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Blue Marble Feed | Mother Jones





 



This Video From the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Is Absolutely Nuts. A Total War Zone.

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 16:10:15 +0000

Last night, a group of activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline were met by law enforcement and pipeline security agents, and the situation quickly spiraled out of hand. As Mother Jones' Wes Enzinna reported from the scene:

An armed security agent employed by the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline was arrested Thursday after he was caught entering the camp of activists protesting near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in southern North Dakota. After a car chase and a standoff during which he allegedly pointed his assault rifle at a local Sioux teenager, the man, apparently an employee of Dakota Access LLC, was arrested and handed over to the FBI.

This video by Unicorn Riot, an alternative media source, shows the chaos. It looks like an absolute war zone:

allowfullscreen="true" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="315" scrolling="no" src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Funicornriot.ninja%2Fvideos%2F364876927179868%2F&show_text=0&width=560" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" width="560">

Now go read Wes' full story.




The World’s Largest Coal Company Just Filed for Bankruptcy

Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:04:41 +0000

These are truly dark days for coal. The year started off badly for the industry when Arch Coal, the second-biggest coal producer in the United States, filed for bankruptcy. That announcement was swiftly followed by more: China said it plans to close 1,000 coal mines, US coal production dipped to its lowest level in three decades, and the Obama administration laid out plans to raise the cost coal mining on federal land.

On Wednesday, the slow and steady die-off of coal claimed its biggest victim. Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. The company won't close, but will have to reorganize and borrow new funds to pay off its existing debts. According to Reuters, the bankruptcy is the end result of crushing debt brought on by Peabody's multi-billion dollar acquisition in 2011 of a major Australian coal producer. That move was meant to offer Peabody greater access to Asian markets but, because of plummeting prices and demand, turned out to be a devastating financial burden.

Conditions at home in the US certainly didn't help. In addition to new climate change regulations from Obama that are designed to severely curtail the nation's coal consumption, coal has been getting hammered by competition from natural gas made cheap by the fracking boom. The Peabody announcement means that companies accounting for nearly half of the country's coal production have filed for bankruptcy in the current downturn, Reuters reported.

Of course, the coal industry isn't going away anytime soon:

While coal use has also stalled globally, largely because of China's economic slowdown and its efforts to protect domestic miners and rein in rampant pollution, most analysts expect consumption of the fuel to remain stable or rise in the future.

Some 500 coal-fired power stations are currently under construction, 80 percent of which are in the Asia-Pacific region, where emerging markets as well as developed economies such as Japan and South Korea are still seeing consumption grow.

In any case, the Peabody bankruptcy was quickly celebrated by environmentalists as a big win for the climate. Peabody came under fire late last year, when an investigation by the New York State Attorney General found the company had misled its shareholders about the risks climate change could pose to its bottom line.

"Perhaps if [Peabody] had spent more time and money diversifying their business rather than on lobbying against climate action and sowing the seeds of doubt about the science, they might not have joined the long (and ever growing) list of bankrupt global coal companies," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said in a statement.




What the Lunch Ladies Didn't Tell You

Tue, 23 Feb 2016 16:56:37 +0000

We're excited to present another episode of Bite, our new food politics podcast. Listen to all of our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes, Stitcher, or via RSS.

Cast your mind back to your high school cafeteria, and recall that feeling of having a tray full of tater tots, grayish Salisbury steak, and lime Jello and trying to find a friendly place to sit. Excruciating, right?

Impressive, then, that our guest on this week's episode of our podcast Bite voluntarily spends a whole lot of time thinking about that lovely place. Bettina Elias Siegel is the writer behind the popular blog The Lunch Tray, which is all about the fascinating politics behind what kids eat. Siegel schools us on how mandatory cookies at her kids' cafeteria inspired her to start blogging, and she tells us about the weight-loss video that McDonald's made for schools and the truth about those too-perfect photos of what schools in other countries serve for lunch.

 

The impact of that change is already being felt by Americans. From the New York Times:

[Scientists] also confirmed previous forecasts that if emissions were to continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100…The rise in the sea level contributes only in a limited degree to the huge, disastrous storm surges accompanying hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy. Proportionally, it has a bigger effect on the nuisance floods that can accompany what are known as king tides…The change in frequency of those tides is striking. For instance, in the decade from 1955 to 1964 at Annapolis, Md., an instrument called a tide gauge measured 32 days of flooding; in the decade from 2005 to 2014, that jumped to 394 days.

Here's another great Climate Central tool that lets you see the impact in a selection of the most vulnerable coastal cities:

scrolling="no" src="http://www.climatecentral.org/wgts/human-caused-flooding/index.html?utm_source=Mother%20Jones%20Climate%20Desk&utm_medium=embed&utm_campaign=2016HumanCausedFlooding" style="overflow: hidden; border:0; width:600px; height:446px">

Scary as this all is, it's further proof that the leading GOP candidates for president are living in a fantasy world. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, despite representing perhaps the most vulnerable state, doesn't want to do anything about climate change. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz deny the problem even exists. But it's a fact that the US economy has a direct stake, today, in slowing climate change and preparing for its impacts. Every study like this that comes out makes it more ridiculous, and dangerous, to pretend that isn't the case. 




Are Cage-Free Eggs All They're Cracked Up to Be?

