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Policy & Politics


From Obama’s Chief Scientist,
Parting Words of Caution on Climate

John Holdren is the longest-serving presidential science adviser in U.S. history and probably one of the most influential,
John Holdren

John Holdren
having advised President Obama on key energy issues for the last eight years. A physicist by training, Holdren was among the chief architects of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. The plan has been lauded by environmentalists, but is loathed by conservative politicians, some of whom have filed suit against it. Holdren spoke with Yale e360 contributing writer Elizabeth Kolbert about the difference between “dangerous” and “catastrophic” warming, the incoming Trump administration, and how to talk to people who deny the existence of climate change. “Part of the reason that I retain some optimism about the future is that there are these fundamental forces pushing us toward doing the right thing,” he said.
Read the interview.
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02 Dec 2016: To Fight Air Pollution, Four
Cities Announce Ban on Diesel Cars By 2025

Four of the world’s largest cities announced Friday that they will ban diesel cars by 2025 in an effort to cut air pollution.

Traffic and smog in the outskirts of Paris.
Leaders from Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City made the declaration at the C40 Mayors Summit, a biennial meeting of civic leaders concerned about climate change. Toxic air is responsible for an estimated 3 million premature deaths each year, according to recent research by the World Health Organization. While diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently and therefore release less carbon dioxide, they do produce nitrogen dioxide and particulates that can inflame and damage people’s lungs. “Mayors have already stood up to say that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face,” said Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris. “Today, we also stand up to say we no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes.”
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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.”
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23 Nov 2016: Trump Will Scrap NASA
Climate Research, Senior Adviser Says

NASA’s world-renowned research into climate change will be eliminated under a Donald J. Trump administration, with some of the space agency’s climate work being transferred to other parts of the U.S. government, according to Robert Walker, Trump’s senior adviser on NASA. Walker said NASA’s chief function will be space exploration and that there will be no need for it to conduct what he has called “politically correct environmental monitoring.” He added, “Mr. Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.” NASA, a global leader in monitoring climate change using satellites and other technologies, has a $2 billion earth sciences budget. Walker, a former Congressman, falsely claimed that only half of the world’s climate scientists believe that human activity is driving climate change. Trump said on Tuesday that he has an “open mind” about climate change and is re-evaluating his pledge to withdraw U.S. support for the Paris climate accords.
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21 Nov 2016: Canada to Phase Out
Nearly All Coal-Fired Electricity by 2030

Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, has announced that the country will eliminate virtually all coal-fired power plants by 2030, which would mean that 90 percent of Canada's electricity would come from carbon-free sources of energy by that time. Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, McKenna said that four provinces still burn coal for electricity — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. They will either phase out coal use or will be allowed to temporarily keep some coal-fired power plants open if equivalent CO2 emissions reductions are achieved in other sectors, McKenna said. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal Party took power a year ago, ran on a platform of reducing carbon emissions and embracing renewable energy. Roughly 60 percent of Canada’s electricity is generated using hydropower, and analysts predicted that the Liberal government’s announcement Monday will stimulate the development of wind, solar, and other renewable forms of energy.
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18 Nov 2016: Nations Have “Urgent Duty” to
Carry Out Paris Accord, UN Conference Says

As the UN climate conference in Marrakech neared completion, nearly 200 nations, including the United States, reiterated their commitment to the

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Marrakech.
Paris agreement, saying that the world has “an urgent duty” to respond to global warming. In the joint statement, known as the Marrakech Action Proclamation, delegates pledged to stand with nations hit hardest by climate change, reduce emissions to meet a 1.5 degree C temperature goal, and mobilize $100 billion for resiliency work. “We welcome the Paris Agreement, its rapid entry into force, with its ambitious goals… in the light of different national circumstances,” the announcement said, “and we affirm our commitment to its full implementation.” Also this week, 47 countries on the front lines of climate change, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Costa Rica, pledged to go 100 percent renewable and carbon neutral in coming decades to “help trigger increased commitments from all countries” to reduce greenhouse gases.
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16 Nov 2016: Hundreds of U.S. Businesses Call
For Continued International Climate Action

More than 360 U.S.-based businesses, including some of the world’s largest multinational corporations, sent a letter to

Delegates at UN climate meetings in Morocco.
U.S. and world leaders this week asking them to continue to support the Paris climate agreement and speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. "Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” the group said. “But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond.” The statement, presented at United Nations climate meetings in Marrakesh, Morocco this week, was addressed to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, U.S. President Barack Obama, Congress, and world leaders. Signatories include major conglomerates such as General Mills, Hewlett-Packard, Hilton, Nike, Kellogg, Unilever, Starbucks, and DuPont, as well as more than 50 other companies and investors with annual revenues exceeding $100 million.
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15 Nov 2016: For Third Year in a Row, Carbon
Emissions Flat as Global Economy Grows

