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  • "Bull City Summer": Incredible Photos From a Year Embedded With a Minor League Club

    Twenty-five years after Bull Durham introduced the world to the minor league world of Crash Davis, Annie Savoy, and Nuke LaLoosh, a group of writers and photographers descended on Durham, North Carolina, to document life with the hometown team. The result is Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark, a rich photo book interspersed with smart, poignant essays about the game's rhythm, its injustice, and its occasional grace.

    The essayists introduce us to a familiar cast of characters: the elderly couple who've missed just 50 games in 30-plus years; the aging veteran playing out the string in Triple-A, four years removed from a World Series appearance with the Yankees; the Duke philosophy professor who, before succumbing to colon cancer in 2013, would "adopt" a player every year, bringing him cookies and the occasional CD filled with classical music; the Cuban first baseman whose league MVP award will get him no closer to the big leagues; the general manager who helped revitalize the club in 1980 and who claims at the start of one essay, "I'm a gifted salesman. I hate it, but I am."

    Meanwhile, the photos highlight the play between the sort of regional authenticity that clubs sell to local fans and the generic ballpark experience found in dozens of baseball towns—Corpus Christi, Rancho Cucamonga, New Britain, wherever—around the country. There are still lifes; there are landscapes; there are stadium workers and players and fans in varying arrangements and formats, including the occasional tintype.

    Running throughout Bull City Summer, though, is that old sense of the minor leagues as something special, something sui generis. "The majors are baseball's height, but the minors are its depth," writes Adam Sobsey, "and what we have here may be richer."

    All photos from Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark, Daylight Books. Conceived and edited by Sam Stephenson. Photographs by Alec Soth, Hiroshi Watanabe, Hank Willis Thomas, Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey. Essays by Michael Croley, Howard L. Craft, David Henry, Emma D. Miller, Adam Sobsey and Ivan Weiss.

    Center Field #2, 2013 Alec Soth
    Holly, 2013 Alec Soth
    Outside the Ballpark #2, Durham, North Carolina, June 2013 Alex Harris
    Light in a Summer Night #7, 2013 Frank Hunter
    Approaching storm, Goodman field Frank Hunter
    Vendor Frank Hunter
    In collaboration with Colby Katz, Allen Mullin, Ben Berry, Emma Miller, Ivan Weiss, Michael Itkoff, Mika Chance, Matali Routh, Ryan Vin, and Sara Schultz: A Futile Attempt to Take a Portrait of Everyone who Attended the Latest Regular Season Game, 2013 Hank Willis Thomas
    Pitching practice (Team psychologist), April 2013 Kate Joyce
    Craig Albernaz's Catcher's Mask, 2013 Hiroshi Watanabe
    Untitled, 2013 Elizabeth Matheson
    Daylight Books, 2014


  • Stop Dreaming. Republicans Are Not Going for a Carbon Tax.

    This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Republicans, as everyone knows, hate taxes and don't accept, much less care about, climate change. But wonks on both sides of the aisle fantasize that a carbon tax could win bipartisan support as part of a broader tax-reform package. A carbon tax could be revenue neutral, the dreamers point out, and if revenue from the tax is used to cut other taxes, it shouldn't offend Republicans—in theory.

    And so people who want to bring Republicans into the climate movement like to argue that the GOP could come to embrace a carbon tax. We've heard it from former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who lost his seat to a Tea Party primary challenger in 2010 after he proposed a revenue-neutral plan to create a carbon tax and cut payroll taxes. We've heard it from energy industry bigwigs like Roger Sant, who recently argued the case at the Aspen Ideas Festival. We've heard it from GOP think tankers like Eli Lehrer.

    It's the epitome of centrist wishful thinking. It will not happen.

    I know because I asked the man most responsible for setting Republican tax policy: Grover Norquist. As head of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has gotten 218 House Republicans and 39 Senate Republicans to sign his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" never to raise taxes. His group has marshaled the Republican base's zealous anti-tax activists and successfully primaried politicians who violate the pledge, making Norquist a much-feared and much-obeyed player in D.C. The Boston Globe Magazine went so far as to call him "the most powerful man in America"—at least of the unelected variety.

