TIME climate change

Senator Throws Snowball on Senate Floor to Disprove Climate Change

Sen. James Inhofe has a way with visual metaphors

Sen. James Inhofe tossed a snowball in the Senate chamber Thursday, using the stunt to emphasize his long-held belief that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

The Oklahoma Republican is the chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. After a blizzard blew through the southern states in recent days, reaching Washington D.C., Inhofe took advantage of the snow to make his symbolic point that extreme winter weather disproves global warming.

This isn’t the first time he’s done so. After a winter storm in 2010, Inhofe and his family built an igloo and named it after noted environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore.

TIME Environment

Natalie Portman Joins Calls for Harvard to Sell Off Stocks in Big Energy Firms

'As We Were Dreaming' Premiere - 65th Berlinale International Film Festival
Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images Actress Natalie Portman attends the 'As We Were Dreaming' premiere during the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival at Berlinale Palace on February 9, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Pascal Le Segretain--Getty Images)

Praises campaign of civil disobedience to spur divestment of fossil fuel stocks

Notable Harvard alumni including Natalie Portman and RFK Jr released a letter Friday calling on their brethren to join current students in demanding that Harvard sell off stocks in companies that deal in fossil fuels.

Harvard students have been engaged in a long battle to get the university to divest its $35.9 billion endowment from coal, gas, and oil companies that students say contribute to global warming.

On Friday, lawyers for the university asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed last year by Harvard students demanding that the school has a duty to stop financially supporting companies that contribute to climate change.

Last week, more than 30 students staged a sit-in in the administrative building that houses the President’s office to demand divestment, and students are starting a competitor to Harvard’s endowment, the fossil-free fund, where concerned alumni can direct donations.

A letter to fellow alumni signed by Portman, Darren Aronofsky, Susan Faludi, Robert F. Kennedy Jr and others praised the civil disobedience of students demanding divestment, but noted that Harvard still needs more pressure to make a change.

“Those students have done a remarkable job in garnering overwhelming student support for divestment, and the faculty too have delivered a strong message,” the letter said. “But so far [Harvard] has not just refused to divest, they’ve doubled down by announcing the decision to buy stock in some of the dirtiest energy companies on the planet.”

The letter also points out the dangers of global warming, the fact that Harvard’s divestment has in the past been a powerful motivator for change, in South Africa during apartheid for example, and that investing those resources in renewable energy will be better for Harvard in the long-run.

The letter also referenced a concept originally stated by Drew Faust, Harvard’s first female president: “The essence of a university is that it is uniquely accountable to the past and to the future – not simply or even primarily to the present.”

Alumni will be joining a teach-in on April 12, and a rally in Harvard Yard on April 13. Some of the alumni will join in a peaceful sit-in around the main administrative building. The letter encouraged all alumni to wear their Harvard gear, out of love for the school.

 

TIME climate change

Undersea Volcanoes May Be Impacting Climate Change

An underwater volcanic erupts in the Pacific Ocean
Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science—AP An underwater volcanic erupts in the Pacific Ocean

Does the global warming process actually begin under the sea?

A new study claims that volcanic eruptions along the ocean floor may impact earth’s climate cycle and that predictive models, including those that analyze humanity’s impact on climate change, may need to be modified.

“People have ignored seafloor volcanoes on the idea that their influence is small—but that’s because they are assumed to be in a steady state, which they’re not,” said Maya Tolstoy, a geophysicist and author of the study that appeared in Geophysical Research Letters and was also reported on in Science Daily.

Until now, scientists presumed that seafloor volcanoes exuded lava at a slow and steady pace, but Tolstoy thinks that not only do the volcanoes erupt in bursts, they follow remarkably consistent patterns that range anywhere from two weeks to 100,000 years.

The reason why the study is important is because it offers up the idea that undersea volcanoes may contribute to the beginning of a global warming cycle.

Here’s how:

Scientists believe as the Earth warms and ice melts, pressure is released which causes more land volcanoes to erupt. More eruptions means more CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, causing the Earth to warm further and creating a cycle.

But undersea volcanoes erupt for the opposite reason. When more ice is created on a cooling Earth, that lowers sea levels and relieves pressure on undersea volcanoes, bringing about more eruptions.

So that begs the question, could the undersea volcanoes be releasing enough CO2 to affect the warming process on land?

