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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    road salt times square

    • More than 20 million tons of salt are dumped on icy roads each year in the US. 
    • But salt is bad for the environment — when the snow melts, it washes the salt into rivers and lakes, destroying freshwater habitats. 
    • That's why some cities are experimenting with adding organic materials like beet juice and pickle brine to road salt.


    While salt helps keep your tires and feet from slipping on icy, snow-covered pavement, it's bad for the environment.

    More than 20 million tons of salt are dumped on icy roads throughout the US each year, according to The Associated PressThe problem, many researchers say, is that after cities put salt on roads, the snow and ice inevitably melt, and the salt gets washed into rivers and lakes, increasing the salinity to sometimes dangerous levels.

    A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published this month found that increased salinity can catalyze the release of toxic metals into bodies of freshwater. The report concluded that many lakes and rivers in the Northeastern US would not be fit for human consumption and would actually become toxic to freshwater life within the next century if cities and freeway authorities continue to dump salt at the current rate.

    That's why some cities are turning to unique concoctions, adding things like beet juice, beer waste, and pickle brine to help salt stick to roads and sidewalks more effectively. 

    5th avenue new york coldbomb winter

    These types of liquefied organic additives both help the salt stick to the pavement better so that less washes into rivers and lakes, and also increase the capacity for the salt to melt ice. That means less salt is needed over the course of a winter.

    So far, municipalities in New Jersey and North Dakota have experimented with adding beet juice. A county in Wisconsin (a state known for its cheese production) has started using cheese brine, a salty byproduct of making cheese, to line its roads in advance of big snowstorms. 

    All of these solutions help reduce the amount of road salt municipalities need to make driving safe. 

    "There has been a sense of alarm on the impacts of road salt on organisms and ecosystems," Victoria Kelly, from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, told the AP. "We've seen increasing concentrations in river water, lakes, streams. Then, scientists started asking the question: What is going to happen to the organisms living in freshwater bodies and what will happen to the freshwater bodies as a whole?"

    According to The Conversation, increased salinity can lead to dead zones at the bottom of lakes, where the salt water is denser than the freshwater. This can destroy prime habitats for microscopic organisms like algae and zooplankton, and cause disastrous effects throughout the food chain. 2016 study tested 327 lakes and found that more than 40% of them had increased levels of salinity.

    On top of that, salt causes billions of dollars of damage by corroding cars, pipes, and other critical pieces of infrastructure every year. 

    While municipal experiments with beet juice and beer waste seem promising, there's still the smell to consider. Residents in a few North Dakota communities where beet juice was mixed with road salt complained that it made the roads smell like soy sauce or stale coffee, according to The Conversation. 

    Still, that's probably better than killing the local freshwater fish. 

    SEE ALSO: See photos of the devastating pollution in India's holy Ganges River

    Join the conversation about this story »

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

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    solar rooftop

    • The Trump Administration is expected to ask for a deep, 72% cut to research on clean energy next year.
    • President Trump has been in favor of what he calls an "energy dominance" strategy focused on coal, oil, and natural gas, not wind and solar.
    • But some of the fastest-growing job markets in the country are in the renewable energy industry, and elsewhere around the world, renewables are quickly becoming the energy source of choice

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will ask Congress next month for a 72 percent cut to research programs on clean energy and energy efficiency in fiscal 2019, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing draft budget documents.

    The Trump administration is pursuing a so-called energy dominance policy that seeks to boost production and exports of oil, natural gas, and coal.

    The Department of Energy had asked the White House for more modest spending cuts to the programs on advancing wind and solar power and efficiency technologies, but the executive branch's Office of Management and Budget wanted deeper cuts, the report said.

    The White House and the Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

    The budget is primarily a political document and is not likely to be embraced by Congress, but it represents a starting point for the administration on negotiations.

    Spending at the DOE's energy efficiency and renewable energy was set at $2.04 billion in the 2018 fiscal year. The Trump administration had asked the spending to be cut to $636 million, a request that Congress did not approve.

    (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)

    SEE ALSO: Trump just dealt a major blow to the fastest-growing job market in the US

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    cape town

    Cape Town, a coastal South African city of about 4 million people, is about to run out of fresh water.

    After three years of persistent drought, the government is warning that "Day Zero"— when it will be forced to turn off most faucets — will be April 16. That's when reservoirs and water sources are forecast to hit 13.5% capacity, at which point the city is expected to move most residents to a strict water-rationing system.

    As Cape Town's reservoirs of fresh water get dangerously close to dry, locals are beginning to store water in jugs and fill up at spring-fed taps set up by local breweries. Those who can afford it are boring mini backyard wells to collect private water stashes, and some hotels are investing in pricey desalination plants to make ocean water drinkable.

    Take a look at how people are dealing with the looming crisis:

    SEE ALSO: A major coastal city is running out of water faster than anyone predicted — and people are terrified about 'Day Zero'

    The drought is the region's worst in over a century.

    The Theewaterskloof Dam, the city's largest, is just 13% full.

    The South African weather service says climate change is making its historical models useless.

    Long-term forecasters say it's impossible to predict how long the crisis will last.

    Cape Town's population has also been growing rapidly, compounding the effects of the three-year drought.

    Data from the UN shows that the percentage of South Africans living in cities has been climbing since the 1950s.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Groundhog day

    • Punxsutawney Phil (pictured above) gets the spring forecast right about 30% of the time. That's worse than flipping a coin.
    • Real long-range forecasters with the National Weather Service say they're getting better at predicting long-term trends, though. Their success rate is about 70%.
    • This coming spring is looking warm for most of the country. 

