"I think we all can agree we're seeing complete and utter devastation," Brendan Gallagher says, standing in front of the charred remains of his childhood home.
Just a short drive from New York City's famous Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point, Queens, is a quaint seaside hamlet where many cops and firefighters come to retire. It's a place known for charming historic bungalows and sweeping ocean views, but on Monday night, it quickly became the setting for some of Hurricane Sandy's most terrifying damage.
The iPhone has become one of the developed world’s most ubiquitous consumer products; the new iPhone 5 sold more than 5 million units in its first week. But the vast majority of iPhone users have no clue what goes into the guts of their coveted toy. That’s no accident, since the phone’s internal design and chemical content are closely guarded trade secrets and Apple deliberately makes it difficult for consumers to open up the device.
Enter Kyle Wiens, whose company, iFixit, aims to help users penetrate their gadgets’ dark secrets, from how much toxic mercury they contain to how to change the damn battery. Last week, Climate Desk found shelter from a torrential rainstorm near one of New York City’s Apple stores and watched Wiens go to work (see video above). Today, iFixit released the results of its chemical analysis of the iPhone 5 and a suite of other popular cellphones, conducted by the environmental nonprofit Ecology Center.
First the good news: The iPhone 5 is leagues ahead of its more toxic predecessors -- especially the 2G.
Here's one thing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have in common: They don't have to battle for attention with a squad of dancing jellyfish puppets. Jill Stein did, and won. The Green Party presidential candidate spent yesterday morning in Manhattan's Financial District with the environmental contingent of Occupy Wall Street, dodging cops, patiently waiting out street theater performances, and shouting hoarsely into the People's Mic.
"Wall Street has put our climate in crisis," Stein yelled, to an ample wiggling of spirit fingers. "It's up to us to lead the way on the economy and the climate."
Occupy Wall Street has long eschewed party politics, which makes the appearance of this long-shot presidential contender slightly discordant. But to see Stein, for whom environmental issues are a campaign centerpiece, marks an apex in what Occupy's environmental organizers call a yearlong struggle to bring climate change to the forefront of the movement.
Stein, 62, is a Harvard-educated physician who first entered politics 10 years ago as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Massachusetts governor, after years of public health activism. Despite her greatest electoral success being a seat on the Lexington, Mass., Town Meeting in 2005 and 2008, Stein will go head to head with Obama and Romney in at least 38 states this November, making her a contender for the votes of environmentally conscious Occupiers nationwide who are dissatisfied with both mainstream parties' mollifying of the fossil fuel industry.
Stein isn't naïve about her chances for the White House. But she's running anyway, because in her mind both parties are tarred by the same brush.
This summer could be dubbed The Great Melt. The belt of ice surrounding the Arctic has melted to its lowest level in history, a record seen by many scientists as evidence of long-term climate change. Adding to environmentalists’ fears, Royal Dutch Shell sunk its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed, taking the first steps in American offshore oil exploration in these frigid waters.
A new book by photographer James Balog, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, captures in vivid color just what’s at stake as climate change erodes ice in some of the world’s most extreme places. Balog shared six of his favorites with Climate Desk:
James Balog has spent the last 30 years donning crampons, paddling canoes, and hopping into dog sleds and helicopters to capture the world’s ice on film. He’s been everywhere from Bolivia and Nepal to Alaska and Montana to France and Switzerland, in an ongoing project that he says is “about getting in close to ice and experiencing all its colors and textures and shapes.”
This summer’s record melt in the Arctic, Balog told Climate Desk as he was en route to a glacier shoot in Iceland, is a reminder that “ice is the canary in the coal mine; you can touch and see and hear climate change.”
Democrats blame record drought. Republicans blame Obama. But one thing both parties agree on is that food prices are going up. In his acceptance speech at last week's GOP convention, Mitt Romney openly mocked tackling climate change as the opposite of helping working families, yet pointed to food prices in his long list of ongoing concerns: "Food prices are higher. Utility bills are higher, and gasoline prices, they've doubled," he claimed.
But Heather Coleman, Oxfam's senior climate policy adviser, sees this (ever-so-thin) overlap of (ever-so-tenuous) agreement as an opportunity. "Those of us who are truly aware of the impacts of climate change find it appalling that climate change could be used as a laugh line," Coleman said in a Skype interview. "[But] there's a lot more that needs to be done and I think we can all come together on this issue of agriculture."
