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.
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.
There's a growing interest among enviros these days in combating climate change with direct offensives against the fossil fuel industry, sights locked on its bottom line. The idea is that while we scramble to invent more efficient light bulbs and throw up solar panels, we also chip away at the mountain of money that gives the industry its power, by turning shareholders on to the idea that unwise investments can make them accomplices in global warming.
Activist investment is nothing new, of course, the best-known case being the massive movement to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. But it's gaining traction in the realm of climate change: Bill McKibben in particular has campaigned recently for colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels, and Al Gore this month backed the efforts of Harvard students to do so.
Shareholders at a host of corporations nationwide—including Exxon Mobil, fracking giant Nabors, and, incongruously, Dunkin' Donuts—have climate-related resolutions on the table this year that aim to require companies to account to shareholders on everything from mountaintop removal to greenhouse gas emissions to renewable energy use. This week, an unexpected institution became the first major bank to join their ranks and have its climate impact interrogated by shareholders. From the LA Times:
The resolution, which follows years of protests over banks financing certain coal operations, is to be included in proxy material being sent to shareholders of PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh before the bank's April 23 annual meeting.
It asks PNC to assess and report back to shareholders on how its lending results in greenhouse gas emissions that can alter the climate, posing financial risks for its corporate borrowers and risks to its own reputation.
PNC is the only major bank based in Appalachia, a region where coal and gas extraction is a major business. It has long lent to mining companies, including those engaged in mountaintop removal, which involves blowing up peaks to reach coal seams below and has been blamed for degrading landscapes, destroying habitat and polluting streams.
You might not expect a bank smack dab in the heart of coal country to have the most environmentally progressive shareholders, but then again PNC, heavily entwined with the coal industry but not as unbreakably massive as, say, Bank of America, could be fertile ground for climate leadership. The bank has in recent years tried to give itself a green makeover, but apparently not enough to satisfy the shareholders behind the resolution, including a Roman Catholic group and Walden Asset Management. The case PNC ultimately makes to its investors should be an interesting study in the practical power of wielding shares as a weapon against climate change.
This week we've taken a spin inside POLARSEEDS, a new exhibit at the City College of New York open through next week, that uses visual and audio art—from photographs to "sonifications"—to explain the science behind Greenland's melting glaciers. In this last dispatch, graphic designer Ina Saltz explains how artists can translate scientific data into lush visualizations—"an art and a science all of its own," she says. Meanwhile, game designer Ethan Ham tries his luck at "The Polar Game," a custom-built video game where players manipulate cloud cover to keep rising seas at bay.
Jonathan Perl listens to one of his custom-built climate "sonifications."
If a glacier melts in the Arctic and there's no one around, does it make a sound? Jonathan Perl thinks it does. The City College of New York musicologist was asked by climatologist Marco Tedesco to translate data records on Greenland's melting ice into sound. The result is a series of "sonifications," on display through next week at CCNY's POLARSEEDS exhibit, that combine quantitative data with music to create an audio snapshot of climate change. Steady, long-term changes that are invisible to the eye jump out to the ear, Perl says. Case in point: When melt records came in for 2012's record-breaking summer, Perl had to completely rebuild his soundscapes. "The data is so much off the charts in 2012 that the sounds just explode, and all the other sounds are so much mellower in comparison. That showed me there's this huge, unmistakable change that is so obvious when you listen to it."
Coming soon: Representing climate change through graphic design and video games.
See also: What happens when climate science meets the art gallery? Take a tour of POLARSEEDS with climatologist Marco Tedesco.
Marco Tedesco has spent his career conducting scientific research projects following time-honored steps: develop hypothesis, collect data, write paper, present at conference. But last summer, just before a trip to study Greenland's melting glaciers, he had a vision of presenting his findings not in a drab lecture hall, but within the cool confines of an art gallery. POLARSEEDS was born when Tedesco, an atmospheric sciences professor at the City College of New York, roped in colleagues from the music, graphic design, and video game design departments to help him communicate his findings to a wider, younger audience. The result is on display at CCNY through next week.
Coming soon: What does glacier melt data sound like? POLARSEEDS musicologist Jonathan Perl explains the mysterious musicology behind climate-science "sonifications."