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 publication
You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While President Barack Obama wants to protect young people from the catastrophic effects of global warming, school boards and lawmakers in some states are fighting to prevent students from learning the science of climate change.
In the most recent skirmish, parents and science educators in West Virginia blocked an attempt to weaken the teaching of climate change in elementary and secondary school classrooms. Responding to petitions and protests, the state Board of Education voted Jan. 14 to undo revisions to teaching guidelines that would have cast doubt on global warming and the reasons for it.
The West Virginia case is part of a long-running battle over the first set of national guidelines for science education to require that students be taught that climate change is a scientific fact and mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The guidelines, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, were developed by science-education groups and state school systems, led by the National Research Council. They have been adopted by 13 states and the District of Columbia, but face resistance in several states from climate skeptics on school boards and in legislatures.
"Climate is the major sticking point in the standards," said Lisa Hoyos, director and co-founder of the national activist group Climate Parents. "Even if a state has been involved in writing, they go home and the politics win out," she said. "Kids are caught in the crossfire."
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."