    First off, Norquist has no interest in a carbon tax because, he told me, there has been no global warming for the last 15 years. That right-wing shibboleth is false, but the point is that if you don't accept climate science, as Norquist and the Republicans don't, you've got no reason to back a carbon tax.

    Although Norquist conceded that you could theoretically construct a revenue-neutral carbon tax that does not violate his pledge, he would still oppose it, and he said Republicans generally would too. "I would urge people not to [vote for a carbon tax], because the tax burden is a function of how many taxes you have," Norquist said, noting that higher-tax jurisdictions tend to have more sources of tax revenue. "With one tax, people can see how big it is. Divide it and no one knows."

    "I don't see the path to getting a lot of Republican votes," he concluded. Neither do I.

    It's useful to look at how Republicans react to other tax-reform ideas: Eliminate the carried-interest loophole that taxes hedge-fund managers at a lower rate than their secretaries? No way! Eliminate deductions for oil and gas companies? Nothing doing.

    The arguments Republicans make about this one tax being unfair or that one stifling economic growth are all just arguments of convenience. Republicans are for taxing the things they don't care about (poor people's meager earnings) and against taxing the things they do care about (rich people's unearned income). So Republicans oppose taxing inheritances and capital gains, but seem not to mind flat taxes on income or sales. That's why the big tax-reform proposals that insurgent Republican candidates have ridden to prominence—Mike Huckabee's "Fair Tax," Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan—involve shifting much of the tax burden to a national sales tax: because sales taxes fall disproportionately on poor people. (Poor people have to spend a bigger portion of their income than rich people do just to get by, so sales taxes are regressive.)

    And that's why offering to cut payroll taxes in exchange for creating a carbon tax won't win a bunch of Republican votes. First of all, Republicans don't care about the tax burden on poor people, so the payroll tax deduction is not going to entice them. (In fact, they opposed an extension of President Obama's payroll-tax holiday.) Meanwhile, they don't share the premise that fuel consumption and carbon pollution are bad, because they don't accept climate science. And they don't want to shift the tax burden to fossil fuel companies, which are huge GOP contributors.

    It's worth remembering how a carbon tax became the ostensible bipartisan solution to climate change. Back in 2008, both parties' presidential candidates backed cap-and-trade plans. Obama won and advanced his plan, so Republicans all opposed it. By default, whatever Obama proposes becomes "partisan" and the alternative becomes supposedly the reasonable, non-ideological idea Republicans would have supported. It's always a lie.

    There are two possible paths to either cap-and-trade or a carbon tax: One, Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress and the White House, and feel more pressure to address climate change than they did in 2010, when they let the opportunity slip away. Or, two, Republicans come to accept climate science and decide they want to save the world from burning. But until Republicans come around to acknowledge the reality of climate change, they're not going to agree to a carbon tax.

  • This Is What a Farmer Looks Like

    During the 2013 Super Bowl, Marjorie Gayle Alaniz was captivated by a commercial for Dodge Ram trucks that featured portraits of American farmers. She couldn't help but notice, however, that among the many farmers shown, there were only a handful of women. Alaniz, who comes from a family of Iowa farmers, was disappointed. "I wondered, how has this happened, that images of farms don't include women, when practically every farm has a woman working on it?" Indeed, according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, 46 percent of American farm operators are women.

    Shortly after her Super Bowl revelation, Alaniz quit her job at a crop insurance company and started documenting women farmers in Central Iowa. The result is FarmHer, an online collection of photographs of some 40 lady farmers and counting. "The feedback has been fabulous," says Alaniz. "It's usually coming from women who grew up around agriculture or are currently involved in ag. They say, 'Thank you for showing the rest of the world that we are out here doing this, too.'"

