Interview: In Costa Rica, Momentum
Builds for a Clean-Energy Economy
Costa Rica has an impressive track record when it comes to renewable energy. The country, famous for its ecotourism industry, produces almost all of its electricity
from renewable sources. But Monica Araya wants her nation to go even greener. Araya, the founder and director of Costa Rica Limpia — a citizen’s group that promotes renewable energy — is now pushing for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Costa Rica, all part of a vision of making her country one of the world’s first carbon-neutral nations. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Araya describes how the fledgling effort to decarbonize Costa Rica’s transportation sector has encountered government resistance, and she urges clean-energy advocates worldwide to intensify their efforts, despite the pro-fossil fuel stance of the incoming Trump administration. “If the U.S. doesn't want to be part of the game, the game is going to continue,” says Araya. “Clean energy's going to continue. Electric mobility is going to continue... Costa Rica's going to move forward.”
Read the interview.
09 Dec 2016:
Giraffe Populations Vulnerable
To Extinction, New Research Shows
Giraffe populations have declined 40 percent over the last 30 years due to habitat loss, poaching, and civil unrest, according to the latest update
Giraffes in the Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Only 97,562 giraffes existed in Africa as of last year, down from more than 163,000 in 1985, the IUCN said. The population is now listed as “vulnerable” to extinction on the global species tracking system. The new assessment also adds more than 700 newly recognized bird species to the Red List, thirteen of which are already extinct and 11 percent of which are threatened with extinction. “Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought.”
28 Nov 2016:
In Slovenia, Drinking Water
Now Protected as a Constitutional Right
Slovenia has amended its constitution to make access to drinking water a human right protected under national law — the first European Union
member state to do so. The amendment, which turns management of water resources over to the federal government as a public good supplied as a nonprofit service, was approved by the Slovenian parliament earlier this month by a 64-0 vote. Lawmakers who opposed the change abstained from the vote rather than voting no, arguing it was unnecessary and a publicity stunt, the Associated Press
reported. Slovenia joins 15 other countries that have incorporated the right to water in their constitutions, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency
. Prime Minister Miro Cerar, who previously called water “the 21st century’s liquid gold,” said that “being able to drink tap water around Slovenia… is a huge privilege that we must preserve for us and generations after us.”
Interview: Are Trees Sentient?
Certainly, Says German Forester
In his bestselling book, The Hidden Life of Trees
, German forester Peter Wohlleben argues
that to save the world’s forests from climate change and other threats we must first recognize that trees are “wonderful beings” with innate adaptability, intelligence, and the capacity to communicate with — and heal — other trees. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Wohlleben discusses how trees live in families, have an inborn memory of events like previous droughts, and possess the capacity to make decisions and fight off predators. Wohlleben has been criticized for anthropomorphizing trees, but he maintains that to succeed in preserving our forests in a rapidly warming world, we must start to look at trees in an entirely different light. Read the interview.
17 Oct 2016:
UN Warns Climate Change Could
Put 122 Million More People into Poverty
Between 35 million and 122 million more people could be living in poverty by 2030 as climate change impacts food production
A farmer in India during a recent heat wave.
and small-scale farmers’ incomes across the globe, according to a new report
by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The report, which examines food security and crop production and prices under various climate scenarios, says that without “widespread adoption of sustainable land, water, fisheries, and forestry practices, global poverty cannot be eradicated.” There are an estimated half-billion small-scale farms
across the globe, managed by 2.5 billion people. These farms provide over 80 percent of the food consumed in the developing world, including southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. "There is no doubt climate change affects food security," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have planted."
11 Oct 2016:
European Union Could Require
New Homes to Have Electric Car Chargers
Starting in 2019, all new or refurbished homes and apartment buildings in Europe will be required to have electric vehicle recharging stations
Electric car charging stations in Berlin.
built on the premises, according to a draft directive from the European Union. The new rule, to be published by the end of the year, is meant to help nations curb transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, cut air pollution, and reach climate targets. Norway and the Netherlands, for example, both plan to phase out diesel engine vehicles by 2025, according to The Guardian
. “This kind of market stimulus is not just positive, it is mandatory if we want to see a massive rollout of electric vehicles in the near future,” said Guillaume Berthier, head of electric car sales for automaker Renault. “The question of how you recharge your car when you live in an apartment within a city is a very important one.”
