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Smothering Snow, Spiking Sea Levels, and Other Climate Plot Twists: Expecting the Unexpected in the Northeast

When I first started digging into climate impacts, I used to think that the northeastern U.S., where I live, was a pretty good place to have landed. I still think so. It’s unlikely we’ll see historic mega-droughts, like those forecast by some for the U.S. Southwest. We’ll see heat that we’re far from prepared for, but it’ll be hotter still in the South. Our forests are expected to change, but they’re not under pressure like those in the Mountain West, nor are they currently experiencing rising risks of wildfire. We have our own problems, to be sure, like coastal vulnerability and trends in extreme precipitation.

But this week in the news there are two new studies that reminded me to expect the unexpected. While we understand the general pathway of change, the shorter-term directions the climate can take along the way can take us by surprise. Read More

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Rep. Grijalva’s Requests and the Real Problem with Conflict of Interest Disclosure

On Tuesday, Arizona’s U.S. representative Raul Grijalva asked seven academics for their sources of funding and earlier drafts of testimony they have delivered before congressional committees. Since then, many have debated whether the requests cross the line into harassment or witch hunts or McCarthyism. Lost in the discussion around whether the requests are too broad is a bigger question to address: Why don’t we already know who funds the work of those who testify before Congress? Read More

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Counting the Benefits of Agroecology: We Have the Tools, Let’s Use Them

With global challenges such as diminishing environmental quality and public health, combined with accelerating climate change, we need more than ever to know how to confront many problems at once. Since plants inhale carbon dioxide and soils store carbon, there are numerous reasons to expect agriculture to play a significant role for improving the human prospect. Indeed, scientific research documents that we have tools to achieve ecological and climatic sustainability, but here’s the catch—we have to use them. Read More

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Is Small Farmers’ Firewood Use Burning up the Forests?

For many years, small farmers in developing countries have been blamed for deforestation because of the way that they make breakfast. While in developed countries nearly everyone cooks with fossil fuels, or with electricity generated by fossil fuels or hydroelectricity, in developing countries firewood still predominates, especially among the poorest people in rural areas. But is this really an important driver of deforestation—and thus a major contributor to global warming? A new study—the most in-depth and comprehensive look at the subject yet—says no.

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5 Reasons Why Colorado Should Increase—Not Roll Back—Its Renewable Energy Standard

On February 5th, state Senate Republicans passed a bill to roll back Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES), which has helped make the state a national leader in clean energy. Rolling back the RES is precisely the wrong direction for Colorado to go at this time. In addition to providing important benefits to Colorado’s economy, increasing renewable energy use is one of the most cost-effective strategies for complying with the EPA’s proposed power plant carbon standards. Read More

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Stormy Seas, Rising Risks: New Analysis Shows Undisclosed Climate Change Impacts at Oil Refineries

Ten miles outside New Orleans stands a two-million barrels per day oil refinery, surrounded by the Meraux, Louisiana community. On low-lying ground along the Gulf coast, an elaborate network of pipes and smoke stacks looms beyond double-wide trailers, rows of single-family homes, and a playground. By 2050, the refinery and surrounding areas could be underwater, given intermediate sea level rise estimates. But this won’t be the first time the refinery has seen high water levels. Read More

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What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?

This morning, Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to seven universities seeking documents related to academics who have testified before Congress on climate change. The requests come in the wake of revelations over the weekend that the Smithsonian Institution agreed not to disclose payments from the Southern Company, a major utility, to fund and review the work of Smithsonian aerospace engineer Willie Soon. As all of the researchers in question have been critical of mainstream climate science, some are wondering if Rep. Grijalva’s requests can be considered a witch hunt. So is it? Read More

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Willie Soon’s Failure to Disclose Industry Funding for Contrarian Climate Research is Another Reason to Support Transparency

My first job in science communication was as an “Explainer” in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The program helps visitors – particularly students – understand the forces of flight. Our uniforms included red polo shirts that said “The Explainer Program” on the front and had the name of the company that sponsored the program – Cessna Aircraft – on the sleeve.

I recall this old uniform because the Smithsonian is under scrutiny for an entirely different type of sponsorship that was hidden from public view. Read More

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Four Ways Scientists Can Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

This post originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union’s Plainspoken Scientist blog.

One of the reasons I love working with scientists is that they tend to be very direct. Ask a question: get an answer. Sometimes the answer is a little long and makes me revisit basic physics I haven’t thought about since middle school, but I definitely get an answer.

Thankfully, most of the questions journalists, policymakers and citizens ask scientists are straightforward. But many are off-base and sometimes even badly framed. If a scientist provides a direct answer to a bad question, they can inadvertently leave audiences with an inaccurate impression of their work. While the examples below won’t happen to every researcher, they illustrate good principles for effectively dealing with such questions. Read More

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A Dam Waste: Outdated Reservoir Rules Dump Water During Drought

Last year, California’s drought task force toured the parched state, visiting sites impacted by the record dry conditions. At Lake Mendocino, a reservoir located in the northern part of the state, they saw bathtub rings and beached docks, evidence of drastically reduced water levels. Therefore, it should be surprising that billions of gallons of water were released from the reservoir during the drought to comply with outdated flood control rules. Read More

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