28 Jun 2016:
U.S., Canada, and Mexico to
Set 50 Percent Renewable Power Goal by 2025
The United States, Canada, and Mexico will pledge on Wednesday to generate 50 percent of their electricity
from non-fossil fuel sources by 2025, according to U.S. officials. The three nations are expected to set the ambitious goal at a North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa. The commitment includes not just renewable sources of power such as energy and wind, but also hydropower, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, and gains in energy efficiency. Under that definition, the three nations now produce 37 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Canada is leading the way in non-fossil fuel power generation, with 59 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower and 16 percent from nuclear plants. Continent-wide cooperation on clean energy issues has improved since the election last year of Justin Trudeau as Canada’s Prime Minister.
27 Jun 2016:
Abandoned Coal Mines Emit
As Much CO2 as a Small Power Plant
Thousands of abandoned coal mines dot the U.S. landscape, vestiges of old fossil fuel boomtowns and industrial hubs.
An abandoned coal mine in Ashland, Penn.
But despite no longer producing coal, these sites are still contributing to climate change by leaking carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a recent study by scientists at West Virginia University
. The total amount of CO2 released annually by 140 abandoned sites in Pennsylvania is equal to that “of a small coal-fired power plant,” says the study, published in Environmental Earth Sciences
. CO2 is created when sulfuric acid generated during the mining process interacts with carbonate rocks. It is then carried to the surface
in runoff water. “Although considerable research has been conducted regarding the environmental legacy of abandoned mine lands, their role in carbon cycling is poorly [understood],” wrote the scientists. The findings “suggest that these waters may be important to carbon cycling on a regional scale.”
24 Jun 2016:
Cities on Six Continents
Join Forces to Combat Climate Change
Mayors from more than 7,100 cities on six continents announced this week
that they are creating a new alliance to fight climate change at the local level.
New York City
The new group — a merger of the European Union-based Covenant of Mayors and the United Nations-backed Compact of Mayors — represents a combined 600 million people in 119 countries. The initiative aims to set city-based CO2 emissions cuts, build sustainable communities, and foster the sharing of resiliency policies and technologies. “Cities are key to solving the climate change challenge,” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote in The Guardian
. “They account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, and mayors often have control over the largest sources. Cities can also act quickly to confront climate change, without the political and bureaucratic hurdles that often hold back national governments.”
23 Jun 2016:
Scientists Discover Contagious
Cancer in More Species of Shellfish
Last year, scientists discovered a type of contagious cancer in soft-shell clams in which free-floating cells transmitted the disease from one animal to another.
Now, a team of Columbia University researchers is reporting that contagious cancers in the ocean may be more common than previously thought
and can not only jump from animal to animal, but across species. According to the new study published in Nature, the leukemia-like cancer, known as disseminated neoplasia, has been found in three more species of bivalves: mussels, cockles, and golden carpet shell clams. The cancer cells were genetically distinct from their hosts, indicating they originated elsewhere. Transmissible cancer had previously been found in Tasmanian devils
and dogs, but there’s no indication that humans are at risk. “I would only worry deeply if I was a mollusk,” Stephen P. Goff, a molecular biologist at Columbia University and co-author of the study, told The New York Times
Unable to Endure Rising Seas,
Alaskan Villages Stuck in Limbo
A number of Alaska Native villages have been impacted so severely by sea-level rise and other climate-induced threats, they have decided to relocate.
But there is no U.S. agency designated to help pay for and implement an entire community’s move. Robin Bronen, a senior scientist with The Institute of Arctic Biology
at the University of Alaska, says that’s a huge problem. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she explains that because there is no government process to facilitate such relocations, none of these villages have been able to move, despite their resolve to do so. And in a bureaucratic Catch-22, these communities no longer receive the infrastructure repair funds they were once entitled to. Pointing to future sea level rise along U.S. coasts, Bronen says that “if we don't figure out how to create this relocation institutional framework, we're talking about humanitarian crises for millions of people living in the United States.”
Read the interview.
22 Jun 2016:
New NASA Visualization
Illustrates Severity of Recent Texas Floods
Texas experienced record flooding earlier this month after two weeks of near-constant storms dumped heavy rain on the eastern part of the state.
Rainfall accumulation during recent Texas floods.
