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
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.
21 Oct 2016:
Scientists Report Finding DNA
Mutations That Caused Snakes to Lose Legs
A mutation in the DNA of some reptiles about 150 million years ago switched off the gene responsible for forming limbs — leading to the
A green tree python.
creation of modern day snakes, according to two studies published week. The findings were discovered by two independent teams of researchers, which reported their results separately in the journals Current Biology
. Some snakes, including pythons and boas, still have tiny leg bones inside their bodies, remnants of this evolutionary history; but most species lost their legs starting about100 million years ago. The scientists traced the mutation back to a docking site for proteins, known as an enhancer, situated in front of the Sonic hedgehog
gene, which controls limb development. They found that the enhancer is simply switched off, not broken. When the missing DNA was fixed and the modified enhancer was put in mice, they grew legs like normal
19 Oct 2016:
Can We Turn CO2 into a Useable
Fuel? Scientists Say They Have Found a Way
Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee report that they have found a way to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol
, a usable fuel. The team used a spiky nanotechnology-based catalyst made out of carbon, copper, and nitrogen. When they applied voltage to the catalyst, CO2 dissolved in water turned into ethanol, with a yield of 63 percent. “We discovered somewhat by accident that this material works,” said Adam Rondinone, the Oak Ridge scientist that led the research. Because the materials are relatively cheap and the reaction can happen at room temperature, the researchers say the technique could be scaled up to store renewable energy as ethanol, for example, or to convert CO2 emissions into fuel. Finding new ways to use CO2 “in order to displace a fossil feedstock,” the scientists wrote in the study
, “is an appropriate intermediate step towards a carbon-free future.”
18 Oct 2016:
September Breaks Monthly Temp
Record, Continuing World’s Warming Trend
September was the warmest September since modern record keeping began around 1880, measuring 0.91 degrees Celsius higher than the 1951-1980
Temperature anomalies in September 2016.
average, according to new data
by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. According to NASA, “11 of the past 12 consecutive months dating back to October 2015 have set new monthly high-temperature records.” Or as the website Climate Central
put it, “September [is] an exclamation point on a string of hot months.” The new temperature data nearly guarantees that 2016 will be named the hottest year on record, measuring about 1.25 degrees Celsius above the late 19th century average, according to climate scientist Gavin Schmidt
, the director of GISS. NASA’s temperature data is collected by 6,300 meteorological stations scattered across the globe, a buoy-based data system in the oceans, and research centers on Antarctica.
14 Oct 2016:
Is There Too Much Emphasis
Being Placed on Carbon Capture Technology?
The world is placing too much credence on being able to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a process known as “air capture
,” according to an article in the journal Science
this week. “Negative-emission technologies are not an insurance policy, but rather an unjust and high-stakes gamble,” wrote the article’s authors
, Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the University of Manchester in the U.K, and Glen Peters, a scientist at CICERO, a climate research organization in Norway. “There is a real risk they will be unable to deliver on the scale of their promise,” and assuming otherwise is “a moral hazard par excellence,” they wrote. Carbon capture technologies are a key component of the Paris climate agreement, with many of the modeling scenarios assuming the technology will be operating on a large scale later this century, reported Climate Central
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.
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.
06 Oct 2016:
Methane Emissions From Fossil
Fuels Much Higher Than Previously Thought
Methane emissions from global fossil fuel production are up to 60 percent higher than previously estimated, according to a new study in the journal Nature
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several universities. Combined, methane emissions from oil and gas production and natural geological leakage are up to 110 percent greater than previously estimated. The upward revision shows that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for 25 percent of total global methane emissions, or up to 165 million tons of the 623 million tons emitted from all sources. The study comes at a time when companies are working to reduce methane leaks
from extraction facilities and pipelines, with some success. The scientists found leak rates have declined from 8 percent to 2 percent over the past 30 years. Increased natural gas production, however, has negated these improvements.
Public Art or Renewable Energy?
New Designs Aim to Produce Both
When the topic of energy infrastructure comes up, works of art don’t usually come to mind. But hundreds of such hybrid creations — part renewable power generators,
A vegetable farm off the Santa Monica Pier.
part large-scale art installations — now exist, at least on paper, as the result of a sustainable design competition known as the Land Art Generator Initiative
. Multi-disciplinary teams across the world have taken up the challenge to come up with buildable designs that produce renewable energy and “add value to public space, inspire, and educate.” In a photo essay, Yale Environment 360
highlights eight submissions to this year’s biennial competition, including the three winners announced this week. All designed for the waters off the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California, the systems range from a ring-shaped farm floating offshore to sail-like structures that harvest drinking water from fog.
04 Oct 2016:
Scientists Find Clothing Sheds
Thousands of Plastic Fibers When Washed
A single load of laundry can shed more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers into water systems, according to a recent study
in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin
. Many of these tiny plastic particles make it through sewage treatment plants and enter aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, wetlands, and oceans. The study looked at the breakdown of polyester, acrylic, and polyester-cotton fabrics washed in 86-104 degree Fahrenheit water with various detergents. It found that a 13-pound load of polyester-cotton laundry shed an estimated 137,951 plastic fibers, a load of polyester clothing 496,030 fibers, and acrylic fabric 728,789 fibers. Microplastic particles in waterways are often mistaken for food and eaten by marine life, with various health impacts. The research was conducted by scientists at Plymouth University in England.
