e360 digest


18 Dec 2013: Mapping Course and Software
Make Forest Monitoring Widely Accessible

Citizen scientists interested in tracking the health of the planet's forests have a new tool at their disposal. New software that uses satellite technology to map and

Watch Video
Forest mapping video

A video explains the mapping software.
monitor changes in forested areas is being made available to the public through a free online course. Users who complete the course, hosted by Stanford University, can receive a license to operate the software, called CLASlite. CLASlite, or the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System lite, is a highly automated system for converting satellite imagery from its original, raw format into maps that can be used to detect deforestation, logging, and other disruptions. It was developed by Carnegie researcher Greg Asner to help governments, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions conduct high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests. "We are making the science of forest monitoring broadly available to people who want and need to participate in tracking and managing the health of their forests," said Asner.
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Photo Essay: Documenting the Swift
Change Wrought by Global Warming


Documenting global warming photo essay
Peter Essick

For 25 years, photographer Peter Essick has traveled the world for National Geographic magazine, with many of his recent assignments focusing on the causes and consequences of climate change. In a Yale Environment 360 photo essay, we present a gallery of images he took while on assignment in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung locales affected by climate change.
View the photo gallery.
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17 Dec 2013: Australian Coal Projects
Threatened by Drop in Demand From China

Major Australian coal projects risk losing value due to falling demand from China, where leaders are increasingly concerned about growing public anger over severe air pollution, a new analysis from Oxford University has found. Future coal mining projects are vulnerable to being "stranded" by a range of policy changes from the Chinese government, including environmental regulation, carbon pricing, investment in renewable energy, and energy efficiency, the report said. One expert told The Guardian that global investors are already questioning the prudence of financing new fossil fuel projects. Backers of a handful of upcoming Australian coal projects "should seek clarity" on the associated costs, the Oxford analysis warns. It also cautions that Australian state governments could suffer if projects are mothballed or abandoned. Of particular concern are two mega-mines supported by Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott slated for development in Queensland. Once running at full capacity, the two projects combined would produce enough coal to emit more than 70 millions tons of CO2 a year.
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16 Dec 2013: Volume of E-Waste
Projected to Soar by 2017, Study Says

The volume of electronic waste generated worldwide is expected to climb by 33 percent by 2017 to 65 million tons, according to a study conducted by a partnership of United Nations organizations, industry, governments, and scientists. So many computers, televisions, mobile
E-waste landfill
phones, and other devices are being tossed away annually that within four years the volume of e-waste would fill a 15,000-mile line of 40-ton trucks, the report said. The report, released by a group called StEP ( Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative) said that in 2012, 50 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide, about 15 pounds for every person on the planet. China generated the most electronic waste last year, with 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. with 10 million tons. But in per capita generation, the U.S. dwarfed China and most other countries, with each American producing 65 pounds of e-waste, the study said. “The explosion is happening because there is so much technical innovation,” said Ruediger Kuehr, executive secretary of StEP.
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13 Dec 2013: U.S. Energy Department
Invests in Small-Scale Nuclear Reactors

Small, nearly meltdown-proof nuclear reactors are receiving a big boost from the U.S. Department of Energy. The department will give a company in Corvallis, Oregon, as much as $226 million to develop so-called "small modular reactors," which can be used with many local power grids that can't accommodate conventional nuclear reactors. Because of the extremely low likelihood of meltdown, the next-generation, small-scale reactors are safer than many currently operating reactors, engineers say. The company, NuScale Power, plans to encase their reactors in something akin to a large thermos, which would sit at the bottom of a pool. If a reactor fails and threatens to overheat, the container would fill with water and remove excess heat without pumps or valves, which can sometimes fail. The Energy Department's investment is the second one in a $452 million, multi-year program to accelerate the development of such reactors. The reactor designs use water as a coolant, which is technologically conservative and increases the likelihood that the small modular reactors would be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory commission, The New York Times reports.
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12 Dec 2013: Household Solar Panel
Installations up 52 Percent in the U.S.

