TIME climate change

2014 Could Be the Hottest Year on Record

A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014.
A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014. Grzegorz Michalowski—EPA

May, June, August and September have all been record-breaking months

The earth could be heading for its warmest year on record, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Monday.

Last month was the warmest September in 135 years of record keeping, with the global average temperature 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), the Associated Press reports. May, June and August were also record-breaking months.

NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden told AP it was “pretty likely” that 2014 would be the hottest year since measurements began.

The reason for the rise in temperature is partly due to a band of warm water that develops in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño. Other record-breaking years started off with El Niño, and meteorologists forecast one is likely to occur this year.

“This is one of many indicators that climate change has not stopped and that it continues to be one of the most important issues facing humanity,” University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles told AP.

[Associated Press]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 14

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Fix the system, don’t fight individual diseases: Why Ebola may change how aid dollars are spent on healthcare in Africa.

By Lesley Wroughton at Reuters

2. Plan for a global body to regulate the great promise of genetics — balancing unfettered innovation with sensible rules to prevent abuse.

By Jamie F. Metzl in Foreign Affairs

3. Because it increases disease and exacerbates resource scarcity, the Pentagon sees climate change as a threat multiplier.

By Laura Barron-Lopez in the Hill

4. The U.S. should call out Egypt’s rising authoritarian leadership and the plight of repressed people there.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

5. Successful community collaborations build civic confidence for increasingly audacious projects that can improve lives.

By Monique Miles in the Collective Impact Forum blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME 2014 Election

Paul Ryan Says Humans May Not Cause Climate Change

Paul Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is interviewed by Maria Bartiromo during her "Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York City on Sept. 29, 2014. Richard Drew—AP

"We've had climate change forever"

The jury is still out on whether humans cause climate change, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said at a debate Monday.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Ryan said, in response to a question about whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. “I don’t think science does, either.” His remarks were reported by the Associated Press.

Ryan, who is running for reelection in southern Wisconsin against Democrat Rob Zerban, argued that “we’ve had climate change forever” and that proposals to stem climate change are expensive and will not guarantee results. Zerban said humans are to blame for climate change and need to address the issue.

The exchange was a heated moment in a wide-ranging debate that included foreign affairs and the economy. Ryan is widely expected to hold his seat in the GOP-leaning district.


TIME climate change

NASA: September Was Warmest on Global Record

NOAA predicts an El Niño will start by the end of the year

This September was the warmest on record since 1880–the year scientists first began to track global data on temperatures.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s announcement clips on the heels of what was also the warmest August on record, which NASA said suggests an unfortunate trend in global heating.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates that an El Niño will start by the end of the year, due to warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, and continue into spring 2015. An El Niño can have devastating impact across the globe, with repercussions that include abnormal temperatures and extreme weather. The last strong El Niño occurred in 1997-98.


TIME climate change

America’s Tiny Four Corners Region Is an Outsized Methane Hotspot

Methane Hot Spot
This undated handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan, shows The Four Corners area — in red, left, is the major US hot spot for methane emissions. AP

But the hotspot predates the use of hydraulic fracking in the region, putting renewed attention on how older forms of natural gas production contribute to global climate change

One small spot in the U.S. Southwest is the surprising producer of the largest concentration of methane gas seen across the nation.

Levels of methane over the Four Corners region are more than triple the standard ground-based estimate of the greenhouse gas, reports a joint study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

Methane is a heat-trapping gas whose increasing quantities in the atmosphere have fueled concerns about global climate change.

The methane “hotspot,” seen on the map as a small red splotch, measures just 2,500 square miles at the junctures of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah (for scale, the state of Arizona is about 113,000 square miles).

But the area generated an annual 0.59 million metric tons of methane between 2003 and 2009 — or, about as much methane as the entire coal, oil, and gas industries of the U.K. give off each year, says the report published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The hotspot predates the Southwest’s controversial use of hydraulic fracturing. But the zone is over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, home to thousands of wells that pull natural gas from coal beds, the study’s authors say. Natural gas is about 95 to 98% methane, and the authors suggest that the hotspot is best attributed to leaks and errors in the region’s natural gas production equipment.

“While fracking has become a focal point in conversations about methane emissions, it certainly appears from this and other studies that in the U.S., fossil fuel extraction activities across the board likely emit higher than inventory estimates,” said Eric Kort, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan and the first author on the paper.

“There’s so much coalbed methane in the Four Corners area, it doesn’t need to be that crazy of a leak rate to produce the emissions that we see,” added Kort. “A lot of the infrastructure is likely contributing.”

TIME climate change

Get Ready for More High-Tide Flooding on the U.S. Coast, Report Says

The number of high-tide floods is set to triple in coastal communities by 2030, according to a new report

Rising sea levels are causing more frequent flooding in coastal areas in the U.S., scientists said in a new report released Wednesday, with the number of high-tide floods set to triple in coastal communities from Texas to Maine by 2030.

