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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    Abengoa Solar Power Farm

    The explosive growth of renewable energy has shaken up the energy industry over the last decade.

    As the costs of solar and wind continue to fall and bottlenecks like storage capacity are diminished, the International Energy Agency predicts that renewable energy will comprise 40% of global power generation by 2040. In the next five years, the share of electricity generated by renewables worldwide is set to grow faster than any other source. 

    In November, Thomson Reuters released its inaugural Energy 100 list, which evaluates companies in the sector (both traditional and renewable) based on eight criteria, including innovation, environmental impact, social responsibility, and risk management. The top companies go "beyond the balance sheet," according to the report — in addition to solid financials, they have created advanced sustainability programs, developed groundbreaking technologies, and benefited their surrounding communities.

    Thomson Reuters created a sub-list of the top 25 renewable energy companies, which are generally smaller and younger than the energy giants on the main ranking. Eight of those renewables leaders are based in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan.

    Here are the top 14 renewable energy companies in the world:

    SEE ALSO: Investors who 'couldn't care less' about clean energy are giving money to this solar finance firm

    1) Canadian Solar Inc is one of the three biggest solar companies in the world by revenue.

    Based in Toronto, Canadian Solar has developed a high-efficiency solar panel that the company says is more reliable than competing technology and works in a wider range of temperatures.

    Canadian Solar has reduced its amount of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt of electricity generated by 42% since 2012, according to the company's most recent Corporate Sustainability Report.

    Canadian Solar also has an ongoing initiative to replace kerosene lamps in sub-Saharan Africa with solar-powered lights. The company has donated solar panels to Virunga National Park in Rwanda — a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to endangered mountain gorillas — to phase out the use of diesel in the park. 



    2) CropEnergies AG is the leading European manufacturer of sustainably-produced biofuels.

    CropEnergies, based in Mannheim, Germany, makes fuels out of renewable crops. Such biofuels, like CropEnergies' bioethanol, emit less carbon dioxide than gasoline or diesel. 

    CropEnergies had a knockout 2017, increasing revenue by 31%, according to company documents. 



    3) First Solar Inc is an Arizona-based manufacturer of solar panels.

    First Solar has installations across the globe. The company's thin-film panels have approximately half the carbon footprint of traditional solar panel installations.

    First Solar says its technology emits 89-98% less greenhouse gas compared to traditional methods of electricity generation. 



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    downsizing paramount

    • The movie "Downsizing" imagines a world where a small percentage of the population elects to shrink themselves to 5 inches tall.
    • In the downsized world, people are richer, and their environmental footprint is smaller.
    • Scientists say it's not really possible to shrink people "at the cellular level" like this, but there are real ways to make humans smaller that could help offset carbon emissions. 


    No matter what Matt Damon does in the movies, you can't actually shrink yourself down to 5 inches. 

    The producers of the new film "Downsizing" admit they had to ignore a lot of science to tell the story of a future where people elect to get much smaller in order to live large. The movement starts when a Norwegian scientist discovers a novel way to miniaturize people, in a move he hopes will save humanity by reducing the amount of waste and pollution humans produce. And the little life is cheaper, too.

    In the film's downsized world, a "conflict free" diamond earring and necklace set costs just $83, which is about twice the amount a "small" family spends on groceries each month. And the steakhouse chain Tony Roma's has also been shrunk and imported to the land of the small.

    Screenwriter Jim Taylor bluntly put the kibosh on anyone's dreams of living in a cheap, small world like this after a screening of his movie at the Museum of the Moving Image.

    "It's never going to happen," Taylor said. 

    In the movie, Matt Damon's character works at a call center, but in reality his tiny voice would be way too high-pitched to answer calls from the world of normal-sized folks. Plus, at roughly the height of an iPhone 6, he'd likely be small enough to get swept away by a strong gust of wind. And the mini humans in the movie mostly ignore the huge risk that the protective net around their colony could rupture, allowing a runaway cat or a street rat to gobble them up.

    But NYU bioethicist S Matthew Liao, who joined Taylor for the post-screening discussion, has highlighted some very real ways that shrinking people down — though to levels much less drastic than in the film — could help mitigate the effects of climate change.

    In a 2012 paper in the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment, Liao spelled out a few of his ideas, which he said could be less risky than other last-resort options like geoengineering.

    One idea Liao pushed for is to shrink people back down to the 15-centimeter-shorter heights of humans like Albert Einstein who lived 100 years ago. 

    "It turns out that 15 centimeters of reduction in height translates to around 23% mass reduction for men and 25% mass reduction for women," Liao said during the talk. He believes that's "enough to offset the effects of climate change."

    Technology that could hypothetically make this shrinking process possible is already in use in fertility clinics. It's called "preimplantation genetic diagnosis" and it allows future parents to screen out embryos that have genetic diseases. With around 500 genes coding for height, Liao says, "that's a way you can actually select embryos for size."

    Of course, it doesn't take much of a mental leap to realize some of the ethical problems that selecting embryos for size, among other traits, would quickly create.

    Another possible way to shrink people would be to give them extra estrogen. This technique has been used in kids with profound developmental disabilities to keep them small enough for their parents to continue taking care of them as they grow up. 

    While such ideas might seem draconian, Liao said there's no denying the effects that taller people have on the planet. 

    "It takes more energy to transport a larger person than a smaller person," he said, adding that making humans smaller could also come in pretty handy if we decide to colonize Mars.

    "To get off the planet, size is going to matter a huge deal," Liao said. "Just think, per person, how much resources you need to sustain people in space." 

    Many of us would probably never opt to give up our 21st-century height boost, no matter how warm the planet gets. But it does seem like the change could offer more benefits than we realize.

    SEE ALSO: A planetary physicist reveals how the science in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' actually holds up

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Celebrities flocked to these underground poker games where someone once lost $100 million in one night


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    hurricane maria puerto rico

    2017 was an expensive, deadly year of natural disasters on Earth.

    Wildfires relentlessly scorched dry land from California to Portugal. Super-strength hurricanes and tropical storms slammed homes from the Caribbean to Ireland. Famine continued in Somalia and Yemen, while avalanches killed more than a hundred people in Afghanistan. 

    People around the world recorded record-breaking devastation, much of it caused by higher-than-usual temperatures on land and at sea. Climate experts say that in a warming world, these fatal events will continue to worsen. A November 2017 report released by the Trump Administration cautioned that "extreme climate events" like heavy rainfall, extreme heatwaves, wildfires, and sea-level rise will all get more severe around the globe, and that some of these events could result in abrupt, irreversible changes to the climate as we know it.

    Here's a look at some of the deadly power Mother Nature wielded in 2017: 

    SEE ALSO: The wildest scientific discoveries of 2017

    A trio of super-strong hurricanes pummeled the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast, with each storm causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.

    Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria swept through the Atlantic in August and September, leaving a trail of useless power lines, drowned homes, and deadly destruction in their wake.

