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  • In Wake of Arizona Uzi Killing, NRA Tweets About Kids Having Fun With Guns

    There's no shortage of grim gun news in the United States, including regular killings involving children, but there was something particularly disturbing about an incident on Monday in which a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot her instructor to death with an Uzi. The tragedy unfolded at an Arizona gun range catering to tourists called Bullets and Burgers. How on earth was such a child allowed to fire such a powerful weapon on fully automatic, by a person who knows enough about firearms to have served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan? See video of the incident below via the New York Times; the clip doesn't show the actual moment of tragedy, but it's plenty chilling nonetheless.

    Reactions to the news, as you might expect, have ranged from somber to mystified to angry. But with the story making the rounds on social media, only those latter two applied to a tweet posted on Wednesday afternoon by NRA Women, which is part of the National Rifle Association's Women's Programs and is sponsored by gun manufacturing giant Smith & Wesson. "7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range" the tweet announced, linking to a recent story that details how kids can get bored at the shooting range if not properly entertained. NRA Women posted the tweet at 1:51 p.m. Pacific on Wednesday; by about 3 p.m. it had been yanked, but not before I'd taken a screen shot:

    The list of options in the article that NRA women was promoting included firing at animal and zombie targets, and even exploding ones. Historically the NRA is known for its disciplined and effective messaging. But more recently, as it has catered to children and to women and minorities, America's top gun lobbying group seems to be misfiring, again and again.

  • The Dirty Secret Behind Europe's Renewable Energy Industry

    This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    If you're driving through the South and you see a denuded field filled with stubby new plantings where lush forest once stood, the blame might lie with an unlikely culprit: the European Union and its well-intentioned clean energy rules.

    In March 2007, the E.U. adopted climate and energy goals for 2010 to 2020. The 27 member countries set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and increasing renewables to 20 percent of their energy portfolio. Unfortunately, they underestimated the carbon intensity of burning wood (a.k.a. "biomass") for electricity, and they categorized wood as a renewable fuel.

    The result: E.U. countries with smaller renewable sectors turned to wood to replace coal. Governments provided incentives for energy utilities to make that switch. Now, with a bunch of new European wood-burning power plants having come online, Europeans need wood to feed the beast. But most European countries don't have a lot of available forest left to cut down. So they're importing our forests, especially from the South.

    Continue Reading »

  • Scott Brown Sure Posts a Lot of Photos of Himself Working Out

    "Nothing like starting off the morning with a triathlon," tweeted former Sen. Scott Brown on August 10th.


    The Massachusetts transplant is gearing up for his campaign against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) this fall by literally running for office. He's also biking. And swimming. And hiking. And taking jump shots. If it's a weekend, you can expect to find the Republican candidate tweeting a photo of his latest feat of strength. Things might not work out for Brown in November, but Brown will almost certainly work out.

    Climbing Mount Washington:

    Londonderry 5K

    Atkinson Triathlon:

    Pan-Mass Challenge:

    Capital City Triathlon:

    Greater Nashua Triathlon:

    Lobster Tail 5k:

    Portsmouth 5k:

    Color Me Rad 5k:

    (with video)

    Bedford 5k:

    Rescue Run 5k:

    Scott Brown residence:

    Shootin' hoops:

    And an Instagram flashback to an earlier episode of Scott Brown Is Working Out:

    Scott Brown/Instagram

  • Think You Can Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Play This Game

    I am only 10 minutes into trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and things are already starting to hit the fan. I am playing PeaceMaker, and I've taken the role of the Israeli prime minister. I channel my inner Yitzhak Rabin and take the dovish approach: I provide the Palestinians infrastructure aid and ease up on border checkpoints. My approval meters show that the United Nations can't get enough of me—but the Israeli public is angry. Soon, Hamas carries out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. I order in the military into the Gaza Strip. Now everyone's pissed at me, and I may get voted out of office. I am very frustrated.

