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.
Yesterday President Obama threatened to veto a $440 billion package of tax breaks negotiated by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The bill, a White House spokesperson said, disproportionately benefits businesses over families. The bill excludes a child tax credit for the working poor that had been a top goal for Obama, but makes permanent a group of tax incentives for big businesses that had been provisional.
But if Obama does kill the deal, he'll also create a casualty that seems odd for a president who in recent weeks has made climate change a central issue: The tax credit for wind energy, which Reid's bill would resuscitate for a few years before phasing out in 2017.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC) provides wind energy developers a tax break of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour of energy their turbines produce for the first ten years of operation, which industry supporters say is a important lifeline to help wind compete against heavily-subsidized fossil fuel power sources. For over a decade, wind power has been locked in a boom-and-bust cycle as the PTC expires and then is re-upped by Congress: Every time the credit stalls or looks like it might disappear, contracts dry up, manufacturers shut down production, and jobs get cut. The same could happen again soon: The PTC expired again last year, and so the fate of Reid's tax bill will be the fate of a cornerstone of America's clean energy economy.
But wind's halcyon days won't last unless the PTC is extended soon, said Daniel Shurey, a market analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
"The momentum will peak next year, and then we'll start to feel the effects," Shurey said. "Without the PTC extension, the main US manufacturers are going to start running out of orders by 2016."
The Reid bill throws a bone to conservative lawmakers and advocacy groups who have called the PTC a handout for an industry that should be able to support itself by now: gradually phasing out the credit by 2017. The American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, has supported such a plan, saying it would give manufacturers, developers, and other wind investors a degree of certainty about future market conditions that they don't currently have. Shurey agrees: The actual amount of the credit is far less important, he said, than a clear, consistent signal to frame contracts and investments around.
Whatever tax deal Congress ultimately passes will probably include the PTC, says Jim Marston, vice president of US energy policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. Some of the credit's biggest proponents are powerful Republicans from windy states, such as Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who said on the Senate floor last week that gutting the PTC "would cost jobs, harm our economy, the environment and our national security." But a veto could mean a long delay—and more of the uncertainty that the wind industry fears.
A growing body of recent research suggests a person's political ideology, economic philosophy, and religious beliefs tend to overwhelm observed facts about global warming. The new study, which was released Monday, put that hypothesis to the test by analyzing Gallup polls taken just after the unusually warm winter of 2012. It found that both Democrats' and Republicans' perceptions of the warmer weather in their state tracked fairly well with actual satellite temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But "for people who said their local winter was warming, the observed temperature anomalies had no effect on the tendency to attribute that to global warming," explains Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University who authored the study.
In other words, the actual temperature had no bearing on whether people believed in climate change. Instead, McCright says, "one of the strongest predictors" is party affiliation: Republicans were far less likely to attribute the warming they felt to man-made climate change than were Democrats. Other variables—gender, age, and level of education—were far less reliable as predictors of a person's global warming beliefs.
The findings suggest that the political polarization of climate change has become so great that the path of least resistance for most people is to hew to their party line, McCright says. Interesting, Democrats in the polling data were guilty of a different kind of bias: Overall, they perceived local temperatures to be warmer than their Republicans neighbors did—a reminder, McCright says, that confirmation bias exists on the left, too.
An unrelated national survey taken after 2012's record-breaking hot summer found that a growing majority of Americans are making the connection between temperature extremes and climate change. But that survey didn't account for political affiliation. McCright's research suggests that convincing Republicans will be a different challenge than convincing the public at large, and that references to extreme weather aren't the best rhetorical strategy to deal with that challenge.
The political chasm on climate change is gaping—a Pew poll last year found 44 percent of Republicans believed there was "solid evidence the earth is warming" versus 87 percent of Democrats. That imbalance sets the stage for partisan gridlock on climate action in Congress; Senate Republicans have said they plan to make attacking President Obama's climate policies a priority when they take control next year. So the stakes are high for winning more conservatives to accept the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change, and this study finds that changes in the weather might not be enough to change many minds.
"If we wait around for that to happen, we'll be waiting for a while," McCright says.
Good thing NOAA is here to help. Today the agency released two new maps illustrating that even if you're cold right now, the planet is still getting hotter. In fact, 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.
The map above shows where global temperatures for the month of October stood relative to the 20th century average. Overall, this was the warmest October since record-keeping began in 1880.
And it's not just October that was remarkably warm. The entire year so far, since January, has also been the warmest on record—a good 1.22 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. If the trend persists, 2014 will beat out 2010 as the hottest year on record:
Today it is literally freezing in every state in America. But no where has been hit harder than Buffalo, New York, which yesterday got buried under 70 inches of snow. Yeah, seven-zero, as in nearly six feet. At least six people there have died, and one hundred are still trapped.
The video below, from Buffalo-based producer Joseph DeBenedictis, shows yesterday's apocalyptic storm sweeping across the city. The insane snowfall was brought on by something called the "lake effect," which could grow more severe with global warming—our friend Eric Holthaus at Slatehas the details on that.
You probably know Monsanto as the world's leading producer of genetically engineered seeds—a global agribusiness giant whose critics accuse it of everything from boosting our reliance on pesticides to driving Indian farmers to suicide.
But that's actually just the latest in a long series of evolving corporate identities. When the company was founded in 1901 by a St. Louis pharmacist, its initial product was artificial sweetener. Over the next few decades Monsanto expanded into industrial chemicals, releasing its first agricultural herbicide, 2,4-D, in 1945. In the '50s it produced laundry detergent, the infamous insecticide DDT, and chemical components for nuclear bombs. In the '60s it churned out Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. In the '70s it became one of the largest producers of LED lights.
It was around this time that Robb Fraley, now Monsanto's chief technology officer, joined the company as a mid-level biotechnology scientist. Back then, he recalls, the company had its hand in oil wells, plastics, carpets—you name it. It wasn't until the early '80s that Monsanto began to shift its focus to biotechnology, conducting the first US field trials of bioengineered plants in 1987. By the end of the '90s, it was a full-fledged biotech company. And over the last 10 years, after a series of seed company acquisitions, it has become the company we all know and love—or hate—today.
Now, there's a new evolution on the horizon: "I could easily see us in the next five or 10 years being an information technology company," says Fraley.