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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Frank Turner's Talent: Turning Strangers Into Friends

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Frank Turner rocks out Saturday night at New York City's Webster Hall.

Greg Walker was sweating bullets. As the longtime tour bus driver for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, he'd survived his fair share of long nights and rock and roll hijinks. But he'd never been onstage. Tonight that would change: Turner had asked his trusted chaffeur to jump in on harmonica for the final number. "And that's the problem," Walker told me on Saturday night, as he nervously lit another cigarette outside New York City's Webster Hall. "I don't play harmonica."

He needn't have worried. Walker's debut was a smashing success; he huffed and puffed with great aplomb. Not that it mattered much. For Turner, the technical execution of the harmonica solo was far less important than the chance to lodge a stick of dynamite into the wall that separates artistes from their blue-collar crews and rockstar from audience member. You see, Turner doesn't care much for walls. Since the launch of his solo career in 2006, the 30-year-old British punk-rocker-turned-folk-rocker has built many of his songs around themes of radical inclusivity: He writes songs about the value of friendship, about uniting the unruly rabble, about pacifying class warfare, and about the importance of not simply being a spectator in life. If he's going to play music in front of hundreds of New Yorkers, why shouldn't the bus driver?

Bus driver Greg Walker debuts on the harmonica.  Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesBus driver Greg Walker on the harmonica. Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesThe full depth of Turner's songbook was on display Saturday, in the first of two NYC shows capping off a US tour in advance of his newest release, Last Minutes & Lost Evenings, a "hand-picked" CD+DVD compilation of his last six years' choicest tunes. If Turner is new to you, Last Minutes... (out this week) is a bangup place to start, consisting of the backbone of the Turner canon to date. The songs deal plainly with the triumphs and tribulations of urban life as a young adult: loneliness and the euphoria of reversing it, helping friends who go off the rails, confronting fears of aging and wasted time, and, of course, learning how to fight off a raging hangover and find the right bus on Sunday morning after you've crashed in some completely foreign part of town.

Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesTim McDonnell/Mother Jones

One of the best tracks on the record (and live) is "Long Live the Queen," a true story about a friend who is losing a battle with terminal illness and who convinces Turner to bust her out of the hospital for one final drunken hurrah in the streets of London. Behind me in the audience, a pale, emaciated woman with close-shaved pate sobbed and sang along. Indeed, the audience knew at least as many of the song lyrics as Turner did—and in some cases more.

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Carpe Climate: House Dems Seize Extreme Summer to Attack GOP

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 10:20 AM PDT
Markey: "Romney is an extremist on extreme weather."

In these first days of autumn, temperatures are finally starting to break after the country's third-hottest summer on record. But meanwhile, most of the country is still locked in terrible drought, rebuilding after wildfires, or drying out after Hurricane Issac. And after endless calls from scientists and signs that the public are shifting on climate change in response to extreme weather, climate-minded Democrats are seeing an opportunity to lampoon House Republicans as climate skeptics in the runup to November's general election.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the legislators behind Congress' first (and failed) big stab at carbon pricing legislation, yesterday released a study that lays out the case for why global warming is a predictor of more severe and frequent weather disasters. A press release for the study slammed Republicans as responding to extreme weather by taking steps to "deny science and block action," indicating that House Democrats have embraced climate change as wedge issue.

"We wanted to show that [Mitt] Romney is an extremist when it comes to extreme weather," Markey told reporters.

"We wanted to show that [Mitt] Romney is an extremist when it comes to extreme weather," Markey told reporters after addressing a Union of Concerned Scientists symposium in Washington on the need to improve public access to government research.

There's little that's groundbreaking in the study, which is built largely around pre-existing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But after this summer's freakish weather, and with one presidential candidate for whom climate change is a punchline, Markey said he is seeking to gain an acknowledgement in Congress that the weather we now see as extreme is likely to become normal. He's tried to make this case once before, in the short-lived Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was killed by House Republicans in 2010.

Despite the overtly political nature of the study's debut, Markey said his goal is to reprioritize science over politics in the Congressional debate about climate change.

SHOCKER: Fox News Misleads Audience on Climate Change

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
UCS staff scientist Brenda Ekwurzel takes a red pen to misleading statements in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.