    PeaceMaker's creators, Asi Burak and Eric Brown, are the first to admit that their computer strategy game isn't necessarily fun—the word they use is "engaging." PeaceMaker, released in 2007, challenges you to take the seat of either the Israeli prime minister or the president of the Palestinian Authority and to construct a virtual end to a decades-long conflict. Winning the game means achieving a peaceful, two-state solution. If you find that too simple, don't worry—the game also has a hard mode.

    In the tradition of many diplomacy and strategy games, PeaceMaker is turn-based: Make a move, and the environment responds to your choice. If, as the Israeli PM, you open up more work permits to Palestinians, your favorability ratings will rise with Palestinians and will likely decline with Israelis. Take too conciliatory an approach as the Palestinian president and your own people will get angry, but Israel will more likely to give aid or concessions down the road. Each side also faces realistic capabilities and limitations: The simulated Israel PM controls the police, army, borders, and budget, and must contend with satisfying various factions, from right-wing settlers and Palestinians to outside players like the United States and United Nations. The Palestinian Authority head has fewer tools: Beyond giving speeches and commanding the police, you're often subject to the whims of Israel and, crucially, Hamas, which can act suddenly and must be approached carefully.

    The gameplay is complex and realistic, which means it's also very difficult to win. A Carnegie Mellon study on PeaceMaker found that nearly 40 percent of players couldn't win once in four tries. Nearly half were able to win one out of four games; just 2 percent won all four tries. (The study notes that hard mode is so impossible that most players "simply gave up.") Just when it seems you're doing well, unexpected events can derail the best-laid plans. A Hamas suicide bomber blows himself up on an Israeli bus, or an Israel Defense Force rocket hits a Gaza school. These built-in flash points bring out the core dilemmas of each side: Balancing the desire for security and self-determination with the need for a legitimate negotiating partner on the other side. Win or lose, the ultimate goal of PeaceMaker is to get players to engage with the conflict differently. If you come to the table with your own biases, Brown and Burak want to help you see the other side.

    The idea for a game about Israel and Palestine began a decade ago, when Burak and Brown met as graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center in 2004. Politicians and pundits were denouncing games like Grand Theft Auto, giving the entire medium a bad reputation. Brown and Burak shared a mutual love of games, and Brown wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. "We wanted to show good things could be accomplished through video games," he says. Given Burak's background as an Israeli intelligence officer, the idea for a strategy game based on the Israeli-Palestinian issue formed quickly.

    A major challenge in designing the game was making the narrative as impartial as possible. This involved lots of research. Brown met with Palestinian government officials, NGOs, and student groups to get their input on how best to tell their side of the story. "I went in somewhat nervous and horrified by what I was about to do," he recalls. At first, Palestinians felt he was trivializing their experiences by turning them into a game. But for the most part, he says, "we'd end up with full support by the time I went out the door. They'd say, 'If you're doing this for the right reasons, I'm happy to help you create the right narrative.'"

    PeaceMaker creators Eric Brown and Asi Burak AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    Then there was the challenge of developing realistic gameplay. Brown and Burak maintain that neither side is harder to play, just different. On the Palestinian side, building infrastructure is key to figuring out a peace strategy, which Brown says is an easier concept to get for many players. On the Israeli side, however, "if you're not viscerally reacting to the violence that's coming at you, it's hard to bring yourself to build support to do other things." Plenty of players think one side is easier than the other, supposedly revealing the creators' true sympathies. "One way to know you're balanced is if you're being criticized for being imbalanced in every possible way," says Brown.

    PeaceMaker, which has English, Hebrew, and Arabic versions, was a commercial success—100,000 copies were bought in Israel alone. That's significant for a socially conscious indie game. With its lofty goals of empathy and understanding, PeaceMaker may seem like the gaming equivalent of being made to eat your veggies. It's not. PeaceMaker is a serious game, but it's exciting and satisfying to play. When it goes well, it feels like you're putting together a complex, living puzzle, and when it finally comes together, it feels glorious. (Fittingly, the game's logo is two puzzle pieces.)

