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Ready or not, winter ‘bomb cyclone’ heads for East Coast

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Much of the eastern United States has been assaulted by brutally cold temperatures over the last week. New Year’s Eve revelers in New York City rang in 2018 in 9 degree weather — the coldest midnight temperature since 1907.

And the worst is yet to come.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that a “bomb cyclone” is expected to batter the East Coast later this week. A weather system only earns that name by dropping in pressure rapidly — at least 24 millibars over 24 hours — in a process called bombogenesis. Winds could kick up to 55 mph just off the coast of New England, a prospect that has prompted local weather stations to warn of hurricane-force winds.

In Boston, which is no stranger to cold weather and has suffered through brutally low temperatures this past week, the National Weather Service forecasts near-blizzard conditions, with just a quarter-mile of visibility.

But the snow won’t be limited to northern states. As far south as Georgia and Florida, forecasters are calling for potentially dangerous winter weather, with several inches of snow in some areas.

In late 2016, Mother Jones reported that climate change may be contributing to such weather events.

The theory — advanced by Rutgers professor Jennifer Francis and other scientists — is that the rapidly warming Arctic is affecting the jet stream in ways that can contribute to bone-chilling weather in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere:

To understand how it works, it first helps to think of the jet stream as a river of air that flows from west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, bringing with it much of our weather. Its motion — sometimes in a relatively straight path, sometimes in a more loopy one — is driven by a difference in temperatures between the equator and the North Pole. Southern temperatures are of course warmer, and because warm air takes up more space than cold air, this leads to taller columns of air in the atmosphere. “If you were sitting on top of a layer of atmosphere and you were in DC, looking northward, it would be like looking down a hill, because it’s warmer where you are,” explains Francis. The jet stream then flows “downhill,” so to speak, in a northward direction. But it’s also bent by the rotation of the Earth, leading to its continual wavy, eastward motion. As the Arctic rapidly heats up, however, there’s less of a temperature difference between the equator and the poles, and the downhill slope in the atmosphere is accordingly less steep.

That shrinking temperature difference is what wreaks havoc on the jet stream. “When the jet stream gets weaker, it meanders more,” explained Francis in an interview this week. “It wanders north and south and when it gets into one of these wandering and wavy patterns, that’s when we see these pools of cold air pulled southward.” Those pools of cold air are what vast parts of the country are experiencing right now.

The bomb cyclone is expected to leave bone-chilling cold in its wake — even colder than the last few weeks. Temperatures will likely drop 20 to 40 degrees below normal, the Washington Post reports. That means sub-zero in nearly all of New England — and lows reaching down into the 20s, if you can believe it, in Florida.

Seasoned experts over at the National Weather Service have tips for avoiding hypothermia. President Donald Trump simply suggests we “bundle up.”

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Ready or not, winter ‘bomb cyclone’ heads for East Coast

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Roughly a quarter of the planet is slowly turning into a perpetual desert.

In 2017, I couldn’t stop trying to identify corvids. It’s harder than you might think. My latest challenge: a photo of a black bird on the ground. It’s got the fluffy neck feathers of an adult raven and the blue eyes of a baby crow. I’m going with: Raven.

Turns out it’s an Australian raven, a species identifiable by their bright blue eyes. By the rules of #CrowOrNo, I win, because I correctly guessed it’s not a crow. (Though in fairness, I’d call it a draw.)

#CrowOrNo is a weekly Twitter challenge hosted by University of Washington crow scientist Kaeli Swift. Each week, she posts a picture of a bird, which always — to the untrained eye — looks an awful lot like a crow. For a few hours, the eager public submits guesses as to whether it’s a crow, or no. After the big reveal, she explains the clues to use to tell crows from their cousins.

The challenge helps illustrate the large and surprisingly complex world of corvids, a smart family of big-brained birds that includes crows, ravens, and jays. It also shines light on some great crow-themed mysteries, like why some crows have caramel-colored feathers.

For me, the more I learn about crows, the more I see the extraordinary in the most seemingly ordinary birds — like the fact they can recognize faces and might even give gifts.

That’s the value of taking science out of the lab to the social media sphere, like Swift is doing. And, crow or no, I think we could all use a little more science in our lives.

Jesse Nichols is a contributing assistant video producer at Grist.

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Roughly a quarter of the planet is slowly turning into a perpetual desert.

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The Vatican is holding a contest for climate change startups.

