Blue Marble

This Catholic Congressman Is Boycotting Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 11:55 AM EDT

When Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress next Thursday, there's a pretty good chance he'll talk about climate change, one of his favorite subjects of late. Paul Gosar, a Republican Congressman from Arizona, is not happy about that. 

Plenty of climate change deniers, Catholic and not, have expressed their displeasure with the Holy Father over his stance on climate. But Gosar, himself a Catholic, just became the first member of Congress to announce he will boycott the speech because of it.

In a column published in Town Hall yesterday, Gosar wrote:

The earth's climate has been changing since God created it, with or without man. On that, we should all agree…If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so in his personal time. But to promote questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous…

When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.

Obviously, Gosar, a dentist by trade, does not think man-made climate change is a real thing. He also isn't a fan of clean energy: Earlier this year, he sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for an inquiry into allegedly deceptive trade practices by the solar industry. (It was later revealed that the letter was originally drafted by Arizona's biggest power company and slipped to Gosar's office.) He also wants to impeach the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and has accused her of perjury.

Apparently, Gosar didn't get the memo that Congress, which is usually where hope for climate action goes to die, is supposed to be on its "best behavior" for the pope's visit.

So far, at least one faith group has called foul on Gosar. John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith for Public Life, said in a statement, "This stunning display of disrespect toward Pope Francis from a Catholic elected official shows a profound ignorance about the church's teachings when it comes to stewardship of creation."

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David Letterman's New Job: Fight Back Against Global-Warming Deniers

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

Stephen Colbert is great, sure, but we were all sad to see David Letterman leave late-night TV this spring. Fortunately, he's not gone forever: The National Geographic Channel announced yesterday that Letterman will appear as a special correspondent on the second season of Years of Living Dangerously, the Emmy-winning documentary series about climate change. 

From the Los Angeles Times:

The upcoming season of the series will focus on "solutions that individuals, communities, companies and even governments can use to address worldwide climate change," said [National Geographic Channels CEO Courtney] Bach in a statement...

Other Hollywood names attached to Season 2 include Joshua Jackson ("The Affair"), Jack Black ("The Brink"), Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") and Cecily Strong ("Saturday Night Live").

The season will air next October, just before the presidential election.

A Third of American Kids Will Eat Fast Food Today

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 4:24 PM EDT

Every day, more than a third of children in the United States eat fast food. A new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also showed that teens eat twice as much fast food as younger children; on average, 17 percent of teens' daily calories come from fast food.

Fast food consumption among children grew between 1994 and 2006, rising from 10 percent to 13 percent. The new report, which used data from the CDC's 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, shows only a slight decrease—overall, kids ages 2 to 19 consume 12 percent of their calories from fast food. Surprisingly, these numbers weren't different across socioeconomic status, gender, or weight.

Percentage of children and adolescents aged 2–19 years who consumed fast food on a given day, by calories consumed: United States, 2011–2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity in the United States has more than doubled. Between 1980 and 2012 the number of kids considered obese increased from 7 percent to 18 percent and the number of teens during that same period quadrupled.

In an interview with USA Today, Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, pointed to fast food ads geared toward kids as a main factor in the soaring obesity rates. Indeed, as my colleague Kiera Butler wrote earlier this year, McDonald's, in an effort to revive its flagging sales, is marketing inside schools:

Over at Civil Eats, school food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel explained in December that McDonald's targeting of kids is no accident. Rather, it's part of the company's strategy to revive its flagging sales. In a December conference call, Siegel reported, McDonald's then-CEO Don Thompson and the company's US President Mike Andres told investors that the company has "got to be in the schools. When you look at the performance relative to peers of the operators [whose] restaurants are part of the community–it's significant."

Hassink also noted that diet-related diseases, like type-2 diabetes, are affecting Americans at much younger ages than they used to. (In fact, the youngest type-2 diabetes patient on record, a three-year-old girl, was recently diagnosed.)  This, said Hassink, should be cause for concern:

"Childhood is not a place where you can say, 'Let everyone eat what they want and we can fix it later.' "Hassink said parents should remember that daily choices about food can contribute to long-term chronic disease. "Health doesn't happen by accident," she said.

2015 Will Probably Be the Hottest Year on Record

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 12:46 PM EDT

Another day, another smashed temperature record.

Earlier this week, a trio of independent analyses by scientists in the UK, Japan, and the US found that global temperatures over the summer were among the highest on record. Wednesday, US scientists announced that sea ice extent in the Arctic shrunk to its fourth-lowest minimum ever this summer. And Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined the chorus with a report that found that last month was the hottest August ever recorded, and that 2015 is on pace to be the hottest year on record.

If this sounds familiar, that's because 2014 was very likely the hottest year on record until now. As my colleague Jeremy Schulman pointed out at the time, the specific ranking is way less important than the overall trend, which is that we're experiencing more record-breaking hot temperatures than ever before. Today's news is just more proof of that.

