Reuters blog archive

from The Great Debate:

Humans don’t do ‘future’ well, and that could doom us if we’re not careful

A protester carries a sign during the "People's Climate March" in the Manhattan borough of New York

There has been some rare good news about the environment recently. One was hard to miss. On Sunday, roughly 300,000 people swelled the streets of midtown Manhattan in the People’s Climate March. It was not just the largest climate protest in history; it was the biggest U.S. political demonstration of any kind in more than a decade.

The movement to combat climate change has had a hard time getting off the ground -- at least partly because of the abstract nature of the issue. Before Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the recent California mega-drought, for most Americans climate change was a theoretical threat in the indeterminate future.

That’s changing, however. Sunday’s protest presented a broad-based coalition. Far from the small number of environmentalists who might have participated just a few years ago, the New York march included 1,572 organizations -- faith-based, labor, anti-poverty -- health professionals and a large turnout of high school and college students from across the country.

People march during a rally against climate change in New YorkBut if you blinked, you might have missed the other environmental good news. The dangerous ozone hole over Antarctica stopped growing, a recent United Nations study found, and shows early signs of repairing itself.

from The Human Impact:

Deadly Indian landslide may have been a man-made disaster

A resident looks at the debris of her damaged house after a landslide at Malin village in Maharashtra

landslide in western India that has killed more than 100 people and left scores missing may have been a man-made disaster caused by deforestation to make way for farming, experts say.

Hopes of finding survivors are fading after heavy rains triggered Wednesday's landslide, burying dozens of homes in the village of Malin in India's Maharashtra state.

from The Great Debate:

Keeping a city-by-the-sea from becoming a city in it


Virtually every big rainstorm in New York now seems to be accompanied by a flash-flood alert sent to cellphones. And scientists recently reported that a vast section of Antarctica’s ice sheet, now melting, might bring on as much as a 10-foot rise in the world’s sea levels in the coming decades.

While the nation debates the appropriate response, the coastal cities threatened most by climate change -- particularly New York -- must somehow address the problem themselves.

from Reihan Salam:

Technology, not regulation, is the best way to tackle climate change


By all accounts, President Obama is deeply interested in his legacy. And though relatively few American voters see dealing with climate change as a top priority for the federal government, the president famously sees it as the most important issue he can address in his second term. Having failed to shepherd climate change legislation through Congress in 2009, when Democrats had large majorities in the Senate and the House, the Obama administration has shifted to using new regulations to achieve its environmental policy goals. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced its Clean Power Plant Proposed Rule, a sweeping initiative that aims to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The heart of the 2009 legislation -- the Waxman-Markey bill -- was a new cap-and-trade system, which would allow businesses to trade the right to emit a certain level of carbon. The new EPA regulations are actually much less flexible than the cap-and-trade system envisioned in Waxman-Markey, and they will reduce carbon emissions at a much higher cost to the economy.

from Counterparties:

Green(ish) energy

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This week, the EPA unveiled its new rule to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 (that is, 30% from 2005 levels). Most of those cuts will come from burning less coal, which is currently the source of about 38% of the United States’ electricity.

Conservatives rushed to oppose the new rule, calling it “Obama’s War on Coal”. However, the Washington Post points out, many Republicans relied on pre-prepared statements that leaned heavily on a Chamber of Commerce study, which came out last week and assumed the EPA rule would require a 42% cut in emissions. From a regulatory perspective, Tyler Cowen says the EPA plan reminds him a lot of the original version of the Clean Air Act, passed in 1963. It was so ineffective at that point, he writes, that it had to be amended in 1965, 1967, 1970, 1977, and finally again in 1990. Further, “a lot of actual progress in the fight against air pollution came through the replacement of dirty coal by natural gas”.

from Data Dive:

Mapping America’s power, state-by-state

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced a plan to reduce power plant emissions (from 2005 levels) by 30% by 2030. Reuters' Valerie Volvoici and Jeff Mason report that 38% of US power comes from coal, and that "states which rely heavily on coal-fired power plants are thought to have the toughest tasks ahead" in complying with the rule.

Here's what American electricity generation looks like by state and energy source:

from The Great Debate:

Why is the West betting against climate change?

The Las Pulgas Fire is seen burning near military structures at Camp Pendleton, California

With wildfires ravaging San Diego County, this year’s fire season is getting off to an early -- and destructive -- start.

A hotter and drier Southwest may result in the loss of the lion’s share of its forests to fire before this century is done, if extraordinary measures to protect them aren’t soon undertaken. Instead of extraordinary measures, however, Washington has made only token efforts to address this looming crisis.

from Counterparties:

Weathering the economic storm

A group of scientists, in conjunction with the federal government, released a new assessment this week on the state of climate change in the US, and the news is not good. ”Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present”, says the report. Average global temperatures have increased more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and the world is likely to see between 3 and 10 degrees of warming by 2100. In April, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the 400 parts per million threshold for the first time in human history.

The US is already seeing the effects: summers are hotter, winters are rainier, and storms are more intense. All of those things have an impact on the economy. Danny Vinik went looking for estimates of the cost of climate change on global output and found it’s probably going to cost 1-3% of global GDP over the next century, although the cost will vary wildly from region to region. Africa is likely to fare worse, while Eastern Europe may even see a benefit.

from The Great Debate:

America: The anecdotal nation

In America today, anecdotes have become the new facts.

Consider Obamacare. Opponents have produced ads featuring apparently ordinary Americans telling stories about the travails forced upon them by the Affordable Care Act. One ad, financed by the Koch brothers, highlighted a leukemia sufferer named Julie Boonstra, who claimed that Obamacare had raised the cost of her medications so much that she was faced with death! Pretty dramatic stuff -- except that numerous fact-checkers found she would actually save $1,200 under Obamacare.

But what are you going to believe -- a sob story or a raft of statistics about the 7.5 million Americans who have signed up and the paltry 1 million folks who had policies canceled?

from The Great Debate:

Liberals are winning the language war

Are conservatives linguistically challenged? Or are they just naïve enough to think they can win the battle of ideas with -- ideas?

Okay, and money.

Conservatives, like liberals, will spend huge amounts of money this year to get their ideas across to voters. But what they fail to do is bundle their thoughts into a bright, shiny linguistic package that explodes in the face of their enemies when opened.