Donald Trump’s White House is using some alarming tactics to keep people quiet about climate change and other scientific matters. Over the past few days, investigations have brought some of them to light:

No more climate tweets: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke summoned Joshua Tree National Park’s superintendent to his office last month to reprimand him for tweeting about climate change, The Hill reported on Friday. Zinke made it clear that it was no longer OK for any national park to share climate change facts on official social media accounts.

Joshua Tree’s Twitter account had sent out a thread devoted to climate change:

“Science-based” gets banned: Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has forbidden health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies from using words such as “fetus,” “transgender,” and “science-based” in official documents for next year’s budget.

EPA employees targeted: A lawyer with the Republican campaign group America Rising (which helps find damaging info on political opponents) submitted requests for emails written by EPA staffers who had criticized the agency, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The request calls for emails that mention EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or President Trump, along with any email correspondence with congressional Democrats who had criticized the EPA.

America Rising is affiliated with Definers Public Affairs, a communications company founded by two influential Republicans that promises to help its clients “influence media narratives” and “move public opinion.” The EPA recently signed a $120,000 contract with Definers for media monitoring.

Things are getting pretty Orwellian in here.

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The Vatican is holding a contest for climate change startups.

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California is preparing for a weekend of wintertime wildfires.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

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California is preparing for a weekend of wintertime wildfires.

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The EPA hired a ‘war room’-style media monitoring company.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

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The EPA hired a ‘war room’-style media monitoring company.

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Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Link:  

Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

More than a year after the election of Donald Trump, the opposition Democratic Party still hasn’t found its voice on climate change.

That’s according to an essential overview of the situation from the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. Taken at face value, it’s not good news: Despite consistent rhetoric that climate change is among the most important challenges of the century, the Democratic Party has no large-scale cohesive plan to tackle it.

OK, that fact is worrying.

However, while Meyer is correct in his assessment of national politics, he makes one glaring omission: Climate action at the local and state level around the United States is, if anything, healthier and more ambitious than ever before. And it’s more often than not driven by Democrats. After a two decade-long quixotic quest for a unified federal climate policy, party members are finally willing to admit that their climate strategy can’t rest on economy-wide national legislation alone.

“We need to do everything we can to fight climate change,” says Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. “That means having a bill ready for passage when we take power, and it also means pushing for more immediate wins to lower carbon emissions at the state and local levels by building upon the work of aggressive climate policy in states like Minnesota, California, and New York.”

In city halls, boardrooms, and statehouses across America, what’s (not) happening on climate in today’s Washington is mostly a sideshow. The science is clear, climate-related disasters are happening now, and in most cases, it makes economic sense to take action immediately. So on the front lines of climate change, from San Juan to San Francisco, Minneapolis to Miami, the message is clear: This problem is too important to wait for Congress and the president to get their act together.

Since President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement back in June, more than 2,500 local leaders from all 50 states have signed a pledge saying, “We are still in.” In aggregate, those leaders — mayors, governors, CEOs, university presidents, etc. — represent more than half of all Americans. As an independent nation, they’d rank third in the world in terms of share of total emissions — nearly 10 percent of the global total. But this collective is pushing some of the most ambitious climate policy anywhere on Earth.

And contrary to what you might hear in Washington, pro-climate efforts don’t come at the expense of the economy. In New York City, emissions are down 15 percent since 2005. In the same timeframe, the economy has grown by 19 percent. In Minneapolis, emissions are down 18 percent while the economy is up 30 percent.

Even in red states like Kansas and Texas, bipartisan coalitions are emerging to take advantage of tremendous renewable energy resources in wind and solar. In 2005, Kansas sourced less than 1 percent of its electricity from wind. Now, it’s at 25 percent and, like California, is on pace to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources in the next few years. There is now a nationwide job boom in construction and installation of renewable energy.

If you ask Democrats and advocates directly, this kind of progress has changed the prevailing wisdom of what effective U.S. climate policy looks like.

“We know it’s possible because we’re doing it,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement from Bonn, Germany. “The West Coast offers a blueprint: This is how you build a thriving, innovative economy that combats climate change and embraces a zero-emission future.”

Inslee is helping lead a sizeable, but unofficial, U.S. delegation at the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Dan Firger of Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose boss, Michael Bloomberg serves as an outspoken U. N. special envoy for cities and climate action, calls it a “shadow climate government.”