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

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

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

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 energy

Arctic Oil on Life Support

ARCTIC OIL DRILLING
Bellingham Herald—Getty Images Shell's Arctic Challenger, shown in Sept. 2012.

Tapping the extensive oil reserves in the Arctic has been harder than previously thought

Oil companies have eyed the Arctic for years. With an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil lying north of the Arctic Circle, the circumpolar north is arguably the last corner of the globe that is still almost entirely unexplored.

As drilling technology advances, conventional oil reserves become harder to find, and climate change contributes to melting sea ice, the Arctic has moved up on the list of priorities in oil company board rooms.

That had companies moving north – Royal Dutch Shell off the coast of Alaska, Statoil in the Norwegian Arctic, and ExxonMobil in conjunction with Russia’s Rosneft in the Russian far north.

But achieving the goals of tapping the extensive oil reserves in the Arctic has been much harder than previously thought. Shell’s mishaps have been well-documented. The Anglo-Dutch company failed to achieve permits on time, had its drill ships run aground, and saw its oil spill containment dome “crushed like a beer can” during testing. That delayed drilling for several consecutive years.

However, the first month of 2015 has darkened Arctic dreams even further. Oil companies are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with a collapse in oil prices, now below $50 per barrel. With virtually every upstream company around the world slashing spending, it is the highest-cost and riskiest projects that are getting scrapped first.

Statoil, the semi-state-owned oil company from Norway, has been an offshore leader and Arctic pioneer. After having watched Shell fumble its Arctic campaign, Statoil put its drilling plans off the coast of Alaska on ice. But now with rock-bottom oil prices, Statoil has even shelved Arctic drilling plans in its own backyard. Bloomberg reported on January 29 that Statoil does not plan on drilling in the Barents Sea this year. It also let several Arctic exploration licenses off the coast of Greenland expire.

In December, Chevron suspended its drilling plans in Canada’s Arctic indefinitely.

In Russia, Arctic dreams are also going to disappoint, although for different reasons. Last year, Rosneft – operating in conjunction with ExxonMobil – announced a major discovery in the Kara Sea. Rosneft’s Igor Sechin said that the field could hold as much as 730 million barrels of oil. “This is our united victory, it was achieved thanks to our friends and partners from ExxonMobil, Nord Atlantic Drilling, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Weatherford, Baker, Trendsetter, FMC,” Sechin said in a statement. “We would like to name this field Pobeda,” the Russian word for victory.

But western sanctions may delay the victory. ExxonMobil is prohibited from working with Rosneft, and had to wind down its operations shortly after the discovery was announced. Worse for Rosneft, ExxonMobil was the one that had the drilling rig under contract, apparently the only platform that would work for the well.

Read more: BP To Bypass Sanctions, Buy In On Siberian Oilfield

Reuters reported on January 30, 2015 that Rosneft would have to delay drilling until 2016 at the earliest. “There will be no drilling in 2015. There is no platform and it is too late to get one. The project was initially created for Exxon’s platform,” a Rosneft source told Reuters. ExxonMobil has already pulled its platform out, and has it under contract until July 2016. Drilling may not begin for another year or two, and production from the world’s most northerly oil field will not begin until sometime in the 2020’s, barring other setbacks.

That leaves Shell, the company with the spottiest Arctic record. Shell announced $4.16 billion in fourth quarter profits, a decline from the previous quarter, but a decent showing relative to its peers. Nevertheless, the company also announced $15 billion in spending cuts over the next several years. “The macro environment has moved against us,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said after releasing the quarterly figures.

Curiously, however, amid all the spending reductions, Shell hopes to once again return the Arctic, after a two-year hiatus. Perhaps that is because of the sunk costs – Shell will spend around $1 billion on its Arctic program whether or not it is drilled because of all the ships and other logistics already under contract. Shell still needs to obtain several permits and clear legal hurdles, but if all goes according to plan, the company could begin drilling this summer.

It is up to Shell then to keep the oil industry’s Arctic dreams alive.

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

TIME China

9 out of 10 Chinese Cities Fail Pollution Test

China Smog Air Pollution Jilin
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images Smog arrives at the banks of the Songhua River due to low temperatures in Jilin Province, China on Jan. 22, 2015.

