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Will the Planet Survive the Next 24 Hours?

Mother Jones

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The next 24 hours could make or break humanity’s chances of staving off the worst impacts of climate change.

Negotiations in Paris for an international agreement to limit and adapt to global warming are in their final moments, after diplomats pulled their second consecutive all-nighter to crash through a few critical remaining questions in the 28-page document. The most recent draft, released Thursday evening, resolved one of the most important questions on the table: an agreement to at least attempt to limit long-term global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a crucial half degree less warming than had been on the table before. For climate activists and diplomats from the world’s most vulnerable countries, that was a huge win.

Now, the question is whether the agreement will actually have the necessary tools to achieve that target. Many of the critical pieces needed to make the deal as strong as possible—most importantly, increased funding for climate adaptation in developing countries and a plan to ramp up greenhouse gas reductions over time—are still on the table. That’s a good thing. But there’s no way to know how many of them will survive the night.

“We’re in a good position. The sunlight is really in front of us,” said Li Shuo, a campaigner with Greenpeace in China. Still, he added, “we have tremendous risk that this very could be watered down tomorrow.”

The most important issue under debate right now is the “ratchet mechanism,” which would require countries to boost their climate ambitions incrementally over time. It’s an essential component for actually meeting the 1.5 degrees C target (or even the less ambitious 2 degrees C target), because the promises countries have made so far add up to about 2.7 degrees C—a level of warming that could ultimately prove catastrophic around the world. At the moment, the text requires countries to report their greenhouse gas emissions every five years. But it is still vague about how countries that lag behind could be penalized, how countries could be required to increase their efforts over time, and how exactly their reporting could be internationally fact-checked. Secretary of State John Kerry has been ambiguous on this point; he said on Wednesday that in the agreement, “there’s no punishment, no penalty, but there has to be oversight.”

Crucially, negotiators have also not agreed on when those reviews need to start happening. The view of most experts here is that in order to stay within the 1.5 degrees C target, the reviews should start as soon as possible—certainly before 2020. That way, there’s time to correct course before it’s too late. But the Chinese delegation has resisted that timeline. Last night President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone, according to Chinese state television; what exactly they discussed was unclear, but the call raised some eyebrows here about a possible wedge emerging between the two countries.

Some tension at this stage is to be expected, said David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute.

“What’s happening here is the world is trying to craft a new way of collaborating,” he said. “We’re seeing the growing pains of that process.”

China and the United States were among the first countries to take a strong bilateral stand in advance of the Paris talks, when they released a joint plan to fight climate change last November. Many people I’ve spoken to here have said that this early partnership was one of the biggest reasons to be optimistic about these talks, since disagreements between the two countries has been a key reason that past climate summits have collapsed. So if that mood is changing, it could really improve the final deal in Paris.

China has yet to sign onto the “High Ambition Coalition,” a negotiating bloc that includes the United States, European Union, and dozens of developing countries. That coalition has emerged in the past few days to fight for what it portrays as the strongest possible agreement. I’ve heard concern from many activists here that the coalition is really just a way for the United States to seem like it’s on the right side of history, without actually taking very ambitious steps, while simultaneously painting China and India as the villains. (Eric Holthaus at Climate Desk partner Slate did a good job breaking down that dynamic.)

“Everyone is trying to hide behind the political smog,” Shuo said.

Meanwhile, the United States seems to be obstinately resisting language in the agreement that would make more money available for developing countries to expand their clean energy sectors, and for a compensation fund for the most climate-impacted countries. And negotiators are still squabbling over how exactly to determine which countries should be obliged to do what.

So now, it’s a waiting game. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my days at this summit, it’s to not even bother looking at the official procedural schedule. Anything can happen anytime because most of the action is taking place behind closed doors. That will continue through Friday night; the next draft of the agreement is due Saturday at 9 a.m. Paris time. At that point, it’s more or less up to the French officials leading the summit to decide whether to force an up-or-down vote or to let diplomats pull their red pens out again.