    Kim Waltman, along with her family and about 20 neighbors, drives a herd of her beef cattle from the pasture to a holding area for vaccination and branding.
    Angelique Hakazimona, who farmed in her native Rwanda before coming to Iowa as a refugee, digs sweet potatoes on the certified organic farm where she works. 
    Kate Edwards, who farms veggies on a few acres to feed 150 families through her CSA program, harvests produce during the last light of a long summer day.
    Inga Witscher pushes a wayward cow back into the barn on the organic dairy farm that she runs with her husband.
    Kellie Gregorich drives her John Deere tractor, which has been handed down through generations on her family's cattle and row crop farm. 
    Carolyn Scherf holds a heritage-breed turkey she raised on a farm in rural Iowa.
    Danelle Myer, the sole owner and operator of her farm, carries a box full of freshly washed produce from the field to the nearby barn, where she will sort and package it in preparation for the farmers market.
    Jill Beebout checks on her alpacas. With her partner, Beebout grows produce and raises bees for honey, chickens for eggs, and alpacas for fiber.
    FarmHer photographer Marjorie Gayle Alaniz


  • This 11-Year-Old Was Locked Up Trying to Cross the Border. Read the Heartfelt Letter She Sent Obama.

    On Tuesday, the nation's top immigration court allowed a Guatemalan woman who fled her abusive husband to petition for asylum in the United States. It's a landmark ruling that immigrant rights advocates hope will protect women who have escaped horrific marital violence in countries besides Guatemala.

    One of those women is a Honduran named Rosemary. In June, she entered the US with Daniela, her 11-year-old daughter, and both were detained near the border. Rosemary and Daniela are currently detained in a makeshift facility in Artesia, New Mexico, set up by the Department of Homeland Security. They are seeking asylum after fleeing Daniela's father, who allegedly beat and choked Rosemary for three years before the two escaped. (Rosemary asked me to withhold their last name.)

    And Tuesday's ruling could be good news for the two of them—if they ever get out of detention. "It is very difficult to prepare a meaningful asylum case within a detention center," their lawyer, Allegra Love, wrote to me in an email. "There is limited legal counsel and communication is nearly impossible."

    In less than two weeks, Rosemary and Daniela have a bond hearing. If the judge grants a low bond, the family will pay it and live with friends in Houston. But if it's too high—or the judge denies them bail—then Rosemary has considered voluntarily going back to Honduras, where she claims her life is in danger.

    Why would Rosemary risk heading back to one of the world's most violent countries? According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and other immigrant rights groups, conditions in Artesia are terrible: The facility is overcrowded, privacy is nonexistent, and phone calls to family and attorneys are limited to two or three minutes. Daniela says she has lost 15 pounds in two months. "Her mother is not sure she wants to risk her child starving to death in New Mexico," Love says.

    So Love encouraged Daniela to write a letter to President Obama. Daniela did, and Love translated and shared with Mother Jones. Here's an excerpt:

    I don't like being here because we don't eat well, and I can't do what I did in Honduras so I need to go back or get in school. I am a very intelligent girl. I can speak English and I am learning French, and I believe that all the kids who are here in this center should leave. No one wants to be here. We are getting sick mentally. The jail is affecting us. Some officials are very rude. President Obama, I am asking you to please help us leave here and stay in this country. While I have been here I've been sick two times. I ask you from my heart for your help.

    Here's a copy of Daniela's letter and Love's handwritten translation:




    A copy of Rosemary's affidavit to the court, which Love shared with Mother Jones, corroborates the basic details of her daughter's letter.

    In one sense, Rosemary and Daniela are lucky: Artesia is notorious for deporting migrants so swiftly that people with legitimate asylum claims never have a chance to file an application. The fact that the mother and daughter are in touch with a lawyer—they met Love through her pro bono work for the American Immigration Lawyers Association—sets them apart from thousands of other women who stream through Artesia every month. (The Department of Homeland Security did not reply to requests for comment.)

    Their story also flies in the face of conservative claims that, following Tuesday's decision, domestic violence victims can earn "instant US citizenship." Their claim to asylum might have improved in the abstract—but there are still plenty of hurdles between Rosemary and Daniela and their first asylum hearing.