Only eight of 74 cities monitored met national standards

Nearly 90% of Chinese cities failed to meet government pollution standards last year, according to the country’s environment ministry.

Although only eight of 74 cities monitored were found to meet national standards, the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said the results were an improvement over previous years, Reuters reports.

The country declared a “war on pollution” last year and has since taken steps to reduce the use of coal and eliminate factories that don’t meet certain standards.

Read more: Watch This Haunting Seven-Minute Film About China’s Insane Air Pollution

The government has said that meeting its own standards could take up to 15 years. The city of Beijing, for instance, had an average atmospheric pollutant reading of 93 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter last year — almost three times the state-determined standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

China—the world’s largest polluter— produces a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

[Reuters]

TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Making the Land in Iceland Rise

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Getty Images Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land

Land in Iceland is rising at a pace of as much as 1.4 inches per year in certain areas as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The melting of the country’s glaciers reduces pressure on the land below and allows the surface to rise, researchers say.

“Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” study co-author Kathleen Compton, a University of Arizona researcher, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, relied on data from 62 global positioning system receivers placed throughout Iceland that allowed researchers to track the land’s movement.

MORE: The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

While scientists have noticed the rise in land levels in certain areas across the globe, this study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land, the researchers say.

“Iceland is the first place we can say accelerated uplift means accelerated ice mass loss,” said study co-author Richard Bennett, a professor at the University of Arizona.

TIME Environment

How Climate Change Leads to Volcanoes (Really)

Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010
Arctic-Images; Getty Images Get used to this: The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010

A new study reveals one more consequence of our messing with the environment

Correction appended Jan. 30, 2015

Give climate change credit for one thing: it’s endlessly versatile. There was a time we called it global warming, which meant what it said: the globe would get warmer. It was only later that we appreciated that a planet running a fever is just like a person running a fever, which is to say it has a whole lot of other symptoms: in this case, droughts, floods, wildfires, habitat disruption, sea level rise, species loss, crop death and more.

Now, you can add yet another problem to the climate change hit list: volcanoes. That’s the word from a new study conducted in Iceland and accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. The finding is bad news not just for one comparatively remote part of the world, but for everywhere.

Iceland has always been a natural lab for studying climate change. It may be spared some of the punishment hot, dry places like the American southwest get, but when it comes to glacier melt, few places are hit harder. About 10% of the island nation’s surface area is covered by about 300 different glaciers—and they’re losing an estimated 11 billion tons of ice per year. Not only is that damaging Icelandic habitats and contributing to the global rise in sea levels, it is also—oddly—causing the entire island to rise. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Eleven billion tons of ice weights, well, 11 billion tons; as that weight flows away, the underlying land decompresses a bit. In the new paper, investigators from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland analyzed data from 62 GPS sensors that have been arrayed around Iceland—some since as long ago as 1995, others only since 2006 or 2009. But all of the sensors told the same story: Iceland is rising—or rebounding as geologists call it—by 1.4 in. (35 mm) per year.

That’s much faster than the investigators expected, and other studies of the Icelandic crust show that the speed began to pick up around 1980, or just the time that glacier melt accelerated, too. “Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” said Kathleen Compton of the University of Arizona, a geoscientist and one of the paper’s co-authors, in a statement.

In some respects that shouldn’t be a bad thing: yes, an inch and a half a year is fast on a geologic scale, but in the modern, climate-disrupted world, a rising coastline might be just what an island needs to keep up with rising sea levels. The problem is, Iceland isn’t just any island, it’s a highly geologically active one, with a lot of suppressed volcanic anger below the surface. The last thing you want to do in a situation like that is take the lid off the pot.

“As the glaciers melt, the pressure on the underlying rocks decreases,” Compton said in an e-mail to TIME. “Rocks at very high temperatures may stay in their solid phase if the pressure is high enough. As you reduce the pressure, you effectively lower the melting temperature.” The result is a softer, more molten subsurface, which increases the amount of eruptive material lying around and makes it easier for more deeply buried magma chambers to escape their confinement and blow the whole mess through the surface.

“High heat content at lower pressure creates an environment prone to melting these rising mantle rocks, which provides magma to the volcanic systems,” says Arizona geoscientist Richard Bennett, another co-author.

