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.
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
In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama issued a direct rebuke to climate change deniers and to members of Congress who seek to block action to slow global warming.
"I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act," he said, referring to talking points that are popular among Republican politicians. "Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But…I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate."
Obama also took a shot at supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline. Republicans in Congress, along with some Democrats, have made approving the pipeline a top priority. The Senate is set to vote on a bill to approve the project later this week, but Obama has promised to veto it should it pass. "Let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline," he said. "Let's pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year."
The president walked a fine line between calling for bipartisan action and castigating his opponents on climate issues, said Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund.
"I didn’t see the president's remarks as defiance, so much as resolve," Holstein said. "Sending a very clear message to Congress that he is resolved to stand by his position."
The speech tended toward broad themes rather than specific policy proposals. For example, no mention was made of a new plan to cut back on emissions of methane from oil and gas operations that the White House announced last week. Still, Holstein said he thought the environmental community got what it was hoping for tonight.
Here are Obama's full remarks on climate and energy issues, as prepared for delivery and released a few minutes before the speech began.
We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump…
So let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let's pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come…
And no challenge—no challenge—poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does—14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what—I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.
That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That's why we've set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that's why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement—the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we've got.
Back in 2006, SolarCity was a small Bay Area solar energy startup with a handful of employees. Before long, according to CEO Lyndon Rive, the company was doubling in size every year to keep up with voracious demand for rooftop solar systems. Today, the company has over 9,000 employees spread across 65 offices nationwide; they're are busy every day designing, selling, and installing solar systems.
Similar stories are playing out at solar companies across the country. The US solar boom is taking off at breathtaking speed—even though solar is still a tiny slice of the American energy pie, it has by far the fastest growth of any energy source, and it's adding jobs apace. As of November 2014, the US solar industry employed 173,807 people, up 21.8 percent from a year before, according to a new survey by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research outfit.
That's 10 times faster than job growth in the overall US economy, which was just 2 percent over the same time period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Solar employment is also outpacing job growth in the fossil fuel industry. Solar jobs now outnumber coal mining jobs two-to-one and are quickly catching up to jobs in oil and gas extraction, as well.
What's behind that growth? Aside from the fact that the solar sector is growing rapidly, solar is an industry that simply requires a lot of boots on the ground. A 2012 University of Tennessee study found that solar employs more people per megawatt-hour of electricity than any other energy source. That's largely because of the labor needed to install new rooftop systems every day, SolarCity's Rive said. Installers make up more than half of the jobs counted in today's survey (other categories include sales and manufacturing).
Don't expect this kind of growth to last forever, Rive said. Installation is becoming more efficient, and the industry is expecting a slowdown in growth in 2017 when a major federal tax credit is set to expire. The survey reported that of the 2,000 solar-related businesses surveyed, 73 percent said that tax credit "significantly improved" business. US manufacturing is also continually at risk from cheap imported panels from China, although part of President Barack Obama's recent climate deal with that country is aimed at resolving clean energy trade disputes.