With Camera Drones, New Tool
For Viewing and Saving Nature
In a career spanning four decades, award-winning filmmaker Thomas Lennon has tackled topics as diverse as the Irish in America and a polluting chemical plant in China
. But it was his current project — a short film about the Delaware River — that opened his eyes to what he sees as a revolutionary new tool for viewing the natural world: the camera drone. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lennon — who produced a video of drone images from the Delaware
— describes how drones are a major innovation that allows filmmakers to capture images from vantage points never before possible. “There’s an opportunity for visual excitement, but combined — and this is the key — with intimacy,” Lennon says. “And I think that can become a tool for artists as well as for environmentalists.”
Watch video | Read interview
22 Jul 2015:
Algae Could Be Environmentally
Friendly Livestock Feed, Research Finds
Algae could replace corn as feed for cattle and other livestock, according to findings
published in the Journal of Animal Science
. Algae — hardy
Algae-based cattle feed
microorganisms that can grow in a variety of environments and laboratory settings — require less fertilizer, water, land, and herbicides than corn, and thus could prove to be an environmentally friendly alternative for livestock feed, researchers say. The materials used in the new study were remnants of algae grown and processed for other applications, such as cosmetics, cooking oil, and biofuels, and would otherwise have been burned as waste. The researchers found that even these pre-processed leftovers were able to provide the same amount of protein as corn, along with slightly more fat. Cattle in the study readily ate the algae at a variety of concentrations and maintained their body weight as well as corn-fed cattle. Researchers say the algal meal could be priced to compete with corn and could be on the market by 2016.
21 Jul 2015:
California Almonds Have
Smaller Climate Impact Than Many Foods
California almonds could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if growers were to make full use of practices such
Almonds growing in an orchard
as shell, hull, and biomass recycling, according to new research in the Journal of Industrial Ecology
. Eighty percent of the world's almonds come from the drought-stricken state, and production operations there have drawn much ire since studies showed
that almonds are a particularly water-intensive crop. However, the new research shows that the energy and greenhouse gas footprints of almonds can be lessened by, for example, using shells, hulls, and orchard biomass to generate electricity or feed dairy cows. "Our research shows 1 kilogram of California almonds typically results in less than 1 kilogram of CO2 emissions," said author Alissa Kendall, which is "a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient- and energy-dense foods."
20 Jul 2015:
Nuclear Rush Will Make China
Third-Largest Nuclear Generator by 2020
With dozens of nuclear power plants planned or under construction, China will soon surpass South Korea, Russia, and Japan in
Nuclear generating capacities
nuclear generating capacity, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports
. Nuclear power currently makes up slightly more than 2 percent of the country's total power generation, but the Chinese government has a goal of generating at least 15 percent of the nation's energy using non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. To help achieve this target, China plans to increase nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts — more than doubling its current 23-gigawatt capacity — and to have an additional 30 gigawatts under construction by 2020. By the end of 2015, China is expected to surpass South Korea and Russia in nuclear generating capacity, and by 2020, it will generate more nuclear power than all nations except the U.S. and France. All of China's nuclear plants are located along the east coast and in southern parts of the country, near the country's most populous areas, but China has increasingly considered constructing reactors farther inland following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
17 Jul 2015:
2014 Set Multiple Global
Climate Records, NOAA Analysis Concludes
Several climate measures indicate that 2014 was the warmest year on record, according to a new report
compiled by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Based on data collected from 413 scientists and 58 countries, the analysis found that sea surface temperatures, upper ocean heat content, and global sea level all achieved record levels in 2014. Four independent global data sets also indicated that 2014 global surface temperatures were the warmest on record. Earlier this year, NASA and NOAA released a similar study
stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record based on 135 years of weather reports, and President Obama cited that finding in his 2015 State of the Union address. The new analysis confirms and extends these findings to multiple indicators of global climate change.
16 Jul 2015:
Most States Have Curbed
Power Plant Emissions Ahead of EPA Rule
A large majority of U.S. states — 42 of 50 — have already cut power plant carbon emissions ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, whose rules will be finalized next month, according to
an analysis published this week. The plan requires each state to limit emissions from its power plants; to do this, many states have closed coal-fired plants and replaced them with natural gas power plants, which release less carbon dioxide. In fact, the report found, the 42 states that have already lowered power plant carbon emissions did so by an average of 19 percent between 2008 and 2013. The report was conducted by the sustainability advocacy group Ceres, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bank of America, and four large utilities. “Most parts of the country are firmly on the path toward a clean energy future, but some states and utilities have a longer way to go, and overall the carbon emissions curve is not bending fast enough,” Ceres’ president, Mindy Lubber, said.
Interview: The High Environmental
Cost of Illicit Marijuana Cultivation
As some U.S. states move to legalize marijuana, one issue has been largely ignored in the policy debates: the serious
environmental effects of the marijuana industry. A new paper co-authored by ecologist Mary Power details many of those impacts by focusing on marijuana cultivation in California, where most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. is grown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Power describes how California growers siphon off scarce water resources, poison wildlife, and erode fragile soils. What’s needed, she contends, is legalization of marijuana at the federal level, which would likely drive down marijuana prices. “As long as there is a market that will pay enough to compensate for the brutally hard work they do to grow this stuff in forested mountains,” she says, “then it will keep growing.”
Read the interview.
