coli counts also often come from stormwater runoff, which washes pet waste and bird poop, plus oil, fertilizer, trash, and pesticides into streams and lakes. No matter the source, we should be concerned about the presence of bacteria because it can make us sick, and kids are especially at risk. And you don’t have to drink the water to come down with a case of Kamogawa’s revenge: Open cuts can admit nasty bacteria, and just getting the bugs on your skin can eventually transport them into your mouth. Many agencies here in the States sample the water regularly, particularly at popular swimming spots, and publish the results. These can usually be found through a town or county environment department; a little Googling should point you in the right direction. Failing that, there are some consumer water-testing kits on the market; the Vermont Health Department sells one, for example, and some labs offer kits online. Becky Hammer, a water attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, tests for E. coli as a volunteer for a water-quality project near her Virginia home, and recommends checking to see if your local authorities have a similar program. Any lab should be able to tell you what the safe limits for bacteria are and whether or not your river exceeds them. Industrial and chemical pollution of the sort you might get from a negligent factory upstream is another matter, Gabi. As far as I can tell, detecting this kind of contamination is beyond your typical citizen-scientist. A funky smell, sludgy water, an oil slick, or lots of dead fish can tip you off that something is amiss, but Hammer recommends checking with those local water-quality officials for a more definitive answer. If you’ve done your due diligence and decide it’s OK for the kids to wade and splash a bit, following these don’ts won’t hurt, either. Don’t let the kiddos put their heads underwater. Don’t go in after heavy rains, as that’s when stormwater runoff makes high bacterial counts most likely. Don’t swim or wade near or downstream of storm drains. Don’t let the kids get in if they have open wounds or scrapes. Don’t forget to wash their little hands and feet when you’re done. Happy researching, Gabi, and I do hope you turn up good news about your lovely river. I hear it gets hot in Kyoto come summertime. Horseplayfully, UmbraFiled under: Living

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Is climate change the new slavery?

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The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is out, with its layers of deadening bureaucratic prose. Climate watchers have had their latest chance to make out, as best they can, what biblical futures await us on a hotter, drier, stormier planet. Two sentences from the report’s second installment struck me with the force of a storm surge: “Climate change is projected to progressively increase inter-annual variability of crop yields in many regions. These projected impacts will occur in the context of rapidly rising crop demand.” Translation: We’ll have smaller harvests in the future, less food, and 3 billion more mouths to feed. The IPCC has done an heroic job of digesting thousands of scientific papers into a bullet-point description of how global warming is shrinking food and water supplies, most drastically for the poorest of Earth’s 7 billion human inhabitants. Being scientists, though, they fail miserably to communicate the gravity of the situation. The IPPC language, at its most vivid, talks of chronic “poverty traps” and “hunger hotspots” as the 21st century unfolds. The report offers not a single graspable image of what our future might actually look like when entire populations of people — not only marginalized sub-groups — face perennial food insecurity and act to save themselves. What decisions do human communities make en masse in the face of total environmental collapse? There are no scientific papers to tell us this, so we must look to history instead for clues to our dystopian future. The last global climate crisis for which we have substantial historical records began 199 years ago this month, in April 1815, when the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia cooled the Earth and triggered drastic disruptions of major weather systems worldwide. Extreme volcanic weather — droughts, floods, storms — gripped the globe for three full years after the eruption. In the Tambora period from 1815 to 1818, the global human community consisted mostly of subsistence farmers, who were critically vulnerable to sustained climate deterioration. The occasional crop failure was part of life, but when relentless bad weather ruined harvests for two and then three years running, extraordinary, world-changing things started to happen. The magnitude and variety of human suffering in the years 1815 to 1818 are in one sense incalculable, but three continental-scale consequences stand out amid the misery: slavery, refugeeism, and the failure of states. Across what was then the Dutch East Indies, the rice crop failed for multiple years following Tambora’s eruption. In response, the common people did what they always did when faced with starvation: They sold themselves into slavery, by the tens of thousands. In faraway China, desperate parents likewise sold their children in pop-up slave markets. Across the globe, starving peasants abandoned their homes, roaming the countryside in search of food, or begging in the market towns. Irish famine refugees, numbering in the tens of thousands, were met by armed militias at the gates of towns whose inhabitants feared a kind of zombie invasion by human skeletons carrying disease. In France, tourists mistook beggars on the road for armies on the march. Meanwhile, governments everywhere feared rebellion, so they closed borders and shut down the press. Europe witnessed an upsurge of end-of-the-world cults. In southwest China, Yunnan province suffered total civic breakdown post-Tambora, only to remake itself as a rogue narco-state, new hub of the booming international opium trade. These are the sorts of world-altering disaster scenarios the IPCC’s board of scientist-bureaucrats fail to mention in their latest report. But then, climate change has never had its own proper language, a language commensurate with the threat it represents, a language that would forcefully express what it is: the great humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. To invent a language for climate change, we might start with the historical analogy of slavery, which flourished during the Tambora climate emergency two centuries ago. Like our future under climate change, slavery was a human-designed global tragedy that lasted centuries, displaced tens of millions of people, and reorganized the wealth and demographics of the planet. Like climate change, slavery institutionalized the suffering of millions of people from the global south so that folks in Europe and North America (and China) might lead more comfortable, fulfilling lives. And like climate change, few people at the time saw slavery as a serious problem. Even those who did believed nothing could be done without bringing about global economic ruin. That exact argument is used today to defend the continuation of our fossil-fuelled societies. Related Articles:Please, scientists: Tell us how you really feel about climate changeHenry David Thoreau would have given “12 Years a Slave” the Oscar for best picture, tooBlood on the leaves: The hidden environmental story in “12 Years a Slave”Some historians have argued that it was the harnessing of carbon energy — not the abolitionists — that truly made an end to slavery possible in the 19th century. But in a dark historical irony, that same carbon energy, as a pollutant altering the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, is now ushering in a new era of global slavery. Millions this century, living and yet unborn, face displaced lives without hope or freedom of choice, only desperate hardship, due to haywire changes in weather patterns. Does that make climate change the new slavery? One thing we can say with “high confidence,” to use the lingo of the IPCC, is that even now — as the U.N. panel marks its quarter-century anniversary with its fifth and most dire report — there is no international climate change movement comparable to abolitionism. For one thing, we don’t even have a name for the millions of people across the world who are passionately committed to the cause of averting climate disaster. Even Bill McKibben, probably the most effective climate activist in the United States, when branding his organization, could do no better than a number — 350, the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we need to return to for climate safety. Given that climate activism is faring so badly in the public-relations stakes, perhaps it’s time to brush off the old slogan that worked so famously well for the abolitionists, the rallying cry of the greatest humanitarian victory of all time: “Am I not a Man and a Brother?” And instead of an African in chains above the caption, let’s show a crowd of faces from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Arctic north — the faces you won’t find in the IPCC’s report, but who are stubbornly real nevertheless, living precariously in their millions on the shifting global frontlines of climate change.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

