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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    A general view shows Beijing's skyline on a sunny day, China January 10, 2017.

    Residents of China's capital are enjoying some much-needed respiratory respite this week, as suffocating smog finally subsided to clear blue skies.

    In mid-December, for just the second time ever, Beijing issued a red alert for air pollution — warning of severe smog expected to last more than 72 hours.

    The measures to combat the red alert were extensive. Traffic was cut in half when a new number-plate system was introduced, forcing odd-numbered cars off the road one day and even numbered plates the next. Meanwhile, workplaces and schools were shut and industrial plants operated under limited production.

    Fortunately for Beijing's 21 million citizens, a breath of cold air lifted the blanketing smog from the gasping city earlier this week.

    Below are some images that demonstrate the stark contrast, a tale of two cities, between Beijing under 'airpocalypse' and Beijing under azure skies.

    The people in the background of this photo taken outside Tiananmen Square aren't out of focus — in December, visibility dropped to below 50 metres because of the smog.

    Source: Reuters.



    China's 'smog season' is largely down to the burning of coal, hence its occurrence — and worsening — in winter as families light fires to stay warm.

    Source: South China Morning Post.



    Flying conditions were far from ideal. On New Year's Day, 126 flights that should have been full of families returning from the holidays were cancelled.

    Source: Reuters.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    lounge-pool

    Ah, California: state of glistening swimming pools, gushing water fountains, and drenched backyard slip-n-slides.

    Well, not so much, at least for the past five years.

    Since 2012, the golden state has been stuck in a seemingly never-ending drought that some experts have said is the worst the state has seen in 1,200 years. For the past five years, dwindling reservoirs, shrinking lakes, and dried-up farm fields have dotted the terrain.

    Images like this were a familiar sight:

    Earth Global Environment California Drought cropped

    But now, there are signs that California is emerging from its dry spell, Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, told Business Insider via email.

    "In terms of surface water," Lund elaborates on a blog he helps maintain for the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science, "most of California is no longer in drought."

    That's great news for the state's rivers and lakes — and for its reservoirs, those large artificial bodies of water that supply households and farms.

    But surface water isn't the only thing Californians depend on for their H2O. In other words, there's good reason not to get too optimistic about the drought being over too soon, says Lund.

    Californians also rely on groundwater, the stuff that accumulates naturally beneath the soil in deposits known as aquifers. Across the planet, most of our land areas have some form of aquifer beneath them. Some are super deep; others are rather shallow. But many of them are being depleted as cities and towns increasingly draw water from them for irrigation and industrial purposes.

    Many of the state's aquifers haven't completely bounced back from the drought. Some of them, like the ones in the Central Valley, a region that's critical for the state's agricultural industry, "might never recover to pre-drought levels," says Lund.

    Central Valley Drought"Groundwater in the southern Central Valley might rise some, but will remain low, keeping some wells stranded and increasing pumping costs for years and perhaps decades," says Lund.

    And that's not the end of the story. Many of California's forests are still desiccated, and if the trends in warmer temperature remain constant, Lund says, "the ecology of many forests might shift to new normal conditions." Fish, too, need years to come back from the drought. In many parts of the state, the populations of native fish have been decimated and their ecosystems have been severely altered by the drought.

    Still, there are some reasons to be hopeful about California's water-related future, says Lund.

    For one thing, there has been a lot of rain, meaning that most of the state’s precipitation and snowpack levels are far above average, despite lingering in 2014 at their lowest level in history. Plus, most of California's aquifers are actually doing okay, as opposed to some of those in the Central Valley that Lund says may never recover. So long as rain keeps coming, they'll continue to be replenished, speeding up the recovery process throughout the state.

    But most importantly, says Lund, is to keep in mind that California is a dry state.

    "Some speak of drought as permanent for California," says Lund. "But it is better to think of California being a dry place with permanent water shortages."

    READ NEXT: I went to the source of the world's best coffee — and saw firsthand why the industry is in trouble

    SEE ALSO: A Los Angeles resident powered through enough water for nearly 100 homes — and the city won't name him

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Before-and-after photos show just how bad California’s drought has gotten


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    Karachi pakistan

    Expat website Movehub recently ranked the most — and least — socially liberal countries around the world.

    In order to come up with their ranking, they compared three different studies from 2016 — the Social Progress Index, the Environmental Performance Index and the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Gender Gap report.

    The Social Progress Index examines categories like religious and LGBT tolerance, access to clean water, press freedom and access to education, the WEF's Gender Gap report looks into gender parity in jobs and education, and the EPI focuses on things like carbon emissions and recycling.

    Movehub combined the results for each country to create a comprehensive list revealing the least liberal countries in the world.

    While many of the countries in this list are Middle Eastern nations struggling to cope with the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis, others are spread out all over the world, from Cambodia in Asia to the west African nation of Angola.

    See the 25 most conservative, intolerant, and polluted countries in the world below:

    25. Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka came 108th in the Environmental Performance Index out of 180 countries surveyed, and performed badly on personal rights, tolerance, and access to information in the Social Progress Index.



    24. Algeria — Algeria was one of the worst performing countries in the WEF's Gender Gap Report, coming in 120th. It also has one of the worst scores for personal rights in the Social Progress Index, scoring just under 14 out of 100 in the report.



    23. Benin — Corruption is rife in Benin, which ranks among the world's poorest countries. Adult literacy rates are poor compared to countries with a similar GDP per capita like Afghanistan, Ethiopa and Uganda, but it also performed relatively well on political freedoms, meaning it misses out on a place in the top 20.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a

    LONDON (Reuters) - British climate scientists asked Britain's prime minister on Monday to press U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to acknowledge climate change risks and support international action to slow global warming.

    Prime Minister Theresa May will meet Trump in Washington in the spring, in the first visit with the new president by the leader of one of the United States' closest allies.

    In a letter to May, the 100 scientists said there were "potential threats" to the British national interest from Trump's election in November.

