e360 digest
Pollution & Health


Interview: Rallying Hip Hop For
A More Inclusive Climate Fight

For the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., hip hop may be the key to bringing together the movements for social and environmental justice.
Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.
Yearwood is head of the Hip Hop Caucus, an advocacy organization seeking to unite hip hop artists and celebrities with climate activists, with the goal of fighting for climate justice. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Yearwood describes how the environmental, climate, and social justice movements are linked — poverty and pollution, he says, “are the same thing.” He extols Pope Francis’ emphasis on the vulnerability of the poor to pollution and climate change and insists that the climate movement must become far more inclusive. “The movement — to win — has to be everybody: black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, straight, gay, theist, atheist,” says Yearwood. “We have to build a more diverse and inclusive movement. If we don’t do that, it’s game over. We lose.”
Read the interview.
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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.
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06 Oct 2015: Styrofoam May Be Biodegradable
After All, Thanks to Mealworms, Study Says

Mealworms can survive on a diet of polystyrene plastics — commonly used to make Styrofoam — according to research published in

Mealworms devouring Styrofoam
the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The findings point toward a possible solution for dealing with one of the most-polluting forms of plastic. In the study, 100 mealworms consumed between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam per day. These worms were as healthy as those fed a normal diet, the researchers report, and excreted biodegraded Styrofoam fragments that were usable as agricultural soil. While studies have found that other organisms, including waxworms and Indian mealmoth larvae, are able to digest plastics such as polyethylene, this is the first organism able to digest Styrofoam, which is generally considered non-biodegradable. The discovery could aid in better understanding of the conditions and enzymes that contribute to plastic degradation.
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02 Oct 2015: Brown Carbon Plays Larger Role
In Climate Than Assumed, Study Says

Climate models are underestimating the effects of so-called brown carbon from sources such as forest fires because the models

Wood-burning stove
do not account for regional factors — such as areas where wood-burning stoves are common — when estimating brown carbon's climate-warming impacts. Black carbon, primarily from urban combustion sources like vehicles and factories, absorbs the most sunlight, the researchers explain, and it's well-accounted for in climate models. However, most models don't properly account for brown carbon, the researchers say. Brown carbon "can be a significant absorber of sunlight, making it as bad for climate warming as black carbon," said co-author Manvendra Dubey of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The study, published this week in Nature Communications, stresses the differing effects of black and brown carbon on the climate: Solid wood combustion, a source of brown carbon soot, is pervasive during United Kingdom winters, but very uncommon in other study locations, such as Los Angeles, which generally sees more black carbon soot from vehicles.
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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.
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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.
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09 Sep 2015: Natural Gas Pipeline Updates
Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Leaks by 90 Percent

Pipeline replacement programs in cities can cut natural gas leaks by 90 percent, curbing the release of the powerful greenhouse gas

Detecting natural gas leaks in Times Square, NYC.
methane and boosting public safety, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Researchers drove cars equipped with sensitive methane-mapping instruments through thousands of miles of city streets in Manhattan, Boston, Cincinnati, Durham, and Washington, D.C. They discovered that Durham and Cincinnati, where public-private partnerships have replaced outdated pipelines, have 90 percent fewer gas leaks per mile than Manhattan, Boston, and Washington, D.C., where hundreds of miles of corroded natural gas pipes date back to the 1800s. Researchers estimate that, in the U.S. alone, $2 billion worth of natural gas was lost to leaks last year.
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01 Sep 2015: European Project Recruits
Smartphone Users to Collect Pollution Data

A European project that begins today asks smartphone users to collect data on air pollution in major cities across the

Smartphone with the iSpex accessory
continent. In the iSpex-EU project, volunteers will use a free accessory attached to their smartphones to capture the spectrum of sunlight reaching their phones. Using those readings, scientists can determine levels of fine particles and aerosols in the atmosphere. Once enough data has been collected, the researchers plan to create maps showing where ground-level air pollution poses the highest risks. A recent study from King’s College in London estimated that, in London alone, roughly 9,500 premature deaths each year are linked to high levels of air pollution. After smoking, air pollution is the second-largest public health challenge in the region, researchers say.
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14 Aug 2015: Climate Impact of Wasted Meat
Much Larger Than Other Foods, Study Finds

