Blue Marble

Even Republican Voters Support Regulating Carbon Pollution

| Mon Jan. 12, 2015 4:17 PM EST

If you look at the new Congress, conservative sentiment seems overwhelmingly united against climate action—72 percent of the Senate's Republican caucus reject the science on climate change. But among the voting population, the numbers are slightly more optimistic, according to Yale University polling data released today.

The data combines the results from six different polls conducted over the past three years, and it shows deep divisions within the Republican Party over belief in climate change and support for climate policies. Most interestingly, a majority of Republican voters support the government taking steps to curb carbon dioxide pollution. That's the very policy that GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) have vowed to fight this year.

Yale

Despite that call for action, belief that climate change is happening is common only among self-described liberal and moderate Republicans, who together comprise just 30 percent of the party:

Yale

So clearly climate advocates still have their work cut out for them in winning more Republicans over to the overwhelming mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. But at the same time, an all-out war on President Obama's climate initiatives won't be a clear-cut win for any but the most right-wing Republican legislators.

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Please, Please Stop Making Mittens for Koalas

| Mon Jan. 12, 2015 2:46 PM EST

After record-breaking fires hit the Adelaide suburbs in South Australia last week, an emergency call went out on social media, which was then quickly picked up by the international news media: Injured koalas need cotton mittens to protect their burned paws! Since then, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, thousands of pairs of mittens have poured into Australia from all around the world. "We're now getting offers from as far afield as Russia, Kazakhstan, China, the UK and the US," said Josey Sharrad from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which put out the request. "It's truly phenomenal."

The wildfires destroyed 27 homes and charred nearly 50 square miles. Koalas are especially vulnerable because they live in trees, which are the very fuel for the fires, and koalas just aren't very fast.

The IFAW put out this call to action on January 9, 2015:

The group even published a pattern to help avid sewers around the world:

But perhaps don't dig out that old sewing machine just yet. There's dissent in the wildlife community about the best way to help the koalas, and their burned paws.

The Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organization (AMWRRO), a rescue and rehabilitation group based in South Australia, says the mittens are unnecessary and may even hinder the koalas' recovery. AMWRRO is the organization that first published the photo of now-famous "Jeremy," whose four paws were being treated for "second-degree partial thickness burns":

 

AMWRRO has now put out a warning on its Facebook page: "Please note AMWRRO does not require mittens as they impede the animals ability to hold leaf and branches verses that of specific bandaging techniques as shown in previous images."

In any case, the great mitten campaign is over. IFAW now says they have more than satisfied the need for koala mittens, and now the group's attention has turned to other injured wildlife. "This began as a small regional effort, and in Australia we are now moving to work with local people to create cozy pouches for other wildlife like possums, kangaroos and wallabies that are also at risk from bushfires," the IFAW said in a statement.

In short, both groups now agree: Stop sewing koala mittens. Please, stop.

P.S. I know you want to know. Jeremy is doing a lot better now:

And here he is, back to eating leaves!

 

Can Monsanto Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2015 1:13 PM EST

At the world's most reviled agriculture company, a big change is taking root that could help farmers—both in the US and around the world—adapt to climate change. As we reported in November, executives at Monsanto are plotting a major move into data and information services within the next decade. The company is working with Bay Area data gurus to provide super-accurate weather updates and farming advice to growers via their smartphones.

These new services can help farmers better predict climate trends that have been shaken up by global warming—in the last couple decades, according to Monsanto, corn production belts in the US have migrated about 200 miles north. And they can help farmers make more efficient use of water and potential pollutants like fuel and fertilizer. But some agriculture experts have raised concerns about whether Big Ag companies will responsibly manage farmers' proprietary data like yield sizes and seed choices; at the same time, as my colleague Tom Philpott noted, Big Data could potentially give an outsized advantage to giant, monoculture farms, to the detriment of small farms and the environment.

Last week I talked with MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil about whether Monsanto's climate adaptation products are a bright spot on the company's dark reputation. As Tony put it, "If my eco-outrage meter is on 10 when I think about Monsanto, how far should we dial it back?"

72 Percent of Republican Senators Are Climate Deniers

| Sat Jan. 10, 2015 6:00 AM EST
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) at the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark

On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered a simple amendment to the controversial bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Sanders' measure, which he proposed to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would have declared it the "sense of Congress" that climate change is real; that it is caused by humans; that it has already caused significant problems; and that the United States needs to shift its economy away from fossil fuels.

Sanders' amendment went nowhere. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chair of the committee, used the opportunity to take a shot at climate science. "I do believe that our climate is changing," she said. "I don't agree that all the changes are necessarily due solely to human activity." Murkowski didn't elaborate on her current thinking about the causes of global warming, but in the past she's advanced a bizarre theory involving a volcano in Iceland.

Sanders will get another chance next week, when the full Senate debates the Keystone bill—but he's likely to run into stiff resistance from GOP climate deniers. As Climate Progress revealed Thursday, more than half of the Republican members of the new Congress "deny or question" the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. If you just look at the Senate, the numbers are even more disturbing. Thirty-nine GOP senators reject the science on climate change—that's 72 percent of the Senate Republican caucus.