    On Friday morning, Punxsutawney Phil popped out in Pennsylvania and delivered his annual prediction for when winter will end: after seeing his shadow, he proclaimed six more frigid weeks of cold. Meanwhile, in New York City, Staten Island Chuck declared an early spring is on the way.

    Groundhogs, it turns out, aren't great forecasters. Records show that Punxsutawney Phil actually performs worse than a coin toss when it comes to predicting the end of winter chill. The rodent's guesses are only accurate about 30% of the time. (It's probably not a shock that his shadow-checking technique doesn't actually work.)  

    The bizarre tradition of asking groundhogs what they think about the arrival of spring weather is an imported idea from Germany, where they originally used European badgers for the task. In the US, groundhogs were subbed in.

    The logic is not completely crazy. Skies are generally clearer when the air is dry and cold, so it could be that if a little woodchuck sees his shadow on the day halfway between winter solstice (the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere) and the spring equinox (when day and night are evenly split), that might mean the weather will continue to be cold.

    But relying on a single moment's conditions to predict an entire season is obviously silly.

    Asking the real experts 

    Thankfully, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center has a much better forecasting record.  

    "I don't know how the groundhog is monitoring his accuracy, but the way we're doing it, we would ballpark we're probably about 70% right," NWS meteorologist Stephen Baxter told Business Insider. 

    Predicting seasonal climate, like Baxter does, has gotten easier over the past several years as the globe has recorded a string of record-hot temperatures. Because the Earth is consistently heating up as time goes on, it's less difficult to guess what the temperature might be like in the future. Long-range forecasters base their predictions on a climactic reference period from 1981-2010, and recent temperature trends have been higher than that baseline every single year.

    "For example, the North Slope of Alaska, every fall season there's been warm for the past 15 years or something, relative to normal," Baxter said. Based on that trend, things are probably going to continue warming up.  

    An increasing number of extreme weather events like wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts add to the complexity of the weather models. But Baxter said "climate modeling is getting better, but rather gradually" as greenhouse gases trap more of the sun's heat.

    A warm spring's likely in store 

    Skier at snowmass, colorado

    Baxter said the next few months are no exception to the years-long warming trend in the Northern Hemisphere.

    This spring is expected to be warmer-than-average across much of the Southern US, particularly in the Southwest and along the East Coast.

    But not everyone is in for a balmy spring. Winter might last longer in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Plains states, as well as in the Rocky Mountains, as some lingering snowy and rainy effects of the La Niña winter weather pattern stick around.

    "They might have colder outbreaks later into the season," Baxter said.

    That's still just a prediction, but it's definitely more trustworthy than anything Phil might tell us.

    SEE ALSO: A major South African city is about to run out of water, and officials say it will be the worst disaster since 9/11

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how groundhogs became the animal that predicted the weather

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    earthquake road damage

    • Oklahoma is being pummeled by earthquakes, a phenomenon scientists have strongly tied to the practice of fracking.
    • A new study highlights just how strong that connection is. 
    • According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake threat level in some parts of the state may now be approaching the level for some parts of California.

    Over the course of a few days in August, Oklahoma was pummeled by seven earthquakes.

    The wave started on a Tuesday night, when five quakes struck the central part of the state in less than 28 hours. The shaking continued extended into the early hours of Thursday as two more hit.

    Although none of those quakes was severe enough to cause significant damage, scientists are increasingly concerned about their cause. Rather than emanating from natural tectonic shifts deep inside the Earth, these temblors appear to be the result of human activity.

    Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, involves jamming water deep into the Earth's layers of rocks to force open crevices and extract the oil or gas buried inside. For several years, researchers have shown a link between the invasive process and the incidence of earthquakes in a region, but a new study highlights just how strong that connection is.

    The authors of the latest paper, published this week in the journal Science, found that they could use the depth of the drill sites to roughly predict how big the earthquake they caused would be.

    In other words, the deeper the fracking site, the stronger the quake.

    The researchers were confident enough in their assertions to make a recommendation: "Reducing the depth of injections could significantly reduce the likelihood of larger, damaging earthquakes," Thomas Gernon, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Southampton, wrote in an article for The Conversation.

    Oklahoma's earthquake threat level is now predicted to be roughly the same as California

    Oklahoma earthquake risk map

    Until recently, earthquakes in Oklahoma were few and far between. In 2010, the state experienced just 41 tremors. By comparison, Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year.

    But that disparity may be shrinking.

    According to a forecast from the US Geological Survey, the risk of a significant and damaging earthquake in some parts of Oklahoma is now roughly the same as the risk in parts of California. 

    "The chance of having Modified Mercalli Intensity VI or greater (damaging earthquake shaking) is 5–12% per year in north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas, similar to the chance of damage caused by natural earthquakes at sites in parts of California," the forecast reads.

    Over the past few years, Oklahoma has weathered hundreds of significant quakes — more than 900 in 2015 alone, according to The Conversation — as have parts of several other Midwestern states. The region is replete with eons-old fault lines that went quiet long ago, but wastewater operations appear to be re-awakening some of those faults.

    "Our study is just the first step," Gernon said. "We need the support of researchers, operators and regulators, to ensure this approach has a lasting impact on reducing man-made earthquakes."

    SEE ALSO: Mexico is in the worst possible place for earthquakes — here's why it keeps getting hit

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's where you should really go to stay safe during an earthquake

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    Kathleen Hartnett White

    • The White House is withdrawing the nomination of a controversial climate-change skeptic to a top environmental post.
    • Kathleen Hartnett White has been heavily criticized for her statements in the past, defending the fossil fuel industry and praising carbon dioxide emissions.

