As debate over the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects continues, crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and western U.S. oil fields is increasingly being hauled by railroad. Critics warn that this development poses a threat not only to the environment but to public safety.
India is planning to burn more of its trash to generate badly needed electricity. But as the case of a waste-to-energy plant in New Delhi shows, critics are worried about lax air pollution controls and the impact of incineration on people who eke out a living picking through waste dumps.
Endangered North Atlantic right whales are disappearing from customary feeding grounds off the U.S. and Canadian coasts and appearing in large numbers in other locations, leaving scientists to wonder if shifts in climate may be behind the changes.
A shortage of "rare earth" metals, used in everything from electric car batteries to solar panels to wind turbines, is hampering the growth of renewable energy technologies. Researchers are now working to find alternatives to these critical elements or better ways to recycle them.
Large-scale solar projects are enjoying steady growth in California and the southwestern United States. But will shifting government incentives and mandates slow the expansion of this key part of the solar energy industry?
After three decades of unbridled economic growth and mounting ecological problems, China and its new leadership face a key challenge: cleaning up the dirty air, polluted water, and tainted food supplies that are fueling widespread discontent among the country’s burgeoning middle class.
Recent studies in Asia and Australia found that community-managed areas can sometimes do better than traditional parks at preserving habitat and biodiversity. When it comes to conservation, maybe local people are not the problem, but the solution.
China is engaged in a push to build hydroelectric dams on a scale unprecedented in human history. While being touted for producing lower-emission electricity, these massive dam projects are wreaking havoc on river systems across China and Southeast Asia.
One year after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast, the government is spending billions to replenish beaches that will only be swallowed again by rising seas and future storms. It’s time to develop coastal policies that take into account new climate realities.
Although the latest U.N. climate report significantly increases its projections for sea level rise this century, some scientists warn even those estimates are overly conservative. But one thing is certain: Predicting sea level rise far into the future is a very tricky task.
Still reeling from recent financial crises, Iceland is hoping to use its bountiful sources of geothermal and hydroelectric energy to help boost its economy. Among the country’s more ambitious plans is an undersea cable to carry renewably generated electricity to the U.K.
Americans in urban areas are driving less, biking more, owning fewer cars, and using public transportation more frequently, according to new research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group
(U.S. PIRG). The number of people driving to work fell in 99 of 100 major urban areas between 2006 and 2011, and the number of miles driven by car fell in three-quarters of the cities studied over that time, the PIRG study showed. The proportion of people biking to work increased in 85 of 100 cities, while the number of miles traveled on public transit increased in 60 of 98 cities. Meanwhile, the number of people working from home grew in all 100 cities, the report said. From 2004 to 2012, the average number of vehicle-miles driven per person decreased by 7.6 percent nationwide. "There is a shift away from driving,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Instead of expanding new highways, our government leaders should focus on investing in public transit and biking for the future."
Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry
Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest
Click to Enlarge
HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money. Read more.
Eighteen prominent international climate scientists and economists have authored a paper
that seeks to answer the most vexing environmental question facing the planet: How to reverse soaring carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the world from experiencing destabilizing climate change. Their answer, presented in the journal PLOS One,
boils down to this: Offer global leaders a detailed blueprint for decarbonization that involves setting a steadily rising price on carbon, the large-scale deployment of nuclear power and renewable energy, increased research into low-carbon energy technologies, and a reform of forestry and agricultural policies that leads to massive sequestration of CO2 — all while not spending more than 1 percent of global gross economic output. “In terms of economics, comparing a path to decarbonization versus a path of wrecking the planet are not even close,” economist Jeffrey Sachs, a co-author of the paper and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said at a press briefing. “We haven’t shown the path of decarbonzation clearly enough (and) what the real choices are.”
Interview: How Big Agriculture
Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms
In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report
that condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and
chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental and public health problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future released a study
analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Robert Martin, co-author of the Johns Hopkins report, discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. One hopeful sign, says Martin, is "there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced."Read the interview.
As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found
that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions
such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris
, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.
Poachers slaughtered 22,000 elephants in 27 African countries last year, according to a new report
. Officials with The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and two conservation groups said that 15,000 elephant
Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
A herd in Namibia
deaths from poaching were officially reported in Africa and that another 7,000 deaths went unreported. Although that number is a slight decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,000 poaching deaths, CITES officials warn that poaching rates are far too high and could soon lead to local extinctions. Africa, which is currently home to roughly 500,000 elephants, could lose a fifth of its elephant population over the next 10 years, CITES says. "The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," the report says.
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Business & Innovation
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Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
A Yale Environment 360
video explores Ecuador’s threatened Yasuni Biosphere Reserve with scientists inventorying its stunning forests and wildlife. Watch the video.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
. © Google & TerraMetrics.
In a Yale Environment 360
video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.