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The Chronicle November-December 2013

The Chronicle 

By Alice Loyd (through December 31, 2013)

At the end of 2013, we review recent news stories reflecting the shrinking world humans have made. The planet seems smaller due to gains and losses: information and transportation technologies on the one hand, and species and habitat loss, including ice melt, on the other. But it is the world we have, the one we must support and repair. From many sources we’ve gathered information to help us know how to do that.

Story 1: Fukushima Is Not Old News

Recent news stories have made clear that the Fukushima disaster is not over. There remain significant risks, and some believe that the Fukushima risks are at the top level of global environmental concerns. See Fukushima Response and No End in Sight. There remain 1,400 fuel rods in a damaged pool at Fukushima 4 containing many times the radioactive cesium that was released in the bombing of Hiroshima. These rods would be at risk were another large earthquake to occur. Over six thousand rods sit in a common storage pool, which because of radiation at the site cannot be continuously cooled. So, in November 2013, a delicate operation began to remove the rods and move them to a safer storage facility. If the rods touch or are exposed, there is a risk of an uncontrollable nuclear reaction and the release of large amounts of radiation. Because of the damaged condition of the plants, one person compared the operation of removing the 300 kilogram assemblies to removing cigarettes from a wet cigarette package. See Pandora’s Atomic Box Score, Fukushima Forever, and Fukushima’s Most Dangerous Operation Yields First Success.

Story 2: Destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

The first stage of the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal has been completed, the head of the Russian Security Council said on December 26. “Critical parts of equipment to produce chemical weapons, mix their components and fill ammunition (with toxic agents) have been destroyed,” Nikolai Patrushev told the Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Under the auspices of United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the operation to destroy the Syrian government’s arsenal of more than 1,000 metric tons of weapons-grade chemicals is taking place in two stages. The most dangerous weapons were to be removed from Syria by December 31—although late news on our publication date indicates it is unlikely the end-of-year deadline will be accomplished. The date set for the at-sea destruction remains April, whereas the remainder has been slated for destruction by mid-2014.

Russia is among many countries assisting the disarmament effort. Last week, Moscow deployed 75 vehicles in Syria to transport the dangerous cargo. Russia will also donate up to $2 million to finance the international operation. Danish and Norwegian vessels will take the chemicals from the Syrian port of Latakia to a port in Italy. They will then be loaded on to a US Navy ship and transported into international waters before being destroyed through hydrolysis in a specially built titanium tank on board.

The disarmament process, which prevented a US military strike on Syria, was launched after an August 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians. The US and its allies have accused the Syrian government of responsibility for that attack, but Damascus blamed rebel groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


According to ABC News, it appears likely that an offer from the United States to destroy the dangerous chemicals at sea will be accepted. The reserve merchant vessel MV Cape Ray, currently in Norfolk, Virginia, is in the process of being equipped with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems, Pentagon officials said in a press briefing. These systems add water and bleach to dangerous chemicals, converting them into an inert liquid byproduct. Though this process has never been carried out at sea, the officials said hydrolysis is “a proven technology” that will result in “a very low risk operation.” About 100 personnel will be aboard the ship, 60 of them Defense Department civilians working with the hydrolysis systems, officials said.

The vessel and its equipment are expected to be ready for sea trials later this month and could begin processing Syrian nerve-agent precursors and mustard gas in January. A senior Defense Department official called the destruction process safe and “environmentally sound.”

“Absolutely nothing will be dumped at sea,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to brief reporters about the sensitive mission.

But according to French NGO Robin des Bois, the plan to dispose of the chemical weapons at sea is “adventurous” and poses a serious threat to the crew and the environment. In a report published on December 12, 2013, Robin des Bois pointed to Cape Ray’s single hull and the absence of transverse partitions as indicators that the ship was not suited to perform such a critical task.