    The White House is confirming plans to withdraw the nomination of a climate change skeptic to serve as President Donald Trump's top environmental adviser.

    Kathleen Hartnett White was announced last October as Trump's choice to chair the Council on Environmental Quality.

    But White's nomination languished and was among a batch of nominations the Senate sent back to the White House when it adjourned at the end of 2017.

    Trump would have had to resubmit White's nomination.

    White's nomination drew intense backlash from the scientific community, as she is known for vehemently defending the fossil fuel industry and carbon dioxide emissions.

    "Our flesh, blood, and bones are built of carbon," she once wrote in 2016. "Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the gas of life on this planet, an essential nutrient for plant growth on which human life depends."

    The Washington Post first reported late Saturday on the plans to pull White's nomination, citing two unnamed administration officials who had been briefed on the matter.

    A White House official later confirmed the Post report. The official was not authorized to discuss personnel decisions by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    After news broke of White's withdrawal on Saturday, her critics appeared relieved.

    "Awhile ago, I wrote that many Trump appointees to science-based positions could be considered to either have deep conflicts of interest, to be fundamentally opposed to the mission of the agency they were to lead or totally unqualified," Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Post. "Hartnett-White was all three — a trifecta."

    SEE ALSO: The Trump administration's ban on certain words reportedly extends beyond just the CDC

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A Georgetown professor explains how Martin Luther King Jr. 'has been severely whitewashed'

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    FILE PHOTO: Protesters throw up a globe-shaped balloon during a rally held the day before the start of the 2015 Paris World Climate Change Conference, known as the COP21 summit, in Rome, Italy, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

    • Countries around the world are experiencing worsening symptoms of climate change, including flooding, powerful storms, and heat waves.
    • A growing number of people are deciding to not have children, due to fears surrounding climate change, according to a recent New York Times report.
    • Though the research on population growth's effect on climate change is new, there's evidence that a larger number of people contributes to higher greenhouse-gas emissions.

    Around the world, temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, oceans are warming, glaciers are shrinking, and tropical storms are occurring more frequently.

    These are all symptoms of climate change, which scientists anticipate will worsen even if we proactively curb carbon emissions. 

    Due to fears surrounding climate change, a growing number of people are choosing to not have kids. A recent New York Times piece explores this trend, which has been intensifying over the past decade, especially in the US

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes over 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, say the most noticeable effects include longer heat waves and droughts, stronger hurricanes, an elevated risk of coastal flooding, as well as higher damage costs.

    In interviews with The Times, more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43 (many of them cisgender American women) said they face ethical questions that previous generations did not need to confront. One of the most important questions: How do our personal actions affect the current and future health of the planet?

    One Ohio woman, Amanda PerryMiller, said she fears "the end of the world as we know it."

    Cate Mumford, a 28-year-old Mormon American, said she has decided to adopt a child with her husband, despite disapproval from her church community. She described recently traveling to China, where air pollution is a national public health crisis.

    On the trip, Mumford kept thinking, "I’m so glad I’m not going to bring a brand-new baby into this world to suffer like these kids suffer," she told the Times.

    Like Mumford, many women expressed new fears around bringing a child into a world that continues to see more intense flooding and hurricanes.

    The concern over whether overpopulation exacerbates climate change is not new. A common worry is that the growth of the world's population — which may rise from 7.4 billion people today to 9.8 billion by 2050— will inevitably increase greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as water and food insecurity. A few countries, including China and the US, have enacted policy responses to population growth since the 1950s. These measures have ranged from limits on how many kids citizens can legally have to increasing access to contraceptive services.

    At the same time, the research on how population growth contributes to climate change is relatively new. Scientists have only recently started to examine the link, and much of that research has been limited to effects on carbon emissions. A 2017 study notes that, while widespread lifestyle changes can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the issue of climate change is larger than the individual and will likely require political action to mitigate in meaningful ways.

    SEE ALSO: Bill Gates thinks an infectious disease outbreak could kill 30 million people in the next decade — but the US is cutting efforts to prevent global pandemics

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why most scientists don't care about these incredible UFO videos

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    cape town water crisis

    A beloved coastal city on the southern tip of Africa is months away from running out of fresh water. 

    Cape Town is rapidly draining its remaining freshwater resources, and soon its biggest dam, the Theewatersklooof, will be bone dry. 

    Some residents have started coming up with new ways to meet their water needs as the region struggles through its third year of drought. Many who can afford to do so have started digging private backyard wells. Others are carrying jugs to local breweries, where beer-makers have begun to share the spring water they normally use to make more potent drinks.

    Those efforts seem to be working, at least a little. The city recently pushed back it's 'Day Zero' target from April to May, which means the roughly 4 million Capetonians will have another month of running water before the city's reservoirs get so low that most taps will be shut off. But the dams are still draining, and with no substantial rainfall in the forecast, time is running out.

    This batch of aerial photos shows how the crisis has unfolded.

    SEE ALSO: A major South African city is about to run out of water, and officials say it will be the worst disaster since 9/11

    The Theewaterskloof dam is Cape Town's largest. In 2011, it was full of water and rimmed with greenery.

    But by 2015, when the drought was getting underway, patches of land around the dam were beginning to brown.

    NASA says just 325 millimeters of rain fell that year, much less than the 515 the area normally gets.

    By 2016, annual rain totals were even lower than normal, and the shoreline of the dam was visibly receding on all sides.