    The National Hurricane Center called it an "extremely active" year for hurricanes: at least seven storms had wind speeds upwards of 74 miles per hour

    About a third of Puerto Rican residents are still without power three months after Hurricane Maria touched down on the island. Maria alone is projected to cost $95 billion in damage.

    And while the official death toll in Puerto Rico stands at 64 dead, the governor there is calling for a review of the numbers, after The New York Times reported that unusually high death counts after the storm were not included in the official numbers, and the actual death toll may be over 1,000 people. 



    Experts estimate the damage from Hurricane Harvey alone could cost upwards of $100 million.

    At least 82 people died when Harvey hit land. Most of them perished while trying to escape the floodwaters. 

    The watery problem was only made worse when a chemical plant lost power, and the warming combustibles went up in flames in multiple explosions. Thick black smoke wafted up from the chemical fires that broke out at the Arkema SA plant in Crosby, Texas.

    Police officers, fire fighters, and emergency workers maintained a 1.5-mile evacuation perimeter around the plant, and are now suing the French chemical giant for $1 million. Several had to be taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. 



    Hurricane Irma hit Florida hard. Growers are worried about the long-term effects on their crops.

    The category 5 storm, one of the strongest in Atlantic hurricane history, lashed the southern and western Caribbean before cruising to Cuba and the Bahamas and finally reaching Florida on Sept 10 as a Category 4 storm. 

    Analysts put property damage estimates from the storm between $42-65 billion.

    Orange-growers in Florida are already feeling the effects: an estimated 50% of this year's crop was wiped out, as fruits were knocked off trees and fields flooded.

     

     



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    cold people new york

    • Much of the Midwest and Northeast will experience frigid temperatures well below average this week.
    • Multiple snowstorms are expected to cause travel delays and road closures on New Year's Day.
    • New York City may see the third-coldest New Year's Eve on record. 

     

    Prepare for a frigid week.

    Two winter storms are projected to converge on the northeastern US this weekend, bringing heavy snowfall and freezing weather to parts of New England and New York, according to AccuWeather.

    One storm will sweep through the Midwest, dumping 1-3 inches of snow in Chicago and across the Great Lakes region before moving east. A separate storm is expected to bring icy conditions to much of the South before hitting the Northeast. 

    If the two storms converge on Saturday as anticipated in the forecast, Accuweather projects intense snowfall, dangerous road conditions, and flight delays from the Mid-Atlantic to New England on a busy travel day. 

    The storms come on the heels of a much colder-than-average Christmas across the US. The National Weather Service is warning of "excessive" cold risk in Chicago and the Upper Midwest throughout New Year's Day, with temperatures sinking to -19 Farenheit with the windchill on Tuesday.

    Temperatures across the Midwest and Northeast are expected to be well below average throughout the week and on New Year's Day as well.

    A low jet stream is bringing Arctic winds across the region, which is why Accuweather has predicted that temperatures could be up to 20 degrees Farenheit below normal for this time of year in major cities like New York City, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. 

    According to the National Weather Service, temperatures aren't expected to rise much out of the 20s for the remainder of the week. And if the predictions hold true, New York City may see its third-coldest New Year's Eve since records were kept, with a low of 16 degrees Farenheit.

    It's a good time to bundle up and stay inside. 

    SEE ALSO: The world's largest oil and gas companies are getting greener after fighting with shareholders for months

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why planes are de-iced


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    mount etna erupts

    At 2017's worst, it didn't just feel like everything was on fire. Parts of the world literally were — and still are — burning.

    There were fires, floods, storms, earthquakes, droughts, and volcanic eruptions.

    Some of the photos of those events gave the past year a very "end of the world" sort of feel.

    These are some of the most apocalyptic images we spotted.

    SEE ALSO: The most stunning science photos of 2017

    As the Thomas Fire blazed in California, it filled the sky with so much smoke that the sun peeking through took on an orange hue.



    A five-year drought in Brazil left cracked ground where water used to fill the Boqueirao reservoir in Paraiba state.



    This was just one of at least 41 humpback whales to wash ashore dead on the Eastern Seaboard of the US in an "unusual mortality event" that stretched back to 2016.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Ponytail palm, elephant's foot, Beaucarnea recurvata

    It can be tough keeping plants alive indoors, especially during the dark, dry, winter months. 

    But if they can thrive, indoor plants have all sorts of benefits. Plants can regulate indoor humidity, and they've been shown to make people feel content and peaceful around the world. In Norway, office workers report that having plants at work helps them stay productive and healthy. In Japan, plants literally fight crime — a Tokyo neighborhood dealing with a spate of break-ins planted flowers and saw its burglary rates fall 80%. 

    Even rocket scientists agree: when NASA studied houseplants in the 1980s, the space agency found that they can remove dangerous organic chemicals from indoor air, like formaldehyde, benzene, and the industrial solvent trichloroethylene.

    Business Insider spoke to New York City plant expert Matthew Schechter, who's worked in a family plant business his whole life. 

    Here are his top five "idiot-proof" plants that are perfect for anyone who lacks a green thumb. None of these need to be watered unless the dirt they're in feels dry to the touch. They are built to survive for up to a month without watering.

    SEE ALSO: The 23 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

    The low-lying Cast Iron Plant has evolved to adapt to "basically any kind of climate," Schechter said.

    The bush plant is native to Taiwan and Japan, but was brought to Victorian England in the 1800s, where it became a status symbol plant for the rich.



    The glossy leaves on this Janet Craig plant are super-hardy. Schechter said a tough Janet Craig plant once lived in a dark closet for two months and survived to see the light of day.

    Schechter says this one is known as a "workhorse plant" because "not all plants have that big, bushy look, but can tolerate low levels of light."



    The Mexican Ponytail Palm is pet-friendly and used to dry, arid conditions. It can live for two to three weeks without water.

    It's ASPCA approved as non-toxic for dogs, cats, and horses.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Donald Trump

    On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that he would begin pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The accord, signed by all but two countries, aims to keep the world from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a threshold that scientists say could save the planet from the worst-case scenarios of climate change.

    During a White House news conference, Trump outlined his reasons for leaving the agreement. Many of them, however, were based on questionable data. Here are some of Trump's main arguments for exiting the pact — and what the numbers say about them.

    SEE ALSO: Trump is pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement — here's what that could do to the environment

    Job losses

    Trump suggested that US compliance with the Paris accord could "cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates."

    The report on which that claim is based has been widely criticized by environmental groups. As the World Resources Institute pointed out, the NERA study uses a scenario in which the US industrial sector is forced to reduce the country's overall emissions by nearly 40% in 20 years. That calculation doesn't take into account the role of other sectors in reducing emissions.

    The WRI also faults the NERA report for assuming a low rate of clean-energy innovation. That rate was calculated by the Department of Energy as a minimal case that "may underestimate advances." What's more likely, the National Resources Defense Council suggests, is that the development of clean energy technologies will accelerate. Even since 2016, solar costs have decreased by about 8%.

    Today, solar jobs vastly outnumber those in coal, and those numbers continue to grow — a recent report from the International Renewably Energy Agency estimated that employment in the solar industry expanded 17 times as fast as the US economy overall in 2016.



