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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    plastic

    • Humans produce an estimated 300 million tons of plastic every year.
    • But plastic is increasingly being recognized as one of the biggest threats to the environment.
    • Reuters sent photographers around the world to document what a week's worth of plastic looks like for average families.


    The use of plastic has exploded in the last half century, so much that we produce an estimated 300 million tons of the stuff every year.

    But plastic is increasingly being recognized as one of the biggest threats to the environment — it takes so long to decompose that much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans, rivers, beaches, and other natural habitats.

    How much plastic are we really using at a household level? Reuters sought to answer that question by sending photographers around the world to document a week's worth of plastic waste generated by a typical family.

    The photos are a sobering reminder of how ubiquitous plastic is in our everyday lives, from the packaging our food comes in to the shopping bags we use to carry it home.

    Read on to see how much plastic a typical family generates in a week:

    SEE ALSO: The World Cup starts on Thursday — these photos from around the world show why soccer is the world's most beloved game

    DON'T MISS: Inside the eerily quiet streets of Kazakhstan's 20-year-old capital city, where futuristic skyscrapers tower over the grasslands of a former prison camp

    Brandy and Anthony Wilbur from Wenham, Massachusetts, said they are trying to cut back buying products with plastic packaging. "We're aware and try our best to reduce our use of plastics, but it's hard," Brandy said.

    Source: Reuters



    Here's all the plastic they consumed during a week in May. "When shopping, I do try to buy products with minimal packaging, but that's challenging too, everything is packaged," Brandy said.

    Source: Reuters



    Roshani Shrestha, a mother from Kathmandu, Nepal, said it's hard to avoid plastic bags where she lives. "We would use alternatives to plastic since it helps the environment, but it is not possible, since most of the products come either in plastic wrap or some other forms of plastic," she said.

    Source: Reuters



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    mcdonalds

    • McDonald's is replacing plastic straws with paper ones in its UK and Ireland restaurants.
    • The new straws will be in operation from September.
    • McDonald's is currently trialling the change in outlets around the world, including the US.


    McDonald's is ditching plastic straws in all its 1,361 UK and Ireland restaurants, in what could turn out to be a playbook it repeats in the rest of the world.

    More environmentally-friendly paper straws will replace plastic ones starting September.

    The BBC reports that McDonald's currently uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK alone.

    "Reflecting the broader public debate, our customers told us they wanted to see a move on straws," Paul Pomroy, chief executive of McDonald's UK and Ireland, said.

    "The government's ambitious plans, combined with strong customer opinion, has helped to accelerate the move away from plastic and I'm proud that we've been able to play our part in helping to achieve this societal change."

    McDonald's say the new straws will use paper from sustainable sources.

    UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove called it a "significant contribution" to helping the environment, and said it was "a fine example to other large businesses."

    the ocean cleanup plastic great pacific garbage patch

    The ban on plastic straws comes as a result of a series of successful trials in certain outlets — and they will soon start in the US, France and Norway.

    Recycling non-profit Eco-Cycle claims that the US uses 500 million plastic straws every day.

    While plastic straws are technically recyclable, their small size and weight mean they are often missed by sorting machines and the sheer number of straws used every day means they make a big contribution to the millions of tons of plastic that end up in our oceans every year.

    Most straws are made from plastics that take hundreds of years to decompose and instead break down into microplastics— which are extremely dangerous to the environment.

    McDonald's isn't the first food corporation to buck the plastic trend in the UK; JD Wetherspoon, Burger King and Costa Coffee have all phased out plastic straws in the last year.

    SEE ALSO: Bottled water from major brands like Aquafina, Nestle, and Dasani contains tiny plastic particles — here's what that does to your body

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Millennials are driving a shift in investing — here's how to meet your financial and social impact goals


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    drinking straws

    • Six million straws and stirrers are removed from beaches every year.
    • By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
    • Metal straws are a great alternative to helping to stop the pollution from getting worse.

    By now you've likely seen the viral Facebook posts sharing how sea turtles are being harmed by plastic. Or maybe the images of scuba divers attempting to swim through clouds of trash. It's neither an exaggeration nor something that will magically get better. There is a massive amount of plastic in the oceans, but there are ways to fix the issue. Something as simple as ditching plastic straws could just save the world, and there are simple ways to take personal action on the problem.