    Trump has dismissed the idea of man-made climate change as a hoax and several department chief nominees in his incoming administration, such as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have rejected evidence of the risks.

    crash, global warming, ice caps, glacier

    "In doing so, the President-elect and his nominated appointees are disregarding the findings and advice of the leading expert bodies around the world, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United States National Academy of Sciences," the letter said.

    "We believe that the United Kingdom must be prepared to respond decisively to these developments."

    During his campaign, Trump said he would ditch the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by almost 200 nations, which aims to end the fossil fuel era by shifting to renewable energy in the second half of the century.

    However, Trump told the New York Times on Nov. 22 that he now had an "open mind" on the Paris Agreement.

    The letter urged May to use Britain's so-called "special relationship" with the United States, as well as international forums such as the G-7 and G-20, to press the incoming administration to continue to support the Paris Agreement and climate change research in the United States.

    The scientists said a senior adviser to Trump has called for an end to climate research programs at NASA, which provides vital data for monitoring and managing climate change.

    SEE ALSO: Donald Trump is making the 'Great Man' theory of history great again

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A new study just blew a hole in one of the strongest arguments against global warming


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    dinosaur

    Dinosaurs went extinct around 66 million years ago, and it is widely believed that a giant asteroid was the reason. However, the exact turn of events has been a bit of a mystery, as a single strike — although devastating — may not have been enough to completely wipe out all life on Earth. 

    Climate scientists have worked out that it may have been the aftermath of the asteroid hit that was the final straw for the dinosaurs. According to a new study, droplets of sulfuric acid formed high up in the air after the impact of the asteroid, blocking out sunlight for years. 

    The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, shows how the aftermath of the asteroid strike would have impacted any surviving life on Earth. Plants would all have died due to the lack of light, and this would have had a direct and fatal impact on the rest of the food chain. 

    Previous theories have focused on the dust ejected by the impact, but new computer simulations show that sulfuric acid droplets are much more likely. The acid could also have mixed into the oceans, severely disturbing marine life too.

    "The big chill following the impact of the asteroid that formed the Chicxulub crater in Mexico is a turning point in Earth history," said Julia Brugger, lead author of the study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), in a statement. "We can now contribute new insights for understanding the much debated ultimate cause for the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous era."

    A shock to the system

    Things were a lot toastier on Earth when the dinosaurs were around, at least until the asteroid arrived. After the strike, the average temperature fell from 27 degrees to 5 degrees Celsius in the tropics. Dinosaurs were used to living in a tropical climate, and had evolved and adapted to it. A a 22 degree drop would be quite a shock to the system, especially as the researchers say the global average temperature was below freezing point for about three years. 

    Ice caps expanded, ocean circulation became disturbed, and surface waters cooled down making the seas denser and heavier. Marine ecosystems were severely affected, which probably contributed to the extinction of species like ammonites — marine mollusc animals that you often see as fossils.

    According to the study, it took about 30 years for the climate to recover, and by then the damage to dinosaur life had been done. This, of course, left the space for a new era of organisms to thrive that would evolve into humans.

    "It is fascinating to see how evolution is partly driven by an accident like an asteroid's impact — mass extinctions show that life on Earth is vulnerable," said co-author Georg Feulner who led the research team at PIK. "It also illustrates how important the climate is for all lifeforms on our planet. Ironically today, the most immediate threat is not from natural cooling but from human-made global warming."

    SEE ALSO: A surprising factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs may have been how long their eggs took to hatch

    DON'T MISS: A huge new dinosaur which once plodded across Australia has been discovered

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Scientists uncovered a bloody, feathered dinosaur tail that got stuck in tree sap 99 million years ago


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    Rick Perry

    President-elect Donald Trump has nominated former Texas Governor Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. The position entails guiding research and policy around energy production in the US, handling radioactive waste disposal, building nuclear reactors, and running the US system of national laboratories, as well as overseeing grants that fund a great deal of cutting-edge scientific research.

    That's all in addition, of course, to maintaining the nation's nuclear arsenal.

    Unlike those who've filled the role before him for the last decade, Perry has no scientific background. He also once forgot the name of the Energy Department on a debate stage, the now-famous "Oops" gaffe that helped end his 2011 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

    Still, Perry wouldn't be the first non-scientist to head the department. From the 1970s until 2005 the post was held by people without a science or engineering degree (mostly politicians and lawyers). After that, all Secretaries of Energy have held science or engineering PhDs (and one held a Nobel Prize). Take a look:

    SEE ALSO: Scientists around the world are worried about a Trump team proposal to ax NASA's 58-year mission to study the Earth

    DON'T MISS: California governor: 'If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite'

    1977-1979: James Schlesinger

    James Schlesinger was the first US Secretary of Energy, a Republican picked by President Jimmy Carter to head the department just after it was formed. Schlesinger had served in the presidential cabinet before, leading the Department of Defense from 1973-1975 and playing a significant role in national nuclear policy. As Secretary of Energy he worked to consolidate the department's functions, which had previously been distributed across several agencies, and funded several research efforts, including one of the first federal investigations of the impact of carbon dioxide on our atmosphere.



    1979-1981: Charles Duncan Jr.

    The second Secretary of Energy nominated under Carter, Duncan had also previously served as Secretary of Defense. Carter was nonetheless criticized for the selection because Duncan, a former executive in the coffee industry, had no direct experience with oil. As secretary, Duncan worked on negotiations with OPEC during a tough period in the global oil economy.



    1981-1982: James Edwards

    James Edwards was President Ronald Reagan's first, briefly-serving Secretary of Energy. A former governor of South Carolina with a background in oral surgery, Edwards was known as a proponent of nuclear energy, and, like Perry, was implicated in a promise to dismantle the Department of Energy (he didn't).

    The New York Times reports that he "struggled" in the post, criticized for his lack of expertise in the field and hamstrung by the Reagan administration's distaste for the department.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Pods of false killer whales have previously been stranded after gettng beached in shallow waters, such as in this 2009 instance near the Australian city of Perth

    Miami (AFP) - More than 80 dolphins known as false killer whales have died off the southwest coast of Florida after getting stranded in shallow waters, US officials said.

