One of the main difficulties in getting people to care about climate change is that it can be hard to notice on a daily basis. But the prospect of sweating profusely through your golden years? That's more arresting.
If you're aged 4-33 right now, the map above shows you how many very hot days — those with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit — you're likely to experience by the time you're elderly. It comes from a new report by the economics research firm Rhodium Group, which was commissioned by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Henry Paulson, the Republican Treasury secretary under George W. Bush; and Tom Steyer, the billionaire Bay Area entrepreneur and environmentalist.
The Central California wildfire that Monday destroyed three homes and forced hundreds of evacuations is just the latest blaze to strain the nation's overburdened federal firefighting system. By Monday evening, the Shirley Fire had consumed 2,600 acres near Sequoia National Forest and cost over $4 million, as more than 1,000 firefighters scrambled to contain it (it's now 75 percent contained). Meanwhile, families on an Arizona Navajo reservation are being evacuated today in the face of an 11,000-acre blaze that as of Tuesday morning was 0 percent contained.
This year, in the midst of severe drought across the West, top wildfire managers in Washington knew they were going to break the bank, even before the fire season had really begun. In early May, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) and the Department of Interior announced that wildfire-fighting costs this summer are projected to run roughly $400 million over budget. Since then, wildfires on federal land have burned at least half a million acres, and the Forest Service has made plans to beef up its force of over 100 aircraft and 10,000 firefighters in preparation for what it said in a statement "is shaping up to be a catastrophic fire season."
But the real catastrophe has been years in the making: Federal fire records and budget data show that the U.S. wildfire response system is chronically and severely underfunded, even as fires -- especially the biggest "mega-fires" -- grow larger and more expensive. In other words, the federal government is not keeping pace with America's rapidly evolving wildfire landscape. This year's projected budget shortfall is actually par for the course; in fact, since 2002, the U.S. has overspent its wildfire fighting budget every year except one -- in three of those years by nearly a billion dollars.
Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out the centerpiece of President Obama's climate strategy — a plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants. The main takeaway was that by 2030 the regulations will cut these emissions, the biggest single driver of global warming, by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels. But under the hood, things get a little more complex.
Rather than a consistent national standard, the proposed rule sets a different standard for every state, based on the EPA's assessment of what each state can realistically achieve using existing technology at a reasonable cost. The goal applies to a state's carbon intensity, the measure of how much carbon pollution comes from each unit of electricity produced in that state, rather than total carbon emissions. States like Kentucky and West Virginia, for example, rely heavily on coal power and have a higher carbon intensity than states like California that are more energy-efficient and have more renewable energy. By 2030, each state will be required to meet a carbon intensity target lower than where it is today; how much lower, exactly, depends on what the EPA thinks the state can pull off.
When Big Oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron set their sights on a prime new oil reserve in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, the first phone call they make usually isn't to the government office putting it up for sale. Instead, they ring up one of their contacts in a small, elite group of so-called "fixers," a shady cabal of a few dozen well-connected billionaires who hold the strings on the market for the world's most valuable commodity. The fixer gets a fat fee and a straightforward assignment: Do whatever you need to do to get us those oil rights.
Unlike the U.S., where oil rights are held by individual property owners and leased to mining companies, in most developing nations oil rights are held by the government, and getting them means having a personal relationship with the right ministers — and knowing how to grease their palms. Since the mid-1900s, oil companies have relied on fixers to do their dirty work, crisscrossing the globe with a Rolodex stacked with the calling cards of corrupt heads of state. In the end, we get cheap oil, oil companies get plausible deniability, and the leaders of some of the world's most oppressive regimes get astronomically rich.
Ken Silverstein is a veteran journalist who has spent the last several years finagling his way into the traditionally hyper-reclusive world of oil fixers, gaining unprecedented access to many key players and amassing a portfolio of outrageous tales of bribery, exploitation, and obscene wealth. His book, The Secret World of Oil, hit shelves Tuesday, and I spoke to him about how U.S. companies continue to skirt anti-bribery laws in the high-stakes pursuit of oil.
Fracking has done some incredible things for North Dakota: It has the fastest-growing economy and lowest unemployment in the nation, and it is second only to Texas in churning out oil. But as with any gold rush, the boom comes with a human cost for those involved -- illness, injury, and fatalities. For a firsthand view of conditions in North Dakota's fracking fields, watch the video below, which we produced in 2012: In fact, across all industries, North Dakota has the least-safe working conditions of any state in the country, according to federal data compiled in a new report from the AFL-CIO. The report ranked North Dakota dead …
The upcoming wildfire season could cost $400 million more to fight than the Forest Service and Interior Department have in their available budgets, according to a report those agencies released Thursday.
The forecast estimates that the Forest Service and Interior will need to spend a combined total of about $1.8 billion fighting wildfires this year (though the actual amount could be significantly higher or lower), while only $1.4 billion is available for that activity. The difference will have to be drawn out of the budget reserved for other activities, including fire-related work like clearing brush and controlled burns. In other words, the cost of fighting fires will take resources away from the very programs designed to keep fires in check.
The projected expenditures are the highest in several years, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service. After record-breaking drought in the West over the last year, this year's fire season is expected to be especially frightful -- by mid-April, California had already tallied nearly 1,000 fires for 2014 (without even counting fires occurring on federal land).
Germany is in the midst of a fierce battle against climate change and is making an aggressive push to get at least 80 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050. But with nearly half its power still drawn from some of the world's dirtiest coal, there are plenty of bumps in the road ahead. One of the biggest is how to store renewable energy when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining, a problem that has tormented clean-energy advocates around the globe.
One engineer thinks he's found the solution -- half a mile underground.
If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn't the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it's what could happen to you when you drink it.
Although the natural gas industry is notoriously tight-lipped about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it's widely known that the list often includes some pretty scary, dangerous stuff, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It's also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere.
So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and earthquakes)? Is it true, as an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono recently posited, that "fracking kills"?
Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey ran out of batteries earlier this month, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state.
The move was a win for the state's surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby and a loss for one of the country's biggest electric car makers. But it also cemented New Jersey's place as a non-contender for the real prize: a $5 billion battery "gigafactory" that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State's clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile.
It's the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry's best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich quickly pounced on Christie after the direct sales ban for "artificially" insulating car dealers, just weeks after calling for John Kerry to resign after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his state's direct sales ban "antiquated" nearly a year after a Democrat-backed bill to change the policy was killed.