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Why the Next Major Hurricane Could Devastate Miami

Mother Jones

This story originally appeared on Grist, and is reproduced here as part of the ClimateDesk collaboration.

Note to self: The next time you take the Climate Change Tour of Miami with Nicole Hernandez Hammer, bring Dramamine.

I’m sitting in the back seat of a rental car as Hammer, the assistant director for research at the Florida Center for Environmental Studies, careens around the Magic City like Danica Patrick. One of her graduate students rides shotgun, navigating with her iPhone.

Our mission for the day is to survey parts of this city that will be flooded as climate change continues to drive up the level of the sea. Hammer, who studies the impacts of sea-level rise on infrastructure and communities, has kindly agreed to act as my tour guide and pilot. I’m just hoping I can keep my breakfast down.

Our first stop is Star Island, where celebs like Don Johnson, Gloria Estefan, and Shaquille O’Neal have owned homes over the years. For a cool $18-$35 million, the local realtors known as The Jills would be happy to set you up with your own walled-in villa where you can sit in your rooftop hot tub and listen to the waves lapping a little too close to your foundation.

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Why the Next Major Hurricane Could Devastate Miami

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Here’s the Latest on the Obamacare Website

Mother Jones

Good news! HHS tweets: “FACT: In the first few days, very few could create an account on @HealthCareGov, we are now at an over 90% success rate.”

Bad news! Creating an account is nice, but apparently only about 30 percent can successfully complete an application.

Good news! “CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said that about half of the roughly 700,000 people who had completed applications [] came through, which serves residents of 36 states.” And CMS claims that the website will be functioning smoothly for almost everyone by the end of November.

I dunno. Is this the kind of happy talk that’s common when teams are working to fix troubled programs? Or is it for real? And is the end of November soon enough to avoid a huge backlog of applications?

I’m not sure. But that’s the latest. If there’s a reason for caution, it’s this: teams that are fixing bugs are usually under enormous pressure to offer up the most optimistic date possible for getting the system working. This suggests that the end of November is the absolute earliest plausible date for getting the Obamacare website working well. Take it with a grain of salt.

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Here’s the Latest on the Obamacare Website

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6 Awesome Natural Food & Beauty Trends


6 Awesome Natural Food & Beauty Trends

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Quote of the Day: Republicans Are No-Shows at Civil Rights Anniversary

Mother Jones

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From civil rights leader Julian Bond, on why there were no Republicans at yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington:

“They asked a long list of Republicans to come, and to a man and woman they said no.”….Bond did credit Cantor for trying hard to find a replacement speaker, but, ultimately, the leader was unable to find a single Republican to attend the event.

That last sentence is maybe the saddest of all. It’s not just that Republicans didn’t come. It’s worse than that. Even with Eric Cantor twisting arms he couldn’t find a single Republican willing to attend. I guess they were all afraid that Fox News would televise it and some of their constituents might find out they were there.

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Quote of the Day: Republicans Are No-Shows at Civil Rights Anniversary

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The Alberta Oil Sands Have Been Leaking for 9 Weeks

Mother Jones

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Nine weeks ago, an oil leak started at a tar sands extraction operation in Cold Lake, Alberta, and it’s showing no signs of stopping.

On Friday, the Toronto Star reported that an anonymous government scientist who had been to the spill site—which is operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.—warned that the leak wasn’t going away. “Everybody at the company and in government is freaking out about this,” the scientist told the Star. “We don’t understand what happened. Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven’t put the measures into place.” The Star reported that 26,000 barrels of watery tar have been removed from the site.

The impacted area spans some 30 acres of swampy forest, said Bob Curran, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), which oversees these sites. According to the Star, pictures and the documents provided by the scientist show that dozens of animals, including loons and beavers, have been killed, and some 60,000 pounds of contaminated vegetation have been removed. (You can see the pictures at the Star‘s website.)

Curran confirmed to Mother Jones that the leak was ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon and said AER was working with the company on a plan to contain the damage. He added that he couldn’t make a firm assessment of what caused the leak until after AER had completed its investigation. “We don’t get into probable causes,” he explained. But he did say that AER was concerned, adding that the leak was “very uncommon—which is why we’ve responded the way we have.”

In response to specific questions about the spill, the company sent Mother Jones a previously prepared statement: “The areas have been secured and the emulsion is being managed with clean up, recovery and reclamation activities well underway. The presence of emulsion on the surface does not pose a health or human safety risk. The sites are located in a remote area which has restricted access to the public. The emulsion is being effectively cleaned up with manageable environmental impact. Canadian Natural has existing groundwater monitoring in place and we are undertaking aquatic and sediment sampling to monitor and mitigate any potential impacts. As part of our wildlife mitigation program, wildlife deterrents have been deployed in the area to protect wildlife…We are investigating the likely cause of the occurrence, which we believe to be mechanical.”