    A pod of 95 of the dolphins, which are black in color and look like killer whales without white markings, became stranded in the Gulf Coast off Everglades National Park, the park said on Twitter.

    Photos on social media showed dozens of these dolphins, some grouped in clusters of four or five, just a few feet from a sandy beach lined with trees.

    "Sadly, 81 have already been confirmed dead," Everglades National Park said Monday, adding that marine mammal rescue operations were being carried out.

    The dolphins had become "deeply embedded in some of the mangroves making response efforts extremely difficult," Blair Mase, a stranding coordinator with NOAA's fisheries service, said in the Miami Herald newspaper.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that of the remaining dolphins, one had been seen alive and 13 others were unaccounted for.

    While 72 had died on their own, rescuers put down nine that were too sick to survive, Mase said.

    The stranded dolphins include adults, juveniles and calves, and were first spotted Saturday in an area called Hog Key, part of a string of islands, according to the Herald.

    False killer whales can be found in large groups of more than one hundred in warm waters across the globe. They have long, slender bodies and narrow, tapered heads with rounded snouts.

    They are much smaller and less aggressive than their distant relative, the Orca, or killer whale. Like Orcas, scientists classify them as dolphins rather than whales.

    The phenomenon of strandings and the causes remain the subject of scientific debate.

    The National Park Service has closed the area surrounding the dolphins to flyovers and boats.

    SEE ALSO: Here's why some beaches have crystal-clear water and others are murky and gray

    DON'T MISS: The ocean off the Jersey Shore looks like it's straight out of the Caribbean right now — here's why

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Scientists recorded this mysterious sound in the deepest place on Earth


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    Outdoor photographer of the year Live the Adventure – Winner Kirsten Quist (Canada)

    The winners of this year's prestigious Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition have been released and they're truly awe-inspiring.

    Over 17,000 entries competed for the top prize of a once-in-a-lifetime photography assignment to cover the Fjällräven Polar dogsled expedition, which covers 300km of arctic tundra.

    Eight categories' winners have been released, and a final overall winner will be announced on stage at The Photography Show at the NEC, Birmingham on March 18.

    From epic Norwegian lakes to wild African game reserves, scroll down to see this year's remarkable winners.

    At the Water’s Edge Winner, Pete Hyde (UK) — Gavlfjorden, Holm, Langøya, Norway.

    'Having driven several miles up a minor road, we came to the small harbour at Holm. After a short walk, we were presented with this wonderful view up a small side-branch of Gavlfjorden. The soft, misty light and the calmness of the water were perfect for conveying the peace and tranquillity we were privileged to enjoy.'



    Young Outdoor Photographer of the Year Winne, David Rosenzweig (USA) — Timbavati Game Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

    'The eternal bond between a mother andchild is one that transcends the animal kingdom.One early morning in the Timbavati Game Reserve,we came across this female leopard. She was clearly searching for something and continued calling untilshe reached an open road. Just as she arrived, hercub came running out of the bushes. The ensuinginteraction between the mother and cub proved thelove that the two share for each other.'



    Wildlife Insight Winner, Alice van Kempen (Netherlands) — Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

    'In Africa, poachers slaughter an elephant every 15 minutes to supply the demand for ivory – that’s 96 beautiful creatures a day. In 2016, as of the middle of September, there had been 36 elephants killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park alone – the highest number since 1982. With this in mind, I wanted to create a photograph to reflect the situation the elephants are in. I chose to capture the sad look of one of the elephants; a dark image that lets you focus on the tusks.'



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A view of London's City financial district, shrouded by smog, Thursday, April 3, 2014.

    Mayor Sadiq Khan today put London on toxic air alert for at least three days.

    City Hall sent out warnings that air pollution could rise today to "moderate" in 17 boroughs and the City.

    It is then set to hit a "high" peak in Westminster and the Square Mile tomorrow before reducing to "moderate" in these two areas on Friday.

    But some of the capital’s busiest main roads will be blighted by "high" pollution on all three days, according to the airtext forecasts put out by the Mayor.

    Mr Khan said: "London’s dirty air is a public health emergency.

    "We will continue to use all the technology at our disposal to inform Londoners about levels of air pollution in their neighbourhoods."

    Sadiq Khan

    The Department for Environment suggested the pollution episode could last until at least Sunday.

    Official health advice on days of "moderate" air pollution says adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, who experience symptoms, should consider reducing strenuous physical activity.

    If it reaches a "high" level, these groups of people should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. 

    People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.

    For the general public, the "high" pollution advice is that anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, a cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A designer is turning expensive sneakers into smog masks to combat China’s ‘red alert’ pollution levels


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    Scott Pruitt

    Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's state attorney general and Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), faces the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday.

    Pruitt has said of the EPA that "what they do is a disgrace" and argued that the administration over-regulates the economy. As Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA many times.

    Not surprisingly, Pruitt has faced sharp opposition from environmentalists and their allies on the Senate committee. Here are some key things you need to know about Pruitt and his policy views:

    • Before his election as attorney general in 2010, Pruitt served in the state senate for eight years from 1998 to 2006. Prior to politics he worked as a lawyer in private practice.
    • Pruitt has said he believes, like many other people in the Republican Party including the President-Elect, that the EPA under President Obama has wildly exceeded its authority as a regulatory body. The job of a regulator, Pruitt said in his opening statement to the committee, is to "make things regular," and "should not be for or against any sector of the economy," be it fossil fuels or renewables.
    • He has filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA (some of which are ongoing) during his time as Oklahoma state attorney general and broadly opposed EPA air quality and other environmental efforts across the country. In 2014, for example, Pruitt joined 20 other state attorneys general in an amicus brief opposing a cleanup of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay — 1,400 miles from his home state.
    • Pruitt has more than once sent letters to the EPA on official attorney general letterhead that were written by oil companies. (Senators Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker have raised these letters in the hearings.)
    • He acknowledges that the climate is changing and that humans play some role in it, he said in his opening statement, but maintains that the details, severity, and consequences of climate change are "up for debate."

