From Britain to the Czech Republic, European nations have been restoring rivers to their natural state — taking down dams, removing levees, and reviving floodplains. For a continent that long viewed rivers as little more than shipping canals and sewers, it is a striking change.
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.
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.
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.
The U.N. climate panel concluded last month that carbon emissions should be capped at a trillion tons, a total the world is rapidly approaching. Now comes the hard part: How will we decide how the remaining emissions are apportioned?
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.
With advances in genetic sequencing technology, scientists are now able to readily identify the microbes living in and around the roots of trees. This information is proving to have important implications for everything from tropical forest restoration to climate change planning.
Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
Transformed by British sailors in the 19th century, Ascension Island in the South Atlantic has a unique tropical forest consisting almost entirely of alien species. Scientists say that what has happened there challenges some basic assumptions about ecosystems and evolution.
The concept of ecological modernism, which sees technology as the key to solving big environmental problems, is gaining adherents and getting a lot of buzz these days. While mainstream conservationists may be put off by some of the new movement’s tenets, they cannot afford to ignore the issues it is raising.
Scientists studying a prolonged and severe drought in the southwestern U.S. say that extensive damage done to trees in that region portends what lies in store as other forests worldwide face rising temperatures, diminished rainfall, and devastating fires.
A giant new hydro project on the Congo River is only the latest in a rush of massive dams being built across Africa. Critics contend small-scale renewable energy projects would be a far more effective way of bringing power to the hundreds of millions of Africans still without electricity.
Improvements in DNA technology now make it possible for biologists to identify every living organism in and around a species. Scientists say this could have profound implications for everything from protecting amphibians from a deadly fungus to reintroducing species into the wild.
New research shows that humans have been transforming the earth and its ecosystems for millenniums — far longer than previously believed. These findings call into question our notions about what is unspoiled nature and what should be preserved.
A consensus is emerging among scientists that the rate of global warming has slowed over the last decade. While they are still examining why, many researchers believe this phenomenon is linked to the heat being absorbed by the world’s oceans.
Fishways on rivers in the U.S. Northeast are failing, with less than 3 percent of one key species making it upriver to their spawning grounds, according to a new study. The researchers’ findings provide a cautionary tale for other nations now planning big dam projects.
An expanding body of evidence shows that the presence of field biologists and their assistants is playing an important part in deterring poaching, illegal logging, and other destructive activities in the world’s parks and wildlife reserves.
The world’s largest living species, native to California’s Sierra Nevada, faces a two-pronged risk from declining snowpack and rising temperatures. The threat to sequoias mirrors a growing danger to trees worldwide, with some scientists saying rapid warming this century could wipe out many of the planet’s old trees.
New research shows that scientists have significantly overestimated the damage that logging in tropical forests has done to biodiversity, a finding that could change the way conservationists think about how best to preserve species in areas disturbed by humans.
Maria Damanaki, Europe’s crusading fisheries minister, is making major headway in changing a cozy, “old boys” network that over-subsidized the European fishing industry and brought about the severe overfishing of the continent’s marine bounty.
Scientists are only beginning to understand the impacts of mercury contamination on birds, fish, and other wildlife populations. But what they are finding is alarming — even low levels can cause harm, and chronic exposure has unexpected and troubling effects.
A new study indicates soot, known as black carbon, plays a far greater role in global warming than previously believed and is second only to CO2 in the amount of heat it traps in the atmosphere. Reducing some forms of soot emissions — such as from diesel fuel and coal burning — could prove effective in slowing down the planet’s warming.
Don’t expect the U.S. Congress to take any action on climate change in the next four years. But by continuing to use its regulatory authority and working with the states, the Obama administration can make significant progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
No broad-based international agreement on sharing rivers currently exists, even though much of the world depends on water from rivers that flow through more than one nation. But that may be about to change, as two separate global river treaties are close to being approved.
Few creatures in the United States have come as close to extinction as the Mexican wolf, which was wiped out in the U.S. by 1970. Now, scientists and conservationists contend, federal officials are caving into political pressure and failing to implement a legally mandated reintroduction plan.
The concept of pricing ecosystem services and allowing them to be bought and sold has gained wide acceptance among conservationists in recent years. But does this approach merely obscure nature’s true value and put the natural world at even greater risk?