Researchers analyzing food waste at university cafeterias found that, although discarded meats accounted for less waste than fruits and vegetables, they made up the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste. After monitoring four all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities at the University of Missouri, the researchers found that grain products were thrown away most often, followed by fruits, vegetables, beef, and poultry. Diners wasted roughly twice as much bread and cereal by weight than they did meat and eggs; but because protein production is very carbon-intensive, the carbon footprint of wasted meat and eggs was about three times larger than that of all other wasted foods combined. Overall, 16 percent of the cafeterias' food was wasted, leading to roughly 67 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Of those emissions, discarded beef alone accounted for slightly more than half, the analysis found.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2015: Dangerously Hot and Humid
Days Soon Will Become Regular Occurrences

Climate change will make "danger days" — periods when temperature and humidity push the heat index to 105 degrees F or

View interactive map

'Danger days' by city
higher — much more common over the next 15 years, according to a Climate Central analysis. Looking at 144 U.S. cities, the team determined that only 12 cities have averaged more than one dangerously hot and humid day per year since 1950. By 2030, though, 85 cities — home to nearly one-third of the U.S. population — will likely experience at least 20 danger days each year. That's a dramatic and fast-approaching change from current conditions, the analysts note. Houston, for example, saw only three danger days between 2000 and 2010, but it should expect 102 danger days each year by 2050. The most dramatic increases will be seen in the South, the analysis found. Charleston, West Virginia, is expected to become the most dangerously hot and humid city in the country, experiencing 168 danger days per year by mid-century.
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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
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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
synthetic coral mercury

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.
PERMALINK

 

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 cattle feed

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.
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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
Mary Power
Mary Power
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.
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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

Watch Video
Leveling Appalachia video

Watch the e360 video Leveling Appalachia
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.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How an Indian Politician
Became an Environmental Hawk

Jairam Ramesh was a self-described “economic hawk” when he became India’s environment minister in 2009, figuring that the
Jairam Ramesh
Jairam Ramesh
country’s ecological problems could wait as India lifted its people out of poverty. But by the time he left his post in 2011, he had become an environmental hawk after witnessing how India’s rapidly expanding economy and soaring population had caused widespread pollution and destruction of the environment. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Ramesh — an economist, parliament member, and author of a new book — talks about why a “grow-now, pay-later” philosophy is unsuitable for India and discusses his own brand of GDP, which he calls Green Domestic Product. “In the mad rush to economic growth ... we are destroying foundations of ecological security,” he says.
Read the interview.
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24 Jun 2015: Global Fine Particle Pollution
On the Rise Despite Regional Improvements

Air pollution from fine particulate matter has decreased significantly in North America and western Europe over the

Enlarge
fine particulate air pollution

Fine particulate air pollution levels, 2010-2012
past two decades, but increases in East and South Asia have more than made up for those improvements, as these maps based on NASA satellite data show. The U.S. and Europe have many PM 2.5 ground-based monitoring stations, but large swaths of Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America are unmonitored. To fill these gaps, researchers have been developing techniques that use satellite data to better estimate PM 2.5 levels around the globe. They've found that, as a whole, the worsening PM 2.5 pollution in Asia outweighed improvements in North America and Europe, and global PM 2.5 concentrations have increased by 2.1 percent per year since 1998.
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15 Jun 2015: Biodiversity Limits Parasites
In Humans, Wildlife, and Plants, Study Says

High biodiversity generally limits outbreaks of disease among humans and wildlife, University of South Florida researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new research is the first to quantitatively support the controversial "dilution effect hypothesis," which warns that human-driven biodiversity losses can exacerbate parasite outbreaks. Much of the debate surrounding this idea concerns whether it applies generally or only to a few select parasites. After reviewing more than 200 published scientific assessments, the USF team found "overwhelming" evidence that the dilution effect applies broadly to many parasitic species in humans and wildlife. They also found that plant biodiversity reduces the abundance of herbivore pests. The results have implications for public health efforts, the researchers say, and make a case for better management of forests, croplands, and other ecosystems.
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Interview: At Sierra Club, New Face
At Helm of Oldest U.S. Green Group

