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North America


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.
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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.
Eben Paxton

Eben Paxton
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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."
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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.
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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
Suzanne Simard

Suzanne Simard
– 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.
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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

Flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council (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.
Read more.
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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."
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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.”
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. The report 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.
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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.
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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.
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03 Aug 2016: Roughly 2 Percent of U.S. Homes
At Risk from Sea Level Rise, Report Finds

Almost 1.9 million homes in the U.S. — roughly 2 percent of the nation’s housing stock, worth $882 billion — could be underwater by 2100 with six feet of sea level rise,

Boston homes at risk of flooding.
according to a new report by Zillow, an online real estate database. One in eight Florida homes, representing $413 billion in property value, could flood by the end of the century. In Hawaii, one in 10 homes are at risk and in New Jersey, one in 13. The new analysis is based on climate projections and mapping from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as Zillow’s database of 100 million U.S. properties. It found coastal cities, such as Miami and Honolulu, are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. More than 1 in 6 Boston homes could be underwater by 2100. These estimates don’t include commercial buildings or government properties.
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25 Jul 2016: Global Economy Has Reduced
Its Energy Intensity By One-Third Since 1990

The global economy is becoming less energy intensive, using fewer fossil fuels to power productivity and economic growth, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rooftop solar panels
Global energy intensity — a measure of energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) — has decreased nearly one-third since 1990, the agency said. The U.S., for example, burned 5,900 British thermal units per dollar of GDP in 2015, compared to 6,600 BTUs in 2010. China burned 7,200 BTUs per dollar in 2015 versus 8,300 BTUs in 2010. The Department of Energy says the decrease is the result of the growth in low-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar, and improved energy efficiency. “This is excellent news,” Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann told Climate Central. “The dramatic drop we are seeing in global energy intensity is a direct indication that energy efficiency measures are having a very direct impact on global carbon emissions.”
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22 Jul 2016: Ford is Developing Car Parts
Made Out of Captured Carbon Dioxide

Ford Motor Company is developing car parts made out of captured CO2 to help reduce the environmental footprint of their vehicles. The automaker is working with Novomer, a Massachusetts-based chemistry company, to convert CO2 emissions from sources like power plants into foams and plastics for use in everything from headrests, seat cushions, and instrument panels, according to The Washington Post. Most foams and plastics in Ford cars today are made out of petroleum, the Post reported, meaning that not only do the cars use fossil fuels as they drive, but also in their construction. So far, Novomer has been able to replace about half of the petroleum in foam with CO2-based materials — at least in the lab. It could be years before the technology finds its way into commercially available Ford vehicles. The company claims to be the first automaker developing CO2-based car parts.
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20 Jul 2016: Global Temperatures Continue
To Shatter Heat and Arctic Ice Records

June marked the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat, with global temperatures measuring 1.62 degrees F above the 20th-century average, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week.

Global 2016 temperatures.
The first half of 2016 was 1.89 degrees F above last century’s average, breaking the previous January-June record set in 2015 of 0.36 degrees F above average. “2016 has really blown [2015] out of the water,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told reporters. Five of the first six months of this year have also set records for the smallest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists said the recent record-breaking heat could be partly attributed to last year’s strong El Nino, but not entirely. “While the El Niño event… this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” Schmidt said.
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At Ground Zero for Rising Seas,
A TV Weatherman Talks Climate

John Morales is part of a new breed of TV weather forecasters seeking to educate viewers on climate change and the threat it poses.
John Morales

John Morales
In South Florida, where porous limestone geology and sea level rise are already causing periodic flooding, he has a rapt audience. The chief meteorologist of the NBC affiliate station in Miami, Morales uses his broadcasts and Twitter feed to tie weather trends in South Florida to the broader influences of climate change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Morales discusses a heartening shift away from climate change skepticism among the nation’s television weather forecasters, the positive public reaction to his discussion of climate change, and the daunting threats facing the Miami area, ranked as one of the regions in the world most vulnerable to sea level rise.
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

13 Jul 2016: Six Years After BP Spill,
Remaining Oil More Toxic Than Ever To Fish

Six years after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig spilled nearly three million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists have found that ultraviolet light