    SEE ALSO: Here are the qualifications of all 13 people who served as Secretary of Energy before Rick Perry

    DON'T MISS: Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson refused to answer a question about Exxon and climate change

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Volkswagen faces a possible $18 billion EPA fine for cheating on emissions tests


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    global warming

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, government scientists said Wednesday. They mostly blame man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino, which has since disappeared.

    Measuring global temperatures in slightly different ways, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last year passed 2015 as the hottest year on record.

    NOAA calculated that the average 2016 global temperature was 58.69 degrees (14.84 degrees Celsius) — beating the previous year by 0.07 degrees (0.04 Celsius).

    NASA's figures, which include more of the Arctic, are higher at 0.22 degrees (0.12 Celsius) warmer than 2015. The Arctic "was enormously warm, like totally off the charts compared to everything else," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, where the space agency monitors global temperatures.

    Records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005.

    The World Meteorological Organization and other international weather monitoring groups agreed that 2016 was a record, with the international weather agency chief Petteri Taalas saying "temperatures only tell part of the story" of extreme warming.

    "This is clearly a record," NASA's Schmidt said in an interview. "We are now no longer only looking at something that only scientists can see, but is apparent to people in our daily lives."

    Schmidt said his calculations show most of the record heat was from heat-trapping gases from the burning of oil, coal and gas. Only about 12 percent was due to El Nino, which is a periodic warming of parts of the Pacific that change weather globally, he said.

    "Of course this is climate change, it's overwhelmingly climate change," said Corinne Le Quere, director of England's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who wasn't part of the NOAA or NASA teams. "Warming (is) nearly everywhere. The Arctic sea ice is collapsing. Spikes in fires from the heat. Heavy rainfall from more water vapor in the air."

    According to NOAA, 2016 was 1.69 degrees (0.94 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th Century average. The first eight months of 2016 all broke heat records. NASA has last year at 1.78 degrees (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than their mid-20th Century average and about 2 degrees warmer than the start of the industrial age in the late 19th Century.

    The effects are more than just records, but actually hurt people and the environment, said Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado. They're "harmful on several levels, including human welfare, ecology, economics, and even geopolitics," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's EPA pick, Scott Pruitt, has filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what could happen to Earth over the next 500 years


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    caspiantiger

    Caspian tigers were some of the largest cats ever to roam the Earth, but they went extinct in the 1960s. Now, some scientists want to bring them back.

    A new study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, lays out the plan to reintroduce the tigers using a subspecies, the Siberian tiger, which is genetically similar to the Caspian tiger.

    The authors write in their paper that the Siberians tiger's "phenotype proves adaptable to the arid conditions of the introduction site." In other words, they believe that the big cats — who primarily live in Russia's birch forests — could adapt well to the conditions of the sites in Central Asia where they would be reintroduced.

    During their prime, Caspian tigers could be found in Turkey and through much of Central Asia, including Iran and Iraq, and in Northwestern China as well.

    They went extinct in the middle of the 20th century because of hunting, habitat loss, and food shortages. Poisoning and trapping were promoted by rewards in the former Soviet Union until the 1930s, and irrigation projects during the Soviet era destroyed the woodlands and reed beds that were critical tiger habitat, which caused the cats' prey to disappear too.

    The team chose the new sites by considering how much people currently use the land, and found the most promising site was the Ili River delta and adjacent southern coast of Balkhash Lake, which is about 7,000 square kilometers large. 

    Wild boar, Bukhara deer, and roe deer would be the tigers' main source of prey in the area. As a result, the researchers add, their respective populations also need to be brought up to "sustainable" levels. This could take more than a decade, however.

    tigertaxidermy

    "It is vital to restore wild ungulate (hoofed mammal) populations in the area... that alone could take five to 15 years," said Mikhail Paltsyn, conservationist and doctoral candidate at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in a statement. Paltsyn also said that they'd have to make sure that people and tigers can live alongside each other.

    The study suggests that if about 40 tigers are introduced, there could be 100 of them walking around in 50 years time. This doesn't sound like a huge number, but when you consider that there are only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild, it could be an important addition. 

    Caspian tigers were generally smaller than Siberian tigers, but males could weigh up to 240kg, and adults grew to about 10ft long, which is larger than most big cats that are around today. (Lions are about 190kg in weight, jaguars around 96kg and leopards are a lot lighter at 31kg.)

    SEE ALSO: Scientists want to bring 24 animals back from extinction

    DON'T MISS: Researchers found something amazing when they autopsied a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Paleontologists discovered the first footprints of an enormous saber-toothed tiger


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    coal plant

    China has announced plans to cancel more than 100 coal plants currently in development, scrapping what would amount to a massive 120 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired electricity capacity if the plants were completed.

    For a bit of context, the entire US has approximately 305 GW gigawatts of coal capacity in total, and this massive adjustment leaves room for China to advance its development of clean, renewable energy.

    Despite China's much-publicised pollution problems, the reason for the cancellations is because the country was actually vastly exceeding its planned coal capacity for the future.

    Per China's five-year-plan for its power sector, it's targeting a coal-fired capacity of 1,100 GW in 2020 – a sizeable increase from its existing 920 GW.

    But if all 103 plants in development were to be completed, China's capacity would reach 1,250 GW, creating a huge, unnecessary surplus of coal power – which is why the Chinese government is putting on the breaks.

    In a directive issued this week, the country's National Energy Administration cancelled planning and construction on 85 new coal plants, in addition to 18 facilities canned last year.

    The 103 cancelled plants span 13 Chinese provinces, and were worth about 430 billion yuan (US$62 billion). Of the 120 GW of cancelled capacity, some 54 GW would have come from projects already under construction.

    While suspending so much infrastructure will hurt China economically, creating an energy surplus in the future wouldn't be a smart play either. 

    In any case, environmental groups are welcoming the decision to shut down so much planned capacity for one of Earth's most polluting fossil fuels.

