23 Nov 2015:
In Major Shift, Alberta
Adopts New Plans to Fight Climate Change
In a sharp reversal from the previous government, Alberta’s recently elected premier has announced a host of new climate measures
, including a tax on carbon, the phase-out of coal emissions by 2030, a transition to
renewable energy sources, and CO2 emissions limits on the province’s massive tar sands industry. Premier Rachel Notley said Sunday that the province will adopt an economy-wide carbon tax of 20 Canadian dollars in 2017, increasing to 30 dollars in 2018. She vowed that two-thirds of the electricity now produced by coal-fired power plants will be replaced with renewable energy. And she said Alberta will impose a carbon emissions limit on the oil sands industry of 100 megatons; the industry currently generates 70 megatons of carbon annually. “This is the day we step up, at long last, to one of the world’s biggest problems: the pollution that is causing climate change," Notley said.
Interview: Why Brazil’s Pledges On
Carbon Emissions Are Not Enough
In recent years, Brazil has been widely praised for reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 75 percent from 2005 to 2014.
Maria Fernanda Gebara
But analysts are now taking a closer look at Brazil’s pledges to cut deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, with some saying there is less there than meets the eye. One of the more outspoken critics of the country’s CO2-reduction policies is Brazilian political scientist Maria Fernanda Gebara. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Gebara, a research associate in the Department for International Development at the London School of Economics, says Brazil’s policies will do little more than stabilize emissions for the next 15 years, will fail to clamp down on illegal logging, and will continue the nation’s dismal record of developing solar and wind power.
Read the interview.
20 Nov 2015:
Global Forest Cover Estimates
Vary Widely Based on Definition, Study Says
Measurements of global forest cover can vary widely — by as much as 6 percent of the planet's land area, a swath equal in size
to China, according to research
from the University of Maryland. The reason behind the discrepancy actually lies in how different researchers and organizations define forest cover, the researchers note. Geographers have long called for the definition to be standardized, but until now, no one had quantified the scope of the variance. The largest ambiguities in forest calculations are driven by uncertainties near savannas, shrublands, mountain ridge forests, and other areas with intermediate tree cover. “It’s not technology’s fault” that forest maps are inconsistent, said lead author Joseph Sexton. But until the definitions are standardized, he said, it will be difficult to properly assess land cover or conservation measures related to climate change and biodiversity.
19 Nov 2015:
Genetically Engineered Salmon
Approved for Sale in U.S. Supermarkets
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved
genetically engineered salmon for human consumption, marking the first
AquAdvantage salmon (top) compared to conventional salmon
time an animal with genetic alterations has been cleared for sale in supermarkets across the nation. A long and bitter battle
has surrounded the issue, and this approval comes five years after government reviewers deemed AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon, as the fish is known, safe for consumers and the environment. Opponents have argued that the genetic integrity of wild salmon could be threatened if the GM fish were to escape from contained farms into rivers and oceans. The company says, however, that the fish will be raised on land, thus making escape into the wild impossible, and that the GM salmon can be farmed more efficiently because they have a faster growth rate than conventionally farmed salmon.
18 Nov 2015:
Icelandic Ice Cap Gains Mass for
First Time in Two Decades, Researchers Say
An Icelandic ice cap known as Hofsjökull, shown in this NASA satellite image, has gained mass for the first time since 1993,
Iceland's Hofsjökull ice cap
measurements taken last month. All ice caps in Iceland had been retreating rapidly and losing volume since 1995, due to decreasing precipitation and rising temperatures. Hofsjökull’s resurgence this year is the result of abundant winter precipitation and cooler than normal summer temperatures, explained Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson, a glaciologist at the Icelandic Meteorologial Office. Last winter, snowfall in the region of the ice cap was 25 to 60 percent thicker than the 1995-2014 average. Cool northerly winds slowed Hofsjökull’s summer melt rate, contributing to the positive measurements obtained last month.
