Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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This Chart Shows That Americans Are Way Out of Step With Scientists on Pretty Much Everything

| Thu Jan. 29, 2015 3:08 PM EST

Here's one big reason why the US has been so slow to take aggressive action on climate change: Despite the wide consensus among scientists that it's real and caused by humans, the general public—not to mention a disconcerting number of prominent politicians—remains divided.

It's not just climate change. On a range of pressing social issues, scientists and the public rarely see eye-to-eye. That's the result of a new Pew poll released today that compared views of a sample of 2,000 US adults to those of 3,700 scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the group that publishes the journal Science.

The biggest split was over the safety of genetically modified foods: 88 percent of scientists think GMOs are safe, compared to only 37 percent in the general public. Interestingly, college graduates were split 50-50. The gap between scientists and the public is smaller on the question of whether to mandate childhood vaccines. But it's still there. Eighty-six percent of scientists and 68 percent of all adults think vaccines should be required.

The poll didn't attempt to explain the gaps between scientists and the general public. On some issues there are clearly factors beyond pure science, like ethics and politics, that influence opinions. For example, scientists show more support for nuclear power, but less support for fracking, than the public. As our friend Chris Mooney has reported many times, these outside factors tend to creep into peoples' opinions even on objective questions like whether humans have evolved.

Lee Rainie, Pew's director of science research, added that trust in scientists can be a big factor. On GMOs, for example, 67 percent of the public believe scientists don't fully understand the health risks. And on issues like climate and evolution, the public believes there to be more disagreement within the scientific community than there actually is, he said.

More interesting findings are below:

Pew

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This Map Shows Why The Midwest Is Screwed

| Tue Jan. 27, 2015 5:44 PM EST

The ongoing drought in California has been, among other things, a powerful lesson in how vulnerable America's agricultural sector is to climate change. Even if that drought wasn't specifically caused by man-made global warming, scientists have little doubt that droughts and heat waves are going to get more frequent and severe in important crop-growing regions. In California, the cost in 2014 was staggering: $2.2 billion in losses and added expenses, plus 17,000 lost jobs, according to a UC-Davis study.

California is country's hub for fruits, veggies, and nuts. But what about the commodity grains grown in the Midwest, where the US produces over half its corn and soy? That's the subject of a new report by the climate research group headed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (who recently shut down rumors that he might run for Senate).

The report is all about climate impacts expected in the Midwest, and the big takeaway is that future generations have lots of very sweaty summers in store. One example: "The average Chicago resident is expected to experience more days over 95 degrees F by the century's end than the average Texan does today." The report also predicts that electricity prices will increase, with potential ramifications for the region's manufacturing sector, and that beloved winter sports—ice fishing, anyone?—will become harder to do.

But some of the most troublesome findings are about agriculture. Some places will fare better than others; northern Minnesota, for example, could very well find itself benefiting from global warming. But overall, the report says, extreme heat, scarcer water resources, and weed and insect invasions will drive down corn and soybean yields by 11 to 69 percent by the century's end. Note that these predictions assume no "significant adaptation," so there's an opportunity to soften the blow with solutions like better water management, switching to more heat-tolerant crops like sorghum, or the combination of genetic engineering and data technology now being pursued by Monsanto.

Here's a map from the report showing which states' farmers could benefit from climate change—and which ones will lose big time:

Risky Business

Obama's Trip to India Shortened His Life by 6 Hours

| Tue Jan. 27, 2015 1:08 PM EST
President Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the weekend.

Over the weekend President Barack Obama was in India for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on nuclear power, trade, climate change, and other topics. The climate piece was, if not necessarily a letdown, certainly less exciting than Obama's wide-reaching deal with China in November. Crucially, the China deal included specific carbon emissions reduction targets; those were left out in India over Modi's (arguably justifiable) insistence that the country be able to aggressively expand its electricity infrastructure to fight poverty.

Instead, India committed to expand its solar power capacity by 33-fold within seven years, and to work closely with the United States in advance of major UN climate talks in Paris in December. (India's participation will be vital for the summit to produce a meaningful international agreement.)