A new Oxfam report released today hopes to close this understanding gap between climate change and global food prices, arguing previous research grossly underestimates future food prices by ignoring the impact of severe weather shocks to the global food system.
The report, "Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices," argues current research paints only some of the picture by relying on steady increase in temperatures and precipitation. To get a more accurate picture, researchers threw down wild cards -- the crazy weather events like droughts, hurricanes, and floods we've come to increasingly expect -- to "stress-test" the system. They've come up with some disturbing numbers.
Lifelong Wyoming rancher Neil Forgey is hoping the grass is greener in Winner, S.D. This year's drought has forced a terrible choice on ranchers in affected states: sell, or haul. Neil's usually verdant land in Douglas, Wyo. -- home for decades -- is "drier than it's ever been," he said. Every county in that state is a declared disaster area, eligible for federal money. Neil's property was also threatened by the Arapaho Fire, which destroyed nearly 99,000 acres, the worst in Wyoming this year. "It was selling them, or South Dakota," he said.
Neil found greener pastures seven hours and 330 miles east, in Winner, on an expansive prairie owned by a family friend. There, at risky expense, 120 head of cattle will graze until September in the hope next year will bring rain.
Not so lucky are ranchers just an hour south, in Bassett, Neb., where the local auction house can barely keep up with a brimming cattle yard.
As ranchers flee fire and drought, and scientists warn of more severe droughts driven by climate change, Neil's story is repeating all over the West.
Scientists have made great strides in predicting what will happen to Earth's climate, but there is a fundamental problem: We only have one climate to test our hypotheses in. We can't irreversibly hack Earth's climate (by pumping it full of toxic gases, for example) to test whether our assumptions are right or wrong -- that, obviously, would be disastrous for Earth's inhabitants. That means climate models are loaded with historical and empirical data to make them function.
If only we could take the model to another planet to really test the underpinning physics!
Bingo. Curiosity, the car-sized mobile chemistry lab that dropped spectacularly onto the surface of Mars yesterday, will give scientists a rare chance to test their assumptions about how climate change works on Earth. It will hunt the surface of Mars for sediment to pick up and drop into its sophisticated onboard machinery, then send back critical insights into how the climate of Mars -- once warmer, with rain, rivers, and deltas -- has changed over billions of years, lashed by solar winds.
From the known and treatable (Lyme Disease) to the unpronounceable and potentially deadly (Cryptococcus gattii), climate change is giving nasty diseases a leg up, clearing their way onwards to the U.S.
Increased rainfall, warmer temperatures, dying reefs, and hotter oceans are handing diseases that afflict humans -- algal, fungal, mosquito-borne, tick-borne -- a chance to spread, meaning diseases previously unheard in the U.S. of are now emerging.
George Luber, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says the deadly fungal infection C. gattii, once considered limited to places like Papua New Guinea and Australia, "popped out of nowhere" when it first moved to Vancouver Island around the early 2000s. Scientists were alarmed by its readiness to set up shop in a new climate, well outside its comfort zone. If subtropical C. gattii could settle down in just any backyard, what was next?
"You've got to be prepared, otherwise it will catch you off guard," said Luber, a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Climate change will drive extreme events leading to the potential for multiple system failures … to upend all of the protections we have in place."
So with that grim warning in mind, Climate Desk has prepared this handy guide to help you identify the nasty critters that could be knocking on your door soon. (A somewhat obvious disclaimer: This is not to be taken as medical advice. If you have symptoms, see a doctor.)
Consumers can expect the worst U.S. drought in 50 years to cast a shadow across food prices throughout 2013, according to fresh government data released Wednesday. The estimates are the first to capture the effects of this summer's drought in America's heartland, and show food prices increasing at a rate well above normal expectations.
"We're expecting another year of tough food prices, bad news for consumers," said United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food economist Richard Volpe.
"The difference between normal and higher than normal in this case is 100 percent attributable to the drought," Volpe said. The food price index data is released by USDA each month; it is a set of numbers that indicates how much an average shopper is likely to pay at the supermarket.
Normal food inflation has been between 2.5 and 3.5 percent in recent years, Volpe said, and is calculated to include a variety of pushes and pulls on the economy, including fuel prices and the state of the American dollar. That so-called normal inflation rate will largely play out for the rest of this year, all things being equal, he said. The drought will surface in food prices next year.