05 Jan 2015:
U.S. Cities Are Significantly
Brighter than German Cities, Scientists Say
German cities emit several times less light per capita than similarly sized American cities, according to new research
published in the journal Remote Sensing
Berlin, Germany, at night
Moreover, the differences in light emission become more dramatic as city size increases: Light per capita increases with city size in the U.S. but decreases in Germany. Factors such as the type of lamps used and architectural elements like the width of the streets and the amount of trees are likely behind the differences, the researchers say. Energy-efficient LED street lighting
is currently being installed in many cities worldwide, and the researchers expect this to change the nighttime environment in many ways — for example, by reducing the amount of light that shines upward. The study also found that, in major cities in developing countries, the brightest light sources were typically airports or harbors, whereas the brightest areas in large European cities are often stadiums and city centers.
23 Dec 2014:
Madrid Announces Largest
Energy-Efficient Street Lighting Project
The city of Madrid has announced plans
to renew its entire street lighting system with 225,000 new energy-efficient
New energy-efficient street lighting in Madrid, Spain.
bulbs, the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date. The new lights, which will afford the city a 44-percent reduction in energy costs, will pay for themselves, according to Philips
, the company supplying the new system. In addition to drawing less overall power, the bulbs’ intensity will be controlled from a central command panel, resulting in less wasted energy. Of the 225,000 new lights, 84,000 will be locally manufactured LEDs, and the city is taking measures to ensure the safe recycling of heavy metals found in the old lamps. Similar, though smaller, projects have been undertaken in Argentina, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
A Green Dilemma for the Holidays:
Better to Shop Online or In-Store?
Various studies in recent years have suggested that online shopping typically packs a lower carbon punch than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. But new research suggests the story is more complicated than that. The key, according to a report in the Journal of Cleaner Production
, is to minimize the number of miles driven per item — whether by the shopper, a local delivery van, or a FedEx truck.
18 Sep 2014:
Trees Growing Significantly
Faster in Warming Climate, Study Finds
An analysis of data spanning 140 years from one of the world's oldest forest study sites indicates that trees have
Collecting growth ring samples from study site
been growing significantly faster and stands have become larger since the 1960s. The study, published in Nature Communications
, was based on 600,000 individual tree surveys conducted since 1870 at a central European forest study site. European beech and Norway spruce, the dominant tree species in the experimental plots, grew 77 and 32 percent faster, respectively, than they did 50 years ago, the analysis found. The trends are primarily due to rising temperatures and longer growing seasons, the researchers say, although increasing carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere could also play a role. The stages of tree development haven't changed, the researchers say; instead, trees are moving through their development trajectory much faster than before. The changes could affect other plants and animals in the forest ecosystem that rely on specific phases of forest development, the study notes.
05 Aug 2014:
Forests Already Seeing Effects of
Climate Change, European Researchers Say
Damage from wind, bark beetles, and wildfires has increased drastically in Europe's forests in recent years, and climate change is the driving factor, according to
research published in Nature Climate Change
. These disturbances have become increasingly acute over the last 40 years, damaging 56 million cubic meters of timber per year from 2002 to 2010. And researchers estimate that an additional million cubic meters of timber — roughly 7,000 soccer fields of forest — will likely be destroyed each year over the next 20 years if climate change trends continue. Damage from forest fires in particular is expected to increase on the Iberian Peninsula, while bark beetle damage will likely increase most strongly in the Alps. Wind damage is predicted to rise most notably in Central and Western Europe, the study found. To compound the problem, as more forests are damaged, there will be fewer healthy trees available to remove the climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the researchers note.
29 Jul 2014:
Danish Wind Power To Be Half
The Price of Coal and Natural Gas by 2016
Wind power has overtaken all other energy sources as the cheapest form of electricity in Denmark, with a cost
roughly half that of coal and natural gas projected by 2016, according to
an analysis by the Danish Energy Association (DEA). Home to major turbine manufacturers Vestas and Siemens, the country has been investing steadily in wind power since the 1970s and seems to be reaping the benefits of those investments now, analysts say. Electricity from two new onshore wind power facilities set to begin operating in 2016 will cost around 5 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, according to DEA calculations. The Danish government aims to meet 50 percent of the country's total electricity needs with wind power by 2020, and another 20 percent with other renewable sources. By 2050, the government aims to produce all electricity from renewable sources.