  • Here Are the Psychological Reasons Why an American Might Join ISIS

    "Its Islam over everything."

    So read the Twitter bio of Douglas McAuthur McCain—or, as he reportedly called himself, "Duale Khalid"—the San Diego man who is apparently the first American to be killed while fighting for ISIS. According to NBC News, McCain grew up in Minnesota, was a basketball player, and wanted to be a rapper. Friends describe him as a high school "goofball" and "a really nice guy." So what could have made him want to join the ranks of other Americans drawn towards militant Islam like John Walker Lindh and Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn? And how can we explain the dozens of other Americans who have also gone off to fight as jihadists in Syria, for ISIS and other militant groups?

    According to University of Maryland psychologist and terrorism expert Arie Kruglanski, who has studied scores of militant extremists, part of the clue may lie in that Twitter tagline of McCain's. Not just its content, but the mindset that it indicates—one that sees the world in sharp definition, no shades of gray. "These extreme ideologies have a twofold type of appeal," explains Kruglanski on the latest Inquiring Minds podcast. "First of all, they are very coherent, black and white, right or wrong. Secondly, they afford the possibility of becoming very unique, and part of a larger whole."

    That kind of belief system, explains Kruglanski, is highly attractive to young people who lack a clear sense of self-identity, and are craving a sense of larger significance. In fact, Kruglanski and his colleagues have found that one important psychological trait in particular seems to define these militants who leave their own culture and go off to embrace some ideology about which they may not even know very much. (We recently learned that Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, two British jihadis who went to fight in Syria last year, ordered Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon before they departed.)

    Arie Kruglanski

    These young people seem to have what psychologists call a very strong "need for cognitive closure," a disposition that leads to an overwhelming desire for certainty, order, and structure in one's life to relieve the sensation of gnawing—often existential—doubt and uncertainty. According to Kruglanski, this need is something everyone can experience from time to time. We all sometimes get stressed out by uncertainty, and want answers. We all feel that way in moments, in particular situations, but what Kruglanski shows is that some of us feel that way more strongly, or maybe even all the time. And if you go through the world needing closure, it predisposes you to seek out the ideologies and belief systems that most provide it.

    Fundamentalist religions are among the leading candidates. Followers of militant Islam "know exactly what is right and what is wrong, how to behave in every situation," explains Kruglanski. "It's very normative and constraining, and a person who is a bit uncertain, has the need for closure, would be very attracted to an ideology of that kind." And for an outsider coming into Islam and drawn to that sense of certainty that it imparts, Kruglanski adds, you then want to prove yourself. To show your total devotion and commitment to the cause.

    That's not to say every fundamentalist becomes a terrorist, any more than it is to say that every person with a need for cognitive closure does. Other life factors definitely matter as well, and the need for cognitive closure is a trait measured on a continuum; it's not that you either have it our you don't. All of that said, the trait clearly does show up again and again in these extremists.

    How do we know? Kruglanski and his colleagues have directly studied violent extremists and measured them on these traits. In Sri Lanka, for instance, Kruglanski was able to study thousands of members of the so-called Tamil Tigers (more formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). A militant and terrorist group fighting to secede from Sri Lanka—a conflict fueled by both linguistic and religious differences—the Tigers had lost their civil war and surrendered, and many were now in a deradicalization program (thousands have since been released). "We administered questionnaires and interviews to about 10,000 of them, and we see how their thinking has evolved, and how it has changed," he says.

    Other psychological research points to conclusions highly consistent with those of Kruglanski. Psychologist Peter Suedfeld of the University of British Columbia, for instance, has investigated a trait called "integrative complexity," which is clearly related to the need for cognitive closure and can be analyzed by examining an individual's public speeches or writing. It is literally a measure of the complexity of thought, and one of its key aspects is whether one accepts that there are a variety of legitimate views about an issue, rather than thinking there is only one right way.

