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.
When we talk about global warming, much of the debate centers on separating facts from fluff, and environmental activist and Mother Jones contributor Bill McKibben wants to set the record straight. The Global Warming Reader, a book edited by McKibben and out this month from OR Books, pulls together seminal texts of the climate change debate with the goal of creating a complete picture of what we know about global warming. Selections range from a 19th-century treatise to images from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and include a few unexpected gems like Senate floor statements from climate change denier James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
I spoke to McKibben about his history with climate change literature, his ongoing battle against ExxonMobil, and, in the face of dismal environmental realities, how he avoids the temptation to curl up in a little ball on the floor.
Angelenos beware: If you plan to spend your Independence Day soaking up rays on the beach, it might be wise to stay out of the water.
That's according to the Natural Resources Defense Council's 21st annual report on beach water quality, which reveals the nation's dirtiest lake and seaside beaches. Southern California snagged the most spots on a list of "repeat offenders," where contamination—mostly from human and animal waste in storm runoff—exceeded national standards at least a quarter of the time over the last four years.
Overall, 2010 saw the second-highest number of beach closures and health advisories in the past two decades. Beaches were scored based not only on water quality, but also on how accessible local officials made that information to the public.
NRDC officials cited everything from the stomach flu and pink eye to dysentery and hepatitis as illnesses that can strike swimmers, adding that animal waste can exacerbate algal blooms that have health consequences for marine life. And you thought the local water park was bad.
"A day at the beach shouldn't have to come with a skin rash as a souvenir," NRDC water expert David Beckman said.
For Proust, it was madeleines. For Thoreau, a bean patch. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, literary inspiration came from—or after—a stiff drink. We've all read the drunken exploits of Nick Carraway and Gatsby's legion of vacuous partiers, and it's no secret that Fitzgerald himself was more than a casual imbiber. But what did the great American author make of his own drinking problem? On Booze, released this week by New Directions, is a collection of Fitzgerald's writings on drinks, drinking, and life as an alcoholic.
Like the wavering temperament of a gin-soaked booze hound, the book moves quickly between the hilarious and the tragic. In highlights from Fitzgerald's notebooks, we see the extent to which alcohol informed his observations of the world. "Debut" is defined as "the first time a young girl is seen drunk in public"; a favorite Thanksgiving recipe is Turkey Cocktail, prepared by adding "one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters" to a turkey (shaken, not stirred). But the joyous buzz starts to wear off when Fitzgerald turns to a deep and disturbing analysis of the years he spent as an alcoholic, a period he refers to as "the crack-up."
Ask the vicitms of horrific flooding in Pakistan or raging wildfires in the Southwest what the consequences of climate change are, and they're likely to mention something personal, like a lost family member or damaged property. But a University of California-Berkeley study out this month shows that the impacts of climate change could be biological, too.
Using 150-year-old Swedish family records and temperature data, public health professor Ralph Catalano and his colleagues suggest that rapid and wide temperature fluctuations (one of the expected effects of climate change) could lead to shorter lifespans for some men.
Generally, mothers are less likely to automatically miscarry male fetuses very early in gestation when it's warm, and more likely to do so when it's cold, because baby boys are more "frail" in early life than baby girls. But according to the study, warm temperatures could trick more newly-pregnant mothers—or rather, their bodies—into keeping male fetuses they might otherwise have rejected for genetic weakness. Although that would mean an increase in the total number of births, it would also lead to an increase in the number who die young if those baby boys then experience cold temperatures early on, thus driving down average life expectancy.
In 1996, the Talent Irrigation District in Oregon set out to kill off aquatic weeds in irrigation canals by spraying herbicides in the water. But in addition to a lot of dead weeds, it got a lot of dead fish—92,000 steelhead salmon. Since then, legal battles have raged over how the government should regulate pesticides used on or near waterways.
On Tuesday, pesticide users marked a possibly major victory in that battle, as a bill that would allow them to bypass the Clean Water Act and spray pesticides over waterways passed through the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Currently, once a pesticide has been deemed safe by the EPA, there's nothing to compel users of the pesticide to follow guidelines in the Clean Water Act for minimizing how much pesticide makes it into streams, lakes, or other water bodies. But in the long wake of the Talent incident, in 2009 a federal court ordered the EPA to require pesticide users to get a permit before they could spray into water.