Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
President Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the weekend.
Over the weekend President Barack Obama was in India for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on nuclear power, trade, climate change, and other topics. The climate piece was, if not necessarily a letdown, certainly less exciting than Obama's wide-reaching deal with China in November. Crucially, the China deal included specific carbon emissions reduction targets; those were left out in India over Modi's (arguably justifiable) insistence that the country be able to aggressively expand its electricity infrastructure to fight poverty.
Instead, India committed to expand its solar power capacity by 33-fold within seven years, and to work closely with the United States in advance of major UN climate talks in Paris in December. (India's participation will be vital for the summit to produce a meaningful international agreement.)
As Bloomberg's Natalie Obiko Pearson noted, Obama got a first-hand taste in the trip of how important it is for India to fuel its growth with clean energy sources. India is already the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US, and air pollution in many of its cities far exceeds even the infamous levels in Beijing and other Chinese megalopolises.
In fact, Delhi—the capital city where Obama's meetings took place—has the world's highest concentration of PM 2.5, according to the UN. These tiny airborne particulates can increase the risk of heart disease and a host of really awful respiratory ailments. The PM 2.5 levels in Delhi are so insanely bad that breathing the air for only a few hours can have irreversible health impacts…even on the leader of the free world.
During Obama's three-day visit, PM2.5 levels in Delhi have averaged between 76 to 84 micrograms per cubic meter, according to data collected by India's Ministry of Earth Sciences…Those levels translate roughly into an estimated loss of 2 hours a day in life expectancy, said David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, who specializes in quantifying risk in a way that is understandable to the public.
Obama was there for three days, so that's six hours off his life. That is profoundly terrifying. It also underscores how, for developing countries, the need to stem pollution from power plants is about much more than solving the long-term problem of global warming. It's about addressing an urgent pubic health crisis.
Update: Monday, January 26, 6:35 p.m. EST: This was the scene outside our office this afternoon. Yikes!
Update: Monday, January 26, 6:00 p.m. EST: From our friends at Climate Central, here's a little background on the weather forces behind the storm and how they relate to man-made climate change:
The low pressure area at the heart of the storm is tracking along the East Coast in a way that lets it exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2°F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.
Update: Monday, January 26, 5:00 p.m. EST: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to put a "hard stop" on the region's public transit later tonight in preparation for worse snow conditions starting in the early hours of Tuesday:
New Yorkers were piling into the subway ahead of the evening rush hour:
Heading into the Union Square subway entrance Monday afternoon. Tim McDonnell
Update: Monday, January 26, 2:45 p.m. EST: Even just after a couple hours of snow dumped by the strengthening blizzard, New York City's landscape is white-washed for the first time this season:
NYC's heroic fleet of food delivery cyclists soldiered on as snow came down in Manhattan. Tim McDonnell
Almost as soon as it started, the snow was coming down in sheets. Tim McDonnell
In Midtown, so begins the long battle to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Tim McDonnell
Stay warm, little guy! Tim McDonnell
Central Park quickly turned into a winter wonderland. Tim McDonnell
Update: Monday, January 26, 2:15 p.m. EST: As the blizzard begins to hit New York City, my colleague James West ventured out to capture some Brooklyn street scenes, in super-slow motion (flick the player to HD for some fun snow-falling prettiness):
After a few months of mild weather, today and tomorrow the East Coast is in for one hell of a snowstorm. Twenty-nine million people from New Jersey to Maine are under a blizzard alert. Here's the latest snow forecast for the Boston region from the National Weather Service:
The range shown for New York here—up to two feet dumped on the city by Wednesday—is at least down from yesterday's estimates, when, as our friend Eric Holhaus at Slate reported, meteorologists were warning that it could be the largest blizzard in the city's history. Still, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents "to prepare for something worse than we have seen before." The worst of the worst is expected starting Monday afternoon and through Tuesday.
Stay tuned here for more updates, as well as images from inside the storm.
To those of us for whom the nuances of professional football tactics are a bit of a mystery, there was one question looming over New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's surreal Ballghazi press conference yesterday that went unanswered: What's so great, in theory, about a deflated football? Seems like, if anything, an under-inflated ball would be less aerodynamic?
Turns out, the potential benefit is all about grippiness. From Fox Sports:
John Eric Goff, professor of physics at Lynchburg College in Virginia and author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” told FoxNews.com that the league-mandated PSI range is ideal for playing football. “If, however, there’s rain or snow or something else happening, that would make the ball a bit slicker, so having a bit less pressure in the ball makes it easier to squeeze and the grip improves,” he added.
Warning signs on the door to a Monsanto lab for GMO corn.
It's the worst nightmare of activists opposed to genetically modified crops: An errant GMO seed blows out of a wheat or corn field and breeds with a species in the wild or on a neighboring farm. The modified gene proliferates and spreads through the population, and pretty soon the line between engineered crops and their "natural" counterparts begins to disappear, with unpredictable consequences for ecosystems.
This happened in 2010 in North Dakota, when scientists discovered that genes from genetically engineered canola—grown commercially for its oil across the state—were appearing in nearly every sample of canola taken in the wild. In that case, the "escape" of GMO canola turned out to be no big deal.
But it raised eyebrows with plant scientists about how quickly modified genes can spread. Some warned that plants engineered to be especially hardy—for example, the drought- and heat-tolerant plants that agribusiness giants like Monsanto are pushing as a remedy to climate change—could drive out native breeds, taking with them a precious store of genetic diversity.
"This will be a barrier unlike any that has existed in the kingdoms of life."
Since the late 1970s, when genetically engineered crops began to arrive on US farms, federal and state agencies have applied a smattering of rules and regulations to prevent this from happening. But on Wednesday, a pairof new studies published in Nature offered, for the first time, a protection that comes straight from an organism's DNA.
After several years of painstaking research, bioengineers at Yale and Harvard have developed a method to ensure organisms with engineered DNA could survive only in designated environments, and not in the wild. Their research was on the bacteria E. coli, but the scientists said the same basic steps could be applied to genetically modified crops, as well as to bacteria used to process dairy products, probiotics for health applications, and even the microorganisms sometimes used to clean up oil spills.
"Endowing safeguards now is important to allow the field [of biotechnology] to go forward," said geneticist Farren Isaacs, a co-author of the Yale study.
Here's the good news: Yesterday the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment to the Keystone XL bill that says "climate change is real and not a hoax." Good work, ladies and gentlemen! Glad we got that on the record, only 25 years after scientists agreed on it.
Here's the bad news: Turns out the vote was just an excuse for James Inhofe (Okla.) to say, as he has many times before: Sure, climate change is real. The climate changes all the time. But humans aren't the cause.
His evidence for this dismissal of the mainstream scientific consensus? The bible.
Now here's the really bad news: This same gentleman from Oklahoma recently became the chairman of the very Senate committee that oversees environmental policy. And two of his climate change-denying peers will chair other subcommittees that oversee vital climate science.
In case it isn't self-evident why these facts are so terrible, we have our lovely readers to sum it up:
@MotherJones How can United States possibly compete in the scientific community when we have throwbacks like this running major committees