March 2013

A Devastating Effect March 1, 2013 : 7:25 PM

The 2012 corn crop was decimated by drought:

“The searing U.S. drought of 2012 devastated the nation’s corn crop, pushing yields down in some states to their lowest levels in nearly 30 years. According to recently-released numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were among the hardest hit Corn Belt states, with yields at 28-, 26-, and 22-year lows, respectively.”

“To put the severity and impact of the 2012 U.S. drought in context, the top 10 hardest-hit states for crop damage are illustrated in the interactive graphic above. With several states seeing their lowest corn crops in more than 20 years, along with damaged soybean and sorghum harvests, the interactive shows how 2012 ranks against the past 27 years for all 10 states."

Source: Climate Central


Climate and Labor March 3, 2013 : 4:16 PM

Another example of how the climate crisis harms the economy:

“Earth's increasingly hot, wet climate has cut the amount of work people can do in the worst heat by about 10 percent in the past six decades, and that loss in labor capacity could double by mid-century, U.S. government scientists reported on Sunday.”

“Because warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air, there's more absolute humidity in the atmosphere now than there used to be. And as anyone who has sweltered through a hot, muggy summer knows, it's more stressful to work through hot months when the humidity is high.”

“To figure out the stress of working in hotter, wetter conditions, experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at military and industrial guidelines already in place for heat stress, and set those guidelines against climate projections for how hot and humid it's likely to get over the next century.”

Source: Reuters


New Cabinet Nominees March 4, 2013 : 5:13 PM

President Obama today announced his choices to lead the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of Management and Budget.

I congratulate both Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy on their nominations to head the DOE and EPA, respectively. I know and highly respect both and I wish them the best of luck in the nomination process. We find ourselves at a critical juncture in our history. If we do not slow our reckless pollution of the atmosphere and invest in new, clean sources of energy, we risk dangerously destabilizing our climate. I hope both nominees will help our nation to navigate and lead the world through the difficult challenges that lie ahead and guide us to a more sustainable future.

President Obama also announced the nomination of Sylvia Burwell to lead the OMB, an exceptionally strong choice. In a time when Washington is paralyzed by partisan standoffs, I know Sylvia will bring a much-needed measure of wisdom and clarity to the contentious budgetary process.


"The Angry Summer" March 6, 2013 : 9:01 PM

Australia just experienced their hottest summer in recorded history and their government is pointing to the climate crisis as one of the main culprits. From the New York Times:

“Climate change was a major driving force behind a string of extreme weather events that alternately scorched and soaked large sections of Australia in recent months, according to a report issued Monday by the government’s Climate Commission."

"A blistering four-month heat wave during the Australian summer culminated in January in bush fires that tore through the eastern and southeastern coasts of the country, where most Australians live. Those record-setting temperatures were followed by torrential rains and flooding in the more densely populated states of New South Wales and Queensland that left at least six people dead and caused roughly $2.43 billion in damage along the eastern seaboard…"

“I think one of the best ways of thinking about it is imagining that the base line has shifted,” Tim Flannery, the commission’s leader, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “If an athlete takes steroids, for example,” he said, “their base line shifts, they’ll do fewer slow times and many more record-breaking fast times.”

Flashback: At one point during the summer, it was so hot that Australian meteorologists had to redraw their temperature maps to accurately represent the scorching heat.


"A generational shift" in oil imports March 7, 2013 : 9:17 PM

December 2012 saw the intersection of two global energy trends: the increasingly voracious energy appetite of China and the rapid surge of domestic energy production in the US. The result—for the first time ever, China overtook the US as the world’s leading oil importer.

"US net oil imports dropped to 5.98m barrels a day in December, the lowest since February 1992, according to provisional figures from the US Energy Information Administration. In the same month, China’s net oil imports surged to 6.12m b/d, according to Chinese customs."

"The US has been the world’s largest net importer of oil since the mid-1970s, shaping Washington’s foreign policy towards energy-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela."


