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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Explained in 90 Seconds: Permafrost

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 4:01 AM PST

Glaciers. They really are the pinup geological formation for climate change. But spare a thought for permafrost. Perma-what? Answer: The gigantic carbon-rich Arctic landmass, that—until recently—has locked away its greenhouse gases in a deep freeze for millennia. That is, until man-made climate change has begun to unlock its CO2 stores, only then to be devoured by methane-spewing organisms. This microbial feast is accelerating climate change. The problem: It's a feedback loop. The hotter it gets, the more the permafrost melts, the more CO2 is emitted. And around and around we go, in a devastating roundabout for Arctic communities and the entire globe. Continuing our "Explained in 90 Seconds" series, here's a primer on permafrost.

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Explained in 90 Seconds: It's Cold. That Doesn't Mean Global Warming is Fake.

| Fri Jan. 25, 2013 4:11 AM PST

At Climate Desk, we like to call them—affectionately—our "pet trolls." (You know who you are. Hi!) They are regular readers that pepper us on Twitter and Facebook with one of several climate myths upon the publication of every article, sometimes with freakish speed. One of the most popular myths is this: Global warming isn't real because it's really cold outside; climate models are thus full of sh*t. So, here in 90 seconds, is our attempt to explain something we interact with every day, in all sorts of ways, from flying in a plane, to getting a loan, to betting on a horse: computer modeling.

Our video features Drew Purves, from Microsoft in Cambridge, UK, a statistics whiz specializing in modeling the climate and ecosystems. Think of him as the Nate Silver of carbon. You can read about his latest research project, a rallying cry to model the entire world's ecology—that's right, the entire world—in the latest edition of Nature.

Is it Obama? Is it Gore? No! It's the Green Ninja!

| Tue Jan. 22, 2013 4:01 AM PST

President Obama's high-profile statements about climate change in his inauguration speech—"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms"—will need to be backed by strong action if there's any hope of dimming recent attacks on science in America's classrooms.

The National Center for Science Education lists four new bills in the last week alone that have been introduced in state legislatures: two in Oklahoma, and one each for Missouri and Colorado. For example, House Bill 179, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 16, labels as controversial the teaching of "biological and chemical evolution;" Ditto for Colorado, which on the same day introduced House Bill 13-1089 (PDF) which also misrepresents global warming and evolution as questionable science.

No wonder Dr Eugene Cordero thinks climate change needs a superhero. Bam! Enter the Green Ninja, the not-very-talkative martial arts master who whips up all sorts mayhem to teach young minds about carbon footprints, energy-saving strategies and gas guzzling leaf blowers, a kind of climate-bent Captain Planet, for a younger generation.

Cordero—both the creator of Green Ninja and a climate scientist at San Jose State University—has already created a series of videos and lesson plans for teachers. And they are now looking to the crowd on the popular funding website Kickstarter for more cash to produce a 16-episode YouTube series, starting this Spring. At the time of writing, with just 10 days to go, the Green Ninja team has raised half of its stated $10,000 goal.

Chart: The Black Triangle Suffocating Beijing

| Fri Jan. 18, 2013 4:01 AM PST
Beijing Coal Map

In 2008, Beijing pulled off what some (myself included) considered a miracle: banishing choking smog to reveal an Olympic city bathing in blue. They reportedly took a million of the city's 3.3 million cars off the road, and closed down factories and construction sites.

But try as they might, in the years since the Olympics, city officials have rarely replicated that success, despite replacing the city's coal-fired power stations with natural gas, capping its annual coal consumption at 20 million tons by 2015, forcing heavy trucking to go nocturnal, and limiting car exhaust and construction dust.

The recent crisis that featured "beyond index" rates of pollutants and a thick, blanket of smog that choked the city for days, proves why Beijing just can't do it alone. China's enormous boom in cars often gets blamed, but in fact the bigger problem lies farther afield.

The chart above shows that without controlling emissions across the country—especially from neighboring coal-producing provinces like Hebei and Shanxi—prevailing winds will keep blowing toxic smog Beijing's way. Climate Desk has compiled data from NOAA, Greenpeace, and CARMA to show 38 power plants that lie in the path of the winds that brought smog to Beijing during its pollution crisis from January 10-12.

The pollution is bad news for people's health: A recent study by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University’s School of Public Health estimated that 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities in 2012 because of the smog.

A note about the data: CARMA produces a detailed list of carbon-emitting power plants around the world—but for China, it can be tricky to get their precise locations and emissions because there is no public disclosure database provided by the government. The area displayed on the map is a rough approximation.

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