17 Nov 2015:
New Study Finds Limited and
Uneven Water Reserves Near Earth's Surface
Roughly 5.5 million cubic miles of groundwater are stored in the earth’s crust, according to
new research published in
the journal Nature Geoscience
, but the resource is distributed unevenly across the globe, as shown in this map. Combining data with models on the permeability and porosity of rocks and soils, and on water table gradients, researchers illustrated the depth of groundwater around the world. If earth's groundwater were to cover the planet's surface evenly, the scientists predicted that the pool would be approximately 600 feet deep. However, only six percent of this groundwater is usable for most purposes. This water, which is closer to the surface, is also more sensitive to climate change and human contamination. The research highlights how unevenly this resource is distributed across the globe, scientists say, as well as the need to manage water reserves in a sustainable way.
16 Nov 2015:
U.S. Cities Vary Widely in Climate
Preparation Due to Politics, Study Says
Portland, Boston, and Los Angeles are further along than many U.S. cities in planning for extreme weather events linked to global
Downtown Tampa, Florida
warming, according to a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change
. The report found that Tucson, Arizona, and Raleigh, North Carolina, are in the middle-to-early stages of planning, while Tampa, Florida — which is at the highest risk for hurricanes in the U.S. and is located very near sea level — largely dismisses climate change and has done little to plan for it. The study is the first to look at societal factors, such as a city's political environment, and how those factors affect action on climate change. Interviews with 65 local policymakers in each of the six cities revealed three factors that play a role in how well city planners prepare for climate change: the risk of extreme weather in a given area, public acceptance of climate change, and how aggressively a city's residents engage in public policy.
13 Nov 2015:
Sharks Will Likely Be Less
Effective Hunters With Climate Change
Sharks will likely become much smaller and less aggressive hunters under the rising CO2 levels and warming oceans associated
Port Jackson sharks are bottom-dwellers.
with climate change, according to a study published in Scientific Reports
by University of Adelaide researchers. In large-tank laboratory experiments with Port Jackson sharks — a bottom-feeding variety that primarily relies on smell to find food — the researchers found that the combination of warmer water and high CO2 increased the sharks' energy requirements and reduced their metabolic efficiency. Elevated CO2 levels also dulled the sharks' sense of smell to the point that they were unable to locate prey — a finding confirmed in previous CO2/olfaction studies. Together, these effects led to dramatic reductions in the sharks' growth rates. "With a reduced ability to hunt, sharks will no longer be able to exert the same top-down control over the marine food webs, which is essential for maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems," said lead researcher Ivan Nagelkerken.
12 Nov 2015:
Two Billion People at Risk of
Losing Water Supplies Due to Snowpack Loss
Roughly 2 billion people are at risk of declining water supplies in the northern hemisphere due to decreasing snowpack, according to
Snowpack in the Lesser Caucasus mountains.
researchers at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
. Researchers identified 97 basins with at least a two-thirds chance of declining water supplies. Nearly 1.45 billion people rely on snowpack in just 32 of those basins for a substantial proportion of their water. Among them are the basins of northern and central California, where much of U.S. produce is grown; the basins of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers, which serve much of the American West and northern Mexico; the Atlas basin of Morocco; the Ebro-Duero basin, which feeds water to Portugal and much of Spain and southern France; and the volatile Shatt al Arab basin, which channels meltwater from the Zagros Mountains to Iraq, Syria, eastern Turkey, northern Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
11 Nov 2015:
Renewable Diesel Production and
Demand Growing Worldwide, Report Finds
A new type of renewable, non-petroleum-based diesel fuel is on the rise worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
with demand driven by mandates in multiple countries. Unlike other biofuels, renewable HEFA biofuels — the acronym stands for hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids, and the fuels are known as "renewable diesel" in the U.S. — are nearly indistinguishable from their petroleum counterparts, meaning they can serve as "drop-in" fuels, readily substituting for traditional diesel. For example, they can be used in diesel engines without the need for blending with petroleum diesel fuel. Worldwide, more than a billion gallons of HEFA fuels were produced in 2014. Ten plants worldwide now produce renewable diesel, and five additional projects are in development. Alaska Airlines, KLM, and United Airlines have demonstrated the use of HEFA biojet fuel on commercial flights since 2011.