Perhaps anticipating the climate change deniers’ uncanny ability to put two and two together and come up with five, the researchers took pains to point out that no, it’s not the very fact that Icelandic ice sits above hot magma deposits that’s causing the glacial melting. The magma’s always been there; it’s the rising global temperature that’s new. At best, only 5% of the accelerated melting is geological in origin.

Icelandic history shows how bad things can get when the ice thins out. During the last deglaciation period 12,000 years ago—one that took much longer to unfold than the current warming phase turbocharged by humans—geologic records suggest that volcanic activity across the island increased as much as 30-fold. Contemporary humans got a nasty taste of what that’s like back in 2010 when the volcanic caldera under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap in southern Iceland blew its top, erupting for three weeks from late March to mid-April and spreading ash across vast swaths of Europe. The continent was socked in for a week, shutting down most commercial flights.

If you enjoyed that, there’s more of the same coming. At the current pace, the researchers predict, the uplift rate in parts of Iceland will rise to 1.57 in. (40 mm) per year by the middle of the next decade, liberating more calderas and leading to one Eyjafjallajökull-scale blow every seven years. The Earth, we are learning yet again, demands respect. Mess with it and there’s no end to the problems you create.

An earlier version of this story misstated the annual rate of land rebound in the coming decade. It is 1.57 in.

TIME weather

10 Questions About the Blizzard

Jack Nicholson In 'The Shining'
Warner Brothers/Getty Images Don't go there; it will all be over soon

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Hint: All of them can be answered 'No'

1. Does this storm prove global warming is really just a hoax cooked up by degenerate scientists like my Twitter feed keeps saying? No. Again: no. Absolutely, positively no. This is weather, not climate. Just like a collie isn’t a species, a crouton isn’t a salad and the aglet on your shoelace ain’t the whole shoe, so too is a single meteorological event in your town (or state or region) not the same as climate. All the same, you’ll hear a lot of self-satisfied huffing from climate change deniers this week. Please feel free to laugh at them.

2. Then is the blizzard a result of climate change—the much discussed “global weirding”? If we’re going to smack down the anti-science kooks on question one, let’s resist the urge for a touchdown dance on question two. It’s true that climate change means a growing number of extreme weather events, and the spike in storms like 2012’s Sandy that do a billion dollars of damage or more do fit with climate change models. But again, any one storm is proof only of that storm. And hey, when you’re getting three feet of snow, that should be trouble enough.

3. Speaking of Sandy, do I have to call the blizzard Juno? No. Indeed, please don’t. Unlike hurricanes, which are named by the World Meteorological Organization as part of a longstanding global tradition, Juno was named by the Weather Channel, as part of a somewhat newer tradition of thinking up scary names that sound good on TV. You are free to give this blizzard any name you want. I’m calling it Larry.

4. What about “nor’easter?” Can I call the blizzard that? Are you a lobster fisherman? From Maine? If not, no.

5. Is “blizzard” just a synonym, for “lots o’ snow”? Nope, there’s actually a technical definition: There must be falling snow (or blowing snow already on the ground), with winds of at least 35 mph (56 k/h) reducing visibility to no more than 0.25 mile (0.4 km) for at least three hours.

6. Do I really need 12 tins of powdered milk, a case of canned tuna and five dozen double-A batteries to get through this? Yes, if it’s 1952 and you’re packing a fallout shelter. Otherwise, we’re talking a couple of snow days at the most—followed by the risk of way too many tuna casseroles for the rest of the year if you don’t get ahold of yourself.

7. Does it have to be so flipping cold for a blizzard to happen? This may not be much comfort to you, Concord, NH, where it’s 14°F (-10°C) in the run-up to the big blast, but no, as long as the atmospheric temperature is 32°F (0°C) or below, snow can form. It can even be a few degrees warmer on the ground, but the snow that falls will quickly become slush or, as it’s known on the sidewalks of New York City, goo.

8. I’ve heard this storm is a result of meteorological “bombogenesis.” Surely the people at weather service are smoking something? Alas no. Bombogenesis is a real word and it occurs when the barometric pressure in the most intense part of a storm drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. Lower pressure then causes cold air to rush toward the ground and warmer air to rise. This isn’t to say the weather service doesn’t have fun saying “bombogenesis” over and over and over again. They’re meteorologists, but hey, they’re people too.