23 Jul 2014:
"Inglorious" Produce Campaign
Is Major Success for French Grocer
A major French grocery chain, Intermarche, has launched a novel campaign
to curb food waste
market visually flawed produce. The "Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables" campaign aims to revamp the image of imperfect and non-conforming produce, much of which is thrown away by growers because it doesn't meet grocery retailers' standards. Intermarche began welcoming the "Grotesque Apple," "Ridiculous Potato," "Hideous Orange," and other infamous items to its shelves, created posters to explain that the produce is as nutritious and flavorful as the more attractive versions, and reduced prices by 30 percent. The campaign was an "immediate success
," Intermarche says: Stores nationwide sold 1.2 million tons of "inglorious" fruits and vegetables in the first two days, and overall store traffic increased by 24 percent.
09 Jul 2014:
One-third of German Power
Came from Renewables in First Half of 2014
Thanks to abundant sunshine and wind, renewable energy generated 31 percent of Germany’s electricity
in the first six months of this year, according to a new report. The report
, released by the Fraunhofer Insititute, said that 27 percent of the country’s electricity production came from wind and solar, and four percent from hydropower. Solar power generation grew by 28 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the first six months of 2013, and wind power grew by 19 percent over the same period. On a couple of particularly windy and sunny days in May and June, renewable energy accounted for 50 to 75 percent of Germany’s electricity production, the report said. The Fraunhofer Institute said that as Germany continues to phase out its nuclear power plants, it remains reliant on highly polluting “brown coal”
to produce electricity. A substantial portion of German coal-generated electricity is being exported, the report said.
29 May 2014:
Electric Airplane Debut
Offers Hopes for Cutting Emissions
The aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus recently unveiled
a fully-electric aircraft which, if widely adopted, could reduce the aerospace industry's carbon
The recently debuted, fully-electric E-Fan
dioxide emissions by an order of magnitude. The E-Fan aircraft has two, 30-kilowatt electric motors powered by a series of lithium-ion batteries in the wings of the plane, as well as a 6-kilowatt electric motor in the wheel to provide extra power during takeoff and taxiing. Despite incorporating highly energy-efficient and aerodynamic design elements, however, the E-Fan has only a one-hour range and cannot leave the vicinity of the airport. Airbus says that future designs will rely on electric-hybrid engine technology and that by 2050 such airplanes should be able to accommodate 70 to 80 passengers on a three-hour flight. The plans were spurred, in part, by the European Union's Flight Path 2050
, which aims to reduce the aviation sector's nitrous oxide emissions by 90 percent, noise pollution by 65 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent by 2050. "It's a very different way of flying," said Jean Botti, a technology officer at Airbus Group, "absolutely no noise, no emissions."
01 May 2014:
Extent of Marine Litter
Documented in Major Seafloor Survey
A major survey of the ocean floor has found trash piling up throughout the Atlantic and Arctic oceans and Mediterranean Sea, reaching depths of nearly 3 miles below the surface, according to scientists
Marine litter from study
European research organizations. Litter was located at each of the 600 sites surveyed, with plastic accounting for 41 percent and derelict fishing gear 34 percent. Glass, metal, wood, cardboard, clothing, pottery, and unidentified materials were also found. Garbage accumulated at sites as far as 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from land and at depths up to 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles), according to the report. Seafloor litter is a major problem since it can accumulate in and kill marine animals that mistake it for food. The trash can also entangle fish, seabirds, and coral. "This survey has shown that human litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote and deepest parts of the oceans," one author said. "These were [humans'] first visits to many of these sites, but we were shocked to find that our rubbish has got there before us."
14 Mar 2014:
Major Winds Have Lashed
North Atlantic This Winter, NOAA Map Shows
Forty-three hurricane-force winter storms have lashed the North Atlantic since late October, boosting the region's average wind speed in January and February by more than 12 miles per hour, as shown in this map
the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The blue colors indicate areas where wind speeds exceeded the 1981-2010 average; browns indicate winds that were lower than average. In the North Atlantic, an unusually high number of hurricane-force storms, with winds exceeding 74 mph, battered southeastern Greenland, Norway, and the coast of western Europe. The U.K. Met Office recently issued a report on the December and January storms that ravaged the British coast, saying
, "For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional (two month) periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years." No studies have confirmed a link between these intense winter storms and climate change, but some scientists think climate-driven changes in the jet stream
may be behind the wild weather.