10 Nov 2015:
New Online Tool Maps Lands
Managed and Protected by Indigenous People
Indigenous people have historically demarcated their ancestral lands in a variety of ways, from rudimentary agreements and maps to,
A new online tool maps native lands.
more recently, drone surveys. But until now, there has been no systematic way of recording the actual boundaries and legal status of each swath of land managed by native peoples, who, as research shows, often do a better job of protecting their lands than local or national governments. LandMark
, a new tool launched today by a broad partnership including the World Resources Institute (WRI), is the first online, interactive platform for mapping lands managed by native communities. It was created to fill a critical gap in indigenous and community rights and make clear that these lands are not vacant, idle, or available to outsiders for exploitative development such as mining, palm oil plantations, or timber concessions. But Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indonesia's Indigenous Peoples' Alliance, cautioned that “these maps do us no good unless they become public knowledge and indigenous rights are recognized by all who have ambitions to grab our lands.”
09 Nov 2015:
Globe Is Set to Cross 1 Degree C
Temperature Increase Threshold in 2015
The United Kingdom’s Met Office says that 2015 will be the year when average world temperatures rise more than 1 degree C
Globaly, 2015 is expected to be warmer than 2014.
above pre-industrial levels. That is halfway to the 2 degrees C temperature increase threshold that scientists say could dangerously destabilize the planet’s climate system. The Met office reported that from January to September this year, global temperatures hit 1.02 degrees C above pre-industrial averages and that temperatures for the full year are virtually certain to be above the 1 C level. Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Association (WMO) reported that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in 2014 averaged 397.7 parts per million
and that average 2015 concentrations could surpass the 400 ppm mark. “We are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud said.
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.
05 Nov 2015:
Pope Francis Has Swayed
U.S. Public Opinion on Global Warming
A sizable percentage of Americans, and an even larger number of U.S. Catholics, say that Pope Francis’s teachings on climate change have influenced their views on the issue. A survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
showed that 17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say that their views on global warming have been swayed by the Pope’s messages of concern about climate change, delivered in an encyclical and in a September visit to the U.S. The researchers polled a sampling of Americans months before the pope’s encyclical and after. Those surveys showed the percentage of Americans worried about global warming rose from 51 percent in March to 59 percent in October, and that concern among U.S. Catholics grew from 53 percent to 64 percent in that period. The percentage of those who believe climate change will harm people here and abroad also grew modestly, as did the number of people who consider climate change a moral and social fairness issue.
04 Nov 2015:
New York State Warns
To Prepare for up to 6 Feet of Sea Level Rise
New York State is telling developers and homeowners in New York City and coastal towns that they should prepare for up to 75 inches of sea level rise
by 2100. The sea level rise projections, based on recent scientific studies by NASA and Columbia University, are part of the New York Community Risk and Resiliency Act passed after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The state says it is creating new sea level rise regulations
requiring coastal planners, developers, and builders to expect seas that could rise up to six feet and to build more resilient homes and other structures. New York officials said 500,000 people live in areas that lie less than six feet above the mean high tide line in the state. The studies took into account increased melting of ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.
02 Nov 2015:
Urban Fruit Less Polluted and
Often More Nutritious Than Retail Versions
Fruits grown in urban areas, often in abandoned orchards from previous centuries, are proving not only largely free of pollutants,
Measuring nutrients and pollutants in urban fruits.
but more nutritious than their commercial counterparts, according to research from Wellesley College
. Joining forces with the League of Urban Canners, a citizens' group based in Boston, the researchers analyzed nearly 200 samples of apples, peaches, cherries, and other urban fruits and herbs, along with commercial varieties of the same foods. Their findings suggest that eating urban fruit is not a significant source of lead exposure, as compared to the EPA's regulated benchmark for lead in drinking water. The concentrations of the nutrients calcium and iron found were higher in urban fruits for every fruit type tested, while manganese, zinc, magnesium, and potassium concentrations were higher in certain urban fruit types. That is most likely because soils in commercial orchards and fields can become nutrient-depleted, researchers say.
30 Oct 2015:
Thousand-Year Storm Event
Leads to Striking Flooding in Death Valley
A system of storms this month caused significant flooding in most of Death Valley National Park in southeastern California. These images,
obtained via a U.S. Geological Survey-NASA satellite
, contrast the region's moisture content in October 2015 and October 2014, which was a year with typical precipitation. The images have been enhanced with false color to highlight water at or near the surface of the earth; green and blue indicate locations with high moisture content. Especially striking is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at an elevation of 279 feet below sea level, which is usually a dry lakebed. In the 2015 image, Badwater Basin is full of water. Flash floods from the so-called "1,000-year" flood event destroyed roads and utilities, and damaged several historical structures, according to the USGS.
