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In the middle of a pandemic, renewables are taking over the grid

The reduction in driving, flying, and industrial activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic has cleared the air in typically smog-choked cities all over the world, inspiring awe in residents who are seeing more blue skies and starry nights than ever before. While the drop in pollution doesn’t necessarily mean we’re making progress in mitigating climate change, it’s now proving to be a boon for solar energy generation.

Pollution blocks solar radiation, and the fine particles spat out during combustion can settle on the surface of solar panels, reducing their efficiency. Smog-free skies, along with a lucky combination of sunny days and cooler temperatures, which boost panel efficiency, have helped solar panels break records in the U.K., Germany, and Spain this spring. The trend points to the potential for a positive (and hopeful) feedback loop — as polluting energy sources are replaced by solar panels, those solar panels will be able to generate more energy.

In Germany, a record that was set in March was broken again on April 20, when solar generated 40 percent of the country’s electricity, while coal and nuclear power generated just 22 percent. It’s actually not unusual to see solar generation records this time of year, when new panels installed in the winter get their first time to shine in the spring weather. While the added capacity explains some of solar’s grid takeover, the drop in electricity demand right now due to the pandemic has also inflated its proportion in the total mix.

In the U.K., record solar power generation also helped coal plants set a major record, but the opposite kind. The entire U.K. energy system ran with zero coal-fired power plant generation for more than 18 days, the longest streak in more than a century. Britain has just four remaining coal plants, all of which are scheduled to close by 2025.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched renewable energy in myriad ways, and not all good. In early March, it became clear that the virus was disrupting supply chains and financing, which will delay new solar and wind projects in the U.S. For the first time in decades, we probably won’t see increased growth in U.S. renewable energy capacity this year. But even if growth is slower, a new report from the International Energy Agency released Thursday predicts that renewables will likely be the only energy sector to see any growth in demand this year, and that coal is set for the largest decline in demand since World War II.

While it’s still hard to say how the industry will emerge from the rubble of a massive recession — especially as efforts to help it domestically have been a nonstarter in Congress — a new study by clean energy research firm BloombergNEF paints an optimistic picture that the renewable energy takeover will continue on a global scale. The financial research firm found that utility-scale solar farms and onshore wind farms now offer the cheapest source of electricity for about two-thirds of the world’s population.

The study finds that falling costs, more efficient technology, and government support in some parts of the world have fostered larger renewable power plants, with the average wind farm now double the size it was four years ago. The larger the plant, the lower the cost of generation. The price of electricity from onshore wind farms dropped 9 percent since mid-2019, and solar electricity prices likewise declined 4 percent.

The pandemic has depressed the price of coal and natural gas, so it remains to be seen whether and how quickly wind and solar will push them off the grid. But Tifenn Brandily, an analyst at BNEF, said in a statement that solar and wind prices haven’t hit the floor yet. “There are plenty of innovations in the pipeline that will drive down costs further,” he said.


In the middle of a pandemic, renewables are taking over the grid

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GOP Rep. Mike Simpson: It’s my party, and I’ll fight climate change if I want to

In deep red Idaho, out of sight of the national news media and out of reach of the Twitterati, a real-live Republican member of Congress acknowledged the existence of climate change and even proposed taking action.

“Climate change is a reality,” said Mike Simpson, a Republican Congressman from Idaho, at a conference in Boise last week. “It’s not hard to figure out. Go look at your thermometer.”

Simpson knew he might hear a record scratch when he broke out of the well-worn Republican grooves. After stepping to the lectern, he joked that anyone carrying matches or lighters should pass them to the authorities as a security measure to prevent heads from bursting into flames.

Simpson was there to say he wanted to see Idaho’s mountain lakes full of salmon again, even if it meant tearing down the dams that the state’s politicians have defended for decades. Dams, climate change, and predators all threaten the fish, and Simpson said he was ready to consider all options. It was clear to anyone watching his speech he feels a spiritual obligation to save salmon.