Story 3: The U.S. Farm Bill

At the end of 2013 the U.S. Farm Bill, a 1,000-page measure that sets the nation’s food and nutrition policy, remains in deadlock. Typically renewed every five years, the United States is currently operating under an extension due to expire at the end of this month. While the bill does set agricultural policy, it also governs food policy, making it a concern of city-based Americans, as well as farmers and non-farmers in other countries.

Both Senate and House versions currently protect the budget by cutting food stamps while leaving intact the large subsidies that go primarily to large-scale farmers.

Prominent economist Joseph Stiglitz criticized the economics and the ethics of the bill now under debate, calling it “a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size.”

In a New York Times Op-Ed headlined “The Insanity of Our Food Policy,” Stiglitz wrote,

Small, powerful interests—in this case, wealthy commercial farmers—help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one—the pie doesn’t get any bigger—though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality. House Republicans’ farm bill is an especially egregious version of this process. It takes real money, money that is necessary for bare survival, from the poorest Americans, and gives it to a small group of the undeserving rich, in return for their campaign contributions and political support. There is no economic justification: The bill actually distorts our economy by promoting the kind of production we don’t need and shrinking the consumption of those with the smallest incomes.

An example of the consequences under consideration is the situation in Humphreys County, Mississippi. Since 1995, farms there have received about $250 million in subsidies, which puts Humphreys close to the middle in a list of counties that get the payments. At the same time, nearly half of the county’s 9,100 residents receive food stamps, one of the highest rates in the nation. As a result, Humphreys has one of the greatest disparities between the poor, who face food stamp cuts under proposals in the new farm bill, and farmers, who stand to gain more in subsidies.

A summary of the 2012 farm bill can be read on the website of Food & Water Watch. See Farm Bill 101. A primer on agricultural policy is also available on the site.

Story 4: Environmental Assessment in China

In China the environmental tragedy of the year occurred in November in Qingdao, when an oil pipeline exploded, killing or injuring over 100 people. An investigation found the pipeline was too close to urban drains, which points to failures in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and planning processes.

Air pollution in China has only grown worse in 2013, with broad swaths recording their highest air pollution levels in 52 years, causing widespread outrage over the massive environmental toll wrought by decades of unchecked economic growth. Wang Jinnan, deputy head of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, said that the investment—part of an anti-pollution “action plan” announced by China’s cabinet in September— “would drive up GDP by nearly two trillion yuan (£202b) and create over two million jobs.”

Cleaning up China’s air pollution will cost 1.75 trillion yuan between 2013 and 2017, a high-ranking environmental official has estimated (1 yuan = 0.1648 USD). The total cost will be higher than the 2012 gross domestic products of most countries, including Finland, Israel and Portugal.

While Beijing has long been notorious for what is often called “pea-soup” air, a number of traditionally clearer cities, including Shanghai and the northeastern metropolis Harbin, have registered pollution levels high enough for local authorities to ground flights, close schools and pull cars from the roads.

On December 20, 2013, Shanghai’s concentration of airborne particulate matter small enough to lodge deep within the lungs rose to 214 micrograms per cubic meter, three times China’s national limit. The five-year action plan pledged to reduce the level of airborne particulate matter by at least 10% in major cities by 2017.

Liu Jianqiang, Beijing editor of ChinaDialogue and author of China and the Environment: The Green Revolution, called 2013 a year of disappointment for the environment. In June a second draft of a revision of the Environmental Protection Law was published for comment. The revision specified that the semi-official All-China Environmental Federation (ACEF) has the exclusive right to bring environmental litigation in the public interest—a rule that many opposed. A third draft published in late October did not mention the ACEF and appeared to widen the scope to other bodies but ruled that organizations bringing environmental litigation must be nationwide bodies registered with the civil affairs authorities, have been engaged in environmental protection for five consecutive years, and be of good repute. Feng Yongfeng, founder of Green Beagle, explained that to be considered nationwide, a body must be registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Add in the other requirements and only one body appears to be qualified—again, the ACEF.