    That year, the region recorded 221 millimeters, less than half of what was expected. By 2017, the Cape Town airport recorded less than 160 mm of annual rain. Hydrologist Piotr Wolski from the University of Cape Town calculated that a two-year string of dryness this severe should only happen once every 1,150 years.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    earth comets asteroid impacts water illustration shutterstock_155504771

    • Scientists have long known that an asteroid slammed in Earth and created the Chicxulub Crater, which contributed to the dinosaurs' extinction 66 million years ago.
    • Scientists have struggled to determine whether the volcanic activity or the global cooling that resulted from the asteroid impact were more responsible for the extinction event.
    • Now a study has revealed that the crash also triggered massive volcanic activity in the world's oceans, further changing the picture of how the dinosaurs went extinct.

    When an asteroid hit Earth some 66 million years ago, it triggered devastation around the world.

    There were at least three nearly simultaneous events involved in the global catastrophe that ended what we now call the Mesozoic era. An asteroid between 10 and 15 kilometers in diameter slammed into Earth, creating the Chicxulub Crater near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The Deccan Traps, a massive volcanic province in what's now India, erupted, spewing lava and smoke that filled the skies. And 75% of Earth's plant and animal life went extinct, which scientists have linked to those other disasters that filled the skies with soot and smoke and transformed the world's climate.

    But when it comes to world-shaking devastation, that wasn't all that was going on at the time, scientists report in a study recently published in the journal Science Advances.

    The asteroid also appears to have sent ripples through Earth's tectonic plates, which spread out through the oceans and caused tens of thousands of miles of underwater volcanic ridges to spew magma. The authors describe those eruptions as"on par with the largest eruptive events in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, including the Deccan Traps."

    montana dueling dinosaurs

    Looking for past volcanic activity

    Part of the debate about what really killed the dinosaurs has to do with the interplay between the asteroid impact and the Deccan Traps eruptions. The most up-to-date understanding suggests the Deccan Traps eruptions began before the Chicxulub impact. But they also seem to have gotten much more active in the time after the asteroid hit.

    Yet if the asteroid was able to influence volcanic activity on the other side of the globe, it should have affected volcanoes elsewhere, too. That's why the authors of this study decided to trace what was happening in the oceans.

    To uncover evidence of underwater volcanic activity, the researchers used existing data to examine how the seafloor's structure changed over the past 100 million years.

    They were able to find evidence of massive transformations in the amount of rock on the seafloor, a change caused by volcanic activity. Eruptions left 650-foot-high piles of rock in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the study authors write in The Conversation. They dated those eruptions to within a million years of the impact, close enough to link the events.


    A better picture of the dinosaur apocalypse

    These new findings give us a better timeline of what happened to trigger the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.

    Although the Deccan Traps were probably erupting for 250,000 years before the Chicxulub asteroid slammed into the planet, the impact transformed the world. The atmosphere filled with soot, causing global cooling that was strong and sudden enough to have played a strong role in the end of the dinosaurs.

    At the same time, the asteroid shook the world and led to earthquakes that released even more magma. The already flowing Deccan Traps erupted in a whole new way, essentially covering the Indian subcontinent with lava and further filling the skies with particles that reflected the sun's heat back into space and cooled the planet. An eruption that was equally strong occurred underwater.

    Small mammals and flying dinosaurs — which we now know as birds — survived, but the majority of plant and animal life did not.

    We still don't know exactly which components of these global catastrophes were most responsible for the extinctions, or whether other volcanic systems elsewhere in the world were triggered, too.

    "What is clear is that this new research points to global-scale connections between catastrophes, a good reminder that events happening on the other side of the planet can have effects felt everywhere," the study authors write.

    What is very clear is that this was an unpleasant time to be anywhere on Earth.

    SEE ALSO: The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs might not have killed them all if it had hit somewhere else

    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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    light pillar photography 2

    Imagine stepping into the night and seeing beams of light that shoot from the earth straight into the atmosphere. You might suspect alien spaceships, but light pillars are of this world.

    When a blast of cold weather comes down from the Arctic, flat ice crystals form in the air and hang there like pixie dust. Any source of light reflects off the crystals, creating a dazzling display of brightly colored rods of light known as light pillars.

    The appearance of these pillars south of polar regions is so rare that people havereportedthem as UFO sightings in the past — as some did with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch in December.

    Photographer Ray Majoran captured the otherworldly display outside his home in Ontario, Canada. He shared some photos with us. Follow him on Instagram for more.

    SEE ALSO: Lake Erie can get extremely violent and these are the photos to prove it

    On a late night in January, Ray Majoran was sitting on his couch when he got a text from his friend with a photo of the sky. "My phone does not come close to doing it justice," he said.

    Majoran didn't hesitate. He grabbed his camera and took off down the main highway in search of light pillars. He turned his eyes to the sky and at first saw darkness. "Then it happened," Majoran said.

    "The sky became littered with light pillars. There were stars above me, yet there were little crystals of ice falling like manna from heaven," he said.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    queen drinking wine gin water getty wpa pool

    • All plastic straws and bottles have been banned from the royal estates.
    • It's part of a plan to cut back on the use of plastics "at all levels".
    • The new measures are thought to be inspired by a documentary by Sir David Attenborough.


    The Queen has banned plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates as part of a move to cut back on the use of plastics "at all levels".

    Buckingham Palace outlined new waste plans and said there was a "strong desire to tackle the issue" in the royal household, in a move thought to be inspired by David Attenborough.

    "Across the organisation, the royal household is committed to reducing its environmental impact," said a spokesman for Buckingham Palace.

    "As part of that, we have taken a number of practical steps to cut back on the use of plastics. At all levels, there's a strong desire to tackle this issue."

