Climate change
July 8, 2020

Phoenix, Arizona, is already the hottest major city in the United States, and climate experts expect temperatures to keep rising to the point where there are more than an additional two dozen days per year when the thermometer hits 105 degrees or higher by 2050. That could lead to what Susan Clark, the director of the Sustainable Urban Environments Initiative at the University of Buffalo, describes as a "Hurricane Katrina"-size heat disaster in the U.S.'s fifth largest city, The Washington Post reports.

Such a scenario could be brought on by water becoming too hot, disrupting a power generation system dependent on cooling towers, or wildfires taking out power lines. Citizens would then potentially be deprived of water and air conditioning, two necessities in dangerous heat. Thankfully, there are efforts, led by both experts and community members, to make sure Phoenix is able to evade this type of disaster, the Post reports.

There's been a push to rely more on solar power, and local electric utilities are trying to install "microgrids" around the city that could serve as backup generators in case of an emergency. And Phoenix's chief sustainability officer, Mark Hartman, is developing a network of "cool corridors" which would mean no resident is more than a five-minute walk from water or shade. Another method is to plant more trees, which can lower air temperatures through a natural process called evapotranspiration; eventually, Hartman hopes the city's tree canopy expands to a quarter of its area. Similarly, there is a multi-million-dollar program to repave roads with materials that reflect rather than absorb heat as asphalt does.

Mayor Kate Gallego (D) says she hopes this all results in Phoenix becoming "the most sustainable desert city on the planet." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

March 4, 2020

As tropical forests dwindle as a result of deforestation and climate change, the Earth is losing one of its strongest safeguards against pollution.

Tropical forests can serve as something The Guardian describes as "carbon sinks," meaning they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. But those forests, including the Amazon, are diminishing and have been absorbing fewer and fewer pollutants as the years go by. They could soon completely reverse course and become carbon sources as early as the 2060s, new research has found, per The Guardian. The reduction in tropical forests will likely accelerate a climate breakdown in a manner similar to melting ice sheets and permafrost.

"We've found that one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun," said Simon Lewis, a professor in the school of geography at Leeds University in the United Kingdom and one of the senior authors of the research. "This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models."

Lewis said forests can't keep "mopping up" pollution forever, but he did suggest that there is time for people to intervene "before the global carbon cycle starts working against us." The caveat, he said, is that time is now. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

February 17, 2020

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Monday that he is launching the Bezos Earth Fund, pledging to give $10 billion in grants to scientists, activists, and organizations trying to combat climate change.

Bezos said climate change is "the biggest threat to our planet," and he wants to "work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share." The grants will be issued this summer to "big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals," he added. Bezos is worth an estimated $130 billion.

Last year, Bezos signed a pledge saying that by 2030, Amazon will operate on 100 percent renewable electricity, The Washington Post reports. The company has also donated $100 million to reforestation projects, ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, and vowed to be plastic free in India by June.

Amazon workers who are concerned about the company's carbon footprint have launched a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, and last year planned a walkout. The organization released a statement on Monday, saying Bezos' pledge is fine, but "one hand cannot give what the other is taking away. The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil and gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells? Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon's role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business? What this shows is that employees speaking out works — we need more of that right now." Catherine Garcia

November 30, 2019

The White House may be carving out its own path when it comes to climate change, but Washington will still be involved at an upcoming international climate summit in Madrid.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is leading a Democrat-only congressional delegation consisting of 13 House members and one senator to Madrid's COP25 summit. "One of the goals we have is to make sure that all of those who are in the Paris Accord know that the Democratic majority in the Congress of the American people are very concerned about the climate issue, understand that we have to set goals and have a plan on how to achieve them, and to talk about some of the things that we have done," Pelosi told Bloomberg Environment before departing for Spain.

The Democrats attending reportedly range from members of Congress who support the Green New Deal to those who want to approach Washington's environmental policy more cautiously in the hopes of hammering out legislation alongside Republicans.