As much as 30 inches of rain fell, causing thousands of residents from Dallas to Houston to evacuate, 15 deaths, and billions of dollars in damage. Now, NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio has released a video illustrating rainfall accumulation
in the U.S. from May 27 to June 9, highlighting just how severe and protracted the Texas storms were. Warmer air holds more moisture, so as temperatures have risen in recent decades, Texas has experienced more severe flooding. Houston, for example, has seen a 167 percent increase in the heaviest downpours
since the 1950s. Five major floods have occurred in the Houston area in the past year.
20 Jun 2016:
2015 Deadliest Year for
Environmentalists on Record, Finds Report
Last year was the deadliest year on record for environmentalists, according to a new report from Global Witness
, a nonprofit that tracks environmental and human rights abuses worldwide.
Indigenous people protest a dam in the Amazon.
One hundred and eighty-five people were killed trying to stop development of land, forests, and rivers in 16 countries in 2015 — equal to more than three people per week. The tally represents a 59 percent increase over 2014, and is double the number of journalists killed in the same period, according to the report. Environmentalists were most at risk in Brazil, the Philippines, and Columbia, which had 50, 33, and 26 killings last year, respectively. “This report sheds light on the acute vulnerability of indigenous people, whose weak land rights and geographic isolation make them particularly exposed to land grabbing for natural resource exploitation,” the Global Witness authors wrote. “In 2015, almost 40% of victims were indigenous.”
17 Jun 2016:
California’s Roadside Trees
Provide $1 Billion in Municipal Services
The trees that line California’s streets and boulevards are worth an estimated $1 billion a year for the work they do in removing air pollution, storing CO2, cooling homes, and reducing rain runoff, among other municipal services,
Palm trees in Los Angeles, California.
according to a new analysis
by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis. The state’s 9.1 million street trees pull nearly 568,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually, equal to taking 120,000 cars off the road, the study, published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening
, found. The scientists say California has room to put another 16 million trees along its roads if it wants. "We've calculated for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits," forester and lead author Greg McPherson said in a statement
. "These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
16 Jun 2016:
Some Coral Reef “Bright Spots”
Remain, Despite Devastating Bleaching
After decades of being overfished and mismanaged, and the worst bleaching event on record this year, scientists reported in the journal Nature this week
that there remain some “bright spots” among the world’s coral reefs
Coral reef on the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific.
– systems that are doing better than anyone expected. The study examined 18 different factors at 2,514 reefs in 46 nations, including water depth, tourism, fishing, and population density. Those systems that were still thriving — defined by the scientists as having more fish than expected — tended to be managed by, and accessible only to, local fishermen and indigenous groups. This included reefs in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Kiribati. “There’s been a narrative about local involvement, but it’s often very token,” Joshua Cinner, a research fellow at James Cook University in Australia and lead author of the study, told The Atlantic
. He said there should be more opportunity for “communities to creatively confront their own challenges.”
15 Jun 2016:
Clean Energy Could Cost Up To
59 Percent Less by 2025, Report Finds
The cost of solar energy could drop by as much as 59 percent by 2025, from 13 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency
Rooftop solar panels in Hannover, Germany.
Offshore wind could become 35 percent cheaper, and onshore wind 26 percent cheaper, by 2025. The cost of building renewable energy facilities is also likely to fall, by as much as 57 percent by the middle of next decade, the report found. “Historically, cost has been cited as one of the primary barriers to switching from fossil-based energy sources to renewable energy sources, but the narrative has now changed,” Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of IRENA, said in a statement
. “To continue driving the energy transition, we must now shift policy focus to support areas that will result in even greater cost declines and thus maximize the tremendous economic opportunity at hand.”
14 Jun 2016:
CO2 Crosses 400 ppm For Last
Time “Within Our Lifetimes,” Study Warns
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will stay permanently above 400 parts per million (ppm) this year due to El Nino—and will likely not drop below that number again “within our lifetimes,” according to a study published this week in the journal Nature
CO2 measurements from 1958 to today.
The milestone represents a symbolic threshold that scientists and environmentalists had long sought to avoid. Greenhouse gases have jumped 48 percent from the pre-industrial era, and 29 percent in just the past 60 years, from 315 ppm to 407 ppm today. CO2 concentrations tend to ebb and flow with the seasons, dipping as vegetation grows in summer and increasing during winter. But in the study published in Nature
, scientists at the U.K.’s Met Office and University of California, San Diego warned that because of the recent El Nino, CO2 concentrations wouldn’t fall below 400 ppm this year, or any year into the distant future.