    The new measures include gradually phasing out plastic straws in public cafes and banning them altogether in staff dining rooms, according to the Daily Telegraph.

    Internal caterers at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will now reportedly only be allowed to use china plates and glasses, or recyclable paper cups.

    David attenborough hadrocodium fossil

    Queen Elizabeth is thought to have developed a personal interest in the issue of plastic waste after working with Sir David on a conservation documentary dealing with wildlife in the Commonwealth.

    She was filmed laughing and joking with the documentary-maker during the programme which discussed plants to create a network of national forested parks across the 52 countries of the Commonwealth.

    The announcement comes amid a wider plastic strategy to tackle the issue of plastic waste across Europe, including plans by the EUto make all plastic packaging across the continent recyclable or reusable by 2030.

    Other commitments include a reduction in consumption of single-use plastics and restrictions on the use of microplastics, such as microbeads found in some cosmetics.

    Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice-president, who is responsible for sustainable development, said of the plans in January: "If we don’t change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050."

    As it stands, Europeans produce 25 million tons of plastic waste every year, but less than 30 per cent of this is recycled.

    SEE ALSO: This City worker ditched his job to recycle plastic from a home-made floating bike on London's canals

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Europe's now trialling these floating rubbish cans that collect garbage from the sea

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    miami flood

    • On Monday, the Trump administration unveiled its infrastructure plan, which would budget $1.5 trillion toward fixing and rebuilding the nation's roads, bridges, water systems, airports, and more.
    • However, the plan does not mention resilience in the face of climate change.
    • Severe weather, exacerbated by rising temperatures and greenhouse-gas emissions, costs the US billions in infrastructure repairs every year.

    On Monday morning, the Trump administration revealed its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which aims to funnel $1.5 trillion toward fixing the nation's roads, bridges, airports, and more over the next decade.

    However, the 55-page plan ignores the key thing that would save the US billions in infrastructure every year: resilience in the face of climate change.

    Stephanie Gidigbi, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the plan "misguided."

    "The Trump administration’s misguided infrastructure plan ignores the threats facing our country from stronger storms, higher temperatures, and bigger floods," she told Business Insider. "Smart investments in our future would help make our communities more resilient to withstand the effects of climate change, and would recognize the opportunities in cleaner energy."

    Though it's hard to say exactly how much climate change-linked infrastructure damages costs the US, a 2017 study estimates that rising temperatures are increasing maintenance and construction costs for roads by billions of dollars every year.

    That's because asphalt is sensitive to temperature. If it gets too cold, it can crack; and if it gets too hot, it can partially melt. Temperature can determine the construction method, too. Asphalt blends that are more resilient to hot summers often cost more, but they are also less prone to damages.

    In 2010, temperature changes added anywhere from $13.6 billion to $14.5 billion in annual pavement costs, according to the study. That figure could increase to $19 billion in 2040 and $21.8 billion in 2070. Under a more extreme prediction, warmer temperatures could contribute $26.3 billion and $35.8 billion in annual costs by 2040 and 2070 respectively.

    These forecasts do not account for road impacts from flooding and storm surges, which would make cost figures even higher.

    "Because these transportation systems constitute large civil investments ($7.7 trillion in assets and $45 billion annual expenditures) and underpin an economic vibrancy [3.1 trillion miles] of public travel per year and private citizen expenditures equal to 8.9% of GDP), the impacts [of climate change] may be substantial," the researchers wrote.

    Trump's plan is a departure from how infrastructure is usually funded. As BI's Bob Bryan notes, the federal government typically covers the majority of the cost, but under Trump's plan, local governments would take on 80% or more of the financial burden. Local governments are already largely responsible for repairs after major storms and other weather events. The City of New York, for example, plans to spend $20 billion on damages from Hurricane Sandy.

    "This proposal doesn’t begin to respond to the scale of assistance local communities need to cope with these mounting impacts — it merely shifts the burden of rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure onto state and local budgets which are already strapped," Ken Kimmell, president of the science advocacy nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

    One section of the plan says the White House hopes to expedite the environmental review process for new infrastructure projects by requiring a firm deadline of 21 months. Under current law, projects require analyses that anticipate environmental impacts, some of which take years. Democrats have expressed uncertainty link? about cutting down this regulatory red tape. They say that shrinking the approval time for reviews could make it easier for project sponsors to dodge environmental regulations.

    The plan builds on the Trump administration's promise to roll back legislation that addresses climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, Paris Agreement, and Clean Water Act. In 2017, the US government revoked a plan to require higher flood standards for highways and bridges as well.

    Kimmel notes the infrastructure plan also doesn't mention renewable energy, the modern electric grid, resilience, or adaptation.

    "This is a plan to shore up the infrastructure of the past, rather than invest in what we need for the future," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Trump is announcing a huge $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan — here's what's in it

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What happens to your body when you start exercising regularly

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    Drinking water pipes

    • The Trump administration's new infrastructure plan aims to ease regulatory checks on US waterways.
    • The administration says this will help fast-track more building projects and reduce permit delays. 
    • But some water experts are worried that it could put some of the country's most fragile drinking water systems at risk, and put the expensive burden of water cleanup onto cities. 

    A new plan to speed up the way the US government does business related to federal waters may leave some cities footing a bigger bill for clean drinking water.

    The White House on Monday released its new infrastructure plan, which calls for "protecting clean water with greater efficiency."

    In the plan the Trump administration outlines proposals for how to reduce the number of federal agencies that need to sign off on permits for dumping "dredged or fill material" into the nation's waterways. Such sites include fisheries, wetlands, and tap-water supplies. If the plan gets the green light, it will undo the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to veto building permits that affect US waterways, and cut back on environmental reviews. 

