e360 digest


07 Jul 2015: Self-Driving Taxis Could Spur
Major Cuts in Carbon Emissions, Study Says

By 2030, self-driving electric taxis could cut greenhouse gas emissions from car travel in the U.S. by up to 94 percent, if they were
autonomous taxi

Prototype of a small, self-driving electric taxi
to replace conventional personal vehicles, according to an analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Autonomous taxis are projected to cut carbon emissions primarily through a process known as "right-sizing," or deploying a car that is specifically tailored to match occupancy needs of each particular trip. Right-sizing is cost-effective for both the fleet owner and for passengers, the researchers say, and companies and research groups are currently exploring how to efficiently manufacture small one- and two-seat vehicles. Optimal routing, smoother acceleration and braking, and a cleaner electric grid in 2030 would also contribute to lower carbon emissions. Autonomous taxis are projected to reduce emissions by 63 to 82 percent compared to hybrid cars likely to be on the road in 2030, and by 94 percent over a 2014 gasoline-powered model, the study found.
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06 Jul 2015: Researchers Discover
4,000-Year-Old Coral Species Near Hawaii

A newly discovered species of coral found in deep ocean waters near Hawaii can live to be more than
L. annosa coral

Leiopathes annosa, a new coral species
4,000 years old, making it the longest-living marine species ever known, scientists report in the journal Zootaxa. The new species, known as Leiopathes annosa, is a type of black coral found at depths of 1,000 to 1,600 feet throughout waters off the Hawaiian Islands, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Although it was previously misidentified as a species from the Mediterranean Sea, L. annosa has substantial physical differences from the Mediterranean species, say scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institute. High-resolution radiocarbon dating of growth rings in the coral, much like those found in trees, showed that some L. annosa individuals can live for more than four millennia.
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02 Jul 2015: Water Usage for Fracking
Has Increased Dramatically, Study Shows

Oil and natural gas fracking requires 28 times more water now than it did 15 years ago, according to a study by the U.S.

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fracking water use

Water use in fracking operations in the U.S.
Geological Survey. The increased water demand is attributed to the development of new, water-intensive technologies that target fossil fuels in complicated geological formations, the researchers say. The amount of water used varies greatly with location, the study found. A fracking operation in southern Illinois, for example, can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time an oil or gas well is fracked. That figure jumps to more than 9 million gallons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and south and eastern Texas. Fracking is often concentrated in arid regions and could exacerbate existing water shortages, especially as water requirements for fracking continue to increase. Most of the water used for fracking is disposed deep underground, removing it from the water cycle.
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01 Jul 2015: Church of England Divests from
Oil Firm Exploring Virunga National Park

The Church of England has divested its holdings in the British oil and gas company Soco International, citing ethical concerns over Soco's attempts to
mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park
drill for oil in Congo's Virunga National Park. The national park, Africa's oldest, is home to the largest surviving populations of endangered mountain gorillas and hippos. The Church of England's investment fund is valued at roughly $10.5 billion, and $2.5 million of that had been invested in Soco International. The move marks only the third time in recent years that the church has divested from a company on ethical grounds. In 2012 it sold its holdings in News Corporation to protest the phone-hacking scandal, and in 2010 it divested from a mining corporation over human rights violations associated with its operations in India.
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Interview: How an Indian Politician
Became an Environmental Hawk

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

Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits to utility companies than they receive through programs
rooftop solar panels

Installing rooftop solar panels
like net metering, according to an analysis of 11 case studies from across the U.S. by the advocacy group Environment New York. Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — equal to or less than the retail price of electricity — for providing the excess power they generate to the grid. Utility companies have been fighting those credits in recent years, saying that solar panel owners don't pay a fair share of grid maintenance and other overhead costs. However, all 11 studies showed that solar panel owners provide net benefits to their respective utility systems, Environment New York says, including reduced capital investment costs, lower energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was roughly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents.
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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
rain barrels

Rain Barrels
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.
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26 Jun 2015: Fuels from Canadian Oil Sands
Have Larger Carbon Footprint, Analysis Says

Gasoline and diesel refined from Canadian oil sands have a significantly larger carbon footprint and climate impact than

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Alberta oil sands extraction

Oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada
fuels from conventional crude sources, according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Oil sands-derived fuels will release on average 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over their lifetime — and possibly up to 24 percent more — depending on how they are extracted and refined, the study says. Methane emissions from tailing ponds and carbon emissions from land disturbance and field operations also contribute to the higher carbon footprint. "This is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity," said Hao Cai, the Argonne researcher who led the study. Roughly 9 percent of the total crude processed in U.S. refineries in 2013 came from the Canadian oil sands, and that percentage is projected to rise to 14 percent by 2020.
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Photo Gallery: Scenes From
The Golden Age of Animal Tracking


Scientists are following the lives of animals in more detail than ever before, thanks to a new generation of tracking and tagging devices. From beluga whales that collect data on the Arctic Ocean to ducks that help track the spread of avian flu, data gathered by and about animals is being used to identify conservation hotspots, reduce human-animal conflicts, and monitor the health of the planet. In an e360 gallery, we look at some intriguing projects that have used state-of-the-art animal tracking and monitoring technology.
View the gallery.
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24 Jun 2015: Global Fine Particle Pollution
On the Rise Despite Regional Improvements

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

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fine particulate air pollution

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

Linking natural disasters to climate change makes global warming skeptics less likely to donate money to relief efforts, says a study by psychologists at the University of Massachusetts. They asked study participants to read an article about a drought-related famine; one version of the article attributed the droughts to climate change, and the other version made no mention of climate. The researchers then asked the participants why they would or would not donate money for relief, and about their climate change beliefs. Participants who were skeptical about global warming gave more justifications for not helping the victims when the disaster was attributed to climate change than when it was not, the study found. “What our work suggests is that when a disaster occurs and organizations are appealing to the public for aid, it is best to minimize the inclusion of heavily politicized topics,” lead author Daniel Chapman told ClimateWire.
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22 Jun 2015: Researchers Look to Design of
Owl Wings to Make Quieter Wind Turbines

A new type of coating for wind turbines inspired by the shape of owl wings may dramatically cut noise associated with onshore
Australian masked owl

Australian masked owl in flight
wind farms, according to research from the University of Cambridge. The scientists found that an owl's flight feathers have a microscopic down-like covering and numerous other intricate design details that smooth the passage of air over the wing, scattering sound as the owl flies. To replicate the structure, the researchers looked at designing a covering that would scatter the sound generated by a turbine blade in the same way. Early tests of their prototype material, a 3D-printed plastic coating, demonstrated that it could significantly quiet wind turbines without any appreciable impact on aerodynamics. Since wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimize noise, the new technology could mean that turbines could spin at much higher speeds, producing more energy while making less noise.
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19 Jun 2015: Jet Contrails Can Affect
Air Temperature in Some Areas, Study Shows

Jet contrails can mimic the weather impact of clouds and significantly affect daytime and nighttime air temperature
jet contrails

Persistent jet contrails
swings — by up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit in some locales — researchers from Penn State have shown. Data from the three days following September 11, 2001, when air travel was highly restricted, had shown that jet contrails — thin clouds composed of ice crystals condensed from an aircraft's exhaust — likely had an effect on air temperatures. To study the issue over a longer time period, the researchers looked at daily temperature data from locations in the South and Midwest that often see persistent jet contrails. They found that contrails, like clouds, depress the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, typically lowering daytime highs and raising nighttime lows. In the South, this amounted to a 6 degree F reduction in daily temperature range, and in the Midwest, roughly a 5 degree F reduction.
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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
Pope Francis

Pope Francis
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."
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17 Jun 2015: Harnessing Evaporation Could
Yield More Power than Wind, Study Shows

Using the energy produced by evaporating water, researchers at Columbia University have shown that they can

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evaporation powered car

A miniature car driven by evaporation.
power a small toy car and a flashing light — the first step, they say, in harnessing an immense energy source that could rival power production from wind and waves. The devices they built use bacterial spores that can absorb humidity and, in doing so, expand and contract with enough force to push and pull pistons and drive a rotary engine. The spores pack more energy, pound for pound, than other materials used in engineering for moving objects, said researcher Ozgur Sahin, who co-authored the study published in Nature Communication. When evaporation energy is scaled up, he says, it could one day produce electricity from giant floating power generators that sit on bays or reservoirs or rotating machines like wind turbines that sit above water.
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Interview: Is Cloning Mammoths
Science Fiction or Conservation?