President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was brought to light in 2016 at the COP25 summit in the French capital. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that the U.S. had begun formal proceedings to leave the accord, though it won't become official until after the 2020 presidential election. Trump isn't expected to make an appearance in Madrid, but the administration is sending a small delegation of diplomats to represent Washington, CBS News reports. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2019

Even as countries rush to cap or limit their emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have reached a record high — again.

The United Nations' World Meteorological Organization said Monday that globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a record-breaking 407.8 parts per million in 2018. That surpassed the previous high, which was set the year before, and the WMO was feeling pretty pessimistic going forward.

"There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, adding that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was 3-5 million years ago.

Executive Director of the U.N. Environment Program Inger Andersen said the WMO's findings "point us in a clear direction" and that "we face a stark choice" to "set in motion the radical transformations we need now" or "face the consequences" of climate change. A report from the UNEP on the emissions gap will be released Tuesday. Read the WMO's full statement here. Tim O'Donnell

September 19, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and other presidential candidates shared their climate change plans on Thursday during MSNBC's Climate Forum 2020.

The two-day event at Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service kicked off Thursday morning with a question-and-answer session between students and the candidates. Twelve presidential candidates are participating, with Thursday's lineup consisting of Sanders, Yang, Castro, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), author Marianne Williamson, former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

Castro said his $10 trillion climate plan consists of a public-private partnership that will result in 10 million new jobs and the United States having net zero emission within the next 30 years. Ryan is calling for a forceful climate police that focuses on bringing manufacturing jobs back to hard hit rural and industrial areas. Delaney said he would re-enter the Paris climate agreement and promote global development of clean technologies.

Sanders declared that "unlike Trump, I do believe in science," and said one of his first acts as president would be to sign an executive order prohibiting fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Williamson said people need to push back against corporations and lawmakers who are tight with the fossil fuel industry.

Yang feels that action should have been taken two decades ago, and wants to see corporations taxed on their carbon production. Bennet said he would give lawmakers nine months to pass climate change legislation, and if they didn't do it he would turn to executive orders. He also discussed the importance of talking about the economy and jobs and how they tie in to climate change, so people don't fall for President Trump's scare tactics. "We can't lose an economic debate to a climate denier," he said. Catherine Garcia

August 28, 2019

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has anchored near Coney Island, she tweeted Wednesday morning. The 16-year-old set sail from the U.K. on Aug. 14, and has since been documenting her transatlantic journey on Twitter and with a live tracker.

Thunberg is visiting the U.S. for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which is to take place in September. To avoid the emissions that come with air travel, she sailed on the Malizia II, a 60-foot, emissions-free yacht powered by solar panels. Thunberg equated life on the boat to "camping on a roller coaster."

The trip took longer than expected after they encountered rough seas near Nova Scotia.

The Swedish teen gained global attention last year after skipping school in protest to call on adults to do more about climate change — a move that is now emulated by students around the world each Friday, reports NPR.

In addition to the UN summit, Thunberg plans to attend a climate conference in Chile this December. Read more at NPR. Taylor Watson

August 19, 2019

Iceland held a funeral Sunday for its first glacier lost to climate change. About 100 people hiked two hours to the top of a volcano for the ceremony, marked with poetry, moments of silence, and a plaque bearing a note for future humans. Icelandic geologist Oddur Sigurðsson, who actually pronounced the Okjokull glacier dead about a decade ago, formalized the extinction on Sunday, warning that Iceland won't have any more masses of ice in 200 years. Okjokull — now just Ok, without the Icelandic word for glacier — used to cover six square miles.

"We see the consequences of the climate crisis," Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said. "We have no time to lose." Former Irish president Mary Robinson agreed: "The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action." The plaque the mourners installed reads: "This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."

Not all glaciers die so peacefully, though, and Iceland isn't the only area affected. Saturday's NBC Nightly News showed some dramatic footage of Alaska's Spencer Glacier in its apparent death throes. Watch that below. Peter Weber

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