“We’re less concerned about a silver bullet bill in Congress than we are about how best to get near-term carbon reductions done,” Firger told Grist, adding that the former New York City mayor believes in “bottom-up climate action.”

Lou Leonard, a senior vice president at the World Wildlife Fund, points to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions among several northeastern U.S. states. Already, one of the largest carbon schemes in the world, it stands to expand after this month’s elections resulted in Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races. Those states are now set to join the initiative.

“We cannot put all our chips in a federal solution,” says Leonard from Bonn, where his organization is helping support the We Are Still In delegation. “That’s not the way the U.S. economy works, that’s not the way politics works, and it’s certainly not the most obvious path to success.”

Still, The Atlantic’s Meyer has a point: Democrats need to be able to combine all these local policy victories into a national and global win. After all, worldwide carbon emissions are on pace for a new record high in 2017. But this inside-out approach has precedents for yielding real results.

Climate change inherently is a problem that requires local action. And increasingly, those working for climate policy have shifted their efforts to support local early adopters. It’s a strategy specifically designed to build an eventual national consensus.

“There’s more happening than many people are aware of,” says Steve Valk, the communications director for Citizens Climate Lobby. “City and state initiatives — as happened with gay marriage — can drive a national policy.”

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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

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Russia scandal forces Sam Clovis out of a top USDA position.

Poor dumb turtles and fish, always chomping on the ubiquitous plastic in the water by accident — or so the story went, until a handful of recent studies suggested sea creatures may actually be choosing to eat plastic.

In one of these experiments, researchers took single grains of sand and particles of microplastic — both around the same size and shape — and dropped them onto coral polyps. The tiny creatures responded to the plastic the same way they would to a tasty piece of food, stuffing the bits of trash into their mouths like so many Snickers Minis.

“Plastics may be inherently tasty,” Austin Allen, a study coauthor and marine science doctoral student at Duke University, told the Washington Post.

Coral polyps rely on chemical sensors — taste buds, essentially — to determine whether something is edible or not. And they were repeatedly chosing to swallow plastic during the study. Only once in 10 trials did a polyp make the same mistake with sand. In fact, the cleaner and fresher and more plastic-y the plastic was, the more readily the coral gulped it down.

While the long-term effects of the plastic-saturation of the planet are still unknown, this research suggests that accidentally tasty microplastics could pose an extra hazard to already beleaguered corals around the world.

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Russia scandal forces Sam Clovis out of a top USDA position.

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The Clean Power Plan’s health benefits are better than ever, Trump’s EPA discovers.

Poor dumb turtles and fish, always chomping on the ubiquitous plastic in the water by accident — or so the story went, until a handful of recent studies suggested sea creatures may actually be choosing to eat plastic.

In one of these experiments, researchers took single grains of sand and particles of microplastic — both around the same size and shape — and dropped them onto coral polyps. The tiny creatures responded to the plastic the same way they would to a tasty piece of food, stuffing the bits of trash into their mouths like so many Snickers Minis.

“Plastics may be inherently tasty,” Austin Allen, a study coauthor and marine science doctoral student at Duke University, told the Washington Post.

Coral polyps rely on chemical sensors — taste buds, essentially — to determine whether something is edible or not. And they were repeatedly chosing to swallow plastic during the study. Only once in 10 trials did a polyp make the same mistake with sand. In fact, the cleaner and fresher and more plastic-y the plastic was, the more readily the coral gulped it down.

While the long-term effects of the plastic-saturation of the planet are still unknown, this research suggests that accidentally tasty microplastics could pose an extra hazard to already beleaguered corals around the world.

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The Clean Power Plan’s health benefits are better than ever, Trump’s EPA discovers.

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

Citing the risk of conflicts of interest, the EPA administrator instituted a sweeping change to the agency’s core system of advisory panels on Tuesday, restricting membership to scientists who don’t receive EPA grants.

In practice, the move represents “a major purge of independent scientists,” Terry F. Yosie, chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post. Their removal paves the way for a fresh influx of industry experts and state government officials pushing for lax regulations.

The advisory boards are meant to ensure that health regulations are based on sound science, but that role may be changing. As of Tuesday, the new chair of the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, an independent consultant, who has argued that reductions in ozone pollution have “no causal relation” to public health.

The new head of the Science Advisory Board is Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who has said that air pollution doesn’t matter because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”

The figureheads of science denial were on hand to celebrate Pruitt’s announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, called the move a “special occasion.”

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

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