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.
Earlier this week, a trio of independent analyses by scientists in the UK, Japan, and the US found that global temperatures over the summer were among the highest on record. Wednesday, US scientists announced that sea ice extent in the Arctic shrunk to its fourth-lowest minimum ever this summer. And Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined the chorus with a report that found that last month was the hottest August ever recorded, and that 2015 is on pace to be the hottest year on record.
If this sounds familiar, that's because 2014 was very likely the hottest year on record until now. As my colleague Jeremy Schulman pointed out at the time, the specific ranking is way less important than the overall trend, which is that we're experiencing more record-breaking hot temperatures than ever before. Today's news is just more proof of that.
Here's the data for August. There is a lot of dark red (meaning the hottest on record) on this map:
The picture looks equally extreme for the year-to-date:
Here's how those year-to-date temperatures stack up against some other extremely hot years. You can see that 2015 is on pace to blow past 2014:
NOAA also reported that the insane drought in California and the Northwest won't be lifting anytime soon:
"They changed it to climate change because the word 'global warming' wasn't working," Trump said. "Then they changed it to extreme weather—you can't get hurt with extreme weather."
Next up, rising star Ben Carson, who has gained more in the polls over the last month than any other candidate and poses the biggest challenge to Trump tonight. Last week, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that "there is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break."
Actually, there is a ridiculously overwhelming amount of science that shows just that. And fortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) was happy to share all that information with Carson:
Finally, there's Carly Fiorina, the only candidate to be promoted from the "kid's table" debate in August, to the grown-up table tonight, thanks to some good polling early in the month. In an interview with CNBC's John Harwood published today, she trotted out the good old standby line that "a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all," and that therefore the United States needs to stop "destroying peoples' livelihoods on the alter of ideology."
Green building is a booming industry, but it's still a small slice of the construction sector.
Tim McDonnellSep. 16, 2015 4:52 PM
The Bank of America tower in Manhattan.
There was a time not so long ago when getting a LEED certification on a new building was a big deal, a relatively rare badge of architectural pride. LEED—which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is a suite of architectural metrics for things like energy and water conservation. These days, it's the most common standard for designating a building as being environmentally friendly. As nationwide spending on green construction has soared, LEED certification has become almost par for the course.
According to a new report from the US Green Building Council—the nonprofit behind LEED—the green construction industry expanded 15-fold in the last decade and is now growing faster than non-green construction. In 2014, roughly $129 billion was spent on green building projects, including both LEED-certified buildings and buildings that meet an equivalent environmental standard:
That's still only a small chunk of the $962 billion spent in total on construction projects in the US last year. But it's a happy trend, since buildings are one of the biggest energy hogs out there. In the US, nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions can be traced back to energy used in buildings. Green architecture aims to reduce that footprint by going after energy and water efficiency at every stage of design, from the building's shape and orientation to what kind of light bulbs it uses. According to the report, green buildings have offset greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to taking nearly 2 million cars off the road (more on that below). And there are tangible benefits for building owners: By some estimates, spending 2 percent more upfront on green design features pays back up to 20 percent of the total construction cost over the building's lifetime.
Architects and their clients are taking note, said Craig Schwitter, a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture who wasn't involved with the report.
"Green building is taking over a significant portion of construction," he said. But just because we're spending more on LEED buildings doesn't necessarily mean we're saving the climate.
"It's not that we're saving the energy, it's just that we're being less wasteful."
There are a few caveats to keep in mind with a report like this, Schwitter said. First of all, putting the LEED stamp on a building doesn't necessarily mean it's all that climate-friendly. When Bank of America unveiled its new office tower in Manhattan in 2010, it was heralded as the first LEED Platinum skyscraper, a model for sustainable urban design (netting nearly $1 million in state tax credits for the accomplishment). But a couple years later, when the city released an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions, the BoA building was one of the worst culprits. The problem, Schwitter said, is that not wasting energy isn't the same thing as using less of it. A building can meet all the green or LEED credentials in the world, but still draw huge amounts of power—and thus have a massive carbon footprint—as the BoA building illustrated.