29 Sep 2016:
Climate Change Could Double
Wildfire Extent in Canada by 2100
Warming temperatures and a changing climate are expected to at least double the acreage consumed by wildfires every year in Canada by the end of the century,
A wildfire in Alberta, Canada in May 2016.
according to a new report
by the scientific agency, Natural Resources Canada. The number of large forest fires in the country is also expected to increase 1.5-fold over the same period due to milder, drier conditions, the report said. In 2015, 7,068 wildfires burned about 3.9 million hectares of Canadian forest. The annual report, The State of Canada’s Forests
, noted that even if the world manages to limit global warming to an average 2 degrees Celsius, Canada could still experience a temperature rise of 4 degrees C by 2100. The report said such warmer conditions will change the species composition, size, and age distribution of Canada’s forests
, a natural resource that generated more than $22 billion in gross domestic product for the country in 2015.
27 Sep 2016:
Could California’s Gridlock
Generate Electricity for the Grid?
California is testing whether its heavy traffic can produce not just emissions and air pollution, but electricity.
Traffic on Interstate 80 near Berkeley, Calif.
The state’s Energy Commission says it will spend $2 million to examine the potential of using piezoelectric crystals embedded under asphalt as a way to send the energy created by moving cars to the grid. The crystals generate energy when compressed by the weight of moving cars, but tests of the technology at larger scales have failed or been canceled in Tokyo, Italy, and Israel, according to the Associated Press
. California, therefore, “needs to figure out whether it can produce high returns without costing too much,” the AP writes. If successful, the technology could help the state reach its goal to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. California is expected to hit a 25 percent renewables target by the end of this year.
What’s Killing the Native Birds in
The Mountain Forests of Kauai?
The few remaining species of native forest birds left on the Hawaiian island of Kauai have suffered population declines so severe — 98 percent in one case — that some are near extinction.
The cause of the collapse, according to a recent study in the journal Science Advances
, is not alien plants or predators, but rather warming temperatures that have enabled non-native mosquitoes carrying deadly avian malaria to invade the birds’ high-elevation strongholds. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Eben Paxton
, an avian ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study’s lead author, says his group’s research showed that the mosquitoes moved into the Alakai Plateau over the last decade, infecting the birds and pushing their populations to a tipping point. He cites a number of approaches for eradicating the mosquitoes, including releasing irradiated infertile males and using genetically modified mosquitoes. “The way that we view Kauai,” he says, “is that it's an early warning system for the rest of the islands.”
Read the interview.
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
16 Sep 2016:
New Survey Highlights Recent
Widespread Bird Loss in North America
North America has 1.5 billion fewer birds flying its skies than it did 40 years ago, according to a new survey
by dozens of U.S. and Canadian scientists
A young snowy owl.
working at government agencies, universities, and non-profits. More than one-third of common land bird species have declined by more than 15 percent since 1970, and 46 species have lost more than half of their populations, the report found. Snowy owl numbers, for example, dropped 64 percent between 1970 and 2014. The report does not include waterfowl species, such as ducks. The scientists said land use changes, habitat loss, and climate change were main factors behind the long-term population declines. It also found collisions with power lines, buildings, and vehicles caused 900 million bird deaths each year, and domestic and feral cats kill another 2.6 billion. The report, Landbird Conservation Plan 2016, was published by the research collaborative Partners in Flight.
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.
09 Sep 2016:
Popular Insecticide Reduces
Queen Bees’ Ability To Lay Eggs, Study Finds
A new study has found neonicotinoids, the world’s most commonly used insecticide, cause queen honeybees to lay as much as two-thirds fewer eggs,
A queen bee surrounded by members of her colony.
jeopardizing the health and stability of entire bee colonies. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Minnesota, was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports
. "The queens are… the only reproductive individual laying eggs in the colony," said lead author Judy Wu-Smart
. "If her ability to lay eggs is reduced, that is a subtle effect that isn't (immediately) noticeable, but translates to really dramatic consequences for the colony." The scientists also found colonies exposed to imidacloprid, a type of neonicotinoids, collected and stored less pollen than insecticide-free colonies, and removed just 74 percent of mite-infested or diseased pupae that can infect the entire hive, compared to 95 percent removal by unexposed bees.
08 Sep 2016:
The World Has Lost 10 Percent
Of Its Wilderness Over Last Two Decades
The world has lost one-tenth of its wilderness — an area twice the size of Alaska — over the last 20 years, scientists reported this week in the journal Current Biology
Wilderness loss since the early 1990s.
The hardest hit areas have been the Amazon and Central Africa, which have been plagued by rampant and unregulated logging and other industrial activities in recent decades. The scientists found there are 11.6 million square miles of wilderness remaining on earth, largely located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia. "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening," said lead author of the study James Watson
, a biologist at the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "You cannot restore wilderness. Once it is gone, the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left."
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.
