Interview: A Scientist’s View
On How to Repair the Planet
For an environmental scientist who studies how humanity is pushing the earth close to potentially disastrous tipping points, Johan Rockström
of a new book, Big World, Small Planet
— is surprisingly optimistic. Although he reckons that our species has crossed four of nine “planetary boundaries,” including those on climate change and deforestation, he believes there is still time to pull back from the brink and create a sustainable future based on renewable energy and a “circular” economy that continually reuses resources. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Rockström describes how an alignment of science, technological advances, and a growing public hunger for action can get civilization back on track. “It’s not a journey where we are backing into the caves,” says Rockström. “It’s a journey of high technology ... and huge, multiple benefits.”
Read the interview.
17 Sep 2015:
Chaotic Illegal Timber Trade
Threatens Crucial Forests in Southeast Asia
A murky, illegal timber trade enabled by systemic corruption exists between China and Myanmar and is worth hundreds of millions of
Illegal log trucks in Kachin wait to cross into China.
dollars annually, making it one of the world's largest illegal timber schemes, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). At stake are some of the most ecologically important remaining forests in Southeast Asia, EIA says. The report documents how Chinese businesses pay in gold bars for the rights to log entire mountains and smuggle timber out of Myanmar's conflict-torn state of Kachin. The stolen timber, primarily high-value species of rosewood and teak, is increasingly being sourced from deeper within Myanmar to feed factories in south and east China. The trade appeared to have peaked in 2005, when 1.3 million cubic yards of logs crossed the border. A brief hiatus then occurred when Chinese authorities intervened, but the scale is once again nearing peak levels, the EIA says.
16 Sep 2015:
Unchecked Consumerism Causing
Record-Breaking Resource Use, Study Says
Consumption of critical global resources — from meat and coffee to fossil fuels and water — has peaked in recent years, accelerating
Cevahir shopping center in Istanbul, Turkey
climate change, pollution, and resource depletion to unsustainable levels, according to an analysis
by the Worldwatch Institute. The report tracked 24 global consumption trends and found many of them to be record-breaking. Meat production, for instance, has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years, leading to large-scale pressure on water, feeds, and grazing land. Aquaculture production has increased roughly 10 fold since 1984, and today farmed fish account for nearly half of all fish eaten. Global plastic production has also risen continuously over the past 50 years, while recycling rates remain very low. In the United States, for example, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012. “Untrammeled consumerism lies at the heart of many of these challenges,” said author Michael Renner.
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.
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.
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.”
Solar Decathlon: The Search for
The Best Carbon-Neutral House
What’s the latest in well-designed, energy-efficient solar homes? The U.S. Department of Energy has invited 15 teams from colleges across the country to design and build affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered houses for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. In addition to functioning as comfortable homes, the houses in the competition must produce at least as much energy as they consume. Here, e360
takes a look at some of this year's entries, which will be on display in Irvine, California, this October. These houses have been engineered to not only embrace energy efficiency and sustainable design, but also to meet the diverse needs of their future inhabitants, from food production to storm protection and disaster relief.
View the houses.
29 Jul 2015:
Global Population Projected to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, U.N. Estimates
The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100,
according to a United Nations report
released today. The revised U.N. estimates counter previous projections, which had said that global population would peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. Most growth will occur in developing regions, the new report says, especially Africa, which is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. India is expected to become the most populous country, surpassing China around 2022. Nigeria could surpass the United States by 2050, which would make it the third-largest country in the world, the United Nations projects.
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
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.