Many East Coast cities and towns already see dozens of tidal floods each year even in the absence of storms, covering coastal roads and damaging homes, said the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Researchers found that more than half of the 52 communities studied in the report will average more than two dozen tidal floods per year by 2030, and one-third will see tidal flooding more than 180 times a year by 2045 due to sea level rises induced by global warming.

Cities including Miami, Washington, DC, Atlantic City and Charleston will see a dramatic increase in the number of flooding events. Moreover, floods will get worse and cause more damage further and further inland as sea levels continue to rise, according to the report.

Global sea levels rose eight inches from 1880 to 2009 as global warming accelerated the melting of land-based ice and expanded seawater as it heated up.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found earlier this year that flooding has increased on all three U.S. coasts by between 300% and 925% since the 1960s, USA Today reports.

Around 100 million people, or nearly one-third of the U.S. population, live in coastal counties, said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist at UCS.

“Several decades ago, flooding at high tide was simply not a problem,” said Fitzpatrick. “Today, when the tide is extra high, people find themselves splashing through downtown Miami, Norfolk and Annapolis on sunny days and dealing with flooded roads in Atlantic City, Savannah and the coast of New Hampshire.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Learning from our mistakes: Global response to the current Ebola crisis should improve our handling of the next outbreak.

By Lena H. Sun, Brady Dennis, Lenny Bernstein, Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post

2. A blueprint for reopening the tech industry to women: be deliberate, build a new pipeline that is openly focused on women, and attack the archetype of tech success.

By Ann Friedman in Matter

3. We need to change what’s taught in business schools and the narrative about business success that dominates boardrooms.

By Judy Samuelson in the Ford Forum

4. A health system that learns from its experience through data analysis can change medicine.

By Veronique Greenwood in the New York Times Magazine

5. A long overdue move to align our international development with climate reality could trigger sweeping policy changes around the world.

By Charles Cadwell and Mark Goldberg in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Why Climate Change Affects Poor Neighborhoods The Most

city aerial
Getty Images

Scientists frequently tout new evidence that climate change will drive some of the most populated cities in the United States underwater. New York, Boston and Miami are all at risk. But the impact of climate change varies even within cities, putting residents of poor neighborhoods at greatest risk of suffering from heat-related ailments, researchers say.

“Cities tend to be warmer, but it’s spatially variable within cities,” says Joyce Klein Rosenthal, a researcher at Harvard who published a recent study on the impact of climate change in cities. “Generally, higher poverty neighborhoods are warmer and wealthier neighborhoods are cooler.”

This difference in neighborhood temperatures affects senior citizens and correlates with a disparity in their mortality rates due to heat-related causes, a study of New York City led by Rosenthal suggests.

This higher rate in poor neighborhoods isn’t just because lower-income families aren’t always able to afford owning and operating an air conditioner, though that certainly contributes to the problem. Poor neighborhoods often have few trees and have buildings that tend to be constructed from materials that retain heat, Rosenthal said.

Climate change also affects these areas more because of the professions of some of the residents, according to Olga Wilhelmi, a researcher at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Laborers who work outside all day in extreme temperatures and return home to a hot apartment are more likely to experience heat stroke or another heat-related ailment.

“It’s not just your housing conditions but whether or not you have a choice to modify your daily behaviors and routine to better cope with extreme temperatures,” says Wilhelmi.

As scientists grapple with long-term solutions to climate change, policymakers need to consider a entirely new set of solutions to address the health risks posed by extreme heat in cities.

Ironically, many of the methods used to address climate change broadly are ineffective, if not problematic, for handling heat stroke at the neighborhood level. For one, while public awareness campaigns encourage people to use less electricity, residents of poor neighborhoods should probably turn up the air conditioning while their counterparts in wealthier, cooler neighborhoods may not.

Wilhelmi says that some cities including Chicago have begun to implement measures like heat warning systems to warn vulnerable populations about extreme heat conditions.

Still, changing factors like building codes and urban design isn’t always easy, making fundamental improvements potentially generations away.

TIME world affairs

How Indoor Stoves Can Help Solve Global Poverty

Air pollution in China
Beijing's air pollution reached eight times World Health Organization-recommended safe levels. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

Clean cooking and better sources of energy can have a domino effect on health and education

Last week world leaders at the U.N. began a yearlong conversation about global goals for the next 15 years. Many will rightly talk about poverty, food, water and the environment. Few will mention energy. Yet we should.

The use of wood and coal in steam engines kicked off the Industrial Revolution, which led to today’s prosperous, modern societies. Reliable and affordable energy is just as vital for today’s developing and emerging economies. Driven mostly by its fivefold increase in coal use, China’s economy has grown eighteenfold over the past 30 years while lifting 680 million people out of poverty.