For China’s Massive Data Centers,
A Push to Cut Energy and Water Use
China’s 1.37 billion people, many of them fully connected to the Internet, use an enormous amount of energy as they email, search the Web, or stream video.
Solar panels atop a green data center in Hangzhou.
Indeed, the Chinese government estimates that the country’s data centers alone consume more electricity than all of Hungary and Greece combined. But as Chinese technology and internet businesses look to burnish their environmental credentials and lower costs of operation, many are working to run their massive computing facilities more sustainably. Globally, tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are making rapid progress in this field, as they boost energy efficiency at data centers and seek to completely power their operations using renewable energy.
09 Aug 2016:
Climate Change Has Caused
World's Second Largest Lake To Stop Mixing
Global warming is reducing fish stocks and disrupting circulation in Lake Tanganyika, one of the world’s oldest and largest lakes and a vital source of food and economic activity for East and Central Africa,
Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika.
according to new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. Under normal conditions, lakes mix a few times a year as seasons change. Decreasing air temperatures cool oxygen-rich surface waters, making them more dense so they sink to the bottom. Nutrient-rich water from deep within the lake then gets pushed to the surface. But rising temperatures, the new study finds, is disrupting this mixing. Without the circulation, fish and other marine life aren’t getting the nutrients they need. Suitable fish habitat near the lakebed has decreased 38 percent since the mid-1900s, the study found. Lake Tanganyika provides an estimated 60 percent of animal protein in the diets of local people, according to The Washington Post
At Ground Zero for Rising Seas,
A TV Weatherman Talks Climate
John Morales is part of a new breed of TV weather forecasters seeking to educate viewers on climate change and the threat it poses.
In South Florida, where porous limestone geology and sea level rise are already causing periodic flooding, he has a rapt audience. The chief meteorologist of the NBC affiliate station in Miami, Morales uses his broadcasts and Twitter feed to tie weather trends in South Florida to the broader influences of climate change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Morales discusses a heartening shift away from climate change skepticism among the nation’s television weather forecasters, the positive public reaction to his discussion of climate change, and the daunting threats facing the Miami area, ranked as one of the regions in the world most vulnerable
to sea level rise.
Read the interview.
29 Jun 2016:
U.S. Solar Energy Market
Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom
Thanks to a renewal of federal tax credits and a continuing steep drop in the price of photovoltaic panels, U.S. solar energy production is surging to record highs.
New market reports show that the U.S. solar industry is expected to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016, nearly double the record 7.5 gigawatts installed last year. (Less than 1 gigawatt of solar power was installed in 2010.) Revenues from solar installations increased 21 percent from 2014 to 2015, surpassing $22 billion. In terms of megawatts of electricity produced, new solar installations are expected in 2016 to surpass all other new sources, including natural gas-fired power plants. The extension of a 30-percent federal tax credit and a sharp drop in prices — the wholesale price of solar panels has fallen from $4 per watt in 2008 to $0.65 per watt today — are contributing to the boom. U.S.-based Solar World is building a giant solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York that is expected to employ 3,500 people.
28 Jun 2016:
U.S., Canada, and Mexico to
Set 50 Percent Renewable Power Goal by 2025
The United States, Canada, and Mexico will pledge on Wednesday to generate 50 percent of their electricity
from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025, according to U.S. officials. The three nations are expected to set the ambitious goal at a North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa. The commitment includes not just renewable sources of power such as energy and wind, but also hydropower, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, and gains in energy efficiency. Under that definition, the three nations now produce 37 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Canada is leading the way in non-fossil fuel power generation, with 59 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear plants. Continent-wide cooperation on clean energy issues has improved since the election last year of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s Prime Minister.
Unable to Endure Rising Seas,
Alaskan Villages Stuck in Limbo
A number of Alaska Native villages have been impacted so severely by sea-level rise and other climate-induced threats, they have decided to relocate.
But there is no U.S. agency designated to help pay for and implement an entire community’s move. Robin Bronen, a senior scientist with The Institute of Arctic Biology
at the University of Alaska, says that’s a huge problem. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she explains that because there is no government process to facilitate such relocations, none of these villages have been able to move, despite their resolve to do so. And in a bureaucratic Catch-22, these communities no longer receive the infrastructure repair funds they were once entitled to. Pointing to future sea level rise along U.S. coasts, Bronen says that “if we don't figure out how to create this relocation institutional framework, we're talking about humanitarian crises for millions of people living in the United States.”