    Just a tiny temperature decrease

    Trump also suggested that the Paris Agreement would lead to only a minuscule reduction in global temperature.

    "Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that, this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100," he said. "Tiny, tiny amount."

    A detailed analysis of the impact of the Paris goals by Climate Interactive suggests those numbers are off.

    The global temperature will rise — there is no scenario in which there will be an overall reduction. But let's assume that Trump meant a reduction from the projections of temperature increases that would happen without the Paris Agreement.

    Under a "business as usual" scenario in which past trends continue, the expected temperature increase in 2100 is 4.2 degrees Celsius (7.6 degrees Fahrenheit). If all nations fully achieve their Paris pledges, however, the average global surface temperature in 2100 is expected to be 3.3 degrees. That means the accord would lead to a reduction of nine-tenths of one degree, not two.

    Nine-tenths of a degree on a global scale is huge. Since the industrial revolution, global temperatures on average have risen 0.99 degrees Celsius, according to NASA. That's not so far from .90, and we're already seeing plenty of dramatic changes around the planet. Even a reduction of two-tenths of a degree would not be "tiny"— it would be 20% of the increase we've already seen.

    Trump went on: "In fact," he said, "14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America — and this is an incredible statistic — would totally wipe out the gains from America's expected reductions in the year 2030."

    That claim also does not appear to be accurate. With the US abandoning its commitments, Climate Interactive calculates that by 2025, the country would emit 6.7 gigatons of CO2 a year instead of the 5.3 gigatons of CO2 a year that the US would emit under the agreement.

    As of 2013, China emitted 9.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year— which comes out to 0.025 gigatons a day. Fourteen days' worth would be 0.35 gigatons — far less than the annual US decrease.



    A negative economic impact on the US

    In his speech, Trump suggested that remaining in the agreement would cost the US economy "close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income, and in many cases, much worse than that."

    Trump didn't cite a source for that statistic, but he suggested in a speech on April 29 that the cost would be $2.5 trillion — and the nonpartisan website Factcheck.org looked into that claim.

    White House spokesman Steven Cheung told Factcheck.org that the number came from a report published by the conservative Heritage Foundation in April 2016.

    Factcheck.org ran Heritage’s analysis by Roberton C. Williams III, a resource economist at the University of Maryland who is a senior fellow at the economic-analysis nonprofit Resources for the Future. Williams said the Heritage estimate was correct based on the methodology the foundation used — the analysts estimated a carbon tax rate of $36, which would increase by 3% each year from 2015 to 2035. With those numbers, the US gross domestic product would take a hit of 0.55% annually through 2035.

    But according to calculations done by Resources of the Future, the US could reach its Paris goals with a much lower carbon tax rate over less time (either a constant rate of $21.22 a year until 2025 or a rate that starts at $16.87 and increases by 3% each year in the same period). By those numbers, the US GDP would be negatively affected by about 0.10% to 0.35% a year from now until 2025.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    California wildfires December 2017

    From an usually active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico to record-breaking wildfires in California, the planet endured a lot in 2017.

    Take a look back at some of the biggest environmental changes, events, and catastrophes from the year through these 15 impactful images.

    SEE ALSO: Sea levels are rising faster than they have in 28 centuries — here's where New York City could flood first

    California's Oroville dam — the tallest in the United States — collapsed in February.

    From 2011 to 2016, California underwent the worst drought the state had seen in 1,200 years. But after an unprecedented amount of rain in late 2016 and early 2017, the Oroville area's water levels began to rise.

    In early February, the Oroville dam reached water-level capacity, which caused a giant hole to open in the middle of the spillway. 

    After the dam collapsed, authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents in several northern California towns.



    Early 2017 temperatures ranked as the hottest in 122 years for the contiguous US.

    From April 2016 to March 2017, the US went through an unusually warm period that brought record-high temperatures to the Lower 48 states (everywhere but Alaska and Hawaii), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    As The Washington Post noted, over that time period, the country's average temperature was 3.02 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th-century average.

    Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases caused the temperature increase. A study published in December suggested that by 2100, the planet may get 15% hotter than scientists previously thought.



    A groundbreaking study warned that continuing to burn fossil fuels at the current rate could bring atmospheric carbon dioxide to its highest concentration in 50 million years.

    According to the study published in April, if the world continues to emit greenhouse gases at its current pace, the global climate could reach a warming state in 2100 that scientists don't think the world has seen in the past 420 million years.

    This fall, the Trump administration took steps towards repealing the Clean Power Plan, which was established in 2015 to reduce the US' carbon-dioxide emissions.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    bloomberg macron one planet summit

    • Over 200 firms have pledged to regularly disclose the risk climate change poses to their business and implement climate-friendly initiatives as part of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, a group led by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney.
    • The push includes institutional investors, insurance giants, and pension funds, which manage a combined $81.7 trillion.
    • The financial sector's engagement on climate change comes at a critical time. 

     

    The world's largest institutional investors are going green.

    Over 200 firms, managing a combined $81.7 trillion, pledged earlier this month to regularly report the risk climate change poses to their business, and make progress on initiatives to reduce their impact on the planet.

    These reports — much like quarterly-earnings reports — will include climate-related topics like water and energy use, and will help shareholders and investors make decisions about which companies are actively managing their climate risks. 

    The recent pledge is part of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, a group that aims to develop a consistent framework for firms to disclose climate-related financial risks. Led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, the group includes institutional investors like BlackRock and JP Morgan Chase, mutual fund managers like Vanguard, and massive pension funds like Denmark's $40 billion PKA and California's Public Employees Retirement System.

    During French President Emmanuel Macron's One Planet Summit earlier this month, held on the 2-year anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, Carney emphasized that top investors want businesses to report this kind of climate data. He said the number of companies that have signed on to the task force has doubled in the past five months, to 237. 

    "You now have the mass of the financial sector saying, 'We want to distinguish between those who can see the opportunities, those who can manage the risks, and companies that just don't know the answers," Carney said. "It's going to be more awkward to be in that last group."

    Big money is pushing for climate action 

    BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager with $6 trillion under management, sent letters earlier this month to 120 companies that it invests in and has identified as exposed to climate risk. The letters urged the companies to report climate data in line with the task force's recommendations.  

    Shell, one of the companies that received a letter, pledged earlier this month to reduce its net carbon emissions 20% by 2035, and 50% by 2050 below current levels. 

    Vanguard, which is a major shareholder in many public energy companies, is pushing those corporations to disclose how climate change affects their business as well. 

    exxon mobil

    "For many companies across sectors like the material sector, the energy sector, the industrial sector, the topic of climate risk is going to be very relevant," Rob Main, who sits on Vanguard's investment stewardship team, told Yale Climate Connections' podcast in November"Given our duty to steward our shareholders' long-term investments, we must be aware of this risk, where it’s most relevant, and ensure companies are addressing it in an appropriate manner."

