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.
German well-wishers await migrants at Frankfurt's train station over the weekend.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of migrants continued to push across Europe, most of them fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as European leaders scrambled to agree on a way to equitably distribute the newcomers across the continent. For many of the migrants, Germany has emerged as the most desired location:
The numbers tell the story: 100 migrants are arriving in Germany every hour, according to the Telegraph. Yesterday, Germany's vice chancellor said his country can accommodate 500,000 migrants annually for the next several years, and that $6.6 billion has been set aside for costs related to processing and accommodating them. Up to 800,000 are expected to arrive this year alone, far more than in any other European nation. Already, Germany has Europe's largest population of migrants, just shy of 10 million in total, comprising about 11 percent of the country's population.
Why Germany? There are a few key reasons, said Jacqueline Bhabha, an expert on migration at Harvard's School of Public Health. The first is inertia: Because many migrants have already made it to Germany, other family members are likely to stick together and follow suit.
The second is economics: Germany has Europe's biggest economy and lowest unemployment rate. For migrants seeking jobs, Germany is probably the safest bet. In fact, some of the country's most prominent backers of refugee-friendly policies are industry groups, who have argued that migrants are needed to help fill a labor shortage. In a recent op-ed for Newsweek, the head of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce wrote that "many companies are desperate to find trainees and qualified staff, while some refugees have qualifications that are dearly needed. This potential needs to be exploited to a much larger extent."
But perhaps most importantly, Germany has a legacy of opening its doors to refugees that dates back to World War II, when millions of refugees fled out of the country.
"Germany sees itself as having a historical commitment," Bhabha said.
For the last several years, as hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled turmoil in the Middle East, German politicians and the media have captured and pushed that notion with the buzzword "Willkommenskultur" ("welcoming culture"), meant to signify a cultural commitment to welcoming immigrants.
"Germany has traditionally been more generous than France or the UK, and people know that," Jacqueline Bhabha said.
"That has been perpetuated at a high level in Germany that you haven't seen elsewhere," said Susan Fratzke, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. "There's been this persistent, positive narrative that Germany needs more people."
For that reason, Fratzke said, Germany has a relative bounty of social services directed toward migrants: Subsidized housing, education, health care, and so on, and a streamlined process for filing immigration paperwork.
Bhabha added Germany has a relatively low bar when it comes to defining who qualifies as a refugee, under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which all the EU nations are signatories. That agreement stipulates that anyone who is fleeing persecution in their home country can seek refuge elsewhere, but it lets each host country decide independently which people qualify as refugees, as opposed to other categories of migrants.
"Germany has traditionally been more generous than France or the UK, and people know that," Bhabha said. "So if you get to Germany, then Germany will tend to accept you."
For Syrians specifically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month changed the country's rules so that Syrians can stay in the country while applying for asylum, rather than being turned back to the EU country where they first arrived.
Germany's pro-migrant attitude has been made manifest in train stations across the country over the last few days, as Germans turn up to offer tea, toys, and words of welcome to arriving migrants. But there could be darker consequences ahead, if the massive influx proves to be political ammunition for the country's right-wing nationalists who want more stringent immigration policies.
"There could be a backlash," Fratzke said. "It takes a while for the public to adjust to the new normal."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that the settlement with the family of Freddie Gray would be sent to the Baltimore Board of Estimates for a vote on Wednesday...
"The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial," Ms. Rawlings-Blake said. The proposed settlement will be paid as $2.8 million in the current fiscal year and $3.6 million in the year beginning in July of 2016.
Six Baltimore police officers are currently being tried on criminal charges relating to Gray's death, which sparked massive national protests in April.
The proposed settlement is close in amount to the $5.9 million agreement reached in July between New York City and the family of Eric Garner, who also died at the hands of the police, and eclipses the total $5.7 million that Baltimore has paid in all 102 alleged police misconduct cases since 2011, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Back in January, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made a promise. His state, he said, would pursue a new package of climate goals that are the most ambitious in the nation (and among the most ambitious in the world). California was already a leader in efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy. Brown pledged to go further. By 2030, he declared, California would double the energy efficiency of state buildings; get half its electricity from renewables; and halve consumption of gasoline by cars and trucks.
At the time, all those nice-sounding goals were just words in a speech. But they could very soon become the law of the land. The state legislature is currently considering several bills (SB 350 is the most important) that would codify Brown's climate agenda. The legislation is widely expected to pass before the end of the legislative session next Friday, but not without a fight from the state's powerful oil lobby.
Before we get into the bills themselves, let's talk about California. Believe it or not, the state where America fell in love with cars and highways is now leading the nation, and the world, when it comes to climate action. And that matters, because California, the world's seventh-largest economy, is a world-class emitter of greenhouse gases. It ranks second for state emissions, behind Texas, and if it were its own nation, it would rank 20th globally, right between Italy and Spain. Still, it's remarkably clean for its size: On a per-capita basis, it ranks 45th among US states and 38th when compared with countries around the world. (Below, the bars represent total emissions and the dots represent per-capita emissions.)