Read the interview.
17 Jun 2016:
California’s Roadside Trees
Provide $1 Billion in Municipal Services
The trees that line California’s streets and boulevards are worth an estimated $1 billion a year for the work they do in removing air pollution, storing CO2, cooling homes, and reducing rain runoff, among other municipal services,
Palm trees in Los Angeles, California.
according to a new analysis
by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis. The state’s 9.1 million street trees pull nearly 568,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equal to taking 120,000 cars off the road, the study, published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening
, found. The scientists say California has room to put another 16 million trees along its roads if it wants. "We've calculated for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits," forester and lead author Greg McPherson said in a statement
. "These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
01 Jun 2016:
Climate Change Could Be Making
Food Crops More Toxic, UN Report Says
As extreme weather increases in frequency and intensity, food crops are producing more chemical compounds that can be toxic to humans in large doses, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme
Crops such as wheat, maize, and soybeans generate these compounds as a natural response to environmental stressors, such as drought, floods or heat waves. But when consumed by humans for extended periods of time, they can cause illnesses like neurological diseases or cancer, according to the study. One example, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports
, is nitrate. Drought slows down plants’ conversion of nitrates into amino acids and proteins, leading to a build up of the compound. When consumed in large quantities, nitrates stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body. "We are just beginning to recognize the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics," the UNEP report noted.
25 May 2016:
Could This Straddling Bus Help
Solve China’s Air Pollution Problem?
With an estimated 20 million new drivers on the road each year, China has long struggled to control its CO2 emissions, air pollution, and traffic problems.
But a Beijing-based transit company is planning to test a new straddling bus this summer
that could provide some relief, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua. The bus, which can carry up to 1,400 passengers, hovers above the road, letting smaller vehicles pass underneath. Because it operates on existing roadways, the system is much cheaper to build than underground subways, while carrying the same number of people. The idea of a straddling bus has been around since 1969
, but has remained a far-fetched concept until recent years. A model of the system, designed by Transit Explore Bus, was unveiled at the International High-Tech Expo in Beijing this month. The company plans to build and test an actual straddling bus in Changzhou this summer.
Bringing Energy Upgrades
To the Nation’s Inner Cities
America’s low-income urban areas are filled with aging buildings that are notoriously energy-inefficient. It’s a problem that Donnel Baird sees as an opportunity. Baird is CEO and cofounder of BlocPower,
a startup that markets and finances energy-upgrade projects in financially underserved areas. Founded in 2013 with venture capital seed money, BlocPower bundles small energy-improvement projects together — from barber shops to churches —and sells them to potential investors. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Baird describes how BlocPower’s projects not only create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, but also raise awareness of global warming in inner-city communities. “It is not possible for the climate change movement to win anything significant without the participation of people of color,” says Baird.
Read the interview.
28 Apr 2016:
Half of All Farmed Fish Have
Deformed Ear Bones That Cause Hearing Loss
Farmed fish have become an increasingly larger share of the world’s seafood market in recent decades—now accounting for 50 percent of global seafood consumption.
At the same time, however, debate about the ethics, safety and health of farmed fish versus their wild counterparts has also intensified. A new study
published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports
finds that half of all farmed Atlantic salmon have deformed ear bones that lead to hearing loss. These salmon are 10 times more likely to have the deformity than wild fish. The findings “raise questions about the welfare of farmed animals," said
Tim Dempster, a biologist at the University of Melbourne involved in the study. It may also explain why efforts to boost wild populations by releasing farmed juveniles have proven unsuccessful. Hearing loss would prevent farmed fish from detecting predators, or restrict their ability to navigate to breeding sites, the scientists said.
21 Apr 2016:
A Town Made Almost Entirely Out
Of Plastic Bottles is Being Built in Panama
Construction has begun on the world’s first town made almost entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. Located on Isla Colón in Panama, the village will consist of 120 houses and a lodge on 83 acres of tropical jungle.
