President Obama has won wide bipartisan support for his determination to revive American nuclear power — a low-carbon energy solution that electric utilities and conservatives can support.
But a pair of legal actions last month could complicate matters for Washington by forcing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to address a longstanding and almost intractable problem: How and where to store the highly radioactive waste.
For many, the separate suits by state attorneys general and environmental groups raise fresh questions over why America is pouring billions into a nuclear renaissance with no long-term strategy for handling waste from the nation's existing facilities.
"The waste problem is the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry," said Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a California-based nuclear watchdog.
Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on why he chose to cross legal boundaries. The seven-part video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.
The trial has begun of a U.S. activist accused of sabotaging an oil and gas land auction by bidding $1.7 million for land parcels that he could not pay for. Tim DeChristopher, whose case has attracted support from high-profile environmentalists including actor Daryl Hannah and environmentalist Bill McKibben, faces up to 10 years' jail if found guilty.
At an auction in Utah on 19 December, 2008 — the last before the end of George Bush's term in office, and seen as a gift for the oil and gas industry — 130,000 acres of land near pristine areas of Utah such as Nine Mile Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument were due to be sold off.
FT. MCMURRAY, ALBERTA—For years, Alberta's government has been under fire for weak monitoring of oil sands development on rivers and lakes. Now it's finally answering its critics, by commissioning a special review that aims to reassure the world that its booming industry is being developed with the utmost scrutiny.
Over the next several months, a panel of experts from health, science, regulatory and public administration backgrounds will look at how the government can rebuild a state-of-the-art monitoring system and regain the public trust, which has eroded not only in Canada, but globally.
In early February, the new group met for the first time to review current monitoring capacity, starting with "aquatics," the most criticized area, and branching out to air quality and wider environmental impacts.
The panel has until June 2011 to report back.
The Arctic Ocean is so cold that only a handful of fish and marine mammals can survive there. Subsurface temperatures range from 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit on a warm summer day to 28.76 degrees, the freezing point of seawater.
In those extreme conditions, one fish species in the center of the Arctic food web is uniquely equipped to thrive: the Arctic cod.
A slender and smaller cousin of the Pacific and Atlantic cod, the Arctic cod is often seen near the underside of the ice, feeding on pteropods, copepods, krill, worms, and small fish. It uses cracks and seams in the ice much as tropical fish use a coral reef: as a refuge from predators.
Its survival in these heat-sapping waters depends on two things: blood and fat.
California's wine industry is under threat from global warming, and while the problem is too big for the wineries to handle on their own, some are trying to lead by example by doing things like installing solar panels and using less glass in their bottling plants.
"There are strong initiatives in the wine industry to reduce climate change impacts," said Ann Thrupp, the director of sustainability at Fetzer Vineyards in Northern California, in an interview.
Areas suitable for growing wine grapes in the United States, the fourth largest wine producer behind France, Italy and Spain, could shrink by as much as 81 percent by the end of the century due to rising temperatures, according to research published in the National Academy of Sciences. The Northern California Napa and Sonoma valleys would be hit the hardest.
Climate change would trigger more extreme heat waves, harming premium wine grapes that need stable temperatures to flourish by causing them to overripen from too much sugar.
The natural beauty and unique species of the Grand Canyon are "in the crosshairs" because of renewed interest in the region's uranium reserves. That is the warning from critics of the mines, ahead of the release of a government report on Friday on the potential impact of fresh mining.
Mining has been banned within the Grand Canyon national park since President Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908. But since 2003, foreign companies have submitted 2,215 claims to prospect on the edge of the canyon.
Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, temporarily withdrew one million acres of land from exploration in 2009 to allow time for an environmental assessment. Salazar must decide by July whether to ban "mineral entry" for two-thirds of the claims for the next 20 years.
The term "reskinning" may sound like a word straight out of a science fiction novel, but in actuality it means retrofitting the exteriors of aging buildings with energy-saving facelifts, and the practice is taking off — especially in Canada and Europe.
Ron Dembo, a former computer science professor at Yale University who founded the Toronto-based carbon software company Zerofootprint, coined the term in 2009. His inspiration came in part from being steeped in data on carbon pollution management.
Dembo said that the role of buildings in global warming is too big to ignore, especially in major cities, where they account for 60 to 80 percent of greenhouse gases. "Buildings were built inadequately and they leak heat or cold," he told SolveClimate News. "They have insufficient skins or exteriors."
As climate change worsens, some leading U.S. corporations are working to find ways to adapt to higher sea levels and other unavoidable effects fueled by warming that they say will deal a big blow to their bottom lines.
Most firms have kept their plans under wraps. But publicly known efforts reveal how adaptation is taking center stage for businesses with vulnerable supply chains, amid mostly feeble attempts by the world's largest carbon polluters to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
"It creepingly has become apparent that even if mitigation were highly successful — which so far it's not — we'd still have lots of climate impacts," said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
"We have to adapt," he told SolveClimate News.
Energy giant Entergy Corporation would seem to agree. On Tuesday, the utility will announce an adaptation project with New Orleans-based nonprofit America's WETLAND Foundation and government officials from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The collaboration seeks to help a dozen communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast gauge their vulnerabilities to climate change, and establish plans to deal with the impacts.
China has announced a billion dollars in emergency water aid to ease its most severe drought in 60 years, as the United Nations warned of a threat to the harvest of the world's biggest wheat producer.
Beijing has also promised to use its grain reserves to reduce the pressure on global food prices, which have surged in the past year to record highs due to the floods in Australia and a protracted dry spell in Russia.
The desperate measures were evident at Baita reservoir in Shandong — one of several key agricultural provinces afflicted by four months without rain. With nearby crops turning yellow, a mechanical digger cut a crude, open-cast well into the dried-up bed of the reservoir. Muddy water from the 16-foot-deep pit was pumped up to the surface via a hose that snaked past a fishing boat stranded on the cracked earth.
KANSAS CITY, KAN.—Roderick Bremby said on Thursday he has an inkling why he was dismissed as Kansas' top environmental official last fall, but he wasn't ready to publicly link it to his rejection of a controversial coal plant permit.
Bremby made his first public appearance yesterday since losing his job as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) in early November. He said he had been forced out by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson while a second permit application was pending for a controversial coal-fired power plant in western Kansas that had gained national notoriety.
After a 90-minute presentation to about 75 people on issues of sustainability and the coal plant project, Bremby said in an interview that he was shocked and dismayed to lose his job. He said he wasn't told why he was let go.
"I have a sense internally what the issue may have been, but I don't want to suggest anything in particular because I don't want to impugn anyone's character," Bremby told SolveClimate News.