Experts believe the next deadly human pandemic will almost certainly be a virus that spills over from wildlife to humans. The reasons why have a lot to do with the frenetic pace with which we are destroying wild places and disrupting ecosystems.
The West African nation of Ghana prohibits small operators using chainsaws from logging its forests, but it permits the export of timber cut at large sawmills. Now, some analysts are questioning whether such laws simply benefit powerful business interests without helping local communities or the forest.
Proponents of this nuclear technology argue that it can eliminate large stockpiles of nuclear waste and generate huge amounts of low-carbon electricity. But as the battle over a major fast-breeder reactor in the UK intensifies, skeptics warn that fast-breeders are neither safe nor cost-effective.
The U.S. has long used more energy for air conditioning than all other nations combined. But as demand increases in the world’s warmer regions, global energy consumption for air conditioning is expected to continue to rise dramatically and could have a major impact on climate change.
American agriculture is steeped in a chemical-intensive system that wastes money and pollutes the environment. But by making use of new technology and innovative approaches, farmers can boost production and profits — while at the same time improving soil quality, enhancing biodiversity, and protecting habitat.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been weakening Canada’s environmental regulations and slashing funds for oversight and research — all while promoting aggressive resource development. Critics warn these unprecedented actions pose a major threat to the nation’s vast natural heritage.
The Rio+20 Summit produced a largely meaningless document that failed to address the daunting environmental challenges the world faces. But many at the conference looked to an alternative approach they called “green economics” — using market forces to help nations achieve sustainable development.
With great fanfare, the United Nations announced in March that the world had reduced by half the proportion of people drinking unsafe water, meeting a critical development goal five years ahead of schedule. But a closer look reveals that the facts simply do not support this claim.
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Japan has idled all 50 of its nuclear reactors. While the central government and business leaders are warning a prolonged shutdown could spell economic doom, many Japanese and local officials see the opportunity for a renewable energy revolution.
A new study from a Pacific atoll reveals the links between native trees, bird guano, and the giant manta rays that live off the coast. In unraveling this intricate web, the researchers point to the often little-understood interconnectedness between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
A British scientist argues that global warming could lead to a future of more intense volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. And while some dismiss his views as preposterous, he points to a body of recent research that shows a troubling link between climate change and the Earth’s most destructive geological events.
In its quest to find new sources of energy, China is increasingly looking to its western provinces. But the nation’s push to develop fossil fuel and alternative sources has so far ignored a basic fact — western China simply lacks the water resources needed to support major new energy development.
With soaring human populations and rapid climate change putting unprecedented pressure on species, conservationists must look to innovative strategies — from creating migratory corridors to preserving biodiversity hotspots — if we are to prevent countless animals and plants from heading to extinction.
The loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the rapid warming of the Far North are altering the jet stream over North America, Europe, and Russia. Scientists are now just beginning to understand how these profound shifts may be increasing the likelihood of more persistent and extreme weather.
Three startup companies led by prominent scientists are working on new technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The scientific community is skeptical, but these entrepreneurs believe the process of CO2 removal can eventually be profitable and help cool an overheating planet.
The long-held contention that rural forest communities are the prime culprits in tropical forest destruction is increasingly being discredited, as evidence mounts that the best way to protect rainforests is to involve local residents in sustainable management.
China has undertaken ambitious reforestation initiatives that have increased its forest cover dramatically in the last decade. But scientists are now raising questions about just how effective these grand projects will turn out to be.
With aging coal-fired U.S. power plants shutting down, major American coal companies are exporting ever-larger amounts of coal to China. Now, plans to build two new coal-shipping terminals on the West Coast have set up a battle with environmentalists who want to steer the world away from fossil fuels.
A new study finds that Britons are consuming less than they did a decade ago, with similar patterns being seen across Europe. Could this be the beginning of a trend in developed countries? Might we be reaching “peak stuff”?
More than half of the timber now shipped globally is destined for China. But unscrupulous Chinese companies are importing huge amounts of illegally harvested wood, prompting conservation groups to step up boycotts against rapacious timber interests.
Despite all the talk about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the world is burning more and more coal. The inconvenient truth is that coal remains a cheap and dirty fuel — and the idea of “clean” coal remains a distant dream.
Demographers are predicting that world population will climb to 10 billion later this century. But with the planet heating up and growing numbers of people putting increasing pressure on water and food supplies and on life-sustaining ecosystems, will this projected population boom turn into a bust?