Brace yourself for some shocking news: a new study on Friday found that the two major publications of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation greatly mislead their audiences about climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists combed six months of Fox News broadcasting and a year's worth of Wall Street Journal editorial pages for mentions of the science of "climate change" and "global warming," then compared each claim to "mainstream scientific understanding" of the topic at hand. Here's what they found:

Data from Union of Concerned ScientistsData from Union of Concerned Scientists

Will Jim Lehrer Ask Romney and Obama About Climate Change?

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 9:08 AM PDT
Jim Lehrer

On October 3rd, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off in the first of three debates, this one on domestic policy. It could be a chance for Romney to regain lost ground after his week from hell, but for a few environmental groups the focus is less on the candidates and more on the moderator, PBS's Jim Lehrer. The question: Will he ask about climate change?

Just after the debate moderators were announced, the League of Conservation Voters began collecting signatures—60,000 so far—to petition Lehrer, a veteran presidential debate moderator, to ask the candidates how they plan to deal with the climate crisis. Other groups have since folllowed suit, including the Environmental Defense Fund and Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. They plan to officially deliver the petitions to Lehrer next week, LCV spokesman Mike Palamuso said.

"Even if the candidates were endorsing climate action at every campaign stop, there's such a bigger audience for the debates that we want to make sure this is part of the conversation," he said.

The odds aren't particularly good: On Wednesday Lehrer announced the broad topics he would bring up in the debate, none of which address the environment directly. And just this week PBS's NewsHour program, which Lehrer edits, came under fire for "balancing" a segment on climate change with a diatribe from Heartland Institute-connected meterologist and climate change skeptic Anthony Watts.

But hey, anything is possible. PBS spokeswoman Anne Bell wouldn't comment on Lehrer's plans, in part because she doesn't know them: Tweaks are often being made right up until the red light turns on. Still, he's always open to suggestions, she said.

"He takes in tons of information, and as for how he processes it out, that's his own magic formula."

How Many Refrigerators Does It Take to Store a Whale?

| Thu Sep. 20, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Caroline Cannon, an Inupiat from the Alaskan village of Point Hope, fears oil companies aren't prepared for the challenges of the Arctic.

Caroline Cannon recalls walking onto the frozen Chukchi Sea with other women of her hometown of Point Hope, Alaska, and cooking hot lunches for the men out hunting at the ice's edge for whales, seals, and walrus. It was a long-time tradition in this remote Inupiat village of 700 on the North Slope at the northwestern edge of the state. But the tradition came to an end three years ago, when the increasingly thin ice became too dangerous to traverse on foot.

"It's a different thing when you have to cook in the village and transport the meals out into the ocean," says Cannon, who won the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work opposing oil exploration in the Arctic. "We knew something was happening with climate change, but now it's critical that we take it to heart." 

Just days after ice cover in the Arctic reached the lowest level ever recorded, Cannon flew to Manhattan this week to speak at a Greenpeace-hosted panel on why Arctic ice is disappearing at an astonishing rate, and what international governments ought to do about it. Also on hand were a few of the usual climate-beat suspects: NASA scientist James Hansen, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, TIME environment editor Bryan Walsh, and Greenpeace International Director Kumi Naidoo, who was among those who boarded and temporarily shut down a Russian oil rig in the Arctic last month.

Many of the panelists, audience members, and reporters present were familiar to one another, and chatted chummily over coffee and mini-muffins at a mid-morning cocktail party before the panel. It was a telling scene in light of later panel discussion on how the world of climate-change activism is too insular, creating what Hansen called a disconnect between "what scientists understand and what the public knows."

Cannon was the exception, likely the only person in the room who's gone mano-a-mano on her own home turf with disappearing permafrost and rising sea levels. Her main beef was with oil companies ready to exploit vast Arctic oil reserves before being adquately prepared to handle a potential spill. She pointed to the fact that Shell closed its new Arctic shop early for the winter after less than a month of drilling as evidence that the company doesn't yet have the infrastructure in place to cope with the high seas, shifting icebergs, and brutal winds of the Arctic.

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