    Suedfeld's work has shown that in global conflicts, a decrease in integrative complexity on the part of the contending parties—exhibited, for instance, in an escalation of black-and-white rhetoric—is a good predictor that violent conflict will occur. He has also shown, through analyzing the speeches of Osama bin Laden, that the terrorist leader's integrative complexity plummeted markedly in the run up to two major attacks: the twin embassy bombings in 1998 in Tanzania and Kenya, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Bin Laden "was very purist in his ideology," adds Kruglanski—a trait suggesting his need for closure.

    The USS Cole, with a visible hole in its side following a terrorist attack Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons

    And as it relates to terrorism, the need for cognitive closure has another, surprising implication. According to Kruglanski's research, when terrorists attack a population, the fear and uncertainty that are created (for instance, following the 9/11 attacks) induce a strong need for closure in the attacked population as a whole. And this creates a kind of extremism of its own. People become more suspicious of outsiders and much more supportive of strong security measures that could curtail individual liberties. And they tend to rally around what is perceived to be a strong leader.

    "The psychology of the terrorist victim—there is a high need for closure, high need for clarity, high need to commit to an ideology that would provide quick answers," says Kruglanski. That's certainly not saying that the victims of terrorism are themselves equivalent to terrorists. But it does mean that as psychological warfare, terrorism might very well work.

    So how do you overcome the need for closure, and achieve deradicalization, when much of this core impulse emerges from the very human need to manage uncertainty and find meaning and significance in life? Kruglanski celebrates community-based programs in Muslim countries that try to "inoculate" young people against extreme ideologies. He also praises deradicalization efforts that seek to weaken the ideology of former terrorists with the promise of potential release and reintegration.

    Both types of programs have shown at least some effectiveness, says Kruglanski. They help former extremists "find alternative ways of being significant, making a contribution, other than violence."

    This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of a new Pew report showing that social media may actually discourage the expression of some opinions (rather than enabling them), and of how neuroscientists and filmmakers are working together to understand how people's perceptions actually work in a movie theater.

    To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes—you can learn more here.

  • Is Boko Haram Teaming Up With ISIS for a Super Caliphate?

    Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group with a foothold in northeastern Nigeria that's known for its mass kidnappings and violent tactics, released a video earlier this month making an unprecedented claim: The group announced it had added the city of Gwoza to "the Islamic caliphate."

    Experts are unsure about the exact meaning of this claim, which was issued by Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau. There are at least two possibilities: The group has declared its own caliphate in Nigeria, or it has pledged allegiance to ISIS—that is, the so-called Islamic State run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

    Shekau's speech was relatively vague, but Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, thinks it's more likely that he was throwing in with ISIS—though "it's not entirely clear." Jenkins speculated that the wording of Shekau's statement, citing "the" Islamic caliphate, paired with Shekau's praise of Baghdadi (both in the video and earlier statements) suggests an attempt to link Boko Haram with ISIS. "If the leader of Boko Haram is saying his area is part of the Islamic State," Jenkins says, "he agrees that Baghdadi is the caliph…or the sole leader of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims."

    There is a "sense of solidarity" between the groups, says Mark Schroeder, an Africa Analyst for Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm. He suggested that the video is "good for public relations" and might attract further attention to Boko Haram, given the success ISIS has had in the Middle East.  

    But Schroeder points out it is unlikely that any attempt by Boko Haram to hitch its wagon to ISIS will result in "any material gains" for the Nigerian radical group, given the small swath of territory in which it operates. Also, the group already has other alliances with Islamist militants such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Boko Haram has never declared a single allegiance to one group, and has not been formally adopted by one.

    Ryan Cummings, the chief analyst on Africa for Red24, an international security consulting company, says it's unlikely that Boko Haram will try to join up with ISIS. He notes that Shekau has not yet made a formal oath of allegiance to Baghdadi, and he questions whether the group would risk alienating Al Qaeda, which has financially supported Boko Haram and trained some of its fighters. Al Qaeda has rejected ISIS on the basis of its brutality, and Cummings says that Boko Haram probably would not want to take sides between ISIS and Al Qaeda.