29 Jun 2015:
Rain Harvesting Could Provide
Major Economic Benefit in India, Study Finds
Collecting precipitation in rain barrels could result in significant savings for many people in India, according to
an analysis of
precipitation data collected by a NASA satellite. Estimates showed that harvested rain could provide at least 20 percent of average indoor water demand, or entirely irrigate a household vegetable garden. The savings associated with a vegetable garden could be between 2,500 and 4,500 rupees per year (39 to 71 U.S. dollars) — an amount equivalent to half a year’s rent in an average 1-bedroom apartment in an Indian city. In a country where the distribution of potable water is a challenge, rainwater is an untapped resource that could provide significant benefits, the researchers write in the Urban Water Journal
18 Jun 2015:
Pope Calls for Global Action on
Climate Change and Environmental Problems
Pope Francis released today
his highly anticipated encyclical, which is largely focused on halting climate change and
environmental degradation and emphasizes the importance of protecting impoverished communities from the worst effects. This is the first such letter from a leader of the Catholic Church to address environmental issues, analysts say. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political,” Pope Francis wrote. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Industrialized countries are responsible for most of the damage, he said, and are obligated to help developing nations cope with the looming crisis. Within the document, he delves deeply
into both climate science and economic development policies, and chides climate change skeptics for their "denial."
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
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.
Designed for the Future:
Practical Ideas for Sustainability
From packing materials made of mushrooms to buildings engineered to cool and power themselves, sustainable design can play a key role in helping people adapt to a changing planet. That’s a central message of the new book Designed for the Future
, in which more than 80 experts in sustainable design — architects, journalists, urban planners, and others — are asked to point to a specific project that gives them hope that a sustainable future is possible. Their selections vary widely, from communities that leave no carbon footprint to cutting-edge technological research programs. An e360
gallery highlights a few of the projects they say have inspired them.
View the gallery.
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
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.
04 May 2015:
First Nations and B.C. Set
North America's Largest Ocean Protections
The Canadian province of British Columbia and 18 coastal First Nations have released marine plans
to bring the northern
Area encompassed by protection plans.
Pacific Coast of British Columbia under ecosystem-based management, completing the largest ocean plan to date anywhere in North America. The ecosystem-based approach was designed to protect the marine environment while sustaining coastal communities whose culture and commerce depend on a healthy ocean, officials say. The area under the protection plans lies between Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of B.C. to Campbell River on Vancouver Island — a span of nearly 40,000 square miles, equivalent to a 200-mile-wide swath from San Francisco to San Diego. The plans were based on input from a variety of stakeholders — renewable energy developers, conservationists, aquaculture companies, small-boat fishermen, and traditional and local community members — and the best available science, officials say.
Interview: For Buddhist Leader,
Religion and Environment Are One
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual leader of a 900-year-old lineage of Buddhism, says his deep concern for environmental issues
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
stems from his boyhood living close to the land on the Tibetan plateau. Now, as His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, he is promoting a program that seeks to instill good environmental practices in Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan region. In an interview with Yale e360
, the Karmapa talks about how ecological awareness fits with the Buddhist concept of interdependence, why the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya are so significant, and what role religion can play in helping meet the world’s environmental challenges. “The environmental emergency that we face is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just a political issue,” he says. “It is also a moral issue.”
Read the interview.
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.
17 Feb 2015:
Demand for Indonesian Timber
Far Outpaces Sustainable Supply, Study Says
More than 30 percent of wood used by Indonesia’s industrial forest sector stems from illegal sources rather than
Deforestation in Aceh, Indonesia, for palm oil.
well-managed logging concessions or legal tree plantations, according to a new report
based on data from industry and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. If Indonesian forestry industries operated at capacity, 41 percent of the wood supply would be illegal, the analysis found, and if companies were to go forward with plans for new mills, the supply would be 59 percent illegal. The source of this illegal wood is unclear, but the report suggests it is likely harvested by clear-cutting natural forests for new oil palm and pulp plantations. Part of the problem, the report says, is that Indonesia's sanctioned forestry plantations — the country's primary source of legal wood — are not currently sustainable because they are producing wood at only half the predicted rate.
20 Jan 2015:
Genetic Diversity Is Key To
Food Stability in Changing Climate, UN Says
As climate change advances, much more should be done to study, preserve, and take advantage of the biological diversity
Wild red rice is hardier than cultivated varieties.
underpinning world food production, according to
a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Between 16 and 22 percent of current crop species — including 61 percent of peanut and 12 percent of potato species — could become extinct in the next 50 years, the report notes. Wild strains, which are often better at adapting to environmental changes, will become increasingly important
for feeding the global population, which is expected to grow by 3 billion people by 2050, the report says. Strengthening gene and seed banks, improving breeding practices, increasing genetic diversity on farms and in fields, and preserving soil microbiomes
will be key to boosting crops' climate resilience, the FAO said.