He reports that the “Global Burden of Disease Study 2010,”http://www.thelancet.com/themed/global-burden-of-disease published in 2012, showed that China suffered 1.24 million premature deaths in 2010 due to air pollution. Beijing’s health authorities have recently revealed that between 2002 and 2011 the incidence of lung cancer in the city rose from 39.56 cases per 10,000 residents, to 60.09.


Air pollution has become a matter of genuine concern to the public, and is no longer just an environmental protection issue. Face masks have become a fashion statement and air purifier sales have spiked. An elementary school in north China’s Shijiazhuang, one of the country’s most polluted cities, has begun teaching its students a smog-defying aerobics routine involving acupuncture points associated with respiratory health.

It has become a quality of life problem, and even a diplomatic matter.

Story 5: Global Climate Change: Warsaw UNFCCC Talks, ConsumptionBased Accounting, and Emissions by Companies

Greenhouse gas pollution in the global atmosphere is not the number four story in importance, of course, and at least at the end of 2013 we can say it is getting an increasing amount of attention.

Action? Progress? A New York Times article claims only that “Two weeks of United Nations climate talks ended with a pair of last-minute deals keeping alive the hope that a global effort can ward off a ruinous rise in temperatures.” More than 10,000 people, including national delegations, journalists, advocates and, for the first time, business leaders, were in attendance as delegates agreed to the broad outlines of a proposed system for pledging emissions cuts and gave their support for a new treaty mechanism to tackle the human cost of rising seas, floods, stronger storms and other expected effects.

As another NYT article comments, however, “Countless summit conferences since the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was adopted more than 15 years ago have failed to budge the fundamental roadblocks standing in the way of collective action: How should the costs be divided? Several novel suggestions that might break the log jam are being proposed.

The standard approach being considered to account for the cost of “traded” carbon is to tax recorded emissions at the border. Large, poorer exporters like China, not surprisingly, don’t like that approach. And they have some influential supporters. Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo is quoted as saying, “If China brought this up in negotiations it would be allowing the United States and Europe to regulate Chinese exports.” Other research has concluded that imposing a border penalty would encourage China and other developing countries to tax their own carbon emissions—and keep the money—rather than have them taxed by others.

In the other referenced NYT article on this topic, Eduardo Porter comments: “There is nowhere near a consensus on who is responsible for historical emissions. Some studies have concluded that the rich world put up to 80 percent of the existing carbon dioxide in the air. But this year researchers in the Netherlands and at the European Commission concluded that by including the impact of changing land use, developing countries actually accounted for nearly half of all heat-trapping gases emitted between 1850 and 2010.”

Another point he makes is this: Geographically based calculations make it look as if advanced industrial countries have managed to stabilize their carbon emissions. But they have just moved the growth outside their borders.

His inquiry, asking this question, focuses on consumption rather than generation: “Are emissions the responsibility of the countries that made them or of the countries for whom the products were made?”

Elizabeth Stanton and colleagues at the Stockholm Environment Institute-U.S. Center performed a set of calculations on carbon emissions. Rather than tally the carbon they produced, they wanted an inventory of the emissions generated in making, transporting, using and disposing of what they consumed. They were in for a surprise. San Francisco, for example, generated only eight million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in

2008. The city’s consumption, by contrast, added nearly 22 million tons of carbon to the air. Using consumption-based measurements, Oregon’s emissions in 2005 jumped to 78 million tons from 53 million.

The focus on consumption makes sense. Understanding its impact on climate change is a necessary first step for families, and municipalities to take concrete action to mitigate carbon emissions. This sort of recalculation, however, could have an unforeseen effect on the international politics of climate change by shifting responsibility on a global scale.

The carbon emissions created by Americans’ consumption are about 8 percent more than the emissions produced in the United States alone, according to scientists at the Global Carbon Project. Conversely, about a fifth of China’s emissions are for products consumed outside its borders.