The first two-bedroom home was built late last year, and is made from 10,000 plastic bottles pulled from Panama trashcans, roadsides, and beaches. The walls of the homes consist of steel cages filled with bottles and then encased in a concrete mix. They are flexible enough to withstand an earthquake, and insulating enough to keep the home up to 17 degrees F cooler than the jungle outside. Because there are so many recycled bottles on the island already, homes can be built quickly and cheaply, said Robert Bezeau, founder of the Plastic Bottle Village. “We are changing the world, without changing the Earth, one home at a time,” he says on the project’s website
20 Apr 2016:
Entries Invited for Third
Annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest
The third annual Yale Environment 360
Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the year's best environmental videos. Submissions must focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and be a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Deadline for entries is June 10, 2016. Read More.
18 Apr 2016:
The Complicated Case of
Global Warming’s Impact on Agriculture
Scientists have long debated whether climate change could help or hurt the world’s agricultural systems. Theoretically, additional CO2 in the atmosphere should help fuel crop growth.
A farmer plows his fields in southern India.
But global warming’s other impacts, such as shifting rain patterns, higher temperatures, and extreme weather, could reduce crop yields. A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change
by researchers in a half-dozen countries finds the answer depends on where you live. The scientists found yields of rain-fed wheat could increase by 10 percent, while irrigated wheat, the bulk of India and China’s production, could decline by 4 percent. Maize will decrease almost everywhere, down 8.5 percent. Rice and soybean could flourish in some areas and falter in others. “Most of the discussion around climate impacts focuses only on changes in temperature and precipitation,” said
Delphine Deryng, an environmental scientist at Columbia University who led the study. “To adapt adequately, we need to understand all the factors involved.”
07 Mar 2016:
Climate Change Will Threaten Key Crops Across Sub-Saharan Africa
Climate change’s rising temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts could leave parts of sub-Saharan Africa unable to grow staple crops such as maize, bananas, and beans by the end of the century,
A woman holds maize, a staple crop, in Ghana.
according to new research
published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Up to 60 percent of bean-producing areas and 30 percent of maize and banana farms could become unviable by 2100, and farmers should start growing more climate change-resistant crops, improve irrigation systems, or switch to raising livestock, the scientists said. “Agriculture and farming are critical not only for the livelihoods of farmers but also more broadly for the diets of the region’s population,” said
Julián Ramírez-Villegas, a scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author of the study. “Unless timely adaptation actions are taken, we’re looking at a bleak picture in terms of food security and poverty throughout many areas of sub-Saharan Africa.”
03 Mar 2016:
Oregon To Eliminate Coal
From Its State Energy Mix by 2030
Oregon has become the first U.S. state to eliminate the use of coal by legislative action. Lawmakers at the statehouse
Oregon's only remaining coal plant, in Boardman
voted Wednesday to eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and to provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was hammered out between the state’s two largest utilities and environmental groups. Clean energy groups praised the legislation as one of the strongest pieces of pro-climate legislation in the U.S. in years. “In terms of the coal phase-out, this really is precedent setting,” said Jeff Deyette
, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is only one coal plant currency operating in Oregon, and it is the state's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
19 Feb 2016:
Growing Marijuana Consumes
Huge Amount of Energy, New Report Finds
The booming legal marijuana industry in the U.S. uses enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes with a staggering price tag of $6 billion every year, according to a new report
by the data analysis firm New Frontier.
Cannabis Training University
Growing cannabis requires huge amounts of energy
“Marijuana is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity that we produce,” said John Kagia
, director of industry analytics for New Frontier, which specializes in cannabis industry research. “That’s largely because of the very high energy costs associated with its cultivation and production indoors.” The report adds to mounting concerns over marijuana’s massive ecological footprint
. Authors of the report said simple steps like switching to outdoor or greenhouse cultivation, installing more efficient lighting and monitoring energy use could significantly reduce the industry’s energy footprint.
15 Feb 2016:
Global Water Shortages Affect
At Least Four Billion People, Study Says
Global water shortages are far worse than previously thought, with at least two-thirds of the world’s population — four billion people — living with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to new research published in the journal Science Advances
. “If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra
of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who led the study. The new research also revealed that 500 million people live in places where water consumption was twice the amount replenished by rain. Hoekstra said that many areas are living on borrowed time, such as Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Other areas of particular concern include large swaths of Australia and the American Great Plains, which are dependent on the diminishing Ogallala aquifer. These water problems are exacerbated by population growth and raising meat for consumption, which is highly water-intensive, according to the study.