Top stories of the week March 8, 2013 : 4:11 PM

2012 C02 Increase 2nd highest since 1954
While renewable energy systems are expanding at an ever increasing rate—so too are fossil fuel emissions. This latest report from NOAA is further evidence that we must take immediate steps to slow our reckless pollution of the atmosphere.
Full Story

The end of the NYT's "Green Blog"
NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan succinctly wrote what many of us have been thinking, "I hope that Times editors — very soon — will look for new ways to show readers that environmental news hasn’t been abandoned, but in fact is of utmost importance. So far, in 2013, they are not sending that message."
Full Story

Radical groups reach an all time high
The number of right-wing Patriot groups reached an all time high in 2012, breaking the record for the fourth year in a row—driven by recession, immigration, the gun control debate, and the election of Barack Obama. Managing racial and nationalistic tensions is increasingly important to stability in the United States and many other countries around the world as people migrate more freely and economies become more integrated. Full Story

Drug-resistant infections in hospitals on the rise
Deadly forms of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics are increasingly common in American hospitals, forcing facilities to take new prevention mentions to prevent deadly spread. Some of the bacterial infections have mortality rates of 50 percent as the development of new antibiotics has too slow to keep up. As I discuss in my new book, The Future the human microbiome is a vitally important new area in modern medicine. Full Story

Robots in the workplace
A new wave of robots is approaching commercial viability, threatening to displace various jobs in several in American industries—a process I call "robosourcing." Ever since the Luddites in the late 18th century, there has been a debate about whether new technologies would replace or augment human labor. As a wave of advanced robots start to fill our factories, the labor force will have to evolve alongside it. Full Story


Climate Battleground: Virginia March 8, 2013 : 4:34 PM

The 2014 Virginia gubernatorial race will pit well-known Democrat Terry McAuliffe against unabashed GOP climate-denier Ken Cuccinelli. The race offers a fascinating test for climate deniers: will their continued denial of the scientific consensus on the climate crisis work in an increasingly “purple” state? Read more about the contest in the National Journal:

"The leading Republican candidate, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is an unapologetically partisan firebrand who has drawn the national spotlight for his crusade against the science of climate change. He launched a two-year investigation of University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann—which the Virginia Supreme Court eventually shut down. He has sued to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the fossil-fuel pollution that causes global warming. In his new book, The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty, Cuccinelli ramped up his attack on EPA’s climate rules, warning that they’ll slow the U.S. economy and force Americans to live in a future of brownouts and endless gas-station lines."

. . . .

"The battle will play out across a landscape that is a concentrated microcosm of the environmental and economic dilemmas facing policymakers. Virginia’s Eastern Shore is among the regions most vulnerable to severe physical and economic disruption from climate change. Several scientific studies have named Norfolk as one of the three U.S. cities most at risk of damage from extreme storms and flooding exacerbated by climate change. A study of the impact of global warming on the coastal region of Hampton Roads, home to the world’s largest naval base, the only U.S. shipyard that builds nuclear submarines, and the tourist mecca of Virginia Beach, found that rising sea levels could wreak up to $25 billion of economic havoc over time."


Worsening Income Inequality March 10, 2013 : 6:01 PM

In my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, I highlight the problem of increasing income inequality that is plaguing the societies of almost every industrialized country in the world. Despite being the richest country in the world, the United States also suffers from one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

In order to make the U.S. system of capitalism truly sustainable, we must tackle this unhealthy concentration of wealth. The wealthiest one percent of Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The gap continues to widen as the top one percent receives almost 25 percent of annual U.S. income, up from 12 percent just 25 years ago.

While some inequality is inevitable and even desirable, the levels of income inequality have reached dangerous levels in the United States. Too much wealth concentrated in the hands of too few disrupts societal stability and corrupts the wealth-creating incentives of our capitalist system. Anger over income inequality has already sparked popular backlash in the form of Occupy Wall Street and other similar demonstrations. Indeed, the level of inequality in the U.S. is already worse than in Egypt or Tunisia, two nations rocked in recent years by popular uprisings that overthrew national governments during the Arab Spring. While the two situations are clearly different, addressing income hyper-inequality in the United States is crucial to making our system of capitalism more sustainable.

This new video is a terrific illustration of the problem:


The consensous is clear March 11, 2013 : 11:27 AM

The consensus is clear. Humans are causing the climate crisis. Here are the results from a citizen scientist's recent examination of the field:


"As discussed in detail here, I searched the Web of Science for peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that had the keyword phrases "global warming" or "global climate change." The search produced 13,950 articles. See methodology.

By my definition 24 of the 13,950 articles, 0.17% or 1 in 581, clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming. The articles have a total of 33,690 individual authors (rounded to 33,700 in the figure). The 24 rejecting papers have a total of 34 authors, about 1 in 1,000.