And the European Union, self-contentedly green under standard calculations based on where carbon is emitted, looks less virtuous through a consumption-based lens. In 2011 Europeans emitted only 3.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, but 4.8 billion tons were spewed into the atmosphere to make the things Europeans consumed.

As Mr. Porter comments, “Throwing consumption-based accounting into this forest of pointed fingers might add ethical nuance to the debate, but it is unlikely to make it any easier.”

Another possible approach would be to ask private corporations to bear some of the costs. In a Guardian story Suzanne Goldenberg reports on data collected over eight years by the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado. The conclusion? The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age.

In addition, half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years—well past the date when governments and corporations became aware of the danger rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil.

Among them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane during the period 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, according to the research. The list includes 50 investor-owned firms–mainly oil companies with widely recognized names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton. Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.

Government-run oil and coal companies in the former Soviet Union produced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other entities—just under 8.9% of the total produced over time. China came a close second with its government-run entities accounting for 8.6% of total global emissions. ChevronTexaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date.

All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers. Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which— if they are burned—puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.

The analysis, which has been published in the journal Climatic Change, shows the companies’ operations spanning the globe, with company headquarters in 43 different countries. “These entities extract resources from every oil, natural gas and coal province in the world, and process the fuels into marketable products that are sold to consumers on every nation on Earth,” writes climate researcher and author Richard Heede in the paper.

The historic emissions record was constructed using public records and data from the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center, and took account of emissions all along the supply chain.

“There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world,” said Heede, “but the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”

Climate change experts said the data set was the most ambitious effort so far to hold individual carbon producers, rather than governments, to account.

Two international climate talks are ahead for world leaders. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for one to take place in September 2014 in New York, where they will be asked to show progress on cutting emissions in the full glare of the United States and the world news media. In 2015 United Nations members look toward a 2015 conference in Paris to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Story 6: Climate Change: Who Should Advocate? Educate? How? When?

Gavin A. Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has builtRealClimate.orginto what Andrew Revkin calls a vital online touchstone for anyone trying to understand research on the human influence on the planet’s thermostat.

Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has approached climate change education from another perspective. First he condensed the needed message to 661 words, adding “There it is. It is a complicated message. And here’s a summation of the summation: it’s all about energy; renewables are the future; growth is over.”

Another idea about addressing climate change information is not as pro-active in timing. A panel appointed by the National Research Council called for the creation of an early warning system.

In the Stephen H. Schneider Lecture at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Gavin A. Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, gave a lecture titled “What should a climate scientist advocate for? The Intersection of Expertise and Values in a Politicized World.”

Answering a question, he added this vital thought: It’s important for people who know things not to cede the public sphere to people who don’t know things because if we do then we have this vast hinterland between headlines and journal articles that is populated by people who have very, very different agendas and basically no understanding of the science at all.

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times, encourages anyone working at the interface of climate science and policy to watch the video of Schmidt’s lecture, posted by the Geophysical Union on YouTube

Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute has approached climate change education from another perspective. First he condensed the needed message to 661 words, adding “There it is. It is a complicated message. And here’s a summation of the summation: it’s all about energy; renewables are the future; growth is over.” He admits, “Only readers with a lot of prior knowledge will be able to truly understand some of the words and phrases. And many people who are capable of making sense of what I’ve written would disagree with, or dismiss, much of it. The message faces a tough audience, and it flies against deep-seated interests.”

He continues, however, asserting “there is too much at stake to indulge in the luxury of cynicism. Our job is to keep coming up with convincing, well-reasoned, and well-documented arguments for change; attractive PR messages; a compelling new paradigm; and impressive demonstration projects—while opposing further fossil fuel extraction, new roads, and other things that lead toward ecological peril.

“And we must do it all with as much commitment and vigor as if the fate of the world depended on it. As far as I can tell, it does.”