The Sierra Club made history last month when it elected Aaron Mair as its president, the first African-American to lead
Aaron Mair
Aaron Mair
the largest and oldest U.S. environmental organization. Mair rose through the group’s volunteer ranks after leading a 10-year battle to close a solid-waste incinerator that was polluting his predominately black neighborhood in Albany, New York. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mair discusses why it’s time to end a “Victorian-era model of environmentalism” that is “only worthy of the white and the privileged” and talks about why he believes increasing minority participation in green groups is more critical than ever. “If we want to save the planet, if we want to deal with climate change,” says Mair, “we have to engage all of America.”
Read the interview.
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02 Jun 2015: Pollution From Carbon Monoxide
Has Fallen Steadily Since 2000, Data Show

As these NASA satellite maps show, carbon monoxide levels have decreased appreciably in much of the world since 2000, thanks to

Enlarge
carbon monoxide levels

Global carbon monoxide levels as of 2014
improved pollution controls on vehicles and factories and fewer forest fires. Carbon monoxide, which is produced whenever carbon-based fuels are burned, contributes to the formation of ozone, a pollutant that can have adverse health effects. A NASA satellite carrying a sensor called MOPITT — Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere — measures carbon monoxide levels. Higher concentrations of CO are depicted on the map in orange and red and lower concentrations in yellow. NASA said that the decrease in CO levels from 2000 to 2014 was particularly noticeable in the northern hemisphere thanks to technological and regulatory innovations that have led to lower pollution levels from vehicles and industry. Carbon monoxide levels also have decreased in the southern hemisphere since 2000, due largely to a reduction in deforestation fires.
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29 May 2015: Ozone Benefits of Montreal
Protocol Already Widespread, Study Says

The planet's protective ozone layer is in far better shape today thanks to the United Nations' Montreal Protocol, which came

Enlarge
ozone hole without Montreal Protocol

Ozone hole without the Montreal Protocol
into force in 1987 and restricted the use of ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs, according to a new study in Nature Communications. The researchers used 3D atmospheric chemistry modeling to look at what might have happened to the ozone layer had the treaty not been implemented. The findings suggest that the Antarctic ozone hole would have grown by an additional 40 percent by 2013 and, had ozone-depleting substances continued to increase, the ozone layer would have become significantly thinner over other parts of the globe. A very large ozone hole over the Arctic would have occurred during the exceptionally cold Arctic winter of 2010-2011 — colder temperatures cause more loss — and smaller Arctic ozone holes would have become a regular occurrence.
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A Remarkable Recovery for
The Oysters of Chesapeake Bay

In the past century, more than 90 percent of the world’s oyster beds have been lost to pollution, overharvesting, disease, and
Chesapeake Bay oysters

Wild oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay
coastal development. The renowned oysters of the Chesapeake Bay experienced a similar decline, with production nearly disappearing a decade ago. Now, however, Chesapeake Bay oysters are undergoing a remarkable recovery thanks to a brilliant oyster geneticist, improved state and federal management, the expansion of private hatchery operations, the cleanup of the bay, and some help in the form of average rain years and excellent reproductive oyster classes.
Read more.
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13 May 2015: Car Travel Is Six Times
More Expensive Than Bicycling, Study Finds

Traveling by car costs society and individuals six times more than traveling by bicycle, according to a study of
bicycles in Copenhagen

Bicycles parked in downtown Copenhagen
transportation trends in Copenhagen, one of the planet's most heavily bicycled cities. The analysis considered how much cars cost society and how they compare to bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, public health, and congestion in Copenhagen. If the costs to society and the costs to private individuals are added together, the study found, the economic impact of a car is 0.50 euros per kilometer, whereas the cost of a bicycle is 0.08 euros per kilometer. Looking only at costs and benefits to society, one kilometer by car costs 0.15 euros, whereas society earns 0.16 euros on every kilometer cycled because of improvements in the public's health.
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11 May 2015: Research Charts Increase
In Algal Blooms in the Chesapeake Bay

Algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay became increasingly frequent from 1991 to 2008, according to new research from

Enlarge
Chesapeake Bay algal bloom

An algal bloom in the Chesapeake Bay in 2007
the University of Maryland. Driven by runoff containing excess nitrogen and other nutrients, algal blooms can severely deplete oxygen levels and release significant amounts of toxins in the water, killing fish and altering food webs. Harmful algal blooms have long been plaguing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but water quality data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources show that the events roughly doubled in the 1991-2008 period. Major blooms of one type of microscopic algae, Kalrodinium veneficum, increased from fewer than five per year in 2003 to more than 30 per year in 2008. That type of bloom produces a toxin implicated in fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay and with oyster spawning and development problems.
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07 May 2015: Ethanol Refineries May Emit More
Smog-Forming Compounds Than Expected