    The Trump administration said that allowing the US Army Corps of Engineers to push more projects forward without input from the EPA would help "eliminate duplication of work and streamline permit decisions."

    But that deregulation could quite literally dump a huge additional burden of waste onto municipal water systems around the US. Water experts are worried that the change could make it easier for local water sources to get contaminated with runoff or pollution from new highways, dams, and pipelines. And some areas of the country are already ill-prepared to deliver clean drinking water, new research suggests. 

    16 million Americans get sick from drinking tap water every year

    According to a study of more than three decades of the nation's tap-water records, also released Monday, some of the country's smaller water utilities are already struggling with the chore of keeping tap water clean. Roughly 16 million Americans are exposed to stomach bugs from drinking water coming out of their faucets each year. Some also get exposed to cancer and neurological disorders, the study authors wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    That's especially true in rural pockets of the country, notably some spots in Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma, where EPA drinking-water standards have been violated year after year.

    "Generally, the country's utilities deliver high-quality water, but every year, about 7% to 8% of community systems do not meet health-related standards," Maura Allaire, one of the study's authors, said in a release. 

    Allaire isn't the only one sounding the alarm. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's tap-water systems a D grade on its 2017 report card.

    Virginia Tech civil engineering professor Marc Edwards, who was one of the first to identify the problems with high levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, said there was cause for concern. He told Business Insider earlier this year that a lot of water around the country lacks cleaning agents that cities should be putting in their water routinely to help keep residents' stomachs parasite-free. 

    girl drinking water fountain

    This "lack of disinfectant residuals," according to Edwards, includes traces of chlorine and chloramine that should show up in tests. Most large cities with decent cash flow and technical expertise do a decent job testing and verifying the safety of their water supplies. But not everyone is keeping pace, he said.

    "Our sampling indicates problems meeting existing regulations with lead, disinfectant residuals, disinfection by-products and microbial contaminants, as well as emerging pathogens such as Legionella," Edwards said in January.

    Cities may have to pay to clean dirtier water

    Still, tap water is held to much stricter standards than bottled water, and most big cities are constantly monitoring their water supplies and sticking to standards that keep residents in good health.

    But there's a chance that less federal regulation and oversight could lead to more contamination, especially if the EPA (the agency tasked with regulating clean drinking water) is no longer involved in deciding who gets approval to dump, build, or dredge in federal waters that feed municipal taps.

    In that case, communities would have to deal with dirtier water coming into their treatment plants. And the trouble that some spots around the country are having when it comes to delivering contaminate-free water could get worse.

    "Relaxing standards of the Clean Water Act might lead to impairment of source water that communities rely on," Allaire said. "Someone must pay the clean-up costs. Either the entities that are sources of pollution must clean up, or communities downstream must bear the additional costs of water treatment."

    But there is some hope in the new research. The study authors suggest that some rural communities struggling to pay their bills or sufficiently clean water might do better if they consolidate their systems. That's what Flint did; after its lead crisis, the city switched back to partnering with Detroit Water for its supply.

    If you're worried about whether your own drinking water is up to par, there's an annual drinking-water report from the EPA you can check online as well as an independent tap-water database available from the Environmental Working Group. You can also use an NSF/ANSI-approved filter at home.

    SEE ALSO: A major South African city is about to run out of water, and officials say it will be the worst disaster since 9/11

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    NOW WATCH: Shocking footage shows a pipe spewing blood into public waters — and it's totally legal

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    • A new study has shown how household products such as shampoo are sources of the same air pollution as traffic fumes.
    • However, rather than being bad news, this is becoming apparent because of the headway countries in Europe and the US have made to reduce car pollution.


    We've known for a long time that traffic fumes are very bad for our health. But according to new research, there are other sources of pollution that should also be a concern.

    A new study, published in the journal Science, has found that household products such as shampoo, oven cleaner, and deodorant could all be a significant source of air pollution — the same form as that which is released by car fumes.

    The team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado collected air samples in Pasadena, Los Angeles valley, which is a particularly smoggy area. They then analysed data from the US and Europe, including research from other scientists.

    They found that up to half of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) came from domestic products, including bleach, perfume, shampoo, and paint. When these particles degrade, they become a particulate matter called PM2.5, which is know to cause respiratory problems and is linked with 29,000 deaths in the UK each year.

    According to the study, the use of household products could therefore make it harder for countries in Europe and America hit their targets, even if they are making headway with tackling traffic fumes.

    But the researchers think it is also a sign of success, according to coauthor Brian McDonald who spoke during a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    "The sources of air pollution are now becoming more diverse in cities," he said, meaning action to clean up car exhaust pollution in recent decades has had a big effect.

    It's also important to look at the findings in context. While the results show how pollution is changing in the US and Europe, the same probably isn't true for other countries.

    For example, the emissions from consumer products are only significant now because of the effort to use cleaner fuel and reduce traffic fumes.

    In countries such as China and India, coal-fired power plants and traditional ways of burning wood, coal, and dung are the main methods for heating and cooking. So in these places, pollution from shampoo is unlikely to be having much of an impact.

    Rather than scare-mongering, the authors of the new paper say this is good news because other sources of pollution can be identified. It's more of a case of identifying what else we can to improve air quality, not an indication pollution is getting worse.

    SEE ALSO: City traffic fumes could be wiping out the benefits of your workout

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    NOW WATCH: Why caviar is so expensive

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    mexico oaxaca

    • A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Oaxaca on Friday evening.
    • The quake comes just months after another powerful and similarly sized quake hit Mexico City.
    • The country sits atop three of the Earth's largest tectonic plates.