The Primrose bitumen emulsion site, where the leak occurred, sits about halfway up Alberta’s eastern border and pulls about 100,000 barrels of bitumen—a thick, heavy tar that can be refined into petroleum—out of the ground every day. But unlike the tar sand mines that have scarred the landscape of northern Alberta and added fuel to the Keystone XL controversy, the Primrose site injects millions of gallons of pressurized steam hundreds of feet into the ground to heat and loosen the heavy, viscous tar, and then pumps it out, using a process called cyclic steam stimulation (CSS). Eighty percent of the bitumen that can currently be extracted is only accessible through steam extraction. (CSS is one of a few methods of steam extraction.) Although steam extraction has been touted as more environmentally friendly, it has also been shown to release more CO2 than its savage-looking cousin.

There have been accidents before with steam injection mining. At another kind of steam injection site, the high pressure at which the steam is injected exceeded what the terrain could bear and blasted wild-looking craters, hundreds of feet wide, into the landscape.

Curran said that although the current leak is extremely unusual, a similar—but smaller—incident occurred at Primrose back in 2009. In that case, tar started bubbling out of “thin fissures” in the ground near the wellhead. According to a report from the Energy Resources Conservation Board—an oversight agency that was folded into AER last year—new limits on steam pressure were imposed, and extraction was allowed to resume.

But on May 21, something new went wrong at the Primrose site. According to Curran, springs of watery bitumen started popping up, seeping out of the earth. When the first three appeared, AER shut down nearby steam injection. When a fourth appeared in a body of water close by, AER shut down all injection within a kilometer of the leaks, and curtailed adjacent steaming operations. “The first three are just leaking right there at the surface,” Curran says. “Small cracks in the ground, just kind of bubbling out.”

It’s unclear what long-term consequences might result from the spill. “They don’t know where this emulsion has gone, whether it has impacted groundwater,” says Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit group that studies the impacts of tar sand mining. According to Severson-Baker, the question is what will happen if the geology at Primrose is to blame. “If the problem is inherent to the project itself, are they going to remove the permits for the project?” Even so, he claims the damage might already be done. “At this point, what can actually be done to prevent the impact from continuing to occur? I don’t think there is anything that can be done.”

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The Alberta Oil Sands Have Been Leaking for 9 Weeks

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Will dumping Australia’s climate-savvy prime minister help the climate?

Will dumping Australia’s climate-savvy prime minister help the climate?


Kevin Rudd is Australia’s new prime minister, again. Now he has to defend that job from an opposition leader who once called climate science “crap.”

In terms of climate policy, Australians face a choice between fairly good and downright evil in an upcoming federal election.

The face of evil belongs to climate skeptic Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition Liberal Party (which, in topsy-turvy Down Under fashion, is in fact conservative).

And the face of relative good is … in some disarray at the moment. Power brokers in the Labor Party, which narrowly holds power in the country, this week stripped the prime ministership away from Julia Gillard and handed it back to former leader Kevin Rudd. They believe this move will help them win the election, which is tentatively scheduled for September.

The stakes are high. Australia is among the world’s worst per-person contributors to climate change. The country is a huge producer of coal, exporting a lot and consuming a good bit itself. And it’s been suffering heavily from climate change in recent years, enduring epic heat, drought, wildfires, and floods.

But lately, the country been trying to mend its ways, and setting a global example in doing so. Over the last six years, under first Rudd and then Gillard, the Labor Party has introduced policies and taxes designed to battle and adapt to climate change. Reports are confirming that the new taxes and policies are doing what they were intended to do: curb power plant carbon emissions and accelerate investment in renewable energy.

But Labor’s been flailing in the polls and weighed down by infighting. Rudd had been agitating for the top job for months, destabilizing the party. Now, after he was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, Labor’s members of parliament are vying against each other for positions in his new cabinet, instead of focusing on their reelection campaigns.

The conservatives have not hidden their glee at the pre-election upheaval within the governing party:

Labor’s move was a desperate one, and it might very well backfire. But many in Australia just couldn’t see Gillard leading her party to another victory.

As a stubborn champion of new taxes on the powerful fossil fuel and mineral sectors, and as a tough-as-steel woman leading a country still plagued by machismo and misogyny (and as an unmarried atheist without any kids, to boot), Australia’s first female prime minister was the target of ruthless and incessant attacks on her character and leadership. She had sandwiches thrown at her by men making the statement that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Political rallies supported by Abbott were held to “ditch the witch.” Guests at a political fundraiser were served “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail,” described on the menu as “Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box.”

Now, with Rudd back in Kirribilli House, pundits are busily analyzing how the new prime minister’s climate policies might differ from the old one’s. He might change rules on how the prices for carbon emissions are set, for example.

Rudd, a nerdy policy wonk, once described climate change as the “great moral, environmental and economic challenge of our age.” He led the party during most of the first of its two consecutive terms in power, introducing climate-friendly policies before he was replaced by Gillard amid similar turmoil prior to the last election.