    Whatever Shekau meant in his video, the reality is that his group won't be carving out its own caliphate anytime soon.

    Abubakar Shekau announces that Gwoza is now part of "the Islamic caliphate." Obtained by Agence France-Presse, Youtube

    The Nigerian military has contained Boko Haram in the northeast, and surrounding countries and Western powers have joined the effort to defeat the group after it made international headlines by kidnapping almost 300 schoolgirls in April. 

    Boko Haram remains a "local" insurgency, says Schroeder, and Cummings notes that it is "unable to declare a caliphate in Nigeria" because it does not have a continuous territory.

    "Warfare today—it's about the manipulation of perceptions," says Jenkins. Perhaps Boko Haram's statement was just that—a vague statement designed to get some press. 

  • Why Coal Is (Still) Worse Than Fracking and Cow Burps

    Is fracking for natural gas good for the planet?

    To understand the pitched fight over this question, you first need to realize that for many years, we've been burning huge volumes of coal to get electricity—and coal produces a ton of carbon dioxide, the chief gas behind global warming. Natural gas, by contrast, produces half as much carbon dioxide when it burns, and thus, the fracking boom has been credited with a decline in US greenhouse gas emissions. So far so good, right?

    Umm, maybe. Recently on our Inquiring Minds podcast, we heard from Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, who contends that it just isn't that simple. Methane (the main component of natural gas) is also a hard-hitting greenhouse gas, if it somehow finds its way into the atmosphere. And Ingraffea argued that because of high leakage rates of methane from shale gas development, that's exactly what's happening. The trouble is that methane has a much greater "global warming potential" than carbon dioxide, meaning that it has a greater "radiative forcing" effect on the climate over a given time period (and especially over shorter time periods). In other words, according to Ingraffea, the CO2 savings from burning natural gas instead of coal is being canceled out by all the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when we're extracting and transporting that gas. (Escaped methane from natural gas drilling complements other preexisting sources, such as the belching of cows.)

    But not every scientist agrees with Ingraffea's methane-centered argument. In particular, Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago, has prominently argued that carbon dioxide "is in a class by itself" among greenhouse warming pollutants, because unlike methane, its impacts occur over such a dramatic timescale that they are "essentially irreversible." That's because of carbon dioxide's incredibly long-term effect on the climate: Given a large pulse of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much of it will still be there 10,000 years later. By contrast, even though methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide over a short timeframe, its atmospheric lifetime is only about 12 years.

    Applied to the debate over natural gas, that could mean that seeing gas displace coal is a good thing in spite of any concerns about methane leaks.

    To hear this counterpoint, we invited Pierrehumbert on Inquiring Minds as well. "You can afford to actually have a little bit of extra warming due to methane if you're using its a bridge fuel, because the benefit you get from reducing the carbon dioxide emissions stays with you forever, whereas the harm done by methane goes away more or less as soon as you stop using it," he explained on the show. You can listen to the interview—which is part of a larger show—below, beginning at about 4:40 (or you can leap to it by clicking here):

    Pierrehumbert's arguments are based on a recent paper that he published in the Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, extensively comparing carbon dioxide with more short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, black carbon, and ozone. The paper basically states that the metric everybody has been using to compare carbon dioxide with methane, the "global warming potential" described by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is deeply misleading.

    The IPCC, in its 2013 report, calls global warming potential the "default metric" for comparing the consequences, over a fixed period of time, of emitting the same volume of two different greenhouse gases. And according to the IPCC, using this approach, methane has 84 times the atmospheric effect that an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide does over a period of 20 years. But, it's crucial to remember that that's over 20 years; at the end of the period, the carbon dioxide will still be around and the methane won't. The metric, writes Humbert, is "completely insensitive" to any damages due to global warming that occur beyond a particular time window, "no matter how catastrophic they may be." Elsewhere, he calls the approach "crude."

