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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Photos: See Ya Later, Lovely Glaciers

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

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:

Aerial view, meltwater on Greenland ice sheet © James Balog

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."

Bubbles of ancient air rise from Greenland Ice Sheet as it melts, July 14, 2008. The black substance is cryoconite. © James Balog

Greenland Ice Sheet, Greenland, July 10, 2008. Silt and soot blown from afar turn into black "cryoconite," absorb solar heat and melt down into the ice. © James Balog

Stein Glacier, Switzerland, September 25, 2006. © James Balog

Stein Glacier, Switzerland, September 17, 2011. © James Balog

Columbia Glacier, Alaska, June 23, 2006. In mid-1980s, ice filled this valley up to lower edge of dark band of vegetation. Ice deflation since then has reached more than 1,200 vertical feet. © James Balog

Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers by James Balog, Rizzoli, New York, 2012.

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Word Clouds: Climate Keywords in DNC vs. RNC

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 9:56 AM EDT

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:

Republican:

Tim McDonnellTim McDonnell

Democratic:

Tim McDonnellTim McDonnell

 

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.

Carbon Cap-and-Trade Explained in 1 Simple Diagram

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

James WestJames 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.

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