California Air Resources Board
California is also special because of how much of its emissions come from road transportation (cars, trucks, buses, etc.), which is why a major reduction in gasoline use would be so significant. Nationally, just 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation; in California, it's 37 percent. Another way to crunch those numbers: One-tenth of the nation's road transport emissions come from California. Unsurprisingly, California is also the biggest consumer of gasoline, accounting for one-tenth of the national gas market. As a result, it also has an infamously aggressive oil lobby—more on that in a minute.
"If California can do this, it could really be the beginning of the snowball," Tim O'Connor said.
California first stepped onto the national climate stage back in 2006 during the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration, with the passage of AB32, known as the Global Warming Solutions Act. That law sets a target of reducing the state's economy-wide carbon footprint to 1990 levels by 2020. Since the bill was enacted, gasoline consumption in the state is down 9 percent—double the nationwide decline. Total carbon emissions are also down, while GDP and population are both on the rise. Roll those things together and you get the most impressive number: The carbon intensity of the state's economy (that is, emissions per unit of GDP) is down 28 percent. The upshot is that California has become a proving ground for the notion that strong economic growth and climate action can go hand in hand:
That's where the current bills come in. SB 350 would bring the state's gasoline consumption down to about where Florida's is now, while setting new targets for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. There's also SB32, which would build on Schwarzenegger's targets and require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 (to meet that target, emissions have to start falling about five times faster than they currently are). That would be the most aggressive state target in the country; nationally, the furthest President Barack Obama has gone is to aim for a 26-28 percent reduction by 2025 (and that's not enshrined in law, either). Both bills passed the state Senate in June by a wide margin; they're due for a vote in the Assembly within the coming week. If they pass, they'll head to Brown's desk for a signature.
Neither bill includes specific prescriptions for how to meet the targets. Those are left to the state's Air Resources Board (CARB), which would be required to turn in an enforcement plan by 2017. The gas consumption target would likely require some combination of new fuel efficiency standards for cars, incentives for alternative fuels and biofuels, cooperation with local planning agencies to improve public transit and make communities less car-reliant, and a push to get people to buy more electric vehicles. (California is already home to half of the roughly 174,000 electric vehicles on the road in the United States.)
"If California can do this, it could really be the beginning of the snowball," said Tim O'Connor, director of California policy for the Environmental Defense Fund. "This is how California can really shake up the national conversation on climate."
The oil lobby has long been the most powerful special interest group in Sacramento.
Combined, these efforts are expected to create up to half a million jobs, according to a recent University of California-Berkeley study, and draw billions in clean tech investments (for which California is already the undisputed national champ). The bills' supporters in the California capitol also say they will save millions of dollars in traffic-related public health costs and result in reduced energy bills.
Because of the state's share of the gasoline market, and its robust oil and gas production industry, the oil lobby has long been the most powerful special interest in Sacramento. The biggest group, the Western States Petroleum Association, spent $8.9 million on lobbying last year. Now, Californians are getting blitzed by ads like the one below, from the so-called California Drivers Alliance (backed by WSPA, and representing "fuel users & providers"). The ad claims SB 350 will lead to gas rationing and is all about "limiting how far we can drive" and "penalizing drivers for using too much gas." The bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), called the ad "absurd" and "fear-mongering."
"There's a significant amount of inertia protecting the industry," O'Connor said. "The lobby is putting its aim right at the center, at swing moderates" in the Assembly.
We'll have to wait and see how this pans out. But California has a strong history of leadership on climate policies—including carbon trading programs (it created the nation's first economy-wide cap-and-trade market in 2012) and clean vehicle standards—so the odds are pretty good.
"The governor has put his reputation on the line," O'Connor said. "It's hard to imagine 350 won't pass."
These are dark days for coal. In July, the industry hit a milestone when a major power company announced plans to shutter several coal-fired power plants in Iowa: More than 200 coal plants have been scheduled for closure since 2010, meaning nearly one-fifth of the US coal fleet is headed for retirement. President Barack Obama's recently completed climate plan, which sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, is designed to keep this trend going over the next decade. But the industry was in deep trouble even before Obama's crackdown, thanks to the rock-bottom price of natural gas made possible by America's fracking boom.
In case the shutdown of hundreds of coal plants wasn't a sufficient indicator of the industry collapse, here's another clue: coal companies' rapidly deteriorating bottom lines.
For execs at the top 10 public coal companies, cash pay grew 8 percent on average while combined share price dropped 58 percent.
A study this spring from the Carbon Tracker Institute found that over the past five years, coal producers have closed nearly 300 mines and lost 76 percent of their value. In August, Alpha Natural Resources, the country's second-largest coal company, filed for bankruptcy, making it the biggest domino to fall in a string of more than two dozen corporate collapses during the past couple of years. On Monday, one of the company's top executives resigned. Meanwhile, shares of Peabody Energy, the world's biggest coal company, hit their lowest price ever, dipping below $1. A year ago, Peabody's share price was hovering above $15; it peaked at $72 back in 2011. The stock plunge at Arch Coal was even more extreme—it fell from $3,600 to under $2 between 2011 and August 2015. (It has since rebounded slightly.) This year, both companies have been among the worst performers in the S&P 500.