    To see why, consider this figure from Pierrehumbert's paper, comparing the steady emission, over 200 years, of two hypothetical greenhouse gases (the solid blue and red lines). One gas lasts in the atmosphere for 1,000 years, and one that lasts only 10 years. Each has the same "global warming potential" at 100 years, but notice how the short lived gas' warming effect vanishes almost as soon as the emissions of it end:

    Comparison of two greenhouse gases that have the same "global warming potential" over 100 years but very different lifetimes.

    The gases in the figure aren't carbon dioxide and methane, but you get the point. The upshot, Pierrehumbert argues, is that it is almost always a good idea to cut CO2 emissions—even if doing so results in a temporary increase of methane emissions from leaky fracked wells. As he writes:

    …there is little to be gained from early mitigation of the short-lived gas [methane]. In contrast, any delay in mitigation of the long-lived gas ratchets up the warming irreversibly…the situation is rather like saving money for one's retirement—the earlier one begins saving, the more one's savings grow by the time of retirement, so the earlier one starts, the easier it is to achieve the goal of a prosperous retirement. Methane mitigation is like trying to stockpile bananas to eat during retirement. Given the short lifetime of bananas, it makes little sense to begin saving them until your retirement date is quite near.

    And that, in turn, implies that any displacing of coal with natural gas is a good thing for the climate. It's just less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, plain and simple.

    Ingraffea disagrees. By email, he commented that Pierrehumbert "is correct that the long term risk to climate is from CO2, but he is willing to accept the almost certain short term consequences which can only be ameliorated by reductions in methane and black carbon."

    But interestingly, there is one major commonality between Ingraffea's point of view and that of Pierrehumbert. Namely, both emphasize the importance of getting beyond natural gas, and transitioning to 100 percent clean energy.

    Here's the logic: Because carbon dioxide is so bad for the climate, the fact that natural gas burning does produce some of it (even if not as much as coal) means that if cheap natural gas discourages the use of carbon-free sources like nuclear, solar, or wind energy, then that's also a huge climate negative. So just as natural gas is not nearly as bad as coal from a carbon perspective, it is also not nearly as good as renewable energy. And that, in turn, means that while natural gas can play a transitional role toward a clean energy future, that role has to be relatively brief.

    "It's useful as a bridge fuel," says Pierrehumbert, "but if using it as a bridge fuel just drives out renewables and other carbon-free sources of energy, it's really a bridge to nowhere."

  • How Does a 9-Year-Old Come to Shoot a Fully Automatic Weapon?

    A nine-year-old in Arizona accidentally killed her gun instructor on Monday when the Uzi he was teaching her to fire recoiled out of her control and shot him in the head. A video of the incident shows 39-year-old Charles Vacca switching the gun into automatic mode, then standing at the girl's side as she pulls the trigger and the weapon's force wrenches her arm in his direction.

    Many commentators have since expressed disbelief—though not the NRA, which was busy talking up fun for kids at gun ranges—that a child was permitted to wield a weapon with such firepower.

    But the shooting lesson was just normal business at the firing range where Vacca worked. Its "Bullets and Burgers" website advertises vacation packages like "Extreme Sniper Adventure": "At our range, you can shoot FULL auto on our machine guns," it reads. "Let 'em Rip!" It also says children between 8 and 17 can use its guns as long as a parent is present. The mother and father of the girl, whose name has not been made public, both were on Monday. Still, questions linger about the tragedy.

    How did Burgers and Bullets get all those weapons in the first place? Isn't it illegal to possess fully automatic weapons in the US?
    Under the federal Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986, it became a crime for civilians to own machine guns, but with a huge exception: Any gun made before the law went into effect is exempt. It's fine for civilians to resell and buy those old guns, too, as long as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approves the sale. The approval process involves a $200 transfer tax and an FBI background check. A few states have banned automatic weapons entirely, but Arizona, one of the most gun-friendly states, is not one of them.

    Can it really be legal for an elementary school kid to shoot an Uzi?
    "Assuming it was a pre-1986 machine gun and the sale was legal, then yes," says Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Federal law prohibits children under 18 from buying guns, but they can still fire them with adult supervision.