At the very least, it’s pretty safe to say that the chances of the talks totally collapsing are slim to none. Instead, it’s a question of whether the deal will actually be as ambitious as leaders such as Kerry have repeatedly said they want it to be, or whether it will be something more milquetoast. Either way, no one expects this agreement to actually solve climate change. But this is the most optimistic activists and diplomats have been in the 20-year history of these talks.

As Tine Sundtoft, the Norwegian environment minister, told reporters this afternoon, “There’s no real danger that we will lock in low ambition for decades to come.”

Master image: Triff/Shutterstock


Will the Planet Survive the Next 24 Hours?

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 27, 2014

Mother Jones

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US Marine Corps recruits go through chemical warfare defense training. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 27, 2014

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This New Charger Checks To See If Your Phone’s Been Hacked

Photo: closari

The increasing ubiquity of smartphones has made these little computers an appealing target for hackers. Most phones operate on one of the two main mobile operating systems—Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android—and Android’s open nature, along with the ease with which it lets you download off-market software, has made it hackers’ favored target.

This isn’t a huge problem, if you’re careful. But, if you are downloading a lot of software outside of the official channels, you may be opening the door to your phone’s innards to malware. Quartz:

About 15% of the apps flagged by Verify Apps are commercial spyware, a diverse set of monitoring apps that range from tracking internet behavior to improve advertising to the very malicious keyloggers that collect personal information entered by the user and report it to the malware creator.

Many software hacks and bugs rely on code that prevents the computer’s built-in security from detecting the problem, either by tricking the anti-virus software into thinking the hack is harmless or by somehow masking it from view. To combat this kind of attack, says MIT Technology Review, the company Kaprica Security has designed a mobile charger that will scan your phone for malware while juicing its battery. Tech Review:

For the user, the charger is simple: plug it into the wall, and plug the phone into the charger. The charger then conducts a quick preliminary scan of the phone; if all is in order, it shows a green light.

If you leave the phone plugged into the charger, it will reboot at a time you’ve preconfigured—3 a.m., for instance—and start a more thorough process that sends the phone’s operating-system files to the charger for an analysis that takes about four minutes.

…If a problem is detected, the charger will alert you with a red light, and—depending on the user’s preferences—the charger can automatically repair the phone by using a previous “good” version of the operating system it has already stored.

The idea behind the charger is that, being independent of the phone, the charger wouldn’t be fooled by the tricks meant to confuse the phone’s protections.

That being said, we can’t help but be a little bit nervous about a company with a name like Kaprica Security. What if the charger is actually just paving the way for the Cylon invasion?

More from

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When a Smartphone Becomes a Wallet
Your Smartphone Could Someday Warn You That Earthquake Waves Are About to Hit

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This New Charger Checks To See If Your Phone’s Been Hacked

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Trent Lott on Ted Cruz: "Cut His Legs Out From Under Him"

Mother Jones

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Just as House Speaker John Boehner was concluding a brief press conference on Monday afternoon—declaring that House GOPers would once again send to the Senate a bill funding the government that would block Obamacare, practically ensuring a government shutdown—I bumped into former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who now works at Patton Boggs, a powerhouse law and lobbying firm in Washington. Glad not to be part of the mess? I asked.

“I’m of two minds,” Lott said. “I’d like to be in the arena and help work something out. But it’s gotten too nasty and too mean these days. I couldn’t work with these guys.”

What do you think of how Boehner and the House Republicans are handling this?

“They’ve made their point,” Lott huffed. “It’s time to say enough and move on.” Referring to the die-hard tea partiers in the House Republican caucus, he added, “These new guys don’t care about making things work.” Lott noted that in the mid-1990s, he warned then-Speaker Newt Gingrich not to force a government shutdown. “I knew it wouldn’t be good for us,” he said.