Recounting a trip to a spawning creek in the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, Simpson paused to swallow hard a couple of times. Only one salmon made it to those shallows, he said, to “create its bed, lay its eggs and die. It was the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. These are the most,” he paused for a deep breath, “most incredible creatures I think that God’s created. It’s a cycle God has created. We shouldn’t mess with it.”

This break with standard Republican talking points has people asking if he had “gone over to the dark side,” Simpson said. “I’ve had people say to my chief of staff, we don’t even like someone of Simpson’s seniority asking these questions.” And in the run up to this speech, he said his office was fielding calls from nervous people asking, “What’s Simpson going to say at this?”

Of course, Simpson isn’t the first Republican advocating for action on climate change, but most of those politicians differ from Simpson in one important way: They come from swing districts. In fact, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives (Simpson isn’t a member) has a hard time keeping Republicans because voters keep kicking them out in favor of Democrats. Former representatives Carlos Curbelo, Mia Love, and Peter Roskam are exhibits A, B, and C.

Simpson was just elected to his 11th term in the House, so he isn’t pivoting left to get in front of his voters. Elections in Idaho are usually decided in the Republican primaries (personal aside: I started my reporting career covering politics — and everything else — in Idaho). In this part of the country, tacking to the right is smart politics; tacking to the left is often political suicide.

Simpson’s suggestion to consider tearing down dams is, if anything, even more taboo than an embrace of action to curb climate change. “In the past, the people talking about removing dams have been the environmentalists outside screaming and throwing pebbles against the walls of the halls of power,” said Sean O’Leary, communications director for the NW Energy Coalition a regional conservation group. “Now Simpson is saying the same things.”

In black and white text, Simpson’s words may read like political hyperbole — but it didn’t come across that way in the room.

“I looked over to my right and Simpson’s wife was sitting there with tears in her eyes,” O’Leary said. “No, this was genuine.”

In his speech, Simpson said he wanted to study every possible salmon fix, including removing four dams on the Lower Snake River, just across the border in Washington state. But this is about a lot more than fish. The public power agency that sells electricity from the 31 federal dams in the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration, is in deep trouble. It’s paying billions to try and rescue salmon, which drives electric rates up, Simpson explained. As a result, utilities and rural electric co-ops are thinking about buying electricity elsewhere, especially now that the combination of natural gas and renewables is providing cheaper rates.

Simpson sees the BPA’s problem as an opportunity: Maybe there’s a way to fix the salmon runs and the BPA in one fell swoop.

Everyone knows the status quo isn’t working, Simpson said. After electricity-bill payers and taxpayers spent some $16 billion on salmon, the fish population is still dwindling. Farmers from Idaho are sending precious water downstream to keep water cool for salmon smolt without seeing any increase in the number of fish that come back upstream. The situation isn’t great for anyone, Simpson argued, but all parties are so focused on protecting what they have that they’re unwilling to consider big changes. “We’ve got to stop thinking that way,” he said.

Simpson’s appeal might just work because he’s dealing with a regional issue, where the tangible facts can replace the hallucinations that accompany partisan rage. While national politics might seem like it’s all about rooting your side on, Idaho is full of farmers, outfitters, fishers, and electricity buyers who are more interested in finding solutions, said Justin Hayes, program director of the Idaho Conservation League. And all these people can see that the status quo is failing.

“It’s clear to everyone that the strategy of ‘our interests are more important than your interests, let’s fight’ doesn’t work,” Hayes said.

How does climate change enter into this? Well, removing dams would take a good chunk of clean electricity off the grid. So Simpson wants to replace the dams with new forms of power built in the region. He pointed to the Idaho National Lab’s work on new types of nuclear reactors. In eastern Washington, he said the Pacific Northwest National Lab is “the leader in battery storage in this country.”

So Simpson believes there’s a way to turn this whole mess into a surge of business for Idaho. In that way, he’s not straying from his red-state brand at all. But Simpson is unusual in that he’s willing to shake things up and make himself vulnerable, all to create the possibility of change.