29 Jan 2014:
Driven by State Incentives
Electric Cars Top Vehicle Sales in Norway
Norwegians have been snapping up electric cars: In the last three months of 2013, the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars, including conventionally fueled models. But rather than environmental concerns,
An EV charges up in Oslo
a host of government incentives — totaling an estimated $8,300 per vehicle — are largely driving the boom, the Guardian reports
. Norway, a country of only 5 million people, currently has around 21,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, compared to 70,000 EVs among 313 million Americans and 5,000 EVs among 63 million people in the UK. More than 1,200 EVs are being sold in Norway per month thanks to incentives that include free electricity for recharging, lower sales tax rates, waived tolls, free parking, insurance discounts, and permission to drive in bus lanes, which are less crowded. The EV rush is expected to slow, however, as bus lanes become more crowded, and the government plans to end financial incentives once 50,000 EVs are registered, which could occur by 2016.
Interview: Activist Kumi Naidoo
On Russia and the Climate Struggle
Kumi Naidoo, the international executive director of Greenpeace, is intimately familiar with the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Russian Arctic. In 2012, he and five other Greenpeace activists were hosed down with frigid water and pelted with pieces of metal as they attempted to climb aboard the platform.
Greenpeace and Prirazlomnaya were back in the news recently when 28 Greenpeace members were arrested and held for several months for storming the rig before being released in December. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Naidoo talks about what’s needed to get global climate talks off the ground and launch a green energy revolution, and the reason his activist organization has decided to take such a strong stand against oil drilling in the rapidly melting Arctic Ocean. "We went back [to Prirazlomnaya]," says Naidoo, "because we’re trying to draw a line in the ice, because once this starts it will have breached another threshold of meeting our rapacious appetite for oil and gas in the most fragile of environments." Read the interview.
30 Dec 2013:
Hydropower "Battery" Could
Even Out Wind Energy Supply, Scientists Say
Norwegian hydropower stations could be linked to wind farms
and serve as giant "batteries" to even out power supply fluctuations, a Scandinavian research organization says. A major hurdle for renewable energy suppliers is intermittent power production — sometimes too much power is generated, other times too little, and periods of peak demand often don't coincide with periods of peak supply. By using excess electricity from windy periods to pump water uphill into reservoirs, hydroelectric power stations could smooth out the intermittent power supplied by large wind farms, Scandinavian researchers from the firm SINTEF say. At times of low wind energy supply, the stored water could be released through dam turbines and hydroelectricity would fill the gap. The plan requires updating and refurbishing existing Norwegian hydropower plants, which could increase their output potential by 11 to 18 gigawatts, enough to provide an adequate backup power supply.
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.
28 Oct 2013:
Underground Heat From
Cities Could Help Power Them, Study Says
The heat generated by urban areas and their buildings, factories, sewers, and transportation systems could be used to power those cities, according to a new study by German and Swiss researchers
. Thermal energy produced by the so-called "urban heat island effect" warms shallow aquifers lying below cities, and geothermal and groundwater heat pumps could tap into those warm reservoirs to heat and cool buildings, the scientists say. In the southwest German city of Karlsruhe, the researchers found that the city of 300,000 generated 1 petajoule of heat per year — enough to heat 18,000 households. Karlsruhe's underground heat production increased by about 10 percent over the past three decades, the team reported in Environmental Science and Technology
. The biggest contributors to the city's underground heat flux were its densely populated residential areas and surface temperature increases associated with paving. Sewage pipes, underground district heating networks, and thermal waste water discharges also contribute to warming shallow aquifers, the study found.
21 Oct 2013:
French Utility Company
Agrees to Build Major Nuclear Plant in U.K.
The British government and the French state-controlled utility company, EDF Group, have agreed to build the U.K.'s first nuclear power plant in a generation. The new plant, to be built at Hinkley Point in southwest England, is part of the British government's ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions in half by the mid-2020s. To meet that goal, the U.K. plans to renew some of its existing nuclear plants and build several new plants to replace aging ones, the New York Times reports
. Once completed, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station will supply 7 percent of the country's electricity — enough to power 6 million homes. Consumers and taxpayers will cover most of the projected £16 ($26 billion) overall cost, but the proposed project is expected to face opposition since EDF will be guaranteed a price of roughly £90 ($145) per megawatt hour for 35 years, a rate that is considerably higher than current electricity costs.
15 Oct 2013:
Nine in 10 Europeans in Cities
Breathe Dangerous, Polluted Air, Study Says
More than 90 percent of Europeans living in cities are exposed to harmful levels of air pollutants, according to a new assessment
from the European Environment Agency. Concentrations of ground-level ozone, or smog,
pose a danger to 97 percent of city populations, and levels of fine particulate matter (particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5) exceed European standards for 91 to 96 percent of city-dwellers — and European standards for both pollutants exceed World Health Organization
recommendations. A new study of European mothers linked higher PM2.5 exposure
to lower birth weight, a standard indicator of fetal development. Eastern European countries have the highest levels of PM2.5, whereas ground-level ozone is worst in northern Italy. Although emissions of most air pollutants have steadily declined over the past 10 years — lead and carbon monoxide levels, for example, now meet international standards in most areas — emissions haven't fallen as much as predicted.