Interview: Exploring How and
Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other
Two decades ago, while researching her doctoral thesis, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil
– in other words, she found, they “talk” to each other. Since then, Simard, now at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered further research into how trees converse, including how these fungal filigrees help trees send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. Simard is now focused on understanding how these vital communication systems, which she compares to neural networks in human brains, could be disrupted by environmental threats, such as climate change, pine beetle infestations, and logging. “These networks will go on,” she told Yale Environment 360
. “Whether they're beneficial to native plant species, or exotics, or invader weeds and so on, that remains to be seen.” Read the interview.
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
new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council
Flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
(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.
25 Aug 2016:
Scientists Find New Way
To Convert Carbon Dioxide into Energy
Scientists have discovered a way to convert greenhouse gas emissions into a fuel
in a single step using a light-driven bacterium, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. A team of U.S. scientists, led by biochemists at Utah State University, used a modified version of the phototrophic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris
as a catalyst to break apart carbon dioxide and turn it into hydrogen and methane, the latter of which can be burned to generate electricity. "It's a baby step, but it's also a big step," said Utah State biochemist Lance Seefeldt
, a co-author of the study. "Imagine the far-reaching benefits of large-scale capture of environmentally damaging byproducts from burning fossils fuels and converting them to alternative fuels using light, which is abundant and clean."
23 Aug 2016:
Study Shows Humans Learning
To Use Natural Resources More Efficiently
Humanity’s influence on the natural world is widespread, but a new study published in the journal Nature Communications
finds promising signs that we are slowly learning to live in a more sustainable way. The study found that between 1993 and 2009, the global population grew 23 percent and the global economy grew 153 percent. Meanwhile, the global human footprint grew only 9 percent over the same period. "Seeing that our impacts have expanded at a rate that is slower than the rate of economic and population growth is encouraging," said lead author Oscar Venter, an ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia. "It means we are becoming more efficient in how we use natural resources." The study authors warned, however, that even with the good news, human activity affects 75 percent of the planet’s surface and remains “perversely intense, widespread, and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.”
18 Aug 2016:
Urine From Large Fish Critical
To Reef Health—And Fishing Is Reducing It
Studies have shown that large fish such as grouper, snapper, and barracuda release key nutrients essential for healthy coral reefs through their urine and body tissue.
A barracuda swims along a Caribbean coral reef.
Now, new research in Nature Communications
has found that in areas where fishing occurs, nearly half of these nutrients are missing from the reefs, threatening their well-being. The study was conducted by four U.S. scientists, who surveyed 143 fish species at 110 sites across 43 Caribbean coral reefs, with varying levels of fishing activity, from marine preserves where anglers are banned to heavily fished reefs. “This study is useful to understand alternative ways fishing is affecting coral reef ecosystems,” said Jacob Allgeier
, an ecologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the new study. “Simply stated, fish biomass in coral reefs is being reduced by fishing pressure. If biomass is shrinking, there are fewer fish to pee.”
17 Aug 2016:
NASA Graphic Shows Severity of
Rainstorm That Caused Louisiana Flooding
A new graphic created by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency illustrates the severity
of a recent rainstorm that caused widespread flooding in Louisiana this week,
Rainfall totals in the southeastern U.S.
killing 11 people and forcing tens of thousands of residents from their homes. As much as 31 inches of rain fell in the southeastern U.S., much of it over a period of just three days, in what forecasters classified a 500-year storm event. An international team of scientists called the flooding “a classic signal of climate change
,” and warned that heavy rain events are becoming more frequent as the oceans and atmosphere warm up, feeding more moisture-laden storm systems. The New York Times reports
that five others states have experienced deadly flooding in the last 15 months, including Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina.
16 Aug 2016:
July Was the Hottest Month on
Record, Continuing Steak of High Temps
July was the world’s hottest month since modern temperature record keeping began in 1880, according to new NASA data released this week.
July 2016 temperatures compared to average.
July measured 1.27 degrees F above the 1951-1980 average, and 0.2 degrees F above July 2015, the previous record. This year has seen a streak of record-breaking monthly temperatures, fueled by a strong El Niño and climate change. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said on Twitter
that 2016 now has a 99 percent chance of being the hottest year on record. If that happens, it will be the third such year in a row, reported Climate Central
. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since the start of the 21st century.
11 Aug 2016:
Shipping Noise Causes Whales
To Dive More Slowly and Forage Less
Ocean noise caused by shipping can cause humpback whales to dive more slowly and forage less frequently, according to new research
in the journal Biology Letters
A humpback whale diving.
A team of U.S. and U.K. researchers tagged 10 humpbacks in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts, with devices that simultaneously tracked the whales’ movements and underwater noise. They found that as ship noise increased
, the whales dove 15 percent more slowly and did one-third fewer side-roll feedings, a foraging technique humpbacks use to catch fish near the seafloor. The findings are the latest addition to a growing list of negative impacts
from ocean noise on marine mammals, including disrupted communication, higher stress levels, and increased vulnerability as acoustic pollution masks predator movement. “Chronic impacts of even small reductions in foraging efficiency could affect individual fitness and translate to population-level effects on humpback whales,” the scientists wrote.
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.
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.
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.
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.