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Maggie Severns' Posts


5 ways Monsanto wants to profit off climate change

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Global warming could mean big business for controversial agriculture giant Monsanto, which announced earlier this month it was purchasing the climate change-oriented startup Climate Corporation for $930 million.

Agriculture, which uses roughly 40 percent of the world's land, will be deeply affected by climate change in the coming years. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted [PDF] that warming will lead to pest outbreaks, that climate-related severe weather will impact food security, and that rising temperatures will hurt production for farms in equatorial areas. (In areas farther from the equator, temperature rise is actually estimated to increase production in the short term, then harm production if temperatures continue to rise over 3 degrees C in the long term.) Meanwhile, increases in the global population will make it crucial for farmers to be efficient with their land, says UC Davis professor Tu Jarvis. "The increase in food production, essentially, in the future needs to be in yields -- output per acre," Jarvis says, even while weather patterns make farming less predictable or more difficult in some places.

Monsanto, meanwhile, has been gearing up to sell its wares to farmers adapting to climate change. Here are five climate change-related products the company either sells already, or plans to:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Get ready for record temperatures … for the rest of your life

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Within 35 years, even a cold year will be warmer than the hottest year on record, according to research published in Nature on Wednesday. The study, which used 39 climate models to make a single temperature index for places all over the world, estimates when major U.S. cities' average temps will never again dip below that of the hottest year in the past century and a half. As the above chart shows, that's as early as 2043 for Phoenix and Honolulu, 2049 for San Francisco, and 2071 for Anchorage, Alaska.

The study found that the tropics will reach the point when even a cold year is hot based on past temperatures, referred to by the researchers as "climate departure," sooner than areas to the north. Climate departure will happen in 2025 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and 2034 in Mumbai, India, for example, compared to a global average year of 2047. In coral reefs, both pH and temperatures are climbing. "Our paper's showing that pH is already well beyond the historical threshold," coauthor Abby Frazier told reporters Tuesday.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Watch: Robots that hunt down jellyfish and destroy them

Last weekend, the world's largest boiling-water nuclear reactor, Sweden's Oskarshamn plant, was paralyzed after a bloom of moon jellyfish clogged plant's cooling systems, forcing it to shut down. According to the New York Times, the jellyfish had been cleared out of the plant's pipes by Tuesday, and engineers are preparing to restart the reactor. Odd as it sounds, this is actually a pretty common problem (yes, really).


Photos and videos from dramatic flash floods in Colorado

Heavy rains falling in the Front Range of Colorado this week have left at least three people dead, authorities say. Up to six inches of rain fell in 12 hours overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday morning, augmenting what had already been a rainy month in the area and leading to dangerous flash floods that are expected to continue through the weekend. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called it “the largest storm that I can imagine in the state’s history.”

A spokesperson from the U.S. Geological Survey says the this is a 100-year flood, meaning that flooding at this level in the area takes place once every 100 years, according to the Denver Post — though others say it could even be "a 500- to 1000-year event."

The rain brought the water, but wildfires in Colorado from recent years have made the flooding worse than it would have been otherwise, experts say. "When you have a dense forest with undergrowth, you have plants and things to trap moisture and rain," Kari Bowen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Boulder, told LiveScience. "But when it's gone, you have nothing to catch it."

The rain continued Thursday, making it difficult (and in some cases impossible) for rescuers to reach flood-stricken towns. In the video below, from CBS4 in Denver, rescue crews pull a man from a car that has been overturned near Lafayette, Colo., where rock slides and flash flooding collapsed homes, put dams at risk, and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Has the world reached peak chicken?


On Wednesday, the Northern California animal sanctuary Animal Place will airlift -- yes, you read that right: airlift -- 1,150 elderly laying hens from Hayward, Calif., to Elmira, N.Y., in an Embraer 120 turbo-prop.

The price? $50,000.

Right. So obviously, this isn't the most efficient way to spend your chicken-helping money. It didn't take me very long to think of some alternatives: For example, you could couple all 1,150 hens off and buy each pair its own home. You could feed 367 chickens fancy organic food for an entire year. You could feed 157 people the very fanciest, most coddled, free-rangest, organic-est eggs ever for a year. You could buy flocks of chicks for 2,500 farmers in the developing world through the charity Heifer International.