The speech ended with Simpson looking to the end of his own life and his political legacy. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return in healthy populations in Idaho … We need to do it for future generations.”

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GOP Rep. Mike Simpson: It’s my party, and I’ll fight climate change if I want to

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Batteries are key to clean energy — and they just got much cheaper

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Batteries are critical for our clean energy future. Luckily, their cost has dropped so low, we might be much closer to this future than we previously thought.

In a little less than a year, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 35 percent, according to a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. Cheaper batteries mean we can store more solar and wind power even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. This is a major boost to renewables, helping them compete with fossil fuel-generated power, even without subsidies in some places, according to the report. Massive solar-plus-storage projects are already being built in places like Florida and California to replace natural gas, and many more are on the way.

The new battery prices are “staggering improvements,” according to Elena Giannakopoulou, who leads the energy economics group at Bloomberg NEF. Previous estimates anticipated this breakthrough moment for batteries to arrive in late 2020, not early 2019.

According to the report, the cost of wind and solar generation is also down sharply — by between 10 to 24 percent since just last year, depending on the technology. These numbers are based on real projects under construction in 46 countries around the world.

The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.

Now that cheap batteries are finally here, we’re well on our way to electric modes of transportation and always-on renewable energy — and not a moment too soon.

What’s driving the plunge? Giannakopoulou cites “technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience.” Other storage methods, like pumped hydro, still account for the vast majority of energy storage capacity, but lithium-ion batteries are much more flexible and don’t require specific locations or environmental conditions to work. Like everything in the built environment, lithium-ion batteries also require mining and manufacturing. There’s still a chance that some new exotic battery technology will quickly supplant lithium-ion, but its ubiquity and — now — cheapness will be hard to beat.

Electric vehicles will become cheaper to own and operate than gas ones. In places like California, Texas, and Germany, electricity prices have occasionally dropped below zero — a sign that the grid wasn’t yet ready to handle the glut of renewable energy produced there. Now, more of that cheap power will be stored and passed on to consumers. This could be the moment when renewable energy starts to shut down fossil fuel for good.

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Batteries are key to clean energy — and they just got much cheaper

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Antarctic sea ice is ‘astonishingly’ low this melt season

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Right now, on the shores of Antarctica, there’s open water crashing against the largest ice shelf in the world. The annual ice-free season has begun at the Ross Ice Shelf — a month ahead of schedule.

The frozen region of freshwater ice the size of France partially protects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from collapsing into the sea. In recent years, the ice-free season in the Ross Sea has become a routine event — but it happened this year on New Year’s Day, the earliest time in history.

“Antarctic sea ice extent is astonishingly low this year, not just near the Ross Ice Shelf, but around most of the continent,” says Cecilia Bitz, a polar scientist at the University of Washington.

In recent years, scientists have set up seismic monitoring stations on the ice shelf to track the wave energy as it percolates inland, potentially causing stress fractures on the Ross Ice Shelf along the way.

Bitz pointed to low ice concentration also happening right now in the Amundsen Sea, more than 1,000 miles away from Ross, and that’s potentially even more worrying. In a worst-case scenario, with continued business as usual greenhouse gas emissions, ice shelves all across West Antarctica could collapse within decades, melted from above and below and shattered by wave action.

After that, it would probably be just a matter of time before West Antarctica’s massive land-based glaciers, like the “Doomsday glaciers” at Thwaites and Pine Island, collapse as well, sending sea levels upward by as much as 10 feet and flooding every coastal city on Earth.

Sea ice concentration on January 1, 2019. The Ross Sea is on the lower edge of West Antarctica and Amundsen is north and near this map’s West Antarctica labeling.National Snow & Ice Data Center

Across the entire continent, there are more than 750,000 square miles of sea ice missing, a record deficiet for this time of year. Because it’s approaching mid-summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica will keep shedding sea ice for about another six weeks or so, and is currently on pace to drop far below the all-time record low set in 2016.

The North Pole and South Pole are both very cold, of course, but they couldn’t be more different in how climate change is affecting them.