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Here’s what fracking can do to your health

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If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn’t the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it’s what could happen to you when you drink it. Although the natural gas industry is notoriously tight-lipped about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it’s widely known that the list often includes some pretty scary, dangerous stuff, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It’s also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere. So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and earthquakes)? Is it true, as an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono recently posited, that “fracking kills”? The answer to that second question is probably not, especially in the short term and if you don’t work on or live across the street from a frack site (which, of course, some people in fact do). But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to start fracking away next to kindergartens and nursing homes: Gas extraction produces a range of potentially health-endangering pollutants at nearly every stage of the process, according to a new paper by the California nonprofit Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, released today in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institutes of Health. The study compiled existing, peer-reviewed literature on the health risks of shale gas drilling and found that leaks, poor wastewater management, and air emissions have released harmful chemicals into the air and water around fracking sites nationwide. “It’s clear that the closer you are, the more elevated your risk,” said lead author Seth Shonkoff, a visiting public health scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. “We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe.” Shonkoff cautioned that existing research has focused on cataloging risks, rather than linking specific instances of disease to particular drilling operations — primarily because the fracking boom is so new that long-term studies of, say, cancer rates, simply haven’t been done. But as the United States and the world double down on natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal (as this week’s U.N. climate change solutions report suggests), Shonkoff argues policymakers need to be aware of what a slew of fracked wells could mean for the health of those who live near them. Even given the risks involved in producing natural gas, it’s still a much healthier fuel source than coal; particulate pollution from coal plants killed an estimated 13,000 Americans in 2010, while a recent World Health Organization study named air pollution (to which coal burning is a chief contributor) the single deadliest environmental hazard on earth. Still, how exactly could gas drilling make you ill? Let us count the ways: Air pollution near wells: Near gas wells, studies have found both carcinogenic and other hazardous air pollutants in concentrations above EPA guidelines, with the pollution at its worst within a half-mile radius of the well. In one Colorado study, some of the airborne pollutants were endocrine disrupters, which screw with fetal and early childhood development. Several studies also found precursors to ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Silica sand, which is used to prop open underground cracks and which can cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer, was also found in the air around well sites; one study of 111 well samples found silica concentrations in excess of OSHA guidelines at 51.4 percent of them. Recycled frack water: About a third of the water/chemical/sand mixture that gets pumped into wells flows back up, bringing back not just the toxic fracking chemicals but other goodies from deep underground, including heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Some of this wastewater is treated and recycled for irrigation and agriculture or dumped back into lakes and rivers. Multiple studies found that because the menu of chemicals is so diverse, treatment is often incomplete and has the potential to pollute drinking water supplies with chemicals linked to everything from eye irritation to nervous system damage to cancer, as well as the potential to poison fish. Even if wastewater is contained, spills can be a problem: One Colorado study counted 77 fracking wastewater spills that impacted groundwater supplies, of which 90 percent were contaminated with unsafe levels of benzene. Broken wells: Drinking water supplies can also be contaminated when the cement casings around wells crack and leak, which studies estimate to happen in anywhere from 2 to 50 percent of all wells (including oil wells, offshore rigs, etc.). Methane getting into drinking water wells from leaky gas wells is the prime suspect in Pennsylvania’s flammable faucets; a study there last year found some methane in 82 percent of water wells sampled but concluded that concentrations were six times higher for water wells within one kilometer of a fracking well. A Texas study found elevated levels of arsenic at water wells within three kilometers of gas wells. (While the Texas study linked the contamination to gas extraction in general, it was unclear what specific part of the process was responsible). Many of these issues could be improved with engineering advancements, like gadgets that monitor for leaks and capture gas emissions, or hardier cement. Regulation can also play a role: Just yesterday, the EPA released a series of reports on methane emissions that could eventually inform restrictions on them as part of President Obama’s climate plan. This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy

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Mark Ruffalo, you are our chosen green celeb! (We hope you like fruit)

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The people have spoken, and one lucky man in Hollywood will be the happy recipient of a fruit basket. The entire Grist staff just breathed a collective sigh of relief, because this guy can get pretty riled up when things don’t go his way. That’s right, folks – Mark Ruffalo beat out five fellow actors and one supermodel to be crowned as Grist’s greenest celebrity. What about this rugged hunk won the hearts of our green-minded audience? Was it his outspokenness against the natural gas and oil industry? Was it his valiant efforts to protect water resources through his own nonprofit? Was it the ease with which he makes Henry David Thoreau sound incredibly sexy? Let’s just go ahead and circle “all of the above.” And Adrian Grenier, if you’re reading this: We’re sorry we don’t have more Entourage fans among our readers. But hey – you know what you can do to change that! So, Mark, keep an eye out for a delightful collection of seasonal fruit on your doorstep. And since we hope you actually enjoy eating it, we promise it won’t be from Edible Arrangements.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

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No, the IPCC climate report doesn’t call for a fracking boom

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You might have heard that the latest installment of the big new U.N. climate report endorses fracking, urging a “dash for gas” as a bridge fuel to put us on a path to a more renewable energy future. These interpretations of the report are exaggerated, lack context, and are just plain wrong. They appear to have been based on interviews and on a censored summary of the report, which was published two days before the full document became available. The energy chapter from the full report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “near‐term GHG emissions from energy supply can be reduced” by replacing coal-fired power plants with “highly efficient” natural gas–burning alternatives — a move that “may play a role as a transition fuel in combination with variable renewable sources.” But that’s only true, the report says, if fugitive emissions of climate-changing methane from drilling and distribution of the gas are “low” — which is far from the case today. Scientists reported Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that methane measurements taken near fracking sites in Pennsylvania suggest such operations leak 100 to 1,000 times more methane than the U.S. EPA has estimated. The IPCC’s energy chapter also notes that fracking for gas has “created concerns about potential risks to local water quality and public health.” To protect the climate and save ourselves, the new IPCC report says we must quit fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean switching from coal to natural gas. It means switching from coal and gas to solar and wind, plugging electric vehicles into those renewable sources, and then metaphorically blowing up the fossil-fueled power plants that pock the planet. Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at “low levels” requires a “fundamental transformation of the energy supply system,” the IPCC says. Overall, its latest report concludes that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent by midcentury, and stop producing any such pollution by the turn of the century, if we’re to keeping warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.7 F. And nothing is more important in meeting those goals than revolutionizing the way we produce electricity. Humanity’s thirst for electricity is the biggest single cause of climate change, with the energy sector fueling a little more than a third of global warming. Wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable forms of energy account for a little more than half of all new generating capacity being built around the world, the report says. But that is not enough. The report notes that renewable energy still requires government support, such as renewable portfolio standards and prices and caps on carbon emissions. But, as desperately as we need to be curbing fossil-fuel burning, we just keep increasing it instead. Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector rose 3.1 percent every year from 2001 to 2010. In the 1990s, they rose just 1.7 percent annually. “The main contributors to this trend were a higher energy demand associated with rapid economic growth and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix,” the report states. Of course, slaking our thirst for electricity with renewables wouldn’t just be good for the climate. The energy chapter highlights “co-benefits” from the use of renewable energy, “such as a reduction of air pollution, local employment opportunities, few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply, as well as improved energy access and security.” A revolution doesn’t sound so scary when you put it that way.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

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Plane search ‘most challenging ever’

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The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could take weeks and is the “most challenging ever seen”, the Australian official co-ordinating the search says.

