October, 2016

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs.


October, 2016


  • No One Saw Tesla’s Solar Roof Coming: Elon Musk just showed us the grand unification of Tesla: fast cars, big batteries, and a stunning solar rooftop.
  • Prince Charles joins clean soil project to combat climate change: Prince of Wales says soil health is of ‘critical importance’ as he joins initiative to keep carbon locked in the world’s soils
    • Recent research found that using soil to soak up carbon from the atmosphere could take more than a century to have the effects needed. However, preserving existing soils and the carbon stored in them could have a quicker beneficial effect, as losing that carbon to the air through poor farming methods adds immediately to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • Converting Oregon Coal Plant to Biomass Stokes Controversy: Plans to convert a coal-fired power plant in Oregon into what would be the nation’s largest biomass facility will be tested before year’s end when 8,000 tons of toasted wood thinned from a national forest is burned to ensure compatibility with the power plant’s equipment.
  • ‘The Blob’ Is Back: What Warm Ocean Mass Means for Weather, Wildlife: Unusually warm waters along the Pacific Coast, dubbed “the Blob,” have severely disrupted weather and wildlife since 2014. Meteorologist Nicholas Bond explains the phenomenon
  • Sharks equipped to handle climate change: The apex predators, along with rays and some other fish species evidently use proteins to modify their genes to respond to rapid environmental changes without having to go through the drawn out process of genetic evolution. The staggering finding was made in a study released by researchers from English and Canadian universities.
  • Scientist Goes It Alone on Climate Change to Save His State: Facing opposition from politicians, this North Carolina scientist is urging coastal communities to get ready for rising water.


  • The carbon bubble: why investors can no longer ignore climate risks: The financial risks posed by climate change and bad investments could make an ugly dent in your retirement savings, a new report warns
  • Clean coal: Firm claims world’s first commercially viable, zero-carbon power plant is ‘game changer’: Company boss says inventor of new technique should get Nobel Prize
    • But a 10-megawatt power station in Chennai, India, is currently using CCSL’s system to generate electricity on a commercial basis while capturing some 97 per cent of its carbon emissions, the firm’s chief executive Aniruddha Sharma told The Independent. And he said it could run at 100 per cent.
    • While carbon capture has been associated with storing carbon – for example by returning it to coal mines – the material taken out of the Chennai plants emissions is made into soda ash, then sold to make a range of products from detergents to glass.
  • The Politics of US series: Climate change: The Politics of US looks at polarizing topics to help deepen understanding of the issues – and respect for those with differing views. This installment examines why the partisan divide on climate change has widened in recent years.
  • Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take On Corporate Agriculture?: Michael Pollan is a contributing writer and the Knight professor of journalism at U.C. Berkeley, and the author, most recently, of “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”
    • Eight years ago this month, I published in these pages an open letter to the next president titled, “Farmer in Chief.” “It may surprise you to learn,” it began, “that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food.” Several of the big topics that Barack Obama and John McCain were campaigning on — including health care costs, climate change, energy independence and security threats at home and abroad — could not be successfully addressed without also addressing a broken food system.
    • Soon after the inauguration, the Obamas gave Big Food a case of heartburn when, in the spring of 2009, Michelle Obama planted an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn, a symbolic but nevertheless powerful act that thrilled the food movement. (Alice Waters had first proposed the idea of a White House victory garden to the Clintons, and the idea was picked up in 2008 in an online petition, as well as in my “Farmer in Chief” letter.) The first lady also helped establish a farmers’ market a block from the White House; a photo op featured her heaping a market basket with local produce and singing the praises of fresh vegetables.
    • A spokesman for the American Council on Science and Health, a chemical-industry front group, called the Obamas “organic limousine liberals,” warning that organic farming would lead to famine and calling on the first lady to use pesticides in her garden — evidently whether she needed them or not. The Mid-America CropLife Association wrote a letter to the president suggesting that, by planting an organic garden, his wife had unfairly impugned conventional agriculture. A minor skirmish, perhaps, but also a shot across the bow.
    • In March 2010, Michelle Obama gave a speech to the G.M.A. that surprised many of the executives in the room with its sophistication and toughness. She issued a stern challenge to Big Food, doing it in such a way as to make clear she wasn’t about to fall for the industry’s usual bag of P.R. “health” tricks. “We need you not just to tweak around the edges,” she said, “but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products and how you market those products to our children.” She continued: “What it doesn’t mean is taking out one problematic ingredient only to replace it with another. While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t. And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones — for example, adding a little bit of vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids. This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy. As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy.”
    • But perhaps we will look back on Big Food’s single most important victory during the Obama years as one it didn’t even have to break a sweat achieving, since it involved an issue on which it wasn’t even challenged. The administration undertook an ambitious campaign to tackle climate change by stringently regulating industries responsible for greenhouse gases, notably energy and transportation. For whatever reason, though, the administration chose not to confront one of the largest emitters of all: agriculture.
    • Whenever the Obamas seriously poked at Big Food, they were quickly outlobbied and outgunned. Why? Because the food movement still barely exists as a political force in Washington. It doesn’t yet have the organization or the troops to light up a White House or congressional switchboard when one of its issues is at stake.
    • For all the disappointments, the Obamas deserve credit for celebrating and nourishing Little Food. If nothing else, the spotlight of their attention helped elevate the idea of food as something worthy of public attention. As the Obamas prepare to leave the White House, Big Food can congratulate itself on retaining its political grip on Washington. It seems very unlikely that the next occupant of the White House is going to pose as stiff a challenge. Donald Trump professes to love fast food, and Hillary Clinton has longstanding ties to Big Food: Tyson was one of Bill Clinton’s first political patrons, and as a lawyer in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton served on the board at Walmart. (Though as a New York senator, she worked hard on behalf of small upstate farmers, so perhaps there is hope.) But like Goliath, Big Food can’t afford to be complacent about its size or power, not when the culture of food is shifting underfoot. Perhaps it is a sign of things to come that Scott Faber, the lobbyist who helped the industry navigate the first Obama administration, has left the G.M.A. to work for the Environmental Working Group, where he now plies his skills on behalf of the food movement’s David. Politics and policy in Washington seldom move before the larger culture does, but when that happens, it can sweep away everything in its path — Goliath included.
  • Goodbye forever, friendly Holocene: Earth has left the geological epoch that we know and love. Now our political and economic systems must change fast to deal with the Anthropocene
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These 17 Goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.
  • Seas Rising but Florida Keeps Building on the Coast: Sea level rise as a result of global warming is not stopping developers of Florida’s coast
    • “Buyers are becoming very savvy,” Young said. “The first question they say to us is: ‘Will it flood?’”