Another idea about addressing climate change information is not as pro-active in timing. A panel appointed by the National Research Council called for the creation of an early warning system to alert society well in advance to changes capable of producing chaos. The recommendation released on December 3, 2013, considered “whether some changes could occur so suddenly as to produce profound social or environmental stress, even collapse.” It cited the outbreak of mountain pine beetles in the American West and in Canada. The disappearance of bitterly cold winter nights that used to kill off the beetles has allowed them to ravage tens of millions of acres of forests, damage so severe it can be seen from space. Although the panel avoided catastrophic predictions, it warned that Arctic sea ice could disappear in the summer within several decades, with severe impacts on wildlife and human communities in the region, and unknown effects on the world’s weather patterns.

Among the greatest risks in coming years, the panel said, is that many of the world’s coral reefs, a vital source of fish that feed millions of people, already seemed fated to die within decades. Moderately likely over the coming century, is that rising heat in the upper ocean could result in reduced oxygen in the deep. The worst-case scenario would be the creation of huge zones with too little oxygen for sea creatures to survive.

Story 7: NAFTA’s 20th Anniversary

In a report published December 22, 2013, by Foreign Policy in Focus, Karen Hansen-Kuhn appraises NAFTA’s results for the farmers in Mexico and the United States. Hansen-Kuhn, International Program Director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, writes, “One of the clearest stories to emerge in the two decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented is the devastation wreaked on the Mexican countryside by dramatic increases in imports of cheap U.S. corn. But while Mexican farmers, especially small-scale farmers, undoubtedly lost from the deal, that doesn’t mean that U.S. farmers have won.

“Prices for agricultural goods have been on a roller coaster of extreme price volatility—caused by unfair agriculture policies and recklessly unregulated speculation on commodity markets, as well as by increasing droughts and other climate chaos. Each time prices take their terrifying ride back down, more small-and-medium-scale farmers are forced into bankruptcy, concentrating land ownership and agricultural production into ever fewer hands.”

Hansen-Kuhn’s comments include the interlocking effects of the 1996 Farm Bill. “That legislation set in place a shift from supply management and regulated markets to a policy of ‘get big or get out.’ Farmers were encouraged to increase production with the promise of expanded export markets. But almost immediately, commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to ‘emergency’ payments—later codified as farm subsidies—to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.” Prices also increased for land, fuel, fertilizers, and other petrochemical-based agrochemicals. As a result, net farm incomes became much more erratic.

Her analysis continues, “Over the last 20 years, there has been a marked shift in the size of U.S. farms, with the numbers of very small farms and very large farms increasing dramatically. The increase in the number of small farms is due to several factors, including urban dwellers returning to the land (almost all of whom rely on off-farm jobs to support themselves), and the growth in specialty crops for local farmers’ markets. According to USDA researchers Robert Hoppe, James MacDonald, and Penni Korb, the number of farms in the middle—small operations that are commercially viable on their own—dropped by 40 percent, from half of total farms in 1982 to less than a third in 2007.”

The result of the NAFTA/Farm Bill 1996 constellation is a sector marked by inequality and corporate concentration. The report quotes Mary Hendrickson at the University of Missouri, who has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. “In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors.” Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.

Hansen-Kuhn concludes: “As corporations consolidated in the United States, they grew even larger by taking advantage of provisions in NAFTA that let them operate across borders. For example, U.S.-based corporations can grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico, and then bring their products back to the United States for slaughter and sale. Efforts to label these meats under Country of Origin Labeling laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. As a result of these advantages to large-scale growers, independent hog and poultry producers in the United States have virtually disappeared.”

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce holds a different opinion. The introduction to its 20-year summary of NAFTA states: “NAFTA has succeeded spectacularly in boosting cross-border trade, economic growth, and good jobs. Understanding this success is more important than ever as the agreement’s many critics are sure to repeat their attacks on the occasion of NAFTA’s anniversary. The bottom line is that NAFTA has supported millions of good jobs, raised standards of living, and enhanced the competitiveness of North American industry in a rapidly changing global economy.”

