TIME Environment

New York City Climate Change March Could Be Largest of Its Kind

Demonstrators are putting pressure on world leaders ahead of a United Nations summit

Correction appended at 6:05 p.m. ET

More than 100,000 people are taking to the streets of New York City on Sunday to take part in the People’s Climate March. Here’s what you need to know about the historic event:

What’s the goal?

The march is taking place ahead of Tuesday’s United Nations climate-change summit, which is convening to discuss an international carbon emissions agreement. Those marching hope their participation will put pressure on world leaders expected to attend, such as President Barack Obama, to take policy action to curb the climate change damage.

Where is this happening?

People from all over the country and North America have traveled to take part in the Manhattan event, but activism on the issue is worldwide — close to 2,700 climate-related demonstrations are in the works in more than 150 countries such as Tanzania, Germany and Colombia in addition to this march, the New York Times reports.

Who organized it?

Dozens of environmental, labor and social justice groups. More than 1,500 organizations in total endorsed the march and pledged to participate. Key environmentalists took part, too: Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and the author of 1989’s The End of Nature, one of the first major books about climate change, helped publicize the effort.

Why is it significant?

The event is believed to be the largest climate change-related demonstration in history. It may also be the loudest — demonstrators are using horns, speakers and other noise-making methods to literally sound the alarm on climate change. “It’s going to be beautiful,” McKibben told NBC News. “It’s like sounding a burglar alarm on the people who are stealing the future.”

Who’s marching?

All kinds of people. Passionate activists, concerned citizens, scientists, politicians (like Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid), celebrities (like Mark Ruffalo and Russell Brand), non-profits, indigenous peoples groups, religious organizations and LGBT communities are just some of the participants. More than 1,400 partner organizations have signed on to participate, MSNBC reports. Even Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, planned to attend ahead of his organization’s summit.

The original version of this story incorrectly described the march’s organizers. The event was organized by dozens of environmental, labor and social justice groups and environmentalists, one of whom is Bill McKibben.

TIME Environment

See the Worst Place to Breathe in America

It's not Los Angeles

If you think about smog, you’re probably picturing a major city like Los Angeles, where in the 1960s and ’70s the air was so bad that smog alerts telling people to avoid outdoor activity were regular occurrences. The air has improved in L.A. and other big cities in recent years, thanks to cleaner cars and air-pollution regulation.

But the real capital of air pollution in the U.S. is a farming city that sits to the northwest of L.A.: Bakersfield.

Bakersfield is in the San Joaquin Valley, a major agricultural area that stretches through much of California. The San Joaquin Valley contains some of the richest, most productive agricultural land in the country. But its geography — the valley is surrounded on all sides by mountains — creates a bowl that traps air pollution. Levels of soot and ozone — which in warm weather, which the valley has much of the year, can create smog — are some of the highest in the country. And while air in much of the U.S. has improved, in Bakersfield and other towns in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the air quality is as bad as ever — if not worse.

How bad? School officials in Bakersfield have used colored flags to indicate air quality: green for good, yellow for moderate, orange for unhealthy for sensitive groups and red for unhealthy for all groups. But this winter, the air became so bad that officials had to use a new color on the worst days: purple, even worse than red. Because of high levels of air pollution, asthma is prominent throughout the region, and the bad air can also raise levels of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Photographer Lexey Swall grew up in Bakersfield, and in this collection of photographs, she shows the human cost of living in one of the most polluted cities in the country. For Bakersfield residents, there’s simply no room to breathe.

TIME faith

Defeating ISIS Will Take More Than Military Action

In order to truly defeat ISIS, we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels

It’s time to make the obvious connections. To keep focusing on consequences for national security, but ignoring the causes will create one terrorist group and war after another. Wars can only ever attack symptoms; peace requires that we deal with fundamental reasons for conflict. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus, not the peace-lovers who keep hoping their government’s latest military strategy will work. And to hope for any lasting peace in the Middle East will mean challenging and changing the unjust oil economy we have helped to create—that not only threatens the planet through climate change, but threatens our lives and our children through constant terrorism and war.

Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” is the Chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church in the capital of Iraq, which is now threatened by ISIS. He was in Washington this week to seek humanitarian aid and protection for the Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who are suffering at the hands of ISIS. Over breakfast with him, I heard incredibly horrible stories of Christians being slaughtered, with most now fleeing for their lives.

White and Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed, who directs their foundation which administers aid to Iraqis, both described how Christians, Sunni, and Shia Muslims lived together in relative peace until the American invasion of Iraq. Before the war, many in the global faith community, including Pope Saint John Paul II and Christian leaders in the U.S. and the UK, warned that the bombing and invasion of Iraq could destroy and radically destabilize the country, taking many innocent lives and creating more extreme terrorism and hatred toward America across the region. ISIS is a clear result of the American war in Iraq and an occupation which failed to understand and tragically inflamed the 1,400-year sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis.

Now, the warhawks still want to bring another full out war back to Iraq.

But let’s give the hawks credit for some honesty. If we fail to deal with the underlying causes of extreme terrorism, their solution of serial American invasions and long-term occupations in many Middle Eastern countries is one credible response to continuing terrorism—Rome vs. the barbarians. Let’s be clear: ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups are indeed barbarians. Yet it is the injustices of Rome and subsequent super-powers that create the grievances that help create barbarians. The early Christians certainly didn’t side with the barbarians, but neither did they side with Rome: the Christians offered another way, and other alternatives.

The modern injustices that lead to our modern barbarians lead right back to our oil economy and the repressive regimes that produce nothing, but instead just sell the fossil fuels under their sands. It’s time to be honest: the West is guilty of creating those states, of actually defining new countries and shaping the unnatural and oppressive geography of today’s Middle East. Many of these regimes are utterly corrupt, run by elites that serve their own wealth instead of their people and systematically oppress women.

As of 2010, about 55% of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is under the age of 25. Massive numbers of unemployed, uneducated, and angry young men are very vulnerable to hateful extremists who speak the rhetoric of revenge, the savage myth of redemptive violence, and the ugly distortions of religion into their ears. Injustice results in barbarians.

To ultimately “defeat” terrorism will take more than one military action after another. It will take the end of our energy dependence on the unjust oil regimes and their fossil fuels. It will take a conversion to a clean energy future and a commitment to the stewardship of God’s earth which would benefit all of God’s children.

This weekend, many of us from the faith community will gather in New York City as heads of state convene at the United Nations for a summit on climate change. We will make the faith argument for energy conservation, for ending our dependence on dirty energy for investing in clean and renewable energy, and for protecting God’s creation from the alarming and growing dangers of climate change—brought on by our use of fossil fuels.

We must also start to make it clear that overcoming our economic, political, and spiritual addiction to fossil fuels is the only way to overcome and defeat the terrorism that is such a threat to our lives, our children, and our religious freedom in the days ahead.

This will be a long term commitment that will take time. But any short and middle term strategies aimed at protecting vulnerable people and pushing back terrorist forces will only work if they go hand in hand with our long-term conversion to a new energy economy.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

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

Your Electric Car Isn’t Making the Air Any Cleaner

Inside The 1st International Electric Vehicle Expo
A Nissan Motor Co. Leaf electric vehicle (EV) is driven for a test drive during the first International Electric Vehicle Expo. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Rich places get most California green vehicle subsidies—and the environmental benefits of rich people’s Teslas are canceled out by all the gas-guzzling clunkers still on our roads

This is a tale of two zip codes.

First there’s 94582: San Ramon, California.

Since 2010, the roughly 38,000 citizens and businesses of this prosperous Bay Area suburb, where the median household income is $140,444, have purchased 463 zero emissions vehicles. Such vehicles receive major state subsidies; nearly $1 million of these subsidies went to vehicle purchasers in San Ramon. But San Ramon doesn’t need the anti-pollution help. Despite being home to a large highway complex and a business park, the city scores in the cleanest 10 percent of California’s zip codes, according to the Cal EPA’s Enviroscreen Index.