  • World on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020, major report warns: Living Planet Index shows vertebrate populations are set to decline by 67% on 1970 levels unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact
  • 10 years on from the Stern report: a low-carbon future is the 'only one available': Economist says green development is the only route to global economic growth and points to China leading the world on climate change action
    • There is a strong argument that China is now leading the world in action on climate change, Stern said, making the country both a competitor and inspiration for other nations.
    • Today, he said, a low-carbon future is the sole option for prosperity. “It is the only one available and it is a very exciting growth story,” Stern said. “Any attempt to follow high-carbon growth will eventually be self destructive due to the very hostile environment it creates. There was an old alleged tension between growth on the one hand and climate responsibility on the other, but it’s a completely fake horse race.”
  • Letter: Do not place real concerns about sexual harassment and assault in opposition to environmental concerns. Our commentary on the presidential debates lamented that high-level coverage of the environment has been supplanted by "relentlessly tawdry campaign news." One reader takes exception to that juxtaposition.
  • Warm Ocean Water Takes Toll on Antarctica’s Glaciers: It has become increasingly clear in recent years that ocean waters are eating away at the undersides of the ice shelves that fringe Antarctica and buttress its many glaciers. A new study released Tuesday has found that hundreds of feet of ice have been lost from the bottoms of a few of these ice shelves and glaciers in a region of the continent that is contributing the most to sea level rise.
  • Sandy's Lessons Lost: Jersey Shore Rebuilds in Sea's Inevitable Path: Superstorm Sandy crushed N.J. communities like Toms River, but InsideClimate News and WNYC report that rebuilding has not accounted for rising seas.
  • Sorry, California, it’s looking like another droughty winter: For Southern California in particular, “this winter is not looking good,” says meteorologist David Miskus of NOAA, which issued temperature and rainfall predictions for December through February. “To really put a big dent into this drought,” Miskus said in a press call, “it would probably take a couple of wet winters in a row.”
  • In a loss for ExxonMobil, NY Supreme Court orders oil giant to produce climate documents: In a loss for ExxonMobil, the New York State Supreme Court has ordered the oil giant and its accounting firm to produce documents subpoenaed in a highly charged investigation of whether the company concealed from investors and the public what it knew about climate change as long as four decades ago.