    JP Morgan, one of the world's largest banks with $2.6 trillion under management, is throwing its weight behind the task force too, and encouraging companies it invests in to report data related to climate change. JP Morgan's sustainability chief, Matthew Arnold, called the task force's recommendations an "important step" for promoting transparency around climate-related risks. 

    "We look forward to engaging as companies explore best practices for implementation," he said. 

    One of those companies, Exxon Mobil, said in an SEC filing earlier this month that it plans to report the "impacts" that climate change and environmental policies have on the company, after months of conflict with shareholders over the issue. Exxon's disclosures will likely include implications of the 2-degree-Celsius warming limit agreed to in the Paris climate agreement, as well as how the company is positioning its business for a "lower-carbon future."

    French insurance giant AXA SA is also part of the task force, and has pledged to fully divest from coal and tar sands companies, and quadruple investments in green companies to $14 billion by 2020, according to Bloomberg

    Other major financial agencies have jumped on board, too. The World Bank announced that it plans to stop financing "upstream" oil-and-gas projects— that is, those in the exploratory phase — from 2019 on. But the World Bank said it would continue to finance "downstream" projects (those already online) with an emphasis on natural gas in developing countries.

    Moody's, one of the largest credit-ratings agencies, has already started factoring climate indicators into its evaluation of coastal states and cities, so it's likely just a matter of time before the agency applies the framework to companies as well.

    Bloomberg and Carney leading the way

    thomas fire wildfire surfers california

    Bloomberg and Carney both strongly believe that companies actively managing their climate-related risks will benefit in the long run.

    "If the investing public likes what they are doing, they'll get a higher valuation, their stock will go up and bonuses will be bigger," Bloomberg told CNN

    These pushes from investors come as the US government is rejecting its former, Obama-era leadership on climate change issues.  

    President Donald Trump has pledged to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, which pushes member nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The process of removing the US will take years, however. 

    The financial sector's engagement on climate change comes at a critical time. A recent report found that the world is way off track to hit the targets laid out by the Paris agreement, with or without US involvement. 

    SEE ALSO: The world's largest oil and gas companies are getting greener after fighting with shareholders for months

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A fasting diet works if you want to lose weight but here are downsides that no one tells you about


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    tectonic plates iceland hiking

    • Geologists predict the Earth could see about twice as many major earthquakes this year as in 2017.
    • That's because the world is turning a little slower than usual, prompting the equator to shrink slightly, they say.
    • A skinnier equator makes the edges of tectonic plates squeeze together, so earthquakes are likely to happen faster.


    You probably didn't notice, but the Earth is taking things a little slow right now.

    Since 2011, our planet has been rotating at a pace a few thousandths of a second slower than usual.

    Our planetary spin cycle changes constantly, affected by ocean currents and atmospheric changes, as well as the mantle and molten core underneath the Earth's crust. But the current pattern has a team of geologists worried about earthquakes.

    Roger Bilham and Rebecca Bendick warn that the Earth's slowing could lead to more than twice as many earthquakes with at least magnitude 7.0 in 2018 as in the past year.

    Bilham, who studies earthquakes at the University of Colorado, told Business Insider that when the Earth's pace lags for years at a time, its middle contracts. That shrinks the equator, but it's hard for the tectonic plates that form Earth's outer shell to adjust accordingly.

    Instead of falling in line with the slimmer waistline, the edges of those plates get squeezed together.

    This all takes time for us to feel on the ground. But after five years without many high-intensity quakes, we're approaching the moment when the effects of this squeeze could be felt around the globe, Bilham said. He estimates the planet could see, on average, 20 high-magnitude earthquakes in each of the next four years. By comparison, just seven earthquakes registered above a 7.0 in 2017.

    A man looks at a damaged building following an earthquake in the town of Darbandikhan, near the city of Sulaimaniyah, in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Iraq.

    This lagging-Earth phenomenon isn't prompting any earthquakes that weren't already in motion. Instead, Bilham said, the slower spin adds more stress and pressure to some of these quakes, pushing them to happen more quickly, especially in earthquake-prone zones.

    The effect may be felt the most in the tropics, near the equator.

    Bendick, who studies geologic hazards at the University of Montana, wrote a report with Bilham last year hinting at this phenomenon. Their latest findings are still under review.

    She said it was important to remember that the Earth's rotation changes all the time, for all kinds of reasons — storms, snow buildup, and ocean patterns can all have an influence.

    But Bendick said earthquake records from the past 117 years suggest they're sensitive to a special kind of 10-year rotational slowdown like the one we seem to be experiencing now. This is most likely because of "interactions of the lithosphere, mantle, and core," she told Business Insider in an email.

    The researchers say they hope city planners and politicians in earthquake-prone zones will heed their latest warning and work quickly to retrofit buildings or update emergency plans. They also advise people to talk to loved ones about disaster preparedness.

    "There is no good reason for people not to take simple steps to be better prepared," Bendick said.

    SEE ALSO: Much of the US could see a warmer-than-average winter season — here's the forecast for your region

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Middle America has become an epicenter for earthquakes — and scientists now know why


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    Boston blizzard cold weather

    • A winter storm is forecast to slam the East Coast this week, bringing snow and freezing weather from Florida to Maine.
    • The storm's central pressure is expected to drop to about 950 millibars, which is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.
    • The region is expected to be slapped with an Arctic air mass on Saturday to plunge temperatures to below zero in New York City.


    The East Coast will probably get even more frigid before the end of this cold snap, at least if current weather models hold true.

    A "cold-weather bomb" is bearing down on the East Coast, and it could bring heavy snowfall and record-breaking freezing temperatures.

    Winter-storm warnings have been issued from Florida up to Maine, though the storm's effects will depend on which way it tracks. As of now, it's looking pretty daunting for the Northeast.

    What is a 'weather bomb'?

    This isn't hyperbole — a "weather bomb," or "bombogenesis," is the term used by meteorologists for this kind of storm system. The phenomenon gets this ominous label when the central pressure of a low-pressure system drops at least 24 millibars (a unit for measuring atmospheric pressure) within 24 hours.

    Bombogenesis occurs when cold, continental air masses meet warm, moisture-rich oceanic air. That can create high winds and heavy precipitation, according to The Weather Channel.

    The storm working its way up the East Coast is expected to exceed the standard bombogenesis rate by several millibars and drop to a minimum pressure of about 950 millibars — equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. (Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York City and the New Jersey coast in 2012, had a minimum pressure of 946 millibars when it made landfall.)

    Meteorologists consider air pressure to be a measure of a storm's intensity, meaning this could be one of the strongest winter storms ever to hit the East Coast — at least on record.

    This GIF shows the projected pressure lows off the coast of New York and New England on Thursday afternoon, based on current models from the interactive forecast site Windy: 

    Current models show the storm creeping up the East Coast, bringing high winds, heavy snowfall, and the potential for coastal flooding. It's expected to dump 3 inches of snow on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Tuesday evening, a phenomenon not seen since 2010. Even Jacksonville, Florida, is expected to see some snowfall on Wednesday.

