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," co-founder Bill McKibben said in a statement.

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?

Two words: Cow tongue.

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.


But that's not all the lunch fun in the episode! We asked you, our listeners, to share your cafeteria memories, and you guys delivered. I don't want to give too much away, but let me just say two words: Cow tongue.

And if school lunch isn't your thing, don't worry—you can still tune in to hear Tom Philpott wonder whether we've finally reached peak juice.

The only way to stop climate change is to drastically reduce, and ultimately eliminate, greenhouse gas emissions. If you want to know how well we're doing on that goal, a good place to start is the Environmental Protection Agency's official GHG database. And frankly, the picture isn't very pretty.

The total level of US emissions in 2014 wasn't very different than it was 30 years ago:


However, total emissions is a fairly misleading way to look at progress on climate change. Most of these emissions come from fossil fuels burned to make energy—either electricity from power plants or gas for cars and trucks. So emissions are heavily influenced by economic activity; a downturn in the economy would mean people drive less, factories use less electricity, etc., and the outcome would be lower emissions. At least, that's the way things used to be.

Over the last few years, the United States and many other countries around the world have seen an unprecedented disconnect between gross domestic product and emissions. Thanks to an increasingly large share of energy coming from renewables and vast improvements to energy efficiency, emissions can now be increasingly "decoupled" from economic activity. In other words, it's now possible to grow the economy without growing emissions.

A new analysis from the World Resources Institute illustrates how this trend is already playing out around the world. It's a bit of good news, and a solid rebuttal to anyone who says saving the climate means killing the economy—looking at you, Donald Trump:


You may remember Scott Baio from sitcom Happy Days and its spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi, as well as the classic Charles in Charge. A few weeks ago, Baio endorsed Donald Trump to be America's next president because, as he told Fox News this weekend, Trump "is the only guy that has the will to attack and to fight." Also Baio thinks the US-Mexico border wall is a good idea.

On Saturday, Baio expressed his support for Trump in the form of a Starbucks coffee cup. On Sunday, he expressed it in the form of a tweet about climate change that is straight from the Trump playbook:

Reminds me of the classic:

Dear Scott Baio: The continued existence of weather—yes, including snow!—does not disprove climate change.  

A man in Sparks, Okla., works to clean up damage from an earthquake in 2011.

Oklahomans have always had to deal with tornadoes, wildfires, and ice storms. But now residents of the Sooner State are facing a new threat: damaging earthquakes.

For the first time, the US Geological Survey has included "human-induced" earthquakes in its seismic hazard forecast. These man-made tremors are most often attributed to the injection wells in which oil and gas companies dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The USGS seismologists estimate that some 7 million people in the central and eastern United States now live in areas at risk of a damaging earthquake.

"By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the US," said Mark Petersen, who leads the agency's National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, in a statement.

The risk is most acute in parts of central Oklahoma and southern Kansas, the epicenter of a fracking boom. According to the new report, the chances of a damaging earthquake (defined as level 6 or greater on the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale) in these areas now range from 5 percent to 12 percent in the next year. Level 6 is considered the threshold at which earthquakes become more than a matter of a few smashed dishes and jolted nerves, causing structural damage in the form of cracked walls and chipped plaster.

However, the researchers say damaging tremors linked to injection wells are unlikely to pack the punch of the strongest earthquakes on the West Coast. The largest earthquake ever in Oklahoma was a magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale in 2011 centered near the town of Prague, about 40 miles east of Oklahoma City. (A level six MMI corresponds to roughly 5.0 on the Richter scale.) Located near several active injection wells, the trembler injured two people and destroyed more than a dozen homes.

The 2016 seismic risk assessment focused on human-induced and natural earthquakes in the eastern and central United States. The risk of natural quakes in the West is given for comparison. USGS

Other hubs of human-induced seismicity identified in the USGS report include the Dallas area, which has seen more than 180 earthquakes since 2008; central Arkansas; and the Raton Basin along the New Mexico-Colorado border. An additional area of natural earthquake activity visible on the map lies along the New Madrid fault west of Nashville.

Typically, the USGS releases hazard forecasts with a 50-year outlook. They are used as guidance for local building codes and engineering design strategies in quake-prone areas. But the new report looks just one year ahead, a decision the researchers say is due to the highly variable risk of human-induced earthquakes from year to year.

