James West

James West

Climate Desk Producer

James West is senior producer for the Climate Desk and a contributing producer for Mother Jones. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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This Guy Just Summed Up America's Climate Inaction Beautifully in 15 Lines

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 4:52 PM EDT
"Is there consensus among the crew?"

Pretty much as a rule, the comments section below any post on climate change will contain all the same dreary back-and-forth about how the world hasn't actually warmed in 15 years, or some thing; how fat cat Al Gore is profiting off global warming; and all those petty attacks over intellect/punctuation/spelling. That was certainly true for my recent post about Australia's climate politics, and the ongoing craziness Downunder that has resulted in more than a little political bloodletting in recent years. And then, reading down through the comments, just when I was giving up hope...a sudden bolt, as if the clouds parted and a little (uncharacteristic) humor was allowed to shine down upon all the silliness. Thank you "ThatDudeOnABike", for neatly summarizing some of the ridiculousness with this 30-second double-hander. A micro-Tony Award for you!

"Captain, there's a large iceberg ahead that will cause us to sink." 
"No there isn't" 
"Yes, captain, it's right there."
"Ice berg schmice berg. Oh, that berg. Right. It's not our fault."
"Regardless, sir, It will still sink us."
"No it won't"
"99% chance."
"So you don't know. Is there consensus among the crew?"
"We don't really have time..."
"If we stop the ship it will cost jobs and the economy will tank."
"We don't have to stop, just change course if we do it right away, before it's too late."
"You liberal elites just want to scare us."
"I'm not liberal, I just looked off the starboard bow and there it was."
"So it just appeared? You made it up. Why do you hate America?"
CRASH!

[Aaand, scene—thanks ThatDudeOnABike!]

And a reminder, we do love your comments. In fact, we once tracked down our biggest troll... and kind of liked him. You could be next:

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If You Think Climate Politics In the US Are Crazy, Wait Till You See What Just Happened in Australia

| Wed Jun. 25, 2014 3:16 PM EDT

Hold on to your hats! Australia's already-bizarre carbon price adventures veered into the utterly surreal overnight.

Picture this: an eccentric billionaire mining baron, most famous outside Australia for commissioning a replica of the Titanic, appearing alongside the world's most recognizable climate campaigner and former US vice president, Al Gore, to announce Australia's relatively new carbon tax will be scrapped, and a new emissions trading scheme proposed, effectively screwing over the sitting conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, who is hell-bent on getting rid of carbon legislation altogether.

It's a big blow to a prime minister who said recently in Canada that he has "always been against" an emissions trading scheme, and believes fighting climate change will "clobber the economy."

For watchers of Aussie politics, it was a visual feast of weirdness. For US readers, imagine—I don't know—industrialist Charles Koch jumping on stage with writer and activist Bill McKibben and you're getting close.

Clive Palmer speaking at a press conference to unveil plans to build a an almost-exact replica of the ill-fated Titanic, in March 2013. Ben Cawthra/ZumaPRESS

Al Gore has shared a press conference podium, and political common ground, with many influential leaders in his time, but Clive Palmer must be among the most unexpected. The mining magnate's upstart political group, the populist center-right Palmer United Party (PUP), was elevated to the Australian political heavyweight class during last year's national elections, and is now on the verge of holding the balance of power in the Australian Senate, or upper house—a position that possesses outsized power to wheel and deal with a government intent on getting laws passed.

That has meant all eyes are on Clive, who owns a nickel refinery and large swathes of land laced with coal and iron ore, along with several jets and resorts: not the climate's most likely hero.

A bit of backstory: Abbott took office last year after campaigning relentlessly to "scrap the toxic tax" and do away with the other parts of the carbon price legislation introduced by former-PM Julia Gillard. The carbon tax would have finally transitioned into a fully-fledged emissions trading scheme in mid-2015. Since the election, Australia's conservative government led by Abbott has been gearing up to axe the entire package for good.

Under Tony Abbott's replacement plan, the package would be scrapped in favor of a policy called "Direct Action", which critics say will do little to address carbon emissions, and cost taxpayers a hell of a lot of money. The repeal will certainly pass the lower house, but getting Clive Palmer on side was crucial to its passage through the Senate.

Meanwhile, Clive Palmer, a fantastical maverick-type (an enormous Tyrannosaurus rex presides over one of his golf courses), appears to be enjoying his newly found political power, basically telling Abbott "not so fast." He has indeed agreed to axe the tax, but is now pushing instead to keep some form of emissions trading scheme (which his party will introduce). Palmer's emissions trading scheme would be toothless and non-competitive, at least at first, with the carbon price set to zero until Australia's major trading partners like China and South Korea effect similar schemes.

All of this is made even more baffling since Clive Palmer himself only recently rejected the scientific consensus on climate change, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in April that "There's been global warming for a long time. I mean, all of Ireland was covered by ice at one time... so I think that's part of the natural cycle."

But at this week's performance, he made an incredible about-face:

"Australia has got an opportunity to set a standard which can act as a catalyst for the whole world, to set a fair framework which the world can follow," Palmer said. "As President Obama in the US has shown, great leadership and encouraging all countries to act, Australia needs to do its fair share." Palmer argues that without a trading scheme, Australian businesses will get left behind. Another motivation might be more personal: there's a long-standing distrust between Palmer and Abbott, the prime minister.

Gore, appearing alongside Palmer, fully endorsed what will effectively isolate Tony Abbott, the prime minister, calling Palmer's decision "an extraordinary moment."

"All of these developments add up to the world moving to solve the climate crisis," he said.

But climate change has washed Canberra's corridors of power in political blood for years, and it seems that no matter how hard Tony Abbott tries to finally put it to rest, there's no end in site, writes Lenore Taylor at The Guardian:

It is a dramatic, if slightly confusing, eleventh hour conversion to the climate change cause for Clive Palmer, millionaire would-be coal miner who... just two months ago didn’t seem to think global warming was a thing. After contributing to the downfall of three Australian prime ministers, two opposition leaders and seven years of bitter and acrimonious debate, carbon policy is now presenting yet another prime minister with some serious dilemmas.

Watch Live: Can China Survive a Fracking Revolution? The United States Sure Hopes So.

| Wed Jun. 11, 2014 4:22 PM EDT

China is on the brink of an energy revolution: fracking. And it's enlisting American energy companies to help implement the technology that blasts shale rock formations deep underground to unlock natural gas. For this event at the Asia Society in New York City, my colleague Jaeah Lee and I are debuting field reporting from a month's worth of exhilarating, exhausting travels deep into Sichuan province, to see China's first fracking wells for ourselves.

Watch the livestream of the event above to catch Jaeah and me discussing the big business of fracking in China—and its potential health and environmental costs. The other panelists are Orville Schell, the great chronicler of modern Chinese politics and society; Josh Fox, the director of the anti-fracking documentary Gaslandand Ella Chou, an energy analyst who is trying to work out how China can break its deadly addiction to coal.

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