e360 digest


In Flint Crisis, A New Model
For Environmental Journalism

Last summer, investigative journalist Curt Guyette found himself knocking on doors of families in Flint, Michigan, carrying not only a pen and notebook, but water-testing kits. Residents had realized there was something wrong with their drinking water but Michigan officials insisted it was safe.
Curt Guyette

Curt Guyette
Guyette, the first investigative reporter in the nation hired by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter, broke the story on possible widespread lead contamination in July. He then helped organize door-to-door testing for lead and filed Freedom of Information Act requests in search of the truth. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Guyette explains how he chased the story, his unique position as a Ford Foundation-funded journalist employed by ACLU Michigan, and whether this approach to journalism could be a model for rescuing in-depth, local reporting on complex environmental and public health issues.
Read the interview.
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09 Mar 2016: U.S., Canada to Announce Series
Of New Climate and Environment Initiatives

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to announce a series of environment and climate initiatives during Trudeau’s first visit to the White House later this week.

The measures include a 45-percent cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and a partnership to protect the rapidly melting Arctic from climate change. Trudeau’s focus on global warming since winning office four months ago marks a significant shift in Canada’s environmental policy. Its previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, cut funding for climate research and backtracked on international climate pledges. “The commitment of both leaders to addressing this global challenge is clear,” Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said . “I suspect under their leadership, North America will make significant progress this year and next.”
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08 Mar 2016: JP Morgan Will No Longer Invest
In New Coal Mines, Citing Climate Change

JP Morgan will no longer finance new coal mines or support new coal-fired power plants in “high income” countries, the banking giant said in a policy statement on its website.

TripodStories-AB
Coal mine in Jharia, India
Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have made similar pledges in recent months, all part of a larger divestment movement aimed at transitioning the world’s economies off fossil fuels. The anti-coal campaign has dealt a blow to an already struggling industry. The price of coal has dropped from $140 per ton in 2009 to $42 in 2016 as cheap, abundant natural gas and renewables have flooded the U.S. energy market. At the same time, support for climate action has grown, with the signing of an international climate agreement in Paris last December. “We believe the financial services sector has an important role to play as governments implement policies to combat climate change,” JPMorgan said in the document.
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07 Mar 2016: Climate Change Will Threaten
Key Crops Across Sub-Saharan Africa

Climate change’s rising temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts could leave parts of sub-Saharan Africa unable to grow staple crops such as maize, bananas, and beans by the end of the century,

Neil Palmer/CIAT
A woman holds maize, a staple crop, in Ghana.
according to new research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Up to 60 percent of bean-producing areas and 30 percent of maize and banana farms could become unviable by 2100, and farmers should start growing more climate change-resistant crops, improve irrigation systems, or switch to raising livestock, the scientists said. “Agriculture and farming are critical not only for the livelihoods of farmers but also more broadly for the diets of the region’s population,” said Julián Ramírez-Villegas, a scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and lead author of the study. “Unless timely adaptation actions are taken, we’re looking at a bleak picture in terms of food security and poverty throughout many areas of sub-Saharan Africa.”
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04 Mar 2016: Leading Brands Unsure If Palm
Oil Purchases Linked to Rainforests

Despite well-intentioned pledges, some of the world’s largest consumer companies admitted that

Rainforest in Borneo cleared for palm oil
they have no idea whether the palm oil they purchase from Indonesia is linked to rainforest destruction, according to a new report from Greenpeace, which surveyed 14 companies, including PepsiCo, Mars, Unilever, and Johnson & Johnson. “Palm oil is found in so many products, which is why brands have a responsibility to their customers to act,” said Greenpeace’s Annissa Rahmawati. “But our survey shows that brands are not doing enough to stop the palm oil industry ransacking Indonesia’s rainforests.” Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a vegetable oil used in a wide range of household products, from lipstick to soap to instant noodles, and environmentalists have long argued the industry is a leading cause of deforestation. Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 76 million acres of forest, an area almost equal to the size of Germany.
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03 Mar 2016: Oregon To Eliminate Coal
From Its State Energy Mix by 2030

Oregon has become the first U.S. state to eliminate the use of coal by legislative action. Lawmakers at the statehouse

Oregon's only remaining coal plant, in Boardman
voted Wednesday to eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and to provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was hammered out between the state’s two largest utilities and environmental groups. Clean energy groups praised the legislation as one of the strongest pieces of pro-climate legislation in the U.S. in years. “In terms of the coal phase-out, this really is precedent setting,” said Jeff Deyette , senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is only one coal plant currency operating in Oregon, and it is the state's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
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Rethinking Urban Landscapes
To Adapt to Rising Sea Levels