So how does this end? Lott said he still was optimistic that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could step in and negotiate a deal—maybe a short-term continuation of spending. (Not too long ago, I noted that the odds of a successful McConnell intervention were low.)

I asked Lott if his old GOP pals still serving in the Senate have lost control of their party. How do they feel about that? I inquired. Lott shook his head: “That Ted Cruz. They have to teach him something or cut his legs out from under him.”

Cut his legs out? Yeah, Lott replied with a chuckle. He noted that when he was in the House in the 1980s he mounted a campaign against a fellow Republican who had challenged him for a leadership post. “Took me two years,” he recalled. “But I got him. And he was out of the House.” Recalling his vindictiveness and hardball politics, Lott chuckled once more. “Call me if you want more red meat,” he said, before heading toward the car waiting for him.

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Trent Lott on Ted Cruz: "Cut His Legs Out From Under Him"

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Clean energy law reducing electricity costs in Ohio

Clean energy law reducing electricity costs in Ohio


Ohio is getting greener, and that’s reducing the cost of power.

More than 1,000 renewable energy projects have been built in Ohio during the past five years — part of a scramble by utilities to comply with the state’s renewable energy standard. The biggest project, a wind farm, cost $600 million.

So how much are the state’s electricity customers being forced to fork out for this flurry of climate-friendly construction activity?

Nada. Not even nada — less than nada. An analysis [PDF] by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio concludes that all those green energy projects have actually reduced the price of wholesale power in the state, albeit just a little bit.

It’s true that such projects cost money to build. But, unlike fossil fuel–powered plants, their fuels — solar radiation and wind — are free. The lower long-term energy costs of all those clean power facilities has “suppressed” the market rate for dirtier forms of electricity in Ohio, the study found.

“[C]onsistent with theoretical expectations, Ohioans are already benefiting from renewable resource additions through downward pressure on wholesale market prices and reduced emissions,” says the report, written by PUC economist Tim Benedict. Midwest Energy News fleshes out the findings:

According to Benedict’s calculations, the renewable generators now producing power have reduced the cost of wholesale power by about 0.15 percent. When his study looked at the projected power from all renewable projects that the state has approved, including those not yet operational, the figure is closer to 0.5 percent.

“This confirms what other studies have found,” said Rebecca Stanfield, a deputy director for policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As we add renewables, the wholesale price of electricity goes down.”

And while a wholesale price cut of half a percent may not sound like much, it’s important to keep in mind that only about 1 percent of Ohio’s power currently comes from renewable sources. The renewable standard passed in 2008 requires that that proportion gradually increase to 12.5 percent in 2025. And as the contribution from renewable power grows, so, presumably, will the savings from a falling wholesale price of fuel.

The report was published as state Sen. Bill Steitz (R) pushes, yet again, to roll back elements of Ohio’s renewable energy mandate, which he has compared to “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.” Fortunately for consumers and the climate, similar efforts backed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to kill renewable energy mandates in states across the nation have been flopping.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Business & Technology


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Quote of the Day: Nine Months Is an Eternity in Apple-Land

Mother Jones

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From Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, commenting on sales of the iPhone 5:

This is a tired product, it’s been out three quarters.

He’s not wrong, but it’s still a pretty astonishing statement, isn’t it? In any case, Munster was actually using this as a defense of Apple’s second straight quarter of mediocre results. iPad sales were down 14 percent and Mac sales were down 7 percent, but iPhone sales were up 20 percent. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s better than last quarter. And while the softness of iPad sales isn’t too surprising considering the huge channel inventory glut at the end of last quarter, it’s still bad news.

Overall, revenue was flat and earnings were down 22 percent from last year. Despite all this, Apple beat expectations, which just goes to show that expectations aren’t what they used to be. I’m certainly not writing off Apple or anything, but at the moment it sure looks like it’s not just the iPhone 5 that’s tired. I think Apple looks tired. Perhaps they’ve succumbed to the imperial headquarters disease.

