Business & Innovation
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.
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.
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.
14 Oct 2015:
Toyota Vows to Eliminate
Nearly All of Its Gasoline Cars by 2050
The global automobile giant, Toyota, has announced plans to steadily phase out production of gasoline-powered cars
and to slash emissions from its fleet by 90 percent by 2050. Speaking in Tokyo, Toyota executives vowed to work with government officials and other companies to replace internal combustion cars with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hybrids. “You may think 35 years is a long time, but for an automaker to envision all combustion engines as gone is pretty extraordinary,” said a senior Toyota executive. The company said that by 2020 annual sales of its hybrid vehicles will reach 1.5 million and sales of fuel cell vehicles will hit 30,000 — 10 times the projected figure for 2017. Meanwhile, Volkswagen, shaken by scandal over falsifying emissions data on its diesel cars, announced it will increasingly shift production
to hybrid and electric vehicles.
In Brazil, A City’s Waste Pickers
Find Hope in a Pioneering Program
The millions of impoverished people who sift through trash and landfills for recyclable materials have been called the world’s “invisible environmentalists.” Yet many work in deplorable conditions and face exploitation from unscrupulous middlemen. In
A waste picker works at a warehouse in Curitiba.
Curitiba, Brazil, city officials and social activists have launched a rapidly growing program in which the waste pickers work out of city-sponsored warehouses and use their collective power to bargain for fair prices for their recycled goods. The Curitiba initiative is one of a growing number worldwide that seek to provide better working conditions and higher wages for waste pickers, while also aiding recycling and creating cleaner cities. Read more.
07 Oct 2015:
Africa Can Increase Renewable
Energy Use Four-Fold by 2030, Study Finds
The African continent could generate nearly a quarter of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, according to a report
Solar PV minigrids serving 30 villages in Mali
by the International Renewable Energy Agency
(IRENA). The report identified potential renewable energy sources — including solar, biomass, hydropower, and wind resources — equivalent to more than 375 million tons of coal. While half of energy use in Africa today involves traditional biomass consumption, the report estimated that a shift to renewable-energy cooking solutions would reduce traditional cook stove usage and the resulting health complications from poor indoor air quality, leading to savings of $20 to 30 billion annually by 2030. In the African power sector, the share of renewable sources could increase to 50 percent by 2030, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 340 million tons, the IRENA report says.
05 Oct 2015:
Icelandic Seafood Giant
May Be Involved in Endangered Whale Hunt
Iceland’s controversial annual hunt of fin whales — classified as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation
of Nature — ended with a catch of 155 fin whales, the largest slaughter since the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, reports the London-based advocacy group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The EIA and the Animal Welfare Institute obtained evidence
revealing the ongoing involvement of international seafood giant HB Grandi — a Reykjavík-based company with an annual income of roughly $230 million (as of 2011) — in the whaling business, despite its claims to the contrary. HB Grandi is Iceland’s largest seafood company and its CEO has repeatedly insisted that the company “is not involved in whaling and never has been.” Despite the international moratorium, Iceland recently has allowed commercial whaling and has shipped whale products to Japan.
29 Sep 2015:
Electric Buses Could Lead to
Significant Savings Even for Smaller Cities
Electric buses could save a city with half a million residents — one similar in size to Sacramento, California — roughly $12 million each
Electric bus, Bonn, Germany
year if the city's buses were to run on electricity rather than diesel fuel, according to a study
by the Volvo Group and the audit and advisory firm KPMG. Factors such as noise, travel time, emissions, energy use, natural resource use, and roughly $2.9 million in avoided health care costs contributed to the annual savings, the analysis says. Gothenburg, Sweden's second-largest city, recently began operating a new electric bus line built by Volvo and powered by wind and hydro electricity, says Niklas Gustafsson, Volvo's head of sustainability. The buses' environmentally friendly design, combined with the fact that they are completely silent and emissions-free, has made the line popular in Gothenburg, he says.