    By Thursday, if the storm track holds, a combination of heavy snowfall and high winds will create blizzard conditions that could dump over a foot of snow in much of southern New England, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland, according to Mashable's Andrew Freedman. People as far southwest as Dallas aren't expected to see temperatures above freezing for the next few days.

    This shows the projected wind circulation on Thursday afternoon: 

    After the snow, a deep freeze

    New Yorkers — who just lived through one of the most frigid New Year's Eves of the past century — may also see blizzard-like conditions if the storm shifts about 50 miles west. The National Weather Service expects New York to receive 2 to 4 inches of snow on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    Following the storm, temperatures are expected to plunge precipitously.

    An Arctic air mass over Canada's Hudson Bay creeping south, drawn in by the massive air circulation in the storm's wake, could bring temperatures in New York City to the single digits this weekend and well below zero on Saturday evening.

    Though it may seem counterintuitive, New Yorkers should hope for heavy snowfall.

    Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist, explained on Twitter that even a couple of inches of snow can serve as infrastructure insulation, protecting water pipes and subway tracks from extreme cold. Without that snow, water pipes can freeze or burst, which could then knock out power and create a cascade of damage that would make commutes (not to mention life in general) a bit miserable.

    Despite what President Donald Trump has claimed on Twitter, winter storms — just like hurricanes and heat waves — can be made more severe by climate change. As the White House and Congress gear up to take on infrastructure this year, that's probably a threat they should keep in mind.

    SEE ALSO: Millions of people are bracing for a snowy New Year's weekend with super-cold weather and potential travel delays

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    NOW WATCH: Never scrape ice off your windshield again with this special screen


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    cold icicle face

    • Authorities across the US have blamed nine deaths over the past week on the low temperatures.
    • In one Minnesota town, it was negative 36 degrees Fahrenheit last week.
    • Older adults and young people are vulnerable to the low temperatures, but everyone should bundle up and take extra care to keep your hands, core, face, and head warm. 
    • If it's below zero degrees (Fahrenheit), or the windchill dips below -18, it's best to stay indoors and limit any skin exposure to less than 30 minutes outside. 


    Things are getting more than a little chilly this winter.

    The frigid waters of Lake Superior are looking steamy-hot as they waft into the below-zero air in northern Minnesota. On New Year’s Day, the temperature dipped to a record low of negative 9 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago. Ice chunks cluttered the city's river, prompting the cancellation of a polar plunge.

    In Atlanta, doctors are reporting a spike in hypothermia cases after temperatures dropped into the teens on New Year's Day. Kids in Indianapolis saw classes were cancelled on Tuesday, as public schools deemed the -12 degree morning too glacial for little ones to wait for the bus.

    Authorities across the US have blamed nine deaths over the past week on the chill, the Associated Press reports. And it's far from over — a "cold-weather bomb" is currently bearing down on the East Coast.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1,260 people die every year from being out in frigid temperatures. It's a sobering reminder that sometimes it really is too cold to be outside.

    But how cold, exactly, is too cold? 

    The Mayo Clinic suggests winter-loving exercisers should stay indoors for their workouts whenever the temperature dips into sub-zero territory. When the windchill drops below negative 18 Fahrenheit, frostbite can inch up fingers and toes in as little as half an hour.

    Not everyone reacts to cold in the same way, though. Biologists who've studied the Inuit people of Greenland think they may carry genes that help them process fat differently and stay warmer than others. Older adults with weakened heart muscle cells, on the other hand, can be especially vulnerable: more than half of cold-weather deaths occur in people over 60, according to the CDC. People with poor circulation and weakened immune systems are also susceptible to cold. (Having perpetually cold hands and feet are conditions largely determined by a person's genes.) 

    Here are five tips to keep in mind in the cold, bitter temperatures:

    Avoid early morning hours outside.

    The chilliest part of the day is typically during the dark hours early in the morning, so avoid going outside at that time if you can.

    Layering keeps you warmer.

    The National Weather Service suggests layering loose, lightweight clothes, since the air that gets trapped between layers of fabric acts as extra insulation. If you're exercising or shoveling outside, you always can peel off layers as you go, so as not to overheat.

    Don't wear water-logging cottons.

    Opt for moisture-wicking, waterproof, breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex or fleece. Wool garments won't absorb sweat, either. As Thomas Altena with the American College of Sports Medicine writes, "the ice formed on top of the fabric creates a natural wind barrier effective for keeping a person warm."

    Your head is important. Cover it with a hat or hood. 

    It's a myth that you lose the majority of your body heat from your head. Scientists have dropped people into cold water to study this, and found that a head exposed to the cold will increase total heat loss by about 10%. But a chilly head nonetheless impacts your core temperature, leading your entire body to cool off faster. So make your mother proud and bundle up on top. first snowball girl happy

    Cover as much skin as possible to avoid frostbitten fingers and toes.

    The first clues that you might be drifting into frostbite territory include numb, red skin and stinging or burning. After that, skin can turn white or grayish-yellow. It's best to see a doctor if you think this is happening, but if you can't get medical attention right away, remember to re-warm any exposed body parts slowly, submerging them in warm, not hot, water, or even re-heating them under your armpits, as the CDC suggests.

    SEE ALSO: An unusual weather pattern explains why there's been so much snow already – and that could continue all winter

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    NOW WATCH: Why planes are de-iced


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    cold weather

    • The Northeast will experience some of the coldest temperatures in decades on Friday and Saturday as a 'cold weather bomb' bears down on the region.
    • Temperatures are expected to plummet to below zero Fahrenheit in New York City on Friday night.
    • Snowfall may actually insulate infrastructure from freezing too much. 

     

    A 'cold weather bomb' is bearing down on the East Coast. At least one meteorologist is warning that the frigid temperatures following the storm could be "literally the worst you've ever seen," with low temperatures not seen in decades. 

    Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist who spent 35 years with the National Weather Service, tweeted on Wednesday morning that the snowfall associated with the storm isn't the biggest issue.

    "There's a strong tendency to focus on the snow amounts, but please keep in mind the bitter cold and very low wind chills which follow this storm," Szatkowski said. "It may literally be the worst you've ever seen." 

    While 'bomb cyclones' — the type of storm that's heading toward the Northeast — aren't particularly uncommon, the temperatures this storm will bring to the region will be far colder than a similar storm that hit the region in November 2014. That storm, popularly known as the 'polar vortex,' dumped 65 inches of snow on Buffalo, New York, and brought temperatures across New York and the Northeast into the single digits for a few days. 

    The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and parts of Massachusetts as of Wednesday. 

    The upcoming frigid weekend won't be coldest the region has ever experienced, however. On February 9, 1943, the mercury hit 15 degrees below zero — the coldest day, before the windchill, in New York City's history, according to AccuWeather. Less than a week later, the city experienced the eighth coldest day in its history, with a low of 8 degrees below zero.

