Poisoning the well

by Abrahm Lustgarten, Dec. 11, 2012

Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

“You are sacrificing these aquifers,” said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado and a member of a National Science Foundation team studying the effects of energy development on the environment. “By definition, you are putting pollution into them. … If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go.”

As part of an investigation into the threat to water supplies from underground injection of waste, ProPublica set out to identify which aquifers have been polluted.
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Jersey residents face voting issues

By James West and Tim McDonnell, The Climate Desk

“We really don’t care about the election right now, it’s the furthest thing from our minds,” one resident says. Still, officials are scrambling to keep the polls open Tuesday.

Hurricane Sandy took away a lot of things: power, homes, even lives. For residents of Moonachie, New Jersey, a small town just across the Hudson River from New York City, the storm took a stab at their basic right to vote. After severe flooding here, much of the town remains without power, which led local election officials to decide over the weekend to close all the polling places and re-direct residents to consolidated locations nearby.

It’s the same story all across the state: Some 300 polling places shut down or moved, according to the governor’s office, creating a logistical nightmare for election planners and a headache for voters (for what’s it’s worth, Governor Chris Christie announced plans to allow votes to be emailed or faxed in). And while New Jersey, a solidly blue state, has never seen less than 70 percent turnout for a presidential election, residents here say until the lights come back on, casting a vote is the furthest thing from their minds.

Obama, Romney send in answers to ‘Science Debate’

By Laura Helmuth, Slate | Posted Sept. 5, 2012, at 2:52 PM ET

President Obama has assembled the most scientifically accomplished administration since the time of the founding fathers. His head science adviser, John Holdren, is a physicist, a MacArthur genius, and a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is lousy with university deans, officers of the National Academies of Science, and Nobel Prize winners. The head of NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, is a marine scientist and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Energy Secretary Steven Chuhas a Nobel Prize in physics.

And these folks aren’t just in D.C. for decoration. A few years ago, Obama issued a memorandum to all heads of executive departments and agencies on the subject of scientific integrity. It began:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

With that dream team in his corner, and with his powerful belief in the scientific method, you’d think Obama would have an overwhelming advantage over Mitt Romney in a debate of the top American science questions. You’d be wrong.

From the ashes, a call to heed climate change

Hani Ahmad expected to return. Instead, the Waldo Canyon Fire reduced his home of two decades to a hole in the ground. The only recognizable remnant was a melted hunk of stove. While the family rounded the corner for the first time in their car, Hani’s daughter captured the horror on her cell phone. The family agreed to share the footage with Climate Desk, offering an exclusive look into the heart of the destruction.

Hani is searching for answers in the ashes. Built-up fuel, high winds, and the proximity of houses to the forest all play a role, he says. But eating away at his thoughts is the nagging idea that climate change made it worse.

Video: No president is an island

A new documentary “The Island President” profiles Mohamed Nasheed as he tries to save his island nation of the Maldives from sinking into the Indian Ocean. Rising sea levels and coastal erosion are slowly destroying the island nation’s fishing industry and contaminating its clean water supply.

If this trend isn’t reversed soon, the Maldivian people will eventually lose their home. Nasheed’s priority as the country’s first democratically elected president is to convince other nations to join his cause and take action.

As we see in the documentary, climate change isn’t the only challenge Nasheed has to confront. He is also haunted by the specter of the country’s 30-year dictatorship: This past February, Nasheed was forced to resign his presidency at gunpoint by police and army officers in a coup d’etat. And even as the country prepares itself for a new election, it does so against a bleak backdrop of continuing erosion and decay. A grim reality that Nasheed underscores when he asks, “How can there be a democracy if there is no country?”

I recently spoke to director Jon Shenk about how his film came together and the craft of documentary filmmaking.
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Video: How dirty is the cloud?

You’ve heard about the Foxconn factory in China where your iPad is assembled. But have you ever considered the energy required to store your emails, photos, and videos in the cloud? As worldwide demand for data storage skyrockets, so do the power needs of the servers where all our digital archives live. While some companies (like Facebook) have made great progress in ditching dirty fossil-fuel energy for cleaner renewables, a few internet giants lag far behind. Climate Desk visited Maiden, N.C., for a close-up view of what will soon be one of the world’s biggest data centers — owned by Apple and powered by the coal-heavy power behemoth Duke Energy.

Apple’s new Maiden, N.C., data center is only one of many coal-fueled server farms across the country. The map below shows 52 of the largest, owned by companies like Google, Amazon, Apple and Twitter. Mouse over a point on the map to see who owns the plant, and how reliant on coal it is, according to Greenpeace estimates. (Some data centers are clustered close together; zoom in on a particular area to see each one in more detail.)

See a full-screen version here.

The figures in the map are for individual data centers. To give you a better sense of the big picture, here’s an overview of how much of each company’s overall energy comes from coal, according to Greenpeace estimates:
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