Blue Marble

Two Charts That Show How the US Is Shortchanging the World

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 6:15 PM EST
pledges
Tim McDonnell

This morning, the New York Times reported that President Obama is poised to announce a pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-administered account to help poor countries deal with climate change. That's the biggest single pledge of any country so far (see chart above); it doubles the total size of the fund and is a major step toward the UN's target of raising $15 billion before next month's climate talks in Lima, Peru. Other notable carbon emitters, such as the UK, are expected to announce contributions by the end of next week.

But viewed in a different context, the US contribution looks much less impressive. The idea behind the fund is to reconcile one of the cruel ironies of climate change: Many of the nations that will be hit hardest by global warming—countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands, for example—have done very little to cause the problem. Bangladesh was recently ranked as the country that is most vulnerable to climate change, but its per-capita carbon dioxide emissions are 44 times smaller than the US's per-capita emissions, according to the World Bank. So the fund is meant to bridge the gap between the rich countries whose carbon pollution causing climate change and the poor countries that are suffering from it.

As the chart below shows, the US's contribution to the Green Climate Fund looks a lot smaller when it's adjusted to take into account America's extremely high emissions:

relative
Tim McDonnell

Cumulatively since 1980—the earliest year for which consistent data from the Energy Information Administration is available—the US has emitted more carbon than any other country, including China. (In 2008, China overtook the US as the leading annual carbon polluter). So it's probably fair to say that the US is more to blame for global warming than any other single country. And yet Obama's pledge to the Green Climate Fund only translates to about $17,100 per million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted from 1980 to 2012—placing it ninth among the 13 countries that have announced pledges. That's a bit like crashing a friend's car and only offering to pay to fix the steering wheel. By contrast, Sweden's pledge equates to $292,000 per million tons of CO2 emissions—17 times greater than the US pledge.

It's great and necessary that Obama is willing to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. But I think it's fair to say the US is getting away pretty cheap.

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Obama Is About to Make the World's Biggest Pledge to Help Poor Countries Fight Climate Change

| Fri Nov. 14, 2014 11:23 AM EST

What a week! First President Barack Obama announces a massive climate agreement with China designed to lower both countries' carbon emissions while doubling down on clean energy development. Now this morning, the New York Times is reporting that the president will soon announce a $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund, a UN-administered account that will help developing countries clean their energy sectors and adapt to the impacts of global warming.

A $3 billion pledge from the United States would double the size of the fund; the biggest donations up to this point were $1 billion each from France and Germany. More countries are expected to make commitments at a UN meeting in Berlin next week. The fund's stated goal is to reach $15 billion before a key meeting next month in Lima, Peru.

Obama's pledge "is a strong and important signal to developing countries that the US is serious ahead of climate negotiations in 2015," said Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance analyst at the World Resources Institute.

From the Times:

It is not clear whether Mr. Obama's $3 billion pledge will come from existing sources of funding, or whether he will have to ask Congress to appropriate the money. Since 2010, the Obama administration has spent about $2.5 billion to help poor countries adapt to climate change and develop new clean sources of energy, but Republicans are certain to target additional requests for money linked to climate change and foreign aid.

So there are still some details to work out. But like the US-China climate deal, the most immediate impact of this pledge announcement will be to encourage other countries to up the ante on their own commitments.

Awkward: Watch a Supercut of Republicans Using China As an Excuse to Do Nothing About Climate Change

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 1:58 AM EST

The shock announcement of an ambitious and wide-ranging climate deal between the United States and China is leaving one vociferous group of politicians red-faced: those that have always used China as an excuse for delaying climate action.

The announcement between the two biggest emitters deals a blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the US must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation. And vice versa: China has long used US inaction as an excuse too.

Not anymore.

Here's What It Looks Like When a Typhoon Devastates Your City

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 6:30 PM EST

Well before Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on November 8, 2013, weather watchers knew the storm would be terrible. But with more than 6,300 confirmed deaths and billions of dollars in damage, it turned out to be one of the worst natural disasters of the decade. The photos below show what the town of Dulag and the city of Tacloban looked like before and after Haiyan.

Dulag

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google
 

Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

CNES-Astrium/Google


Tacloban

CNES-Astrium/Google

Meet the Senate's New Climate Denial Caucus

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 3:43 PM EST

Well, folks, it wasn't such a great night on the climate action front. It looks like the millions of dollars that environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer invested in the midterms didn't buy much other than a fledgling political infrastructure to sock away for 2016. With Republicans now in control of the Senate, we're likely to see a bill to push through the Keystone XL pipeline coming down the pike soon. And Mitch McConnell, probably the coal industry's biggest booster, retained his seat.

