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Climate Change


A weekend of protests barely makes the papers

There were at least four major protests this weekend targeting fracking, nuclear power, pollution, and mountaintop-removal mining. Here's a quiz: How many of these protests did you know about?

There was Saturday's banjo-festooned fracking protest in Washington, D.C. It was called "Stop the Frack Attack," and it called on politicians to stop the frack attack. Some estimates suggest that 5,000 people participated in the action; UPI asked a pro-fracking guy how many were there and he said that he heard 1,500 from a cop, so UPI went with 1,500.

Anti-fracking protestors march in Washington, D.C. (Photo by TXsharon.)

There were also protests in Japan and China. Earlier this month, some 100,000 people rallied in Tokyo to try and prevent a nuclear generator from being turned back on. Over the weekend, tens of thousands more marched outside of Parliament with the same aim: calling on the prime minister to halt the use of nuclear power. (There were no reports of banjos.)

Read more: Climate Change, Coal


Drought leads to ethanol backlash, finicky farm animals, and higher food prices for you

This is what corn futures have done over the summer. I know it looks like the same graph we've shown you before, but it isn't. The key difference is the number at the top right. It used to be a high of $7.50. Now corn is predicted to sell for more than $8.00 per bushel in December -- an increase of 60 percent since spring.

Corn futures from CME Group. Click to embiggen.

The reason for the price spike, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: the drought. Less corn production, higher corn prices. We've noted that these price increases (and, in fact, expectations of higher prices) will impact other foods over the short- and long-term. But the meat industry is already feeling the pinch this summer -- both because of concerns about corn prices and because animals have less of an appetite during a drought. Smithfield Foods is hedging against increased prices by importing corn from Brazil, a "highly unusual" step.

Read more: Climate Change, Corn, Food


(Koch-funded) scientist changes opinion, finds warming due to humans (including Kochs)

Average temperature using a 10-year moving average of surface temperatures over land. Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of ThinkProgress.)

That giddy squeal that echoed across America this weekend was from environmentalists who'd opened up The New York Times and read an opinion piece by Richard Muller. (Well, opened the website, anyway; it wasn't in the actual paper.) Muller, a professor at UC-Berkeley, had long argued against human-caused climate change. His piece in the Times? "The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic."

Call me a converted skeptic.

Okay, you are a converted skeptic.

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Muller argues that the results from his research are even more alarming than existing projections.

Read more: Climate Change


As temperatures rise, cities are getting hotter, faster

A city dog enjoys ice cream.

Cities run hotter than the countryside. There are a number of reasons why: the predominance of concrete, exhaust from cars, the angry people yelling at each other. And the problem, like every other heat-related problem in America, is getting worse.

From Brad Plumer at the Washington Post:

On a hot summer afternoon, a large city can easily run 5°F to 18°F hotter than surrounding rural areas, enough to turn an unpleasant heat wave into a deadly calamity.

And as global warming pushes up temperatures around the country, this urban heat island effect is only getting stronger. A new study in the journal Landscape and Research Planning finds that many large U.S. cities are warming twice as fast as the rest of the country. Between 1961 and 2010, rural areas in the United States heated up at a rate of roughly 0.29°F per decade. Yet three-quarters of the biggest U.S. metro areas were heating up at an average rate of 0.56°F per decade, thanks in part to increased sprawl.

As part of their research, the team from Georgia Tech put together this map, showing how much the heat island effect had changed for various U.S. cities.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of the Urban Climate Lab.) 

Among the most affected, cities in the Southwest. Cities in the Northeast, particularly along the Great Lakes, saw some reductions. (It would be interesting to see this data correlated with economic activity.)

Read more: Cities, Climate Change


Extreme summer storms could tear us a new ozone hole

Storm clouds move in over New York City during yesterday's derecho.

Remember that big hole in the ozone over the South Pole? Beginning in the 1980s, we plugged it up. And we often look to that success as a guide for how to save the environment. Identify the problem, develop a solution, enact international policies that address it. By severely limiting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), we preserved the ozone layer, which is critical to blocking harmful ultraviolet radiation.

We didn't actually eliminate all CFCs from the atmosphere. There are still CFCs up there, combining with oxygen in the ozone layer and breaking it down. But the combination has generally been stable.

Until climate change came along. From The New York Times:

Strong summer thunderstorms that pump water high into the upper atmosphere pose a threat to the protective ozone layer over the United States, researchers said on Thursday, drawing one of the first links between climate change and ozone loss over populated areas.

Good thing there haven't been any strong summer thunderstorms lately!

Read more: Climate Change


The West in flames: Get used to it

This year's Whitewater Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico is the largest in the state's history. (Photo by Gila National Forest.)

Dire fire conditions, like the inferno of heat, turbulence, and fuel that recently turned 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., to ash, are now common in the West. A lethal combination of drought, insect plagues, windstorms, and legions of dead, dying, or stressed-out trees constitute what some pundits are calling wildfire’s “perfect storm.”

They are only half right.

This summer's conditions may indeed be perfect for fire in the Southwest and West, but if you think of them as a “storm,” perfect or otherwise -- that is, sudden, violent, and temporary -- then you don’t understand what’s happening in this country or on this planet. Look at those 346 burnt homes again, or at the High Park fire that ate 87,284 acres and 259 homes west of Fort Collins, Colo., or at the Whitewater Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico that began in mid-May, consumed almost 300,000 acres, and is still smoldering, and what you have is evidence of the new normal in the American West.

Read more: Climate Change


The biggest news story of our dystopian future

Ruben Bolling's latest "Tom the Dancing Bug" strip envisions the newsreel of a climate-changed future. Here's a teaser:

The rest is after the jump (click to embiggen).

Read more: Climate Change


At least 70 percent of Arctic ice loss is due to climate change

Scientists have largely pinned down the cause for the huge loss in Arctic ice volume over the past 40 years. And guess what? It's because of climate change.

I mean, you already knew that. But scientists like to be thorough.

Researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading used a computer model to look at how much of the ice loss could be attributed to natural cycles (specifically, the "Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation," or AMO). From The Guardian:

"We could only attribute as much as 30% [of the Arctic ice loss] to the AMO," [the researcher] said. "Which implies that the rest is due to something else, and this is most likely going to be man-made global change."

Previous studies had indicated that around half of the loss was due to man-made climate change and that the other half was due to natural variability.

Read more: Climate Change


William Gibson explains why global warming will make your grandkids hate you

Science fiction author William Gibson, who knows from the future (he's the guy who invented the word "cyberspace," in 1982 mind you), explained yesterday on Twitter that he's concerned our descendants will hate us.

Read more: Climate Change


Which foods will cost more because of the drought?

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.

Click to embiggen. (Image by James West/Climate Desk.)