Gillard, though, had the courage to introduce climate taxes that had made Rudd hesitate (some would say wisely, politically speaking).

But while there are differences between the two leaders in their approach to climate and energy issues, they won’t matter if Labor loses the election. This week’s savage bloodletting was all about trying to avoid that outcome.

David Jackmanson

Tony Abbott, opposition leader and climate denier.

Abbott, for his part, once described the science behind climate change as “crap.” He has since recanted, but, as we explained in April, he has nonetheless pledged to eliminate the new carbon and mining taxes, dismantle a federal department of climate science advisers, and take other steps that would see the country retreat to its unbridled climate-changing ways of decades past.

Rudd now has until August or September to steady the Labor Party and navigate it to political victory (or thereabouts — as prime minister, he has the power to set the election date, which can be no later than Nov. 30). That won’t be easy amidst a political maelstrom of his own creating. But if his party can rediscover some unity, it won’t be impossible.

If Rudd does win, he’ll have a moral obligation to mull the environmental consequences of Australia’s substantial coal exports. But, then, that’s a world-warming beast that no leading Australian politician has shown any willingness to wrangle.

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:

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Here’s the ACLU’s Lawsuit on NSA Surveillance

Mother Jones

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The big problem facing legal challenges to the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers has always been standing—the legal requirement that, before you can sue, you must prove you’ve been harmed. The trouble with proving that you’ve been illegally spied on is that who gets spied on is generally secret. In Amnesty International v. Clapper, the Supreme Court court ruled that a collection of journalists and advocates lacked standing to sue the NSA for warrantless wiretapping because they couldn’t prove that they had, in fact, been spied on. In Al-Haramain v. Obama, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an Islamic charity that had been wiretapped couldn’t challenge the surveillance in court because the documents it had been inadvertently provided that did prove wiretapping were state secrets and thus inadmissible. (The case was remanded back to the lower court, Al-Haramain tried again, and was finally defeated by the Ninth Circuit in 2012.)

But now, thanks to the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the ACLU thinks it has an in. The leaked documents specifically implicate Verizon Business Network Services, Inc. as providing metadata from phone calls to government databases. The ACLU is a client of Verizon Business Network Services—and the government has already declassified the existence of its program to gather phone data, so it will have trouble claiming that the program is a state secret. On Tuesday, the ACLU filed suit in federal court to “obtain a declaration that Mass Call Tracking is unlawful” and “to enjoin the government from continuing the Mass Call Tracking under the VBNS order.”

Here’s the suit:


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Here’s the ACLU’s Lawsuit on NSA Surveillance

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WATCH: Love Hurts Fiore Cartoon

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Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Mother Jones
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WATCH: Love Hurts Fiore Cartoon

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It Must Have Been Lovely

Sue H.


Don’t Be Flaky: How to Ditch Dandruff (Video)

4 minutes ago

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It Must Have Been Lovely

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ExxonMobil wins and regular folks lose in $1 billion pollution ruling

ExxonMobil wins and regular folks lose in $1 billion pollution ruling

Thomas Hawk

Guess who wins.

Susan and Robert Lazzaro buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. Their jacuzzi sits empty and baths are out of the question. They limit their showers to two minutes or less.

And like many other homeowners in Jacksonville, Md., the Lazarros fear that the savings they invested in their home were wiped out when a local ExxonMobil gas station leaked for more than a month in 2006, poisoning the groundwater upon which they depended.

All was not lost: In 2011, a jury awarded victims of the gasoline leak $1.5 billion in compensation and punitive damages. Of that sum, $5.6 million was to go to the Lazarros.

But we’re talking about an oil giant here. Inevitability ran its course and all suddenly seems lost again.

That’s according to The Baltimore Sun, which reports that Maryland’s highest court on Tuesday rejected $1 billion in punitive damages from the $1.5 billion verdict and also rejected some claims from an earlier case in which $150 million was awarded to a smaller number of plaintiffs. The court ruled that victims of the pollution should not be compensated for emotional distress, nor should ExxonMobil have to pay for monitoring their health. From the article:

Charlie Engelmann, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, said in an email that the company was pleased with the decision.

“The evidence showed that we acted appropriately after the accident and the court has agreed,” Engelmann wrote. “We have apologized to the Jacksonville community and we remain ready to compensate those who were truly damaged by this unfortunate accident. We will continue the cleanup.”

The court rejected all six claims of fraud the jury affirmed in 2011, including ExxonMobil’s alleged willful deceptions of public officials and residents before and after the accident.

While ExxonMobil officials were pleased by the ruling, the Lazarros and their neighbors are left wondering how they will pick up the remnants of their polluted lives. ”We’re all still in a state of shock,” Susan Lazzaro told the newspaper. “It leaves us with such a sense of defeat because we are still living with this nightmare.”

The Associated Press reported that 150 families were affected by Tuesday’s ruling and that new trials have been ordered.

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