28 Sep 2015:
Shell Ends Arctic Oil and Gas
Exploration Bid for Foreseeable Future
Shell Oil has announced
that it will stop its controversial exploratory drilling for oil and gas in Arctic waters for the foreseeable
Shell's Polar Pioneer rig as it left Seattle for the Arctic
future, saying in a statement that the reserves it had discovered were not “sufficient to warrant further exploration.” Shell began operating its first exploration well on July 30, 2015, in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern coast of Alaska. But the company reported that although it had found indications of the presence of oil and gas, the reserves in the basin where they were drilling were, in the words of one company official, "clearly disappointing." Under Shell's federally approved exploration plan, all rigs and support vessels must leave the Chukchi Sea before the end of October. Environmental groups hailed Shell's announcement.
24 Sep 2015:
Nearly Half of U.S. Seafood
Is Wasted Annually, New Study Shows
As much as 47 percent of the edible U.S. seafood supply is wasted each year
, with more than half of that waste coming
Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington, D.C.
at the consumer level as people throw away spoiled or uneaten seafood at home, according to a new study. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future estimated the edible U.S. seafood supply at 4.7 billion pounds a year, and said that 2.3 billion pounds of that are wasted. The study, published in the Journal Global Environmental Change
, said that 573 million pounds are lost annually as commercial fisherman catch and discard the wrong species. Roughly 330 million pounds are lost during distribution and retail, and 1.3 billion pounds are lost at the consumer level. The researchers recommended a number of changes to reduce the waste, including stricter limits on by-catch by commercial fishermen and efforts to encourage consumers to purchase frozen seafood.
23 Sep 2015:
New and Reactivated Coal
Mines Fell to Lowest Levels Ever Recorded
The opening of fewer new coal mines, combined with the closing of less-efficient mines, led to 2013 having the lowest number of active coal mines in the U.S. on record, according to an analysis
by the Energy Information Administration. In addition, the number of new and reactivated coal mines that began production in 2013 reached its lowest level in at least the past 10 years, the analysis says. Although 103 mines were added that year (the most recent year for which complete data are available), 271 mines were idled or closed, amounting to a 14-percent decline in the total number of productive coal mines compared to the previous year. The 2013 total was 397 fewer coal mines than in 2008, when U.S. coal production peaked. The declining number of new mines reflects reduced investment in the coal industry, strong competition from natural gas, stagnant electricity demand, a weak coal export market, and regulatory and permitting challenges, the EIA says.
Interview: A Scientist’s View
On How to Repair the Planet
For an environmental scientist who studies how humanity is pushing the earth close to potentially disastrous tipping points, Johan Rockström
of a new book, Big World, Small Planet
— is surprisingly optimistic. Although he reckons that our species has crossed four of nine “planetary boundaries,” including those on climate change and deforestation, he believes there is still time to pull back from the brink and create a sustainable future based on renewable energy and a “circular” economy that continually reuses resources. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Rockström describes how an alignment of science, technological advances, and a growing public hunger for action can get civilization back on track. “It’s not a journey where we are backing into the caves,” says Rockström. “It’s a journey of high technology ... and huge, multiple benefits.”
Read the interview.
17 Sep 2015:
Chaotic Illegal Timber Trade
Threatens Crucial Forests in Southeast Asia
A murky, illegal timber trade enabled by systemic corruption exists between China and Myanmar and is worth hundreds of millions of
Illegal log trucks in Kachin wait to cross into China.
dollars annually, making it one of the world's largest illegal timber schemes, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). At stake are some of the most ecologically important remaining forests in Southeast Asia, EIA says. The report documents how Chinese businesses pay in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains and smuggle timber out of Myanmar's conflict-torn state of Kachin. The stolen timber, primarily high-value species of rosewood and teak, is increasingly being sourced from deeper within Myanmar to feed factories in south and east China. The trade appeared to have peaked in 2005, when 1.3 million cubic yards of logs crossed the border. A brief hiatus then occurred when Chinese authorities intervened, but the scale is once again nearing peak levels, the EIA says.
16 Sep 2015:
Unchecked Consumerism Causing
Record-Breaking Resource Use, Study Says
Consumption of critical global resources — from meat and coffee to fossil fuels and water — has peaked in recent years, accelerating
Cevahir shopping center in Istanbul, Turkey
climate change, pollution, and resource depletion to unsustainable levels, according to an analysis
by the Worldwatch Institute. The report tracked 24 global consumption trends and found many of them to be record-breaking. Meat production, for instance, has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years, leading to large-scale pressure on water, feeds, and grazing land. Aquaculture production has increased roughly 10 fold since 1984, and today farmed fish account for nearly half of all fish eaten. Global plastic production has also risen continuously over the past 50 years, while recycling rates remain very low. In the United States, for example, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012. “Untrammeled consumerism lies at the heart of many of these challenges,” said author Michael Renner.