Sea levels are rising faster than they have in at least 28 centuries, according to recent research, and by 2100, they are expected to rise by one to four feet — possibly even higher.
Kristina Hill

Kristina Hill
Landscape architect Kristina Hill argues that cities throughout the world need to start planning now for impacts that will happen 50 or 100 years in the future. “It takes decades for us to get our act together and build things,” says Hill, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “Future generations won’t have the luxury of decades.” Hill advocates blending natural ecosystems and human-made infrastructure to help cities adjust to rising tides. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she talks about her vision for modifying coastal communities, the limits to adaptation, and the promise of “cyborg landscapes.”
Read the interview.
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01 Mar 2016: Despite El Nino, California
Has Dry February As Drought Continues

El Nino failed to deliver much needed rain to California in February, dashing hopes that the climatic phenomenon could help end the state’s crippling four-year, multi-billion-dollar drought.

USDA/NOAA
Ninety-four percent of California is in drought.
Downtown Los Angeles received only .79 inches of rain last month, when it typically gets 3.8 inches. The Bay Area got similarly low totals. "From past six strong El Ninos, we have generally seen above normal rainfall,” said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “But since October 1 we've only seen five inches of rain so far (across Southern California). We were certainly expecting a lot more." Meteorologists say a series of forecasted storms in early March could help, but with El Nino reportedly weakening and about 94 percent of California still in some form of drought, things aren’t looking good for the region.
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29 Feb 2016: China's CO2 Emissions Fell in 2015
Due to Decline in Coal, Boost in Renewables

China's greenhouse gas emissions fell for the second year in a row in 2015, down 1 to 2 percent, according to a Greenpeace analysis of new data released by China's National Bureau Statistics.

LandRoverOurPlanet/Flickr
The Tangshanpeng Wind Farm in northern China.
China reduced its coal consumption 3.7 percent in 2015, and installed 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 18.3 GW of solar power. The country's recent economic slowdown also helped reduce emissions. China is currently the world's largest emitter of CO2, responsible for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. At a UN climate conference in Paris in December, China pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 and boost renewables. "These statistics show that China is on track to far surpass its Paris climate targets," said Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior campaigner on coal for Greenpeace. "However, the trend is not moving as fast as it could."
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26 Feb 2016: California Natural Gas Leak
Officially Largest Leak in U.S. History

The four-month natural gas leak that sickened hundreds of Los Angeles residents and forced the evacuations of 1,800 homes this winter has officially been deemed the largest methane leak in U.S. history, according to a study in the journal Science.

Scott L/Flickr
A natural gas facility in California's Aliso Canyon.
The California leak spewed a total 97,100 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, up to 60 tons per hour—the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 572,000 cars. Methane is a greenhouse gas dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide over a short time span. The researchers collected the data during 13 different flights through the leaking gas plume. The measurements were so high the scientists said they double-checked their recording devices. "It became obvious that there wasn't anything wrong with the instruments," said Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientists at the University of California-Davis who led the study. "This was just a huge event."
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25 Feb 2016: Scientists find new large lizard
species on remote Papua New Guinea island

Scientists have discovered the first new large lizard species in Papua New Guinea in over 20 years. The lizard was found on Mussau Island, one of the northernmost islands in country, by a team of Finnish and Australian researchers.

The new Varanus semotus.
The scientists have dubbed the new species, Varanus semotus, a “biogeographical oddity” because it is separated by several hundred miles from its next of kin. Islands in the Pacific Ocean lack predatory mammals, so large lizards, commonly known as monitor lizards, the most famous of which is the Komodo dragon, fill that role. The new lizard measures 3 feet 3 inches, has a black body covered with yellow and orange markings, and a pale yellow tongue. "Isolation is the keyword here," said Valter Weijola, a graduate student from the University of Turku in Finland who led the trip. "It is what has driven speciation and made the South-Pacific region one of the world's biodiversity hotspots."
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24 Feb 2016: Extended Bleaching Events
Are Killing Corals As Oceans Warm

Rising ocean temperatures are intensifying the die-off of corals around the planet, according to U.S. government scientists. “We are currently experiencing

Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef
the longest global coral-bleaching event ever observed,” said Mark Eakin, head of Coral Reef Watch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bleaching occurs when corals respond to environmental hazards, such as high ocean temperatures, by expelling the symbiotic algae they need to provide them with sustenance. Eakin predicted that the latest extended bleaching event, which started in 2014, will likely last well into next year, at which time about 60 percent of corals worldwide may be affected. Eakin compares the continuous pressure that reefs have been under in recent years to a boxing bout. “What used to be a one-round fight is turning into a two- and three-round fight,” he says.
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23 Feb 2016: With Lower Gas Prices,
Americans Are Driving Farther Than Ever

Fueled by plummeting gas prices, Americans drove a record-breaking 3.15 trillion miles in 2015, according to new data by the U.S. Department of Transportation—enough to make 337 round trips to Pluto.

joiseyshowaa/Flickr
Traffic in New York City
The new data represents a 4.5 percent increase over 2014, and poses a challenge for the United States, which pledged in Paris last December to cut CO2 emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025 to fight climate change. The U.S. transportation sector, made up mostly of vehicles, accounts for nearly one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. "This makes our work on efficiency and alternative fuels all the more pressing," said Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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22 Feb 2016: Reaching Emission Targets Could
Save 295,000 U.S. Lives by 2030, Study Says

The greenhouse emission cuts that America agreed to at the Paris climate conference may come with a significant public health benefit —the prevention of 295,000 premature deaths— according to a Duke University study. At the December summit, 196 nations, including the U.S., agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to achieve that goal, the U.S. will need to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030, which would lead to a significant reduction in deadly air pollution, according to the study. “People should realize that emissions are having a big impact already… more than 100,000 deaths a year,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke and lead author of the study. “Air pollution is a very big health challenge, it’s having a major public health impact in the U.S.” According to the World Health Organization, about seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution.
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19 Feb 2016: Growing Marijuana Consumes
Huge Amount of Energy, New Report Finds

The booming legal marijuana industry in the U.S. uses enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes with a staggering price tag of $6 billion every year, according to a new report by the data analysis firm New Frontier.

Cannabis Training University
Growing cannabis requires huge amounts of energy
“Marijuana is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity that we produce,” said John Kagia, director of industry analytics for New Frontier, which specializes in cannabis industry research. “That’s largely because of the very high energy costs associated with its cultivation and production indoors.” The report adds to mounting concerns over marijuana’s massive ecological footprint. Authors of the report said simple steps like switching to outdoor or greenhouse cultivation, installing more efficient lighting and monitoring energy use could significantly reduce the industry’s energy footprint.
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18 Feb 2016: Scientists Map Which Ecosystems
are the Most Vulnerable to Climate Change

Forests, tundras, and alpine areas are some of the world’s most at-risk ecosystems to climate change, according to a new map published in the journal Nature.

Map of at-risk ecosystems
The study, led by scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway, used satellite data collected from 2000 to 2013 to examine how sensitive plants were to changes in air temperature, water availability, and cloud cover, down to a two-square-mile scale. The scientists used the results to create the Vegetation Sensitivity Index—a visual guide to plants’ climate responses. The Arctic tundra, parts of Europe and Canada’s boreal forest, tropical rainforests in South America, and eastern Australia all registered as some of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the world to climatic changes.
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17 Feb 2016: Reintroduction of Beavers Can Be
Beneficial to the Environment, Study Finds

The reintroduction of beavers to Scotland has proven beneficial to the environment, according to a new study by researchers at the

Beavers have been reintroduced to Scotland
University of Stirling. Beaver dams increased the retention of organic matter by as much as seven times, and the level of aquatic plant life by 20-fold, researchers said. They also found that the levels of pollutants from agricultural runoff were reduced, with concentrations of phosphorus halved, and nitrate levels lowered by more than 40 percent. “Their dam building skills help restore degraded streams and increase the complexity of the surrounding habitat, increasing the number of species by 28 percent,” lead researcher Nigel Willby said. “The beavers’ engineering is transforming low-quality habitats in regions where the animals have long been absent.”
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Misuse of Mosquito Nets Stressing
Lake Malawi’s Fish Populations

Mosquito nets handed out by international aid organizations to fight malaria are being used by some who live along the banks of Lake Malawi to indiscriminately harvest fish, aggravating the lake’s

LTFHC
Women fishing with mosquito net.
already rapidly diminishing fish stock. Over the last 15 years, UNICEF and the government of Malawi have rolled out nine million free mosquito nets to guard the health of pregnant mothers, their offspring, and refugees against the ravages of malaria. This has been a public health triumph. But the mosquito nets are also being used by villagers for netting fish in Lake Malawi, contributing to the rapid decline of the lake’s fish stocks, which dropped 93 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Overpopulation and deforestation also contribute to the problem, but misuse of mosquito netting is playing a significant role.
Read more.
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15 Feb 2016: Global Water Shortages Affect
At Least Four Billion People, Study Says