Household solar power is on the rise throughout the U.S., a new report shows, with installations in the third quarter of 2013 up 52 percent over the same period last year. Those installations generate a total of 930 megawatts of power, a 35 percent increase over third quarter 2012. The U.S. has likely surpassed Germany to
household solar panel
become the world's leader in solar power generation, the report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association says. California leads the country in the number of installations, followed by Arizona and North Carolina. Residential solar power is still a small slice of the total solar power market, but it's showing the strongest growth as household solar installation costs fell 9.7 percent over the past year. Of those costs, hardware expenses, including solar panels and transmission equipment, are steadily shrinking. But so-called "soft costs," such as financing and labor, now account for 64 percent of the price of household solar power installations, according to new research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
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11 Dec 2013: Final Shipment of Russian
Warhead Uranium Set to Reach U.S. Today

A U.S. nuclear storage facility today will receive the final shipment of decommissioned nuclear warheads from Russia, NPR reports. Since 1993 the Russian uranium has been generating 10 percent of all electricity consumed in the U.S., part of a deal struck with the former Soviet state when its nuclear industry, crippled by arms reduction agreements, was struggling to make
Uranium cylinder
Russian uranium ready for shipment to U.S.
ends meet. Negotiations began when a U.S. official visited Russia in the early 1990s and found bomb-grade uranium from thousands of decommissioned warheads lying around in crumbling storage facilities. Concerned that the radioactive material was unsecured and vulnerable to theft, the U.S. asked to buy it. Russian officials reluctantly agreed to convert roughly 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel and sell it to the U.S. Experts say it was a win-win scenario: Russia made a substantial profit ($17 billion), U.S. power plants could buy the uranium at a good price, and 20,000 bombs' worth of radioactive material was converted into relatively clean electricity. The deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever, one expert told NPR.
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10 Dec 2013: Chinese State Media
Criticized for Touting Benefits of Smog

For Chinese citizens worried about smog, which has been blanketing major cities and smashing air pollution records recently, China's state media has some advice: Look on the bright side. State broadcaster CCTV and a Communist Party tabloid, Global Times, yesterday published editorials attempting to put a positive spin on China's air pollution crisis. The state-run outlets said smog has military benefits because it can interfere with the guidance systems of foreign missiles, as well as personal benefits such as bolstering Chinese citizens' sense of humor, making them more united, more sober, better informed, and more equal because smog "affected the lungs of both rich and poor," The Telegraph reports. Internet commenters and other media outlets, including several state-run publications, were outraged. "Is the smog supposed to lift if we laugh about it?" asked the official publication Beijing Business Today. The pro-smog pieces have both been deleted from the publications' websites.
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09 Dec 2013: Intensifying Storms Are
Contributing To Ongoing U.S. Wetlands Loss

The U.S. is losing wetlands at a rate of 80,000 acres per year, in part because of intensifying coastal storms and sea level rise, according to a new government study. From 2004 to 2009, the country lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands, a decline driven both by traditional factors, such as coastal development, as well as worsening storms and slowly rising seas, the study says. The rate of loss is a signal that government efforts to protect and restore wetlands are failing to keep pace with major environmental changes, experts told The Washington Post. The most pronounced wetlands losses were along the Gulf of Mexico, where major hurricanes have wreaked havoc on coastal lands. Along the Atlantic coast, a rapid increase in coastal development is funneling stormwater runoff into wetlands that cannot handle it, the study said. The loss rate of 80,000 acres annually represents a 25 percent increase over the rate of wetlands loss during 1998-2004, the last time government agencies examined the problem.
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Five Questions For Jerry Brown
On the West Coast Climate Pact


California Governor Jerry Brown was one of the moving forces behind a new agreement among three Western states and British Columbia to align their policies to combat climate change. Under the pact, signed on Oct. 28 by Brown and the governors of Oregon and Washington, the states and the province agreed to a series of actions, including putting a price on carbon and adopting a low-carbon fuels standard. Yale Environment 360 spoke with Brown and asked him five questions about the pact and overall efforts to tackle climate change.
Read more.
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06 Dec 2013: China Doubles Pace
Of Renewable Energy Installation in 2013

Over the past 10 months China has added renewable energy sources to its power grid at double the pace of 2012, according to its National Energy Administration (NEA). The renewable energy push, part of a massive effort to cut air pollution in China's large cities, has added more than 36 gigawatts of clean energy capacity
Shanghai, December 3, 2013
Shanghai, Dec. 3, 2013
so far this year, Bloomberg News reports. Hydroelectric power grew by 22.3 gigawatts in the first 10 months of 2013, new nuclear energy installations totaled 2.2 gigawatts, solar 3.6 gigawatts, wind 7.9 gigawatts. China's solar energy capacity could triple from 2012 levels to 10 gigawatts by the end of the year, while wind and nuclear power capacity could increase by 22 and 17 percent, respectively, the NEA said. That should offer some relief from China's choking air pollution. In Shanghai, schoolchildren were ordered indoors today as air pollution reached extremely hazardous levels, exceeding World Health Organization health guidelines for fine particulate matter by 24 times.
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05 Dec 2013: Urban Car Use Declines
As Biking and Public Transit Rise in the U.S.