14 Sep 2015:
Global Solar Panel Production
Rate Slowed in Recent Years, Analysis Finds
Solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing has been growing at a slower rate in recent years, increasing by only 4 percent
Solar panel manufacturing facility
annually from 2011 to 2013, compared to an average annual growth of 78 percent from 2006 to 2011, says a U.S. Energy Information Administration
analysis. Globally, solar PV production facilities are producing far fewer solar panels than their maximum capacity allows, the report says. The peak for that metric occurred in 2011, at 70 percent, when 36.6 gigawatts of solar PV modules were produced globally, while the maximum capacity was 52 gigawatts. The slowdown may be explained by complaints of unfair trade practices originating in China, the EIA says. An investigation found that Chinese solar PV modules were being dumped below cost on the U.S. market, and the U.S. Department of Commerce recently enacted anti-dumping measures on Chinese PV modules. The market is reacting to the slow growth by downsizing workforces and consolidating solar PV manufacturing companies, the analysis says.
26 Aug 2015:
U.S. Shale Gas Production
Expected to Fall for First Time, Report Says
Natural gas production from all seven major shale formations in the U.S. is projected to drop next month for the first time since
Monthly change in shale gas production
the shale gas boom began in earnest roughly a decade ago, according to an analysis
from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Major shale regions produced gas at a record-high rate of 45.6 billion cubic feet per day in May, but that rate is expected to drop to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day in September, the report says. It attributes the decline to existing, legacy wells becoming significantly less productive and a substantial drop in the number of drilling rigs in each of the seven major shale regions since September 2014. New wells are being established, the EIA notes, but they are not producing enough natural gas to offset expected declines from legacy wells.
17 Aug 2015:
Cost of Distributed Solar Power
Fell for Fifth Straight Year, Report Says
Prices for both residential and non-residential solar energy systems fell in 2014, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining
costs for solar photovoltaic systems, according to
an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Residential rooftop solar panels in the U.S. cost 40 cents per watt less than the same systems in 2013, and prices for non-residential systems fell by 70 cents per watt. In the first half of this year, costs in a number of large markets fell by an additional 20 to 50 cents per watt, the report says. Photovoltaic equipment costs have remained relatively stable since 2012, so the lower prices are primarily due to reductions in "soft" costs such as marketing, labor, permits, and inspections, analysts say.
11 Aug 2015:
Cost of Producing Wind Power
Reached a New Low in the U.S. Last Year
The cost of generating wind power in the U.S. fell to its lowest level ever last year, according to a report
from the Department of Energy. Utility companies purchased wind power for 2.35 cents per kilowatt-hour on average last year, making the price of wind energy competitive with conventional power sources in many parts of the country. Wind power now meets on average 4.9 percent of the nation's electricity demand, the DOE analysis found, and nine states used wind to produce more than 12 percent of their electricity. Iowa and South Dakota produced more than a quarter of their electricity from wind, Kansas generated roughly 22 percent from wind, and Texas remained the leading state for wind installations
in 2014. With a total installed capacity of 66 gigawatts, the U.S. now ranks second only to China in wind power capacity.
