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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Book Review: A Universe From Nothing

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 7:00 AM EST

A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

By Lawrence M. Krauss

FREE PRESS

For particle physicist Lawrence Krauss, the revelation that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly reinforced a more basic question: How did it first come into being? Here he seeks clues on scales impossibly small (the insides of protons) and unimaginably large (the shape of the heavens). With its mind-bending mechanics, Krauss argues, our universe may indeed have appeared from nowhere, rather than at the hands of a divine creator. There's some intellectual heavy lifting here—Einstein is the main character, after all—but the concepts are articulated clearly, and the thrill of discovery is contagious. "We are like the early terrestrial mapmakers," Krauss writes, puzzling out what was once solely the province of our imaginations.

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Alan Lomax and the Original Social Network

| Mon Dec. 26, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Alan Lomax, circa 1942.

In an age where Justin Bieber can skyrocket to the highest heights of pop consciousness thanks to a couple well-placed YouTube videos, we've forgotten how hard it once was to spread popular music to the populace it described. In the 1930's and '40's, while Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and others were crafting the folk songs that laid the foundation for uniquely American styles like rock and roll and the blues, they mostly sang in obscurity to local audiences in the country quarters where they lived. Recording equipment was bulky, fragile, and expensive, and those who could afford access to recorded music were listening mostly to European imports and early jazz. Thus, the music that best captured the lives of workaday Americans could only be heard by lucky locals in small-town dance halls and living rooms.  

Enter Alan Lomax, an upstart folklorist who in his early teens began to accompany his father John on expeditions across the country, recording the songs of poor farmers, prisoners, bar musicians, and others whose music would otherwise have faded like a melody in the wind. Lomax's road stories are captured in a book by Columbia University musicologist John Szwed's Alan Lomax, to be released in paperback tomorrow. 

Courtesy PenguinCourtesy Penguin

Lomax was born on the outskirts of Austin in 1915, into a family that worked on the fringes of Unversity of Texas academia; his father made his career collecting the songs of Texas cowboys. Until his death in 2002 at the age of 87, Alan Lomax produced thousands of field recordings, many specifically destined for the Library of Congress, and was the first to "discover" Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Jelly Roll Morton, and Son House, among other folk musicians revered today. They were progenitors of the singer-songwriter type we know so well today, leaving an incalcuable impact on everyone from Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain to Jack White

But the real import of Lomax's work goes beyond bringing backwoods folk singers into the limelight. At the heart of his mission was a fervent belief in the democratizing effect of folk music. The real point of lugging recording equipment over praries, swamps, and mountains was to capture the voices of "miners, lumbermen, sailors, soldiers, railroad men, blacks, and the down-and-outs, the hobos, convicts, bad girls, and dope fiends," and bring their stories, wrapped in song, to the ears of middle- and upper-class whites. America "was hungry for a vision of itself in song," Szwed writes, and Lomax was determined to feed it.

GOP Senators Want to Fast-Track Keystone XL

| Wed Nov. 30, 2011 5:50 PM EST

A few short weeks after the Obama administration decided to put off a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a batch of Republican senators introduced legislation today that would force the president to approve the pipeline within 60 days.

The North American Energy Security Act, put forward by Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), would also put the kibosh on further study of the pipeline's environmental impact. Demand by environmental activists for a more thorough consideration of environmental impacts was one contributing factor to the pipeline's delay.

At the heart of the legislation is the oft-repeated claim that the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs, mostly in construction.

"We have a dramatic opportunity to create American jobs NOW!" Lugar said in an emphatic statement.

That figure, which comes from an estimate by TransCanada (the Canadian behemoth behind the pipeline), has become a mantra for pipeline supporters, despite having been widely debunked. In fact, a September study by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute found that the pipeline could actually kill more jobs than it creates.

Nevertheless, Lugar and co-sponsors John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have framed Obama's delayed decision as an affront to job creation, a move Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman Anthony Swift dismissed as "political theater."

The bill "is being used as a messaging piece," Swift said, adding that he thought the bill very unlikely to reach the Senate floor, much less pass into law (given Obama's recent decision to delay making a final call, it would be pretty surprising if he signed legislation mandating a rushed verdict).

"His decision to do an environmental review was an imminently sensible one, and I don't think he's likely to reverse it," Swift said.

Clogged! Obama Delays Keystone XL Pipeline

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 3:07 PM EST

Days after State Department officials agreed to reexamine their own report on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the Obama administration announced this afternoon a 12-to-18-month delay on the deadline for the pipeline's approval. Originally expected by the end of this year, the administration will have until after the 2012 elections to give (or not) a final go-ahead, pending further study of the pipeline's environmental impact.

Bill McKibben, a Mother Jones contributor and founder of the environmental activist group 350.org, called the decision "an unspoken salute to the power of people who came together in the open to demand action" in a statement released this morning.

"We take courage from today's announcement," McKibben said, adding however that "if this pipeline proposal re-emerges from the review process intact we will use every form of nonviolent civil disobedience to keep it from ever being built."

The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada's tar sands 1,700 miles to refineries in Texas, has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups over concerns about potential spills, the large carbon footprint of tar sands oil relative to other extraction methods, and possible conflicts of interest between the administration and TransCanada, the company behind the proposed pipeline.

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