What can we conclude from this study?
1. In the scientific literature, global warming denial is missing in action.
2. The authors of the handful of rejecting papers tend not to agree with, or even to cite, each other's work.
3. Other than the authors themselves, only a handful of other scientists cite the few rejecting articles. Those who do cite them do not themselves reject human-caused global warming.
4. The rejecting authors have no alternative theory to explain the observed warming. They do not even agree among themselves. A bandwagon this is not.
5. The vast majority of climate scientists accept the theory that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the observed global warming. Here is how I arrive at this deduction.

When a new scientific theory is first proposed, scientists often go out of their way to state explicitly that they reject it, or that they accept it. This was the case with continental drift in the 1920s, with plate tectonics in the 1960s, and with the Alvarez theory of dinosaur extinction in the 1980s. One reading the literature in these fields can usually tell from the title of an article alone whether an author rejects the new theory. But after a theory achieves maturity and becomes the ruling paradigm, scientists no longer see any point in stating explicitly that they accept the now-no-longer-new theory. They take it as a given, often as an observational fact—like the measured movement of tectonic plates and the measured global temperature rise. To explicitly endorse the ruling theory would have the counter-effect of suggesting that the theory needs reinforcement. My literature survey shows that global warming has achieved the status of the ruling paradigm of climate science. Thus it is reasonable to assume that those who today reject human-caused global warming would make it clear that they do so, while those who accept it would not feel the need to say so explicitly. As a practical matter, virtually all of the global warming papers that Oreskes and I separately reviewed can be classified as about effects, mitigation, adaptation, methods of detecting, climate modeling, and paleoclimatology. Authors of these papers would hardly be likely to deny the existence of the very thing they are writing about. It is theoretically possible that a paper on paleoclimatology could be the exception, dealing with the lack of evidence for CO2-driven global warming in the geologic past, say, leading the author to question the seriousness of modern, human-caused global warming, but I did not find such papers. What we know for a fact is that among the authors of peer-reviewed articles, only a tiny fraction, which I estimate as about 1 author in 1,000, rejects human-caused global warming. In my opinion, based on my understanding of the history of science, it is reasonable to conclude that the vast majority of publishing climate scientists accept that human activities are causing the Earth to warm. Polls of scientists reinforce this conclusion, but polls are no substitute for the primary, peer-reviewed literature, the ground truth of science."

More from


Top stories of the week March 15, 2013 : 2:34 PM

The Ecological Limits of Nitrogen-Intensive Agriculture

Since its creation in 1913, synthetic nitrogen has driven an explosion in global population by providing abundant fertilizer to support modern agriculture. Today, 120 million tons of nitrogen are produced each year and 80 percent of it is used for agricultural fertilizer to help feed the world’s seven billion people. Unfortunately, nitrogen-intensive agriculture has several detrimental environmental effects that are devastating entire ecosystems. In preparation for a future that promises a larger population and increasing per capita consumption, it is vital that humanity finds a way to increase agricultural yields in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Read more

Robosourcing: The Evolving Cyborg Workforce

In my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, I describe the incredible ways in which new technologies are transforming the global economy. One prominent example is the way advanced automation technologies and robotics are producing a trend I call “robosourcing”—the shift of jobs from people to increasingly intelligent machines. Robosourcing is in the early stages of transforming the nature of work in the global economy. Currently, robots are augmenting human labor, rather than replacing it in many instances. Humans guide robots and advanced algorithms, easing the immediate concerns of large-scale unemployment created by advanced technologies. Will we continue to work alongside these machines or is it just a matter of time before they begin to replace far more jobs than they create? Read More

What’s on Your Mind? Humanity at the Early Stages of Mind Reading

For the first time, researchers have been able to use scans of the brain to determine the individual person about which a test subject is thinking. Scientists as Cornell University have use functional magnetic resonance imaging to link different brain activity to conceptions of varying individual identities within a person’s thoughts. This mind reading technology has potentially exciting applications in solving disease and understanding human thought processes, but also presents humanity with potentially significant new privacy and security challenges. Effective oversight and regulations are crucial to the responsible development of this powerful new technology. Read More

A “Parallel Universe” of life

If asked to identify the world’s largest ecosystem, what would you point to? The Amazon, the coral reefs of the South Pacific, or something smaller? New results published in the journal Science suggests that the world’s largest ecosystem may be hidden far beneath the ocean floor in oceanic crust. Instead of relying on sunlight to support itself, these vast microbial communities use complex chemical reactions to survive. These findings could present profound implications for the origins of life on Earth. Read More