    "Stopping under-construction projects seems wasteful and costly, but spending money and resources to finish these completely unneeded plants would be even more wasteful," Greenpeace told Reuters.

    While China has come under fire for being evasive about its carbon emissionsand has attracted a lot of unwanted attention for a series of local pollution crises, the country is the world's biggest investor in renewable energy.

    While China is clearly not abandoning coal, its uptake of clean energy saw it account for about 40 percent of global renewable capacity increases in 2015– building almost 20,000 new wind turbines in that year alone.

    "The key thing is that yes, China has a long way to go, but in the past few years China has come a very long way," Greenpeace researcher Lauri Myllyvirta told Michael Forsythe at The New York Times.

    But despite the national directive to pull back on coal infrastructure, some think that actually enforcing the suspension in the provinces affected might be a harder thing to accomplish.

    According to energy policy researcher Lin Boqiang from China's Xiamen University, overcoming local resistance to halting construction on projects worth billions and employing huge numbers of workers will be a battle in itself.

    "Some projects might have been ongoing for 10 years, and now there's an order to stop them," he told The New York Times.

    "It's difficult to persuade the local governments to give up on them."

    SEE ALSO: China's smog has gotten so bad, it's almost impossible to see skyscrapers from the air

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The story of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter Steve Jobs claimed wasn't his


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    grand canyon

    In the midst of highly publicized steps to dismantle insurance coverage for 32 million people and defund women’s healthcare facilities, Republican lawmakers have quietly laid the foundation to give away Americans’ birthright: 640m acres of national land.

    In a single line of changes to the rules for the House of Representatives, Republicans have overwritten the value of federal lands, easing the path to disposing of federal property even if doing so loses money for the government and provides no demonstrable compensation to American citizens.

    At stake are areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, which contribute to an estimated $646bn each year in economic stimulus from recreation on public lands and 6.1m jobs. Transferring these lands to the states, critics fear, could decimate those numbers by eliminating mixed-use requirements, limiting public access and turning over large portions for energy or property development.

    In addition to economic stimulus from outdoor activities, federal land creates revenue through oil and gas production, logging and other industrial uses. According to the BLM, in 2016, it made $2bn in royalty revenue from federal leases. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates federal tax revenue from the recreation economy at almost $40bn.

    Ignoring those figures, the new language for the House budget, authored by Utah Republican representative Rob Bishop, who has a history of fighting to transfer public land to the states, says that federal land is effectively worthless. Transferring public land to “state, local government or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”

    Essentially, the revised budget rules deny that federal land has any value at all, allowing the new Congress to sidestep requirements that a bill giving away a piece of federal land does not decrease federal revenue or contribute to the federal debt.

    Republican eagerness to cede federal land to local governments for possible sale, mining or development is already moving states to act. Western states, where most federal land is concentrated, are already introducing legislation that pave the way for land transfers.

    In Wyoming, for example, the 2017 senate has introduced a joint resolution that would amend the state constitution to dictate how public land given to the state by the federal government after 2019 is managed. It has little public support, but Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout said that he thought the state should be preemptively thinking about what it would do with federal land.

    The Congressional devaluation of national property is the most far-reaching legislative change in a recent push to transfer federal lands to the states. Because of the Republican majority in Congress, bills proposing land transfers could now swiftly diminish Forest Service and BLM lands across the country.

    “We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society. “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”

    boundary waters minnesotaRowsome said he’s not exactly sure how the rule will be used, but he thinks the first places to come under attack might include areas adjacent to the majestic Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Those areas hold uranium and copper, respectively.

    Rowsome said he’s worried that sensitive tracts of public land, like the oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, could soon be up for sale. Some 60% percent of Alaska is made up of national land, and the state’s representatives have tried to pass laws claiming parts of it for state use as recently as 2015. “It’s amazing ecosystem and worthy of protection, and it’s very likely that House Republican majority will open that up for drilling,” Rowsome said.

    This latest effort comes on the heels of a bill adopted in 2016 that directs the Department of Agriculture to transfer 2m acres of eligible Forest Service lands to each state.

    Giving away national land has been part of the Republican Party platform since the mid-80s, after Reagan declared himself a Sagebrush Rebel, but it’s regained steam in the past few years as 20 states have introduced some form of legislation suggesting that federal property be given to local governments.

    In 2015, Bishop and fellow Utah representative Chris Stewart formed the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team with the specific intent to come up with a framework for transferring public land. “Washington bureaucrats don’t listen to people,” Bishop said in a statement. “Local governments do.”

    But Rowsome argues that’s a populist message without any popular support, pushed by a small faction of legislators with support from industries like mining and energy. Despite the Republican message that Washington has overstepped in designating national parks and monuments, a 2016 study found that 95% of the American public believes that National Parks are worth protecting and 80% said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to do so.

    “Western Republicans that are perpetuating the idea are very well funded by the oil and gas industry during their campaign,” Rowsome said. “It’s special interests wielding power for an agenda that will advance their goal. Nearly 90% of BLM lands are already open, but they can’t stop trying to get more.”

    A 2016 Colorado College survey of seven western states found that 60% of voters rejected both the sale of public lands to states and giving states control without sale.

    In 2012, Arizona voters struck down two pieces of legislation that would have turned over federal land to the state, including one that claimed the Grand Canyon as state land.

    Opponents fear that local governments, especially in states with small budgets, won’t be able to invest in management and will sell off land to make money. Last summer, the Forest Service was spending $240m a week to suppress wildfires, and the Department of Interior estimates the cost of deferred maintenance, like updating roads, at around $11bn.

    In December, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said that transferring public land to his state was legally and financially impractical. He cited firefighting costs on public land as something that the state budget wouldn’t have room for.

    Historically, when federal lands have been transferred to states, they have become less accessible. Idaho sold off almost 100,000 acres of its public land between 2000 and 2009. In Colorado, access has been limited the public can only use 20% of state trust land for hunting and fishing.