The Arctic is an ocean fringed by cold continents, and has already passed a tipping point. Sea ice there has been declining sharply for decades — so much so that about a year ago, scientist declared the start of a “New Arctic,” with conditions likely unseen in at least 1,500 years, and probably much, much longer.

Owing to its unique geography (a cold continent fringed by a relatively warmer ocean), sea ice in the Antarctic region has long been considered something of a climate wildcard. A sharp decline in the Antarctic began only two years ago, and scientists aren’t sure yet if it will continue. If 2019 and the rapidly warming Southern Ocean is any indication, it will.

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Antarctic sea ice is ‘astonishingly’ low this melt season

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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The continued growth of power-hungry Bitcoin could lock in catastrophic climate change, according to a new study.

The cryptocurrency’s growth, should it follow the adoption path of other widely used technologies (like credit cards and air conditioning), would alone be enough to push the planet to 2-degree C warming, the red line value the world agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Bitcoin essentially converts electricity into cash, via incredibly complex math problems designed to eliminate the need for government-sponsored currencies. It’s made a lot of bros rich over the past few years, but it’s also raised some significant concerns about the ethics of sucking up excess energy on a finite planet.

The libertarian nerdbucks account for only a tiny fraction (0.033 percent) of global transactions right now, but its rapid growth and already sizable energy usage are worrisome. This latest study, from researchers at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, adds to the pile of evidence that Bitcoin needs to cut down dramatically on energy use — or risk taking down our chances for a clean energy future with it.

The Hawaii researchers looked at every single Bitcoin that was “mined” in 2017 and the mix of fuel used to create the electricity that powered the huge computer farms that produced each of them. Unlike past calculations, they put a stronger emphasis on the types of computer processing equipment, factoring in older, less-efficient models still in routine use by Bitcoin miners. Through this analysis, they found that Bitcoin is likely already producing more than double the greenhouse gases of previous best estimates. That means that despite its infinitesimal reach, the global Bitcoin network already uses a lot of electricity — about as much as the entire country of Austria.

“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change,” said Katie Taladay, one of the paper’s authors, in a statement. “This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list.”

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its starkest warning yet about what a world that’s 1.5 or 2 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels would be like, saying that civilization itself is at stake if the world fails to reduce emissions by half before 2030.

The entire world has somewhere between 250 and 750 billion tons of remaining carbon that can enter the atmosphere before a 2-degree world becomes inevitable. This includes everything: Every factory, every airplane, every tractor delivering hay to cattle on every ranch, every light in every building everywhere in the world.

The Hawaii study found that Bitcoin alone could use that entire budget in 22 years if it grows at the slowest rate of widely used technologies. And it could use it up in just 11 years — by 2029 — if it grows at a rate equal to the fastest-uptake technologies.

Or, Gaia willing!, Bitcoin could crash and burn or remake itself to use vastly less energy, according to the Hawaii team. The authors are clear that they’re not predicting exactly what will happen, only imagining the stakes of the worst-case scenario — with Bitcoin as ubiquitous as microwave ovens, with no significant changes to its algorithm to get more energy efficient.

There are glimmers of hope that have emerged in 2018 that Bitcoin could be heading for that first crash and burn scenario. After rising in value more than 300 percent in a little over a month late last year, Bitcoin has given up all those gains and stagnated for most of 2018. Lower prices for Bitcoin have given its proponents less of an incentive to invest in expanding the network.

And the Hawaii team pointed to tweaks to the overall system that could reduce energy usage. One of those modifications, building a Bitcoin mining system based on trust rather than continuing to escalate a computational arms race, has already been championed by some of the more ethical cryptocurrency activists. Bottom line: This is a solvable problem. And our future depends on us solving it.

What’s absolutely clear in a world like this is that we can’t afford to waste our precious time and energy on things (like Bitcoin) that aren’t directly related to decarbonizing the global economy as quickly as possible.