29 Oct 2015:
Southeast Asian Nations Plan
Major Hydropower Projects Along Mekong
Although China's hydroelectric
development — particularly the world's largest power plant at Three Gorges Dam — has garnered significant attention,
Hydropower projects planned by smaller Southeast Asian nations
other Southeast Asian nations have relatively large hydropower expansion plans of their own, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
says. Those smaller nations plan to construct 61 gigawatts of new capacity through 2020, primarily along the Mekong River and its tributaries. If all planned projects are completed, these countries will more than double their 2012 hydroelectric capacity. As of 2010, 71 Mekong hydroelectric dams were proposed for completion by 2030. Vietnam has the most ambitious hydroelectric development plan, with 205 hydroelectric projects — 6.2 gigawatts — slated for development by 2017 and nearly 4 gigawatts of additional capacity by 2030. Environmental groups have major concerns
about the environmental impacts of damming the Mekong River system and other rivers in Southeast Asia.
28 Oct 2015:
Global Warming Could Be
Limited To 3 Degrees C With Current Pledges
National climate pledges submitted so far by 155 countries — responsible for around 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — could limit the planet's long-term temperature increase to around 3 degrees Celsius
, according to an assessment by the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC). The climate pledges, submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of December's climate negotiations in Paris, are officially known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. Analysis of unconditional INDCs concludes that, if fully implemented, they could set global emissions growth at around 17 percent above 2010 levels by 2030. Combining unconditional and conditional INDCs — those that would rely on such mechanisms as international climate financial support — JRC found that global carbon emissions could peak shortly before 2030 at 12 percent above 2010 levels, then decline enough to hold temperature increases to 3 degrees C.
27 Oct 2015:
Thawing Permafrost Soils
Rapidly Release CO2 Into Atmosphere
A new study in Alaska shows that as permafrost soils thaw, they rapidly release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
, further exacerbating
Researchers collected samples of permafrost from underground tunnels.
global warming. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and two universities dug a tunnel in permafrost near Fairbanks and subjected the frozen soils to rising temperatures. The study showed that permafrost is highly biodegradable, with the carbon in the thawing soils rapidly being consumed by single-celled organisms. Those organisms then release carbon into the atmosphere. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, documented some of the fastest permafrost decomposition rates ever recorded. In effect, the researchers said, thawing means that permafrost — currently isolated from the carbon cycle
— has the potential to become a major source of carbon emissions.
26 Oct 2015:
Major Clue Emerges in Mystery
Of Right Whale Deaths, Researchers Say
Endangered right whales
, especially young calves of the southern population, have been having a hard time
in recent years, and
Southern right whale and calf near Peninsula Valdes
scientists haven't been able to determine why. For example, the average number of right whale deaths per year at Peninsula Valdes, a breeding ground off central Argentina's Atlantic coast, jumped more than 10-fold from 2005 to 2014 — from fewer than six per year to 65 per year, researchers say. Roughly 90 percent of the deaths were calves fewer than three months old. Now researchers have closed in on a suspect: blooms of a type of algae known as Pseudonitschia
, which produce harmful neurotoxins, the researchers write in the journal Marine Mammal Science
. Scientists from the United States and Argentina found that the number of whale deaths at the peninsula closely tracked the concentrations of the toxic algae, offering strong circumstantial evidence that the algal blooms are likely behind the whale deaths.
Interview: ‘Third Way’ Technologies
Could Help Turn the Tide on Climate
Massive seaweed farms that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and counteract ocean acidification. The widespread adoption of carbon
fiber technology that extracts CO2 from the air and turns it into cars and other industrial products. Concrete manufacturing that is carbon-negative rather than the energy-guzzling Portland cement used today. These and other ideas represent what Australian scientist Tim Flannery calls “third way technologies” — safe methods to reduce carbon dioxide levels that could be adopted in concert with large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Flannery explains that unlike risky geo-engineering schemes, these approaches “strengthen Earth’s own self-regulatory system by drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere in ways the planet naturally does already.”
