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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This is What a Melting Glacier Sounds Like

| Thu Feb. 7, 2013 7:06 AM EST
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.

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SLIDESHOW: Climate Science, Meet Art Gallery

| Wed Feb. 6, 2013 7:06 AM EST

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."

CHARTS: Renewables in Bed With Natural Gas?

| Thu Jan. 31, 2013 4:22 PM EST
generation
Coal use in the US is on the decline, and renewables and natural gas are both expanding to take its place. Courtesy BNEF

It's no secret that environmentalists are going through a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to natural gas. Celebrities including Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, and Yoko Ono have aligned themselves with green groups like the Sierra Club to come out steadfastly against gas because of fracking, the drilling technique that harvests most of it, citing concerns about water and air contamination. Meanwhile others, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Environmental Defense Fund, have boosted fracking as a "bridge" to wean the US off of coal, and usher in more renewables, a process that is already underway.

But a report released this morning makes it clear that the renewables industry sees itself in the latter camp, forming an unexpected alliance with the natural gas industry, since both groups are intent on giving coal the boot. The informal partnership should be a PR boon to the embattled gas industry, which has spent the last several years trying to allay concerns from the public and policymakers by shouting over the anti-fracking fracas.

CHART: Which Kills More Birds, Cats or Turbines?

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 6:34 PM EST

Last month Fox News reported on the "grizzly deaths" of 500 songbirds in West Virginia. Behind the fell deed: a wind farm, caught red-turbined. "To date, the Obama administration... has not prosecuted a single case against the wind industry," the Fox reporter laments. Opponents of renewable energy love to trot out the risk wind turbines pose to birds, and some engineering work has gone into making them more avian-friendly. But a new study released today in Nature shows that if you really want to protect birds, forget about wind: You need to lock up Kitty.

Chart by Tim McDonnell

The study, conducted by scientists from US Fish & Wildlife and the Smithsonian, found that "free-ranging cats... are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals." No word yet on whether the Obama administration plans to prosecute these renegade felines.

"Three Months Is a Lifetime": Sandy Victims Slog On

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 3:18 PM EST
Tony Lazzara has forked out $20,000 of his own money for storm repairs.

When Hurricane Sandy struck Staten Island, it dumped three feet of seawater into Tony Lazzara's basement, just up the road from where two lives became some of the earliest fatalities of the storm. When Climate Desk first met Lazzara, he was dragging sopping furniture out onto the street. Three months later he's still drying out, juggling contractors and insurance agents, and trying to stanch the steady hemorrhaging of his checking account.

"I had a refrigerator, washer, an oven, beautiful cabinets, bedroom sets, couches, you name it," Lazzara says. His insurance didn't help nearly enough, he says: So far, he's had to fork out $20,000 from his own pocket. At least Lazarra still has his home; the same can't be said for the 3,500 families displaced by the storm in New York and New Jersey. Still, his challenges are by now all too familiar to countless Tri-State families for whom the last three months have been an uphill battle to get back on their feet and squeeze aid out of insurance companies and government programs.

"Three months is a lifetime for some people," Lazzara says. "Can you imagine being displaced for three months?"

firefighters
Firefighters rest after the devastating Breezy Point inferno. James West/Climate Desk

Lazzara and folks like him caught a much-needed break yesterday when Congress, after much hemming and hawing, finally passed a $50 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy—despite opposition from 31 GOP Senators who had previously supported emergency relief in their homes states. While much of the money will go to local governments (to repair infrastructure, reimburse emergency spending, and rebuilding the damaged coastline), some is destined for the pockets of people like Lazzara, whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and to business owners who suffered storm-related losses (the storm's total pricetag is estimated at $50 billion). But Lazzara says he's a long way from popping a bottle of champagne: Bad communication, neglect, and perceived mismanagement by government agencies like FEMA in the storm's wake left him and his neighbors suspicious and cynical about ever actually receiving a check.

"That money's going to sit in limbo forever," he says, "There's going to be a big fight about it again."

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