The list includes veteran lawmakers like James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is the incoming chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and has written a book titled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And it includes new senators like Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who thinks climate change might be caused by solar cycles. (For a great interactive map showing exactly how many climate deniers represent your state in Congress, click here.)

What's more, the Climate Progress analysis shows that many of the congressional committees that deal with climate and energy issues are loaded with global warming deniers:

…68 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny human-caused climate change. On the committee level, 13 out of 21 Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, or 62 percent, reject the science behind human-caused global warming, joined by 67 percent, or 21 out of 31 Republican members, of the House Energy and Commerce Committee…In addition to Inhofe, 10 out of 11, or 91 percent, of Republicans on EPW have said climate change is not happening or that humans do not cause it.

All this could have serious policy consequences: Republicans are threatening to use their majority to cut the EPA's budget and derail the power plant regulations at the heart of President Obama's signature climate initiative.

The House Just Voted to Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline

| Fri Jan. 9, 2015 2:03 PM EST

The House of Representative voted overwhelmingly Friday to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But even with 28 Democrats joining nearly all Republicans in voting "yea," supporters of the project still fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override President Barack Obama's promised veto.

The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the proposed pipeline because it would cross an international boundary, is currently in the process of determining whether the project is in the national interest. The House bill would circumvent that process and force approval of the pipeline. In a statement today reiterating its veto threat, the White House said Obama opposes the bill because it "conflicts with longstanding Executive branch procedures…and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests."

The debate will now shift to the US Senate, which is planning to vote on the pipeline next week. Late last year, Senate Republicans came within one vote of the 60 needed to pass a bill to approve the project. With Republicans now in control of the Senate, the Keystone bill will likely pass next week. But as in the House, pipeline supporters will struggle to attract sufficient Democratic votes to override a presidential veto.

Mickey Mouse Still Stricken With Measles, Thanks to the Anti-Vaxxers

| Thu Jan. 8, 2015 5:47 PM EST

Update (1/23/2015): At least 59 Measles cases have been confirmed in California this year, 42 of them linked to the Disneyland outbreak, according to the state health department. Public health officials around the state, but particularly in Southern California, where the outbreak is the worst, are practically begging parents to have their children immunized. The disease is highly transmissible by air—droplets from an infected person's cough can remain suspended for up to two hours, the CDC notes, and the virus can live for just as long on surfaces. The current outbreak is "100 percent connected" to the anti-immunization movement, Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California-Los Angeles told the New York Times: "It wouldn't have happened otherwise—it wouldn't have gone anywhere," Cherry said. "There are some pretty dumb people out there."

Update (1/13/2015): The number of reported Measles cases linked to Disneyland has grown to 22, reports the Los Angeles Times. At least 12 of the infected people were unvaccinated, while four had had a Measles shot at some point. The vaccination status of the other six was unknown.

****

Yesterday, instead of cherishing freshly made memories of mouse ears or trying to get the song "A Pirate's Life for Me" to stop looping in their heads, nine Disneyland visitors were left battling a potentially deadly disease. As The LA Times reports, the California Department of Public Health has confirmed nine cases and is investigating three others in California and Utah, all people who visited the Anaheim theme park last month.

The highly infectious disease, which is transmitted through the air, can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, and sometimes death in children. In 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control declared it eliminated in the United States, thanks in large part to an effective vaccine. But because of anti-vaccination hysteria, fueled by discredited claims about links between vaccines and autism, many parents have opted out of vaccinating their kids, leaving them—and others, including children too young to be vaccinated—vulnerable. And while some children do react badly to vaccines, it's important to remember that the diseases we vaccinate against are killers; the shots save countless lives.

Of the seven California cases, six hadn't been vaccinated—two because they were underage. (Doctors administer the vaccine twice after the child is 12 months old.)

This outbreak is part of an ongoing trend. Measles rates have risen dramatically over the past few years. As my colleague Julia Lurie pointed out last May, the CDC reported record numbers in 2014, due in large part to gaps in vaccinations. According to a CDC press release, "90 percent of all measles cases in the United States were in people who were not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. Among the US residents who were not vaccinated, 85 percent were religious, philosophical, or personal reasons."

In the video below, my colleague Kiera Butler interviewed a Marin County pediatrician who caters to anti-vaxxer parents:

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This Is Why You're So Damn Cold Right Now

| Wed Jan. 7, 2015 4:59 PM EST

This story originally appeared in CityLab and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

To get an idea why wind chills will plummet to 45 degrees below zero in the US this week, look no farther than this unreal image of a colossal polar system cutting through the country like the icy scythe of a rancorous Norse god.

A NOAA satellite caught the coast-to-coast eyeball-freezer on Tuesday as it was revving up for an icy romp across America. Writes the agency:

The weather pattern over the next few days will feature a massive surface high settling southward from Canada to the Great Plains on Wednesday, following by another large surface high by the end of the week. Both of these features are of Arctic origin, and will bring bitterly cold weather from the western High Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast US In addition to the frigid temperatures, the cold air advection over the Great Lakes along with upper-level shortwave energy moving over the region is expected to produce significant lake effect snow downwind from the Great Lakes through midweek.