Global carbon emissions from fossil fuels stayed flat in 2015 and are projected to increase by only 0.2 percent in 2016 — marking three years in a row that emissions have been decoupled from global economic growth, according to a new analysis by scientists at the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project. The three-year slowdown is largely due to China’s declining coal usage, the study said, which helped the country reduce emissions 0.7 percent in 2015 and a projected 0.5 percent in 2016. But the scientists warned that emissions simply staying flat is not sufficient to combat climate change. “This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth… but it is not enough,” Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia who led the data analysis, said in a statement. “Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing.”
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Interview: At Standing Rock Protest,
A Battle Over Fossil Fuels and Land

For more than eight months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has been leading a protest to stop an oil pipeline from
Kyle Powys Whyte

Kyle Powys Whyte
potentially threatening its drinking water and sacred sites. In many ways, the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline is a traditional fight over Native American land rights. But as indigenous rights expert Kyle Powys Whyte sees it, the demonstration also points to the important role tribes have played in opposing fossil fuel energy projects in recent years. “Almost everywhere you go, tribes have taken direct action to protect their health and their cultures and their economies from the threats, as well as the false promises of, extractive industries,” he says. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Powys Whyte talks about the long history of coal and oil and gas development on native lands and why Standing Rock has become a lightning rod for opposition to fossil fuels.
Read the interview.
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03 Nov 2016: Even With Paris Pledges, World
Could Warm As Much as 3.4 Degrees C By 2100

Global temperatures could rise as much as 3.4 degrees C (6.1 degrees F) this century even if nations achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets set forth in the Paris climate agreement, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Emissions for 2030 are projected to be 54 billion to 56 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which is nearly 25 percent — or 12 billion to 14 billion tons of CO2 — higher than levels needed to hold global warming to 2 degrees C by 2100. The new UNEP report comes just one day before the Paris climate agreement officially enters into force, and a few days before the next UN global climate conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. “The world must urgently and dramatically increase its ambition to… have any chance of minimizing dangerous climate change,” the UNEP said.
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28 Oct 2016: Nations Create World’s Largest
Marine Protected Area Near Antarctica

Two dozen nations and the European Union have agreed to set aside 600,000 square miles of ocean for protection near Antarctica,

Adelie penguins in the Southern Ocean.
creating the world’s largest marine park. The international agreement, which took more than five years to broker, will protect a large portion of the Ross Sea, located in the Southern Ocean. Scientists estimate that the Southern Ocean generates 75 percent of nutrients in the world’s oceans; it is also home to more than 10,000 species. Commercial fishing will be banned in the new marine park for 35 years, though scientists will be able to catch limited krill and other species in designated research zones. "The Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet — home to unparalleled marine biodiversity and thriving communities of penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
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26 Oct 2016: At Least 74,000 Americans Live
Near Oil and Gas Wells on Public Lands

A new online tool mapping active oil and gas wells on U.S. public lands shows that at least 74,000 people in six states

Map showing population and oil and gas wells.
live within a half-mile of drilling sites. That close proximity puts these people at increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems from natural gas leaking from the wells, said the Wilderness Society, which together with Earthworks helped create the tool. In Wyoming, for example, 15,869 oil and gas facilities operate on public land, and some 4,000 people live within a half-mile of them — the range that airborne pollutants from wells, such as benzene, can easily travel. The mapping tool is being released at a time when scientists, environmental groups, and policymakers are ramping up calls to reduce and regulate natural gas leaks from drilling and storage sites.
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24 Oct 2016: Pope Francis’ Call for Climate
Action Fails to Sway Many Americans

A direct call to action by the Pope has apparently failed to inspire people to be concerned about climate change, according to a new national survey by

Pope Francis.
public policy researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Last year, Pope Francis release a 200-page papal letter entitled “Laudato Si,” or “Be Praised,” that urged 1.1 billion Catholics to address climate change and live more sustainably. The new survey, published in the journal Climatic Change, found those who had heard of the encyclical — both Catholics and non-Catholics — were no more concerned about global warming than those who hadn’t. Those who knew about the encyclical were also more politically polarized in their acceptance or denial of climate change. The scientists used data from 1,381 20-minute phone interviews one week before the encyclical’s release and two weeks after it was published.
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12 Oct 2016: First Bees in the U.S. Get
Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Seven species of yellow-faced bees found on the islands of Hawaii have been officially listed as “endangered"

