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.

Get my RSS |

MAP: Is Your State Ready for Climate Disasters?

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST
climate readiness map
Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk

Whether it's wildfires in the West, drought in the Midwest, or sea level rise on the Eastern seaboard, chances are good your state is in for its own breed of climate-related disasters. Every state is required to file a State Hazard Mitigation Plan with FEMA, which lays out risks for that state and its protocols for handling catastrophe. But as a new analysis from Columbia University's Center for Climate Change Law reveals, many states' plans do not take climate change into account.

Michael Gerrard, the Center's director, said his team combed through all 50 reports to see how accurately and comprehensively climate change was taken into consideration, if at all, and grouped them into four ranked categories:

  1. No discussion of climate change or inaccurate discussion of climate change.
  2. Minimal mention of climate change related issues.
  3. Accurate but limited discussion of climate change and/or brief discussion with acknowledgement of need for future inclusion.
  4. Thorough discussion of climate change impacts on hazards and climate adaptation actions.

While FEMA itself acknowledged this summer that climate change could increase areas at risk from flooding by 45 percent overt the next century, states are not required to discuss climate change in their mitigation plans. The Columbia analysis didn't take into account climate planning outside the scope of the mitigation plans, like state-level greenhouse gas limits or renewable energy incentives. And as my colleague Kate Sheppard reported, some government officials have avoided using climate science terminology even in plans that implicitly address climate risks; states that didn't use terms like "climate change" and "global warming" in their mitigation plans were docked points in Columbia's ranking algorithm.

Gerrard said he wasn't surprised to find more attention paid to climate change in coastal states like Alaska and New York that are closest to the front lines. But he was surprised to find that a plurality of states landed in the least-prepared category, suggesting a need, he said, for better communication of non-coastal risks like drought and heat waves.

"We had hoped that more of the states would have dealt with [climate change] in a more forthright way," he said.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Look What's Slowing Down Global Warming

| Sun Nov. 10, 2013 2:00 PM EST

Climate deniers like to point to the so-called global warming "hiatus" as evidence that humans aren't changing the climate. But according a new study, exactly the opposite is true: The recent slowdown in global temperature increases is partially the result of one of the few successful international crackdowns on greenhouse gases.

Back in 1988, more than 40 countries, including the US, signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (today the Protocol has nearly 200 signatories). According to the EPA, CFC emissions are down 90 percent since the Protocol, a drop that the agency calls "one of the largest reductions to date in global greenhouse gas emissions." That's a blessing for the ozone layer, but also for the climate. CFCs are a potent heat-trapping gas, and a new analysis published today in Nature Geoscience finds that slashing them has been a major driver of the much-discussed slowdown in global warming.

"The recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming skeptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin."

Without the Protocol, environmental economist Francisco Estrada of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México reports, global temperatures today would be about a tenth of a degree Celsius higher than they are. That's roughly an eighth of the total warming documented since 1880.

Estrada and his co-authors compared global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions records over the last century and found that breaks in the steady upward march of both coincided closely. At times when emissions leveled off or dropped, like during the Great Depression, the trend was mirrored in temperatures; likewise for when emissions climbed.

"With these breaks, what's interesting is that when they're common that's pretty indicative of causation," said Pierre Perron, a Boston University economist who developed the custom-built statistical tests used in the study.

The findings put a new spin on investigation into the cause of the recent "hiatus." Scientists have suggested that several temporary natural phenomena, including the deep ocean sucking up more heat, are responsible for this slowdown. Estrada says his findings show that a recent reduction in heat-trapping CFCs as a result of the Montreal Protocol has also played an important role.

"Paradoxically, the recent decrease in warming, presented by global warming skeptics as proof that humankind cannot affect the climate system, is shown to have a direct human origin," Estrada writes in the study.

Why This Red-State Republican Mayor Backs Obama on Climate Change

| Fri Nov. 1, 2013 5:04 PM EDT
Federal agencies are required to clear the way for more climate change adaptations, like this house being raised out of the floodplain in Virginia.

Just a few days after the Treasury Department announced it would no longer back funding for most overseas coal-fired power plants, today President Obama issued a new executive order that lays the groundwork for how the US will prepare for climate change within its borders. The order is the latest in a series of policies stemming from the president's Climate Action Plan; earlier this year, for example, the administration issued new greenhouse gas emission limits for power plants and cars. But rather than addressing carbon pollution, per se, today's plan focuses on how cities and states can prepare for the climate impacts already on the way.

"We need to work on bipartisan solutions, and put politics aside," said Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, a Republican who is one of the local officials taking part in a new advisory task force created by today's order. "The climate is changing, and we need to be prepared for it."

So what does the order call for? Here's what you need to know:

Prioritize climate-ready projects: In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, many civic planning experts called for future infrastructure plans—for bridges, roads, housing development, and the like—to emphasize climate resilience (a popular buzzword among climate wonks that means being able to quickly bounce back from disasters).

Today's order requires federal agencies to support and incentivize "smarter, more climate-resilient investments" through grants, guidance, and other forms of assistance. These could include moving roads away from crumbling coasts or requiring seaside homes to be built higher above the floodplain. The order also directs agencies to "identify and seek to remove or reform barriers that discourage" resilient investments—for example, policies that currently encourage cities to apply weak rebuilding standards after natural disasters.

"What we're seeing here is a promise that resources that might have been dedicated just to rebuilding, there would now be a mandate to rebuild in a more resilient fashion," said Rachel Cleetus, a climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The order gives a nod to natural systems, too: Federal agencies are required to look for ways to protect places like watersheds, marshes (which are themselves an important protective barrier from sea level rise), and forests from climate impacts and are directed deliver specific recommendations to the White House within nine months.

WATCH: One Year After Sandy, Breezy Point Rebuilds

| Mon Oct. 28, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

One year ago tomorrow, storm surge from Hurricane Sandy set off a fire in Breezy Point, Queens, that leveled more than 100 homes. Now, construction is underway to rebuild the community from the ground up. But in July 2012, Congress decided to slash subsidies for federal flood insurance, and many residents now worry that rising rates could soon make this quiet beachside neighborhood unaffordable.

CHARTS: US Carbon Emissions Are Dropping

| Tue Oct. 22, 2013 3:41 PM EDT

One of the next big items on President Obama's green agenda is a new set of caps on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Set to roll out over the next few years, the rules aim to slash the climate impact of the nation's biggest polluters. But statistics released yesterday from the federal Energy Information Administration show that even without these new caps, energy-related carbon emissions—those that come from powering factories, homes, cars, and businesses—dropped almost four percent between 2011 and 2012, marking the fifth out of the last seven years for these emissions to decline:

total carbon emissions
EIA
Fri May. 9, 2014 7:07 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 27, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Thu Mar. 20, 2014 1:39 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 13, 2014 2:26 PM EDT
Fri Feb. 7, 2014 7:00 AM EST
Fri Jan. 31, 2014 5:04 PM EST
Thu Jan. 16, 2014 11:40 AM EST
Tue Nov. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Sun Nov. 10, 2013 2:00 PM EST
Tue Oct. 22, 2013 3:41 PM EDT
Tue Oct. 15, 2013 4:12 PM EDT
Mon Oct. 14, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Fri Sep. 27, 2013 3:00 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 9, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Tue Aug. 6, 2013 3:49 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 1, 2013 1:38 PM EDT
Tue Jun. 25, 2013 11:56 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 21, 2013 1:13 PM EDT