    While plastic, in general, is an issue for sea creatures, it's straws that pose the biggest threat to our oceans. According to Strawless Ocean, over 500 million straws are used every day in the United States. Many straws end up being blown out of trash cans, left on beaches, or washing up into drains — all three of which will likely end in the oceans. According to the website, even the straws that are thrown into recycling bins will likely blow out or be too light to actually make it through the recycling process.

    That's why people are urging you to quit using plastic straws.

    New Jersey beaches

    "In the last 25 years, over six million straws and stirrers were removed from beaches annual cleaning events. Add this to the minefield of plastics that are swept away from ocean shores by wave action or other forms of water runoff, and you're looking at the destruction of planet earth's seas and sea life," said David Rhodes, global business manager for Aardvark Straws.

    "We see more and more whales dying everyday because they are swallowing dozens of plastic bags and straws. This is a tragic event, but it can be avoided."

    But it's not the straws on the beach that are the problem, it's the ones in the water. According to Popular Science, there are five massive patches of plastic around the world. One of them — the one between Hawaii and California — is as big as the size of Texas. Plastic straws are part of the problem. The plastic used to create the everyday item is typically a tough plastic that breaks into smaller pieces, but never actually goes away.

    Straws get lodged into sea turtles' nostrils and can get swallowed by other marine life. They can also get mistaken for food by other underwater animals, which results in suffocation. There have also been cases of a penguin's stomach being perforated by a straw

    This problem is nothing new, but it's something that affects every generation — even those to come.

    As The Revelator found, siblings Carter and Olivia Ries are 8 and 7-years-old and have already started the nonprofit One More Generation (OMG) to raise awareness about the plastic straw problem. They're working on educating people as well as brands as a whole on

    "Our campaign is about the awareness," Carter told The Revelator. "We believe that education is the key to any problem anyone faces. You can't fix a problem you don't know about. When we give presentations, we don't tell the people what they need to do — we don't force people to change immediately. What we do is we educate them. We want to have a personal impact on every person so that they will resonate with the issue more."

    There are other options. 

    plastic straws

    It's not enough to simply vow to use fewer straws. You have to be aware of the problem and advocate for the cause. There are brands out there that are making it easier than ever to quit straws once and for all. Aardvark creates paper straws as an alternative to the ones hurting sea life. As the makers of the original paper straws, the brand found a way to create eco-friendly, compostable, marine degradable straw that is guaranteed not to wash up in the oceans.

    Reusable straws are an even more effective option to stop the plastic pollution problem. The virtually zero-waste items are available as glass, metal, and stainless steel and can easily be taken with you to use on the go. There's even a kick-starter for an on-the-go, foldable straw called FinalStraw that comes with its own case and cleaner.

    Or you can use the three magic words when you're at a restaurant or drive-through window — "no straw please." The sea creatures will thank you. 

    Sign up here to get INSIDER's favorite stories straight to your inbox.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A Navy SEAL explains why you should get up at 4:30 am every day


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    Crevasses near the grounding line of Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica.

    • Ice melting rates in Antarctica tripled between 2012 and 2017, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
    • The biggest increase has been ice melt in West Antarctica, where glaciers and ice sheets are vulnerable to warmer ocean temperatures.
    • Experts think that if we don't get climate change under control quickly, ice sheets in West Antarctica could collapse, leading to rapid sea level rise around the globe.


    In the future, seas will rise far higher than they are today. The question is whether it happens quickly or slowly.

    There's enough ice stacked on top of Antarctica to raise seas around the globe by almost 200 feet. While it takes time for major changes to occur with that much ice, Antarctica is melting faster than we thought, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature.

    The melting rate has been speeding up significantly in recent years. 

    Between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica lost more than 3.3 trillion tons of ice, causing sea levels around the globe to rise an average of 8 millimeters. About 40% of that loss occurred between 2012 and 2017, according to the new study. From 1992 to 2012, the continent lost about 84 billion tons of ice a year, and over the next five years, that jumped to more than 240 billion tons per year.

    If the acceleration of ice melt were to continue, it could potentially cascade, leading to runaway ice melt and rapid sea level rise.

    The biggest changes have come in West Antarctica, where the glaciers holding back ice sheets rest on rapidly warming ocean waters, causing them to melt more quickly. 

    Climate science professor Chis Rapley of the University College London has previously described Antarctica as a "slumbering giant" of ice melt and sea level rise that seems to be awakening.