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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BREAKING: Trump Budget Numbers Make No Sense

Mother Jones

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Jon Chait says the Trump White House has made a $2 trillion mistake:

Trump has promised to enact “the biggest tax cut in history.” Trump’s administration has insisted, however, that the largest tax cut in history will not reduce revenue, because it will unleash growth….But then the budget assumes $2 trillion in higher revenue from growth in order to achieve balance after ten years. So the $2 trillion from higher growth is a double-count. It pays for the Trump cuts, and then it pays again for balancing the budget.

It’s true that the budget summary document includes a line item called “Effect of economic feedback” (in Table S-2) that comes to $2.062 trillion over ten years. Is that the same as the economic feedback that will pay for tax cuts? Who knows, really. It’s all just made-up nonsense anyway. But here’s an interesting thing. In the detailed projections, the Trump budget projects lower tax revenue than the final Obama budget:

What’s up with that? Does the Trump budget not include any economic feedback after all? But even if it doesn’t, why is their projection lower than Obama’s? Is it so they can use this lower number as a new baseline for comparison when they unveil their growth-exploding tax plan later in the year?

I know, I know: who cares? The Trump numbers are just random gibberish plucked from the sky. Still, you’d think they could at least make them agree from one spreadsheet to the next. Where’s the economic feedback in the tax revenue numbers?

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BREAKING: Trump Budget Numbers Make No Sense

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Trump’s Immigration Order Is Now Effectively Dead

Mother Jones

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The Hawaii judge who halted enforcement of President Trump’s executive order on immigration has now gone a step further, turning his temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction. Dara Lind explains:

A temporary restraining order is only supposed to last a couple of weeks. It’s supposed to grant enough time for the judge to do another round of briefs and hearings, and then issue a more considered decision about whether to keep the provision on hold indefinitely while the case works its way through the courts. That indefinite hold is called a preliminary injunction, and a judge in the Western District of Maryland (part of the Fourth Circuit) has already issued one against part of the executive order.

With two separate courts ruling against the travel ban, the administration’s only hope to get the ban back into effect without Supreme Court intervention was for both of those rulings to be overturned — or for the Maryland injunction to be overturned and Judge Watson to decide not to extend his temporary order into a preliminary injunction.

The first option wasn’t likely. The Ninth Circuit is famously liberal, and it’s the same court that put the first version of the travel ban on hold. So the administration’s last hope was Watson.

On Wednesday night, Watson did exactly what the administration hoped he wouldn’t. He issued a preliminary injunction covering both the section of the travel ban temporarily banning people from particular countries and the part temporarily banning refugees.

This may seem like it’s not too big a deal. The immigration order has been on hold for weeks, and now it’s going to stay on hold. But it’s actually a huge deal. For all practical purposes, it means Trump might as well give up.

As you’ll recall, the original immigration order was temporary: it would last about three months, which would give the Trump administration time to put “extreme vetting” procedures into place. That three months is up at the end of May. Presumably, DHS has been working diligently on the new procedures all along, so they should be ready to put them into effect by then.

At some point in May or June, the case becomes legally moot. But that doesn’t really matter. More practically, by the end of May it means that the extreme vetting procedures should be in place and Trump no longer needs the travel ban. After all, its only purpose was to provide time to work out the new procedures.

This is only about six weeks away. Maybe eight if they’ve run into snags. There’s no realistic chance that this case is going to get through two levels of lower courts and the Supreme Court in that time. Trump may keep fighting in order to save face, but it’s pointless. This case is now dead.


Trump’s Immigration Order Is Now Effectively Dead

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Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

Mother Jones

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Is the case for background checks for gun buyers gaining momentum? In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities found that 22 percent of all gun sales in the past two years around the United States were conducted without background checks—nearly half as many as previously thought. The new study asked 1,613 gun owners about when and where they acquired their most recent firearm, and whether they were asked to show a firearm license or permit, or to pass a background check. (The researchers note that the self-reporting study may have limitations, as it is based on the respondents’ memory rather than documentation.) The study is the first national survey of its kind since 1994, when an extrapolation from a survey of 251 gun owners estimated that 40 percent of all guns sales occurred without any background checks.