The Silence of the Butterflies

Rising temperatures, worsening extreme weather and land-use changes in the past few years led to the largest drop in the population of migrating Monarch butterflies this past year. This mass migration of an iconic species would be a terrible loss, not only for the ecosystems it supports, but for all those who celebrate the beautiful complexity of our planet. Read More


Sandy and the Climate Crisis March 19, 2013 : 8:37 PM

A new report suggests the loss of Arctic sea ice contributed to Superstorm Sandy:

"Cornell and Rutgers researchers report in the March issue of Oceanography that the severe loss of summertime Arctic sea ice — attributed to greenhouse warming — appears to enhance Northern Hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area."

Source: Climate Progress


"Time has come" for a carbon tax March 21, 2013 : 8:28 PM

Last weekend, the Financial Times published a must-read editorial on the need for a national carbon tax:

"Taxes are always a regrettable necessity, but some are less regrettable than others. A tax that strengthens energy security and cuts pollution, while minimising the damage done to employment and investment, is one of the least regrettable of all."

"Yet a carbon tax, which has all those characteristics, is struggling to find support from the US administration or in Congress. It deserves much wider enthusiasm."

"One of the few uncontroversial conclusions of economics is that it is better to tax “bads” than “goods”. Wages and profits are desirable objectives, and governments have no good excuse for obstructing them. They are taxed largely for reasons of convenience, at the cost of disincentives to wage-earning and profitmaking that are a drag on the economy."

"Energy consumption, on the other hand, is not an objective for anyone. Indeed, the negative externalities of energy use, including local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, mean that, other things being equal, an economy that burns less fuel is better off."

"That insight lies behind support from across the political spectrum for a tax linked to the carbon content of fossil fuels, generating revenue that could be recycled through cuts in other taxes. Four leading Democrats in Congress this month proposed such a tax, and asked for suggestions for how it could be implemented. On the Republican side, a carbon tax has been backed by several prominent figures, most notably Greg Mankiw of Harvard, a former economic adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney."

"Carbon taxes have their drawbacks, it is true, but their problems are mostly fixable. They are regressive, but that could be offset by changes to other taxes. They can create difficulties for energy-intensive sectors, but those could be eased with targeted reliefs."

"The claim made this week by more than 85 Republican members of Congress that carbon taxes would “kill millions more jobs” has no evidence to support it."

"While the adjustment to higher energy costs would have some negative impact, it would be offset by the benefits of cuts in other taxes. Curbing consumption would also improve energy security, making the economy less vulnerable to commodity price shocks. President Barack Obama on Friday set out an energy agenda including reduced oil imports, greater use of natural gas and increased energy efficiency. A carbon tax would help meet all of those goals."

"The prospect that extra revenues will be needed to stabilise the public finances in the long term suggests that some taxes are likely to rise, and a carbon tax would be one of the least painful ways to do it. Shifting the tax burden off incomes and on to carbon would be a good idea at any time. Right now, the case is overwhelming."


Top stories of the week March 23, 2013 : 1:53 PM

Medical revolution
We are witnessing the emergence of many exciting technological innovations that hold the potential to disrupt health care as we know it, providing better outcomes at substantially reduced costs, as detailed by Jonathan Cohn in the cover story of March's issue of The Atlantic. From artificial intelligence like IBM's Watson to robotics, genetics, Big Data, and other technologies, this may be the beginning of a revolution in the way health care is delivered. The Atlantic.

The decision to invade Iraq was a strategic blunder, a failure of democracy and informed deliberation. It must never happen again. Paul Krugman sums it up well in his piece this week. New York Times.

China's environmental crisis
From polluted waterways to smog-laden skies to a rapidly growing carbon footprint, China is a facing a monumental environmental crisis. Unfortunately, actions to solve it are being stalled by the nation's powerful oil and gas industry. New York Times.

Danny Hillis on Internet vulnerability
Our highly interconnected world has brought about tremendous advancements for our civilization, but at what cost? Many experts now suggest that our increasing interdependence has also led to incredible vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Internet-pioneer Danny Hillis thinks we need a "Plan B," a backup system that will allow critical functions to continue, even if a large-scale attack disables the Internet. Watch his TED talk here.

Good news from the green economy
The green economy continues to gain momentum. A new Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that between 2010-2011, the number of green jobs grew "at a rate 4 times faster than all other industries combined." More from HuffPo.