    What's more, PeaceMaker actually may have a positive impact on players. Carnegie Mellon conducted several studies on the game. One found that playing it may "make it possible to reduce personal bias and learn to stand in another's shoes when engaging in conflict resolution exercises." Brown and Burak have heard from players in the Middle East, and the responses affirmed their intentions for the game. "People were thanking us and saying how good it felt to achieve peace," Brown says. "It gave them renewed hope there was a way these things could happen."

    Despite the game's age and the recent conflict in Gaza, PeaceMaker still feels realistic and relevant. Brown is in the process of it both to reflect the current situation on the ground and to fit a rapidly evolving gaming environment. It's now easier than ever for independent developers to distribute games with platforms like Steam, and the iPhone and iPad have revolutionized the industry. Brown and his team intend to release a version of the game for mobile platforms in addition to traditional desktop.

    Beyond that, Brown says, "these games that are really trying to hit hot button social issues are getting much larger support in the indie gaming community." Burak isn't working on the new PeaceMaker, but is now president of Games for Change, a nonprofit that helps develop socially oriented games. He's helped push out a diplomacy game about Syria, an Oregon Trail-style game simulating migration across the US-Mexico border, and UN-backed mobile game aimed at girls in the developing world.

    Developing PeaceMaker 2.0 is primarily about showing how the Israel-Palestine conflict has changed in the last seven years. "Our inciting incident for the Palestinian side currently is a shelling in Gaza that has civilian casualties. Has that really changed?" Brown wonders. "Instead of suicide bombs on the Israeli side, it's a kidnapping, or it's a tunnel found going into Gaza." Though these kinds of details have changed, the core logic behind the game has not. "The unfortunate part," Brown says, "is that the huge underlying issues where the balances might shift hasn't radically altered."

    The new PeaceMaker should debut by the end of the year. It will likely be a conversation-starter, a playable Rorschach test for how one sees the conflict. In July, Burak wrote an op-ed for Kotaku in which he described an Israeli general playing the game. He bombed the Palestinians into submission, then wondered why he lost. "There is nothing to learn from this game about reality, as I took all the right actions," Burak quotes the general as saying. Despite that, Brown tries to stay upbeat about the game's potential to change minds. "Anything that affects even some people positively is worth doing."

  • 10 Hours in Ferguson: A Visual Timeline of Michael Brown's Death and Its Aftermath

    Below is a visual timeline detailing the events of August 9, from the time a Ferguson police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown until about 10 p.m. that night, when a group of police vehicles departed from the neighborhood. Details are drawn from this New York Times report, Mother Jones interviews with a police spokesman and other sources, and content shared via Twitter by locals on the scene that day. The latter included Thee Pharoah, a local rapper who witnessed the shooting; KMOV, a local TV news station; and Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman. (Note: Time stamps in the tweets below reflect the reader's time zone and may appear inaccurate; our bolded annotations accurately show events on Central Time.)

    Saturday, August 9, 12:01 p.m.: Michael Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson, are walking in the street on Canfield Drive when they are confronted by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

    Around 12:03 p.m.: After an altercation whose circumstances remain under investigation, Wilson kills Brown, firing at least six gun shots.

    12:07 p.m.: The Ferguson police notify the St. Louis County police about Brown's death and ask them to take over the investigation.

    12:10 p.m.: A paramedic on the scene determines Brown's body has "injuries incompatible with life."

    12:13 p.m.:

    12:15 p.m.: St. Louis County patrol officers arrive to help maintain the crime scene. This video by Law Abiding Citizen News shows a crowd beginning to gather as a sheet from an ambulance is used to cover Brown's body.

    12:43 p.m.: St. Louis County police detectives are notified of Brown's shooting.