    If giants were playing a game of Jenga with countries as their table-tops, Mexico would be one of the last locations to get picked.

    The country sits atop three of the Earth's largest tectonic plates— the North American plate, the Cocos Plate, and the Pacific Plate. Whenever these chunks of crust grind or butt up against one another, earthquakes happen. As a former lakebed, Mexico City is also home to soft soil that essentially acts as an amplifier for tremors, often making smaller earthquakes feel much larger.

    On Friday, a 7.2-magnitude quake struck Oaxaca, according to the US Geological Survey. The epicenter hit the town of Santiago Ixtayutla, but tremors were reportedly felt as far as 350 miles away in Mexico City.

    The temblor comes just five months after a 7.1-magnitude quake hit Mexico City, nearly on the anniversary of a deadly magnitude 8.1 earthquake 33 years ago which killed more than 9,500 people. That repeat quake reverberated along the boundary between the Cocos and the North American plate as the southern-most plate slid beneath its northern neighbor and struck roughly 3 miles northeast of the city of Raboso.


    Mexico is one of the most seismically active countries in the world.

    Over the past century, the country has seen 19 earthquakes within 155 miles of the epicenter of last year's earthquake, according to the US Geological Survey. Earthquakes aren't the only local hazard, either — the region is also repeatedly subject to volcanic eruptions.

    South of the 2017 earthquake's epicenter, two volcanoes — El Chichón and Volcán de Colima— erupted in 1982 and 2005, respectively. Two other active volcanoes southeast of Mexico City called Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl occasionally vent visible gas, and the former erupted most recently in 2010.

    Much of Mexico City is built on a former lakebed, where soft soil has been found to intensify the effects of earthquakes.

    A paper published shortly after the area's 1985 earthquake found that the shaking had been amplified by as much as 500% in regions near the epicenter where the soil was the softest. Since then, the city has taken some steps to manage the risk from future quakes — such as updating building codes near the capital and launching an earthquake early warning system— but many parts of the country still suffer from a lack of safe infrastructure.

    SEE ALSO: In a reversal, FEMA says it is not 'shutting off' hurricane aid to Puerto Rico — see how devastated the US territory still looks on the ground

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    NOW WATCH: 5 common 'facts' about Earth that everyone gets wrong

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    man hiking forest rainforest

    • The "Trump Forest" is a project to plant trees to offset President Donald Trump's pro-coal energy policy.
    • The group has received enough pledges to plant one million trees, and the donations keep rolling in from around the world.
    • Forests are one of the world's most important sources of oxygen and carbon storage.  


    Donors have funded the planting of over one million trees as part of the "Trump Forest," a project to combat President Donald Trump's pro-fossil-fuel energy policy.

    The project began just under a year ago, when Trump pledged to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. Since then, over 3,300 people have made donations to fund the planting of new forests around the world. 

    "Trump wants to bring back coal," Trump Forest's website reads. "So we’re planting a forest to soak up the extra greenhouse gases Trump plans to put into our atmosphere."

    Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement would cause the US to add an extra 1.4 gigatons per year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2025, adding up to a 3% increase in global emissions, according to a recent study from Climate Interactive.

    The coal industry sent 1.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration

    Adrien Taylor, one of the three founders behind the "Trump Forest" project, posted a video message on Monday thanking donors for hitting the million-tree milestone.

    "You've not only offset some of the carbon emissions that have come out of the Trump administration, you've also helped reforest communities, and you've helped create a small silver lining in the very dark cloud of ignorance which is in the White House," Taylor said.

    Taylor, who runs a sustainable hat company called Offcut, manages the project along with Dan Price, a British climate scientist, and Jeff Willis, a Ph.D. candidate. 

    All of the trees are being planted by the Eden Reforestation Project, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring forest ecosystems. The planting is divided between Madagascar, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Chile.

    Forests are one of the most important sources of oxygen in the world and act as carbon sinks, since trees need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. According to the US Global Climate Change Research Program, forests around the world store 14% of annual carbon dioxide emissions. 

    Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases get released into the atmosphere by human activity, and wind up trapping more of the sun's heat than would otherwise stay on Earth. That leads to a rise in average global temperatures over time — last year was the second hottest ever, behind only 2016. According to a recent study, the world may get up to 15% hotter than climate scientists initially thought by 2100 because of increased concentrations of such greenhouse gases. 

    A warming world poses many dangers: The frequency of costly natural disasters, like wildfires, and hurricanes, can increase, and it can harm wildlife including endangered sea turtles

    SEE ALSO: 21 crazy photos of micro-apartments from around the world

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    NOW WATCH: What happens to your body when you start exercising regularly

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    paris forest

    For over 15 years, the city of Paris has planned to plant a new forest on the plain at Pierrelaye-Bessancourt, an outer suburb. But the plan has faced roadblocks as people debate the best use for the land.

    French politicians are now actively pushing to make the re-greening project a reality.

    The SMAPP plan calls for 5.2 square miles of trees and plants. For perspective, that's about five times the size of New York City's Central Park.

    Take a look.

    SEE ALSO: Saudi Arabia is building a $500 billion mega-city that's 33 times the size of New York City

    The forest would be approximately 18 miles northwest of Paris' city center.

    Source: CityLab

    The site at Pierrelaye-Bessancourt borders roads and is close to the Seine River.

    For around a century, Pierrelaye-Bessancourt has been a literal wasteland. From 1896 to the 1990s, the city of Paris sprayed sewage residue across 865 acres of the fields to fertilize them. (Researchers later concluded the technique polluted the soil.)