07 Aug 2015:
New Zealand Will Shutter Last
Remaining Coal Power Plants, Officials Say
New Zealand will close its last remaining coal plants and rely even more heavily on renewable sources for its electricity needs,
Buller Coalfield, South Island, New Zealand
the country's energy minister announced
Thursday. New Zealand already has the fourth-largest share of renewable electricity generation in the world, with roughly 80 percent of its energy needs met by renewables. The final two coal-fired power plants will shut down by December 2018, according to the utility company running the plants, which cited changing market conditions that have made coal power unnecessary in New Zealand. The nation has been using coal to fill gaps in dry years, when hydropower could not meet the grid's demand. But recent investments in wind and, particularly, geothermal energy have made that stopgap measure unnecessary, the energy minister said. The country has pledged ahead of the Paris climate summit to cut emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
06 Aug 2015:
Mimicking Butterfly Wings Can
Improve Efficiency of Solar Energy Systems
Solar-concentrating photovoltaic systems can produce nearly 50 percent more power by mimicking the V-shaped wing
Cabbage white butterfly
formation certain butterflies exhibit before take-off, say researchers at the University of Exeter. The cabbage white butterfly warms its muscles before flight by placing its wings in the shape of a "V" to maximize the concentration of solar energy onto its thorax. This behavior, known as reflectance basking, increases the butterfly's thorax temperature by roughly 13 degrees F compared to flat wings, the researchers found. When reflective panels are arranged around a concentrating photovoltaic system in the same way, this wing-like configuration increases the power-to-weight ratio of the solar energy system by 17-fold, making it vastly more efficient, the researchers explain in the journal Scientific Reports
. The team showed that replicating the single layer of highly reflective scale cells found in the butterfly wings could also improve power-to-weight ratios of solar concentrators.
05 Aug 2015:
Emissions From U.S. Power
Plants Reached 27-Year Low, Report Says
Electric power plants in the U.S. emitted less carbon dioxide in April than they have in any month since April 1988 — a 27-year low — according to an analysis by the Energy Information Administration
. The report said the electric power sector has made major strides in improving efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint, producing significantly more electricity while lowering CO2 emissions. Renewable energy production has more than doubled since 1988, the use of natural gas to produce electricity has more than tripled, and coal consumption has decreased by 17 percent, the EIA report says. Natural gas plants are now about 25 to 30 percent more efficient than coal plants in terms of power generation, and they emit 71 to 79 percent less carbon dioxide than coal plants.
Gallery: The Wild Lands at Stake
If Alaska’s Pebble Mine Proceeds
The proposed Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska is a project of almost unfathomable scale. If the copper- and gold-mining project proceeds, the mine would cover 28 square miles and require the construction of the world’s largest earthen dam — 700 feet high and several miles long — to hold back a 10-square-mile containment pond filled with up to 2.5 billion tons of sulfide-laden mine waste. All this would be built not only in an active seismic region, but also in one of the most unspoiled and breathtaking places on the planet — the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most productive salmon fishery. In a photo essay, landscape photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum documents the lands and waters at risk from the project, whose fate is currently wending its way through the courts.
Read more | View gallery
27 Jul 2015:
President Obama Announces
Major New Limits on Interstate Ivory Trade
President Obama has announced strict new limits
aimed at stemming the global ivory trade which, when implemented,
FWS crushed illegal ivory trinkets in Times Square.
would nearly ban all ivory trade within the United States. The measures also include new restrictions on when ivory can be exported to other countries. “We’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said at a press conference in Kenya on Saturday. Current laws in the U.S. are aimed at controlling the import and export of ivory, while allowing some legal trade among states — a loophole that many illegal ivory dealers have used to their advantage. The new regulation, expected to be finalized later this year, would restrict ivory trade between states to items that are over 100 years old or contain only very small amounts of ivory. The U.S. is estimated to be the world's second largest ivory market, with sales outpacing all nations except China.
23 Jul 2015:
Synthetic Coral Could Remove
Mercury Pollution From Ocean, Study Finds
Chinese researchers have constructed a type of synthetic coral that could help remove toxic heavy metals like mercury from
Microscope image of the coral-like structure
the ocean, according to a report in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science
. Mercury can be especially toxic to corals because they very efficiently adsorb heavy metals, the scientists note. They took advantage of that ability to create a synthetic coral that can bind and remove mercury pollution in water. The coral-like structure is covered with self-curling nanoplates made of aluminum oxide — a chemical compound that can collect heavy metals. The scientists found that the synthetic coral structure could bind mercury 2.5 times more efficiently than aluminum oxide particles alone. According to the World Health Organization, up to 17 in every thousand children living in areas relying on subsistence fishing showed cognitive declines caused by eating mercury-contaminated fish.