    1:05 p.m.:

    1:08 p.m.: Local TV channel KMOV arrives at the scene.

    Around 1:30 p.m.: St. Louis County detectives and additional police from multiple agencies arrive on the scene.

    Early afternoon: News reporters interview Johnson, Brown's friend who had been walking with him in the street. A little after two minutes into this video clip, Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, can be seen outside the police tape, distraught that the police will not let her approach her son's body.

    Afternoon: News reporters interview McSpadden. She says, "You took my son away from me. You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?"

    Around 2:30 p.m.: A forensic examiner from the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's office arrives to gather evidence for Brown's autopsy.

    Mid-afternoon: As the crowd on Canfield Drive grows, gunshots are reportedly heard close by. Officers on the scene call a Code 1000, summoning additional police in nearby areas to help control the crowd.

    Around 4 p.m.: The medical examiner covers Brown's body with a tarp and it is loaded into an SUV.

    4:37 p.m.: Brown's body is checked into the morgue in Berkeley, Missouri, about six miles from where Brown was shot.

    Late afternoon: News of Brown's death spreads on social media. Brown's stepfather, Louis Head, poses for a photo that quickly goes viral. (The sign reads: "Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!")

    Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

    6:31 p.m.:

    6:58 p.m.:

    Around 7 p.m.: McSpadden and supporters create a memorial with flowers and candles on the spot where her son was killed.

    Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

    7:18 p.m.:

    8:25 p.m.: A fire truck responds to a dumpster fire on Canfield Drive. A crowd begins to taunt two police officers keeping watch over the operation from on top of the fire truck. The police call for backup.

    8:30 p.m.: A small crowd gathers around the Mike Brown memorial.

    8:36 p.m.: When another police car arrives, a crowd walks into the street, prompting the car to turn around.

    8:41 p.m.: Police vehicles flood down Canfield Drive from West Florissant Avenue, including K-9 units. Officers face off with the crowd, but they do not order the crowd to disperse, according to French.

    9:02 p.m.: Police vehicles have crushed the memorial in the middle of the street.

    9:50 p.m.: The police leave and the neighborhood quiets down—but days and nights of turmoil in Ferguson are on the way.

    Clarification: A reader pointed out that the video clip we initially used of Brown's body being covered contained audio from another recording; we replaced it with another clip.

  • Michael Brown's Mom Laid Flowers Where He Was Shot?and Police Crushed Them
    St. Louis County police officers confront a crowd in Ferguson after Brown's shooting. David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT/ZUMA Press

    As darkness fell on Canfield Drive on August 9, a makeshift memorial sprang up in the middle of the street where Michael Brown's body had been sprawled in plain view for more than four hours. Flowers and candles were scattered over the bloodstains on the pavement. Someone had affixed a stuffed animal to a streetlight pole a few yards away. Neighborhood residents and others were gathering, many of them upset and angry.

    Soon, police vehicles reappeared, including from the St. Louis County Police Department, which had taken control of the investigation. Several officers emerged with dogs. What happened next, according to several sources, was emblematic of what has inflamed the city of Ferguson, Missouri, ever since the unarmed 18-year-old was gunned down: An officer on the street let the dog he was controlling urinate on the memorial site.

    The incident was related to me separately by three state and local officials who worked with the community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. One confirmed that he interviewed an eyewitness, a young woman, and pressed her on what exactly she saw. "She said that the officer just let the dog pee on it," that official told me. "She was very distraught about it." The identity of the officer who handled the dog and the agency he was with remain unclear.

    The day brought other indignities for Brown's family, and the community. Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, told me she went to the scene that afternoon to comfort the parents, who were blocked by police from approaching their son's body. Pace purchased some tea lights for the family, and around 7 p.m. she joined Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, and others as they placed the candles and sprinkled flowers on the ground where Brown had died. "They spelled out his initials with rose petals over the bloodstains," Pace recalled.