9. Once the blizzard’s over, we’re cool, right? Nope. Arctic air is going to continue to barrel through the northeast into February, keeping temperatures well below normal. As for the upper Midwest, where it’s usually only slightly more comfortable than the planet Neptune (-378°F, with a likelihood of graphite hailstones) around this time of year: Nice and mild.

10. If I have kids, is there any chance at all that I won’t hear them singing the score from Frozen while we’re all trapped in the house together for the next 48 hours? No. None at all. Deal with it—and don’t watch The Shining. It will only give you ideas.

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 Environment

The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

170412165
Image Source RF/Ditto; Getty Never noticed that before: Welcome to the conversation, Senators

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A landslide vote brings Congress's upper chamber into the 21st century—a little

Correction appended, January 24

Surely by now you’ve heard the big news: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate—The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body Except For the Fact That it Never Really Deliberates Anything—passed a landmark resolution declaring that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” The proposal passed by a nail-bitingly close vote of 98-1. Only Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, voted no.

The landslide victory thrilled the green community, especially since it included such anti-science paleoliths as Oklahoma’s James Inhofe and Florida’s Marco (“I’m not a scientist, man”) Rubio. But let’s not get carried away. For one thing, voting to acknowledge a fact that virtually every other sentient human on the planet long ago accepted is a little like passing a bill that declares, “Gravity is real” or “Fire make man hurt.” Not exactly groundbreaking.

What’s more, there was only so far the newly enlightened GOP was willing to go. Votes on two other measures—one that declared “climate change is real and human activity contributes significantly to climate change,” and one that made essentially the same point but without the word “significantly”—were blocked by Republican maneuvering. What’s more, the weak tea version of the resolution that did pass—sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse—made it through only because it was a rider to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation. At this point, Republicans would likely approve a Puppies For Lunch rider if it would get Keystone passed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, among the greenest of the greenies, responded to the GOP’s grudging concession with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. “From Know-Nothingism to Do-Nothingism in the U.S. Senate,” it declared in a news release. And indeed, the 98 brave men and women who stepped forward to go on record with a statement of the patently obvious have given absolutely no indication that they are actually prepared to do anything about that obvious thing.

The GOP’s big wins in November certainly don’t make them more inclined to yield on what has become a central pillar of party dogma. But if science—to say nothing of the health of the planet—can’t move them, they should at least consider the unsavory company their fringe position is increasingly causing them to keep. Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman addressed climate deniers, supply-siders and foes of the Affordable Care Act as one counterfactual whole—people who are fixed in their positions no matter what the objective evidence shows. That may or may not be too wide a net to cast, but Krugman is right on one score:

If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

Krugman offers any number of explanations for this, with which reasonable people can agree or disagree, but his larger point—of an ideological cohort animated by rage as much as anything else—certainly feels right. I see it regularly in that least scientific but most pointed place of all, my Twitter feed. I’ve crossed swords with the anti-vaccine crowd more than once, and while some of them have found a way to be savagely nasty in the 140 characters they’re allowed, most of the anger is civil. They’re fretful and, I believe, foolish to have been duped by anti-scientific rubbish, but they’re at least fit for inclusion in the public square.

Not so the climate-deniers, who hurl spluttery insults, fill their feeds with the usual swill about President Barack Obama’s suspicious birthplace and the conspiratorial doings across the border in Mexico, and link to risible idiocy about how the global warming “conspiracy” is a “ploy to make us poorer,” whose real purpose is “to redistribute wealth from the first world to the third, an explicit goal of UN climate policy.”

Yes. Of course. Because it’s harder to believe in science than it is to believe that there’s a four-decade plot afoot that virtually every country in the world has signed onto, dragging virtually every scientist in the world along with them—none of whom have ever had a crisis of conscience or spilled the beans in a bar or simply decided to sell the whole sordid story to the press—and that only a rump faction in the U.S. knows the truth. Makes perfect sense.

If the Senate, even reluctantly, has made the tiniest baby step toward rational thought, that’s undeniably a good thing. “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse told The Hill. Outside the Senate chamber, however, in the country that is second only to coal-soiled China in CO2 emissions, the ugly, vein-in-the-temple anger remains. The GOP can continue to make common cause with this nasty crowd or, if it chooses, can finally, clear-headedly rejoin the ranks of reason.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council

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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