Here's the data for August. There is a lot of dark red (meaning the hottest on record) on this map:


The picture looks equally extreme for the year-to-date:


Here's how those year-to-date temperatures stack up against some other extremely hot years. You can see that 2015 is on pace to blow past 2014:

NOAA also reported that the insane drought in California and the Northwest won't be lifting anytime soon:


Here's What the Drivers of the GOP Clown Car Are Saying About Climate Change

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 4:06 PM EDT

The second Republican primary debate is tonight. It should be fun. It's supposed to focus on foreign policy, so it could be an excellent opportunity to examine the global implications of climate change. What's more, three of the show's biggest stars have been running their mouths about global warming over the last few days.

Guess what? The things they said were dumb and wrong.

First up: The Donald. During a speech in Texas on Monday, Trump took aim at President Barack Obama's oft-repeated (and true) claim that climate change is a major threat to America's national security.

"They changed it to climate change because the word 'global warming' wasn't working," Trump said. "Then they changed it to extreme weather—you can't get hurt with extreme weather."

Next up, rising star Ben Carson, who has gained more in the polls over the last month than any other candidate and poses the biggest challenge to Trump tonight. Last week, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that "there is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break."

Actually, there is a ridiculously overwhelming amount of science that shows just that. And fortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) was happy to share all that information with Carson:

Finally, there's Carly Fiorina, the only candidate to be promoted from the "kid's table" debate in August, to the grown-up table tonight, thanks to some good polling early in the month. In an interview with CNBC's John Harwood published today, she trotted out the good old standby line that "a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all," and that therefore the United States needs to stop "destroying peoples' livelihoods on the alter of ideology."

I guess she missed the news that the United States, rather than acting alone, has actually been really successful in convincing China and other major polluters to take action.

For the First Time, the United States Will Actually Try to Waste Less Food

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 3:56 PM EDT

Each year, Americans throw away about a third of the country's food supply. But today, the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the country's first-ever food waste reduction goal, calling for a fifty percent reduction by 2030.

Frankly, this is huge news. Food is the single biggest contributor to landfills today: 133 billion pounds of it end up in dumpsters each year in America—enough to fill the Sears Tower 44 times. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, the average family tosses out $1,500 of food each year, adding up to the equivalent of $162 billion worth of food across the nation. And the impact goes beyond the financial: Wasted food uses up about 25 percent of the US water supply and produces 33 million cars' worth of greenhouse gases each year (in landfills, food waste releases methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide). In the meantime, one in six Americans doesn't have a steady supply of food.

"Wasted," Natural Resources Defense Council

Most of the waste happens at a consumer level. We let food go bad in the fridge, or consumers misunderstand the meaning of expiration dates and throw away food before it's actually expired. But some waste happens at the production and retail levels—produce that doesn't look nice on the outside isn't picked on the farm, and restaurants and grocery stores toss food before it's spoiled to make room for new shipments.

"The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Our new reduction goal demonstrates America's leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste."

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The Last Time California Was This Dry, People Thought the Sun Revolved Around the Earth

| Wed Sep. 16, 2015 5:00 AM EDT

California's historic drought may be even more exceptional than we thought.

In a study published yesterday, scientists made a startling discovery about the severity of California's dry spell: They estimated that the Sierra Nevada mountain range's snowpack levels this year are the lowest they've been for 500 years. That's right, since roughly the year 1500.

This is bad news for Californians: Snowfall in the mountains can account for as much as one-third of the state's water supply during a normal year.

Last spring, measurements showed that levels were at their lowest point in the 75 years they've been recorded. (That period is shown in red on the graph below.) But scientists had to get creative in order to determine how much snow had fallen over the centuries before snowpack measurements were taken. Paleoclimatologists from the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research analyzed studies that used tree rings to reconstruct historical rainfall and temperatures in California's mountains. By combining this data, they were able to estimate spring snowpack levels going back half a millennium, as represented in the graphic below. (SWE stands for "snow water equivalent," which means snowpack).

University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and Nature Climate Change

They found that while there have been many bad years for snow in the mountains, the last time the snowpack sank to this year's levels was around the year 1500.

This spring, the snowpack reached just 5 percent of average yearly levels.

According to Greg Corbin, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state's water system can only store a limited amount of rain runoff, so it relies on snowpack to replenish water reserves. Until it starts snowing again, California has "a long, long way to go," to restore its water, he says.

We're Obliterating Global Temperature Records, and There's No End in Sight

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 5:16 PM EDT
2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record.

One after another, each of 2015's summer months have been among the hottest ever recorded on Earth. And a trio of new studies out this week, from three different countries, confirms that temperature records just keep tumbling—falling victim to an unusually massive El Niño climate event gathering strength in the Pacific, as well as unrelenting man-made climate change, which is cooking the entire system.

On Monday, Japan's Meteorological Agency said that this August was the hottest August worldwide since 1891, when its records begin. August was 0.81 degrees above the 1981-2010 average, smashing 2014's record.