23 Dec 2014:
Madrid Announces Largest
Energy-Efficient Street Lighting Project
The city of Madrid has announced plans
to renew its entire street lighting system with 225,000 new energy-efficient
New energy-efficient street lighting in Madrid, Spain.
bulbs, the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date. The new lights, which will afford the city a 44-percent reduction in energy costs, will pay for themselves, according to Philips
, the company supplying the new system. In addition to drawing less overall power, the bulbs’ intensity will be controlled from a central command panel, resulting in less wasted energy. Of the 225,000 new lights, 84,000 will be locally manufactured LEDs, and the city is taking measures to ensure the safe recycling of heavy metals found in the old lamps. Similar, though smaller, projects have been undertaken in Argentina, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
08 Dec 2014:
Latin American and Caribbean
Nations Pledge Major Forest Restorations
Latin American and Caribbean countries yesterday launched Initiative 20x20
, an effort to begin restoring
Forest restoration commitments
20 million hectares of degraded land — an area larger than Uruguay — by 2020. The initiative has secured $365 million in funds, its leaders announced, which will be used to restore forests, avoid deforestation, and improve the use of trees and livestock in agriculture — practices known as agroforestry and silvopasture. This restoration is expected to provide extensive economic, social, and environmental benefits through improved local livelihoods and ecosystem services such as erosion prevention, water purification, and carbon storage, organizers say. Restoration commitments totaling just over 20 million hectares were announced yesterday, with Mexico and Peru making the largest pledges. The initiative was launched in Lima, Peru, alongside international climate talks.
03 Dec 2014:
Public Largely Unaware of Meat
And Dairy's Contribution to Climate Change
The general public has a major lack of understanding of how eating meat and dairy contributes to climate change,
Perceived vs. actual carbon emissions
according to a survey
of Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa by the market research organization Ipsos MORI. Although meat and dairy production accounts for roughly 15 percent of total global carbon emissions — equal to exhaust emissions from the international transportation sector — less than 30 percent of survey respondents identified meat and dairy production as a major contributor to climate change. More than twice as many — 64 percent — said transportation was a major contributor. Closing the awareness gap is essential for changing meat and dairy consumption patterns, researchers said, especially in developed nations such as the U.S. Although much of the projected increase in meat and dairy consumption will likely happen in emerging economies, respondents in Brazil, India, and China demonstrated greater consideration of climate change in their food choices and above-average willingness to modify their consumption — an encouraging sign, researchers said.
Five Questions for Gus Speth
On His Environmental Evolution
In a career that has spanned founding major environmental organizations, heading the United Nations
James "Gus" Speth
Development Programme, and serving as dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, James "Gus" Speth has seen his own ideas about environmental issues change dramatically over the years. Yale Environment 360
asked Speth five questions about his new memoir, Angels by the River
; his growing recognition of the global nature of environmental problems; and his dissatisfaction with the state of the environmental movement in the United States.
17 Nov 2014:
Old-Growth Forest in China
Shrinking Despite Protections, Study Says
China’s anti-logging, conservation, and ecotourism policies are actually accelerating the loss of old-growth forests
Deforestation in China's Yunnan Province.
in one of the country's most ecologically diverse regions, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation
. Researchers used satellite imagery and statistical analysis to evaluate forest conservation strategies in northwestern Yunnan Province, in southern China. The results show that a logging ban increased total forest cover but accelerated old-growth logging in ancient protected areas known as sacred forests. For centuries, sacred forests have effectively protected old-growth trees from clear-cutting, despite major upheavals in the region’s history. Recent environmental protection policies, however, have shifted management of these areas away from native communities to government agencies — apparently to the forests' detriment, the study shows.