Wed, 10 Feb 2016 11:00:09 +0000

Cage-free eggs, once a niche product for ethically minded (and well-off) shoppers, are suddenly a hot commodity with an unlikely customer: Big Food. Sonic and Burger King are the latest to join a slate of companies promising to ditch eggs produced by caged hens. They follow an unlikely trailblazer: McDonald's, which announced in September that it would go cage-free by the end of 2025. That decision unleashed a "tidal wave of commitments," says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. The list now includes most major American fast-food chains, retailers including Target and Walmart, and food service providers, like Aramark and Sodexo. Although the number of cage-free birds increased 37 percent last year, they remain less than 10 percent of the nation's 277 million hens, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Now large egg producers are scrambling to catch up by investing in new cage-free facilities—a swift about-face for an industry that once vehemently fought efforts to eliminate the cramped, paper-sized "battery cages" in which the vast majority of hens spend their lives. In 2008, when California voted on Proposition 2, a measure that mandated that hens should be able to fully spread their wings "without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens," United Egg Producers, the industry's primary trade group, spent $10 million in a failed effort to defeat the initiative. But this October, UEP President Chad Gregory told Politico that the group wouldn't put up a fight in Massachusetts, where a measure modeled after California's will be on the ballot in November. What does cage-free really mean? Most companies, including McDonald's, have given egg producers up to a decade to change how they house their hens. As Wired charts in detail, the industry is choosing to gradually phase out, rather than dismantle, a production system that's been designed since the 1950s to provide maximum efficiency. Today, Americans demand 6 billion to 7 billion eggs each month, and they expect every dozen to come relatively cheap. That means that while cage-free is often portrayed as a nostalgic return to pre-mechanized farming, the newest egg facilities are not like your grandfather's bucolic little chicken farm. At nonorganic farms, where outdoor access isn't required, large egg producers are primarily building multitiered aviaries—stacked arrangements in which thousands, if not tens of thousands of birds roam throughout the barn, hopping from level to level. "There are birds by your feet, your knees, your shoulders—cities of birds," explains Shapiro. Giving hens the simple ability to move around prevents many of the worst health problems associated with battery cages, Shapiro says, by strengthening brittle bones and allowing them to act on their natural instincts to roost and forage. But in these large, industrial aviaries, the birds "don't typically go outside," says Shapiro. And letting a flock of birds roam within a closed, confined aviary presents its own concerns. A three-year study produced by a consortium of egg providers, academics, and advocacy groups found that aviaries had nearly twice the death rate of caged systems. Most of the difference had to do with aggression between the birds and outbreaks of cannibalism. Cannibalism is a learned behavior, a nasty symptom of industrial breeding and housing, says Joy Mench, an animal behavior specialist at the University of California-Davis who co-led the study. Outbreaks are more likely to flare up in densely stocked aviaries, where hens are given unfettered access to other birds. And for that reason, aviary managers continue to rely on the standard industry practice to lessen the risks of pecking: cutting off the sharp tips of the hens' beaks. Reduced air quality in the closed barns is another concern for both birds and workers, who need to spend more time managing the hens in a cage-free[...]



The Supreme Court Just Dealt a Huge Blow to Obama's Climate Plan

Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:42:04 +0000

In a setback for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily halted enforcement of Obama's signature climate initiative.

The Clean Power Plan, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last summer, requires states to limit coal-fired power plant emissions—the nation's largest source of greenhouse gases—by a third by 2030. The regulation was expected to revamp the energy industry in the coming decades, shutting down coal-fired plants and speeding up renewable energy production. But 29 states, together with dozens of industry groups, sued the EPA, claiming the rule was "the most far-reaching and burdensome rule the EPA has ever forced onto the states."

In a 5-4 vote today, the Supreme Court issued an unusual, one-page emergency order for the EPA to put the plan on hold until the US Court of Appeals, which will hear the case this summer, comes to a decision. While the hold is temporary, many see the order as a sign that the Supreme Court has concerns about the policy.

(image)

 




Obama Wants to Raise Your Gas Prices to Pay for Trains

Fri, 05 Feb 2016 18:02:19 +0000

In his final State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama promised to "change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet." A few days later, he followed through on the coal aspect of that pledge, with a plan to overhaul how coal mining leases are awarded on federal land. Now, he seems ready to roll out his plan for oil.

The president's budget proposal for his last year in office, set to be released next week, will contain a provision to place a new tax on oil, White House aides told reporters. According to Politico:

The president will propose more than $300 billion worth of investments over the next decade in mass transit, high-speed rail, self-driving cars, and other transportation approaches designed to reduce carbon emissions and congestion. To pay for it all, Obama will call for a $10 "fee" on every barrel of oil, a surcharge that would be paid by oil companies but would presumably be passed along to consumers…The fee could add as much as 25 cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline.

The proposal stands virtually no chance of being adopted by Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the renowned climate change denier who also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement, "I'm unsure why the president bothers to continue to send a budget to Congress. His proposals are not serious, and this is another one which is dead on arrival."

Still, the idea may be helped a little by the sustained drop in oil prices, driven by a glut of supply from the Middle East and record production in the United States. Gas is already selling for less than $2 per gallon in all but 11 states, the lowest price point since 2009. Raising that cost would also be a boon for electric vehicle sales, which have stagnated because of low gas prices as sales of gas guzzlers have climbed.

Obama's prospective Democratic successors, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, haven't weighed in on this proposal yet, although they have both been broadly supportive of his climate change agenda. But the proposal could prove to be awkward for Clinton, who has promised not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year.