    John Gale, conservation director for the advocacy group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said that he’s worried about access for sportsmen. He believes that there’s a further danger in segmenting ecosystems through state-by-state development.

    “70% of the headwaters of our streams and rivers in the West are on public lands,” he said. “Rivers and migratory corridors don’t follow state boundaries.”

    The incoming administration hasn’t been clear about where it falls on transfers. Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, tapped to be the next Secretary of Interior, voted for the rules package, but in the past he’s been against land transfers. President-elect Donald Trump has spoken out against reallocating federal land, but he’s also met with prominent pro-land transfer groups.

    Nevertheless, bills proposing land transfer will now have an easy route to passage, as they won’t need to be backed by any financial justification.

    The entire rules package passed on party lines, but it runs counter to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in November, the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016.

    Signed into law in December, the legislation requires the Department of Commerce to count the over half a trillion dollars from the outdoor recreation economy in the country’s GDP for the first time.

    “It’s not just natural resources that are on the auction block, but jobs,” said Gale. “For a party that prides itself on being fiscally conservative ... they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.”

    SEE ALSO: Trump's EPA pick isn't clear on what are considered toxic lead levels – but scientists are in the same boat

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A new study just blew a hole in one of the strongest arguments against global warming


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    A woman picks up some mandarin oranges at a fruits shop in Sydney June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

    The humble fruit sticker may seem an unlikely cause for environmental concern but removing it from produce could create huge savings in plastic, energy and CO2 emissions.

    In response to consumer demand for less packaging, Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More and Swedish supermarket ICA have joined forces to run a trial to replace sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark.

    M&S are also using it on coconuts in the UK.

    Dubbed "natural branding", the technique uses a strong light to remove pigment from the skin of produce. The mark is invisible once skin is removed and doesn’t affect shelf life or eating quality.

    Coconuts

    "By using natural branding on all the organic avocados we would sell in one year we will save 200km (135 miles) of plastic 30cm wide. It’s small but I think it adds up," says Peter Hagg, ICA business unit manager.

    The laser technology also creates less than 1% of the carbon emissions needed to produce a sticker of similar size.

    Stephane Merit, business development manager of the Spanish company behind the technology, Laser Food, says with millions of stickers used on food produce around the world every day, the technology could make a "significant reduction in the amount of paper, ink, glue" being used as well as the cutting the energy used to produce and transport them.

    Ethical shoppers

    The sustainability saving is particularly important for organic shoppers, who now account for almost a fifth of all ICA’s fruit and veg sales, says Hagg. "Organic sales are driven by environmental awareness, like climate change and belief in health benefits. Younger shoppers also choose products depending on the environmental impact of the packaging. And we know that this will be very important in coming years," he says.

    supermarket

    Switching from plastic to cardboard is a bonus, but selling organic produce as loose is even better says Hagg. Yet under EU rules all items need to be marked hence the need for stickers if selling loose.

    "This is a solution that permanently marks the skin of the product, so it’s better from a sustainability perspective, but also avoids the problem of stickers falling off."

    Laser Food’s technology has been around for several years but has previously been used for marketing or branding, without being explicitly linked to sustainability.

    "Up to now, no one has used this technique with the specific aim of cutting packaging. It was used for novelty – which is nice, but a gimmick at Easter or Christmas isn’t going to pay off," says Michaël Wilde, sustainability and communications manager at Nature & More. "What we are saying is, by buying this product you’re saving plastic."

    The cost of a laser machine is considerable, but after that initial investment, Wilde says it is almost more cost-effective than stickers. "You have to invest in an extremely expensive machine, so it’s very much an investment for the future. This is something we believe more and more supermarkets will take on. It saves resources, CO2 and energy, so it does calculate."

    M&S lasered coconuts

    While the ICA trial has begun with sweet potatoes and avocados, products where sticking labels to skin is challenging, the supermarket is already preparing to expand onto other products.

    Marks & Spencer M&S

    "The next step will be to use natural branding on edible skin products, such as apples or nectarines," says Hagg. "If consumers react positively there is no limit. We are planning to try it with melons in summer, as there is a problem there at the moment with stickers attaching to the skin."

    Although ICA’s involvement is the largest retail trial to date, the technology has been used in various other European markets.

    Last year UK supermarket M&S trialled it on oranges, saving several tonnes of packaging according to fruit technologist Andrew Mellonie, who supervised the project. However, citrus skin’s ability to "heal" itself meant the laser mark wasn’t as effective so the trial was suspended, but the retailer now uses it on coconuts and has plans to extend to other products.

    The reaction of shoppers to laser-branded produce is one of the only concerns for Hagg and Wilde, but, they say, so far feedback on Swedish social media has been positive.

    For Hagg, no matter how small the story, nowadays sustainability is "always good news" for consumers and he is hopeful that other supermarkets will follow ICA’s example.

    "The calculations are that it costs the same, but sustainability for our consumers and ourselves is the biggest gain. I hope it will take off with more products and also non-organic. I can only imagine what a bigger retailer would be able to save. I really hope it spreads."

    supermarket

    "The next step will be to use natural branding on edible skin products, such as apples or nectarines," says Hagg. "If consumers react positively there is no limit. We are planning to try it with melons in summer, as there is a problem there at the moment with stickers attaching to the skin."

    Although ICA’s involvement is the largest retail trial to date, the technology has been used in various other European markets.

    Last year UK supermarket M&S trialled it on oranges, saving several tonnes of packaging according to fruit technologist Andrew Mellonie, who supervised the project. However, citrus skin’s ability to "heal" itself meant the laser mark wasn’t as effective so the trial was suspended, but the retailer now uses it on coconuts and has plans to extend to other products.

    The reaction of shoppers to laser-branded produce is one of the only concerns for Hagg and Wilde, but, they say, so far feedback on Swedish social media has been positive.

    For Hagg, no matter how small the story, nowadays sustainability is "always good news" for consumers and he is hopeful that other supermarkets will follow ICA’s example.