California Condor Population
Reaches New Heights in 2015
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced what it called a milestone for the California condor: More chicks had hatched and fledged in the wild during 2015 than the number of condors that died,
bringing the total in the wild to 270. It was perhaps the most promising news about the condor in decades. After their numbers dropped to just 22 in the 1980s, the U.S. government began rounding up the birds for a last-ditch captive breeding program, then gradually released newly bred birds to the wild. The program was highly controversial, and the condors’ return to the wild over the past two and a half decades has been fraught with peril. But biologists have noted encouraging signs in recent years: The birds have expanded their range, are more likely to engage in wild behaviors, and have begun foraging for their own food.
10 Jun 2016:
Researchers Find a Way to Turn
CO2 Into Rock at Iceland Power Plant
Scientists have discovered a new way to successfully capture carbon dioxide and transform it into rock deep underground. The experiment, published in this week’s Science
Section of rock made from mixing CO2 and water.
was conducted at the Hellisheidi power plant in Iceland, the world’s largest geothermal facility. When the plant — which helps power Iceland’s capital, Revkjavik — pumps up volcanically heated water to turbines, gases like carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide often come up as well. A team of U.S. and European researchers, led by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, captured the CO2, mixed it with the used volcanic water, and re-injected it into basalt rocks up to a half-mile underground. More than 95 percent of the mixture naturally solidified into carbonate minerals in less than two years. Previous estimates predicted that the process could take hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
09 Jun 2016:
Fish Can Recognize Human
Faces, According to One New Study
Fish now join humans, monkeys, primates, and birds as one of the few animals able to distinguish faces, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports
James St. John/Wikimedia
The skill requires a sophisticated combination of perception and memory
— and generally, a neocortex. But scientists at the University of Oxford in England and the University of Queensland in Australia were able to train archerfish to recognize human faces, despite the fact that these tropical fish don’t have complex brain structures. Archerfish typically feed by spitting water at prey, like insects. So the scientists taught the fish to spray water at images of particular human faces in exchange for food. Archerfish identified the correct person 81 percent of the time.
08 Jun 2016:
Sea Ice Hits New Spring Low
In the Arctic, Says Federal Agency
Sea ice extent in the Arctic hit a new record spring low last month, measuring 537,000 square miles below average — an area twice the size of Texas, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced this week
Sea ice breaking up in the Beaufort Sea in May.
Last month’s Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest May sea ice measurement since satellite monitoring began 38 years ago and follows a string of record low ice this winter. “We didn’t just break the old May record, we’re way below the previous one,” NSIDC Director Mark Serreze told Climate Central
. The Arctic’s snow cover also hit record lows this year, with April having the lowest snow cover for that month on record and May the fourth lowest. The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world in recent decades, but scientists say that this year’s strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean could be ramping up temperatures even more. Temperatures at the pole have been 4 to 11 degrees F above average
this winter. “Will we end up with very low sea ice extent this September?” Serreze said. “I think pretty much absolutely.”
06 Jun 2016:
Fish Choose Plastic Over
Zooplankton in Polluted Waters
Fish that grow up in waters full of plastic particles develop a taste for trash, choosing to eat plastic over zooplankton, their natural food source, according to a study published in the journal Science
The research, by ecologists at Uppsala University in Swedish, found larval perch from the Baltic Sea exposed to microplastic pollution (less than 5mm in size) had stunted growth, were less active, ignored the smell of predators, and experienced increased mortality rates. Plastic pollution has become a major problem in the world’s oceans, but scientists are just beginning to understand how these fragments can affect the health of marine species. “If early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,” said ecologist Oona Lönnstedt
, lead author of the study.
03 Jun 2016:
Increasing Hurricane Damage
Could Strain U.S. Emergency Relief Budget
As hurricane season in the U.S. officially got underway this week, federal financial experts warned that damage from tropical storms will “increase significantly in the coming decades” due to human-driven climate change, and that such a trend could threaten the national emergency relief budget.
New Jersey National Guard
“Over time, the costs associated with hurricane damage will increase more rapidly than the economy will grow,” the report from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office states
. Right now, damage from hurricanes amounts to 0.16 percent of the U.S. GDP, or about $28 billion. As sea levels rise, intense storms become more frequent, and coastal development continues, the report estimates this share could reach .25 percent ($45 billion in today’s economy) by 2075. The federal agency suggested that one way to cut costs is “a coordinated effort to significantly reduce global emissions.”
02 Jun 2016:
U.S. Officials Issue a
Sweeping Ban On Elephant Ivory Trade
The Obama administration finalized a rule this week banning the sale of nearly all elephant ivory
within the United States.