Yet, despite the lower percentage shown by the research, many Americans continue to purchase guns through so-called private sales with no official scrutiny: According to the study, 50 percent of people who purchased firearms online, in person from an individual, or at gun shows did so without any screening. That occurs most often in states with looser regulations on sales, where 57 percent of gun owners reported buying guns without background checks, compared to 26 percent in the 19 states that now mandate universal background checks.

The decades-old 40-percent figure was long a point of contention in the gun debate, criticized by gun groups as false (the NRA called it a “lie”), yet also widely cited among researchers and policymakers in the absence of any updated studies.

Despite a lack of federal legislation regulating private gun sales, the study’s authors suggest that state and local efforts to mandate universal background checks are making progress. And Philip Cook, a Duke University gun violence researcher who conducted the 1994 survey, told The Trace that the new results should be encouraging for advocates of stricter gun laws. “The headline is that we as a nation are closer to having a hundred percent of gun transactions with a background check than we might have thought,” he said. Referencing his previous survey, he noted that the updated figures mean “it’s more attainable, and cheaper, to pass a universal requirement than it would be if 40 percent of transactions were still being conducted without these screenings.”

Studies have shown that background checks can help curb gun violence, as well as limit interstate gun trafficking; it’s been well documented that guns originating in states with lax gun regulations inundate states with tougher laws and fuel gun crime. But even with a solid majority of Americans now undergoing background checks, the researchers note that millions of Americans continue to acquire guns free of any government oversight.

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Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

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Police Departments Find Yet New Ways to Steal People’s Money

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Adam Liptak tells us that the Supreme Court is pondering whether to hear a case from Ramsey County, Minnesota, which confiscates money from people it arrests. That’s what happened to Corey Statham, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and then released:

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

….Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

….Through his lawyers, Mr. Statham declined a request for an interview. He lost in the lower courts, which said his right to due process had not been violated by the $25 booking charge or the debit card fees, which were both, the trial judge said, “relatively modest.”

Lovely. It’s OK to confiscate money as long as you don’t confiscate too much. Unless, of course, you’re engaged in civil asset forfeiture, in which case the sky’s the limit. All you have to do is attend one of the many classes that teach your police officers how best to steal people’s money under the pretense that they “just know” it’s drug money.

I continue to be gobsmacked by all of this. I’ve heard all the arguments about due process and civil vs. criminal and so forth, and not a single word of it strikes me as anything but an obvious sham. And yet courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—and judicial agencies—all the way to the Department of Justice—accept them without blinking. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder if I’m stuck in some kind of Kafka-based virtual reality. How can something so obviously wrong be approved with a shrug by so many people?

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Police Departments Find Yet New Ways to Steal People’s Money

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Your favorite national park is about to get a lot hotter


Your favorite national park is about to get a lot hotter

By on Aug 28, 2016

Cross-posted from

Climate CentralShare

Summertime is prime time for national parks. As snow melts, wildflowers bloom, and waterfalls roar, generations of visitors have flocked to the natural wonders that dot the American landscape (to say nothing of all the amazing cultural sites the National Park Service protects).

The National Park Service was created a century ago — Aug. 25, 1916, to be exact — to keep an eye on the growing treasure trove of national parks. It’s been a good century as more and more land has been set aside and annual visitors now number more than 300 million, but it’s also not been without challenges. Chief among them is climate change, which will drastically alter national park landscapes in the coming decades including cranking up the heat.

As part of Climate Central’s ongoing States at Risk project, we analyzed just how much hotter parks are projected to get later this century. We looked at the future summer temperatures in all the parks in the Lower 48 states except Dry Tortugas National Park (sorry, Fort Jefferson lovers!) assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend. To put it in clearer context, we mapped out what places today are most comparable to park’s climates of tomorrow.