    "The calculations are that it costs the same, but sustainability for our consumers and ourselves is the biggest gain. I hope it will take off with more products and also non-organic. I can only imagine what a bigger retailer would be able to save. I really hope it spreads."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A spray makes your strawberries last a week longer than normal


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    Outdoor photographer of the year Spirit of Travel – Winner Christopher Roche (UK)

    The winners of this year's prestigious Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition have been released and they're truly awe-inspiring.

    Over 17,000 entries competed for the top prize of a once-in-a-lifetime photography assignment to cover the Fjällräven Polar dogsled expedition, which covers 300km of arctic tundra.

    Eight categories' winners have been released, and a final overall winner will be announced on stage at The Photography Show at the NEC, Birmingham on March 18.

    From epic Norwegian lakes to wild African game reserves, scroll down to see this year's remarkable winners.

    Wildlife Insight Winner, Alice van Kempen (Netherlands) — Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

    'In Africa, poachers slaughter an elephant every 15 minutes to supply the demand for ivory – that’s 96 beautiful creatures a day. In 2016, as of the middle of September, there had been 36 elephants killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park alone – the highest number since 1982. With this in mind, I wanted to create a photograph to reflect the situation the elephants are in. I chose to capture the sad look of one of the elephants; a dark image that lets you focus on the tusks.'



    At the Water’s Edge Winner, Pete Hyde (UK) — Gavlfjorden, Holm, Langøya, Norway.

    'Having driven several miles up a minor road, we came to the small harbour at Holm. After a short walk, we were presented with this wonderful view up a small side-branch of Gavlfjorden. The soft, misty light and the calmness of the water were perfect for conveying the peace and tranquillity we were privileged to enjoy.'



    Young Outdoor Photographer of the Year Winne, David Rosenzweig (USA) — Timbavati Game Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

    'The eternal bond between a mother andchild is one that transcends the animal kingdom.One early morning in the Timbavati Game Reserve,we came across this female leopard. She was clearly searching for something and continued calling untilshe reached an open road. Just as she arrived, hercub came running out of the bushes. The ensuinginteraction between the mother and cub proved thelove that the two share for each other.'



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Below is the most detailed full-disk photo of Earth ever taken — and the US government is now downloading a fresh version of it every 15 minutes.

    The unprecedented view, taken on January 15 at 1:07 p.m. ET, is four times more detailed than any full-disk view of the planet before it.

    The image comes courtesy of a recently launched National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellite, called GOES-16 (and formerly GOES-R) — short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite — the newest of a fleet of Earth-monitoring satellites.

    Louis Uccellini, the director of NOAA's National Weather Service, said in a press release that the view is "much more than a pretty picture"; rather, "it is the future of weather observations and forecasting."

    planet earth photo north south america goes 16 noaa abi_full_disk_low_res_jan_15_2017

    GOES-16 launched on November 19, 2016, and orbits from about 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) above Earth — a position called geostationary orbit. (By comparison, the International Space Station orbits Earth from about 220 miles [350 kilometers] above.)

    This orbit allows the satellite to stay above the ground in the same spot and monitor changes in the atmosphere, ground, and ocean over time, according to NOAA.

    By the end of the year, GOES-16 will finish being tested and replace either GOES-15 (also called GOES WEST) or GOES-13 (GOES EAST) — weather satellites that launched in 2006 and 2010, respectively.

    GOES-15 is more than a decade old at this point, and GOES-13 was struck with a tiny space rock back in May 2013, briefly taking it offline.

    According to the NOAA, GOES-16 provides images in more wavelengths of light, at four times the resolution of either satellite, and beams them back five times as frequently. Practically, this means we'll get a fresh-full-disk view of Earth every 15 minutes, a new view of the continental US every 5 minutes, and a new view of weather systems (like hurricanes) every 30 seconds.

    Uccellini also said these newer, faster, and more detailed views "will provide sharper and more detailed views of hazardous weather systems and reveal features that previous instruments might have missed, and the rapid-refresh of these images will allow us to monitor and predict the evolution of these systems more accurately."

    The upshot?

    "[F]orecasters can issue more accurate, timely, and reliable watches and warnings, and provide better information to emergency managers and other decision," Uccellini said.

    NOAA plans to launch a nearly identical satellite, called GOES-S or GOES-17, in the spring of 2018 to replace its other older spacecraft.

    Below are some crops of the full-disk image.

    SEE ALSO: 25 iconic images of Earth that will make you feel small and insignificant

    DON'T MISS: 8 terrifying ways the world could actually end

    Here's North America with a giant, rainy, snowy weather system moving across the United States.



    The raw image data from GOES-16 looks something like this.

    The satellite has two visible-light channels (composited to make the images you see in this post), four near-infrared channels (light that is barely not visible but we can sometimes feel as heat), and 10 other infrared channels that can single out "differences in the atmosphere like clouds, water vapor, smoke, ice and volcanic ash", according to NOAA.



    GOES-16 uses the moon to help calibrate its images.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    pcb contamination pollution epa

    Donald Trump plans to ban the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from funding science, and "overhaul" its use of science from outside groups, according to a Monday report published in Axios.

    The EPA is the agency charged with protecting America's clean air and water, and under former President Barack Obama, it took significant steps to combat climate change.

    Axios reporters Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen say they got a "sneaky peek" at the Trump transition team's action plan for the agency. They did not publish the full plan, but summarized it and included this key excerpt:

    "EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA. In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] 'science should not be adjusted to fit policy.' But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation."

    In response, Swan and Allen write, Trump's team plans to ban the EPA from funding its own science, and set new rules about how science can be used in policy decisions.

    It's not immediately clear who wrote the action plan, though Axios sources it to the transition team. Trump's transition team was led by Myron Ebell, a man who has made a career denying the science of climate change.

    This report landed on the same day as an article published in The Wall Street Journal that reports Trump plans to stop federal agencies from studying the greenhouse gas impacts of new projects.

    As Axios notes, all of this overhauling may not be as easy as it sounds. Some EPA rules can't be changed without support from Congress. Furthermore, Trump's administration could face pushback from current EPA staff in disagreement over the proposed direction of the agency.

