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.
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.
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.
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
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.
01 Oct 2015:
International Space Station
Gives Glimpse of China's Aquaculture Sector
A slew of grid-patterned fish farms line the coast of Liaoning Province in northeast China, as shown in this photograph
Aquaculture in China's Liaoning Province
an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. The aquaculture operations have been built out from the highly agricultural coast to a distance of roughly 4 miles. Liaoning Province ranks sixth in China in terms of aquaculture production, and this group of fish farms, which face the Yellow Sea, is the largest set constructed along the province's coastline. The fish farm basins are built on shallow seabeds, mudflats, and bays. Outer barriers protect the basins from winter storms and large waves generated by passing ships. Most aquaculture products are purchased live in China, with less than 5 percent being killed and processed for selling in local or foreign markets, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says. Shellfish, a traditional marine food source, still dominates China's marine production, according to the FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, accounting for 77 percent of the market.
30 Sep 2015:
New Agreement Yields Hope for
Saving World's Second-Largest Rainforest
In advance of the Paris climate talks, European and African countries announced
an initiative to stem the rising tide of forest destruction in Central Africa, one of the world’s last large expanses of rainforest. Norway is the first country to pledge funds to the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) — up to $47 million dollars per year through 2020 — to support the program. The agreement calls for the six participating Central African countries — Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo — to devise national investment plans that will tackle complex factors leading to deforestation, and it prioritizes long-term solutions over short-term, one-time actions. Central Africa is home to the world's second-largest tropical forest, but the region is increasingly under threat, mostly from small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture. Its preservation is key to global efforts to slow climate change, scientists say.
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.
25 Sep 2015:
‘Pop-up’ Wetlands Will
Help Millions of Migrating Birds This Fall
Birds migrating south from the Arctic this fall will have access to 7,000 new acres of temporary wetland habitat for their California
stopovers, according to
researchers with NASA, The Nature Conservancy, and other academic and conservation organizations. The BirdReturns program creates “pop-up habitats” — temporarily flooded rice fields — for some of the millions of sandpipers, plovers, and other shorebirds that migrate each year from their summer Arctic breeding grounds to winter homes in California, which is in the midst of a severe drought, Mexico, and Central and South America. By combining on-the-ground observations and NASA satellite data, researchers can identify areas where birds flocked during previous migrations. Matching the location and timing of the pop-up wetland habitats with the route and timing of migrating shorebirds is critical, researchers say.
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.
22 Sep 2015:
Antarctic Seafloor Life Is
Locking Away a Lot of Carbon, Study Says
The loss of sea ice over Antarctic waters has caused certain forms of life to flourish on the seafloor, and those underwater communities
An Antarctic icefish swimming over bryozoans
are acting as important and unexpected carbon sinks, according to research published in the journal Current Biology
. Based on studies of West Antarctic bryozoans — aquatic invertebrates sometimes referred to as "moss animals" — researchers have found that those and other seafloor organisms could play important roles in accumulating and burying carbon, removing it from the atmosphere for an extremely long time. The researchers calculate that growth of the bryozoans has nearly doubled over the past 20 years, with the animals taking in more than 200,000 tons of carbon per year since the 1980s. Accounting for other undersea species, the researchers suggest that roughly 3 million tons of carbon are sequestered each year, equivalent to nearly 200 square miles of tropical rainforest.
21 Sep 2015:
Rising Seas and More Intense
Storms Likely to Cause Major Flooding Spike
Rising seas and increasingly frequent and intense storms along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts could interact to produce alarming
Sea temperature increases along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts
spikes in the extent and duration of floods, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change
. The study projects that coastal flooding could possibly shoot up several hundred-fold by 2100, from the Northeast to Texas. Even the study's most conservative calculations, based on greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions over the next 85 years, suggest a 4- to 75-fold increase in the the combined heights and durations of expected floods. Over the past century, the East Coast has experienced sea level rise far beyond the 8-inch global average — up to a foot in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including New York City. Most projections call for a further 2- to 4-foot rise by 2100, and some estimates go as high as 6 feet. At the same time, other studies suggest that in the future the largest North Atlantic storms may become more intense because warmer waters contain more energy.