    Deep freeze polar vortex

    The coming storm, which is creeping up the East Coast, is set to unload up to a foot of snow across parts of Southern New England and Long Island on Thursday, according to the NWS. New York City, Philadelphia, and much of New Jersey are only expected to receive a few inches, but after the snow falls, the storm will pull a frigid Arctic air mass over region. That will likely plunge temperatures to the single digits on Friday and Saturday nights.

    By Thursday night, temperatures are expected to plummet to an average low of 10 degrees across the region, with gusts of winds up to 33 miles per hour. That could make it feel as cold as -14 Fahrenheit with the windchill. The NWS predicts the snow will stop falling on Thursday evening. By Friday night, the low forecast for New York is 3 degrees with wind gusts of up to 34 miles per hour, according to the NWS.

    That's true for much of the Northeast — in Boston, which is expected to get up to a foot of snow on Thursday, temperatures will plummet to a low of -3 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday evening, with wind chills of up to -35 degrees likely on Friday and Saturday nights.

    The National Weather Service warns that heavy snow and frigid temperatures will make travel difficult, and added that there are likely to be power outages throughout Boston, Eastern Massachusetts, and Rhode Island on Thursday. 

    Szatkowski explained on Twitter that a few inches of snow can serve as infrastructure insulation, protecting water pipes and subway tracks from freezing in the extreme cold. 

    cold people new york

    Saturday 's temperatures will creep back up into the teens in New York and Philadelphia, only to plunge to 5 degrees after the sun sets, though the NWS expects winds to subside. Single digits will continue that day in Boston. On Sunday, temperatures will move back up to a more normal (but still cold) high of 22 degrees around New York and Philadelphia, with a high in Boston around 16.

    If you live on the East Coast, temperatures could get cold enough to worry about frostbite. The Mayo Clinic warns that it's too dangerous to do any sort of outdoor workout once the thermometer dips below zero. When the windchill drops below negative 18, frostbite can hit fingers and toes in half an hour.

    SEE ALSO: A 'cold-weather bomb' is bearing down on the East Coast — and it could deliver lots of snow and record-low temperatures

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How long you can stay in extremely cold temperatures before getting frostbite


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    niagara falls freezing polar vortex

    • Bomb cyclone, explosive bombogenesis, and polar vortex are real meteorological terms.
    • But the weather phenomena they describe aren't as uncommon as the words might suggest — there are probably 40-50 storms in the northern hemisphere that qualify as bombs every year.
    • The cold air brought by the polar vortex is a real reason to be concerned.


    A "bomb cyclone" is headed for the Northeast.

    If you're wondering whether that term was only created to make you pay attention to the weather, you're not alone.

    But "bomb cyclone" is a real meteorological term— as are the "explosive bombogenesis" and "polar vortex" coming along with this storm. Those names can make the phenomena sound more intense than the normal (though still potentially dangerous) winter events they describe. But the cold that comes with the polar vortex is no joke.

    The term bomb cyclonedates back to a 1980 paper by Frederick Sanders and John Gyakum, which described the phenomenon as a "bomb." That sounds dramatic, but it actually refers to an extratropical surface cyclone: a storm occurring outside of tropics, usually between 30 and 60 degrees latitude if it happens in the Northern Hemisphere, whose central pressure falls at least 24 millibars over a 24-hour period.

    Central pressure is the measure of how much the atmosphere in the middle of a storm weighs, and it's one of the key indicators of any cyclone's intensity. The lower the air pressure in the middle of the storm, the more intense that cyclone is. Normal air pressure is about 1010 millibars; when central pressure is lower than that, things become more turbulent, with more air movement and wind kicking up.

    This particular storm looks like it's going to be intense, potentially dropping 45 millibars in 24 hours.

    That could put it on an intensity level close to that of Hurricane Sandy.

    When a storm undergoes a rapid pressure drop, that's known as "explosive bombogenesis." It happens on average between 40 and 50 times in the Northern Hemisphere each year, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue.

    A storm that becomes this intense in such a quick period of time is worth paying attention to. The flooding and wind gusts that will come with the current weather system will be enough to down power lines. That's especially bad when it's really cold out — and if you've stepped outside on the East Coast lately, enough said.

    Polar Vortex

    The intense cold is likely to become worse in the aftermath of the storm, due to an expanded polar vortex.

    The term polar vortex, which most of us didn't hear much about until 2014, describes the swirling low pressure masses of cold air that always surround Earth's poles, according to the National Weather Service.

    Sometimes, that mass of air expands and gets pushed south, carried along with the jet stream, a stream of wind that extends around the hemisphere and divides the air masses in the polar region from those further south.

    The air circulation coming with this imminent storm could help pull the jet stream and even more arctic air south, bringing temperatures to parts of the US that are simply too cold for people to safely be outside.

    SEE ALSO: The 23 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

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    NOW WATCH: How El Niño and La Niña affect weather


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    Erie snowstorm

    A cold-weather 'bomb cyclone' is bearing down on the East Coast, bringing up to a foot of snow and bone-chilling temperatures across the region.

    The storm is currently sitting off the coast of Florida and Georgia, and will work its way up the East Coast on Wednesday night and Thursday. New York City and Philadelphia are under a winter weather advisory starting at 1 a.m. on Thursday, while Boston is under a blizzard warning starting at the same time.

    While snowfall is expected to grind traffic and air travel to a halt on Thursday, the bigger problem is the freezing temperatures set to descend on the region in the storm's wake. The circulation associated with the massive storm will drag frigid air sitting over Canada's Arctic south, plunging temperatures across the Northeast to below zero Farenheit. 

    Here's where the storm will hit where you live, and what to expect: 

    SEE ALSO: The cold weather 'bomb' headed for the East Coast may be the 'worst you've ever seen,' according to a meteorologist

    As of 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, the storm was hanging out off the coasts of Florida and Georgia.

    The color gradient in this map depicts the amount of precipitation, with pink being the highest and light blue the lowest. The lines on the map show the air circulation or wind. The wind's movement corresponds to the low-pressure center of the cyclone, similar to the way a hurricane behaves.

    As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the storm is dumping snow as far south as Tallahassee, Florida, and bringing freezing temperatures and a mix of snow and freezing rain to South Carolina's coast. Charleston, South Carolina is expected to receive up to 4 inches of snow by Wednesday night — the highest single-day snow total since 1989. 



    By midnight on Thursday, the storm will creep toward North Carolina's coast and start impacting Baltimore and Washington DC

    Washington DC and Baltimore, shown toward the top of the map, will be hit with minor snowfall on Wednesday night through Thursday morning. Temperatures in those cities will plummet to the single digits as the storm draws frigid polar air from the Canadian Arctic, according to the National Weather Service.

    Temperatures in DC will fall to a low of 9 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday evening, hitting a maximum low of 6 degrees on Saturday night. Daytime temperatures are expected to climb back into the teens as long as the storm doesn't deviate too far from its expected track.



    By 8 a.m. Thursday, the storm's center will be sitting just off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, and southern New Jersey.

    The storm will drop between 5 and 8 inches of snow in New York City and Philadelphia from Wednesday night through Thursday evening. New Jersey's coast, however, will see significantly more snow: Up to a foot is expected in parts of New Jersey and Long Island.