A central tenet of demography is that global population will peak at 9 to 10 billion this century and then gradually decline as poorer countries develop. But that assumption may be overly optimistic — and if it is, population will continue to rise, placing enormous strains on the environment.
Scientists have recently begun to understand the vital role played by top predators in ecosystems and the profound impacts that occur when those predators are wiped out. Now, researchers are citing new evidence that shows the importance of lions, wolves, sharks, and other creatures at the top of the food chain.
Airborne microbes can travel thousands of miles and high into the stratosphere. Now scientists are beginning to understand the possible role of these microbes — such as bacteria, fungal spores, and tiny algae — in creating clouds, causing rain, spreading disease, and even changing climate.
Some skeptics have suggested the real culprit behind rising temperatures is increased solar activity. But a wide variety of data and experiments still provide no solid evidence to refute the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are the major reason the planet is heating up.
For eons, the polar marine food chain has been closely linked to the seasonal formation and retreat of sea ice. Now, as that ice rapidly melts in the Arctic and along the Antarctic Peninsula, this intricate web of life is undergoing major shifts, benefiting some creatures and putting others at risk.
Biologists and conservationists maintain that establishing marine reserves — areas where fishing is off-limits or severely restricted — offers the best hope for recovery for our overstressed oceans. So why is such a small area of the world's oceans protected?
In recent years, palm oil development in Malaysia and Indonesia has devastated tropical forests there. With Brazil on the verge of its own palm oil boom, can sustainable cultivation of the crop actually help save the rainforest, rather than hastening its destruction?
The recyclable plastic bags you get at the green grocer are not biodegradable. But product life-cycle assessments, which are about to become more prominent in the marketplace, fail to consider whether those bags will break down in landfills or just end up as litter.
Much attention has been paid to how global warming is affecting the world’s polar regions and glaciers. But a leading authority on tropical forests warns that rising temperatures could have an equally profound impact on rainforests and are already taking a toll on some tropical species.
One of the thorniest questions facing climate scientists is whether human-induced climate change is leading to more heat waves, floods, and extreme weather events. Now, employing increasingly sophisticated methods of studying weather extremes, climatologists say they are closer to answering that key question.
Three years after unveiling his plan for U.S. energy independence, which won praise from environmentalists for its reliance on wind power, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is back with a proposal to convert the U.S. trucking fleet to natural gas. But as his new plan gains traction, questions arise over how green it really is.
The world’s worst nuclear reactor mishap in 25 years was caused by a massive natural calamity but compounded by what appear to be surprising mistakes by Japanese engineers. The result has been a fast-moving disaster that has left officials careening from one emergency to the next.
Among the many measures the world can take to wean itself off fossil fuels, few match the benefits of making homes, business, and cars more energy-efficient. But financial and psychological barriers have kept individuals, businesses, and governments from realizing efficiency’s great potential.
Forecasting what the Earth’s climate might look like a century from now has long presented a huge challenge to climate scientists. But better understanding of the climate system, improved observations of the current climate, and rapidly improving computing power are slowly leading to more reliable methods.
Researchers disagree about what the economic costs of climate change will be over the coming decades. But the answer to that question is fundamental in deciding how urgent it is to take action to reduce emissions.
Norway and other nations have vowed to invest billions of dollars to help preserve Indonesia’s remaining tropical forests. But can foreign involvement stem the tide of graft and uncontrolled logging that has steadily decimated one of the world’s largest areas of rainforest?
It is a difficult idea to fathom. But the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes.
The push to promote sustainable palm oil is turning into a test case for green consumerism. The outcome could help determine the future of the rainforests of Asia and Africa — and whether consumer pressure can really sway corporate giants.
As climate science advances, predictions about the extent of future warming and its effects are likely to become less — not more — precise. That may make it more difficult to convince the public of the reality of climate change, but it hardly diminishes the urgency of taking action.
Energy companies are rushing to develop unconventional sources of oil and gas trapped in carbon-rich shales and sands throughout the western United States and Canada. So far, government officials have shown little concern for the environmental consequences of this new fossil-fuel development boom.
As climate scientists wrestle with the complexities of how the planet will react to rising greenhouse-gas levels, no variable is more difficult to decipher than the impact of clouds. But thanks to new satellite data and other technologies, clues are emerging that may help solve the puzzle.