Americans in urban areas are driving less, biking more, owning fewer cars, and using public transportation more frequently, according to new research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The number of people driving to work fell in 99 of 100 major urban areas between 2006 and 2011, and the number of miles driven by car fell in three-quarters of the cities studied over that time, the PIRG study showed. The proportion of people biking to work increased in 85 of 100 cities, while the number of miles traveled on public transit increased in 60 of 98 cities. Meanwhile, the number of people working from home grew in all 100 cities, the report said. From 2004 to 2012, the average number of vehicle-miles driven per person decreased by 7.6 percent nationwide. "There is a shift away from driving,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Instead of expanding new highways, our government leaders should focus on investing in public transit and biking for the future."
PERMALINK

 

04 Dec 2013: New Paper Offers Sweeping
Plan to Decarbonize the Global Economy

Eighteen prominent international climate scientists and economists have authored a paper that seeks to answer the most vexing environmental question facing the planet: How to reverse soaring carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the world from experiencing destabilizing climate change. Their answer, presented in the journal PLOS One, boils down to this: Offer global leaders a detailed blueprint for decarbonization that involves setting a steadily rising price on carbon, the large-scale deployment of nuclear power and renewable energy, increased research into low-carbon energy technologies, and a reform of forestry and agricultural policies that leads to massive sequestration of CO2 — all while not spending more than 1 percent of global gross economic output. “In terms of economics, comparing a path to decarbonization versus a path of wrecking the planet are not even close,” economist Jeffrey Sachs, a co-author of the paper and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said at a press briefing. “We haven’t shown the path of decarbonzation clearly enough (and) what the real choices are.”
Read more.
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03 Dec 2013: Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat
Jezzdk/Wikimedia
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.
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02 Dec 2013: Poachers Killed 22,000
Elephants in Africa Last Year, Group Says

Poachers slaughtered 22,000 elephants in 27 African countries last year, according to a new report. Officials with The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and two conservation groups said that 15,000 elephant
Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
A herd in Namibia
deaths from poaching were officially reported in Africa and that another 7,000 deaths went unreported. Although that number is a slight decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,000 poaching deaths, CITES officials warn that poaching rates are far too high and could soon lead to local extinctions. Africa, which is currently home to roughly 500,000 elephants, could lose a fifth of its elephant population over the next 10 years, CITES says. "The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," the report says.
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29 Nov 2013: Wide Mangrove Destruction
Is Documented Along Coast of Myanmar

Rapid agricultural expansion destroyed nearly two-thirds of the mangrove forestsin Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta between 1978 and 2011, increasing the region’s vulnerability to cyclones and typhoons, according to a new study. Using remote sensing imagery

Click to Enlarge
Mangrove destruction map

Webb et al., 2013
Mangrove forest loss
and field data, researchers from Myanmar and Singapore said that the dense mangrove cover in the Ayeyarwady Delta declined from 2,623 square kilometers to 1,000 square kilometers in that 33-year period. The main cause was agriculture expansion and the researchers said that if rates of destruction continue at their current pace the delta’s mangroves could be completely deforested by 2026. Reporting in the journal Global Environmental Change, the scientists said the loss of mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta could put the region at greater risk of major storms such as Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008. But the researchers said the destruction could be slowed if Myanmar creates coastal protected areas.
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27 Nov 2013: China Set to Open
World's Second Largest Carbon Market

China is in the midst of launching seven carbon markets, the largest of which will open next month in Guangdong, the country's most populous province. The carbon markets are a key element of China's plan to cut carbon emissions by up to 45 percent per unit of GDP by 2020. The Guangdong carbon permitting scheme will cap 2013 emissions at 350 tons for 202 companies in the heavily industrialized province. Twenty-nine million permits will be auctioned in the market this year and next, which will be the world's second largest carbon market after the European Union's, dwarfing carbon markets in Australia and California. In 2015 the number of permits auctioned will more than triple, officials said. Shanghai's carbon market launched yesterday and a similar market, about a quarter of the size of Guangdong's, is set to open in Beijing tomorrow. China's seven carbon markets together will regulate roughly 700 to 800 million tons of CO2 annually, roughly equal to the annual emissions of Germany.
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26 Nov 2013: Updated Conservation List
Finds Forest Giraffes on Brink of Extinction