    If the storm veers further east, snowfall accumulation could increase in New York City and Philadelphia. In any case, neither New York nor Philadelphia will be spared from frigid conditions.

    Temperatures in both cities will drop to the low single digits on Friday evening, with the coldest temperatures on Saturday night. With the windchill factored in, it'll feel as cold as -35 on Saturday. Both New York and Philadelphia are under a winter storm warming from Thursday at 1 a.m. through Friday at 1 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. 

     



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Offshore drilling map jan 2018

    • The Trump Administration on Thursday proposed opening up 98% of US waters for oil exploration.
    • A majority of coastal governors oppose the idea, but a few in the Gulf Coast and Alaska are interested in more offshore drilling.
    • The 5-year leasing program, set for 2019-2024, is getting strong support from gas companies and loud opposition from environmentalists. 

     

    Step up to the auction block, oil companies.

    In an announcement on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a new proposal to lease huge new sections of US waters to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling — a move unlike anything seen in decades. offshore oil platform california

    The new plan would make "more than 98%" of the waters off the United States available for oil and gas leasing over the next five years, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wrote in a report released Thursday.

    There are a few notable exceptions. That other 2% of US waters includes an area of the Aleutian basin next to Alaska, as well as 12 coastal "marine sanctuaries" (those dot the shoreline in places like Monterey Bay in California and Stellwagen Bank at the mouth of the Massachusetts Bay). There's also a temporary hold on a section of the Gulf of Mexico that Congress has put a moratorium on until 2022.

    But many other protected areas of water could be up for grabs. The National Parks Conservation association said the shores bordering 88 other protected areas, like the waters off Acadia National Park and along the Santa Monica mountains could all be sold off. The last offshore oil sales on either coast of the continental US occurred in the 1980s, according to Reuters.  

    President Donald Trump already re-wrote some of the rules that former President Barack Obama put in place to protect waters in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans with his "America First Offshore Energy Strategy" in April 2017.

    Jellyfish Monterey Bay

    Oil and gas industry leaders voiced their approval for that move, as well as this new plan. 

    "I think the default should be that all of our offshore areas should be available," Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, told The New York Times

    The Governors of Alaska and Alabama, along with the Department of Natural Resources in Louisiana and Georgia support the idea too, as does the lieutenant governor in North Carolina.

    But Sierra Club director Michael Brune doesn't see it that way. 

    "Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters," he said in a statement

    Leaders of many coastal states up and down the East and West coasts, including California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and New York are against it. New York officials are also concerned that the plan might interfere with their intentions to build more offshore wind farms. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott quickly voiced his opposition.

    "I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration," Scott told Reuters

    In addition to lawmakers and environmentalists, the Pentagon is also worried about the move, according to The Washington Post

    But the Department of Interior says nothing is set in stone yet — typically, these sales take about two years to finalize. The BOEM wrote in its report that "each potential lease sale scheduled in the 2019–2024 Program will be subject to separate established pre-lease decision processes, including environmental review and analysis."

    SEE ALSO: The Justice Department is rescinding critical rules directing the federal government to keep its hands off of states' legal marijuana

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The Trump administration could bypass environmental regulations to build the wall — and it could cause a huge problem in Texas


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    nyc storm

    Hold on to your hats, East Coasters. It's not over yet. 

    Hurricane-force winds are whipping up snow and freezing rain across the Northeast, as the biggest storm of the season yet continues barreling it's way northwards on the Atlantic. 

    Parts of New York could see a foot of snow before it's all over, while Boston is getting slammed with a wall of freezing water larger than residents have seen in decades. 

    Fountains in Georgia went solid, while in the nation's capital, the President saw snow in his backyard.

    Meteorologists say that the storm — which has been dubbed a "bomb cyclone,"—  is experiencing "bombogenesis," with low air pressure creating an especially strong storm.

    Take a look at what's been happening.

    SEE ALSO: How to gauge when it's too dangerously cold to go outside

    As far south as Savannah, Georgia, fountains were frozen.

    Thermometers dipped into unseasonably icy, below freezing territory.



    Savannah got an unusual inch-plus of snow.

    These guys were out early in Forsyth Park Thursday morning as snow and cold weather blanketed the area. 



    It was the perfect opportunity for Jonas Kassof, who lobbed snowballs at his sister.

    The Washington Post said it's the heaviest snowfall that region's seen in nearly three decades.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    ocean coral reef great barrier reef

    • Two new studies show that the world's oceans are in dire straits — even more than scientists previously thought.
    • One study found that coral bleaching events, which can kill reefs, are now happening every few years instead of every few decades. And a new review found that oceans are losing oxygen faster than we realized, which could have serious consequences for marine life.
    • Ocean health has a huge impact on human health, so solving these problems is essential.


    Our world is an ocean planet.

    The seas support hundreds of millions of people by providing food and jobs around the globe. Ocean plants produce up to 85% of the oxygen in the air we breathe.

    But a pair of new studies published in the journal Science indicate that the oceans have been even more devastated by global warming and human activity than scientists previously thought.

    Coral reefs are the most biodiverse environments in the ocean. But according to one of the new papers, they are now exposed to conditions that can damage or destroy them every few years. They used to face such conditions only occasionally — every few decades — giving them time to recover. Now these fragile environments are getting damaged more quickly than they can rebuild themselves. And since they are such key environments, this could cause a ripple effect that destroys life throughout the oceans and pose huge consequences for people around the globe.

    Another new review found that oxygen loss in the ocean — an ongoing problem that's been documented for some time — is also worse than scientists thought. The volume of ocean water that is completely devoid of oxygen and inhospitable to life has quadrupled over the past 50 years, the authors found. They expect that problem to continue as the world warms, which could lead to conditions that we associate with major extinction events.

    Earth

    Ocean die-offs

    Humans are a major cause of what's happening to reefs and to ocean oxygen levels, according to the new studies.

    Coral reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea due to the amount of life that depends on them. Approximately 25% of fish species spend some part of their life cycle in reefs. Researchers have also discovered incredibly valuable organisms in reefs that have helped us create antiviral and anticancer drugs.

    But reefs cover less than 1% of the sea floor and are fragile. Stressful conditions cause the coral animals to eject the algae that live in them, a process called bleaching, which makes them vulnerable to disease, parasites, and death.

    Bleaching events can happen naturally, but they've dramatically increased in frequency over the past few decades, according to the new study. Until the 1980s, these events used to happen to various reefs around the world every 25 to 30 years. But an analysis of data from 100 reef sites around the globe shows that bleaching events are now happening every six years — outpacing reefs' natural ability to recover.

    At local levels, humans can cause bleaching by polluting the water with runoff from agriculture or sewage from cities. On a global scale, the oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat that Earth's atmosphere has trapped due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, which come from burning fossil fuels. As the seas absorb heat and carbon dioxide, they become warmer and more acidic, conditions that can cause bleaching and make it harder for reefs to recover after a bleaching event.