Consumers now have little information about the true ecological impacts of what they buy. But that may be about to change, as new technologies that track supply chains are emerging and companies as diverse as Unilever and Google look to make their products more sustainable.
As warming intensifies, scientists warn, the oxygen content of oceans across the planet could be more and more diminished, with serious consequences for the future of fish and other sea life.
Ample blame exists for the demise of climate legislation in the U.S. Senate, from President Obama’s lack of political courage, to the environmental community’s overly ambitious strategy, to Republican intransigence. A way forward exists, however, to build on the rubble of the Senate’s failure to cap carbon emissions.
Large corporations, not small-scale farmers, are now the major forces behind the destruction of the world’s tropical forests. From the Amazon to Madagascar, activists have been directing their actions at these companies — so far with limited success.
In the wake of the failed Copenhagen summit, prospects for cutting global CO2 emissions are worse than they’ve been in years. With talk of mandated cuts now fading and with countries exploiting loopholes, the world appears headed toward a flawed agreement based not on science but on politics.
The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a warning, conservationists say, of what could happen in the Arctic as melting sea ice opens the Arctic Ocean to oil and gas drilling. Many experts argue that the time has come to adopt an Arctic Treaty similar to the one that has safeguarded Antarctica for half a century.
Within the planet’s oceans and soils are trillions of bacteria that store and release far more carbon dioxide than all of the Earth’s trees and plants. Now, scientists are attempting to understand how the world’s bacteria will influence — and be influenced by — a warming climate.
The tropical forest conservation plan, known as REDD, has the potential to significantly reduce deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. But unless projects are carefully designed and monitored, the program could be undercut by shady dealings at all levels, from the forests to global carbon markets.
Is human activity altering the planet on a scale comparable to major geological events of the past? Scientists are now considering whether to officially designate a new geological epoch to reflect the changes that homo sapiens have wrought: the Anthropocene.
The oil slick spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has shattered the notion that offshore drilling had become safe. A close look at the accident shows that lax federal oversight, complacency by BP and the other companies involved, and the complexities of drilling a mile deep all combined to create the perfect environmental storm.
Our high-tech products increasingly make use of rare metals, and mining those resources can have devastating environmental consequences. But if we block projects like the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, are we simply forcing mining activity to other parts of the world where protections may be far weaker?
Once, on both sides of the Atlantic, fish such as salmon, eels, and, shad were abundant and played an important role in society, feeding millions and providing a livelihood for tens of thousands. But as these fish have steadily dwindled, humans have lost sight of their significance, with each generation accepting a diminished environment as the new norm.
The Asilomar conference on geoengineering had been touted as a potentially historic event. What emerged, however, were some unexpected lessons about the possibilities and pitfalls of manipulating the Earth’s climate to offset global warming.
As the world warms, sea levels could easily rise three to six feet this century. But increases will vary widely by region, with prevailing winds, powerful ocean currents, and even the gravitational pull of the polar ice sheets determining whether some coastal areas will be inundated while others stay dry.
A new study says the seas are acidifying ten times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred. And, the study concludes, current changes in ocean chemistry due to the burning of fossil fuels may portend a new wave of die-offs.
There has been growing talk about a clean-tech race between China and the U.S., often cast in ominous tones. But the quest to develop and implement renewable energy can be one where both nations win.
In the last two decades, network theory has emerged as a way of making sense of everything from the World Wide Web to the human brain. Now, as ecologists have begun applying this theory to ecosystems, they are gaining insights into how species are interconnected and how to foster biodiversity.
Hampered by a slow-moving Congress, the Obama administration is offering only modest greenhouse gas reduction targets at the Copenhagen conference. But limited federal action does not mean the U.S. is standing still: More than half of the 50 states are already taking steps to reduce emissions on their own.
Over the last century, the intensive use of chemical fertilizers has saturated the Earth’s soils and waters with nitrogen. Now scientists are warning that we must move quickly to revolutionize agricultural systems and greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen we put into the planet's ecosystems.
The Earth has nine biophysical thresholds beyond which it cannot be pushed without disastrous consequences, the authors of a new paper in the journal Nature report. Ominously, these scientists say, we have already moved past three of these tipping points.
Wal-Mart’s push to develop a sustainability index for the products it carries could prove to be a pivotal moment in the effort to make consumers aware of the environmental impacts of what they buy.