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Quote of the Day: Nine Months Is an Eternity in Apple-Land

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Confirmed: Fracking Triggers Quakes and Seismic Chaos

Mother Jones

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World map vector: Antun Hirsman/Shutterstock

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Meet Harold Hamm, Oil Tycoon and Romney’s Top Energy Advisor

The Texas Fracking Billionaire Who’s Bankrolling National Politics

Major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in areas where fluids have been injected into the ground from fracking and other industrial operations, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Previous studies, covered in a recent Mother Jones feature from Michael Behar, have shown that injecting fluids into the ground can increase the seismicity of a region. This latest study shows that earthquakes can tip off smaller quakes in far-away areas where fluid has been pumped underground.

The scientists looked at three big quakes: the Tohuku-oki earthquake in Japan in 2011 (magnitude 9), the Maule in Chile in 201 (an 8.8 magnitude), and the Sumatra in Indonesia in 2012 (an 8.6). They found that, as much as 20 months later, those major quakes triggered smaller ones in places in the Midwestern US where fluids have been pumped underground for energy extraction.

“The fluids kind of act as a pressurized cushion,” lead author Nicholas van der Elst of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University explained to Mother Jones. “They make it easier for the fault to slide.”

The finding is not entirely surprising, said van der Elst. Scientists have known for a long time that areas with naturally high subsurface fluid pressures—places like Yellowstone, for example—can see an uptick in seismic activity after a major earthquake even very far away. But this is the first time they’ve found a link between remote quakes and seismic activity in places where human activity has increased the fluid pressure via underground injections.

“It happens in places where fluid pressures are naturally high, so we’re not so surprised it happens in places where fluid pressures are artificially high,” he said.

The study looked specifically at Prague, Oklahoma, which features prominently in Behar’s piece. The study links the increased tremors in Prague, which has a number of injection wells nearby, to Chile’s February 27, 2010, quake. The study also found that big quakes in Japan and Indonesia triggered quakes in areas of western Texas and southern Colorado with many injection wells. The study is “additional evidence that fluids really are driving the increase in earthquakes at these sites,” said van der Elst.

Animated GIF: fracked Up?

Drillers inject high-pressure fluids into a hydraulic fracturing well, making slight fissures in the shale that release natural gas. The wastewater that flows back up with the gas is then transported to disposal wells, where it is injected deep into porous rock. Scientists now believe that the pressure and lubrication of that wastewater can cause faults to slip and unleash an earthquake.

Illustration: Leanne Kroll. Animation: Brett Brownell

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Confirmed: Fracking Triggers Quakes and Seismic Chaos

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Obama administration gives wind industry a pass for killing birds

Obama administration gives wind industry a pass for killing birds


/ George LamsonA California condor — is it expendable?

Is it OK to slaughter hundreds of thousands of birds every year in the name of clean energy? Is it OK for a luxury home developer to kill California condors in its quest for profits?

The Obama administration seems to think so. It is flexing little to none of the legal muscle needed to encourage wind energy companies to avoid killing eagles, hawks, and other birds that can be fatally drawn into their spinning turbines.

An Associated Press investigation revealed that the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing a bird. Many of the avian victims of the fast-growing wind sector are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and some are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

An estimated 573,000 birds were killed last year in the U.S. by wind turbines, the AP reported, citing a study published in March in the journal Wildlife Society Bulletin. About 83,000 of those were estimated to have been raptors.

From the AP article:

Each death is federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines. No wind energy company has been prosecuted, even those that repeatedly flout the law.

Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan. His administration has championed a $1 billion-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term.

The large death toll at wind farms shows how the renewable energy rush comes with its own environmental consequences, trade-offs the Obama administration is willing to make in the name of cleaner energy.

“It is the rationale that we have to get off of carbon, we have to get off of fossil fuels, that allows them to justify this,” said Tom Dougherty, a long-time environmentalist who worked for nearly 20 years for the National Wildlife Federation in the West, until his retirement in 2008. “But at what cost? In this case, the cost is too high.”

