Winter storm Juno is expected to dump as much as 3 feet of snow across parts of New England early this week. Media outlets have already dubbed the storm "a massive blizzard of epic proportions." Schools closed their doors, grocery stores had their shelves stripped and governors announced travel bans along most of the storm's path.
But on social media, Juno is being pointed to as the latest evidence that global warming is not happening, or that it's even a hoax or scam—an assertion that scientists said couldn't be further from the truth.
"That claim is nonsensical," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. "Yes, we have always had storms in the winter, but climate change is often the contributing factor that pushes these events over the edge to become record-breaking."
Here's why: As the oceans warm due to the burning of fossil fuels, the atmosphere above can hold more moisture, which in turn fuels the creation of the most intense precipitation events. The mid-Atlantic is currently 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. In the spring, summer and fall, that translates into more of the most intense rainstorms. In the winter, when that moisture-rich air hits cold temperatures on the continent, heavier snowfall results.
The year 2014 was officially the hottest year since records began, federal scientists announced on Friday, part of a long-term warming trend driven by the burning of fossil fuels.
Ten of the warmest years ever have occurred since 1997. Global ocean and land temperatures, which have been calculated since 1880, measured 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average temperature in 2014, and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial averages. December also marked the 358th consecutive month—nearly 30 years—of above-average global temperatures.
"This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades," said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases."
The warming contributed to dozens of extreme weather and climate events last year, including severe hurricanes, drought, flooding and heat waves.
The U.S. coal export industry continued its losing streak as 2014 ended and 2015 began. A coal terminal project in Louisiana lost its permit in state court, and one in Washington ran into a stiff legal challenge. Last month, the company behind several other planned terminals sold its remaining projects to a high-risk investment firm at a major loss.
The developments continue a string of victories for environment groups fighting the export of coal to developing economies such as China. Of 15 proposals to build major new coal export facilities across the U.S., all but four have been defeated or canceled within the past two years. And only a few existing facilities have won approval to expand.
"This is an ugly, ugly time for coal exports," said Clark Williams Derry, research director for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, a nonprofit think tank that promotes sustainable policies for the Pacific Northwest.
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Keystone XL pipeline's route through the state—removing the last obstacle barring President Barack Obama from making his long-awaited decision on whether or not to approve the project.
The court ruled against landowners who had challenged the constitutionality of a 2012 state law that gave the governor unilateral authority to approve pipelines and the use of eminent domain—a power previously held by the state's Public Service Commission. A majority of judges—four out of seven—ruled with the landowners that the law was unconstitutional. However, a supermajority of five judges is needed to overturn legislation in Nebraska. Therefore, "the legislation must stand by default," the ruling stated.
All eyes are now on President Obama, who had used the pending Supreme Court case as a reason for delaying his verdict on the controversial project, which is expected to carry approximately 830,000 barrels of carbon-heavy crude oil per day from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
"The only decision that will bring peace of mind to landowners is watching the president use the power of the pen to stop this risky pipeline once and for all,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, one of the grassroots groups spearheading the fight against the pipeline.
A coalition of some the world's top photographers launched a project this month that provides visual documentation of how climate change is altering communities, wildlife and landscapes across the globe—and measures to help prepare for and adapt to the changes.
The venture, known as EveryDayClimateChange, is housed on the popular image-sharing app Instagram. It includes pictures taken by the photographers on five continents over the past several years as they've traveled the world on assignment.
Within the last week, it has featured dispatches from far-flung locales including Tibet, Papua New Guinea and Yemen, as well as areas closer to home, such as the Colorado River and New York City. It has chronicled drought, invasive species, deforestation, disappearing glaciers, pollution from fossil fuel extraction, desertification, and extreme temperatures, among other topics. In its first week it has gathered 1,750 followers on Instagram and 630 more on Facebook.
Concluding that global warming will be a toxic topic in the newly elected Congress, climate movement leaders say they will press for action by state and local authorities while encouraging President Barack Obama to advance his agenda for fighting climate change.
"D.C. has always been tough ground—the fossil fuel industry owns one party and terrifies the other," said Bill McKibben, an environmental activist and founder of the climate advocacy organization 350.org. "We're aware of the hardship, but undaunted."
Local and regional governments have initiated some of the most aggressive efforts to combat climate change in the U.S. This has been particularly true in cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. Climate leaders say they will lobby more states, cities and towns to start adaptation programs to stave off the worst effects of global warming, including rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and stronger storms. They also will advocate local and regional measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, expand renewable energy and public transit, and toughen building codes.
Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of New York City in September demanding that world leaders act on global warming in the largest climate demonstration yet.
The passion and desperation of activists to inspire change radiated through the crowd that warm, muggy day.Bill McKibben, an environmental activist and founder of 350.org, one of the main organizers of the event, described the march as a moment for which he had waited his entire career.
"All I ever really wanted was to see a climate movement come together, to see that we were actually going to fight," he told InsideClimate News. "And finally that day I was fully convinced."
The ideological divide over climate change widened this week in the Senate committee charged with shaping America's energy policy, setting the stage for a partisan showdown over the new Republican majority's plans to attack the Environmental Protection Agency, build the Keystone XL pipeline and drive fossil fuel expansion.
Democrats' replacement of three pro-fossil-fuel lawmakers with more pro-climate-action senators means that any across-the-aisle cooperation on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is probably dead, according to political strategists. While Republicans will control the panel 12-10 in 2015, Democrats could delay—or even potentially derail—the GOP's pro-fossil-fuels agenda by nitpicking bills during committee mark-up or by threatening a presidential veto.
"The GOP's appointments are evidence of the increasing desire within the party to roll back Environmental Protection Agency regulations," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign. "The Democrats' decisions were definitely calculated, defensive choices. They chose three of their strongest environmentalists...There will be some serious battles in the next two years."
For most of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's first year in office, global warming didn't seem to be a top priority—leaving green groups who endorsed him as an environmental champion during his campaign reeling. But 11 months into his term, there are signs that a shift is under way as the mayor made significant pledges and restructured the city's climate team.
Last week, de Blasio quietly named Nilda Mesa to lead New York's climate agenda as director of a new Office of Sustainability. The agency combines two offices with climate-action responsibility. Mesa, an environmental policy and planning authority, has experience at the federal level working for the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency and in New York as the former head of Columbia University's sustainability efforts.
"She has sterling environmental credentials and the ear of the mayor and his top officials—two extremely valuable assets for success in this position," said Eric Goldstein, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's New York City Environment program. "There had been a gap in critical personnel. We're glad it has been filled by a quality candidate."
As the first delegates landed in Peru this week for the latest United Nations climate talks, activists were already taking to the streets of Lima to demand that world leaders take aggressive action against global warming.
Hundreds of climate activists and faith leaders gathered in Lima Sunday night for a candlelight vigil. Joining them were Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Peru's environment minister and president of the Lima negotiations. That same day, Greenpeace activists projected a pro-solar energy message on Machu Picchu, Peru's ancient, iconic cultural site. On Monday, dozens of others massed for a demonstration of the Fast for the Climate movement, in which people refuse to eat as a show of solidarity for people feeling the effects of climate change.
Those events were just the beginning of what promised to be a busy two weeks for climate activists. Representatives of 190 countries are in Peru to draft the basics of a global climate accord to be finalized in Paris next December. This week delegates are discussing how much nations should reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how much developed nations should pay to help developing countries—most of which did little to contribute to the problem—adapt to climate change. For climate activists, the talks this month are an important opportunity to show world leaders the size, strength and diversity of their movement, as well as to bolster its Latin American base.