A year on this planet

Japan gets Fukushima’d, America is fracked, ice melt kills cute polar bears, GOP presidential hopefuls still crazy

Yes, the Earth is more than mildly concerned.

Yes, the Earth is more than mildly concerned.

Does anyone actually get coal for Christmas?

Oh, that’s right: the environment does.

And what did the environment ever do to get on the naughty list? Who knows. But the world—that’s us—still likes to keep the environment down, anyway.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal produced 43 percent of the United States’ energy in the first three quarters of 2011, a baffling number considering that, you know, this is 2011 and we’re still burning that much coal.

Sure, coal is down about 10 percent in the overall energy mix over the past decade, in part because of dropping fuel costs (for the moment) but mostly because natural gas, sourced in shale, is on the up-and-up. That’s right: Next year, coal will only dip further because corporations will finally give a frack.

Be warned, though: These numbers and the newfound emphasis on fracking don’t mean that there’s less burning of coal. In fact, the USEIA documents that coal burning is trending upward.

Anyway, all of this stuff—torching the skies to make energy, flooding rocks with millions of gallons of water to source natural gas—leaves a pretty gnarly environmental impact. And said practices will surely continue if one of the GOP presidential hopefuls makes it into the White House. And, yeah, probably if President Barack Obama is re-elected, too.

But at least Obama acknowledges climate change, something Mitt Romney and Co. still won’t cop to.

Environmental-news website Grist recently published a pretty funny—as in, “Oh, God, that’s not funny”—feature on all the dumb things the GOP hopefuls have said about the environment during this year’s debates. For instance:

Mitt Romney, October 2011: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Newt Gingrich: “I’ve never favored cap-and-trade, and in fact, I actively testified against it. I was at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee the same day Al Gore was there to testify for it.”

Rick Perry: “The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at—at—at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just—is nonsense.”

Michele Bachmann: “I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

It’s worth noting, as Grist pointed out, that former Massachusetts Gov. Romney pulled the ol’ waffle on his climate-change stance in 2011. Sort of. He’s stated that he believes the Earth is getting warmer, and that humans are to blame, but now uniquely argues that the economy is too important to, you know, do anything about stuff like melting polar ice.

Which is a problem, still, too: A report this fall by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center noted that this September, “sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the second-lowest extent in the satellite record, which began in 1979.” Ice has also grown “thinner and less resistant to summer melt” below the surface as well.

The nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, meanwhile, is estimated to have released unprecedented levels of radiation into the ocean and atmosphere. The incident, which occurred on March 11 of this year, included two nuclear reactors achieving partial meltdown within a week, will take more than 40 years to contain and clean up, according to the Japanese government.