    "We are pushing coral reefs around the world to the brink of extinction," Michael Crosby, a marine scientist and the president of Mote Laboratory and Aquarium, an organization working on developing new ways to revive reefs, told Business Insider before these recent studies were published. "The changes we are seeing now have such a negative impact that coral itself does not have time to catch up and survive."

    Warming and pollution also affect the amount of oxygen in the ocean in the first place. There's 2% less oxygen in the ocean now than there was in 1950, according to the new review. As waters get warmer, they're less able to absorb oxygen, leading to the emergence of ocean dead zones. Pollution creates dead zones as well. In some places, productive fisheries can spring up near dead zones in the short term, but in the long term, researchers think this could be devastating to ocean life.

    "If you can't breathe, nothing else matters. That pretty much describes it," lead review author Denise Breitburg told the Associated Press. "As seas are losing oxygen, those areas are no longer habitable by many organisms."

    A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

    Consequences for humanity

    The degree to which dying reefs and changing oceans affect humanity cannot be overstated.

    The world has lost 50% of its coral in the last 30 years. If these bleaching events continue unabated, it's likely we could lose the rest of it in our lifetimes. Reefs protect cities from storm surge that would otherwise cause devastating floods, and they directly support more than 500 million people by providing food or jobs. Losing the 25% of ocean life that at least partially depends on reefs could cause a cascading effect throughout the ocean.

    At the same time, ongoing oxygen loss in the place that most of the world's oxygen comes from is scary.

    Many researchers think that by taking steps to rapidly cut emissions and eliminate local stressors like pollution, we may still be able to protect these environments or restore them enough so that they have a shot at recovery.

    But time is limited, and as these new studies show, the pressure is on.

    SEE ALSO: The 23 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Ocean ‘dead zones’ exist — and there are more of them than scientists thought


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    cape town water shortage

    • The supply of water in Cape Town, South Africa, is on track to reach critical levels by May.
    • Officials are urging locals and travelers not to flush the toilets unless it's absolutely necessary.
    • The city is hoping it won't have to resort to turning off the taps.


    The water-conservation maxim "if it's brown, flush it down; if it's yellow, let it mellow" is becoming something of a rallying cry for city officials in Cape Town, South Africa.

    The city's water supply is on track to reach lows that will prompt strict mandatory rationing before May.

    Even travelers to the city, which is home to nearly 4 million people, are being asked to conserve. The New York Times reports that safari-, beach-, and vineyard-bound tourists arriving at the city's international airport are being reminded to be cautious about their flushes.

    "A single flush uses 5 days of drinking water," one sign says. "Our taps will run dry if we don't act now."

    The city has been grappling with its worst drought in over 100 years, fueled by months of dry weather. In October, Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille asked her fellow Capetonians to limit their water use to no more than 87 liters a day. In February the city released a list of its top 100 water consumers, The Huffington Post (now HuffPost) reported, hoping to shame people into using less.

    It's tough to know exactly how much water we each pull from the tap every day, but a single toilet flush can drain about 9 liters (more than 2 gallons), and a five-minute shower uses about 47 liters (12.5 gallons). Even a typical pot of coffee will set you back another liter or more, so it's easy to see how quickly water use can add up from a quick morning routine.

    To help people track how much of the municipal resource they're using every day, Cape Town has created an online water-consumption calculator. Some residents have installed their own tanks to collect water for gardening and are using buckets to conserve shower water.

    The city is also trying to find new water sources, since dams that supply the city are hovering at just about 30% of their storage capacity. But the efforts may not be enough to keep residents hydrated. The coastal city says it will be forced to turn off the taps when the dams fall to 13.5% capacity. At that point, they'll switch to a system of daily water allotments that people will have to collect at checkpoints around town, according to The Times.

    Cape Town isn't the only city in water trouble. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025 two-thirds of the world will be dealing with water shortages as droughts become more frequent in a warming world.

    Scientists warn that cities across Asia could also get hit with big water problems by 2050 if drastic measures aren't taken there. In addition to climate extremes like drought and environmental stressors, population growth is creating challenges around freshwater consumption. As more people in densely populated countries like China and India move out of poverty, water resources are further strained.

    The Cape Town drought means rainwater suppliers and well-diggers are "doing a roaring trade,"Bloomberg reports, as people who can afford to pay line up to stay supplied.

    It remains possible that Capetonians will never reach "Day Zero," when the city projects it will turn off the taps. But for now, there's just a single chance of rain in the Cape Town forecast for the next two weeks.

    SEE ALSO: Pollution is killing more people than wars, obesity, smoking, and malnutrition

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Erin Brockovich: Here's why water across the US is turning brown, yellow, and other colors


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    california fires

    • Natural disasters including wildfires and hurricanes caused $306 billion in damage in 2017, making it the costliest year on record.
    • 2017 surpassed the previous cost record, which was set in 2005 when a series of hurricanes (including Katrina) caused $214 billion in damage.
    • Damaging storms and rising costs part of an ongoing trend that's getting worse. 

     

    A series of hurricanes, wildfires, and other severe weather-related events have made 2017 the costliest year on record for natural disasters.

    The combination of property damage and spending on aid and relief cost the US a total of $306 billion in 2017. There were 16 weather events that each caused over $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Last year shattered the previous cost record, which was set in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Dennis, and Wilma caused $214 billion in damage (adjusted for inflation).

    Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread flooding in Houston in August, was the single most expensive storm in 2017, causing $125 billion in damage, according to NOAA. Harvey was followed by Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico in September and led to an ongoing crisis from which the island is still recovering. That storm caused $90 billion in damage. And Hurricane Irma, which lashed Florida in September, was the third-costliest disaster in 2017 with $50 billion damage, according to NOAA. 

    2017 billion dollar disaster map

    The wildfires in northern and southern California, combined with fires in Montana and Colorado, caused $18 billion in damage. The rest of the costly disasters in 2017 are a mix of tornadoes, floods, and severe thunderstorms.

    More frequent, severe natural disasters and rising costs associated with recovery and relief are part of a larger trend, since climate change makes weather more erratic and extreme. According to a recent study in Nature, the planet may get 15% hotter by the end of the century than scientists' highest projections,which means extreme weather and costly disasters are likely to get much worse.

    The hurricane season in 2017 was considered "extremely active," according to the National Hurricane Center, with September breaking the all-time record for the number of hurricane days in one month. And 14 of the 20 largest wildfires in California's history have occurred since 2000 — with the Thomas Fire, which burned over 280,000 acres in Ventura County in December, now the largest fire in the state's history. 

    The Government Accountability Office projects that the US government's recurring annual costs due to climate change — such as wildfire suppression — could increase by up to $35 billion per year by 2050. Whereas there were 16 weather events in the US that cost $1 billion this year, the entire decade of the 1980s only saw 21 that crossed that billion-dollar mark. 

    SEE ALSO: A winter 'bomb cyclone' lashed the Northeast — bringing blizzards, floods, and frigid temperatures

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    NOW WATCH: The biggest risks facing the world in 2018


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