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Missing $35,000 Watch Found in Thieving Masseuse's Vagina

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A private massage in a Las Vegas hotel room turned into a crime investigation when a $35,000 Rolex disappeared. As tends to happen in these cases, the watch was later found inside the masseuse’s vagina. Read more…

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The Game I Played When I Was Scared To Death of Being Deported

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Amidst the pushcart vendors selling bacon-wrapped hot-dogs, religious leaders blasting damning sermons over megaphones, and the homeless wandering around the city, there is one San Francisco fixture most people don’t know about—not even the locals. It’s not a bridge or a winding street or anything like that: I’m talking about certain folk who roam San Francisco streets. People who can give you the credentials that make your life actually matter.Read more…

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Rich countries: Sure, climate change will screw poor countries, but what about us?

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The new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights that we are already feeling the pain of global warming across the planet. Heat waves and drought are increasingly in rhythm in every major continent, including our own, while severe flooding is more frequently becoming the business in Africa. If you don’t want to read the IPCC’s 2,500-plus page report, here’s the shorter version: Climate fuckery is not futuristic; we have been fucking up the atmosphere; it is fucking us back. But, as I wrote recently, there are certain people — particularly those with large concentrations of melanin in their skin, and smaller concentrations of money in the bank — who are suffering more of that fuckery than their less-melanated, more-resourced counterparts. The IPCC’s latest makes note of this. Disturbingly, the report’s authors wanted to keep this critical information out of the much-shorter IPCC executive summary — the part that’s supposed to be the most accessible to the public and lawmakers. From New York Times reporter Justin Gillis: The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a days long editing session in Yokohama. The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases. Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption. Those bolds are all mine. And before I elaborate, I have to add that it’s equally disturbing to me that this information came two-thirds of the way into Gillis’s article. Talk about burying the lede — this erasure is the story, but it was relegated to the story’s third act, meaning many people probably won’t read it. Back to the bolds, starting with the last one: Rich countries argue that $100 billion a year to shield poor countries from climate impacts is an “unrealistic demand.” I do not believe that if the World Bank said that Europe and U.S. will be destroyed without $100 billion in aid each year, that this would have been deleted from the IPCC summary. Arguing that they cannot afford to deal with the poor in the way that the world’s lead economists say they need to means rich countries do not truly understand what they’re up against. It means that they believe they will somehow be immunized from the kinds of violent uprisings over food, land, energy, and water that result when the poor — mostly people of color — are left out of the picture. It means they do not get what is already happening in Syria, the Ukraine, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Sudan, where forced massive migration and civil wars have already started over limited resources, arguably the result of climate change’s impacts. When rich countries can edit the poor out of the most important document on the gravest danger facing Earth, it means that they are not serious about addressing climate change. It means that climate mitigation funds will help protect millionaire beachfront condo owners in South Beach, but have yet to address how it will protect what’s left of Geechee families in South Carolina. Perhaps it even means that rich countries think their money is better spent on technology and “innovation” to shield themselves from climate catastrophe. And those tricks very well might shield some people from flooding, but it doesn’t shield the “poorest” from the kind of reckless capitalism that traps them in a perpetual state of vulnerability. This is an insult to nations who even with meager resources have already started making the difficult investments that their wealthier counterparts don’t have the courage to make. “Bangladesh has invested $10 billion of its own money to adapt to extreme climatic events,” said Dr. Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development in a statement on the IPCC report. “Nepal is the first country to develop adaptation plans at the community level. It is time for the richer countries to pull their weight and do the right thing, by investing at home and abroad in actions that can reduce emissions and protect people and property from danger.” There is little today that says whiteness is supreme more than arguing that it is an “unrealistic demand” for nations with predominantly, if not exclusive, white leadership to pay what is necessary to protect the people of Africa, India, and South America from climate calamity they did not cause. The oppression, the bigotry, and the fuckery of that argument is that it allows rich countries to continue perpetuating unrealistic demands on the world’s “poorest” — those who “virtually have had nothing to do with” climate change. Chattel slavery was an unrealistic demand. Putting Latin American workers in the most dangerous farm and factory jobs, exposing them to pesticides, carcinogens, and other toxic elements so that Walmart can have “roll back” prices — these are unrealistic demands. Asking the poorest of communities to fend for themselves against unprecedented waves of heat, drought, and rising sea levels is an unrealistic demand. In my estimation, there are two things that will destroy us eventually if not resolved soon: white supremacy and climate change. These happen to both be things that the wealthy believe they can afford to ignore. It’s for this reason that the IPCC’s summary just may be their infamous last words.Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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Bren-Books.com, Modern first editions and collectible fiction<

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Chocolate Artisan Truffles by Just Chocolate

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New July 2013