    Less than three days after the tragedy, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office said it didn't expect to file criminal charges, according to CNN. Arizona authorities say the situation is being treated as an industrial accident, and job safety officials are investigating. So is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    How hard is it to handle one of these guns?
    Quartz's Gwynn Guilford did the math: With the average American nine-year-old girl weighing about 60 pounds, and the average Uzi weighing seven to nine pounds, "That would be roughly equal to a 40-year-old man firing a 25-pound gun like, say, the Hotchkiss M1909 used in trench warfare in World Wars I and II—a weapon so heavy it sat on a tripod." (Ironically, the Uzi is designed to be relatively light in the hands of an adult, which can also make handling its powerful recoil more tricky.)

    The shooting range's manager said that the girl's parents had signed waivers and understood the range's rules. Still, he told the Associated Press, "I have regret we let this child shoot, and I have regret that [Vacca] was killed in the incident."

    Has anything like this happened before and what might it mean for the national gun debate?
    Sadly, this tragedy is not the first of its kind. An eight-year-old Massachusetts boy died at a gun show in 2008, when an Uzi he was firing at pumpkins kicked back and he shot himself in the head. The former police chief who organized the show and provided the child with the weapon was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

    That incident did have one positive outcome, in Cutilletta's view: It inspired neighboring Connecticut to pass a law banning anyone under 16 from using a machine gun at a shooting range.

    Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement Wednesday that she hopes the Arizona case will galvanize the national debate about guns specifically with regard to children. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victim and the young girl involved in this tragedy," Watts said. "We hope this event spurs dialogue on the importance of gun safety and responsibility."

    Do deadly gun accidents involving children usually result in nobody being held legally responsible?
    Indeed, that's the outcome in the vast majority of cases. A recent Mother Jones investigation found that out of 72 cases in 2013 in which kids handling guns accidentally killed themselves or other kids, adults were held criminally liable in only 4.

  • Top Immigration Court Hands Huge Win to Battered Women Seeking Asylum. Conservatives Freak Out.

    On Tuesday, the country's top immigration court ruled that some migrants escaping domestic violence may qualify for asylum in the United States. The decision, from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), is a landmark: It's the first time that this court has recognized a protected group that primarily includes women. The ruling offers a glimmer of hope to asylum-seekers who have fled horrific abuse. The decision has also infuriated conservatives, who claim that the ruling is a veritable invitation to undocumented immigrants and marks a vast expansion of citizenship opportunities for foreigners.

    The case involved a Guatemalan woman who ran away from her abusive husband. "This abuse included weekly beatings," the court wrote in its summary of her circumstances. "He threw paint thinner on her, which burned her breast. He raped her." The police refused to intervene, and on Christmas 2005, she and her three children illegally entered the United States.

    Before Tuesday's decision, immigration judges routinely denied asylum to domestic violence victims because US asylum law does not protect people who are persecuted on account of their gender. The law only shields people who are persecuted because they are members of a certain race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group. Tuesday's ruling, however, recognized "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship" as a unique social group—giving the Guatemalan woman standing to make an asylum claim.

    Continue Reading »

  • Your Cellphone Company Says Your Location Info Is Private. Think Again.

    On Sunday, the Washington Post published an exposé revealing that private companies are peddling surveillance systems to foreign governments that track the location of cellphone users in the United States and abroad. The report raised a basic question: How can this be happening when cellphone companies generally promise not to disclose their customers' location information without their consent? The main problem is that location information is available on a global network that can be accessed by thousands of companies. And in the wake of the Post story, US cellphone companies are refusing to discuss how this squares with their privacy policies, or say what they are doing to keep their customers' whereabouts confidential.

    Here's what's going on: Carriers collect location information from cellphone towers and share it with each other through a global network called SS7. This allows a US carrier to find a customer even if she hops a plane to India. But according to the Post, surveillance systems makers have gained access to SS7 and are using it to grab location data, allowing these firms to pinpoint people within a few city blocks.

    Continue Reading »


Green Facts

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

  • 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.

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

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

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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

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