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Week's Top Enviro Stories: The Southwest is Burning, and More

POSTED:
  A Firefighter starts backburn operations in an attempt to control the Wallow Fire along Highway 260 near Eagar, Arizona, June 9, 2011.
A Firefighter starts backburn operations in an attempt to control the Wallow Fire along Highway 260 near Eagar, Arizona, June 9, 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Golden Age of Gas?
The International Energy Agency released a special report this week, suggesting that natural gas could be a key part of the solution to the world's energy and climate problems.  Natural gas is cheap and plentiful right now, thanks in part to discoveries of new reserves of shale gas (which is extracted with controversial and destructive new drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracking, which uses water and chemicals to blast apart the shale and extract the gas), and it is much cleaner-burning than coal.  But is the promise of natural gas being over-played?  As Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, told a press conference in London: "An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change."  The report points out that even if gas makes up one-quarter of the world's energy supply by 2035, that would lead the world to a 3.5 C temperature rise – far beyond what climate scientists consider a dangerous level.  Cheap gas is also likely to slow progress on renewables and lead to more destructive fracking. [Guardian]

The Southwest is Burning
Climate scientists have long pointed to the southwest as one of the places in the U.S. that is most vulnerable to global warming impacts, especially drought.  And if there's one thing that even climate denialists don't dispute, dry things burn. Right now, a wildfire in Arizona has torched an area half the size of Rhode Island, caused the evacuation of 2,000 people, and is threatening long-distance power lines that serve New Mexico and Texas.  In the Lone Star state, wildfires have already consumed 2.8 million acres – nearly a third more than the previous record.  [CS Monitor]

Solar Gets Cheap
When it comes to energy, cost isn't everything – but it's a lot.  Everybody wants cheap power.  That's why the news that the cost of photovoltaic solar power is continuing to fall dramatically – from $60 a watt in the mid-1970s to $1.50 today – is important news.  In many parts of the world, nothing will shut down coal and make nukes obsolete quicker than cheap solar.  Last year alone, 17 gigawatts of new photovoltaic solar energy was installed in the world – the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants.  As prices continue to drop, the amount of solar power that comes online will only accelerate. [ThinkProgress]

Denial is Still the American Way
A new poll from Yale University shows that the extreme weather – big floods, freaky tornadoes, huge wildfires – is having little impact on how most Americans think about climate change.  Only 64 percent of American adults believe that the planet is warming, which is about the same percentage as last year.   And only about half those people believe the warming is caused by human activity, which is also about the same as last year. In fact, if anything, the extreme weather of recent months may have pushed many Americans further into denial: only 12 percent of the people surveyed told researchers they had been thinking "a lot" about global warming, versus 18 percent last year. [NYT]

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