In the past six years, that danger has spiked. From 1973 to 2008, the central United States saw an average of 24 earthquakes each year with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater (earthquakes weaker than that are not typically felt). The rate increased steadily between 2009 and 2015, averaging 318 earthquakes per year and reaching 1,010 in 2015. The tremors haven't abated this year, the USGS says; through mid-March, there have been 226 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger in the central United States.

Still, it's possible the earthquake risk could diminish with similar speed, the researchers note, given that unlike tectonic plates, industrial practices can be regulated. In an interview with the Oklahoman, Tom Robins, the state's deputy energy secretary, noted that recent efforts to rein in wastewater injection are not yet reflected in the USGS data. That includes a call from regulators earlier this month for a 40 percent reduction in wastewater injection volume.

It seems like every few weeks there's some new measurement of how successful solar power is in the United States. In early March, industry analysts found that solar is poised for its biggest year ever, with total installations growing 119 percent by the end of 2016. This week, federal government analysts reported that in 2015, solar ranked No. 3 (behind wind and natural gas) in megawatts of new electricity-producing capacity brought online. That rank is even more impressive when you consider that each individual solar installation is fewer megawatts than a wind turbine, and far fewer than a natural-gas plant; that means solar panels are popping up like crazy across the country.

Which makes you wonder: Is there a limit to that growth? According to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federal research outfit, there's good news and bad news. The bad news: Yes, there is a ceiling for solar power in the United States. The good news: We're not even remotely close to reaching it. In other words, solar's potential has barely been tapped.

The bad news: Yes, there is a ceiling for solar power in the United States. The good news: We're not even remotely close to reaching it.

The report is the deepest dive on solar's potential since NREL conducted a similar analysis in 2008. The new report's estimate is much larger than the older report's, mostly because of vast new troves of satellite imagery data of the country's rooftops and computer models that are better able to calculate how much power each panel can produce. The analysis leaves behind policy and cost considerations. Instead, the only question is: How much power could we really get if we slathered every roof in America with solar panels? The answer: about 39 percent of the country's electricity consumption, at current levels.

It's important to note that the report looks only at rooftop panels, as opposed to utility-scale solar farms. Utility-scale solar provides about twice as much power as rooftop panels, so the full potential of solar is likely even higher than what NREL describes in this report. Even 39 percent, though, would be a revolutionary change from where we are now; despite solar's rapid growth in the last several years, it still accounts for less than 1 percent of electricity consumption. Coal, which is still the nation's No. 1 energy source, commands about 32 percent of the market. So the future that NREL is envisioning here would basically flip our energy makeup on its head.

The most potential exists in sunny states, obviously, but also in states that have relatively low electricity needs. The map below shows what percentage of each state's power could be derived from rooftop panels if they were fully utilized:


Again, NREL stresses that the estimates here "provide an upper bound on potential deployment rather than a prediction of actual deployment." It's very unlikely that this exact scenario will come to pass. The most recent study by Stanford energy economist Mark Jacobson, who researches ways the United States could get 100 percent of its power from renewable sources, sees rooftop solar contributing about 7 percent of total electricity by 2050. And that's with, as Vox's David Roberts put it, "enormous, heroic assumptions about social and political change."

But hey…we're dreamers of the golden dream, right?

On Monday the Washington Post editorial board published a full transcript of its meeting with Donald Trump. It's worth reading in full, if only because reading Trump's unedited words, as opposed to hearing them spoken out loud, is an especially mind-blowing tour-de-force of nonsense. In response to the very earnest series of questions posed by WaPo editors, Trump offers little-to-nothing of any substance. In many cases, he just immediately changed the subject rather than respond to the actual questions.

One exception, where he actually did answer to the question asked of him, was the following exchange about climate change. As he has made clear many times before, he is a strident denier of climate science—or, as he puts it, "not a big believer," as though accepting the premise that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels warms the planet requires some sort of leap of faith. It doesn't.

Naturally, Trump also doesn't view climate change as a national security threat. It is


HIATT: Last one: You think climate change is a real thing? Is there human-caused climate change?

TRUMP: I think there's a change in weather. I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. I'm not a great believer. There is certainly a change in weather that goes—if you look, they had global cooling in the 1920s and now they have global warming, although now they don't know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things; now they're using "extreme weather" I guess more than any other phrase. I am not—I know it hurts me with this room, and I know it's probably a killer with this room—but I am not a believer. Perhaps there's a minor effect, but I'm not a big believer in man-made climate change.