Read the interview.
23 Oct 2015:
Powerful Foreign Companies
Behind Much of Laos' Illegal Deforestation
Industrial-scale illegal logging is routine in Laos, a southeast Asian nation which has seen its dense forest cover decline from
Illegal logging in Laos by a large Vietnamese company
29 to 8.2 percent over the past decade, and the practice is gaining momentum under the guise of special infrastructure projects, according to information obtained
by the London-based advocacy group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). In 2013, Laos exported 1.8 million cubic yards of timber to Vietnam and China — more than 10 times the country’s official harvest, EIA found. Trade data also show that in 2014 China received $1 billion in illegal timber from Laos — a 22-fold increase from 2008. The high figures imply that the bulk of this timber is composed of valuable rosewood species, which are supposedly protected under Lao law. Virtually all logging operations are linked to infrastructure projects, especially hydropower dams, roads, mining, and agricultural plantations, EIA says.
22 Oct 2015:
The Hard-Working Beaver
Is A Fighter Against Nitrogen Pollution
As beaver populations rebound across North America, the ponds they create are proving to be an important factor in removing rapidly
growing levels of nitrogen
A beaver dam in Alaska.
from waterways and estuaries, according to a new study. By creating ponds that slow down the movement of water, the beavers enable nitrogen — which comes from agricultural runoff, septic systems, and other human sources — to seep into soil, where much of it is broken down by bacteria. Reporting in the Journal of Environmental Quality
, researchers at the University of Rhode Island said that beaver ponds can remove up to 45 percent of nitrogen in the water. One scientist said that when they began to consider the widespread presence of beaver ponds, “we realized that the ponds can make a notable difference in the amount of nitrate that flows from our streams to our estuaries.”
21 Oct 2015:
Three-Fourths of Americans
Now Say that Climate Change is Occurring
It might be Pope Francis’ forceful stance on global warming, or increasing outbreaks of wild weather, droughts, and fires.
Americans who believe climate change is occurring
But whatever the cause, 76 percent of those polled in the U.S.
say that climate change is occurring, according to a poll from the University of Texas (UT). That is a 12-percent increase from March 2012, when only 65 percent of respondents said they believed in climate change. In that same period, the number of people saying that global warming is not occurring has fallen from 22 percent to 14 percent, according to the poll. All the recent publicity about climate change even seems to have been persuasive to Republicans, who traditionally have been more skeptical that climate change is taking place. The UT poll showed that the percentage of Republicans who say climate change is happening has risen from 47 percent in March of this year to 59 percent in September.
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.
16 Oct 2015:
Oil and Coal Companies
Say They Back CO2 Cuts, Climate Talks
Ten major oil companies, mainly from Europe, on Friday acknowledged their industry’s role in climate change and said they agreed with United Nations goals to limit temperature increases
to 3.6 F. Their statement follows a similar declaration
on Wednesday by 14 major companies closely tied with the fossil fuel industry, including coal giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, as well as Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and the world’s largest cement maker, LafargeHolcim. The Friday statement by European oil company executives acknowledged that the “existing trend of the world’s net global greenhouse gas emissions is not consistent” with UN climate targets. But the companies did not commit to specific production cuts or supporting a price on carbon. With UN climate talks opening in Paris in December, the statements by both groups are part of public relations efforts to demonstrate that oil and coal companies are willing to join in the fight to slow global warming.
15 Oct 2015:
Gates Calls Divestment
A `False Solution’ to Global Warming
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has called the fossil fuel divestment campaign a “false solution”
to climate change and says the best way to decarbonize the global economy is by developing revolutionary renewable energy technologies. “We need an energy miracle,” Gates told The Atlantic magazine.
“That may make it seem too daunting to people, but miracles in science are happening all the time.” Gates said he is pledging $2 billion of his foundation’s endowment to research and develop alternative energy technologies. He criticized the divestment movement
for “using up (campaigners’) idealism and energy on something that won’t emit less carbon.” The Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charitable organization, has $1.4 billion invested in fossil fuel companies, and activists have been calling on Gates to sell those holdings.