30 Sep 2013:
Ikea to Sell Home Solar Panels
In All British Stores Within a Year
The Swedish furniture retailer Ikea will begin selling residential solar panels in its 17 UK stores within the next 10 months. The basic package's $9,500 price tag will include 18 panels, installation, maintenance,
design consultation, and energy monitoring. With energy savings and current green energy subsidies in the UK, consumers should typically earn as much as $1,244 per year and break even in about seven years, Ikea said. Great Britain's heavily subsidized green energy market is smaller than other European countries', but it has shown steady growth, rising 25 percent in the last year, the Guardian reports
. The decision by the world's largest furniture retailer comes after a successful test run at a store outside London, where solar panel sales averaged one unit per day. Ikea has not announced plans to sell units in the U.S., where some utility companies have sought an end to public subsidies of
residential solar installations.
Counterpoint: Two Scientists Offer
A Dissenting View on Ascension Island
Ecologists Daniel Simberloff, of the University of Tennessee, and Donald Strong, of the University of California, Davis, have written a critical appraisal of a recent Yale Environment 360
article by Fred Pearce about Ascension Island. In their critique, the two scientists contend that Pearce failed to accurately describe what has occurred on the island and misrepresented the science of restoration ecology. Read more
Yale Environment 360 Articles Are
Yale Environment 360
Now Available in Spanish and Portuguese
has increased its international reach with a new partnership launched this month with Universia, a Spanish online education network. As part of this joint effort, Universia will translate selected Yale Environment 360
articles into Spanish and Portuguese
and feature them on its website, which has more than 10 million unique viewers each month. The articles will be featured on a special e360
page on the Universia site at e360yale.universia.net
. Universia is an institutional network of 1,242 universities in Spain, Portugal, and 21 countries throughout Latin America, and through this partnership, Yale Environment 360
will significantly expand its international audience and influence. You can find the new e360/Universia page at e360yale.universia.net
30 Aug 2013:
Greenland Ice Hides Gorge
Longer than the Grand Canyon
A massive gorge nearly twice as long as the Grand Canyon is hidden under Greenland's ice sheet, reports a team of researchers from the U.K., Canada, and Italy.
With a width of about six miles and a maximum depth of 2,600 feet, the previously undiscovered canyon is as wide as its Arizona counterpart and nearly half as deep. Flowing water likely carved the canyon long before the formation of the mile-deep ice sheet that has blanketed it for the past few million years. Researchers found the feature using ice-penetrating radar equipment, they reported in Science
. The canyon does not yet have a name. "It's remarkable to find something like this when many people believe the surface of the earth is so well mapped," said lead author Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.
26 Aug 2013:
Ocean Acidification Could
Amplify Global Warming, Study Says
The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans caused by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide not only poses a threat to marine creatures, but also could lead to an intensification of planetary warming,
according to a new study. A team of U.S., British, and German researchers conducted experiments in seawater enclosures, known as mesocosms
, showing that the increasing acidification of the ocean leads to a drop in production of an important sulfur compound, dimethylsulphide, or DMS. Marine emissions of DMS are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulfur,
and those sulfur aerosols play an important role in reflecting the sun’s energy back into space and cooling the planet. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the scientists found that when they created acidic conditions in the seawater enclosures that match pH levels expected in 2100, emissions of DMS fell by roughly 18 percent. The scientists said their study was the first to prove the link between rising ocean acidification and the potential decrease in planet-cooling sulfur dioxide aerosols.
13 Aug 2013:
Too Many Urban Beehives
May Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say
A surge in urban beekeeping may be doing more harm than good to honeybee populations
, according to UK scientists. As the number of rooftop hives increases in cities worldwide
— including London, where there are
A Berlin beekeeper
now 10 hives per square kilometer — two researchers from the University of Sussex warn that too many hives can be detrimental. Writing in The Biologist
, the magazine of the Society of Biology, they suggest that inexperienced beekeepers can create conditions in which there isn’t enough food for their insects. “If there are too many colonies in an area, then the food supply will be insufficient,” Francis Ratnieks, a professor at the university’s Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, told the BBC. “This will mean that colonies do not thrive, and may also affect other species that also visit flowers.”