Biologist Beth Shapiro has published a new book, How to Clone a Mammoth, that looks at the many
Beth Shapiro
Beth Shapiro
questions — both technical and ethical — surrounding any attempt to revive extinct species. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, Shapiro, associate director of the Paleogenomics Institute at the University of California at Santa Cruz, explains why she believes new gene-editing technology could benefit critical ecosystems and living species that are now endangered. “We are in the midst of an extinction crisis,” she says. “Why would we not use whatever technologies are available to us, assuming we can go about doing it in a reasonable and ethical way?”
Read the interview.
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16 Jun 2015: Human Data Can Improve
Ecosystem Service Models, Study Says

Protected forests in Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Thailand have prevented the release of more than 1 billion tons
Amazon rainforest

Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an ecosystem service worth at least $5 billion, Georgia State University economists found. Their conclusion about the monetary benefit of those forest protections is based on a new method they derived for valuing services such as carbon capture, conservation, and improvements in air and water quality. Instead of relying on modeling alone, the new method uses interviews and on-the-ground data to see how conservation programs affect human behavior and impact ecosystems. By combining the two types of information — environmental models and social science data — public officials can gain more realistic insights into how a particular policy might affect the environment and the people who interact with it, the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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15 Jun 2015: Biodiversity Limits Parasites
In Humans, Wildlife, and Plants, Study Says

High biodiversity generally limits outbreaks of disease among humans and wildlife, University of South Florida researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new research is the first to quantitatively support the controversial "dilution effect hypothesis," which warns that human-driven biodiversity losses can exacerbate parasite outbreaks. Much of the debate surrounding this idea concerns whether it applies generally or only to a few select parasites. After reviewing more than 200 published scientific assessments, the USF team found "overwhelming" evidence that the dilution effect applies broadly to many parasitic species in humans and wildlife. They also found that plant biodiversity reduces the abundance of herbivore pests. The results have implications for public health efforts, the researchers say, and make a case for better management of forests, croplands, and other ecosystems.
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12 Jun 2015: National Renewable Energy
Targets Quadrupled Since 2005, Study Says

The number of nations with renewable energy targets on the books has quadrupled in the past decade, rising from 43 countries

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renewable energy targets

Nations with renewable energy targets in 2015.
in 2005 to 164 countries today, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Developing and emerging economies account for an overwhelming majority of those renewable energy targets — 131 — and two additional countries, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, have set targets at provincial or regional levels. Most national targets are aimed at the electricity sector — 150 countries have renewable electricity targets — but transportation targets have more than doubled, from 27 to 59 nations, and heating and cooling commitments have increased from two countries in 2005 to 47 today, the report says.
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11 Jun 2015: Deep Sea Coral Canyons off
Atlantic Coast to Gain Fishing Protections

A stretch of ocean that includes more than two dozen undersea coral canyons will become the largest protected area ever

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deep sea coral canyon

A Paragorgia coral from one of the canyons.
established in U.S. Atlantic waters, after a vote yesterday by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The 38,000-square-mile zone encompasses waters at the edge of the continental shelf, from Virginia to Massachusetts, and includes 27 deep sea canyons, some of which are nearly 100 miles long and are as deep as the Grand Canyon. Their steep walls are excellent habitat for a rich array of coral species that thrive in cold Atlantic waters. The new protections will shield rare, vulnerable, and ecologically important coral communities from bottom fishing and trawling — a highly destructive practice that involves dragging nets along the ocean floor, often destroying thousand-year-old coral communities in the process.
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10 Jun 2015: Jet Fuel from Sugarcane
Cuts Aviation Carbon Emissions, Study Says

Converting sugarcane to jet fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from air travel by up to 80 percent and the process could be scaled up to produce commercially viable amounts
sugarcane

Sugarcane
of fuel, say researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. The new technique they developed, which is described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, relies on complex chemical reactions involving sugars and waste biomass from sugarcane. That crop, unlike the sugar beet, can be grown on marginal lands so it does not displace food production — a major concern that has tempered enthusiasm for biofuels in general. Jet fuel, which is responsible for roughly 2 percent of all carbon emissions, has been difficult to synthesize from biomass because of its stringent quality requirements. Biofuels were approved for commercial aviation as recently as 2011, and researchers have been seeking a viable production method for nearly a decade.
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09 Jun 2015: Record Level of Residential Solar
Installed in U.S. in First Quarter of 2015