Interview: Bringing Civility and Diversity to Conservation Debate
For the past few years, an acrimonious debate has been ranging between two camps of conservationists. One faction
advocates protecting nature for its intrinsic value. The other claims that if the degradation of the natural world is to be halted, nature’s fundamental value — what nature can do for us
— needs to be stressed. The tone of the rhetoric has led to a petition, published this month in the journal Nature
, that criticizes both sides for indulging in ad hominem attacks and unproductive arguments that have devolved into “increasingly vitriolic, personal battles.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains why she and her co-signatories are calling for a more “inclusive conservation” and why the bickering needs to stop. Read more.
Interview: Saving World’s Oceans Begins With Coastal Communities
Aggressively curbing overfishing, pollution, and development is something coastal communities
can do immediately to protect their ocean resources — and with dramatic results — says marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute
, an ocean conservation organization, Johnson recently put that approach to the test on the Caribbean island of Barbuda. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she discusses how she helped Barbuda craft rules to protect its ocean resources and why she favors community-driven conservation efforts over more top-down approaches.
Read the interview.
30 Sep 2014:
Half of the Planet's
Animals Lost Since 1970, Report Says
The number of animals on the planet has fallen 52 percent in the last 40 years, according to an analysis
Animal population trend since 1970
the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The group's Living Planet Index, which tracked the populations of more than 10,000 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2010, revealed major declines in key populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The situation is most dire in developing countries, the report said, where wildlife populations have fallen on average by 58 percent. Latin America saw the biggest declines, with more than 80 percent of the region's animals lost since 1970. Globally, freshwater populations have plummeted 76 percent. This year's numbers are worse than those calculated in the last report in 2012, which found declines of 30 percent since 1970. The organization attributed this to new statistical weighting, which it said better represents each region's biodiversity, though other researchers have been critical
of the new methodology. Habitat loss and degradation was cited as the primary cause of biodiversity loss.
24 Sep 2014:
Nations Announce Agreement
To End Forest Loss by 2030 at UN Summit
The U.S., Canada, and the European Union agreed at yesterday's UN climate summit to cut global
Deforestation for palm oil in Malaysian Borneo
deforestation in half by the end of the decade and eliminate net forest losses entirely by 2030, marking the first time such a deadline has been set. If the goal is met, it will cut carbon emissions by an amount equal to taking 1 billion vehicles — every car on the planet — off the road, the UN said
. Notably missing from the list of committed countries was Brazil, which has been a key player in Amazon deforestation, because of concerns that the pledge would clash with national laws permitting managed deforestation. Critics say ending deforestation is nearly impossible without Brazil's cooperation. In addition to the 32 national governments that signed onto the declaration, 35 corporations, including Kellogg's, L'Oreal, and Nestle, pledged to support sustainable forest practices in their supply chains.
19 Sep 2014:
Global Population on Track to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, Researchers Say
A new analysis of United Nations global population data finds an 80-percent probability that the number of
people in the world, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. Published in the journal Science
, the study counters the widely accepted projection that global population will peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. The new study instead finds a 70-percent likelihood that population will grow continuously throughout the century to reach 10.9 billion by 2100. Researchers attribute the higher projections, in part, to increasing fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth had been predicted to continue slowing. The Guardian
notes that many widely cited global policy assessments, such as recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assume a population peak by 2050.
17 Sep 2014:
Shift to Mass Transit Could
Have Major Economic and Climate Benefits
Expanding public transportation and infrastructure that promotes walking and biking throughout the world's
cities could save $100 trillion and cut transportation-related carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2050, according to
an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Urban transportation-related emissions could double by 2050 as growth continues in major cities in China, India, and other developing countries. But if China alone were to develop extensive bus rapid transit and commuter transit networks, its predicted transportation-related emissions in 2050 could be cut by 40 percent, the analysis found. The U.S. — currently the world's largest contributor to urban transportation-related emissions — is seeing declines in that sector as population growth slows, vehicle fuel efficiency improves, and people drive less. But those emissions cuts could accelerate sharply if urban mass transit were improved, the report said.