OK. So in the words of that political scientist in Peter's piece, wealthy donors like Tom Steyer are putting a pistol to someone's head, forcing their pet issues on candidates. Steyer himself sees things very differently. He quit his hedge fund with $1.5 billion and now in his view he's fighting as hard as he can with money and passion to do something very noble - save the planet. When he sat down to speak with us he said his goal is to use his money to limit carbon emissions.
The ground outside Sao Paulo is cracked and dry. It was the hottest January on record in parts of Brazil, and the heat plus a severe drought has fanned fears of water shortages and crop damage.
Credit Nacho Doce / Reuters /Landov
A photo taken on Jan. 31, 2014, shows a scale that measures the water level in the Jaguary dam.
Credit Rahel Patrasso / Xinhua/Landov
Coffee trees are irrigated in a farm in Santo Antonio do Jardim, Brazil. January was the hottest and driest month on record in much of southeastern Brazil, punishing crops in the country's agricultural heartland and sending commodities prices sharply higher in global markets.
Credit Paulo Whitaker / Reuters /Landov
A view of drought-stricken Rio Jacarei in southeastern Brazil, where water levels were at the lowest level since 1974.
Brazil, a country usually known for its rainforests, has been facing a severe drought in its breadbasket region, leaving people in the cities without water and farmers in the countryside with dying crops. Global prices for coffee, in particular, have been affected.
Scientists in Brazil say the worst is yet to come — yet no one in the government, it seems, is listening.
On a recent day, farmer Juliano Jose Polidor walks through the desiccated remains of his cornfields.
What's happened to this crop, he says, is a total loss.
The covering of America's largest landfill — east of downtown Los Angeles — is underway.
The Puente Hills landfill took in trash from all over LA County, becoming the go-to repository for most of Los Angeles' garbage. Over its more than 50 years in operation, the landfill grew higher than 500 feet.
It stopped receiving new trash in October, but the old waste will actually stay. All those years' worth of garbage will be covered up and remain underneath the ground.
Millions of birds migrate through California this time of year, but the waterways and wetlands they rely on for food and rest are largely dry due to the ongoing drought. So farmers are keeping their fields flooded to make temporary wetlands, providing a place for migrating birds to rest and eat.
Rice farmer Douglas Thomas is one of these farmers. On a recent morning some 3,000 snow geese float in his rice fields in California's Central Valley. He's watching a young bald eagle awkwardly dive at the flock.
Scientists are raising the alarm about the possible environmental consequences of a huge shipping canal that could cut across Nicaragua, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
The government of this Central American nation has signed a deal with a Chinese company that is planning to build a maritime shortcut that would compete with the Panama Canal. Construction could begin next year — yet there's no official route for the canal and no assessment of its potential impacts on the environment.
A broken pipe funneled 30,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina earlier this month, turning it gray. The pipe has been plugged, but the spill has reignited a fight over storage of coal ash, and scrutiny of the state regulators responsible for monitoring it.
Originally published on Thu February 20, 2014 6:05 am
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee Wednesday for building nuclear reactors in Georgia, underscoring the White House's plan for an "all of the above" energy strategy.
The two reactors will be the first built in this country in nearly three decades.
Along with plenty of ice, sleet and snow, much of the country has also been blanketed this winter by an avalanche of names. When winter storms assault us, they now come with names like Hercules, Janus and, the most recent storm, Pax.
Here's NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam on why we name winter storms and how those names might affect us.
SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: We've been naming hurricanes for many years.
Sunset on the Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park.
Credit Bill Young / Flickr
Hot steam and gas emerge from a fumarole where the boiling-temperature vapor is diverted into an evacuated sample bottle. Freshwater cools the outside of the bottle, making it easier to collect a complete sample.
Credit J. Lowenstern / U.S. Geological Survey
Gas passes through a hot spring at the Shoshone Geyser Basin in Yellowstone. A funnel is used to transfer the gas to an evacuated sampling bottle.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire retired hedge-fund investor, is aiming to spend $100 million to make climate change a priority issue in this year's midterm elections.
As the New York Times reported Tuesday, the Democrat is working to raise $50 million from donors to add to $50 million of his own money to bankroll his San Francisco-based political organization, NextGen Climate Action.