Data from Japan's Meteorological Agency shows 2015's August was the hottest August in more than 120 years. JMA

Also on Monday, NASA confirmed that scientists have never recorded a hotter summer than this year's. When taken together, temperatures for June, July, and August were 1.4 degrees hotter than the long-term average, passing the previous hottest summer, 1998. Unlike Japan's study, NASA says this August was very narrowly the second hottest August on record (behind 2014).

And finally, major research from the United Kingdom's Met Office released this week concluded that 2015's overall temperatures are running at or near record levels (at about 0.684 degrees above the 1981-2010 average)—which suggests the next two years could be the hottest on record around the world.

"We know natural patterns contribute to global temperatures in any given year, but the very warm temperatures so far this year indicate the continued impact of (manmade) greenhouse gases," said Stephen Belcher from the Met Office, in a news release. "With the potential that next year could be similarly warm, it's clear that our climate continues to change."

The Met Office says this year's El Niño— the global climate event that occurs every five to seven years, bringing drought to places like Australia while heaping rain on the western United States—is likely contributing to record temperatures. (Sadly, it's unlikely to help quench California enough to break the drought.)

The El Niño itself could break records. "Recent oceanic and atmospheric indicators are at levels not seen since the 1997–98 El Niño," Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday, adding that the big climate event is unlikely to subside before early 2016.

El Niño is also probably contributing to the unusually active hurricane season in the Pacific. The Met Office says tropical cyclone activity across the northern hemisphere this year is about 200 percent above normal. Six hurricanes have crossed the central Pacific, more than in any other year on record.

America's 25 Top Restaurant Chains, Ranked by Antibiotic Use

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 2:33 PM EDT

Heads up, meat eaters: A new report has rated the antibiotic use in the meat of 25 top fast-food or "fast casual" restaurants, and the results are, well, concerning. The report by Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and four other consumer health organizations, examined antibiotic use as well as the restaurants' transparency about their meat and poultry supply chains. Chipotle and Panera were the only chains to publicly report serving a majority of meat from animals raised without routine antibiotics.

"Chain Reaction," by Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, et al

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls antibiotic resistance one of the top five health threats facing the nation, killing an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. "When livestock producers administer antibiotics routinely to their flocks and herds, bacteria can develop resistance, thrive, and even spread to our communities, contributing to the larger problem of antibiotic resistance," the report explains. "The worsening epidemic of resistance means that antibiotics may not work when we need them most: when our kids contract a staph infection (MRSA) or our parents get a life-threatening pneumonia."

In addition to sending each company a survey, the report authors examined company websites and other publicly available information. They intend for the report to be updated annually as companies change their practices.

Here's a rundown of what researchers had to say about each restaurant (emphasis added):

  • Panera and Chipotle are the only chains that publicly affirm that the majority of their meat and poultry offered is produced without routine use of antibiotics.
  • Chick-fil-A and McDonald's have established policies limiting antibiotic use in their chicken with implementation timelines.
  • Dunkin' Donuts has a policy covering all meats but has no reported timeline for implementation.
  • While Starbucks has made positive statements supporting what it terms as 'responsible use of antibiotics to support animal health,' to our knowledge the company has failed to adopt a clear policy prohibiting routine use of antibiotics in its meat and poultry supply chains or to provide detailed public information on their purchasing practices.
  • While Subway did not respond to our survey, recent news outlets report that the company's goal is to 'eliminate the use of antibiotics in products across the menu' and that Subway is 'targeting to transition to chicken raise without antibiotics important to human medicine in 2016.'...It is unclear whether this would entail the end of all routine antibiotic use in its supply chains.
  • Burger King, Wendy's, Olive Garden, KFC, Chili's, Sonic, Denny's, Domino's, Starbucks, Papa John's Pizza, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Applebee's, Jack in the Box, Arby's, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Outback Steakhouse, and Little Ceasars either have no disclosed policy on antibiotics use in their meat and poultry, or have policies that in our estimation allow for the continued, routine use of antibiotics in the production of all meats they serve.

This Video Shows What It's Like to Drive Through California's Raging Valley Fire

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 10:21 AM EDT

Hellish new video has emerged from the heart of California's Valley Fire, which turned vicious over the weekend, destroying an estimated 400 homes and 20 businesses in Lake County, northeast of wine country and Santa Rosa.

While not the biggest in size, the Valley Fire has become one of the most destructive in a fire season exacerbated by California's prolonged drought. According to the LA Times, four firefighters were injured and one civilian may have been killed. As of Monday morning, the fire, currently burning 50,000 acres, is only 5 percent contained, and more than 1,400 firefighters are on the ground.

Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties, allowing the California National Guard and other state resources to mobilize against the fire.

Walls of flames crept up on one resident of the Anderson Springs community, who fled along a road swept by fire and posted a harrowing video of his escape. In a comment on the video, YouTube user mulletFive wrote, "We got no phone call, there were no sirens, no ash falling, no smoke, no air support. As far as we knew the fire was still far away. But it turns out it was very close to our home, there was simply not enough firefighters to tend to our area." He made it safely south to the Bay Area, according to comments on the video.