As Bloomberg's Obama got a first-hand taste in the trip of how important it is for India to fuel its growth with clean energy sources. India is already the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US, and air pollution in many of its cities far exceeds even the infamous levels in Beijing and other Chinese megalopolises.

In fact, Delhi—the capital city where Obama's meetings took place—has the world's highest concentration of PM 2.5, according to the UN. These tiny airborne particulates can increase the risk of heart disease and a host of really awful respiratory ailments. The PM 2.5 levels in Delhi are so insanely bad that breathing the air for only a few hours can have irreversible health impacts…even on the leader of the free world.

From Bloomberg:

During Obama's three-day visit, PM2.5 levels in Delhi have averaged between 76 to 84 micrograms per cubic meter, according to data collected by India's Ministry of Earth Sciences…Those levels translate roughly into an estimated loss of 2 hours a day in life expectancy, said David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, who specializes in quantifying risk in a way that is understandable to the public.

Obama was there for three days, so that's six hours off his life. That is profoundly terrifying. It also underscores how, for developing countries, the need to stem pollution from power plants is about much more than solving the long-term problem of global warming. It's about addressing an urgent pubic health crisis.

This post has been updated.

This Is Not a Drill: 29 Million Brace for Massive, Historic Snowstorm

| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 12:10 PM EST

Update: Monday, January 26, 6:35 p.m. EST: This was the scene outside our office this afternoon. Yikes!

Update: Monday, January 26, 6:00 p.m. EST: From our friends at Climate Central, here's a little background on the weather forces behind the storm and how they relate to man-made climate change:

The low pressure area at the heart of the storm is tracking along the East Coast in a way that lets it exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2°F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.

Update: Monday, January 26, 5:00 p.m. EST: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to put a "hard stop" on the region's public transit later tonight in preparation for worse snow conditions starting in the early hours of Tuesday:

New Yorkers were piling into the subway ahead of the evening rush hour:

Heading into the Union Square subway entrance Monday afternoon. Tim McDonnell

Update: Monday, January 26, 2:45 p.m. EST: Even just after a couple hours of snow dumped by the strengthening blizzard, New York City's landscape is white-washed for the first time this season:

NYC's heroic fleet of food delivery cyclists soldiered on as snow came down in Manhattan. Tim McDonnell
Almost as soon as it started, the snow was coming down in sheets. Tim McDonnell
In Midtown, so begins the long battle to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. Tim McDonnell
Stay warm, little guy! Tim McDonnell
Central Park quickly turned into a winter wonderland. Tim McDonnell

Update: Monday, January 26, 2:15 p.m. EST: As the blizzard begins to hit New York City, my colleague James West ventured out to capture some Brooklyn street scenes, in super-slow motion (flick the player to HD for some fun snow-falling prettiness):

After a few months of mild weather, today and tomorrow the East Coast is in for one hell of a snowstorm. Twenty-nine million people from New Jersey to Maine are under a blizzard alert. Here's the latest snow forecast for the Boston region from the National Weather Service:

And New York:

 

The range shown for New York here—up to two feet dumped on the city by Wednesday—is at least down from yesterday's estimates, when, as our friend Eric Holhaus at Slate reported, meteorologists were warning that it could be the largest blizzard in the city's history. Still, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents "to prepare for something worse than we have seen before." The worst of the worst is expected starting Monday afternoon and through Tuesday.

Stay tuned here for more updates, as well as images from inside the storm. 

This Is Why Under-Inflated Footballs Could Have Given Tom Brady An Advantage

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 7:20 PM EST

To those of us for whom the nuances of professional football tactics are a bit of a mystery, there was one question looming over New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's surreal Ballghazi press conference yesterday that went unanswered: What's so great, in theory, about a deflated football? Seems like, if anything, an under-inflated ball would be less aerodynamic?

Turns out, the potential benefit is all about grippiness. From Fox Sports:

John Eric Goff, professor of physics at Lynchburg College in Virginia and author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” told FoxNews.com that the league-mandated PSI range is ideal for playing football. “If, however, there’s rain or snow or something else happening, that would make the ball a bit slicker, so having a bit less pressure in the ball makes it easier to squeeze and the grip improves,” he added.

Interesting!

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