James West

James West

Senior Producer, Mother Jones/Climate Desk

James West is senior producer for Mother Jones and its reporting project Climate Desk. 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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CHART: Withering Drought Still Plaguing Half of America

| Thu Apr. 4, 2013 10:00 AM EDT
Click here for a larger version. James West

The $50 billion drought that bedeviled the country last Summer—the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's—still has its fingers around half the country. And if predictions are to be believed, it's only going to get worse for many in the coming months.

Weekly drought figures released Thursday by the US Drought Monitor, a joint project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USDA and several other government and academic partners, show the situation has worsened slightly from last week, with nearly 52% of the continental US now suffering from a moderate drought or worse. Below-average winter snow pack and rainfall are keeping much of the country in a holding pattern. No measurable precipitation fell on most of central and northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, central and northern Iowa, southwestern Minnesota, and the Louisiana Bayou last week. Rain that fell in the West did nothing to alleviate the drought there; in fact, parts of western Oregon and southwestern Washington have reported their driest start to a calendar year on record. The forecast for the next two weeks? Dry and dry again.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's climate prediction center warns today that drought is likely to persist for much of the West and expand across northern California and southern Oregon. Although the numbers are more optimistic across eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, with some rain on the way, drought still has a strong grip on much of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona due to low snow-water (around 75% of normal) heading into spring and early summer. That is just the latest in a battery of warning signs that show another brutal summer on its way: California experienced its driest January-February period on record, and average winter temperatures across the contiguous US were 1.9°F above the 20th century average.

These figures come on the back of the spring outlook from NOAA released two weeks ago that point to hotter, drier conditions coming up across much of the US, and with that, flooding.

In many parts of the country, drought in fact never loosened its grip, imperiling the winter wheat crop that sustains much of the US wheat industry.

 

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How Much Is a Beachfront Home in the Sandy-Ravaged Rockaways Worth?

| Thu Mar. 28, 2013 1:05 PM EDT

257 Beach 140th Street, a modest four-bedroom house blocks from the beach in Rockaways, Queens, is fairly unremarkable, but it put up a hell of a fight during Hurricane Sandy. While other houses just down the street were being ripped off their foundations, 257, which had been up for sale since before the storm, suffered only a little flooding in the basement. It's otherwise unscathed, but even that damage was enough to knock a solid 10 percent off its list price (down to $799,000 from $890,000), enough to make first-time homebuyers Matthew and Jenny Daly take a closer look.

"There are more opportunities because of everything that's happened in the last six months," Matthew says.

In New York City alone, Sandy racked up $3.1 billion worth of damage to homes. Many of those properties in hard-hit areas like the Rockaways and the south shore of Staten Island are still empty, awaiting repairs, government buyouts, resident squatters, or like in the case of 257, a new owner ready to tackle a fixer-upper. Damaged homes are now on the market for as much as 60 percent off their pre-storm value, and local realtors say there's a ready contingent of bargain-hunters waiting to pounce—sometimes, to the detriment of sellers.

VIDEO: Can We 3D Print Our Way Out of Climate Change?

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Tech optimists' crush of the decade is surely 3D printing. It has been heralded as disruptive, democratizing, and revolutionary for its non-discriminatory ability to make almost anything: dresses, guns, even houses. The process—also known as "additive manufacturing"—is still expensive and slow, confined to boutique objets d'art or lab-driven medical prototyping. But scaled up, and put in the hands of ordinary consumers via plummeting prices, 3D printing has the potential to slash energy and material costs. Climate Desk asks: can 3D printing be deployed in the ongoing battle against climate change?

This Cheat Sheet Will Make You Win Every Climate Argument

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 7:02 AM EST

"I don't see what all those environmentalists are worried about," sneers your Great Uncle Joe. "Carbon dioxide is harmless, and great for plants!"

Okay. Take a deep breath. If you're not careful, comments like this can result in dinner-table screaming matches. Luckily, we have a secret weapon: A flowchart that will help you calmly slay even the most outlandish and annoying of climate-denying arguments:

Climate argument flowchart

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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