Wildlife biologists and climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice will lead to a sharp drop in polar bear populations. But some skeptics remain unconvinced, and they have managed to persuade the Canadian government not to take key steps to protect the animals.
A new U.S. government report paints a disturbing picture of the current and future effects of climate change and offers a glimpse of what the nation’s climate will be like by century’s end.
As Congress struggles over a bill to limit carbon emissions, a cap-and-trade program is already operating in 10 Northeastern states. But the regional project's mixed success offers a cautionary warning to U.S. lawmakers on how to proceed.
Environmentalists, utilities, and green businesses are turning to behavioral economics to find innovative ways of influencing people to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. Is this approach really good for the planet or just a fad?
The economic downturn need not halt the development of green energy. In fact, with renewable technologies improving dramatically and new U.S. policies emerging, continued progress toward an energy revolution is inevitable.
They’re calling it “global weirding” – the way in which rising temperatures are causing species to change their ranges, the timing of their migrations, and the way they interact with other living things. And the implications of all this are only beginning to be understood.
The number of vehicles worldwide is expected to reach two billion in the next two decades. Surprisingly, China – where the demand for cars has been skyrocketing – just may offer the best hope of creating a new, greener transportation model.
Yale University’s recently opened Kroon Hall is a state-of-the-art model of where the green building movement is headed. Yet even this showcase for renewable energy highlights the difficulties of creating a building that is 100 percent carbon neutral.
Issued less than two years ago, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a voluminous and impressive document. Yet key portions of the report are already out of date, as evidence shows the impacts of warming intensifying from the Arctic to Antarctica.
In the last few decades, urban sprawl, once regarded as largely a U.S. phenomenon, has spread across Europe. Now an emerging group of planners is promoting a new kind of development — mixed-use, low-carbon communities that are pedestrian-friendly and mass-transit-oriented.
In a bold departure from past U.S. policies, President Barack Obama sees clean energy and “green jobs” as critical components of an economic stimulus strategy.
A number of companies, including one headed by biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter, are developing genetically engineered biofuels that they say will provide a greener alternative to oil. But some environmentalists are far from convinced.
Any federal assistance package for U.S. automakers must require that they finally commit to retooling their industry to produce cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars.
For four decades, American politicians have talked about ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But during the campaign and since his election victory, Barack Obama has made it clear that he finally intends to change the way America powers itself.
When industry began using NF3 in high-tech manufacturing, it was hailed as a way to fight global warming. But new research shows that this gas has 17,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and is rapidly increasing in the atmosphere – and that's turning an environmental success story into a public relations disaster.
You’ve heard the environmental horror stories: rivers running black, air unfit to breathe, two new coal-fired power plants a week. But thanks to a surging entrepreneurial spirit and new policies, China is fast becoming a leader in green innovation, from recycling to developing electric cars to harnessing the wind.
U.S. cities have been using green planning to spark economic development, helping create a real urban renaissance in America. With a new administration soon to arrive in Washington, these same approaches may finally start being used on a national scale.
Despite the potential for abuse, the concept of paying others to compensate for our environmental sins can be a valuable tool in helping reduce carbon emissions. But the world can’t simply buy its way out of global warming.
With food prices skyrocketing and climate change looming, the world needs a green revolution like the one a generation ago. But many valuable seed varieties have been lost – and scientists now are scrambling to protect those that remain before they vanish down the genetic drain.
Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens has always been one to think big. But his sweeping 10-year energy plan for America faces obstacles that may be insurmountable.
The coal industry, political leaders, and some environmentalists have high hopes for the concept of carbon sequestration, which takes carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants and buries them underground. But so far, this new technology does not live up to the hype.
The Bush administration has been widely criticized for placing politics over science when it comes to environmental policy-making. The next president must act to reverse that trend.
Nanotechnology, now used in everything from computers to toothpaste, is booming. But concern is growing that its development is outpacing our understanding of how to use it safely.
Paleontologists and geologists are looking to the ancient past for clues about whether global warming will result in mass extinctions. What they're finding is not encouraging.
In the discussion of the global food emergency, one underlying factor is barely mentioned: The world is running out of water. A British science writer, who authored a major book on water resources, here explores the nexus between water overconsumption and current food shortages.
The burgeoning amount of carbon dioxide in oceans is affecting a lot more than coral reefs. It is also damaging marine life and, most ominously, threatening the future survival of marine populations.