Lawmakers and President Obama seem to agree with the Chamber as they push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These are largely modeled on NAFTA, with new provisions that would limit any remaining restrictions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and permit food additives that are coming under increasing criticism.

Story 8: 25th Anniversary of the Murder of Chico Mendes

A story in The Guardian states that when Chico Mendes murder took place in Brazil on December 22, 1988, his opponents hoped to kill off the forest conservation campaign. Instead it boosted the campaign’s profile throughout the country and across the world, influencing a generation of conservationists and policymakers.

The Brazilian government has declared Chico Mendes “Patron of the Brazilian Environment,” and institutions have been named after him, including the main state agency in charge of conservation—the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade. His home state of Acre in the western Amazon has pioneered the establishment of extractive reserves.

Mendes is now a symbol of the global environment movement, and many of his ideas live on through associates, notably Marina Silva, who became environment minister and put in place Amazon protection systems that are credited with an impressive fall in the rate of deforestation until recently.

The Guardian tribute continues, “But the celebrations will be tempered by the resurgent influence of the landowners’ lobby, a recent sharp uptick in Amazon clearance and renewed questions about the Brazilian government’s willingness to protect forest workers and conserve the biodiverse habitat on which they depend. Mendes would have recognized the destructive forces at work, though contrary to his reputation as an environmentalist, he was first and foremost a union activist campaigning on behalf of rubber tappers whose way of life was being decimated along with the loss of the Amazon.”

Shorts: A Collection of Good and Bad News.
First the good.

Redox Power Systems, a Fulton, Maryland-based start-up company founded last year, sealed the deal on a partnership with researchers at the University of Maryland to commercialize a fuel cell that is about one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost of currently commercial fuel cells. Redox says that it will provide safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, onsite and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources.

USF professor Yogi Goswami has captured solar energy using salt-filled ceramic balls that can turn water into steam for hours after the sun disappears. The steam powers turbines that produce electricity, in much the same way as burning coal. He has devised a way to concentrate the energy storage into golf ball-size capsules that even at high volumes take up little space, reduce costs and last longer than other technologies.

And in California, utilities will install massive banks of batteries and other devices to store the power surplus created by solar panels in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are strong. The batteries are then to begin discharging power into California’s electric grid in the early evening, around sunset, when the solar generation of energy dies down but demand rises. The new system is the opposite of an idea utilities have considered for years: use batteries to store power at night from traditional sources, like natural gas and coal, and run them down in the peak heat of late afternoon.

Bad news:

According to new, unpublished research by federal scientists, traces of 18 unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from more than one-third of U.S. water utilities in a nationwide sampling. Included are 11 perfluorinated chemicals, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant.

A December 22 report states that nearly 1,000 bottlenose dolphins—eight times the historical average— have washed up dead along the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Florida, a vast majority of them victims of morbillivirus. “Because bottlenose dolphins are top predators, have long life spans and live near shore,” said Dr. Greg Bossart, “whatever happens coastally its them and potmpacentially us.”

An experienced Australian sailor laments observations made on his voyage from Japan to San Francisco in http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1848433/the-ocean-is-broken/

Good/Bad News:

Advances in molecular genetics and DNA sequencing technology have allowed a San Diego start-up to domesticate jatropha, a plant with seeds that produce high-quality oil that can be refined into low-carbon biofuel.

In October a report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer for the first time described air pollution as a common and significant environmental carcinogen. The report found evidence to show that exposure to outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer and an increased risk of bladder cancer. Air pollution is now as much of a cancer risk as tobacco, UV radiation and asbestos.

Apple hasn’t managed to produce its iPhone without adding heat-trapping carbon to the air. The company expects an iPhone 5s to inject 70 kilograms—about 154 pounds—of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere over its lifetime, 11 pounds less than the iPhone that Apple introduced last year.