The results could make you sweat. Parks are projected to have summers that are 8 to 12 degrees F hotter by 2100. That means currently cool mountainous parks could be as hot as the plains. Parks in the Southeast, already a pretty hot place, will face even more extreme temperatures with a climate more like southern Texas. And otherworldly Joshua Tree National Park in southern California will face the greatest geographical climate shift, with temperatures more like Abu Dhabi by 2100.

We also analyzed how many more days with extreme heat the parks could face. Extreme heat is a hallmark of global warming, and its impact will be most arresting in the national parks where people go, by design, to be outside in the summer. Like the rest of the country, parks are going to be seeing more dangerously hot days above 90 degrees F, 95 degrees F, and 100 degrees F.

By 2100, the glaciers of Montana’s Glacier National Park will be long gone and rising temperatures will be one of the big reasons why. Visitors will not only have to contend with an ice-free landscape, but also hotter temperatures. Today the park sees an average of only one 90 degrees F day each year. It could see 27 days with temperatures above 90 degrees F by the end of the century.

Yosemite National Park, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, currently sees about two weeks of 90 degrees F weather every year. By 2050, it could see nearly a month of those temperatures, and by 2100 it could get nearly 50 such days each year.

And the Great Smoky Mountains, currently the most visited National Park, could go from fewer than 10 days above 90 degrees F each year, on average now, to three months with those scorching temperatures.

In numerous other parks, the number of days above 100 degrees F is projected to skyrocket. Big Bend National Park in Texas could see more than 110 days above 100 degrees F each year, on average. And Great Basin National Park in Nevada, which currently doesn’t have any days above 100 degrees F in a typical year, could see a month of those temperatures each year by 2100.

It’s likely that parks on the more extreme end of the temperature scale will see a drop in summer visitation, but more visitors are likely to show up in fall and spring when it won’t be fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. That may stretch park resources thin as most parks are set up to handle summer crowds and quieter shoulder seasons. How parks will deal with the change in visitation season is an open question.

And all this is to say nothing about the impacts extreme heat will have on the natural resources around which we created national parks in the first place. Joshua Tree could become too hot for its namesake trees, and there’s evidence that extreme summer days could create more rockfalls in Yosemite, which could change the face of the stunning valley at the center of the park. Wildfire risk will also skyrocket across the West and could make summer park vacations not only more hot but more smoky.

Those are just the most visible changes. Whole ecosystems are likely to be disrupted and there are consequences scientists probably haven’t even uncovered yet (those are the ones that could be the worst since we’ll be least prepared).

Despite the daunting situation facing the National Park Service in its second century, there are signs it’s up for the challenge. It’s already addressing climate change from the coast to the high mountains and has an A-Team team of experts to help parks answer the gnarly questions they face.

There’s no denying that national parks will look a lot different by the end of the century, but that won’t make them any less a part of the fabric of American identity.

Analysis by James Bronzan and Alyson Kenward, PhD.

Methodology: Future temperatures for 47 National Parks were calculated based on the median of 29 spatially downscaled climate models (CMIP5) at 1/8 degree scale, then averaged within park boundaries. National parks in Alaska and Hawaii, along with Dry Tortugas National Park, were excluded because projections at this resolution were unavailable. Temperatures for 2050 are based on the 20-year average of 2041-2060 and for 2100 are based on the period 2080-2099. Projected temperatures assume that greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate (RCP8.5). The interactive map features the average summer daily high temperature (June-August), while days over 90oF, 95oF, and 100oF were counted annually. The current period values for parks and climate divisions are based on the 1991-2010 average calculated using a gridded observational dataset by Ed Maurer of Santa Clara University. 


More stories in this series:

If you think technology has no place in the national parks, think again

From smartphones to webcams, technology could help us understand — and appreciate — parks in the coming century.

People of color are fans of national parks, despite obstacles that keep them out

Only 57 percent had ever set foot in the parks, but 85 percent want more of them — especially in cities.

The uncertain, hopeful future of the National Park Service

“The goal of our centennial is not to scare everyone to death about climate change.”

More in Human/Nature: National Parks and the Humans Who Use ThemElection Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox


Your favorite national park is about to get a lot hotter

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