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.
There are some basic things we take for granted, at least in the developed world, that the air we breathe or the water that flows into our homes won't make us sick. So imagine you turn on your local TV news to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS REPORT)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: State of emergency in several counties tonight after a chemical spills into the water supply. Good evening. I'm...
The water has been contaminated for residents in nine counties. At a congressional hearing in West Virginia, their representatives demanded the answer to that simple question we asked earlier: Is the water safe?
Here's Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito questioning the state's commissioner of public health, Letitia Tierney.
REPRESENTATIVE SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: Dr. Tierney, is the water safe to drink?
Originally published on Sun February 16, 2014 12:11 pm
Secretary of State John Kerry is continuing a push to move climate change to the top of the global agenda, telling an audience in the archipelago nation of Indonesia that rising global temperatures and sea levels could threaten their "entire way of life."
The jet stream that circles Earth's north pole travels west to east. But when the jet stream interacts with a Rossby wave, as shown here, the winds can wander far north and south, bringing frigid air to normally mild southern states.
People who grow marijuana illegally in the backwoods of Northern California use large amounts of rat bait to protect their plants — and these chemicals are killing several species of wild animals, including rare ones, biologists say.
Here's what happens: The growers plant their marijuana in remote locations, hoping to elude detection. They irrigate their plants — with water from streams — which lures animals looking for water. Rodents chew the flourishing plants to get moisture, which kills the plants. Researchers believe that's the prime reason growers use the poisons.
They're down there somewhere: The Great Lakes as seen from space on Wednesday. Lake Ontario, which has less ice than the others, is at the lower right. A bit of open water can be seen in Lake Superior, at the upper left.
Another satellite image, with state lines superimposed on it, taken on Friday.
This photo was taken on Dec. 12, so ice hadn't yet built up. But it shows how cold air descending from Canada blows over the lakes.
A residential area is covered with ash from the Mount Kelud volcano, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Friday.
Credit Bimo Satrio / EPA/Landov
Indonesian workers check a Citilink airplane covered with ash from Mount Kelud at Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Friday. The eruption has forced seven of the region's airports to close.
Originally published on Fri February 14, 2014 2:06 pm
The second major volcanic eruption in as many weeks in Indonesia has killed at least three people and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands on the island of Java, as Mount Kelud spewed ash and debris 12 miles into the sky.
Thursday night's eruption of the volcano, located 50 miles southwest of the country's second-largest city of Surabaya, could be heard up to 125 miles away, Indonesia's disaster agency says, according to The Associated Press.
Methane is both a fuel and a potent greenhouse gas. A study in Science magazine suggests that about 50 percent more methane is leaking into the atmosphere than official estimates suggest. Even so, they conclude that it's better for the environment to switch electricity generation from coal power plants to those that burn methane.
Priscilla Smithers and her four children have arranged chairs around a few air mattresses to create a space for themselves, after fleeing their home.
Credit Ari Shapiro / NPR
A woman walks through floodwaters west of London. A storm left tens of thousands of people in Britain without power Thursday and one man dead, adding to the misery that began with heavy rains back in December.
Parts of England have been underwater for more than six weeks now, since storms began pummeling the west of Great Britain around Christmas. While many of those areas are still submerged, the situation keeps getting worse.
Now the floodwaters are lapping near Windsor Castle, as the Thames overflows its banks. Thousands of people have fled their homes, with more evacuating every day.
Some strategists still see a small window of opportunity to address climate change before the effects become damaging and costly. At least one economist, for example, says we can make a lot of progress if at least half the world agrees to put a price tag on the carbon we dump into the atmosphere.
But some big thinkers also see a grim, potentially dangerous world ahead — one where nations, confronting a climate crisis, will instead reach for a risky technological fix.
The dinosaurs were killed during the Fifth Extinction — which scientists suspect was caused by an asteroid. Now, we are living through an epoch that many scientists describe as the Sixth Extinction, and this time, human activity is the culprit. As one scientist put it: We're the asteroid.
Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of the new book The Sixth Extinction. It begins with a history of the "big five" extinctions of the past, and goes on to explain how human behavior is creating a sixth one — including our use of fossil fuels and the effects of climate change.