18 Sep 2015:
Genes of Greenlanders Preserve
Evidence of Ancient Arctic Adaptation
The DNA of modern-day Greenlanders shows how their Inuit forefathers adapted to the harsh Arctic environment they called home
80% of Greenlanders identify as Inuit.
for thousands of years, according to findings published in the journal Science
. The Arctic is an extreme environment, characterized by a cold climate and sparse vegetation. The typical diet of Greenlanders — and their ancient ancestors — is made up primarily of proteins and fats from fish and marine mammals, and carbohydrate and vegetable consumption is minimal. By collecting genetic information from 4,500 modern Greenlanders, researchers determined which genes have changed the most over the roughly 20,000 years since Greenlanders' most ancient Inuit ancestors separated from their nearest East Asian relatives, the Han Chinese. The genetic changes the researchers identified show that through natural selection the Greenlandic Inuit's genetic makeup evolved in a way that enabled them to efficiently metabolize the fatty acids from fish and to live with few carbohydrates and vegetables.
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.
15 Sep 2015:
Chinese Municipal Leaders
Pledge an Early Peak of CO2 Emissions
Leaders of 11 Chinese cities and provinces, including Beijing and the major industrial center of Guangzhou, are announcing that their carbon emissions will peak earlier
than the national target of an emissions peak by 2030. The cities will make their announcement today at a meeting of global municipal and regional leaders who are dedicated to reducing CO2 emissions. Beijing and Guangzhou are pledging that their CO2 emissions will peak by 2020. The 11 cities and regions are part of the Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities, a group of Chinese local and regional governments that represent one-quarter of China’s urban carbon emissions. The low-carbon cities meeting is being held in Los Angeles, which is collaborating with a wide range of U.S. cities
— including New York, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, DC — to reduce CO2 emissions.
Forum: What the Pope Should
Say in His Upcoming UN Address
In his June encyclical, Pope Francis issued a call for robust individual action and a sweeping transformation of global economic and
political systems to deal with the dual threats of climate change and environmental degradation. On Sept. 25, he will bring aspects of that message to the United Nations. Yale Environment 360
asked leading thinkers on the environment and religion what they would like the pope to say before the U.N. While many said the pope’s encyclical was a potentially transformative moment for stewardship of the planet, others would like Pope Francis to speak out about issues he overlooked or dismissed, including the role of population growth in environmental problems and the vital part that the private sector must play in combating global warming.
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.
11 Sep 2015:
Flooding Fields in Winter May
Help California Water Woes, Study Suggests
Deliberately flooding California farmland in winter could replenish aquifers without harming crops or affecting drinking water, according to
This flooded alfalfa field is part of the study.
from a study by University of California, Davis, researchers. Winter months, when crops are dormant, typically see more precipitation than summer months, when crops are actively growing and farmers rely on groundwater reserves for irrigation. Several water districts have attempted to sequester excess surface water during storms and floods by diverting it into infiltration basins — confined areas of sandy soil — but those basins are scarce. Instead, researchers suggest that some some 3.6 million acres of farmland could serve a similar purpose — particularly fields of wine grapes, almonds, peaches, and plums — because those lands allow deep percolation with little risk to crops or groundwater quality.
10 Sep 2015:
Developing Nations Take Lead In
Cutting Forestry and Agriculture Emissions
Countries with the most potential to slash emissions from agriculture and forestry are skimping on climate commitments, while some developing countries are making the boldest and most detailed pledges for cutting land-use-related emissions. That is the conclusion of a new analysis
of climate pledges from China, Canada, Ethiopia, and Morocco by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Major opportunities to cut forestry and farming emissions exist for Canada and, especially, China, the report says. For example, UCS recently found that China could cut CO2 emissions by 1.2 gigatons per year by 2020, but its climate pledge fails to indicate how the country would do that. Canada’s climate pledge is also vague and unambitious, the report says. In contrast, Ethiopia and Morocco have released detailed and ambitious pledges, especially regarding agricultural emissions. An earlier UCS analysis also found that Mexico’s land-use-related climate pledges exceed those from the European Union and the United States.
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.