02 Feb 2016:
General Electric Joins
The Move From CFL Bulbs to LEDs
General Electric, a leader in the lighting market, has announced that it will stop manufacturing compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs by the end of the year and
increasingly shift production to LED
(light emitting diode) bulbs, which last longer, produce a better-quality light, and are rapidly declining in price. The move highlights a trend away from CFL bulbs, which several years ago were the go-to choice for energy-saving bulbs to replace energy-intensive incandescent light bulbs. “Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” said GE lighting executive John Strainic. The price of an LED bulb has fallen from $30 to $5 in recent years and continues to decline. Retail giant Ikea abandoned CFL bulbs last year and now sells only LED lights, and other major retailers like Walmart are expected to follow suit — a move welcomed by environmental groups, which laud the large energy savings from LEDs.
11 Jan 2016:
Scientists Warn of Biodiversity
Impacts of Major Hydropower Projects
Hydropower is considered by many to be a key ingredient to reducing carbon emissions and meeting global climate goals,
The Belo Monte dam under construction in the Amazon
but it comes at a great cost to biodiversity, particularly in tropical rainforests, according to a new report
published in the journal Science
. “Far too often in developing tropical countries, major hydropower projects have been approved and their construction begun before any serious assessments of environmental and socioeconomic impacts had been conducted,” says the report's lead author Kirk Winemiller, an aquatic ecologist at Texas A&M University. The dam-building rush, with more than 450 dams planned for the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong river basins alone, impedes tropical fish migration and vastly expands deforestation due to road construction, according to the authors. Other concerns include development of previously inaccessible terrain, as well as methane emissions from newly built reservoirs.
06 Nov 2015:
Obama Rejects Keystone XL
Pipeline, Ending a Seven-Year Battle
President Barack Obama has rejected a Canadian company’s request
to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have carried 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The decision is a major victory for climate and conservation groups and burnishes Obama’s legacy in the battle to slow global warming. Obama’s announcement, made after a seven-year review by the U.S. State Department and other agencies, comes just weeks ahead of key United Nations climate talks in Paris. In remarks at the White House, Obama said that the economic benefits of building the pipeline were outweighed by the high environmental costs of helping move to market tar sands crude, whose production is among the most carbon-polluting on the planet. “The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy,’’ Mr. Obama said in remarks at the White House.
06 Nov 2015:
Austria’s Largest State Now
Generates All Electricity from Renewables
The electricity supply in Lower Austria, the largest state in Austria, is now fossil-free,
state officials have announced. The state in northeastern Austria, which has a population of 1.65 million, now gets 63 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric power, 26 percent from wind energy, nine percent from biomass, and two percent from solar. While hydroelectric power has always generated a large portion of the state’s electricity, Premier Erwin Proell said that $3 billion in investments since 2002 in utility-scale solar and other renewables had helped the state reach the 100 percent renewables target. Proell said the expansion of renewables has created 38,000 green jobs in the state, with the aim of generating 50,000 jobs in the renewables sector by 2030. Throughout Austria, 75 percent of electricity generation now comes from renewable energy sources.
20 Oct 2015:
California Solar Development
Often Occurring On Wilderness Lands
More than half of the large solar energy installations that have been built or are planned in California are being
constructed on undeveloped lands
Solar power plant in California's Mojave Desert
rather than in previously developed, less-sensitive areas, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, said that of 161 planned or operating utility-scale solar power developments in the state, more than 50 percent are being located on natural shrub or scrublands, such as the Mojave Desert. About 28 percent have been built on agricultural land and 16 percent have been built in developed areas, according to the study
, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers said that it makes far more sense for the state’s robust solar power industry
to locate its installations on farmland, especially considering the severity of California's ongoing drought.
19 Oct 2015:
Oslo, Norway, to Ban
Cars in Its City Center By 2019
Oslo, Norway, will ban cars
from its city center by 2019, becoming the first European capital to adopt a
Bikes line the streets of central Oslo, Norway.
permanent prohibition on cars in its downtown area. The newly elected city council announced that the city would also build at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new bike lanes by 2019 and provide a “massive boost” of investment in public transportation. Business owners in central Oslo fear that the car ban will reduce revenues, but leaders of the new council said the ban could even increase visitors to downtown and that the city would take steps to reduce negative impacts, including allowing vehicles to transport goods to stores and conducting trial runs of the ban to work out problems. Oslo, with 600,000 inhabitants and almost 350,000 cars, would be the first major European city with a permanent central car ban.