    In November, then-president elect Trump told The New York Times, "Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important."

    You can read Axios' full summary of Trump's EPA plan here.

    SEE ALSO: Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, has said he doesn't believe that smoking kills

    DON'T MISS: Trump is taking advice on the future of the environment from a man who denies basic science

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: An exercise scientist reveals exactly how long you need to work out to get in great shape


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    Scott Pruitt

    The Environmental Protection Agency has frozen all new grants and contracts and barred its employees from talking about it with the press or public.

    That's according to reports from ProPublica and The Huffington Post as well as information passed anonymously from EPA staff to Business Insider.

    Business Insider reached out to the EPA to confirm the reports, as well as a report that President Donald Trump has barred the EPA from funding its own science, but did not immediately receive a response.

    The EPA's core mission is to protect Americans from poisons and other dangers in their air, water, and soil. Much of that work happens through private contractors hired by the EPA for services like water-quality testing and cleanups.

    With all new grants and contracts frozen, it's unclear how work will continue. Here's what still a mystery:

    • Does the freeze affect the $6.4 billion in active contracts the EPA already has in place?
    • Is the freeze indefinite or temporary?
    • Should we expect a shift in the kinds of projects the EPA takes on or how it handles them?

    The Trump administration apparently doesn't intend to answer those questions yet.

    EPA employees reportedly received a memo from a member of the agency staff instructing them not to talk to the press or public. It bars employees from issuing press releases, sharing information on agency social media, blogging, putting new information on the agency website, or sending messages on agency listservs, because those messages might leak to the public.

    The memo also says that all speaking engagements by agency employees are on hold, pending a review. (You can read the memo in full at The Huffington Post.)

    As Business Insider has reported in the past, federal agencies are big and mostly staffed with nonpolitical civil servants. That can provide cover for scientists and other staff members who want to work on controversial issues like climate change, even when a new presidential administration is hostile to their work. There's simply too much going on in too many places for politicians to snuff it all out.

    However, the Trump administration has been particularly hostile to the EPA. Trump's pick to lead the agency, Scott Pruitt, is involved in active lawsuits against EPA activities across the country. Pruitt argued in his confirmation hearing that the EPA had far overstepped its bounds as a regulatory agency.

    Further, Trump's transition at the EPA was led by Myron Ebell, a man who has made a career of denying the science of climate change.

    Ebell, who no longer works with the transition, told ProPublica, "They're trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don't want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first."

    SEE ALSO: Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, has said he doesn't believe that smoking kills

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A climate change skeptic is leading Trump's EPA transition — but these charts prove that climate change is very real


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    Tar sands oil canada

    President Donald Trump signed a number of executive orders Tuesday to advance construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline.

    Activists had previously successfully fought both pipelines — the protest at Standing Rock, which was led by the Native American community, made headlines in 2016.

    The Keystone XL Pipeline is slightly older news — Obama blocked its construction in 2015 — but it's worth remembering why it made environmentalists so worried. 

    What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

    The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry Canadian tar sand oil 875 miles from Morgan, Montana to Steele City, Nebraska.

    Built by TransCanada, it would allow the company to move its raw product from tar sand extraction sites in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.

    Tar sand oil is the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet

    Tar sand oil does not sit in a cavern underground, waiting for someone to stick a long straw in and suck it up. Instead, the oil is mixed up with the dirt in Alberta's boreal forest (underneath a bunch of trees) which makes extracting it very difficult. 

    AP_080625047842

    In order to retrieve all that oil, Alberta's oil companies strip away the local forest then dig the sand out of the ground. But the clumpy, sandy mixture would constipate an 875-mile pipeline, so the companies mix it with  water diverted from the Athabasca river. Each barrel of bitumen (that's the technical term for the tar sand) gets soaked in 2.4 barrels of water. 

    Once it's used, that water is too poisonous to return to the river, so adds up to billions of gallons of waste. The contaminated liquid ends up sitting in "tailing ponds," where it leaks into the local environment and increases the rate of cancer among people who live nearby.

    Meanwhile, the Athabasca River only has so much water to offer, and there's a real threat that the oil sand mines will use it all up.

    The climate risk is severe

    The biggest problem with tar sand is also the reason people who make money from the fossil fuel industry love it: There's a lot it.

    If companies extract all the oil that today's technology allows them to, burning it would add 22 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. If technology improves to the point where companies can extract every drop of oil bound up in bitumen, that total would increase to 240 billion. The Alberta tar sand project alone could lead to a global temperature increase of 0.4 degrees Celsius.

    Tar sand spills are harder to clean up

    Oil pipeline spills are bad, and they happen all the time. They poison drinking water, pollute farmland (which in turn kills farming jobs), and wreck local environments.

    But tar sand pipeline spills are worse.

    To pump tar sand crude along a pipeline, extractors mix in natural gas liquids to act as a kind of crude laxative.

    In 2010, that bitumen-natural gas mixture spilled from a Canadian-owned pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The liquefied natural gas turned to gas and blew through nearby neighborhood, forcing residents to evacuate. The bitumen sank to the bottom of the river, poisoning 40 miles of water and 4,435 acres of coastline. Five years and $1.2 billion later, it still hadn't been cleaned up.

    Even if everything goes as planned, there will still be environmental impacts

    Tar sand extraction and refinement is a dirty process, even when there are no spills. In addition to the poisonous water sitting in Alberta, the refinement process produces a black dusty substance called "petcoke." That petcoke piles up in places like Southeast Chicago, waiting to be burned as a cheaper, less efficient coal substitute. And on windy days, those piles get blown around, coating anything nearby in black dust.

    If the Keystone XL Pipeline does get built, it will fall to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Americans from all of these risks. At the moment, however, the EPA isn't issuing any new grants or contracts, and is not responding to inquiries from the press.

    SEE ALSO: The EPA, which protects Americans from poison and pollution, has been frozen under Trump

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Animated map shows all the major oil and gas pipelines in the US


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