The energy ladder is a way of visualizing stages of development. This starts with what we call traditional biofuels: firewood, dung and crop waste. Almost 3 billion people use these for cooking and heating indoors, which is so polluting that the World Health Organization estimates they kill 1 in every 13 people on the planet.

The next step on the ladder is transition fuels, such as kerosene, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas. The top rung of the ladder is electricity, which thankfully makes no pollution inside your home. Because the electricity is often powered by fossil fuels, it does contribute to the problem of global warming. Hence an alluring option could be to move to clean energy like wind, solar and hydro. Some are suggesting that developing countries should skip the fossil step and move right to clean energy. However, rich countries are already finding the move away from coal and oil to be a difficult one, and there are no easy answers for developing economies.

Today’s crucial question is: What should the world prioritize? Fifteen years ago, the world agreed upon the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious set of targets to tackle poverty, hunger, health and education. Those targets have directed lots of international aid and mostly led to a better world, although much still remains to be done.

For the future, some argue that we should continue pursuing the few, sharp targets from before, since we have clearly not fixed either poverty or health. Others point out that issues like the environment and social justice also need attention. My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, is helping bring better information to this discussion. We have asked some of the world’s top economists to make analyses within all major challenge areas, estimating the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of different targets.

So, about the almost 3 billion people cooking with dirty open fires? Should they take higher priority than the broader, long-term objective of cutting back on fossil-fuel use? It turns out there are smart ways to help on both accounts, say Isabel Galiana and Amy Sopinka, the two economists who wrote the main paper on energy.

Burning firewood and dung on open indoor fires is inefficient and causes horrendous air pollution. More than 4 million people die each year from respiratory illness because of smoke from indoor open fires. Most of them are women and young children. Women and children are also the ones who have to spend their time fetching firewood, often from quite far away. Providing cleaner cooking facilities – efficient stoves that run on liquefied gas – would improve health, increase productivity, allow women to spend time earning money and free up children to go to school.

The economic benefits of getting everyone off dung and wood are as high as the human-welfare ones: more than $500 billion each year. Costs would be much lower. Including grants and subsidies to purchase stoves, annual costs would run about $60 billion. Every dollar spent would buy almost $9 of benefits, which is a very good way to help.

The economists also provide a more realistic target, which turns out to be even more efficient. Since it is awfully hard to get to 100%, they suggest providing modern cooking fuels to 30%. This will still help 780 million people but at the much lower cost of $11 billion annually. For every dollar spent, we would do more than $14 worth of good.

While clean cooking is important, electricity can bring different benefits. Lighting means that students can study after dark and family activities can continue into the evening. Clinics can refrigerate vaccines and other medicines. Water can be pumped from wells so that women do not have to walk miles to fetch it.

The value of getting electricity to everyone is about $380 billion annually. The cost is more difficult to work out. To provide electricity to everyone, we would need the equivalent of 250 more power stations, but many rural areas might best be served by solar panels and batteries. This is not an ideal solution, but it would still be enough to make an enormous improvement in people’s lives. The overall cost is probably around $75 billion per year. That still does $5 of benefits for each dollar spent.

If we want to tackle global warming, on the other hand, there are some targets we should be wary of, whereas others are phenomenal. One prominent target suggests doubling the world’s share of renewables, particularly solar and wind, but this turns out to be a rather ineffective use of resources. The extra costs of coping with the intermittent and unpredictable output of renewables makes them expensive, and the cost is likely to be higher than the benefits.

But the world spends $544 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies, almost exclusively in developing countries. This drains public budgets from being able to provide health and education while encouraging higher CO₂ emissions. Moreover, gasoline subsidies mostly help rich people, because they are the ones who can afford a car. To phase out fossil-fuel subsidies would be a phenomenal target because it would cut CO₂ while saving money for other and better public uses. The economists estimate that every dollar in costs would do more than $15 of climate and public good.

With such high-return targets, the economic evidence shows that if carefully chosen, energy targets should definitely be part of the world’s promises for the next 15 years.

Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 2

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A global competition could prime the pump for development of disease-fighting treatments.

By James Surowiecki in New Yorker

2. Cancer detecting yogurt? New technology could make diagnosing colon cancer as simple as taking a pregnancy test.

By Kevin Bullis at the MIT Technology Review

3. Youth-targeted networks are leading a surge in LGBT-friendly television programming.

By Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair

4. California’s massive expansion of teledentistry could revolutionize delivery of oral hygiene to underserved areas.

By Daniela Hernandez in Kaiser Health News

5. The climate change movement desperately needs diversity and corporate leadership.

By Caitlin Colegrove in conversation with M. Sanjayan in the Aspen Idea

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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