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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Brooklynites: Don't Frack Our Beer!

| Thu May. 17, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Does worrying about fracking make you thirst for a drink? Before you raise that pint of ale to your lips, consider the source.

The brewmeister of Brooklyn Brewery says toxic fracking chemicals like methanol, benzene, and ethylene glycol (found in anti-freeze) could contaminate his beer by leaking into New York's water supply. Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania, New York state has promised to ban high-volume fracking from the city's watershed. But environmentalists say the draft fracking regulations are weak and leave the largest unfiltered water supply in the United States—not to mention the beer that is made from it—vulnerable.

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As Austerity Falters, European Economists Say "Price Carbon!"

| Wed May. 16, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Greek anti-austerity protesters clash with riot police in Athens.

Turmoil over budget cuts roils Greek streets. France elects an anti-austerity president. Even Germany's Austerity Queen Angela Merkel faces electoral backlash. It appears Europeans are getting sick of tightening their belts. But when you can't cut any more, there's little else to do but hustle up more cash.

For governments allergic to raising income taxes, a European Climate Foundation analysis released yesterday shows there's a less painful way to slash deficits—one that could save the planet as it saves the economy: a carbon tax.

The report argues that reforming how Europe taxes energy could, by 2020, cut some countries' 2011 deficits in half. Spain, whose deficit reached $116 billion last year (the third-worst in Europe), could add $13 billion in yearly revenue under the recommended plan. As a bonus, the report found that carbon taxes improve energy security and can reduce climate-changing emissions by up to 2.5 percent. 

Clearly a Europe in crisis needs a new idea, says economist Max Krahe of Vivid Economics, which co-authored the report. "There are smart ways of doing it and less smart ways of doing it."

Krahe suggests starting with a tax on household emissions, which in the three case-study countries in the report (Spain, Poland, and Hungary), aren't taxed at all, despite accounting for a quarter of Europe's total emissions. Household carbon taxes are a bit of a hard sell, Krahe admitted, because politicians are loathe to add new taxes where none currently exist.

The fear, he said, is that without a safety net higher energy bills would devastate the families already hit hardest by austerity: "In Eastern Europe, you're going to push some old grandmothers into poverty." But the tradeoff is that revenue could be looped back to Granny in the form of increased social services; under a similar scheme about to commence in Australia, over half the money raised from taxing carbon will be sent back to households via tax cuts and other assistance.

Why Is the Government Killing Bald Eagles?

| Fri May. 11, 2012 1:00 AM PDT

It's a sad fact of life in wildlife management: Every now and then, wild animals have to be killed for the sake of ecological or agricultural protection. "Culling," as it's known, is often a last resort and is usually carried out with a grim sense of necessary duty. After all, most wildlife professionals aren't big on the idea of killing wildlife. 

Right?

An unsettling new investigation by the Sacramento Bee found that the federal Wildlife Services agency, an obscure bureau within the USDA tasked with "resolving wildlife conflicts," has in the last decade accidentally killed over 50,000 animals that posed no threat to people or the environment (in addition to nearly a million coyotes killed intentionally). The execution roster would make John Muir roll over in his grave: wolverines, river otters, migratory shorebirds, bald and golden eagles, and more than a thousand dogs (averaging eight a month!), including family pets. According to the Bee:

In most cases, [employees of the agency] have officially revealed little or no detail about where the creatures were killed, or why. But a Bee investigation has found the agency's practices to be indiscriminate, at odds with science, inhumane and sometimes illegal…because lethal control stirs strong emotions, Wildlife Services prefers to operate in the shadows.

"We pride ourselves on our ability to go in and get the job done quietly without many people knowing about it," said Dennis Orthmeyer, acting state director of Wildlife Services in California.

Officially, Wildlife Services exists to take care of things like aggressive bears, coyotes that eat a rancher's sheep, geese that won't get off the tarmac, etc. But the Bee reports that the methods the agency uses, like traps with spring-loaded poison cartridges, leave a grisly wake of bycatch, sometimes of federally protected species, that has been deliberately hushed up by top officials. Even people are at risk: 18 employees and "several members of the public" have been exposed to cyanide from the traps.

Book Review: Home

| Mon May. 7, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Home

By Toni Morrison

ALFRED A. KNOPF

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is known for novels in which female protagonists struggle to wrest control of their lives from an establishment bent on their destruction. Home, by contrast, tells the story of Korean War vet Frank Money, who returns from the battlefield plagued by visions of his friends' deaths and a disturbing episode that cuts at the roots of his sexual and moral identity. While his demons are mostly internal, Money still struggles to find a place in a society where "there was no goal other than breathing, nothing to win...nothing to survive or worth surviving for." Salvation awaits, however, in his tiny Georgia hometown.

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