U.S. homeowners installed more solar power systems in the first three months of this year than in any other previous quarter,
solar roof

Rooftop solar panels
according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group for the U.S. solar sector. The first quarter of any given year typically sees the fewest solar installations because of winter weather, the group notes, but the period from January through March of this year saw a solid increase over last quarter — 11 percent — and a 76 percent increase over the same period last year. The average cost for a residential solar system is now $3.48 per watt, or 10 percent lower than this time last year, the SEIA report says. It also notes that, cumulatively through the first quarter of 2015, nearly one-fourth of all residential solar installations have now come on-line without any state incentives.
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08 Jun 2015: Reforming Mobile Phone Industry
Helps Profits and Environment, Study Says

Mobile phone manufacturers and the environment would both benefit from producing less-complex phones that
unused mobile phones

Millions of unused phones are discarded each year.
use "the cloud" — a network of remote servers connected to the Internet — to carry out power-intensive tasks, researchers say. The current business model encourages consumers to upgrade devices frequently with little incentive to recycle them, researchers write in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. There are roughly 85 million unused phones in the U.K. alone, the researchers note, and replacing the gold they contain — not to mention copper, silver, and other rare metals — would cost nearly $170 million and release an equivalent of 84,000 tons of CO2. Moving to a "cloud-based" system where heavy computing is done on remote servers would allow manufacturers to produce less-complex phones that are designed to last longer and require fewer valuable metals, the analysis found.
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05 Jun 2015: Huge Pension Fund in Norway
Will Divest Many of Its Coal Holdings

The Norwegian Parliament has voted to sell off many of the coal-related investments in the government’s massive $890 billion pension fund, a significant boost to the growing fossil fuel divestment movement. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is the largest such government fund in the world, and parliament voted Friday to order the fund to shift its investments out of billions of dollars of stock in companies that rely at least 30 percent on coal. A spokesman for the firm that manages the government’s pension said an important reason for divesting in heavily coal-reliant companies is “long-established, climate-change risk-management expectations.” The Norwegian Parliament’s decision comes on the heels of other fossil-fuel divestment steps taken by major groups and organizations, including the Church of England, the large French insurer Axa, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
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04 Jun 2015: Seven Tiny Frog Species
Are Discovered in Brazilian Forest

Seven new species of a highly miniaturized, brightly colored frog genus known as Brachycephalus have been
new frog species

One of the species of miniaturized frogs.
discovered in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, researchers report today. The frog species are restricted to cloud forests in no more than a few adjacent mountaintops, making them highly vulnerable to extinction, the researchers say. The cloud forests they inhabit are particularly sensitive to climatic conditions, and small shifts can cause major changes in the distribution of the forests. The frogs' adaptation to these specific environments prevents them from migrating across valleys as the cloud forest shifts. The long-term preservation of these species might involve not only the protection of their habitats but also more direct management efforts, such as rearing in captivity, the researchers say. Brachycephalus frogs are among the planet's smallest terrestrial vertebrates, with adult sizes often not exceeding 1 cm in length.
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Interview: At Sierra Club, New Face
At Helm of Oldest U.S. Green Group

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

 

02 Jun 2015: Pollution From Carbon Monoxide
Has Fallen Steadily Since 2000, Data Show

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

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carbon monoxide levels

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

Six leading oil and gas companies have called on governments to enact a carbon-pricing system, saying this would be the most effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The chief executives of Total, Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group, BP, and Eni, in a joint letter to the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that governments should use regulatory measures to discourage carbon-intensive energy options and to level the playing field for all energy sources, both renewables and fossil fuels. The executives said the companies are willing to do their part, but that governments need to provide a clear, stable, and long-term policy framework. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne said in a news conference that a carbon price of roughly $40 per ton is needed to spur the replacement of coal-fired power stations, which produce twice as much CO2 as those that use natural gas. And a price of $80 to $100 per ton, he said, would justify investing in carbon capture and storage systems.
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29 May 2015: Ozone Benefits of Montreal
Protocol Already Widespread, Study Says

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

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ozone hole without Montreal Protocol

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

 

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.
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