Areas east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are predicted to get the worst of the accumulations, which must be a comfort to Buffalo residents who are probably almost finished digging out from the last winter storm. NOAA says these regions will be served with snowfalls that "will easily exceed one foot."

As for the other weather misery afflicting the nation, take a peek at these expected wind chills. It's not a great time to be outside in the northern states, where the government is advising travelers to pack winter-survival kits.

NOAA

 

BREAKING: President Obama Will Veto Congress' Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 1:33 PM EST

President Barack Obama is planning to veto a bill that would force approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, according to the Associated Press:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the president's position hasn't changed since November, when pipeline supporters in Congress last attempted to push through its approval—an effort that fell just one vote shy of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Obama was adamant then that approval for the pipeline come not from Congress, but from the State Department, which normally has jurisdiction over international infrastructure projects like this one. A final decision from State has been delayed pending the outcome of a Nebraska State Supreme Court case, expected sometime early this year, that could alter the pipeline's route.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McDonnell and other Republicans have vowed to make passage of a new Keystone XL bill a top priority for the new year, and they seem prepared to move forward with a vote later this week. The bill is likely to pass. But the challenge for Republicans is to garner enough support from Democratic senators to achieve the 67 votes required to override a presidential veto. Yesterday, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters he had just 63 votes.

Even if Congress fails to override Obama's veto, it still won't be the end of what has become the flagship issue for US climate activists; the possibility remains that the State Department could still approve the project. But the Obama administration may be leaning against approval. In December, the president said the pipeline is "not even going to be a nominal benefit to US consumers."

This post has been updated.

It's Official: 2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 5:31 PM EST

Update, January 16, 10:50 am, ET: NASA and NOAA announced on Friday that 2014 was indeed the warmest year on record. As NASA explained in a press release, "Since 1880, Earth's average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet's atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades."

For more on the new findings, watch the video from NASA above.

 

Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)

For many Americans, 2014 will be remembered for its multiple blasts of Arctic air and bitter winters. And this week, another bout of freezing temperatures is marching east across the country, in the first major thermometer plunge of the season.

But as cold as you may have been last year, it's now official that 2014 was actually the hottest year globally since record-keeping began. So confirmed the Japan Meteorological Agency in preliminary data released Monday.

The Japanese government agency monitors and records the long-term change of the global average surface temperatures and found that 2014 was far warmer than previous years. How much warmer? 2014 exceeded the 1981-2010 temperature average by 0.27 degrees Celsius (or 0.49 degrees Fahrenheit). There was unusually warm weather all around the world, from a record-breaking heat wave in Australia to the hottest European summer in 500 years.

The data shows that four out of the five hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade: In second place is 1998, then 2010 and 2013 tied for third, and 2005 in fifth place. The new numbers reveal that the world has been warming at an average rate of 0.7 degrees Celsius (or 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) per century since records began.

Two US government agencies, NOAA and NASA, are expected to confirm the results of the Japanese observations in the coming weeks.

How a 20-Minute Conversation Can Convince People With Anti-Gay Views to Change Their Mind

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 6:00 AM EST

A recent study suggests that a single conversation between a gay person and a same-sex marriage opponent may have the power to change the person's mind on the issue. 

The study, published last week in the journal Science, analyzed data collected by the Los Angeles LGBT Center after it sent pro-gay marriage canvassers to areas of southern California that had voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008 until the Supreme Court overturned it in 2013. Starting in 2009, canvassers—both gay and straight—engaged in over 12,000 brief one-on-one conversations with those precincts' registered voters about either gay marriage or, with a placebo group, recycling. The survey found that respondents who had discussed gay marriage showed less prejudice towards gay people following their chat with the canvasser than those who had discussed recycling.

But these conversations weren't equally effective across the board: At a certain point in the initial conversation, the gay canvassers had been instructed to reveal that they were gay and hoping to get married, but that the law prohibited it, whereas the straight canvassers spoke of a "friend" or "relative."

Only the gay canvassers' effectiveness proved enduring.

"Those who discussed same-sex marriage with straight canvassers," write the study's authors, Michael J. LaCour and Donald P. Green, "quickly reverted to their pretreatment baseline opinions, and 90% of the initial treatment effect dissipated a month after the conversation with canvassers."

Meanwhile, the respondents who spoke to gay canvassers remained just as enlightened nine months later.

"The data show that in 20 minutes, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s volunteer canvassers accomplished what would have otherwise taken five years at the current rate of social change," the center's David Fleischer said in a statement. "How did we do it? Our team had heartfelt, reciprocal and vulnerable conversations on the doorsteps of those who opposed marriage for same-sex couples, and volunteers who were LGBT came out during their conversations."

Researchers are hopeful their persuasion methods can produce similar results in reducing prejudices on other social issues as well.