Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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Meet Alvin, the Climate-Change-Fighting Puppet

| Sat Apr. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Meet Alvin Sputnik, one of the few surviving humans in a world that's well beyond any scientific predictions for sea level rise. Equipped with a special diving suit, Alvin, a creation of Australian puppeteer Tim Watts, explores the depths, encounters whales, searches for missing loved one, and learns to find happiness in a post-climate-change world. Now in its fourth year of touring the world, Watts recently stopped at New York University to introduce Alvin to an audience of kids, students, and adults; upcoming shows include Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pinchincha, Ecuador.

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Charts: The Smart Money Is on Renewable Energy

| Mon Apr. 22, 2013 6:08 PM EDT

Fossil fuel cheerleaders take note: Renewable energy ain't going nowhere—and it may prove to be the better bet in the long run.

By 2030, renewables will account for 70 percent of new power supply worldwide, according to projections released today from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Bloomberg analysts examined gas prices, carbon prices, the dwindling price of green energy technology, and overall energy demand (which, in the US at least, is on a massive decline), and found solar and wind beating fossil fuels like coal and natural gas by 2030.

The chart below shows annual installations of new power sources, in gigawatts; over time, more and more of the new energy supply being built each year comes from renewable sources (like wind turbines and solar panels), by 2030 representing $630 billion worth of investment, while new fossil fuel sources (like coal- or gas-burning power plants) become increasingly rare.

BNEF new
Courtesy BNEF

The effect of this projected growth, BNEF CEO Michael Liebreich told Climate Desk at a gathering of clean energy investors today in New York, is that damage to the climate from the electricity sector is likely to taper off even as worldwide electricity use grows. "I believe we're in a phase of change where renewables are going to take the sting out of growth in energy demand," he said.

The First—And Last—Hearing on Keystone XL Environmental Impact

| Thu Apr. 18, 2013 6:34 PM EDT
Jane Kleeb of anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska

State Department officials trekked to Grand Island, Nebraska today to hear statements from ranchers, geologists, construction workers, oil executives, and a colorful cast of other characters in the only public hearing on the Department's latest Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Speakers for and against the pipeline began lining up at 7 a.m. amid frigid cold and snow for a chance to get three minutes on the soapbox at the Heartland Events Center. There was the blustering, hoarse representative of the local Cowboy-Indian Alliance who exhorted Transcanada to "ship your toxic crap to Asia and India" instead of the US; the moody, varsity jacket-wearing teenager who recited an angst-ridden poetic diatribe against the pipeline ("The earth shudders beneath our feet / we are tectonic"); the welder with Pipeliners Local 798 who argued that moving oil through a pipeline was "greener" than using trucks or trains; and the members of a local Sioux tribe who sang prayer songs into the record.

During the three-hour afternoon session, sixty speakers stood before a weary-looking State Dept. panel and lobbed by-now-familiar arguments: jobs and the inevitability of development on one side, and water contamination and climate change on the other. Anti-pipeliners, many dressed in matching red and white t-shirts, held the clear majority, and alternated between sitting stony-faced with upheld power fists, and guffawing and booing when suit-clad oil reps and fleece-jacketed blue collar union leaders voiced their support for the project. The usual suspects from both camps were on hand: Transcanada VP Corey Goulet, and activist Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, who described the mood in the room as relatively friendly considering the high, longstanding tensions between the two factions.

"Folks that have been dealing with this for four years now aren't holding back," Kleeb said, but "we had a lot of union guys say they agree with our concerns about the environment, but just want to get jobs for their guys."

"Every time citizens get an opportunity to address the government on the pipeline is good," Kleeb said. "It brings all of us together in one place."

Today's hearing was the first and last time for the public to comment in person on this EIS; written comments will still be accepted through April 22. President Obama is expected to make a final decision on the project by September.

CHARTS: 'Messy' US Climate Policy is Kinda Working

| Tue Apr. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
What a mess.

A national climate change plan is nowhere in sight from Congress, and last week the Obama administration pushed back a deadline to crack down on power plant emissions. But despite those—and many other—familiar setbacks, a new report has found that the US is nonetheless inching ahead on climate action.

Yesterday the Climate Policy Initiative released a sweeping overview of climate change policies across the globe. It paints a picture of the US that climate hawks might find distressingly, if familiarly, chaotic: A tangle of federal subsidies, differing state-level clean energy mandates, and a host of natural resources, from wind to coal to natural gas, scrambling for political favor.

"What makes the US unique is that we have no overall climate strategy where all these policies fit," said David Nelson, a CPI researcher and lead author of the report, which describes the thicket of state and federal climate policies as "messy but useful," in that it lacks clarity and direction but can, with luck, produce results.

The surprising thing, Nelson said, is that while the US's approach to dealing with climate change lacks the focus of, say, the EU's carbon trading market, it must be doing something right: Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 13 percent in the last seven years, and yesterday the EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions fell 1.6 percent from 2010 to 2011.

New data released yesterday by the federal Energy Information Administration indicates that CO2 emissions could soon start climbing. But they are projected to rise much more slowly than in recent decades—and to stay below their 2007 peak—because of new policies that encourage increased vehicle efficiency, promote renewable energy, and clear the way for the extraction of more low-emissions natural gas through fracking:

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