And it’s not only the wind industry that’s getting a free pass. The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed not to prosecute deaths of endangered California condors caused by two projects in California — one a wind farm being built in the Tehachapi Mountains, the other a luxury home, hotel, and golf-course development in the middle of condor country 60 miles north of Los Angeles. From the L.A. Times article:

Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ashe said the decision reflects a difficult reality. The threat of prosecution jeopardized the construction of large-scale alternative energy facilities and real estate developments in the wild and windy places preferred by condors.

“This is the first time we’ve authorized incidental takes of California condors — and we’re approaching them very cautiously,” Ashe said in an interview.

“The good news is that we have an expanding population of condors, which are also expanding their range,” he said. “We have to make sure that as the condor population grows, we are learning to work with local private businesses to fit a conservation effort into the landscape.”

The agency invited other wind farms to apply for similar permission.

Wildlife advocates and conservationists said the decision threatens the survival of the 150 free-flying condors in California and will weaken the concept of federally designated critical habitat for endangered species.

If wind energy firms are given free passes to kill federally protected birds, they’ll have less motivation to invest in wildlife-friendly technological advances, or to site their turbines in areas where bird strikes would be minimized. (And wind energy at least helps fight climate change, whereas there’s no public benefit from luxury real estate development.) Clean energy and wildlife can coexist, but such coexistence is going to take hard work, planning, research and development — and diligence and occasional heavy-handedness from the federal government.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who


, posts articles to


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blogs about ecology

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Attorney General Eric Holder Orders Investigation of IRS

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At a Tuesday press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he had ordered the Justice Department and FBI to investigate whether the Internal Revenue Service violated the law by subjecting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt nonprofit status to special scrutiny. Other dark money organizations that have drawn criticism from advocates of campaign finance reform, including the pro-Obama Priorities USA and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, have received little attention from the IRS.

The controversy, which was first reported on Friday, is the latest in a long line of alleged IRS witch hunts against specific political and religious organizations.

The New York Times reports:

The activities of I.R.S. officials are already the subject of an investigation by the agency’s inspector general. The results of that inquiry, which are expected in the next several days, are likely to detail how officials at the agency selected political groups for extra scrutiny about their tax status.

The attorney general said there were “a variety of statutes within the I.R.S. code” that could be the basis of a criminal violation. He said officials conducting the investigation would also look at “other things in Title 18” of the United States Code. Title 18 is the overall criminal code for the federal government.

During a concurrent press conference, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that “if the reports about the activity of IRS personnel prove to be true,” President Barack Obama “would find them outrageous, and he would expect that appropriate action be taken, and that people be held responsible. He has no tolerance for targeting of specific groups.”

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Attorney General Eric Holder Orders Investigation of IRS

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Cutting Carbon Dioxide Isn’t Enough


We have to invest in technology to remove the CO2 already in the atmosphere. ishmatt/Flickr According to data being gathered at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has been monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1958, the CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere officially exceeded the 400 parts per million mark last week, a value not attained on Earth since humans were first human. This ominous milestone comes at a time when the evidence that human activity is resulting in unprecedented climate change is now overwhelming. More important, perhaps, even if all greenhouse gas production ceased immediately, this elevated carbon dioxide level would persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Indeed, even moving relatively quickly toward a carbon-neutral economy will still result in a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere for the foreseeable future. But that is moot, because we are nowhere close to moving quickly in this regard anyway. Fossil fuel reserves have effectively increased, due to improved technologies for extraction, and investment in alternative energy sources has been limited due to artificially low prices on carbon-based energy. As a result, 2012 was likely another record year for human-induced CO2 production. To keep reading, click here.


Cutting Carbon Dioxide Isn’t Enough

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Cutting Carbon Dioxide Isn’t Enough

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