15 Jul 2015:
'Buckyballs' May Be Able to
Capture Carbon Dioxide, Research Finds
Researchers have made progress toward using buckyballs — tiny, spherical chemical structures composed of 60 carbon molecules — to
Buckyball crystal structure
pull carbon from the atmosphere, a team from Rice University reports
in the journal Energy and Fuels
. They had previously found that buckyballs, also known as fullerene or carbon-60 molecules, have the ability to capture CO2 from high-temperature sources such as industrial flue gases and natural gas wells when combined with a polymer known as polyethyleneimine (PEI). In the new study, the researchers found that they could modify the PEI-enhanced buckyballs to capture carbon in lower-temperature environments. The advance may open the door to fine-tuning the enhanced buckyballs for a variety of carbon capture projects, the researchers say.
14 Jul 2015:
International Poll Finds
Widespread Concern About Climate Change
Climate change is the most widespread concern of the more than 45,000 people surveyed in a 40-nation Pew Research Center poll
Climate change is the most widespread global concern.
measuring perceptions of international challenges. The survey found that a majority of people in Latin America and Africa are very concerned about climate change. In Peru and Brazil, where years of declining deforestation rates have slowly started to climb, three-quarters of people surveyed expressed anxiety about climate change. Sub-Saharan Africans also voiced substantial concerns about climate change, with a median of 59 percent saying they are very concerned. Indians (73 percent) and Filipinos (72 percent) are also particularly worried, the poll found. European nations and the U.S. are significantly less worried — only 42 percent of people in these areas say they are very concerned about the climate. In a list of potential global threats, climate change ranked sixth of seven for people surveyed in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found.
13 Jul 2015:
Australian Government Curbs
Investments in Wind and Solar Energy
The Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a government-funded organization that invests in renewable energy, will no
Rooftop solar panels in Western Australia
longer invest in wind technology and small-scale solar projects, the government announced Sunday
. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the CEFC should invest in new and emerging technologies, and that wind and small-scale solar projects
should instead be supported by the free market. Currently, one-third of CEFC funding, which totals roughly $10 billion, goes to solar projects, the majority of which are small-scale. The funding ban could increase prices for small-scale solar projects such as rooftop photovoltaic panel installations, especially for low-income households, renters, and public housing tenants. The ban on these investments is the latest in a series of actions by the Abbott government to make cuts in environmental initiatives, including two failed attempts to abolish the CEFC.
10 Jul 2015:
Deeper Ocean Waters Have
Absorbed Much of Excess Atmospheric Heat
The waters of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean warmed significantly from 2003 to 2012, but most of the heat is being
Warming trends at depth in the Western Pacific
stored at depth rather than near the surface, NASA researchers explained
this week in the journal Science
. The findings shed light on mechanisms behind
the so-called global warming "hiatus," in which air temperatures appeared to rise more slowly from 2003 to 2012. Warming in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean during that period started to appear at roughly 32 feet below the surface, the researchers say, and most of the heat was retained at depths of 300 to 1,000 feet. Their findings are based on two decades of ocean temperature records. “Overall, the ocean is still absorbing extra heat,” said Josh Willis, an oceanographer who coauthored the study. “But the top couple of layers of the ocean exchange heat easily and can keep it away from the surface for ten years or so. ... In the long run, the planet is still warming.”
09 Jul 2015:
Bird Fatalities at Wind Facilities
Can Be Prevented With New Model, Study Says
The U.S. Geological Survey has developed a new model that it says can help predict and prevent bird fatalities at wind facilities before
they are even built. The model
takes into account three parameters, all of which can be measured before construction: the total footprint of the turbines, avian traffic near the facility, and collision probability. The model used golden eagles as a case study because their soaring and hunting behaviors make them susceptible to turbine collisions. Golden eagles also are long-lived and reproduce relatively late in life, which means wind farm fatalities could have particularly severe population impacts. For two years, the model successfully estimated eagle collisions at a newly constructed wind facility in Wyoming, the researchers say. The model's simplicity "allows wind facility developers to consider ways to reduce bird fatalities without having to collect a complicated set of data," said Leslie New, a researcher at Washington State University, who led the project.
Interview: How to Get People
To Care About Climate Change
Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist and economist, has been doing a lot of thinking about a question that has
Per Espen Stoknes
bedeviled climate scientists for years: Why have humans failed to deal with the looming threat posed by climate change? That question is the focus of his recent book, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming
, in which he analyzes what he calls the psychological barriers that have made it difficult to deal realistically with the climate crisis. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Stoknes talks about these barriers and about how the discussion of climate change needs to be reframed. “We need a new kind of stories,” he says, “stories that tell us that nature is resilient and can rebound and get back to a healthier state, if we give it a chance to do so.”
Read the interview.
08 Jul 2015:
Mountaintop Removal Coal
Mining Has Slowed Significantly, Data Show
Coal production from mountaintop removal mines
in the U.S. has declined 62 percent since 2008 — a much steeper drop than the downward
trend in overall coal production, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
reports. Mountaintop removal (MTR) mines have recently been subjected to additional stringent regulations. For example, MTR operations planning to discard excess rock and soil in streams must now secure extra permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tennessee is considering banning some types of MTR mining altogether, and a federal stream protection rule expected to be proposed this summer could place additional limits on the practice. Lower demand for U.S. coal in general can be attributed to competitive natural gas prices, renewable energy growth, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, the EIA says.
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
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.
06 Jul 2015:
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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.