You might think that the leaders of coal companies would be made to pay the price for these failures. But in the perverse world of American corporate compensation, they are, in fact, getting a raise.
According to a report today from the Institute for Policy Studies, which bills itself as the country's oldest progressive think tank, executive salaries and bonuses at the top 10 publicly traded coal companies increased an average of 8 percent between 2010 and 2014, even as the companies' combined share price fell 58 percent. Meanwhile, the same executives cashed in well over $100 million in stock options, according to the report, which analyzed the companies' public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In other words, coal execs are cashing in while their companies tank.
"That [stock-based] part of their compensation package is not so valuable right now, so the value of their cash-based pay has been going up," said Sarah Anderson, the report's author. "We're seeing this move to insulate them from the implosion of the coal sector by handing out more cash."
The chart below, from the report, shows how cash compensation started to rise just as the share prices took their second dive in five years:
At Peabody, for example, CEO Greg Boyce cashed in $26 million in stock before the price collapse that began in 2011. At Arch Coal, cash compensation for the company's top five executives grew 94 percent between 2010 and 2014, to an average of $2.3 million. Arch, Alpha, and Peabody did not return requests for comment.
To be clear, there's no evidence of anything criminal happening here. But you can include this trend in the pantheon of corporate executives getting rewarded for their companies' bad performance. Even the world's best CEO probably wouldn't be able to save these corporations—the fact is, the American coal market is disappearing and isn't coming back. But, Anderson argues, if these execs were truly interested in fixing their business models, they could have invested in alternative forms of energy, such as gas or renewables. "The smart thing," according to Anderson, "would have been to diversify their portfolio so they wouldn't be so vulnerable."
In front of us, construction crews are shaping mounds of rock and dirt into a mile-long, 12-foot levee. On one side is a canal, crammed with boat traffic for the offshore oil drilling industry. On the other side is Terrebonne Parish, a rural community of commercial shrimp fishermen and oil roughnecks who rely on these waterways the same way a city kid like me relies on the subway. The levee dead-ends into a shiny new $25 million floodgate, the last line of defense against storm surges that accompany the hurricanes that frequently slam this coastline.
Dupre is the director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, a county agency tasked with keeping the homes here above water. A decade ago—when Hurricane Katrina forced 1.5 million evacuations, killed nearly 2,000 people, and caused $100 billion in damage—Dupre was the parish's representative in the Louisiana legislature in Baton Rouge. After the storm, he became a key architect of the state's overhauled flood-control agenda, pushing through legislation to create a new state agency to manage coastal issues and working to steer tax revenue from oil drilling into coastal protection projects. Now he's back home, overseeing projects like the one in front of us. Since Katrina, his office has built 35 miles of new levees.
"We've gone from being the laughingstock to the model for the rest of the country," Reggie Dupre says.
But the levees are just a small piece of the unprecedented transformation taking place along Louisiana's coast. Dupre is also an evangelist for a new, broader ethos that has washed over the whole state since Katrina. Experts here agree that levees and floodwalls like this are only effective if they're buttressed by natural barriers further out in the delta: The barrier islands and marshlands that are rapidly disappearing thanks to erosion, land subsidence, and sea level rise. Because of those forces—driven in part by a century-old practice of sealing the Mississippi River in its course and thereby starving the adjacent wetlands of nutrients and fresh water—Louisiana loses coastal land area equal to the size of a football field every hour.
Before the storm, hurricane protection and coastal restoration were treated as separate, or ever-competing, interests. Now, they're one and the same.
"Without Katrina, this wouldn't be happening," Dupre says. "We've gone from being the laughingstock to the model for the rest of the country."
In 2012, officials in the state's new Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority—Dupre's brainchild—released their most recent 50-year, $50 billion "master plan," a sweeping document that encompasses everything from wetland restoration to the elevation of at-risk houses. Already, according to CPRA chair Chip Kline, the state has reconstructed 45 miles of barrier islands and restored nearly 30,000 acres of wetlands. These natural barriers slow storm surge before it reaches the levees, the first in what are known here as "multiple lines of defense."
There are also 250 miles of new levees, a two-mile storm surge barrier wall, the world's largest pumping station (it can drain an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than five seconds), and a host of other projects designed to control floods and stymie land loss. Kline says he's confident that New Orleans is now safe from at least a 100-year flood (that is, a flood so severe that it has only has a 1-in-100 chance of occurring in any given year). Katrina was a 150-year flood in New Orleans. But given the realities of climate change, most experts think the city won't be truly secure until it reaches the 500-year level.
President Barack Obama agrees: Earlier this year he signed an executive order stipulating that any flood protection measures supported by federal money must meet a 500-year standard. Louisianans like Kline and Dupre contend that that standard is unreasonable and could hamper vital projects that are too expensive for the state to roll out on its own.
Either way, the Louisiana coast is now a massive laboratory for the kinds of measures that coastal cities like New York and Miami will need to survive climate change. For Dupre, the stakes are clear: "If I'm not successful, my whole culture disappears."
There's no better way to see the coast's plight, and the scramble to save it, than from a bird's-eye view. So Climate Desk hopped aboard a pontoon plane for an exclusive flyover. Check out the video above.