In fact, McConnell and his climate-denying colleague James Inhofe of Oklahoma—the likely chair of the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee—won a lot of new friends on Capitol Hill last night. It probably won't surprise you to learn that most of the Senate's newly elected Republicans are big boosters of fossil fuels and don't agree with the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming. Here's an overview of their statements on climate change, ranging from a few who seem to at least partly accept to science to those who flat-out reject it.

Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska): In September, Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general, said "the jury's out" on whether climate change is man-made. (Actually, the jury came in, for the umpteenth time, just this week.) He repeated that position last month, when he said the role human-caused greenhouse gases play in global warming is "a question scientists are still debating," adding that "we shouldn't lock up America's resources and kill tens of thousands of good jobs by continuing to pursue the President's anti-energy policies."

Tom Cotton (R-Ark.): Cotton has seized on a common but misleading notion among climate change deniers: "The simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth's temperature has not warmed." He admits, however, that "it's most likely that human activity has contributed to some of" the temperature increase of the last hundred years. Still, he supports building new coal plants and the Keystone XL pipeline

Cory Gardner (R-Colo.): Gardner is shifty on the issue. In a debate last month, he wouldn't give a straight yes-or-no answer on whether mankind has contributed to global warming. "I believe that the climate is changing, I disagree to the extent that it's been in the news," that humans are responsible, he said. Yet at the same time, he admitted that "pollution contributes" to climate change. Gardner doesn't seem interested in cleaning up that pollution: Last year he said the Obama administration is waging "a war on the kind of energy we use every day—fossil fuels… because they want to tell us how we live our lives."

David Perdue (R-Ga.): "In science, there's an active debate going on" about whether climate change is real, Perdue told Slate this year, adding that if there are climate-related impacts to Georgia's coast, some smart person will figure out how to deal with them. Perdue has also slammed the Obama administration for waging a "war on coal" and has called the EPA's new carbon emission rules "shortsighted."

Joni Ernst (R-Iowa): Ernst is another rider on the "I don't know" bandwagon. "I don't know the science behind climate change," she told an audience in September. She also hedged the question beautifully in a May interview with The Hill: "I haven't seen proven proof that it is entirely man-made." But she supports recycling!

Bill Cassidy/Mary Landrieu (La.): This race is going to a runoff. Landrieu, the incumbent Democrat, has never been much of a climate hawk—she recently said humans do contribute to observed climate change but criticized Obama for "singling out" the oil industry for regulation. But at least she's better on global warming than Cassidy, her Republican challenger, who flatly denies that climate change exists. He said last month that "global temperatures have not risen in 15 years."

Steve Daines (R-Mont.): Daines is a harsh critic of Obama's energy and climate policies, which he said "threaten nearly 5,000 Montana jobs and would cause Montana's electricity prices to skyrocket." While in the House, he signed a pledge that he will "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue." He believes global warming, to the extent that it exists, is probably caused by solar cycles.

Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): During a North Carolina Republican primary debate, all four candidates laughed out loud when asked if they believed climate change is a "fact." Ha! Ha! Then they all said, "No." Later, Tillis expanded on that position, arguing in a debate with his Democratic rival, Sen. Kay Hagan, that "the point is the liberal agenda, the Obama agenda, the Kay Hagan agenda, is trying to use [climate change] as a Trojan horse for their energy policy."

Ben Sasse (R-Neb.): Sasse hasn't said much about climate science, but he supports building the Keystone XL pipeline and opening up more federal land for oil and gas drilling. He also wants to "encourage the production of coal."

James Lankford (R-Okla.): As a member of the House, Lankford called global warming a "myth." He also, along with Gardner, Cotton, Shelley Moore Capito (R. W.Va.), Cassidy, and Daines, voted to prevent the Pentagon from considering the national security impacts of global warming, even though top Defense Department officials have repeatedly issued warnings that climate change could worsen conflicts around the world. Lankford also floated an amendment to an energy appropriations bill that would have blocked funding for research related to the social costs of carbon pollution.

Mike Rounds (R-S.D.): Rounds appears to accept at least some of the science on climate change. As governor of South Dakota, Rounds said that "there are a number of different causes that we recognize, and the scientists recognize, are the cause of global warming," and that humans are "absolutely" one of those. He fervently supports the Keystone pipeline.

Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.): In a debate last month, Capito said, "I don't necessarily think the climate's changing, no." Then she clarified that her opinion might change with the weather: "Yes it's changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there," she said. "I'm sure humans are contributing to it." I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. Capito is also a founding member of the Congressional Coal Caucus.

This post has been updated.

Will Snow Ruin Your Halloween?

| Thu Oct. 30, 2014 2:11 PM EDT
snow forecasr
The snow forecast from today through the weekend. This data represents a worst-case scenario; there's a 95 percent change there will be less snow than this. National Weather Service

Happy Halloween! Hope you have a good costume lined up that isn't this horrible "sexy Ebola nurse" one. Anyway, this year the weather seems pretty determined to mess with your trick-or-treating plans: We've already seen pumpkin prices spike thanks to the ongoing drought in California. And now it seems that a snowstorm is headed for the Midwest and East Coast. But fear not: It's unlikely that the goblins and witches in NYC, DC, and other eastern cities will get hit too hard tomorrow night.

The map above is the most recent snow accumulation forecast from the National Weather Service, a prediction of how many inches of snow are expected to fall between today and Sunday. It looks worse than it probably will be; this is the 95th-percentile estimate, meaning snowfall is 95 percent likely to be less severe than what is shown here. AccuWeather has a good map showing the trajectory of snowfall over the weekend, as it moves from the Appalachians on Friday up to Maine by Sunday. And the Weather Channel has a useful daily breakdown here. The upshot is that Midwesterners should plan to bundle up, and Mainers could have snow by the end of the weekend, but East Coasters don't need to worry too much about snow-proofing their Halloween costumes.

That said, even without snow it could still be cold and blustery, as our friend Eric Holthaus at Slate points out. The NASA satellite imagery below depicts the Nor'easter currently straddling the eastern seaboard, which the latest NOAA forecast says will bring "much colder weather" and possibly some showers by Saturday. So whatever ridiculous "sexy" costume you decide to wear tomorrow, probably pack a sweater.

snow halloween
NASA

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The Craziest Things Republican Candidates Have Said About Climate Change In One Video

| Tue Oct. 28, 2014 4:52 PM EDT

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

Can the GOP's 2014 candidates give a straight answer on climate change? It appears not.

Many Republican candidates have offered roundabout answers to climate change questions. Some have said the climate isn't changing at all, while others have disputed research showing that human activity is driving those changes. Then there's Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), who said during a debate this year that he's confident our climate isn't changing because he has "Googled this issue."

Lee Fang of The Republic Report put together a mash-up of Republican candidates' greatest hits on climate change this year.

Watch it above.

5 New York Epidemics That Were Way Worse Than Ebola Will Be

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 4:18 PM EDT
board of health
An 1865 cartoon from Harper's Weekly ridicules the incompetence of the New York City Board of Health, first established to fight yellow fever. US National Library of Medicine

Ebola has arrived in New York City. So should residents here be worried about a widespread outbreak? Almost certainly not: The disease is not airborne, and infected patients are only contagious once they show symptoms. Craig Spencer, the infected doctor in New York, has said he didn't have symptoms Wednesday night when he rode the subway between Manhattan and Brooklyn and went bowling. Three people he came into contact with, who have not shown symptoms, have been placed in precautionary quarantine. And unlike West Africa, where health care is sparse and low-quality, the US is well equipped to handle cases of the virus; the hospital where Spencer is being treated has been preparing to treat Ebola patients. (Public heath officials in the city expected cases of Ebola to turn up sooner or later.)

But the prospect of a deadly disease outbreak in the Big Apple is still pretty scary, and the city hasn't always dodged the pathogen bullet. Here are a few epidemics in New York that were far worse than Ebola is likely to be.

Yellow fever (1795-1803):

The wharf in Philadelphia where yellow fever cases were first identified. Wikimedia Commons

The city's first health department was created in 1793 to block boats from Philadelphia, which at the time was in the grips of a yellow fever epidemic that left 5,000 dead. The tactic didn't work: By 1795 cases began to appear in Manhattan, and by 1798 the disease had reached epidemic proportions there, with 800 deaths that year. Several thousand more died over the next few years. (The disease causes victims' to vomit black bile and their skin to turn yellowish, and the fatality rate without treatment is as high as 50 percent.) This was no small blow for a city that at the time had only about 60,000 residents. As is the case today with Ebola in West Africa, misinformation was a big part of the problem: Doctors at the time had only just begun to speculate that the virus was carried by mosquitoes (other theorized sources included unsanitary conditions in slums and rotting coffee). Little effort was made to publicize the epidemic for fear of a mass exodus from the city, according to Baruch College. Today yellow fever is extremely rare in the United States but still kills 30,000 people every year, 90 percent of whom are in Africa.