A yellow-faced bee.
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) — making them the first bees in the nation to be given protection under the Endangered Species Act. The seven species, which include Hylaeus anthracinus, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, H. longiceps, and H. mana, pollinate some of Hawaii’s most threatened plants and live in a variety of Hawaiian ecosystems, from the coast, to dry forests, to subalpine shrublands, reported Mongabay. Scientists and conservation groups had been petitioning FWS to protect the bees for more than five years, citing habitat degradation, predation, and rapidly declining population numbers. The federal agency released the new rule late last month. The rule also gave protection to three additional animal species and 39 plant species, all from Hawaii.
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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

Adva/Wikimedia
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.”
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10 Oct 2016: Trump Proclaims at Debate
That ‘Coal Will Last for 1,000 Years’ in U.S.

At the second 2016 U.S. presidential debate, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump clashed over energy policy and climate change, with Trump

saying the energy industry is “under siege” from Obama administration regulations and vowing that “clean coal” will continue to power the U.S. for a thousand years. While both pledged to help beleaguered coal miners, Trump doubled down on his support for fossil fuel production while Clinton said the U.S. must gradually decouple its economy from coal, oil, and natural gas. “I support moving towards more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can because I think we can be the 21st-century clean-energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses,” she said.
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30 Sep 2016: Governments Vote to Ban the
Sale of World’s Most Trafficked Mammal

The international body that governs wildlife trade voted this week to ban the sale of pangolins, an aardvark-like animal that is

A ground pangolin in South Africa.
currently the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Pangolins are found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and are sought after for their meat and scales, the latter of which are believed by some in East Asia to have medicinal purposes. Pangolins are shy, cat-sized mammals that eat ants and termites, and when threatened they curl into a ball rather than defending themselves. Nearly one million pangolins have been trafficked in the past decade, according to National Geographic. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed all eight species of pangolin as endangered or threatened with extinction.
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21 Sep 2016: Paris Climate Agreement Moves
One Step Closer to Entering Into Force

Thirty-one countries officially joined the Paris climate accords this week at United Nations’ meetings in New York City.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The announcements bring the total number of countries joining the Paris Agreement to 60, representing 48 percent of global emissions. Once nations that generate 55 percent of global emissions officially join, the agreement will enter into force within 30 days. The new countries include Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide; Argentina; Mexico; and the United Arab Emirates. China and the United States officially joined the agreement earlier this month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon predicted the agreement, created in December last year, would enter into force by the end of this year. “What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable,” Ban said.
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20 Sep 2016: China Leads in Wind Installation,
But Continues to Prioritize Coal in the Grid

China built two wind turbines every hour in 2015, double that of the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency. The country is installing enough wind to meet all of its new energy demand, more than 30,000 megawatts last year. Despite this promising development, however, the IEA told BBC News that China is giving coal-fired power plants priority access to the grid over wind, hampering the country’s pledge to get an increasing share of its electricity from renewable energy sources. “The rather rosy statement on wind energy hides the issue that 2015 and the first half of 2016 also saw record new installations of coal,” an IEA spokesman said. “China has now a clear over-supply. In the province of Gansu, 39% of wind energy had to be curtailed (turned off).”
PERMALINK

 

15 Sep 2016: Obama Announces First
Marine Protected Area off U.S. East Coast

President Obama is creating a 4,913-square-mile marine monument off the New England coast, adding to a long list of marine protected areas established in recent years by the Obama and Bush administrations. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, contains massive undersea canyons and towering seamounts and is the first fully protected federal marine reserve off the eastern seaboard. The area is home to deep-sea corals, sharks, deep-diving marine mammals, whales, and sea turtles, and is a rich fishing ground. The fishing industry objected to the creation of the marine monument, arguing that existing fisheries management laws were sufficient to protect the area. Under the new designation, commercial fishing will be phased out over seven years. Obama has also recently created massive marine reserves off Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, and today a quarter of U.S. waters are under strong federal protection.
PERMALINK

 

Clinton vs. Trump: A Sharp Divide
Over Energy and the Environment

Environmental and energy issues have received relatively little attention from the two major-party candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spoken out on these issues, the differences — like just about everything else about this campaign — have been stark. In a chart, Yale Environment 360 compares what Clinton and Trump have said on topics ranging from climate change to coal. See the graphic.
PERMALINK

 