The second zip code is 93640, the Central Valley town of Mendota, population 11,800, with a median annual household income of $28,660, which is less than the $36,625 sticker price of a Honda Fit EV. Mendota is in the top 10 percent of California zip codes for pollution and vulnerabilities such as childhood asthma, according to the CALEnviroscreen. And how many vehicles were purchased there under state subsidies? Exactly one, a lone car whose owner received $2,500.

California’s green vehicle policies have been successful enough to become a model for other states, fueling a movement that is electric, both literally and culturally. The state’s audaciously utopian vision has cajoled an initially reluctant auto industry into producing cheaper, better behaving electric cars, led by the media-savvy upstart Tesla. Since 2010, Californians have put more than 100,000 electric vehicles on the road. But those green vehicle policies contain a flaw that undermines their intent and magnifies the unfairness of California’s economy. These rebates—of as much as $5,000, funded by an extra charge on vehicle registrations—go mostly to affluent communities on California’s coast.

Of the $151 million in subsidies paid since 2010, people who bought zero emissions vehicles in the Bay Area, South Coast (Los Angeles) and San Diego Air Basins have gotten $132 million. Over the same period, people in the San Joaquin Valley have gotten $3 million, despite having the most intractable air quality problems in the state.

Go below the Valley’s smog, and the problem runs much deeper: Its cars are old—much older, on average, than the state’s vehicle fleet. Estimates suggest that the median vehicle in poorer Valley communities is from 1996. According to the Air Resources Board, a vehicle made in 1996 produces 29 times as much pollution per mile from its tailpipe as one sold in 2012.

Translation: The Valley’s stock of old gas guzzlers is wiping out the clean air benefits of the subsidies we’ve bestowed upon the wealthy parts of the state.

You can see the dynamic by looking at those two zip codes together. Every 1997 vehicle in Mendota wipes out emissions benefits of 29 electric vehicles in San Ramon. More precisely, it only takes 16 of Mendota’s finest clunkers to turn the benefits of nearly $1 million in subsidies for San Ramon into a pile of sooty particulate.

I am not making this point to advocate the end of the green vehicle subsidies, but to point out that these subsidies were created to target the state’s wealthy. And they succeeded.

Rebates, tax credits and HOV lane stickers appealed to the better off in parts of the state with thriving economies and traffic congestion. Now the state needs to come up with a new set of policies to target California’s many Mendotas. We need a suite of incentives—low interest loans, non profit auto leasing, and more accessible, appropriate rural transit—to get working families out of older polluting vehicles and into cleaner transportation (which doesn’t have to be electric).

Last year I spoke with a Mendota farmworker who drives a 1995 Ford Explorer. Mr. Hernandez drives twice as far to his skilled job every day—115 miles roundtrip—as the average driver of a Nissan Leaf. Last year he had to pay for two smog tests and repairs, totaling around $500, just to keep his car registered.

From Mr. Hernandez’s point of view, the car is a money pit, but it’s necessary for him to get himself to work and bring his daughter to high school. (Parents have to drive their kids to school when the Valley’s Tule fog delays school start times.) Because the car gets only 15 mpg, he spends $400 to $500 a month on gasoline, and often puts off paying other bills to keep getting to work.

Mr. Hernandez said he’d love to get “a little Honda.” Ironically, if he had access to credit, he could get a Ford Fiesta for $1,400 down and $194 a month, which would cut his gasoline bill in half. But such credit is not easy to come by: The percentage of families without a bank account in Fresno is 3.5 times the national average and used car dealers charge much higher interest.

A well-designed state program to enable families to finance or lease better cars would improve their financial situation and reduce gasoline consumption, and carbon emissions. Mr. Hernandez’s clunker is a big opportunity to make much more dramatic air quality gains than we’re currently achieving. Once they’re in place, these programs can be extended to make electric or other zero emissions vehicles accessible to more families and income levels. This will not be easy, but it is no more utopian than the dream of kick-starting an electric vehicle market.

And as it now stands, California’s air incentive policies miss the people who could use them, and sometimes even seem to work in reverse.

California’s air districts offer cash to owners who turn in old, polluting cars to junkyards, but these programs seem to pick up clunkers that are not driven much. In a survey of 164 vehicles scrapped in Southern California, 29 percent were incapable of driving 25 mph.