Cholera (mid-1800s):

cholera
An 1865 poster from the New York City Sanitary Commission offers advice on how to avoid contracting cholera. Wikimedia Commons

By the 1830s New York was a booming metropolis of 200,000, with swarms of newcomers arriving daily on boats from Europe. When word of a raging cholera epidemic in Europe reached the city's Board of Health, it instituted quarantines on incoming ships and tried to clean up the filthy streets. But again the board was reluctant to make public announcements, this time to avoid disrupting trade, according to city records. One resident claimed the board was "more afraid of merchants than of lying." By June 1832, the disease, which causes severe diarrhea and can kill within hours if untreated, arrived in New York via boats traveling down the Hudson River from Quebec. Within two months, 3,500 people were dead—mostly poor Irish immigrants and blacks living in the city's slums. Outbreaks occurred again in 1849, with some 5,000 deaths, and in 1866, with 1,100 deaths

Polio (1916):

A physical therapist works with two children with polio in 1963. Charles Farmer/CDC

New York City was the epicenter of an outbreak of polio in 1916 that began with a handful of cases reported to a clinic in Brooklyn. The disease, which advances from feverlike symptoms to paralysis and sometimes death, ultimately spread to 9,000 New Yorkers and caused 2,400 deaths. Across the Northeast, the infection toll climbed to 23,000 by the fall. The disease remained prevalent in the United States until the 1954 introduction of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. Polio is now extremely rare here. But worldwide, it still infects 200,000 people every year, particularly in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Influenza (1918):

influenza
In 1918, soldiers with influenza are treated at an Army hospital in Kansas. Wikimedia Commons

In August 1918, a Norwegian ship called the Bergensfjord pulled into New York Harbor carrying 21 people infected with a new and virulent strain of the flu. Over the next several weeks, dozens more arrived, mostly on ships from Europe, and sick passengers were quarantined in a hospital just blocks from the modern-day Bellevue, where Spencer is currently being treated. Those unfortunate sailors were just the first in what would become the deadliest disease outbreak in the city's history to that date. Over 30,000 deaths were recorded by November—the actual number was likely much higher—including 12,300 during the first week of November alone. One health worker visited a family in lower Manhattan and found an infant dead in its crib and all seven other family members severely ill.

Other nearby cities fared even worse: The death rate in New York was 4.7 per 1,000 cases, compared to 6.5 in Boston and 7.3 in Philadelphia, according to the National Institutes of Health. That may not sound like a lot, given that the Ebola death rate is closer to 50 percent, but because influenza is so easily spread it can infect a much greater number of people. Globally, the 1918 flu killed between 50100 million people, the worst public health crisis in modern times. Today, the flu is still considered the greatest infectious disease risk for Americans, killing between 3,000 and 50,000 every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In other words, it's possible that more people could die from the flu this year in America than have died worldwide from Ebola during this outbreak. And yet only 1 in 3 Americans get a flu shot. Get a flu shot, people!

HIV/AIDS (1981-present):

An AIDS poster from New York City in the 1980s US National Library of Medicine

The scourge of HIV/AIDS is the most familiar epidemic for modern New Yorkers, beginning with the June 1981 discovery of 41 cases of a rare cancer among gay men across the country. Throughout the 1980s, campaigns by the city encouraged New Yorkers to use protection during sex and not to share needles or use intravenous drugs. By 1987, according to city records, $400 million had been spent on AIDS services. But activists for AIDS rights groups like ACT UP accused city officials, led by Mayor Ed Koch, of dragging their feet and ignoring the true scale of the crisis. It took until the mid-'90s for anti-retroviral drugs to become widely available. Today, for people who have access to adequate health care, HIV is often manageable. But to date, more than 100,000 New Yorkers have been killed by AIDS-related maladies, according to state health statistics. Despite recent advances in medical treatment, infection rates are still high in New York, disproportionately affecting racial minorities and gay men.

