Katherine Bagley is a reporter for InsideClimate News who covers the intersection of environmental science, politics and policy, with an emphasis on climate change. She is co-author of the InsideClimate News book "Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City," published in November 2013 and winner of the Deadline Club's Award for Reporting by Independent Digital Media. Her writing has also been included in the anthology Best American Science and Nature Writing.
She previously worked as a freelance journalist and editor, contributing print and multimedia work to Popular Science, Audubon, OnEarth and The Scientist, among other publications.
You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The edges of Antarctica's ice sheets have been thinning at a rapid rate over the past decade—up to 70 percent faster than average in some spots—due to warming oceans and air.
Known technically as ice shelves, these edges float just offshore in bays or fjords and act as barriers that keep larger, land-based ice sheets from slipping into the ocean. Once they are gone, there will be nothing to hold back the continent-sized ice masses from sliding into the warmer oceans and melting, raising sea levels precipitously.
According to a new study published in the journal Science this week, this could happen by the end of the century.
"Within a lifetime of people who read this story, many of these shelves will be gone," said Andrew Shepherd, a polar scientist at the University of Leeds who reviewed the study before publication. "This is real, rapid environmental change. These shelves have been around for 10,000 years. It is a classic example of how drastically you can disturb the planet with small changes."
Hundreds of museums across the country––including some of the most prestigious––are being asked by more than 30 scientists to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry.
In a letter sent to more than 330 science and natural history centers on Tuesday, the researchers said that when "some of the biggest…funders of misinformation on climate science" give millions of dollars to science-focused museums, it acts to "undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions."
"Museums are feeling budgetary crunches, and these donors bring in large sums of money," said Beka Economopoulos, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn-based Natural History Museum, a new educational organization that coordinated the letter. "Museums, even unintentionally, are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. There is a threat of self-censorship where the philanthropy serves to make museums more reticent to offend the donor, or certainly to critique the practices of the donor."
The campaign comes just weeks after the release of public documents show Smithsonian-affiliated astrophysicist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon published articles arguing that the sun, not greenhouse gases, is driving modern climate change after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests. He later failed to disclose that funding in academic journals' conflict-of-interest statements.
Museums are some of the world's top tourist destinations, particularly for families. Science-related institutions made up four of the top 10 most visited museums across the globe in 2014.
Concern over these museums' close financial ties with major oil-and-gas donors has been mounting for years. Fossil fuel billionaire David Koch, for example, sits on the boards of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Koch gave the Smithsonian $15 million to build the Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2010. The exhibit has been widely criticized for ignoring the role humans play in driving modern climate change, and the challenge it poses to modern society.
For three decades, more than half of Americans have considered climate change a serious threat. Yet today, the U.S. still lags behind much of the rest of the developed world as understanding of global warming has become more widespread.
That's one finding of a new analysis of dozens of international climate polls since the 1980s by researchers at Cardiff University in Wales.
"Broadly speaking, people that are skeptical are in the minority across most of the world," said Stuart Capstick, a Cardiff scientist who studies public perceptions of global warming and was the lead author of the recent analysis.
President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2008 levels by 2025, and mandated that at least 30 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources.
The executive order, which Obama signed Thursday morning, is the latest in a string of climate-related decisions the president has made in recent months to solidify his legacy on global warming in the face of Congressional gridlock. It also comes ahead of international climate treaty talks in Paris later this year, when all eyes will be on the United States, historically the world's top carbon emitter.
Obama's recent actions include vetoing a bill that would have fast-tracked a verdict on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline; banning drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay; rolling out the Clean Power Plan to curb carbon emissions from coal plants; and in a joint announcement with China, pledging to cut U.S. emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
"We're encouraged to see this administration take a more aggressive stance in fighting climate change," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for the environmental group 350.org. "But in 2017, President Obama's decision on Keystone XL and the success or failure of COP 21 in Paris are what will really define his legacy on the issue. We're going to continue urging the White House to heed the science, and do what's necessary to prevent climate catastrophe."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making it tougher for governors to deny man-made climate change. Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change.
This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn't warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind. Their position may block their states' access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.
"If a state has a climate denier governor that doesn't want to accept a plan, that would risk mitigation work not getting done because of politics," said Becky Hammer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's water program. "The governor would be increasing the risk to citizens in that state" because of his climate beliefs.
When science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway published their 2010 book "Merchants of Doubt," they exposed how a small network of hired pundits and scientists delayed legislative action on issues ranging from tobacco to flame retardants to climate change for decades.
Five years later, a film based on the book is in theaters—and is as relevant as ever.
A small group of industry-funded scientists and commentators continue to sow doubt about the science of climate change in Congress and in the media. The oil and gas industry has poured millions of dollars into the communications strategy in an effort to continue America's reliance on fossil fuels and protect its billions in profits. Last month, the release of public documents showed that scientist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics had accepted fossil fuel funds for publishing papers arguing that the sun is driving modern climate change, not mounting greenhouse gases. He also failed to disclose the funding in academic journals' conflict of interest statements.
ICN reporters Lisa Song and Zahra Hirji contributed to this story.
In the months before the debut of the new documentary film "Merchants of Doubt," long-time climate denialist Fred Singer contacted more than two dozen bloggers, public relations specialists and scientists asking for help in derailing the documentary’s release.
"Can I sue for damages?” Singer asked in an email last October. "Can we get an injunction against the documentary?"
Singer is one of the "merchants of doubt" identified in the documentary, as are a number of other recipients of his email. The documentary, released nationwide last week, exposes the small network of hired pundits and scientists helping to sow doubt about climate science and delay legislative action on global warming in the United States.
Singer's email became public earlier this week when it was leaked to journalists.
Many of those copied on the email thread, such as Singer and communications specialist Steven Milloy, have financial ties to the tobacco, chemical, and oil and gas industries and have worked to defend them since the 1990s. Others seem relatively new to the denialist camp, such as climate scientist Judith Curry. All, however, have been vocal before Congress, on broadcast news or on the Internet in arguing that human activity is not the primarily driver of climate change.
The widely discredited theory that natural solar cycles are driving global warming has been part of the national conversation surrounding climate change for years, and continues to stoke confusion in the public mind. Climate contrarian Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon has been one of the most influential promoters of that idea.
Soon has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for accepting donations from fossil fuel companies in exchange for publishing his solar hypothesis, and then not disclosing the funding in conflict-of-interest statements.
Soon's theory has been debunked by several scientific committees, including the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences. Satellites have measured no increase in solar output in the past half century, meaning it "isn't even remotely credible to argue that solar output can be responsible for the anomalous warming of recent decades," said Michael Mann, a climate scientist as Pennsylvania State University.
Scientists have also found that only the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth's surface, is warming, while the stratosphere, the layer that sits above it, is cooling. This is what scientists would expect to see if human-caused greenhouse gases were causing the planet to heat up.
"If the sun were to blame, all the layers of the atmosphere would be warming," from the outermost exosphere to the innermost troposphere, said Qiang Fu, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington. The stratosphere definitely would not be cooling, he said.