    By then, police had prohibited all vehicles from entering Canfield Drive except for their own. Soon the candles and flowers had been smashed, after police drove over them.

    "That made people in the crowd mad," Pace said, "and it made me mad." Some residents began walking in front of police vehicles at the end of the block to prevent them from driving in.

    A woman prays at the site on Sunday, August 10, where Michael Brown was killed the previous afternoon. J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

    A spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police told me that the department was unaware of these incidents; he added that complaints should be submitted to the department's Bureau of Professional Standards.

    St. Louis alderman Antonio French, who was on the scene that night, tweeted videos and photos including one of the mangled memorial:

    (Also see our visual timeline of the shooting and its aftermath.)

    Several sources in Missouri government and law enforcement insisted to me that some criticism of the police response to the unrest has been overblown. Multiple agencies quickly responded to the chaos: "We'd never had such a blatant incident like this," one person told me. "It just went over the top."

    But others, including Rep. Pace, said the problems ran so deep that they continued even after Gov. Jay Nixon stepped in and put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge. On the afternoon of August 19, Pace and her colleague Rep. Tommie Pierson, whose district abuts hers, were standing near the McDonald's on West Florissant Avenue, observing a group of about 100 protesters marching down the street. There was a strong police presence but the atmosphere remained peaceful, Pace told me, and their goal was to mediate between their constituents and law enforcement. Police officers approached and ordered the crowd to keep moving. A female Missouri Highway Patrol officer confronted Pierson, reaching for her mace.

    "Are you getting ready to mace me?" Pierson asked in disbelief. The officer backed off after Pace explained to another cop who they were.

    "It's bad when you don't have any respect for anybody," Pierson told me last week. "Even now that's still going on: 'You do what I tell you, or I'll mace you, I'll shoot you, no questions asked.'" (The Missouri Highway Patrol did not respond to a request for comment. Later that night a police officer from another agency was recorded pointing a semi-automatic rifle at nonviolent protesters and threatening, "I will fucking kill you, get back.")

    Throughout the conflict in Ferguson, certain police tactics clearly helped escalate the long-simmering tensions in a city with a majority black population and mostly white power structure. One state official told me that people in the community saw the way Brown's body was handled as a deliberate act of intimidation, echoing the slavery era, "when somebody was beaten or lynched and they made everybody come out and watch." With regard to the Ferguson police force, this official added: "They have an 'us against them' attitude, and they care nothing at all about the people who pay their salaries and that they have sworn to serve and protect."

    Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown, made his home in Crestwood, a suburb about 17 miles from Ferguson whose population is 94 percent white. The Washington Post reported that prior to serving on the Ferguson police force, Wilson served in the neighboring municipality of Jennings, whose police department was so plagued by racial tension and excessive use of force that the city council disbanded it in 2011. It should come as little surprise, one Ferguson community leader told me, that Brown's killing and the heavy-handed response to the protests were seen by many as "a declaration of war."

    The thinking behind that response—among Ferguson police as well as the other agencies called in for assistance—has largely remained obscure to the public. One Missouri official with ties to Ferguson told me that fears about widespread looting appeared to play a role. Though it drew little notice beyond St. Louis media, in the first couple of nights after Brown's death sporadic looting and violence occurred well beyond Ferguson, in south St. Louis and in a shopping mall in Richmond Heights.

    "I think that gave an impression that it was going to happen everywhere and the police need to react accordingly," the official said. Gun sales in St. Louis also jumped. But a crucial factor in the police response, in his view, was that "a lot of them are not adequately trained. They've got an extraordinary situation that they're put into, and what do they know? They know force." Then add in the military gear that police departments have received since 9/11—"stuff that was produced for Iraq or Afghanistan." (A person involved with the special operations division of the St. Louis County Police Department gave me a more positive assessment, noting that despite several nights of violence, nobody was seriously hurt or killed in the police response.)