  • This Antarctic glacier is the biggest threat for rising sea levels. The race is on to understand it: The glacier in question, named Thwaites, is a linchpin of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is larger than Pennsylvania and presents a 75-mile-long front to the ocean, in this case the Amundsen Sea, where recent studies have suggested that warm waters at extreme depths are causing a major glacial retreat that could be “unstoppable,” in the words of NASA. The reason is that these Amundsen Sea glaciers are already sitting in deep water, but if they break away further, the terrain becomes even deeper behind them, threatening a runaway retreat.
  • Seaweed: Species On The Move: As climate change impacts habitats around the world, species are on the move, trying to adapt — and survive.
  • SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report:
  • Greenland Is Melting: The shrinking of the country’s ice sheet is triggering feedback loops that accelerate the global crisis. The floodgates may already be open.
  • GOP Senator On Climate Change: ‘Mankind Has Actually Flourished In Warmer Temperatures’: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) would like to remind you that lots of people move to Florida.
  • Carbon Dioxide Passed Critical Threshold in 2015: the World Meteorological Organization released another reminder of the planetary predicament we’re in: The earth’s atmosphere permanently passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold last year.
  • This Antarctic glacier is the biggest threat for rising sea levels. The race is on to understand it: The glacier in question, named Thwaites, is a linchpin of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is larger than Pennsylvania and presents a 75-mile-long front to the ocean, in this case the Amundsen Sea, where recent studies have suggested that warm waters at extreme depths are causing a major glacial retreat that could be “unstoppable,” in the words of NASA. The reason is that these Amundsen Sea glaciers are already sitting in deep water, but if they break away further, the terrain becomes even deeper behind them, threatening a runaway retreat.
  • Pope Francis's edict on climate change has fallen on closed ears, study finds: Hailed as a significant call for action, the pope’s encyclical has not had the anticipated rallying effect on public opinion, researchers have found
    • “The conservative Catholics who are cross-pressured by the inconsistency between the viewpoints of their political allies and their religious authority would tend to devalue the pope’s credibility on this issue in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance that they experience,” she added.
    • But, the authors say, among both conservative Catholics and non-Catholics who had heard of the encyclical, the pontiff’s perceived credibility decreased as political leaning veered to the right. “For people who are most conservative, the Catholics who are aware of the encyclical give the pope 0.5 less than Catholics who aren’t aware of the encyclical on a one to five scale,” said Li.


  • Donald Trump Is the First Demagogue of the Anthropocene: He won’t be the last.
    • I write and report on climate change, not a pursuit that usually encourages optimism, but watching all this unfold with the atmosphere in mind has been particularly bleak. For the past few months in particular, I’ve been thinking: Wow, this is all happening way earlier than I thought it would.
  • The Climate Questions the Next President Should Answer: Wednesday marked the final presidential debate of 2016 between major party candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
    • It also marked the end of the second straight presidential debate cycle where the moderators failed to ask a single question about climate change. It’s been covered pretty extensively as a massive failure by the media to ask the next leader of the free world a question about one of the planet’s most pressing problems. The U.S. has gone eight years without hearing presidential candidates answer a question on climate change while on the same stage. You have to go back to Oct. 15, 2008, when Barack Obama and John McCain took part in their third debate, for the most recent climate question.
  • News Coverage of Coal’s Link to Global Warming, in 1912:

The furnaces of the world are now
burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of
coal a year. When this is burned,
uniting with oxygen, it adds about
7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide
to the atmosphere yearly. This tends
to make the air a more effective blan-
ket for the earth and to raise its
temperature. The effect may be con-
siderable in a few centuries.

  • The Space Between Two Worlds: If you’re awake and alive in the 21st century, with even an ounce of empathy, your heart and mind are going to be torn asunder. I’m sorry about that, but it’s unavoidable — unless you simply shut down and turn your back on the world. For me, the only solution is found in the space between awe and anguish, and between joy and despair. There, in the tension between two worlds, lies the place we just might find ourselves and our life’s work
    • it turns out that many folks in my line of work — dealing with environmental crises and the degradation of our planet — have a secret. While many put a brave face on it, or deny it altogether, it seems that feelings of gloom, and serious bouts of anxiety and depression, are common and becoming more serious.
    • I’ve come to believe that the best place to live is precisely between two worlds — between the world of despair and frustration, which reminds us of the work we must do and the stakes involved, and the world of awe, wonder, hope, inspiration, and love, which refuels our minds and our hearts, and keeps us going.
    • It would be so easy to abandon ourselves in a world of despair and frustration, hating everything and everyone, and turning our backs on the world. How indulgent and self-satisfying! But it’s the wildly selfish choice, and doesn’t help anyone. And it is so tempting to ignore the problems of our time, turn off our minds and hearts, and live in a fantasy, fueled by an orgy of entertainment, shopping, recreational drugs, or other mindless pursuits. That’s where many people escaped. I can hardly blame them. But, for me, the best place is to be exactly in the middle: to feel both the hope and the anguish, the joy and the suffering, of our moment of history. We need both to fuel us, steer us, and keep our paths true. It’s as if we need the gravitational pull of both worlds to keep us on track, locked on a good and righteous path. Without both worlds pulling on us, we would crash into one, or simply lose our way, hurtling through the universe on our own, intersecting nothing, helping no one.




What went on in September, 2016?

What went on in August, 2016?

What went on in July, 2016?

What went on in June, 2016?

What went on in May, 2016?

What went on in April, 2016?

What went on in March, 2016?

What went on in February, 2016?

What went on in January, 2016?

What went on: 2015

What went on: 2014

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