Global water shortages are far worse than previously thought, with at least two-thirds of the world’s population — four billion people — living with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to new research published in the journal Science Advances. “If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who led the study. The new research also revealed that 500 million people live in places where water consumption was twice the amount replenished by rain. Hoekstra said that many areas are living on borrowed time, such as Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Other areas of particular concern include large swaths of Australia and the American Great Plains, which are dependent on the diminishing Ogallala aquifer. These water problems are exacerbated by population growth and raising meat for consumption, which is highly water-intensive, according to the study.
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12 Feb 2016: Obama Protects 1.8 Million
Acres of Key California Desert Habitat

President Obama has designated more than 1.8 million acres of California desert for protection with the creation of three new

Joshua tree forest in Mojave desert
national monuments: Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains. The new monuments will help create a wildlife corridor between these newly protected areas and Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve. The three new monuments include canyons, dunes, grasslands, volcanic spires, Joshua tree forests, wetlands, petroglyphs, and animals that thrive in desert conditions. Obama has now protected more than 260 million acres across the United States, more than any other president, and administration officials say that it is possible he will designate more lands for protection before the end of his term. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives a president the ability to unilaterally safeguard at-risk federal lands that have cultural, historic, or scientific value.
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11 Feb 2016: The U.S. Southwest Is Moving
Toward a Drier Climate, New Study Shows

The southwestern United States is becoming increasingly dry and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future as the weather patterns that typically bring precipitation to the region are becoming increasingly rare, according to a new study. Analyzing 35 years of data, researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research identified low-pressure systems in the North Pacific as being responsible for bringing moisture to the Southwest. But between 1979 and 2014, those low-pressure systems increasingly gave way to high-pressure systems, which have generally kept precipitation away from the Southwest and have caused drought there and in California. The outlook for the future is not good, said the researchers, writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The shift toward higher pressure in the North Pacific is consistent with climate models, which predict that a belt of higher average pressure that now sits closer to the equator will move north.
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10 Feb 2016: Supreme Court Suspends
Obama's Coal Plant Emissions Cuts

The U.S. Supreme Court voted Tuesday to put on hold new federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from coal-fired

A coal-fired power plant
power plants, until a legal challenge by more than two dozen states and interest groups is complete. It is the first time the Supreme Court has granted a request to halt a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. The 5-4 vote along ideological lines is a blow to the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, its strategy to combat climate change. Those challenging the regulations claim the new rules, which are to be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, would have a devastating economic impact. The White House says it expects the regulations to survive legal challenges. The plan, designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is the main tool for the U.S. to meet CO2 reduction targets pledged at the December climate talks in Paris.
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09 Feb 2016: Ice-Free Arctic Trade Route
Unlikely For Decades to Come, Study says

Despite the impact climate change is having on Arctic sea ice, it will be decades before big cargo ships will be able to take an ice-free shortcut

Russian tanker making its way through ice.
across the Arctic Ocean, according to a new report from the Arctic Institute. In recent years, countries have been vying for access to possible Arctic shipping lanes in the belief that use of the passage was more imminent and would contribute to shorter travel times and associated cost savings. But given the Arctic’s short sailing season, continuing treacherous ice conditions, the high costs associated with armoring cargo ships to withstand the ice, as well as low fuel prices, the Institute predicts that such crossings won’t become commercially viable until at least 2040. Until that time, shipping between Europe and Asia will continue to use the Suez Canal. Arctic shipping has decreased in recent years, from 1.3 metric tons in 2013 to 300,000 tons in 2014.
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08 Feb 2016: West Virginia Flatter
After Decades of Mountaintop Removal

Decades of mountaintop coal mining have substantially altered the topography of central Appalachia, according to new

Appalachian mountain and valley affected by mining
esearch by Duke University. Areas affected by mining are as much as 60 percent flatter than they were pre-mining. In mountaintop mining, bedrock is blasted away to uncover coal seams below the surface. In addition to mountains reduced in height, the valleys are also affected; they can be substantially shallower after mining debris is deposited in them. The fill can be as deep as 200 meters, which can significantly alter water flow and contamination as well. "The depth of these impacts is changing the way the geology, water, and vegetation interact in fundamental ways that are likely to persist far longer than other forms of land use," said Emily Bernhardt, a professor of biology at Duke and co-author on the study.
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05 Feb 2016: Rising Temperatures Skewing
Gender Balance of Sea Turtles, Study Says