STROMBERG: Don't good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?

TRUMP: Well I just think we have much bigger risks. I mean I think we have militarily tremendous risks. I think we're in tremendous peril. I think our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons. The biggest risk to the world, to me—I know President Obama thought it was climate change—to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That's—that is climate change. That is a disaster, and we don't even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. We don't know who has them. We don't know who's trying to get them. The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.

Reddit, via Giphy

Drinking a little bit of alcohol is good for you, right? That, at least, is the conventional wisdom lurking in the back of your mind as you nurse your second glass of wine on a Tuesday night. And it's indeed true that dozens of studies have reported health benefits from consuming a moderate amount of booze. They suggest, for example, that it can actually lower your risk of dying. (Which is weird, since...drunk driving.)

Now some Canadian researchers (curse them) have given all this mortality data a closer look. And since I know you're tipsy and can't handle too many words, let's use these images the scientists kindly provided...

I do not like where this is headed. The next chart depicts what those 87 studies appeared to demonstrate: that downing one to four drinks a day lowers your risk of dying compared with either (a) heavy drinkers or (b) "abstainers" who don't drink at all.

But does this really make sense? I mean, apart from the fact that "occasional" drinkers should be way closer to the Y axis, why would having less than one drink a week bring roughly the same benefit as downing one or two per day? Something doesn't quite add up here, and that's what these horrid researchers have discovered as well. "A fundamental question is, who are these moderate drinkers being compared against?" lead author Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research in British Columbia, noted in a statement.

The problem here has to do with something Stockwell calls "abstainer bias." Because there's a difference between just not drinking and not drinking because you have serious health problems, or it's killing your marriage, or whatever.

So what happens when you account for this abstainer bias? Well, things aren't looking so good for you now, are they, lush?

It now appears that light drinking is a wash at best—at least according to Stockwell et al, whose paper appears in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, a title so literal it makes you crave a couple cold ones. The journal also hides the full text of its papers behind a paywall, an affront to scientific advancement—but that's a topic for another article.

Stockwell and his colleagues did have one other key observation: The vast majority of the studies linking alcohol and mortality were just not very good.

As for you "medium volume" drinkers, it now appears you're only slightly better off than those people who quit drinking because of their myriad problems. "High volume" drinkers? You are done for, lad. Five or more drinks a day is just a stupid, Mad Men level of boozing. Join AA or perish. But perhaps your spirits will be lifted by the following message, via

Last weekend, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton made an unexpectedly strong statement about her intentions for coal country. As I reported:

Speaking in Ohio about her plans to revitalize coal country, Clinton said, "We're going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business." That comment was immediately preceded by a promise to invest in the clean-energy economy in those places, and immediately followed by a pledge to "make it clear that we don't want to forget those people." But it's not hard to guess which comment will end up as a sound bite in attack ads in coal states during the general election.

Unsurprisingly, the comment was quickly condemned by lawmakers from coal country. In response, Clinton sent a letter to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D), to "clarify" what she meant. In the letter, she says that her comment about lost coal jobs was intended to describe an existing downward spiral in the coal industry, rather than a promise to intentionally put coal miners out of work through her policy decisions. You can read the letter below. It's a helpful bit of context, but I doubt it will be enough to keep Donald Trump, or whoever her general election opponent turns out to be, from using the soundbite against her.


On Thursday, SeaWorld announced it is ending its controversial killer whale breeding program this year. The move, which was announced in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, follows years of mounting public backlash over the treatment of animals living in the company's parks.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby explained the company's decision in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times:

We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world's largest marine mammals. Now we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create—which is why SeaWorld is announcing several historic changes. This year we will end all orca breeding programs—and because SeaWorld hasn't collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld's care.

The orcas currently in captivity at SeaWorld will live out the rest of their lives in the parks, despite pressure from animal rights activists to release them into the wild. Manby said on Thursday that such calls to release them were "not wise" and that if they were to do so, the whales would likely die.

For years, SeaWorld has been under intense scrutiny over the conditions killer whales are subjected to in its parks, conditions many animal rights activists describe as inhumane. The 2013 documentary Blackfish heightened those concerns.

In November, SeaWorld announced it was ending its popular killer whale show at its flagship park in San Diego.