Refineries that produce ethanol fuel may be releasing much larger amounts of smog-forming compounds than researchers and government agencies had suspected, according to a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. Airborne measurements downwind from an ethanol refinery in Illinois show that, compared to government estimates, ethanol emissions are 30 times higher and emissions of all volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include ethanol, are five times higher. Producing one kilogram of the fuel at the Illinois refinery emits 170 times more ethanol than what comes out of a vehicle burning the same amount, the study says. Along with nitrogen oxides, VOCs can react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Renewable fuel standards mandate that gasoline burned in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol — an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum imports while boosting the renewable fuels sector.
PERMALINK

 

05 May 2015: Pollen May Play Surprising
Role in Climate and Cloud Formation

Grains of pollen may be seeding clouds and affecting the planet's climate in unexpected ways, University of Michigan researchers
pollen grains

Grains of pollen can break into even smaller particles.
write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists had assumed that pollen particles were too large to remain in the atmosphere long enough to interact with the sun's radiation or trigger cloud formation. The study found, however, that pollen grains are capable of disintegrating into much smaller particles and that exposure to humidity can accelerate pollen's breakdown. Using a cloud-making laboratory chamber, the researchers showed that six common types of pollen — ragweed and oak, pecan, birch, cedar, and pine trees — could break into particles small enough to draw moisture and form clouds. "What happens in clouds is one of the big uncertainties in climate models right now," author Allison Steiner said.
PERMALINK

 

20 Apr 2015: Record Amount of E-Waste
Generated Globally in 2014, Report Finds

A record amount of electronic waste was discarded in 2014, with a total of 41.8 million tons of personal electronics and household
e-waste

2014 saw a record amount of e-waste.
appliances hitting landfills worldwide, a new report from the United Nations University found. The highest per-capita totals of so-called "e-waste" came from Scandinavian and European countries — Norway topped the list, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark — and China and the U.S. were responsible for the largest volumes overall. Nearly 60 percent of e-waste by weight came from electronic components and wiring in large and small kitchen, bathroom, and laundry appliances, and 7 percent was discarded mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, and printers, the report said. It also found that less than one-sixth of all discarded electronics were properly recycled, and an estimated $52 billion in gold, copper, silver, and recoverable materials went to waste.
PERMALINK

 

15 Apr 2015: Entries Invited for e360
Contest For Best Environmental Videos

The second annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, two runners-up will each receive $500, and all winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker writer and e360 contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. The deadline for entries is June 15, 2015.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

08 Apr 2015: Clay Shows Promise in
Capturing CO2 from Power Plants

Common clay can be just as effective as more advanced materials in capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, according to research by Norwegian and Slovak scientists. One particular type of clay mineral, known as smectite, was especially effective in absorbing CO2 emissions, the researchers said in the journal Scientific Reports. One possible use for clay would be to incorporate it into filters or scrubbers in smokestacks at power plants, the scientists said. They said their research into clay’s CO2-absorbing capabilities is preliminary and would not be available for commercial use anytime soon. But the scientists said clay offers many benefits compared to some other expensive and potentially toxic CO2-scrubbing materials.
PERMALINK

 

31 Mar 2015: Major Wildlife Impacts
Still Felt 5 Years After Gulf Oil Spill

Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico continue to die at unprecedented rates, endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are experiencing diminished nesting success, and many species of fish are suffering from abnormal development among some juveniles after exposure to oil. Those are the conclusions of a new study from the National Wildlife Federation, released three weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which began on April 20, 2010. The study also said that populations of brown pelicans and laughing gulls have declined by 12 and 32 percent respectively, and that oil and dispersant compounds have been found in the eggs of white pelicans nesting in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The National Wildlife Federation said that the oil giant, BP, must be held fully accountable for the environmental damage and that fines and penalties should be used to restore habitats in the Gulf. Meanwhile, in advance of the spill’s fifth anniversary, BP is stepping up its public relations efforts to assure consumers that life is returning to normal in the Gulf.
PERMALINK

 

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