Rising global temperatures may be skewing the gender makeup of marine turtles, according to

Loggerhead sea turtle
new research from Florida State University. The gender of marine hatchlings is influenced by the temperature of the sands in which they incubate, with warmer temperatures producing more females. “It's worrying that you could have an extreme skew in gender one way," said Mariana Fuentes, an assistant professor of oceanography at FSU. "Any changes in population structure can have real repercussions.” The scientists examined 25 years worth of data for 21 loggerhead turtle nesting beaches along the Brazilian coast, but the results are pertinent to other regions since temperature-dependent sex determination affects all turtles.
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04 Feb 2016: Only Known Wild Jaguar in
the U.S. Filmed in Arizona in Rare Video

Video of the only known wild jaguar still roaming the United States has been captured using remote sensor

"El Jefe" filmed roaming south of Tucson at night
cameras in Arizona. The big cat, known by the nickname El Jefe (“The Boss”), is one of only four or five jaguars spotted in the wild in the U.S. in the past two decades. El Jefe is believed to live in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 25 miles south of Tucson. The footage was captured by Conversation CATalyst, which has about a dozen cameras in the area where the jaguar lives. Notoriously elusive, the video footage is the product of three years of tracking. Healthy numbers of jaguars, the third largest cats after lions and tigers, once roamed the Southwest, but they all but disappeared about 150 years ago due to habitat loss and hunting, shot to protect livestock. Jaguars are now protected by the Endangered Species Act, although El Jefe may be the last one in the U.S.
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03 Feb 2016: China’s Wind Power Sector
Experienced Rapid Growth in 2015

China installed nearly half of all new global wind power generation last year and added as much new wind energy capacity in one year as the total capacity of the leading U.S. wind-producing states — Texas, Iowa, and California. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that China installed nearly 29 gigawatts of new wind-power capacity last year, surpassing the previous record of 21 gigawatts in 2014. China’s new wind energy capacity dwarfed the next-largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 gigawatts in 2015. Analysts said China’s wind sector grew rapidly because of declining manufacturing and installation costs, generous government feed-in tariffs, improving transmission capacity, and the government’s campaign to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants.
PERMALINK

 

Five Questions for Robert Bullard
On the Flint Water Crisis and Justice

In Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000 whose population is 56 percent African American, a state cost-cutting measure to begin drawing drinking water supplies from
Five questions
Five Questions for Robert Bullard
Texas Southern University
Robert D. Bullard
the Flint River has led to a public health crisis. The corrosive waters of the river have leached lead out of Flint’s aging water pipes, causing thousands of children to ingest dangerously high levels of lead — a problem that was ignored for months. Yale Environment 360 asked Robert D. Bullard — dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the man widely considered the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice — five questions about how the situation in Flint reflects on environmental inequality in the United States.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

02 Feb 2016: General Electric Joins
The Move From CFL Bulbs to LEDs

General Electric, a leader in the lighting market, has announced that it will stop manufacturing compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs by the end of the year and

increasingly shift production to LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, which last longer, produce a better-quality light, and are rapidly declining in price. The move highlights a trend away from CFL bulbs, which several years ago were the go-to choice for energy-saving bulbs to replace energy-intensive incandescent light bulbs. “Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” said GE lighting executive John Strainic. The price of an LED bulb has fallen from $30 to $5 in recent years and continues to decline. Retail giant Ikea abandoned CFL bulbs last year and now sells only LED lights, and other major retailers like Walmart are expected to follow suit — a move welcomed by environmental groups, which laud the large energy savings from LEDs.
PERMALINK

 

01 Feb 2016: Lab-raised Caribbean Coral
Grown in the Wild for the First Time

Caribbean coral colonies bred in a lab, using in-vitro fertilization, have for the first time been raised to sexual maturity in their

Elkhorn coral
natural marine habitat, according to findings published in the Bulletin of Marine Science. Offspring of endangered elkhorn coral were reared from gametes collected in the field and successfully reattached to a reef a year later, where they have grown in size considerably according to researchers from SECORE International. Over the past four decades, an estimated 80 percent of all Caribbean corals have disappeared. The elkhorn coral’s decline is so severe that it was the first coral species to be listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2006. Due to its large size, branching shape, and preference for shallow waters, the coral is particularly effective at protecting shorelines from incoming storms, as well as providing a critical habitat for many reef organisms. Scientists hope this success will be an important step in helping restore endangered reefs.
PERMALINK

 

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