To get an idea of how American coastal waters might look just before they succumb to all the degradations they have suffered these past five centuries, it would be worth taking a July trip to Mobile Bay, an Alabama inlet that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. If the air is still and hot, an event may occur that Gulf Coast residents call a “jubilee.” The bottom-dwelling flounder will be among its first victims, growing agitated as each successive gulp of water brings less and less oxygen across their gills.
About a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion, was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began.
Liberals, not to mention the scientific community, often wonder just what it would take to get the conservatives who deny the evidence of climate change to finally acknowledge reality. If melting glaciers don't do it, and temperature data gathered from around the world doesn't do it, and the consensus of virtually all of the scientists who study the issue doesn't do it, what would?
Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club, knows now is the moment to think big on climate. It’s been a year of “records”: A record number of droughts have hit towns across the country, record temperatures slowly roast the planet, and storms have left record amounts of snow and rain in their wake. Finally, too, a record number of people concede that we’re changing the environment for the worse. “Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, businessmen, people of the faith—it’s not just environmentalists that are affected by this,” Chin says. She knows that environmentalists need to be practical—they need concrete demands that all people left adrift by a changing climate can endorse. But facing such long odds and high stakes, how can they be anything but ardent about the environment?
News came out last week that fossil fuel interests have spent over $153 million in television ads attacking the President’s clean energy agenda, including criticizing new air pollution rules and the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline. This figure is likely to grow, as there is still two months before the election. And, this is in addition to the $13 million the fossil fuel industry gave to the Republican National Committee and associated PACs, $950,000 to the Democratic National Committee, and $70 million spent in lobbying.
A bit over a week ago, a one-ton spacecraft bearing the poetic name Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars. The landing was widely celebrated, not just by the scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who worked for years on the mission, but by the general public—from those following the landing on the Internet to a crowd that gathered in Times Square to watch the event on a giant video screen. In the coming weeks, Curiosity will set out on a multi-year mission to explore its landing site, Gale Crater, and search for evidence of whether Mars was once capable—and possibly still is—of supporting life.
The carcass of a passenger pigeon weighed in at exactly the size they preferred. Dead prairie chickens did, too. They aren’t so picky about the carcasses they bury: mammals will do as well as birds, but the bigger the carcass—which allows them to produce and feed more offspring—the better for our friend the American burying beetle.
A severe drought covers about two-thirds of the country, and America's farmland states are some of the driest. Few expect this year's crops to escape undamaged, so the drought's effects will likely reach out to the entire world, and last through next year. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 55 percent of the country's pasture- and range-lands were in poor or very poor condition. Congress is set to take up a drought-relief bill Thursday. The Prospect interviewed George Naylor, a farmer and activist in Iowa, who relates below how the drought has affected him and his neighbors, and how the government is at fault.
The widest drought to grip the United States in 50 years is getting worse with no signs of abating. Government agencies report that 71 percent of the country is experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions since June, double the area as last summer—when, for perspective, the drought resulted in $12 billion of losses in the Southern Plains and Southwest. Some climatologists are referring to this year's drought as a "flash drought" because lack of rainfall has led to drought conditions over a few months, rather than over seasons or years.
This month, the House agriculture committee finished its work on the farm bill—a massive piece of legislation that sets policy on everything from government subsidies to food stamps. Even though the Senate had passed its version of the farm bill, which must be reauthorized every five years, no one expected House Majority Leader John Boehner to bring the House committee’s version to the floor before the August recess.