By contrast, Mr. Hernandez, with his high weekly mileage, got stymied when he went to his local scrapyard. He was offered a $400 incentive, but was told he’d need to pay $650 to clear up an issue in the title. The deal simply didn’t make sense.

“Now I own an antique!” he said throwing up his hands like a man who’s trapped. But he’s not the only one: California’s big green vision will be stuck in neutral until we figure out how to extend its promise to every zip code.

Lisa Margonelli is an editor at large at Zócalo Public Square, for which she wrote this. Her white paper on vehicles in the Central Valley is available here.

This piece originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

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 States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME

See the Effects of Climate Change in 3 Birds

Most North American birds head further north for winter as climate warms

Looking for signs of climate change? You can check the temperatures of the oceans or the density of polar ice caps. Or you can see which birds are gathering outside your window.

A Birds & Climate Change report released this week by the Audubon Society predicts that global warming will severely threaten nearly half of U.S. birds by the year 2100. And birds are already on the move, according to the society’s research. By mapping the historical data used in Audubon’s climate study, we see can that birds have migrated further north by an average of 40 miles in the past 48 years as temperatures increase. The map above highlights three species whose center of abundance has moved by over 200 miles.

The winter migration data is the fruit of the longest citizen science project in existence, called the Christmas Bird Count. Thousands of volunteers across North America head out every winter to track bird locations in over 2,300 designated areas. Audubon scientists aggregate data along conservation regions and state lines and then they account for the varying effort of bird watchers (watch out slackers) to produce an “abundance index” for each species.

The maps reflect this index for three birds that highlight how warmer winters are influencing species differently. Sixty one percent of the 305 Christmas Bird Count species are moving north — some by more than 200 miles, like the Pine Siskin and American Black Duck. Fewer species are going south, as their winter ranges are shrinking on the whole, with the remaining suitable climates now left further south. This pattern is observed in the Peregrine Falcon, though its increased abundance is also due to pesticide bans.

The “all birds” map shows the abundance index of all observed species relative to other areas. Light green areas show where fewer than the average number birds was observed, while darker areas exceed the average. Over time, areas further north illustrate increasing abundance relative to other areas.

Methodology

Data was provided by the Aududon Society, with calculations by Candan Soykan, an ecologist for Audubon. The “abundance index” for the three species shown on the map is based on the number of birds observed, by species, for each survey in the Christmas Bird Count, adjusted for variation in bird watching effort, among other factors.

The relative abundance for the map of bird density standardizes each species’ abundance index to a common scale before combining across species to provide an overall estimate. Standardization prevents abundant or more detectable species from dominating patterns in the map. To accommodate some species dramatically changing in abundance over the 48-year interval, median values are used. These median values for each year are averaged by decade (except in the case of 1966 to 1973) to be used on the time slider and map.

Photos: Getty Images (2);mdc

TIME Environment

Ozone Layer Showing Signs of Recovery, Study Finds

Ozone Rebounds
This undated image provided by NASA shows the ozone layer over the years, Sept. 17, 1979, top left, Oct. 7, 1989, top right, Oct. 9, 2006, lower left, and Oct. 1, 2010, lower right. NASA/AP

Finally, some good news about the environment

The depleted protective ozone layer that has left a gaping hole over Antarctica is showing signs of recovering, a UN panel of scientists said Wednesday.

The report found early indications of an increase in total ozone levels, which stabilized around 2000 after two decades of decline. The hole over Antarctica that appears every year, which grew to about 30 million square km in 2006, has also stopped expanding, according to the report.

Scientists realized in the 1970s that chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were wearing down the ozone layer, which helps the Earth repel potentially harmful radiation from the sun. But an international movement to ban or replace CFCs, buttressed by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has helped reduce the amount of CFC in the atmosphere.

“It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together,” chemist Mario Molina, one of the coauthors of a 1974 study predicting ozone depletion, told the Associated Press.

While past studies have found slowing ozone depletion, the UN report Wednesday is the first to show indications of an increase in total ozone, Geir Braathen, a senior scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization, which co-produced the report, told Reuters.