    Charles Henson, a former member of the Ferguson-Florissant school board, suggests that while police made mistakes, some unfair criticisms have been piled on. "A lot of people got very angry about the officer being put on paid leave while the shooting is investigated, but I think that is just following protocol," he told me.

    "The real hope now is that a light has been shined," Henson added. "There is a lot of work to be done in this community, and if folks in the city government feel that there's not an issue with regard to bias and race, then we've got a problem. Because that's fuel for another situation like this to happen again, and we can't take another one of these."

  • Why We're In A Golden Age of Global Investigative Journalism

    This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

    In our world, the news about the news is often grim. Newspapers are shrinking, folding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies. Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol—she's not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years. You know the story and it would be easy enough to imagine that it was the world's story as well. But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there's been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.

    Woodward and Bernstein may be a fading memory in this country, but journalists with names largely unknown in the US like Khadija Ismayilova, Rafael Marques, and Gianina Segnina are breaking one blockbuster story after another, exposing corrupt government officials and their crony corporate pals in Azerbaijan, Angola, and Costa Rica. As I travel the world, I'm energized by the journalists I meet who are taking great risks to shine much needed light on shadowy wrongdoing.

    Continue Reading »

  • Can This Democrat Win on a No More "Trayvon Martin Tragedies" Platform?
    Wilcox for Congress

    Could the 2012 killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin prove a deciding factor in an Arizona Democratic congressional primary? Former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox certainly hopes so. Seeking to gain an edge over her rival, ex-state Rep. Ruben Gallego, in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, Wilcox's campaign has invoked Martin's shooting and her opponent's past support for a controversial Stand Your Ground law.

    "America doesn't need more Trayvon Martin tragedies," read a mailer distributed by Wilcox's campaign earlier this month that blasted Gallego for voting "for an NRA-backed 'Stand Your Ground' law that made it easier to shoot someone and claim self-defense." The mailer went on to cite Gallego's B+ rating from the National Rifle Association, while asking voters to remember "tragedies like Newtown, CT" and "the theater in Aurora, CO." (Those shootings did not involve Stand Your Ground.)

    Wilcox, who was shot in the hip in 1997 by an angry constituent, has kept gun control front and center during the campaign, although not always successfully. She brought up Gallego's vote at a recent debate; in June, her husband, Earl, confronted Gallego at a gun control rally, alleging that he was a "traitor to the cause." Gallego, a former NRA member, has said he brought a handgun to work at the state capitol after receiving threats, but supports a ban on assault rifles and the county buyback program Wilcox helped to start.

    Continue Reading »

  • A Quarter of Americans Think They or Their Families Will Get Ebola

    No one has contracted Ebola in the United States, or is very likely to. And no one should be surprised that Donald Trump is tweeting this anyway:

    What's more surprising is that many Americans share fears like those that underlie Trump's tweet. According to a Harvard School of Public Health/SSRS poll, 68 percent of the US population believes Ebola spreads "easily." Four in 10 are worried there will be a large outbreak in the United States. And a quarter of Americans are afraid the virus will infect them or someone in their families.

    That's partly a consequence of media distortion, says Gillian SteelFisher, a member of the Harvard research team that conducted the poll. "Ebola's a terrible disease, and the impact it's having on West Africa is horrible to observe," she says. "And the news here is going to capture parts of that but not all of it." When news reports focus on the gruesome effects of Ebola without explaining why it's been able to spread so fast in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, it's easy for Americans to believe they're in danger too. "They're feeling a very personal and direct threat," SteelFisher says.

    SteelFisher wants the public to hear from health officials who can explain what disease containment resources the United States has and how they differ from West Africa's. Simple factors like the availability of rubber gloves, which are scarce in Liberia, would make Ebola much easier to control here.

    SteelFisher also thinks people might be confused about how Ebola is transmitted. Those who are more familiar with diseases like the flu, or who've seen virus disaster films like 2011's Contagion, might assume Ebola can spread through the air. But in the case of this virus, you can't get sick without exposure to an infected person's bodily fluids.