08 Sep 2015:
NASA Facilities at Risk
From Projected Sea Level Increases
Many of NASA’s key sites for launching spacecraft and carrying out research will be threatened by even moderate increases in sea level
Sea level rise near Johnson Space Center
the U.S. space agency reports. NASA says that half to two-thirds of its laboratories, launch pads, airfields, testing facilities, data centers and other infrastructure are situated at less than 16 feet (5 meters) above sea level. The agency released a handful of maps showing how even a one-foot rise in sea level would impact the operations of major sites such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Johnson Space Center in Texas, and the Langley Research Center in Virginia. Conservative projections say global sea level could increase by 5 inches by 2050, and numerous experts on climate change and sea level rise say that the world’s oceans could rise by 3 to 6 feet this century if emissions are not brought under control.
04 Sep 2015:
Maya Permanently Altered Land
To Respond to Climate Change, Study Says
Mayan activity more than 2,000 years ago contributed to the decline of Central America's tropical lowlands and continues to influence the land and environment today, say researchers at the University of Texas at Austin
. Evidence shows that during the "Mayacene" — a period from 3,000 to 1,000 years ago when humans began greatly affecting the environment — the Maya's advanced urban and rural infrastructure altered tropical forest ecosystems. Clay and soil sequences indicate erosion and land-use changes, and sediments near wetlands reveal chemical signatures of agriculture, says the study, which was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews
. The researchers say features such as constructed wetlands, vast field systems, and terraces show that the Maya managed land and water to adapt to climate change and rising sea levels. "Though it has no doubt accelerated in the last century, humans' impact on the environment has been going on a lot longer," said lead researcher Tim Beach.
03 Sep 2015:
Tropical Tree Cover Loss
Accelerated in 2014, Satellite Analysis Finds
More than 45 million acres of trees were cut down last year — an area twice the size of Portugal — according to an analysis
by the University of Maryland and Google. Tropical nations lost more than half of that total — nearly 25 million acres of tree cover, an area roughly the size of South Korea. Brazil and Indonesia, the two countries most often associated with deforestation, had been making gains toward stemming the problem, but 2014 saw an uptick in tree cover loss in both countries. The situation is especially concerning in Cambodia, where deforestation is accelerating faster than anywhere else in the world due to the development of rubber plantations. Last year Cambodia lost three times more tree cover than in 2001, the analysis found.
In Booming Aquaculture Industry,
A Move to Plant-Based Food for Fish
As the aquaculture industry continues to rapidly expand, with production more than doubling in the past 15 years, fishing pressure
A worker feeds trout.
has grown on the anchovies, sardines, and other species used to make feeds for farmed fish. Now, however, researchers are rapidly developing nutritious plant-based food that can put the aquaculture sector on a more sustainable path. Using protein-rich legumes such as soybeans and combining them with various oil-rich supplements, scientists say they are steadily moving toward all-vegetarian diets for aquaculture fish. “I was told by many [people] that fish require fishmeal because that’s what they eat in the natural world,” says one leading researcher. “But that’s just wrong.”
02 Sep 2015:
Alaskan Wind Power Capacity
Increased 20 Fold since 2007, Report Says
Alaska’s wind power capacity increased 20 fold between 2007 and 2014, from 3 megawatts to 60 megawatts, according to an
Pillar Mountain wind farm on Alaska's Kodiak Island
by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state, which is known for its vast oil reserves, increased wind power capacity with a blend of utility-scale and distributed, or small-scale, projects. The marked increase is especially notable because Alaska's immense area and sparse population make expanding the grid and adapting it to renewables costly, and the rugged terrain poses unique challenges for installing utility-scale wind farms. In the most remote areas, the cost of building transmission lines is prohibitively high, and in those regions, small-scale and household wind projects bring renewable energy to consumers who once relied on diesel generators. But despite wind power's strong growth, Alaska drew only 3 percent of its energy from wind in 2014.
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.
31 Aug 2015:
Researchers Develop Artificial
Leaf That Efficiently Mimics Photosynthesis
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed an artificial leaf that can produce hydrogen fuel through
Artificial leaf device
a process similar to photosynthesis, according to findings
published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science
. The system is the first complete, efficient, and safe solar-driven device for splitting water to create hydrogen fuels, say the researchers, who have been seeking a cost-effective method for producing energy using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The new system consists of two electrodes that produce oxygen and hydrogen gases, along with a specialized membrane that keeps the gases separate to prevent the possibility of an explosion. The artificial leaf converts 10 percent of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fuel and can operate for more than 40 hours continuously, the study says.