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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Marco Rubio Used to Believe in Climate Science. Now He's Running for President.

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 6:15 AM EDT

When the Florida state Legislature opened its 2007 session, Speaker Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, took the stage to lay out his priorities for the year. Near the top of his list was a focus on clean energy.

"Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago," he said, in a video recording unearthed by BuzzFeed. Rubio predicted that legal caps on greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable, and he argued that Florida should prepare to become "an international model of energy efficiency and independence" and the "Silicon Valley" of clean energy.

Several years later, as a junior senator offering his party's rebuttal to President Barack Obama's 2013 State of the Union address, Rubio was singing a different tune. Solar and wind energy "should be a part of our energy portfolio," he said, but the United States should focus its efforts on extracting coal, oil, and natural gas "instead of wasting more money on so-called clean-energy companies like Solyndra." (Solyndra was a solar power company in California that failed spectacularly in 2011 after receiving a $500 million grant from the Obama administration. Republicans seized on it as a textbook case of the president's foolhardy energy agenda, but in reality the company was just badly managed.)

Rubio's comments since then have been more consistent: He argues that government policies to limit emissions are pointless in the face of rising pollution from developing countries. And, he says, such policies are certain to be "devastating" to the US economy.

He also rejects the notion that scientists are in agreement about the role humans have played in causing global warming. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," he told ABC News last May.

On Monday, Rubio is expected to announce his candidacy for president. Check out the video above for a look back at his thoughts on climate change.

This story has been revised.

Another State Agency Just Banned the Words "Climate Change"

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 3:45 PM EDT
Madison, Wisc.

The climate change language police just struck again.

Last month it was in Florida, where former staffers with the state's Department of Environmental Protection alleged that senior officials, under the direction of Gov. Rick Scott (R), had instituted an unwritten ban on using the phrases "climate change" and "global warming." Scott denied the claim.

This week's incident is much less ambiguous. Yesterday, the three-person commission that oversees a public land trust in Wisconsin voted 2-1 to block the trust's dozen public employees "from engaging in global warming or climate change work while on BCPL time."

In proposing and voting on the ban, the commission "spent 19 minutes and 29 seconds talking about talking about climate change," according to Bloomberg:

The move to ban an issue leaves staff at the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands in the unusual position of not being able to speak about how climate change might affect lands it oversees…

The Midwest warmed about 1.5F on average from 1895 to 2012. Pine, maple, birch, spruce, fir, aspen, and beech forests, which are common in the region, are likely to decline as the century progresses, according to the latest US National Climate Assessment.

The ban was proposed by newly elected State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican who ran on the unusual campaign promise to swiftly eliminate his own job. At a public meeting on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg, Adamczyk said he was disturbed to learn that the agency's director, Tia Nelson, had spent some time co-chairing a global warming task force in 2007-08 at the request of former governor Jim Doyle (D). Dealing with climate issues—even responding to emails on the subject—isn't in the agency's wheelhouse, he said. Adamczyk didn't immediately return our request for comment.

Adamczyk was joined in voting for the ban by State Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), also newly-elected. Schimel is handling Gov. Scott Walker's lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over President Barack Obama's new climate regulations. The ban was opposed by the commission's third member, Secretary of State Bob La Follette, a Democrat.

The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma's Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger

| Mon Apr. 6, 2015 3:30 PM EDT
A man in Sparks, Oklahoma, picks through rubble from his home following an earthquake in 2011.

Over the last few years, Oklahoma has experienced an insane uptick in earthquakes. As we reported in 2013, the count exploded from just a couple per year back in the mid-2000s to over a thousand in 2010, growing alongside a boom in the state's natural gas drilling industry.

There is now a heap of peer-reviewed research finding that Oklahoma's earthquake "swarm" is directly linked to fracking—not the gas drilling itself, but a follow-up step where brackish wastewater is re-injected into disposal wells deep underground. It's a troubling trend in an industry that thrives under notoriously lax regulations, especially when the risk to property and public safety is so obvious.

If those numbers weren't dramatic enough, here's another: This year, Oklahoma has experienced an average of two quakes per day of magnitude 3.0—enough to be felt and inflict damage to structures—or greater. That's according to a deep, comprehensive report on the subject out in this week's New Yorker.

But even freakier than the earthquakes themselves, according to the story, is the pervasive denial of science coming from state agencies like the Oklahoma Geological Survey, whose job it is to oversee the oil and gas industry:

The official position of the O.G.S. is that the Prague [Oklahoma] earthquakes were likely a natural event and that there is insufficient evidence to say that most earthquakes in Oklahoma are the result of disposal wells. That position, however, has no published research to support it, and there are at least twenty-three peer-reviewed, published papers that conclude otherwise.

The story goes on to detail super-cozy relationships between top regulators and drilling company executives; the state's ongoing and systemic habit of dismissing or ignoring the rapidly accumulating pile of evidence about the quakes; and a failure by regulators and the state legislature to take any meaningful steps to address the crisis. It's really quite damning.

As a reporter covering the fracking industry, I've found that a lot of the problems associated with the technique aren't necessarily inherent to it, and could be resolved with more pressure on companies to behave responsibly, or laws requiring them to. Better zoning regulations could keep wells out of neighborhoods. Stricter well construction standards could cut down on the leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help ensure that gas or chemicals don't contaminate groundwater. In other words, while industry may resist them, there are ready solutions at hand to many of the most cited drawbacks. And the same could be true in the case of earthquakes: while many geologists have now found that drilling wells into deep "basement" rock can set off temblors, there still isn't a law in Oklahoma that simply requires locating disposal wells elsewhere.

Their state's lack of basic engagement on the fracking-and-earthquakes issue is, understandably, a source of great frustration to Oklahomans, including those who are otherwise totally supportive the drilling industry. They're worried not only about above-ground damage, but about how quakes might effect the state's vast network of oil pipelines and underground aquifers. It's hard to imagine the nightmare that would result if a serious earthquake ruptured these pipelines and caused a major spill. That sentiment was nicely captured in the New Yorker by a quote from the town manager of Medford, a hamlet outside the oil center of Cushing:

"We want to be a good partner for the oil companies—it's exciting for us that they're here. But if they can move the disposal well even just three miles, what a difference that would make."

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