In an updated list released today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted some significant successes and failures in global wildlife
Okapi, forest giraffe
Wikimedia Commons
Okapi, or forest giraffe
conservation efforts. A major success story is the leatherback sea turtle, whose Atlantic population has recovered enough for the species to be considered only vulnerable, rather than critically endangered. The IUCN attributed the leatherback rebound to better protection of nesting beaches and reduced fisheries bycatch. The updated Red List contains more somber news, though, for the blue-tongued forest giraffe, the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The striped-legged forest giraffe, a species of okapi, is on the brink of extinction due mainly to the long, ongoing civil war in that country, which has led to increased poaching and loss of habitat. The Red List's ranks of threatened species have grown by 352 species since this summer, Mongabay reports, with roughly 21,000 species now listed as threatened.
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25 Nov 2013: Despite Discord, Climate Talks
in Warsaw End With Last-Minute Deals

After more than 36 hours of continuous negotiations, delegates at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw agreed to two last-minute deals that kept alive hopes for staving off climate change. At talks that ended Saturday, delegates agreed to a proposed system for pledging cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They also gave support to a new treaty mechanism for tackling the human cost of the effects of global warming, including floods, rising seas, and stronger storms, The New York Times reports. Parties also agreed that countries will have until early 2015 to lay out their plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Those plans are to be published in advance of a major U.N. climate meeting in Paris, set for late 2015, at which international leaders hope to reach an agreement to curb global emissions starting in 2020. Discord and acrimony characterized the talks, during which a vocal negotiating bloc emerged among developing countries, including India, China, and Saudi Arabia. This bloc forced the watering down of key aspects of the deal, according to the Guardian.
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Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry

Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest

Click to Enlarge
Oyster harvesting

HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money.
Read more.
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22 Nov 2013: Majority of Americans
Uninformed About Fracking, Survey Finds

Most Americans are uninformed and lack opinions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract oil and gas from rock formations, a new survey says. Fifty-eight percent of people surveyed specifically reported that they knew nothing at all about fracking, and the same percentage said they didn't know whether they supported fracking or opposed it. Seven percent said they were aware of some of the process's environmental impacts, and 3 percent said they knew of positive economic and energy supply impacts of fracking. Of those who held an opinion on it, 20 percent were opposed to fracking and 22 percent supported it. "Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware and undecided about this issue," the study says. The study — conducted by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason, and Yale universities — was recently published in the journal Energy Policy.
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21 Nov 2013: U.K. Government Pledges
To Stop Backing Foreign Coal Power Plants

The United Kingdom has joined the U.S. in pledging to stop using government funds to finance coal-fired power plants in other countries. "The two governments are going to work together to secure the support of other countries ... and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies," Britain's energy secretary told journalists gathered in Warsaw at the U.N. climate talks. The U.S. made the same pledge last month in an attempt to slow CO2 emissions from the world's coal-fired power plants. The International Energy Agency reports that coal accounted for 44 percent of global carbon emissions in 2011, and the fossil fuel remains the world's largest source of electricity and heat. While many diplomats applaud the U.K.'s move, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and environmental groups are pushing for even stronger action, including more spending on renewable energy. "The rapid development of low-carbon infrastructure needs large injections of public capital," Ki-moon said.
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20 Nov 2013: Low-Income Solar Project
Is Recognized at U.N. Climate Talks

An Australia-based solar start-up company was recognized at the U.N. climate change talks in Warsaw for its work replacing highly polluting kerosene lamps with solar lighting in low-income regions of India. The company, Pollinate Energy, trains members of local communities to install household solar-powered lights in India's slums, where families often rely on kerosene for lighting. So far the project has installed solar-powered lighting systems for 10,000 people in 250 of Bangalore’s slum communities, in turn saving 40,000 liters of kerosene and 100,000 kilograms of carbon emissions, RenewEconomy reports. The solar lighting systems are cheaper to operate than kerosene lamps and are less polluting and dangerous than kerosene, which can cause house fires and severe burns. The nonprofit project started in Bangalore — home to some of India's worst slums — as a way for children to do schoolwork after sunset. Pollinate Energy trains local installers to distribute and install the lighting systems as micro-entrepreneurs, which they call "pollinators."
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19 Nov 2013: Pollution From Plastic Trash
May Make Tiny Island a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to study whether plastic pollution on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is severe enough to warrant listing it as a Superfund clean-up site. Tern Island, a 25-acre strip of land about 500 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island