TIME Environment

Carbon Levels Surged at Fastest Rate in 30 Years in 2013, Study Finds

Greenland:  A Laboratory For The Symptoms Of Global Warming
Kunuk Nielsen navigates his boat among calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers on July 31, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

World Meteorological Organization warns that record highs of greenhouse gases would have warming effect on earth's climate

The concentration of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere climbed at a faster rate last year than any year since 1984, according to a new study from the World Meteorological Organization.

The study also measured new highs in concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide, which the United Nations agency’s scientists warned would have a warming effect on the earth’s climate.

Preliminary data suggests that greenhouse gases may have risen not only because of emissions, but also because of a reduced uptake of carbon by the oceans and the biosphere. Together, they absorb 50% of carbon emissions, the study’s authors note, resulting in record high rates of ocean acidification.

“We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

TIME Environment

California Blue Whales Are Making a Comeback

Blue whale
Getty Images

New study shows the marine mammal’s population in the Golden State is nearly back to pre-whaling levels

California’s endangered blue-whale population may not be so endangered after all, according to a study released Friday.

New research published in the journal Marine Mammal Science found the state’s current population of the aquatic mammal is nearly as high as before the practice of whaling became popular.

“It’s a conservation success story,” said Cole Monnahan, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Washington, in a statement.

The International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of blue whales for commercial purposes in 1966, after which whaling has only been carried out illegally. Other causes of death also include pollution, shipping and getting accidentally caught up in other fishing.

Blue whales are the world’s largest known animals, growing to nearly 100 ft. in length and weighing over 200 lb.

The study’s revelations concern California’s blue-whale population rather than the total number in the North Pacific, which has been known to be about 2,200 for some time now, although researchers did find that previous estimates of the pre-whaling population might have been inaccurate.

Scientists always assumed the pre-whaling population was much larger, but the authors of Friday’s study estimate the current population is up to 97% of historical figures. They arrived at this conclusion by using historical data to estimate the number of whales caught between 1905 and 1971.

“Our findings aren’t meant to deprive California blue whales of protections that they need going forward,” Monnahan added. “California blue whales are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring. If we hadn’t, the population might have been pushed to near extinction — an unfortunate fate suffered by other blue-whale populations.”

The one problem the massive marine mammals still face is being hit by ships, with at least 11 blue whales being struck off the West Coast last year. But Monnahan and his co-authors say this won’t affect the population’s stability.

TIME Environment

California Set to Enact First Statewide Ban of Plastic Bags

Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari
California Governor Jerry Brown, left, listens as Republican challenger Neel Kashkari speaks during a gubernatorial debate in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 4, 2014 Rich Pedroncelli—AP

After state lawmakers passed a bill

California is poised to become the first U.S. state to ban single-use plastic bags after Governor Jerry Brown said Thursday that he expected to sign a bill nixing their use.

The legislation — which would oust single-use plastic bags from grocery stores and pharmacies in 2015, as well as from convenience and liquor stores a year later — is similar to laws on the books in more than 100 California municipalities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as in individual towns and cities across the U.S.

Like those municipal laws, the California bill also authorizes stores to levy a $.10 charge on paper or reusable bags. In addition, it extends some $2 million in loans to plastic-bag manufacturers in an effort to soften those factories’ shift toward producing reusable bags.

American environmentalists and lawmakers have seized on banning non-biodegradable bags as a way to cut down on waste and clean up the country’s waters. But bag manufacturers have lobbied fiercely against such measures, warning that as bags disappear, so do the jobs in their factories.

Brown has until the end of September to sign the bill, passed by state lawmakers in a 22-to-15 vote last week.

“I probably will sign it, yes,” said the Democrat on Thursday evening, during a televised debate with his Republican rival Neel Kashkari, who is challenging Brown in the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This is a compromise. It’s taking into account the needs of the environment, and the needs of the economy and the needs of the grocers.”

Republicans in California’s legislature had opposed the bill, calling it unwarranted government involvement in local business, as well as a burden to job-creating manufacturers.

Kashkari — who trails the incumbent Brown by 50% to 34% in recent polling — said in the Thursday debate that there was “no chance” he would sign the bill.

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