Juvenile mahi-mahi.
is transforming the remaining oil into a more toxic substance that hinders the development of heart, eye, and brain function in fish. The research, led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami, exposed embryos and larvae of mahi-mahi from the Gulf of Mexico to what they called weathered (exposed to years of sunlight) and un-weathered oil (taken from the drilling site) from the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. Compared to fish exposed to un-weathered oil, the fish exposed to the weathered oil experienced impaired eye and neurological function, reduced heart rates, and a buildup of excess fluid in the heart.
PERMALINK

 

12 Jul 2016: Climate Change Has Shifted
The World’s Cloud Cover Over Past 30 Years

Warming global temperatures have altered the distribution of clouds across the Earth in recent decades, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

Global cloud cover.
Mid-latitude storm clouds have shifted polewards, dry subtropical zones have expanded in size, and the tops of clouds have gotten higher as a result of a warmer troposphere and cooler stratosphere, according to the study, which relied on satellite images taken between 1983 and 2009. Researchers said these shifts in cloud cover could further exacerbate climate change. As cloud systems shift toward the poles, where there’s less solar radiation, more sunlight will reach the Earth’s surface near the equator, boosting temperatures. Also, taller, thicker clouds trap more heat. “We now have a thicker blanket, which is also a warming effect,” said Joel Norris, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego who helped lead the study.
PERMALINK

 

11 Jul 2016: Tax Credits Double Projections
Of Solar Growth in One U.S. Market

A new market report estimates that U.S. rooftop solar in the Mid-Atlantic region will likely increase exponentially over the next five years thanks to extended federal tax credits. The Business Energy Investment Tax Credit that Congress unexpectedly renewed last December gives homeowners and developers 30 percent back on solar panel installations and other renewable energy investments through 2019. The program could help solar installation growth in the Mid-Atlantic reach over 9,000 megawatts by 2021, doubling previous projections, according to the report, which was conducted by market research firm CreditSights. Such a jump would alleviate the need for U.S. power companies to subsidize electric needs with nuclear, natural gas, or coal during peak energy consumption periods. “If rooftop solar grows more than 30 percent, there’s no reason we couldn’t see electricity demand growth go negative in the coming years,” Greg Jones, a New York-based analyst with CreditSights, told Bloomberg News.
PERMALINK

 

07 Jul 2016: California’s Redwood Trees
Are Best in the World at Storing CO2

California’s ancient redwood trees store more carbon dioxide per acre than any other forest in the world, including tropical rain forests like the Amazon, according to new research published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

California redwood trees.
The findings are the result of a seven-year study by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington. Redwoods store 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare (2.4 acres), more than double the absorption rate of the Pacific Northwest’s conifer trees or Australia’s eucalyptus forests, the study found. The main reason redwoods surpass all others in CO2 storage is their longevity, the scientists said. "The story of carbon is huge," Robert Van Pelt, a scientist at Humboldt State University and co-author of the research, told The Mercury News. "The carbon part of a redwood may be more important than the lumber part in the coming decades."
PERMALINK

 

29 Jun 2016: U.S. Solar Energy Market
Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom

Thanks to a renewal of federal tax credits and a continuing steep drop in the price of photovoltaic panels, U.S. solar energy production is surging to record highs. New market reports show that the U.S. solar industry is expected to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016, nearly double the record 7.5 gigawatts installed last year. (Less than 1 gigawatt of solar power was installed in 2010.) Revenues from solar installations increased 21 percent from 2014 to 2015, surpassing $22 billion. In terms of megawatts of electricity produced, new solar installations are expected in 2016 to surpass all other new sources, including natural gas-fired power plants. The extension of a 30-percent federal tax credit and a sharp drop in prices — the wholesale price of solar panels has fallen from $4 per watt in 2008 to $0.65 per watt today — are contributing to the boom. U.S.-based Solar World is building a giant solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York that is expected to employ 3,500 people.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jun 2016: U.S., Canada, and Mexico to
Set 50 Percent Renewable Power Goal by 2025

The United States, Canada, and Mexico will pledge on Wednesday to generate 50 percent of their electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025, according to U.S. officials. The three nations are expected to set the ambitious goal at a North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa. The commitment includes not just renewable sources of power such as energy and wind, but also hydropower, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, and gains in energy efficiency. Under that definition, the three nations now produce 37 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Canada is leading the way in non-fossil fuel power generation, with 59 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear plants. Continent-wide cooperation on clean energy issues has improved since the election last year of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s Prime Minister.
PERMALINK

 

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