    Though some Americans may be overestimating the risk of an Ebola outbreak, more than a few also have a mistakenly rosy view of the treatment plan for people who are infected. A third of those polled said there was "an effective medicine to treat people who have gotten sick with Ebola." In fact, no such drug has been approved for humans. The drug Zmapp, which was used to treat a pair of American missionaries who caught Ebola in West Africa, is still being tested.

    "You don't want them to be glib," says SteelFisher. "At the same time, you don't want people to be panicking here."

  • There Have Been 5?Yes, 5!?Monster Hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific This Year

    Right now, swirling south of the Baja California peninsula, is a monster hurricane named Marie. Currently a Category 4 storm with 145 mile per hour maximum sustained winds, yesterday the storm was a full fledged Category 5, with 160 mile per hour winds. That makes Marie the first Category 5 in the Eastern Pacific hurricane basin so far this year—but there have been at least three other Category 4 storms so far, and one Category 3 to boot.

    By any measure, these numbers are pretty striking.

    According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, the average Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through the end of November, and sees 15.4 total named storms, including 8.4 hurricanes, and 3.9 major hurricanes (Category 3 and greater). This year, by contrast, has already seen 13 storms, including 8 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes! And there are still fully 3 months to go.

    In fact, for 2014, the Climate Prediction Center forecast "3 to 6" major hurricanes in the East Pacific. We're already there, but we're only halfway through the season! Just for comparison, in the jaw-dropping 2005 Atlantic hurricane season—the season featuring Katrina, Rita, and Wilma—there were a total of 7 major hurricanes.

    Moreover, all this activity has been accompanied by numerous hurricane records. Back in May, Category 4 Hurricane Amanda was the strongest May storm ever seen in the basin. And just weeks later, Category 4 Hurricane Cristina set another new record, becoming the "earliest 2nd major hurricane formation" in the basin.

    Now, the National Weather Service office in San Diego adds yet another record for Marie:

    Note, though, that this record would appear to include Category 4 Hurricane Genevieve, which seems questionable. Genevieve was a truly rare storm that started in the Eastern Pacific as a tropical storm, and then tracked all the way across the Pacific from east to west, only attaining Category 4 strength in the Central Pacific region west of Hawaii, before then crossing the international dateline and becoming classified as a typhoon.

    But with or without Genevieve, we're still talking about a ton of strong hurricane activity. So what's going on here? Note that even as the Eastern Pacific has been gangbusters, the Atlantic basin, where hurricanes tend to threaten the United States, has been pretty quiet. That's no coincidence, explains Weather Underground blogger Jeff Masters by email:

    …hurricane activity in the Epac [East Pacific] and the Atlantic are usually anti-correlated—when one is very active, the other is usually quiet. This occurs because when sinking air occurs over one ocean basin, there must be compensating rising air somewhere—typically over the neighboring ocean basin. Large-scale rising air helps encourage thunderstorm updrafts and thus tropical storm formation. Since ocean temperatures are much warmer than average over the Epac and near average over the Atlantic, the atmosphere over the Epac has tended to have more rising air this season than the Atlantic. Warm waters heat the air above it and make the air more buoyant, causing rising motion.

    Right now, there are two major questions: Just how many more records will the 2014 Northeast Pacific Hurricane season set? And will one of those be a new record strongest hurricane ever recorded in the basin?

    The current strongest storm, recorded in 1997, was Category 5 Hurricane Linda, which had maximum sustained winds of 184 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars.

    As for Marie: While the storm is far out at sea and unlikely to directly threaten any major land areas, it is kicking up huge waves that may be felt as far away as Los Angeles. Eastern Pacific hurricanes occasionally strike Mexico, and on rare occasions travel west far enough to menace the Hawaiian islands.


Green Facts

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your cars tires fully inflated.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Youll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.