The exceptions to the new rule include professionally appraised antiques at least a century old and items with fewer than 200 grams (7 ounces) of ivory. The rule does not apply to ivory from other species, such as walrus, whale, and mammoth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement. The new regulation is part of a recent global push to halt the trade of elephant ivory from Africa. Kenya burned 105 tons of confiscated ivory in April
to raise awareness of the country’s growing poaching problem, and the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will seek a total ban on elephant products during an international wildlife trade meeting this fall.
01 Jun 2016:
Climate Change Could Be Making
Food Crops More Toxic, UN Report Says
As extreme weather increases in frequency and intensity, food crops are producing more chemical compounds that can be toxic to humans in large doses, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme
Crops such as wheat, maize, and soybeans generate these compounds as a natural response to environmental stressors, such as drought, floods or heat waves. But when consumed by humans for extended periods of time, they can cause illnesses like neurological diseases or cancer, according to the study. One example, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports
, is nitrate. Drought slows down plants’ conversion of nitrates into amino acids and proteins, leading to a build up of the compound. When consumed in large quantities, nitrates stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body. "We are just beginning to recognize the magnitude of toxin- related issues confronting farmers in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics," the UNEP report noted.
31 May 2016:
Bees’ Fuzzy Bodies Help Them
Detect Electrical Charges From Flowers
Back in 2013, scientists discovered that bees can detect the electrical charges that flowers emit, helping them locate nearby food sources.
Exactly how the bees were doing this, however, remained a mystery. Now, scientists have found that the hairs on bees’ fuzzy bodies move in response to the charges
, which send nerve signals to bees’ brains that flowers are nearby. The finding is an important one: Scientists have long thought
that only animals in marine or moist habitats could detect electric fields, since currents are carried through water. That bees can do this in dry air opens up the possibility that other insects might have the same ability. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Bristol in the U.K., was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
27 May 2016:
Poland Begins Logging
Ancient Forest Despite Fierce Protests
Despite intense protests from environmentalists and scientists, Poland began logging the Bialowieza Forest this week, the last remaining fragment of Europe’s ancient woodlands and a World Heritage site.
The forest, covering more than 350,000 acres, is home to the continent’s largest population of European bison and 20,000 other wildlife species. Polish officials said the logging is to remove spruce trees dead or dying from a bark beetle infestation, but green groups argue that half the trees marked for removal aren’t spruce. Environmentalists have been patrolling the forest to keep track of logging activity, and they filed a formal complaint last month with the European Commission to intervene “before the Polish government allows for the irreversible destruction of the Bialowieza forest,” Greenpeace Poland activist Katarzyna Jagiełło recently told The Guardian
26 May 2016:
More Solar Energy Jobs Exist
In U.S. Than in Oil and Gas Sector
Solar energy now supports more jobs in the U.S. than either the oil and gas industry or coal mining, according to a new report
from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Solar jobs grew at a rate 12 times faster than general U.S. job market growth. Worldwide, employment in green energy grew 5 percent in 2015, to 8.1 million jobs, IRENA reported. The 58 percent drop in oil prices since 2014
caused many fossil fuel companies to lay off workers — more than 350,000 people worldwide since the slump began. The IRENA report says clean energy jobs could triple to 24 million by 2030 if nations follow through on the climate pledges they made in Paris last year. “This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of IRENA.
For the Endangered American Eel,
A Long, Slippery Road to Recovery
The American eel isn’t just a U.S. native. It’s also indigenous to Greenland, Iceland, eastern Canada, and parts of Central and South America. Despite this expansive range, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as “endangered.”
It would be in even worse shape without the Delaware River, which flows unimpeded 330 miles through New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Few, if any, eel refuges are more important, and management on the Delaware provides a global blueprint for eel recovery. The upper watershed is protected as a Wild and Scenic River corridor and as the water supply for New York City, and last June, New York State banned fracking in its part of the basin. Compare the Delaware with the nearby Susquehanna River, where the Conowingo Dam has wiped out 400 miles of eel habitat on the main river. But here and elsewhere eel recovery is underway.
25 May 2016:
Could This Straddling Bus Help
Solve China’s Air Pollution Problem?
With an estimated 20 million new drivers on the road each year, China has long struggled to control its CO2 emissions, air pollution, and traffic problems.