"It's not that we're saving the energy, it's just that we're being less wasteful," Schwitter said.
Moreover, he said, we should approach stats on green buildings' energy benefits (like the one above about cars) with caution, since it's hard to find a hard, objective baseline for comparison. It's hard to prove, before a building is built and occupied and in use, what its energy footprint would be like with and without various green attributes. And Schwitter said it's not uncommon for architects to err on the side of making the "not-green" option look as bad as possible, to play up the green benefits. So while this USGBC is an interesting starting place, I would want to see an independent peer-reviewed assessment before taking these stats as gospel.
Still, it's definitely true that architects are dealing with more and more clients who demand high standards of environmental design, Schwitter said. The boom in green building is unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
"It's very rare that we do a building that doesn't have a LEED rating," he said. "It's rare to find a building owner who says, 'This is all crap, we don't need this.'"
Hellish new video has emerged from the heart of California's Valley Fire, which turned vicious over the weekend, destroying an estimated 400 homes and 20 businesses in Lake County, northeast of wine country and Santa Rosa.
While not the biggest in size, the Valley Fire has become one of the most destructive in a fire season exacerbated by California's prolonged drought. According to the LA Times, four firefighters were injured and one civilian may have been killed. As of Monday morning, the fire, currently burning 50,000 acres, is only 5 percent contained, and more than 1,400 firefighters are on the ground.
Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties, allowing the California National Guard and other state resources to mobilize against the fire.
Walls of flames crept up on one resident of the Anderson Springs community, who fled along a road swept by fire and posted a harrowing video of his escape. In a comment on the video, YouTube user mulletFive wrote, "We got no phone call, there were no sirens, no ash falling, no smoke, no air support. As far as we knew the fire was still far away. But it turns out it was very close to our home, there was simply not enough firefighters to tend to our area." He made it safely south to the Bay Area, according to comments on the video.
If we burn all the fossil fuels, all the ice will eventually melt.
Tim McDonnellSep. 11, 2015 2:00 PM
Here's a bit of depressingly apocalyptic news to kick off your weekend: A new study has found that if humans burn all of the known reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas, virtually all the ice on the planet will melt, inundating the land with up to 200 feet of sea level rise.
The good news is we'll all be long dead by the time this happens. Even at our current rate of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, the kind of catastrophic ice loss the study describes won't take place for several thousand years. The exact timing is the hardest part for scientists to nail down; the ultimate outcome, however, is quite certain. One of the study's authors, climatologist Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, described it as similar to leaving an ice cube on a table in a hot room: You can be confident it will melt, even if you don't know exactly when.
Scientists have been carefully scrutinizing ice in Antarctica for a while now, since so much of the world's water—and thus, potential sea level rise—is locked up there. The most studied section is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which appears to already be in an irreversible decline and could ultimately produce 10 feet of sea level rise. But Levermann said the study today, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, is the first to look holistically at ice across the whole of Antarctica. The scientists projected loss of ice in a series of increasingly dire scenarios, based on the total amount of CO2 humans release after today. Ten thousand gigatons of CO2 is roughly what you'd get from burning all the known fossil fuel reserves. Our current rate is about 36 gigatons per year, and rising, so depleting the remainder could take a few hundred years. After that, it would take several thousand more years for the full effect of the warming to take hold.
The chart below shows the eventual ice loss after 10,000 years given different quantities of emissions:
Winkelmann et al, Science 2015
What's even scarier isn't shown in the chart: Antarctica, Levermann said, "will be the last bastion, the last ice on the planet." In other words, if we reach scenario F, all the rest of the world's ice will already by gone. At that stage, you can kiss most of the coastal cities goodbye (if they're still there, anyway—remember, we're talking about thousands of years in the future).
To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about climate change in the more immediate future: more extreme weather, droughts, crop failures, and the like. Sea level rise (albeit on a much smaller scale than what is described here) is already taking a toll on coastal communities around the world. But this is a disturbing preview of the long-term disruption caused by our actions. I certainly wouldn't want to be on Earth then: