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.
This summer could be dubbed the Great Melt. The belt of ice surrounding the Arctic has melted to its lowest level in history, a record seen by many scientists as evidence of long-term climate change. Adding to environmentalists' fears, Royal Dutch Shell sunk its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed, taking the first steps in American offshore oil exploration in these frigid waters.
Today, a new book by photographer James Balog, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, captures in vivid color just what's at stake as climate change erodes ice in some of the world's most extreme places. Balog shared six of his favorites with Climate Desk:
James Balog has spent the last 30 years donning crampons, paddling canoes, and hopping into dog sleds and helicopters to capture the world's ice on film. He's been everywhere from Bolivia and Nepal to Alaska and Montana to France and Switzerland, in an ongoing project that he says is "about getting in close to ice and experiencing all its colors and textures and shapes."
This summer's record melt in the Arctic, Balog told Climate Desk as he was en route to a glacier shoot in Iceland, is a reminder that "ice is the canary in the coal mine—you can touch and see and hear climate change."
We at the Climate Desk plugged a few climate change keywords into word clouds for a side-by-side comparison of how frequently they appear in the two platforms. If a word appears in one and not the other, it's because it isn't used in the latter. For a reference on the sizes, "oil" appears ten times in the GOP platform; "climate change" appears twenty times in the Democratic platform:
To judge a candidate by counting how many times they throw out certain buzzwords is a dangerous strategy. As David Roberts points out, even if President Obama repeated the words "climate change" like a mantra from now until November 6 and won the election, it doesn't mean major cap-and-trade legislation would pass in his second term.
Still, how—and how much—Republicans and Democrats address climate change in their official party platforms can be a telling indication of where their priorities lie. Maybe even more telling is what they don't include: the GOP platform never uses the word "renewables"; the Dems never mention Keystone XL.
James WestEvery year at the Pacific Coast Producers processing plant in Woodland, California, half a million tons of tomatoes are sliced, diced, canned, boiled, and shipped to grocery stores nationwide. The operation is driven by steam, lots of it, which comes from a suite of massive natural-gas-powered boilers. Together, these boilers emit over 25,000 metric tons (about 27,557 US tons) of greenhouse gases annually, which means PCP will be forced to join California's cap-and-trade carbon market, set to kick off in November.
The plan, which officials hope will put the country's most populous state on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, isn't the first carbon trading scheme in the United States: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collective of several Northeastern states (including Massachusetts, which rejoined a few years after being forced out by then-Gov. Mitt Romney), has been auctioning carbon credits, called allowances, since 2008. But unlike RGGI, which applies only to power plants, California's plan extends to all sectors of the economy, which means businesses from paper mills, oil refineries, and universities to pharmaceutical manufacturers, steel mills, and food processors like PCP will have a stake in California's campaign against climate change.
Yesterday, some 150 of those businesses got their first taste, as the curtain lifted on a dress rehearsal of the auction where companies will bid for the allowances (each worth one metric ton of carbon) that determine how much they're allowed to emit, a dry run staged to let companies get comfortable with the system and work out any kinks before it launches for real in a few months. Over the next year, about 150 allowances will be bid on, together worth anywhere from $550 million to $1 billion depending on market forces. Some will be given away for free, to help businesses adjust to the added expense.
"It's like some brave new adventure," said Mona Schulman, a PCP vice president, as she waited for the fall of the digital gavel (the auction is held online) to start bidding. "Everybody's in favor of clean air and the environment being healthy, but there's a lot of uncertainty down the road."
Barring an unforeseen advancement in steam boiler technology, Schulman said, the plant will have limited options for reducing emissions; as the cap gets lower every year, they'll be left with the tough choice of having to cut production, or shell out to other companies for their unused allowances.
Lifelong Wyoming rancher Neil Forgey is hoping the grass is greener in Winner, South Dakota. This year's drought has forced a terrible choice on Western ranchers: sell, or haul. Forgey's usually verdant land in Douglas, Wyoming—home for decades—is "drier than it's ever been," he said. Every county in that state is a declared disaster area, eligible for federal money. Forgey's property was also threatened by the Arapaho Fire, which destroyed nearly 99,000 acres, the worst in Wyoming this year. "It was selling them, or South Dakota," he said.
Forgey found greener pastures seven hours and 330 miles east, on an expansive prairie owned by family friend. There, at risky expense, 120 head of cattle will graze until September in the hope next year will bring rain.
Not so lucky are ranchers just an hour south, in Bassett, Nebraska, where the local auction house can barely keep up with a brimming cattle yard.
As ranchers flee fire and drought, and scientists warn of a more severe droughts driven by climate change, Forgey's story is repeating all over the West.