Skip to content Skip to site navigation

John Upton's Posts

Comments

Mission not-quite-impossible

U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming

man pushing Earth up a hill
Shutterstock

Hooboy, it's gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we've been pumping into the atmosphere -- and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That's far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for -- to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.'s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we're already above 400.

These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you've heard this story before? Perhaps you're thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

Here's a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year

lighthouse
Shutterstock

It's more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year -- and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident -- they said earlier this week that there's a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

Weather-related blackouts in U.S. doubled in 10 years

storms and the power grid
Shutterstock

The current U.S. electrical grid is a far cry from smart. Climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to an increasing number of blackouts across the country.

A new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central found that the number of outages affecting 50,000 or more people for at least an hour doubled during the decade up to 2012.  Most of the blackouts were triggered when extreme weather damaged large transmission lines and substations. Michigan had the most outages, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Click to embiggen.
Climate Central
Click to embiggen.

Severe rainstorms, which are growing more tempestuous as the globe warms, were blamed for the majority of the weather-related outages.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress

GMO labeling march
mikescottnz

State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such -- after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous -- nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies' sales and profits.

So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states' rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.

Comments

Droughts push beef prices to record highs

veggie grill
Shutterstock
A cost-saving barbecue.

Mo' drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

Herd thinning isn't a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It's a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering -- though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

Comments

California’s drought plan will screw the environment

The Delta in California
Mike Vondran
California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean -- at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan's highlights:

Comments

Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy

Wildfire
EricF2000

Like a tree in a greenhouse, America's forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country's shifting fire threats.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. "No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation," the strategy states.

Comments

Oil companies would rather let trains explode than cooperate with feds

DOT-111
PHMSA

As federal officials work frantically to reverse an uptick in explosions and oil spills from crude-hauling trains, the companies that are fracking the crude and transporting it by rail are responding with an unhelpful collective shrug.

Lawmakers and regulators want information from the oil companies about their rail shipments. The oil companies initially made helpful-sounding noises and pledged to cooperate. Now, however, it seems they're more worried about keeping corporate secrets than protecting Americans from their explosive loads. From The Hill:

“Just last month before the Commerce Committee, the crude oil industry assured us they were focused on safety and willing to work on this issue," [Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)] said in a statement. "Since then, I’ve seen nothing to convince me this was more than just lip service."...

Rockefeller said he and other legislators had received assurances from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that the crude industry was on board with the push to increase the safety of oil trains.

But the West Virginia senator said on Monday that Congress was still waiting to see the promised assistance.

Rockefeller's frustrations mirror those of top rail regulators. As Reuters reported last week:

Comments

That blows

Brits may ban new onshore wind power

wind power in England
Shutterstock

Britain's conservative government is preparing to make an unusual pledge -- a crackdown on clean energy.

Prime Minster David Cameron, leader of the bluntly named Conservative Party (aka the Tories), is overseeing the drafting of a "manifesto" ahead of next year's national election. That manifesto might come dressed up in a stifling windbreaker. The Guardian explains:

The Guardian understands that Cameron has brokered a compromise between warring Tories by agreeing to include measures in the manifesto for next year's general election that will in effect rule out the building of onshore windfarms from 2020. ...

Comments

Bird body count still rising following Galveston Bay oil spill

Galveston Bay cleanup
NOAA

There have been so many oil spills lately -- from trains, from pipelines, from barges, from a refinery -- that it's easy to forget about the particulars of each one. Unless you're an unlucky local resident or an emergency responder.

In Texas, where more than 100,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled into Galveston Bay two weeks ago following a collision between a barge and a ship, the Coast Guard has recovered more than 300 oiled birds -- nearly all of them dead. The Texas Tribune reports:

Read more: Climate & Energy