Click to Enlarge
Tern Island debris

Duncan Wright, USFWS
Tern Island marine debris
Oahu, is home to millions of seabirds, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to add the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and parts of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the list of federal Superfund sites due to extreme marine debris pollution, but the agency has only agreed to undertake an environmental study on Tern Island. The island is awash with debris ranging from plastic water bottles and bits of plastic to discarded fishing gear and home appliances. Studies have shown the trash can take a heavy toll on wildlife — seabirds, for example, often ingest bits of plastic after mistaking them for food and eventually die of starvation. The EPA study is the first step of a potentially years-long process to determine if the island qualifies for listing under the 1980 Superfund law.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Big Agriculture
Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms

In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report that condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and
Robert Martin
chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental and public health problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future released a study analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Robert Martin, co-author of the Johns Hopkins report, discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. One hopeful sign, says Martin, is "there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced."
Read the interview.
PERMALINK

 

18 Nov 2013: U.N. Climate Chief Says
Many Coal Reserves Must Be Left in Ground

United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres said that coal power can be part of the solution to curbing global warming, but it would require shuttering older coal power plants, advancing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, and resolving to leave much of the planet's existing coal reserves in the ground. Her remarks, given at the International Coal and Climate Summit in Warsaw, are drawing criticism from environmentalists who oppose continued reliance on coal power. John Gummer, the chair of the U.K.'s climate advisers and former U.K. environment minister, told the Guardian that "calling coal a clean solution is like characterizing sex trafficking as marriage guidance." Figueres said that coal power holds promise as a means of helping poorer countries develop their economies and reduce poverty, but said that the industry "must change." Figueres joins the growing list of climate leaders who say that more than half of remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground in order to avoid massive carbon emissions that could destabilize the climate.
PERMALINK

 

15 Nov 2013: Groundbreaking Mapping Project
Depicts Forest Change Around the Globe

Scientists from Google, U.S. universities, and federal agencies have for the first time produced a high-resolution global map showing in striking detail the extent of deforestation across the globe. The project — which relied heavily on expertise from the computing

View Animation
Indonesia forest loss

Hansen, et al./Science
Forest loss in Indonesia
center Google Earth Engine — documents a loss of 888,000 square miles of forest between 2000 and 2012, along with a gain of 309,000 square miles of new forest. The rate of deforestation is equal to losing 68,000 soccer fields of forest every day for the past 13 years, or 50 soccer fields every minute, says the World Resources Institute. Brazil, once responsible for a majority of the world's tropical forest loss, is now the global leader in scaling back forest destruction, cutting its deforestation rate in half over the past decade, researchers report in Science. Over the same period, Indonesia has more than doubled its annual rate of forest loss, despite a supposed 2011 Indonesian government moratorium on new logging licenses.
PERMALINK

 

14 Nov 2013: U.S. Crushes Six Tons
Of Illegally Trafficked Elephant Ivory

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) destroyed six tons of elephant ivory today that field agents seized over the past 25 years. The U.S. Ivory Crush event, which took place in Denver, Colorado, marked the first time the FWS has destroyed large quantities of ivory. The move was an attempt to send a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate illegal ivory trafficking and the toll it's taking on elephant populations in Africa and Asia, the FWS said. Seized ivory is usually kept as evidence for prosecuting traffickers, then later used for education and training, but the FWS had accumulated far more ivory than it needs. The ivory that was crushed included full tusks, carved tusks, jewelry, carvings, and other objects, and came from at least 2,000 poached elephants, the FWS estimates.
PERMALINK

 

13 Nov 2013: Plastic Debris in Ocean
Has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere,"

Click to Enlarge
Diatom on plastic debris

Zettler, et al./ES&T
Diatom and bacteria on plastic debris
includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology. Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said.
PERMALINK

 

12 Nov 2013: China's Renewable Power
Sector Set to Outpace Rest of World by 2035

China is on track to generate more electricity from renewable energy by 2035 than the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a new report. In its World Energy Outlook report, the IEA also said that by 2035 renewable energy sources — wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass — will make up more than 30 percent of the world's electricity supply, surpassing natural gas and rivaling coal as the leading energy source. Wind and solar photovoltaic power will see especially large gains, helping renewable energy account for nearly half the increase in global power generation over the next two decades, the IEA said. Carbon emissions related to energy generation will likely rise by 20 percent over that time, the report said, but policies and initiatives in the U.S., China, Europe, and Japan may help limit those emissions. "The right combination of policies and technologies is proving that the links between economic growth, energy demand and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions can be weakened," the IEA said.
PERMALINK

 

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