22 Jul 2015:
Algae Could Be Environmentally
Friendly Livestock Feed, Research Finds
Algae could replace corn as feed for cattle and other livestock, according to findings
published in the Journal of Animal Science
. Algae — hardy
Algae-based cattle feed
microorganisms that can grow in a variety of environments and laboratory settings — require less fertilizer, water, land, and herbicides than corn, and thus could prove to be an environmentally friendly alternative for livestock feed, researchers say. The materials used in the new study were remnants of algae grown and processed for other applications, such as cosmetics, cooking oil, and biofuels, and would otherwise have been burned as waste. The researchers found that even these pre-processed leftovers were able to provide the same amount of protein as corn, along with slightly more fat. Cattle in the study readily ate the algae at a variety of concentrations and maintained their body weight as well as corn-fed cattle. Researchers say the algal meal could be priced to compete with corn and could be on the market by 2016.
Interview: The High Environmental
Cost of Illicit Marijuana Cultivation
As some U.S. states move to legalize marijuana, one issue has been largely ignored in the policy debates: the serious
environmental effects of the marijuana industry. A new paper co-authored by ecologist Mary Power details many of those impacts by focusing on marijuana cultivation in California, where most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. is grown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Power describes how California growers siphon off scarce water resources, poison wildlife, and erode fragile soils. What’s needed, she contends, is legalization of marijuana at the federal level, which would likely drive down marijuana prices. “As long as there is a market that will pay enough to compensate for the brutally hard work they do to grow this stuff in forested mountains,” she says, “then it will keep growing.”
Read the interview.
15 Jul 2015:
'Buckyballs' May Be Able to
Capture Carbon Dioxide, Research Finds
Researchers have made progress toward using buckyballs — tiny, spherical chemical structures composed of 60 carbon molecules — to
Buckyball crystal structure
pull carbon from the atmosphere, a team from Rice University reports
in the journal Energy and Fuels
. They had previously found that buckyballs, also known as fullerene or carbon-60 molecules, have the ability to capture CO2 from high-temperature sources such as industrial flue gases and natural gas wells when combined with a polymer known as polyethyleneimine (PEI). In the new study, the researchers found that they could modify the PEI-enhanced buckyballs to capture carbon in lower-temperature environments. The advance may open the door to fine-tuning the enhanced buckyballs for a variety of carbon capture projects, the researchers say.
13 Jul 2015:
Australian Government Curbs
Investments in Wind and Solar Energy
The Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a government-funded organization that invests in renewable energy, will no
Rooftop solar panels in Western Australia
longer invest in wind technology and small-scale solar projects, the government announced Sunday
. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the CEFC should invest in new and emerging technologies, and that wind and small-scale solar projects
should instead be supported by the free market. Currently, one-third of CEFC funding, which totals roughly $10 billion, goes to solar projects, the majority of which are small-scale. The funding ban could increase prices for small-scale solar projects such as rooftop photovoltaic panel installations, especially for low-income households, renters, and public housing tenants. The ban on these investments is the latest in a series of actions by the Abbott government to make cuts in environmental initiatives, including two failed attempts to abolish the CEFC.
08 Jul 2015:
Mountaintop Removal Coal
Mining Has Slowed Significantly, Data Show
Coal production from mountaintop removal mines
in the U.S. has declined 62 percent since 2008 — a much steeper drop than the downward
trend in overall coal production, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
reports. Mountaintop removal (MTR) mines have recently been subjected to additional stringent regulations. For example, MTR operations planning to discard excess rock and soil in streams must now secure extra permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tennessee is considering banning some types of MTR mining altogether, and a federal stream protection rule expected to be proposed this summer could place additional limits on the practice. Lower demand for U.S. coal in general can be attributed to competitive natural gas prices, renewable energy growth, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, the EIA says.
02 Jul 2015:
Water Usage for Fracking
Has Increased Dramatically, Study Shows
Oil and natural gas fracking requires 28 times more water now than it did 15 years ago, according to a study
by the U.S.
Water use in fracking operations in the U.S.
Geological Survey. The increased water demand is attributed to the development of new, water-intensive technologies that target fossil fuels in complicated geological formations, the researchers say. The amount of water used varies greatly
with location, the study found. A fracking operation in southern Illinois, for example, can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time an oil or gas well is fracked. That figure jumps to more than 9 million gallons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and south and eastern Texas. Fracking is often concentrated in arid regions and could exacerbate existing water shortages, especially as water requirements for fracking continue to increase. Most of the water used for fracking is disposed deep underground, removing it from the water cycle.