But a Beijing-based transit company is planning to test a new straddling bus this summer
that could provide some relief, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua. The bus, which can carry up to 1,400 passengers, hovers above the road, letting smaller vehicles pass underneath. Because it operates on existing roadways, the system is much cheaper to build than underground subways, while carrying the same number of people. The idea of a straddling bus has been around since 1969
, but has remained a far-fetched concept until recent years. A model of the system, designed by Transit Explore Bus, was unveiled at the International High-Tech Expo in Beijing this month. The company plans to build and test an actual straddling bus in Changzhou this summer.
24 May 2016:
Peru Declares Emergency to
Fight Mercury Pollution from Gold Mines
Peru has declared a 60-day emergency in the Amazon due to widespread mercury pollution from the region’s booming gold mining industry, the country's environment minister announced this week
Several studies have confirmed dangerously high levels of the neurotoxin in waterways, fish, and people living in the Madres de Dios region, near Peru’s southeast border. Members of the Harakmbut indigenous group, for example, have mercury levels in their bodies six times higher than what doctors deem safe
. Mercury is used to separate gold from ore, but it can have serious health impacts
, including damaging brain, kidney, and lung function. In illegal mining operations — which make up the majority of mines in the Peruvian Amazon — workers often handle the substance with bare hands, and dump excess mercury into nearby rivers. During the 60-day emergency period, the government will supply uncontaminated fish to local communities and set up mobile health clinics.
23 May 2016:
World Could Warm 8 Degrees
Celsius If All Fossil Fuel Reserves Burned
As nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week to hash out how to achieve the 2-degree Celsius goal they set in Paris, new research is providing policymakers a glimpse of what would happen if the world does nothing to curb climate change.
What if nations chose instead to burn through all of their remaining fossil fuel reserves, equal to 5 trillion tons of CO2 emissions? According to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the world would warm an average 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F), or up to 17 degrees Celsius (30 degrees F) in the Arctic. The research was conducted by a team of climate scientists at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wanted to understand the worst-case scenario. “Such climate changes, if realized, would have extremely profound impacts on ecosystems, human health, agriculture, economies, and other sectors,” the researchers write.
Interview: CO2 'Air Capture' Could
Be Key to Slowing Global Warming
For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 "air capture" that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere. "We need to have the ability to walk this backwards," says Lackner. "I'm saying this is a war, and we need to use all the weapons at our disposal. You don't want to get into this fight with one hand tied behind your back."
Read the interview.
20 May 2016:
Obama Looking for Kids
As Science Advisors to the White House
White House advisors tend to be experts with decades of experience in specific fields, from foreign policy to education to energy.
Chuck Kennedy/White House
But President Barack Obama announced this week
he’s looking for a much younger batch of consultants to advise the White House on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The Kid Science Advisors outreach program will ask children which issues are most important to them and how to better engage students studying science to help guide White House policy and priorities. "The real reason we do this, as I’ve said before, is to teach our young people that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl or the NCAA tournament that deserves a celebration,” Obama said Thursday
. “We want those who have invented the products and lifesaving medicines and are engineering our future to be celebrated as well."
19 May 2016:
Brewing Company Creates
Edible Six-Pack Rings to Save Wildlife
Plastic six-pack rings have long been a nuisance to wildlife and ecosystems, fouling oceans and shorelines, and entangling and choking wildlife.
Now, a brewery in Florida has developed an edible version from the byproducts of making beer
, including wheat and barely. If not eaten by marine creatures, the six-pack ring biodegrades. Saltwater Brewery
3-D printed 500 of the holders in April and plans to scale up production to package all of its 400,000 cans of beer per month in the edible rings. The material is just as strong as traditional plastics, the brewery says, but is more expensive. The price would drop, however, as more companies use the edible rings, the brewery said. “We want to influence the big guys,” Chris Goves, president of Saltwater Brewery, said in a video about the new project. “And hopefully inspire them to get on board.”
18 May 2016:
Trees Sleep, With Branches And
Leaves Drooping at Night, New Study Says
Scientists have long known that plants have a day-to-night cycle. Some trees close their leaves in the evening. Most flowers open up their petals in the morning.
But these observations have largely been made only in experiments with potted plants. Now, a team of scientists has used a laser scanner to measure trees’ daily cycles in the wild, and they’ve discovered that trees sleep. “Our results show that the whole tree droops during night, which can be seen as position change in leaves and branches,” Eetu Puttonen, a scientist at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and lead author of the new study, said in a statement
. Silver birch leaves drooped to their lowest point a couple of hours before sunrise and became upright again a few hours later. It isn’t yet clear whether the sun or the plants’ internal rhythm spurs the movement. The findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science