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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VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:07 AM EST

This week marked the start of the the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in US history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to 3 months if a deal isn't reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was "grossly negligent" in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.

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"It Seems Like Yesterday That Trayvon Was Here"

| Wed Feb. 27, 2013 1:18 AM EST
Trayvon's mother Sybrina Fulton
From left: Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin; his mother, Sybrina Fulton; and Benjamin Crump, the family's lawyer. James West

A few hundred demonstrators chanted "Hoodies up! Hoodies up!" in New York City's Union Square earlier tonight to mark the exact minute that Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot and killed by Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman one year ago. Zimmerman was ultimately charged with second-degree murder in the case, which sparked a national debate over racial profiling.

Dark hoodies drawn over their heads in remembrance of what their son was wearing that night, Trayvon's parents stood with their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, and Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx to lead a candlelight vigil that doubled as a call to action against profiling, gun violence, and the proliferation of so-called Stand Your Ground laws.

"This is a somber day for us," said Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, with the help of a bullhorn. "This is a day that won't be forgotten. It seems like yesterday that Trayvon was here."

Foxx spoke briefly and quietly: "We had a moment together," he said of his meeting with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother. "I want you to know this is a personal thing." He promised to use his fame to help push for justice in Trayvon's case. Crump told demonstrators that Foxx had flown in from Los Angeles especially to meet with the family on the one-year anniversary. Foxx sang a short tune, "No weapon formed against you shall prosper," before concluding, "We love you." He hugged the pair.

As the hour approached, Crump prepared the audience: "People in Sanford get ready…People in Tucson, Arizona, get ready. People in Aurora, Colorado, get ready. People all over the world get ready," he said. "Let Tracy and Sybrina know that even though Trayvon may have been alone last year at 7:17, he is not alone this year at 7:17."

Tracy Martin
Martin thanks the crowd in Manhattan's Union Square. James West

Trayvon's parents led the crowd in a minute of silence. People bowed their heads and closed their eyes. It was the only moment Fulton looked unruffled by the horde of reporters, leaning close to Crump.

As the clock struck 7:17, the moment the killing took place, Fulton and Martin spoke a short prayer in unison over the bullhorn: "We remember Trayvon Martin. Gone but never forgotten." The words were repeated several times by the crowd, a mix of activists. protesters, and New Yorkers on their way home from work.

Fulton then began to count, "One… two…" As the minute came to a close, and rain began to fall, she said, "three," and everyone blew out their candles and cheered.

A candle is lit
A participant holds a candle at the Trayvon Martin vigil. James West

After Sandy, Scientists Hunt for Sewage in New York City's Harbors

| Mon Feb. 25, 2013 7:12 AM EST

For most people affected by Superstorm Sandy, the damage was plain to see: Devastated homes, impossible traffic, even lost lives. But for Bruce Brownawell, the storm's biggest consequences are buried under several meters of seawater. Brownawell is a marine scientist at SUNY-Stony Brook who has spent the last several years becoming intimately acquainted with the chemical makeup of mud on the floor of various bays, harbors, and inlets in the New York City area.

When Sandy hit, several local scientists saw opportunity: For Bruce, it was a chance to return to these areas and investigate how strong storm tides shifted mud around—particularly in areas close to several low-lying sewage treatment plants that were knocked out during the storm and dumped raw sewage into the water for days. To do that, he and colleague Jessica Dutton of Adelphi University strapped on mud-proof waders and headed out to Hempstead Bay off the south shore of Long Island. Climate Desk crammed onto the boat for the inside dirt. 

VIDEO: Wait Until China Acts on Climate. What? They Are!?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2013 7:12 AM EST

Did you hear the one about the Chinese carbon tax? Sorry. Not a joke.

That was one bit of news drowned out by last week's (understandable) conniption over Chinese computer hacking. China plans to introduce a carbon tax, says state-run news agency Xinhua. That's right, that great thorn in the side of global carbon reduction treaties, that recalcitrant negotiator and world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is now on the path to imposing its own tax to tackle dangerous carbon emissions.

Now, we should treat this news with some caution. I say "on the path" because not many other details were forthcoming, and China's environmental regulations tend to be like cheap Swiss cheese: a bit rubbery and full of holes. Ella Chou, an analyst for Brookings and a clean-energy consultant, points out in this great post that the tax is "puny," and local governments may still try to skirt it:

Local governments would continue to come up ways to give industries tax rebates and subsidies to attract them to their own jurisdictions, so the effect of the environmental tax or the carbon tax on the industries would be negligible.

Still, China's decision deals a powerful blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the United States must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation to the floor of Congress. James Fallows makes this point at Climate Desk partner, The Atlantic:

Chinese officials have long used U.S. inaction on climate and carbon-tax issues as a rationalization for not taking steps of their own. On average, we're still quite a poor country, the spokesmen would say. If the rich U.S. can't "afford" to deal with emissions, how could we? Now the country is taking this carbon-tax step for reasons of its own reasons—as a way to deal with pollution and as another step in un-distorting the economy. But as a bonus it gets talking points to prod the US to do its part.

The basic message: It's small, and we'll have to wait to see what the whole package will look like. But it's action. So it may be time to update those action-resistant talking points, guys.

Explained in 90 Seconds: Permafrost

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 7:01 AM EST

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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