Thousands of Homes Keep Flooding,
Yet They Keep Being Rebuilt Again

More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978, according to a

Flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One home in Batchelor, Louisiana has flooded 40 times over the past four decades, receiving $428,379 in insurance payments. More than 30,000 properties in the program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have flooded multiple times over the years. Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims — totaling $5.5 billion in payments.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

08 Aug 2016: Ending U.S. Oil Subsidies
Would Have Minimal Impact, Study Says

Eliminating the U.S. government’s $4 billion in annual petroleum industry subsidies would have only a minor impact on American oil and natural gas production and consumption, but would strengthen the country’s influence in pushing for global action to slow climate change, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. The report said that ending the three major federal petroleum subsidies would cut domestic production by 5 percent by 2030, which would increase international oil processing by just one percent. U.S. natural gas prices could go up by as much as 10 percent, and natural gas consumption and production would likely fall about 4 percent, the study found. Petroleum industry subsidies are a political flashpoint, with many Democrats arguing for their elimination and Republicans saying they are vital to U.S. energy security. But the study’s author concluded that “U.S. energy security would neither increase nor decrease substantially” if the subsidies are ended.
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05 Aug 2016: Melting Ice Sheet Could Expose
Abandoned U.S. Arctic Military Base

The rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet could unearth a secret, Cold War-era military base as early as next century, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Camp Century was built in 1959 to

Entrance to Camp Century.
explore whether the U.S. could covertly deploy ballistic missiles from within the ice sheet, a mission known as Project Iceworm. By 1967, the military had abandoned the base with little clean up, expecting it would be naturally entombed as snow and ice continued to accumulate on the Greenland ice cap. But warming global temperatures mean that ice loss in this frigid area of northwestern Greenland could exceed gains from new snowfall within 75 years, the study found. The hidden base could be exposed just a few decades later, along with all of the “physical, chemical, biological, and radiological wastes abandoned at the site,” the authors wrote.
PERMALINK

 

04 Aug 2016: UNESCO Moves To Expand
World Heritage Sites Into the Deep Ocean

UNESCO has launched a campaign to include deep-sea ecosystems in its list of World Heritage Sites. Previously, only sites within national jurisdiction,

A Dumbo octopus in the deep sea.
either on land or close to shore, could be given heritage status and UNESCO protection. But ecosystems within the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet, deserve similar classification, UNESCO says. In a new report, World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time Has Come, the organization presents five biodiversity hotspots—many of which are at risk from climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and deep-sea mining—worthy of recognition: the Costa Rica Thermal Dome; the White Shark Café, a shark gathering point in the Pacific Ocean; the Sargasso Sea; the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, with its 200-foot carbonate towers, in the Atlantic Ocean; and the Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island, in the Indian Ocean.
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26 Jul 2016: New Zealand to Eradicate
All Rats, Stoats, and Possums by 2050

New Zealand is launching a $28 million initiative to eliminate all rats, stoats, and possums from the country by 2050.

A black rat.
The invasive predators — which hitchhiked or were purposely brought to the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries — cost New Zealand’s economy an estimated $13.3 billion a year by destroying habitat, spreading disease, and killing vulnerable, native species. Invasive predators kill around 25 million native New Zealand birds every year, such as the kiwi and the kakapo, a flightless parrot with a population of just 126 in 2014, according to National Geographic. The initiative aims to remove rats, possums, and stoats — a member of the weasel family — from 2.5 million acres of land by 2025, and then eradicate the remaining populations using traps or poisoned bait by 2050. If total extermination isn’t possible, the organizers hope the three species can at least be eliminated on the country’s offshore island nature reserves.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jul 2016: Tax Credits Double Projections
Of Solar Growth in One U.S. Market

A new market report estimates that U.S. rooftop solar in the Mid-Atlantic region will likely increase exponentially over the next five years thanks to extended federal tax credits. The Business Energy Investment Tax Credit that Congress unexpectedly renewed last December gives homeowners and developers 30 percent back on solar panel installations and other renewable energy investments through 2019. The program could help solar installation growth in the Mid-Atlantic reach over 9,000 megawatts by 2021, doubling previous projections, according to the report, which was conducted by market research firm CreditSights. Such a jump would alleviate the need for U.S. power companies to subsidize electric needs with nuclear, natural gas, or coal during peak energy consumption periods. “If rooftop solar grows more than 30 percent, there’s no reason we couldn’t see electricity demand growth go negative in the coming years,” Greg Jones, a New York-based analyst with CreditSights, told Bloomberg News.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

24 Jun 2016: Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change

Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.

New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
PERMALINK

 

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