    Today, the area acts as an unofficial landfill for Parisian trash.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    1st Max Rive 8396

    The natural world is a stunning place.

    Every year, the best landscape photography shows off Earth's beauty. The following photos are some of the winners from the 2017 International Landscape Photographer of the Year contest.

    They highlight powerful mountains, scenes of isolation, worlds of color and light, and the abstract loveliness found in landscapes all over the world. Winning photos were shot in the wilds of Patagonia, the mountains of Iceland, and in the desert-surrounded lakes of Brazil.

    They show the world in ways that will make you want to get up, pack a bag, and go exploring.

    SEE ALSO: A remarkable picture of a single glowing atom just won a photography prize — here are the most eye-catching images from the competition

    Cristiano Xavier of Brazil won the aerial photography award with this stunner from the Lençóis Maranhenses in northeastern Brazil.

    Brazilian photographer Marcio Cabral won the long-exposure award for this galaxy-revealing shot from Veadeiros National Park in Brazil.

    Huibo Hou, who's based in San Diego, won third in the "Photographer of the Year" competition. Here, she shows the otherworldly Bisti Wilderness Area of New Mexico.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    rome snow feb 2018

    Rome wasn't built in a day, and it wasn't built for snow, either. 

    In fact, the Italian capital had seen white powder only once in the past 33 years, until Monday.

    That's when thermostats at the Vatican dipped below freezing, shocking priests and nuns who got stuck in the snow. Even the army had to be called in to help clear the Roman streets, Reuters reported

    But the Romans aren't the only ones shaking in their bitterly-cold boots. Across Europe, people are dealing with a blast of cold air this week, as a so-called "Beast from the East" moves across Europe, bringing chilly, extreme weather in from Siberia.

    Scientists are pointing out that it's all part of a disturbing trend: the polar jet stream has been acting weird lately, and the North Pole is actually warmer than parts of Europe this week. 

    Meteorologist Eric Holthaus called it a "shocking sign of our Earth's accelerating planetary fever."

    Take a look at how Italy looks in the snow:

    SEE ALSO: The heart of Paris is underwater — and the images are a shocking reminder that the city is unprepared

    Roman temperatures normally never dip below zero.

    The average low temperature for February should be 3.5 degrees Celsius or 38 Fahrenheit, while the high is typically near 13 Celsius or 55 Fahrenheit, according to the World Meteorological Association.

    But on Monday, the temperature in the city dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or -7 Celsius.

    More than four inches of snow fell in four hours at the airport, Reuters reported

    The city ground to a halt, closing schools and urging residents to stay home.

    Roman city officials asked places more used to seeing snow if they could borrow snow plows, according to Reuters.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Svalbard Global Seed Vault

    • As of February 26, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is home to seeds from more than a million crops from all over the world.
    • Over the past few years, the vault has proved necessary: Seeds were withdrawn to replace some from Syria that got destroyed during war.
    • It's also vulnerable — melting permafrost created a glacier-like water flow in the tunnel leading to the vault.
    • The Norwegian government wants to upgrade the facility.

    The doomsday vault that's meant to be home to specimens from every known crop on the planet looks like it's getting an upgrade — and not a moment too soon.

    Administered by the government of Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is meant to be a resource that could come to humanity's rescue. If things go really wrong due to climate change, nuclear war, or some other kind of global disaster, any place in the world should be able to withdraw seeds for whatever crops they need to start re-growing.

    As of February 26, seeds from more than a million crops are now stored in the vault. On Monday, more than 76,000 seed samples were added to the storage space, which is opened for new deposits a few times a year. New specimens were brought in from seed banks in Australia, Kenya, the US, Costa Rica, and other places around the globe.

    The vault was officially opened in 2008, and originally cost about $9 million. But given its increasingly important role amid mounting climate change threats, the Norwegian government wants to upgrade the facilities. Several days ago, the government announced an overhaul that they plan to begin shortly, which will involve spending 100 million Norwegian Krone ($12,779,000) to seriously beef up the vault. 

    Svalbard Global Seed

    Reasons for an upgrade

    Over the past few years, several reasons to upgrade the facility have become clear.

    For one, the vault has already been needed. In 2015, Syria's ICARDA seed bank withdrew samples from the vault — a first — so it could restore its collection after sustaining damage during war. It's fortunate that Svalbard had the seeds that were needed. ICARDA returned the samples to the vault in 2017.

    Last year, it was also discovered that the seed bank is more vulnerable than it might seem. The vault is buried in permafrost in a mountain on an isolated island in the northernmost place in the world that has scheduled flights. More polar bears than people wander around outside. The five doors are only opened for deposits, when seeds are carried down the long tunnel to a chamber kept at -18 degrees Celsius. It's supposed to stay frozen for 200 years, even if the power goes out. 

    But in May of 2017, melting permafrost caused caused a glacier-like flow of water to freeze inside the tunnel. Though permafrost is by definition supposed to stay frozen, it didn't. (Right now, the Arctic is experiencing record warmth for winter.)

    Luckily, the water didn't reach the main chamber and workers were able to remove the ice. But the new upgrades would provide additional backups.

    The proposed project "includes the construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as a service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment that emits heat through the tunnel,"according to a statement by the Norwegian government.

    Hopefully that's enough to keep everything inside safe and secure in case we ever need it.

    SEE ALSO: The doomsday vault that's supposed to store every known crop on the planet is in danger

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Look inside the Arctic 'doomsday' seed vault built to protect millions of crops from any disaster

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