Environmentalists Don't Like Europe's New Climate Plan. Can Obama Do Better?

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 1:14 PM EDT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with other European leaders in Brussels.

Environmental groups are warning that a new European agreement to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 sets the bar far too low.

The pact—which was reached early Friday in Brussels—makes the European Union the first major bloc of countries to commit to emissions targets ahead of next year's crucial climate change talks in Paris. At the Paris meeting, world leaders will attempt to hammer out a global agreement that will keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Guardian reports that in addition to their commitment to cut greenhouse emissions by 40 percent, European leaders also agreed to increase the portion of the region's energy that comes renewable sources to 27 percent by 2030. That provision is legally binding for the EU as a whole, but not on a national level, potentially opening the door to disagreements about how to get there. The third notable part of the pact is a plan to increase energy efficiency by 27 percent, but that target is not legally binding.

Oxfam—the global development NGO—slammed the deal as "insufficient," saying the targets are too low and not enforceable enough. The group's Deputy Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Natalia Alonso, said in a statement: "Today's deal must set the floor not the ceiling of European action, and they must arrive in Paris with a more serious offer." Oxfam called for a much for aggressive policy: 55 percent cuts in emissions.

Greenpeace also criticized the deal, saying the EU leaders pulled the "handbrake on clean energy."

"These targets are too low, slowing down efforts to boost renewable energy and keeping Europe hooked on polluting and expensive fuel," the group said in a statement.

Greenpeace EU managing director Mahi Sideridou added, "The global fight against climate change needs radical shock treatment, but what the EU is offering is at best a whiff of smelling salts."

Nevertheless, European leaders hailed the deal as a major breakthrough. "This package is very good news for our fight against climate change," said Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the pact "will ensure that Europe will be an important player, will be an important party, in future binding commitments of an international climate agreement."

World Resources Institute, a leading climate policy research group, struck a more conciliatory tone than other environmental groups, while also calling for more aggressive targets. "Despite facing a dismal recession and difficult internal debate, European leaders demonstrated their resolve by staying the course," said the institute's director of climate and energy programs, Jennifer Morgan, in a statement. "At the same time, it is clear that all of the targets could have been—and should have been—more ambitious."

The deal raises the stakes for other countries to get serious about climate commitments ahead of Paris. According to the Guardian, it contains a clause that would trigger a review of the new targets—potentially torpedoing today's agreement—if other countries don't come to the table with comparable proposals next year.

It remains unclear precisely what the US government will seek at next year's negotiations. Early indications suggest the Obama administration is considering a plan that would require countries to limit emissions according to a specific timetable but wouldn't dictate to individual countries how deep those cuts would be.

In Just 15 Years, Wind Could Provide A Fifth Of The World's Electricity

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 10:36 AM EDT
The Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, UK.

Up to one fifth of the world's electricity supply could come from wind turbines by 2030, according to a new report released this week by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). That would be an increase of 530 percent compared to the end of last year.

The report says the coming global boom in wind power will be driven largely by China's rebounding wind energy market—and a continued trend of high levels of Chinese green energy investment—as well as by steady growth in the United States and new large-scale projects in Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa.

The report, called the "Global Wind Energy Outlook," explains how wind energy could provide 2,000 gigawatts of electricity by 2030, which would account for 17 to 19 percent of global electricity. And by 2050, wind's share of the electricity market could reach 30 percent. That's a huge jump from the end of 2013, when wind provided around 3 percent of electricity worldwide.

The report is an annually produced industry digest co-authored by the GWEC, which represents 1,500 wind power producers. It examines three "energy scenarios" based on projections used by the International Energy Agency. The "New Policies" scenario attempts to capture the direction and intentions of international climate policy, even if some of these policies have yet to be fully implemented. From there, GWEC has fashioned two other scenarios—"moderate" and "advanced"—which reflect two different ways nations might cut carbon and keep their commitments to global climate change policies. In the most ambitious scenario, "advanced," wind could help slash more than 3 billion tons of climate-warning carbon dioxide emissions each year. The following chart has been adapted and simplified from the report:

In the best case scenario, China leads the way in 2020 and in 2030:

But as the report's authors note, there is still substantial uncertainty in the market. "There is much that we don't know about the future," they write, "and there will no doubt be unforeseen shifts and shocks in the global economy as well as political ups and downs." The more optimistic results contained in the report are dependent on whether the global community is going to respond "proactively to the threat of climate change, or try to do damage control after the fact," the report says.