Take a virtual flight through Yosemite’s fire zone

Several weeks ago, a fire started in California's pristine and wild Stanislaus National Forest, about 150 miles east of San Francisco, close to Yosemite National Park. By Aug. 19, the blaze, known as the Rim Fire, was doubling in size every day. On Aug. 27, it was 180,000 acres, bigger than the city of Chicago. Some 3,700 firefighters have used 460 fire engines, 60 bulldozers, and 15 helicopters to try to control it. And it's still growing.

Watch the video above for a Google Earth bird's-eye view of the areas that are threatened by the fire. Read more about what makes the Rim Fire an especially scary wildfire here.

This story was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Read more: Climate & Energy


9 scary facts about the Yosemite fire


No one knows what started the Rim Fire, the 160,000 acre blaze that's ripping through the western side of Yosemite National Park. But nearly 4,000 firefighters have been dispatched to try to stop it using helicopters, bulldozers, and flame retardants. Although the situation is starting to look up -- 20 percent of the fire is now contained, up from 7 percent just two days ago -- the authorities predict the fire will keep spreading, and fast, in days to come.

There are many reasons to be concerned about such a fire in Yosemite, even if you don't live in California: For starters, it's in our premier national park. Yosemite, which is about the size of Rhode Island, sees around 4 million visitors per year and is home to iconic groves of sequoia trees, endangered species like the California big horn sheep, and some of the most notorious peaks in the country, such as Half Dome and El Capitan. But the very things that make Yosemite so beautiful -- its pristine condition, steep ravines, and tall trees -- are also fueling this fire and making it difficult to contain.

Here are a few factors that make this fire especially terrifying:

1. It's huge.

The fire is now one of the 20 largest fires in California history. It started on Aug. 17 in a remote area of the forest and initially doubled in size every day. Currently, it's bigger than Chicago and threatens 4,500 human structures, though relatively few -- 23, including a summer camp -- have been destroyed.

Here is an image of the fire taken by NASA's Aqua satellite last Thursday, Aug. 22:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Tesla Motors earns $26 million in the 2nd quarter — thanks to the government

Tesla Model S
Car and Driver says the Tesla Model S may be the best car it has ever tested.

Tesla Motors surprised Wall Street Wednesday afternoon, announcing second-quarter profits [PDF] of $26 million on $405 million in revenue. Since it reported its first modest profit in May, the electric-car company cofounded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk already had seen its share price more than double, and you can expect it to soar even higher after the markets open. Many analysts, after all, were expecting Tesla to take a hit. But so far, the company's profits have relied on government subsidies and initiatives.

Tesla's own accomplishments are impressive. The company, founded in 2004, is selling its all-electric cars as fast as it can produce them, even though the baseline price for a Model S sedan is nearly $70,000. Car and Driver says the Model S is possibly the best car it has ever tested. Musk has built a successful company after years of scraping by low on funds while sinking money into researching and developing amazing cars.

In January 2010, as Tesla was developing the Model S, it received a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy. That's not to mention other, less direct subsidies, like the millions of dollars in subsidies in Japan that helped Panasonic develop the lithium-ion batteries that are at the heart of every Tesla car. Tesla's modest first-quarter profit relied on $68 million from zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) credits it sold to other, less environmentally friendly car companies under a California emissions mandate. There's also the $7,500 federal tax break for people who buy electric vehicles, which makes its pricey cars more affordable.

As for today's results. Tesla earned $51 million on ZEV credits, without which it would not have been able to report a profit.

Tesla is a model for how government support can help bring ambitious new technologies to market. But you won't hear Elon Musk saying that. To the contrary, he has tweeted about how he thinks we'd be better off passing a carbon tax instead of the hefty loan that floated Tesla at a key moment. Musk claims the DOE loan was merely an "accelerant" for Tesla. The company was "bailed in, not bailed out," Musk quipped during an interview with Popular Mechanics last year.

Could Tesla have made it this far without government support? And will the company -- not to mention Musk's other enterprises, SpaceX and SolarCity -- stand alone in the future? Let's take a look at Tesla's climb to success.