01 Aug 2013:
Whales Shown to Flee
From Mid-Frequency Military Sonar
Two new studies show that the use of military sonar can provoke whales to flee
, providing evidence that the naval operations may be a factor in mass strandings of whales and dolphins worldwide. According to one study
A blue whale
most marine mammal strandings related to naval sonar exercises involve beaked whales, a notoriously shy species that responds to noise levels well below those used by the U.S. Navy. Scientists believe the beaked whales may interpret the sonar noises as the sounds of killer whales. A separate study
found that even mid-frequency sonar affected the behavior of blue whales, the largest animals on earth, especially during feeding. After exposing tagged blue whales to simulated military sonar and other mid-frequency sounds, the animals often ceased feeding, increased swimming speeds, and traveled away from the sound. “Noise pollution threatens vulnerable populations, driving them away from areas important to their survival, and at worst injuring or even causing the deaths of some whales and dolphins,” Sarah Dolman of the non-profit group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told the Guardian
31 Jul 2013:
Desert Tree Plantings
Could Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels
The large-scale planting of jatropha trees in the world’s arid regions could help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
, a new study says. Using computer models and data from plantations in Egypt, India, and
Madagascar, a team of German scientists calculated that plantations of the durable, scrubby jatropha — which can also be used as a biofuel — could capture 17 to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare annually. Jatropha is particularly suited for so-called “carbon farming” because it can grow in hot, dry regions where the soil is unsuitable for food crops, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics
. In addition, the researchers estimate that there are about 1 billion hectares of “unused and marginal” land suitable for cultivating such tree plantations. Since jatropha trees do require some water, the authors suggest they should be planted near coastal regions where desalinated seawater could be accessible.
29 Jul 2013:
Wired Honeybees Show
Harmful Impacts of Pesticides on Navigation
Using tiny radar antennae glued to the backs of honeybees, European scientists have found that bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides were more likely to become disoriented
and separated from their hives.
Honeybee wired with radar antennae
After attaching the small transponders to 200 bees, including some that were fed pesticide-laced syrup, scientists discovered that the exposed bees had difficulty navigating and were unable to retrace the path back to their hives. “We find the control bees are just fantastic — they use their landscape and their vector memory and they do fine,” Randolf Menzel, an insect neurobiologist at the Free University in Berlin, told the London Telegraph
. “The treated bees, depending on the doses of the substance, are more confused.” The findings appear to support a theory that neonicotinoids make bees more vulnerable to pathogens and could be a factor in so-called “colony collapse disorder,” a phenomenon that has decimated honeybee populations
in recent years.
24 Jul 2013:
European Investment Bank
Will Not Finance Most Coal Power Stations
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the main lending arm of the European Union, has decided to stop financing most coal-fired power plants
, part of an effort to help the 28-nation bloc meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2030. The EIB says that new and refurbished coal-fired power stations will be ineligible for funding unless they emit less than 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, a standard that traditional coal power plants would be unable to meet. Power stations that burn coal would only be able to meet the standards if they also produce heat for municipal or commercial heating systems or burned biomass. The EIB says it plans to further tighten its emissions standards for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in the future.
Interview: Leaving Our Descendants
A Whopping Increase in Sea Levels
Last week, a group of scientists led by Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research released a paper
that made a stark forecast:
For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase, the world will eventually experience a 2.3-meter increase in sea level. That means that should carbon emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, and temperatures soar 4 to 5 degrees C in the next century or two, the world could well experience sea level increases of many meters — dozens of feet — in the centuries and millennia to come. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Levermann discusses how he and his colleagues reached their conclusions, how much disruption such large sea level increases might cause, and why we need to ponder the effect of our actions on future generations. “Society needs to decide about how much damage it wants to do in the future and how much damage future generations can actually cope with,” he says.
Read the interview
19 Jul 2013:
European Fish Stocks
Show Signs of Recovery, Study Says
A major assessment of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic Ocean shows that many species are recovering and are now being fished sustainably.
The surprising findings, reported in the journal Current Biology,
are based on data from government research institutes that collected millions of measurements of fish, both at sea and in markets. The study showed that for the first time in decades the majority of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic are recovering, thanks to reforms instituted by individual nations and the European Union in 2002. This good news comes amid widespread criticism of EU fisheries policies
, which recently have undergone further reform. “We should be aware that low fishing pressure needs to be maintained until stocks recover,” said researcher Robin Cook of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “This is only the first step. Now we need to see numbers increase as a result of continued low fishing pressure.”