    "This paper suggests it is stretching its limbs," he told the UK Science Media Center.

    antarctica ice melt

    Melting ice, rising seas

    For the new study, scientists from 44 international organizations combined data from 24 different satellite surveys.

    "Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track [polar ice sheet] ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence," said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who led the study along with Erik Ivins of NASA's JPL Laboratory. "[T]he continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years."

    Their research brings our understanding of the current state of Antarctic ice up to date, according to researchers not involved in the study.

    While 8 millimeters of sea level rise from Antarctic melting alone might not sound extreme, the rapid changes associated with it should be enough to give anyone pause.

    In the 20th century, sea levels around the globe rose about six inches on average, Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton, said during a recent media briefing on sea level rise. That was enough to narrow the typical East Coast beach by about 50 feet.

    Since the mid-1990s, places like Miami have seen an additional five inches of sea level rise. Seas rise faster in some places than others, due to ocean currents and the effects of gravity.

    The loss of ice on one side of the world tends to make seas rise on the other side, due to gravity. As mass from the Antarctic ice sheet is lost, gravity in that region decreases, which means that places furthest from that ice sheet tend to see the biggest increases in sea level.

    Right now, three factors contribute about equally to global sea level rise, according to Oppenheimer. First, as the world has warmed as result of the burning of fossil fuels, oceans have absorbed the majority of the heat. Warmer water expands, which takes up more space. Second, glaciers are melting, adding more water to the system. The third factor is the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland that are still protected by glaciers.

    antarctica iceberg a68 satellite photo nasa

    But if or when glaciers holding those ice sheets back collapse, ice sheets are expected to become by far the biggest cause of sea level rise. And one of the most vulnerable ice sheets is that one on West Antarctica, where the melting rate has increased most quickly.

    Time is running out

    In an article published alongside the new research, a team of researchers described two possible scenarios for the near future.

    Within a short period of time, we'll have either taken action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, or we won't.

    If we dramatically cut emissions and keep global temperature from climbing more than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, we're far more likely to avoid rapid ice sheet collapse, according to the authors.

    We've already baked a certain amount of sea level rise into the planet's system. Global temperatures are close to what they were about 125,000 years ago, when seas were 20 to 30 feet higher than they are now, according to Andrea Dutton, a geologist at the University of Florida who spoke at the same sea level rise briefing. That means the planet will see at least that much sea level rise eventually, though if we're lucky it'll take hundreds or thousands of years to get there.

    But the scenario where we don't cut emissions, if we don't do anything about climate change, is a lot more disturbing. In that case, the authors of the new article in Nature argue that by 2070, we could start to see the rapid loss of ice sheets.

    If the glaciers holding back ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica were to collapse, massive quantities of ice could pour into the world's oceans, leading to rapid sea level rise — something known as a "pulse."

    If such a scenario were to occur, current sea-level rise predictions for vulnerable cities like Miami would be far too low. In the case of a pulse, some experts think coastal cities could see more than 10 feet of sea-level rise by 2100.

    "If we aren't already alert to the dangers posed by climate change, this should be an enormous wake-up call," Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said to the Science Media Center.

    SEE ALSO: One of the scariest effects of climate change might already be happening — and it'd mean our projections are way off

    DON'T MISS: Cities around the US are flooding at high tide and on sunny days at record rates — here's what it's like

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Octopuses are officially the weirdest animals on Earth


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    little shop of horrors

    At the height of North American summer, many plants are at their most dangerous.

    We don't normally think of plants as particularly scary organisms. But this rather entertaining Reddit thread from 2016 will make you reconsider that assumption.

    "Botanists of reddit, what are the scariest plants in the world?"user Zipzapadam asked. And Reddit delivered.

    We're not talking about common poison ivy or run-of-the-mill carnivorous plants. Some of these plants could actually kill you.

    As one Redditor put it, "This post just makes me want to stay indoors and hide from plants."

    You probably will, too. Here are nine terrifying plants to stay away from:

    SEE ALSO: Just don't call it 'climate change': What Republicans in Dallas can teach us about saving the planet

    DON'T MISS: 7 things that make mosquitoes bite you more

    Heracleum mantegazzianum, "Giant hogweed,""Cartwheel-flower,""Giant Cow Parsnip"

    Giant hogweed's sap can cause rashes, blisters, permanent scarring, and even blindness.

    The plant, which can grow up to 20 feet tall, is listed as a "noxious weed" in the US because of its toxicity.

    It can look pretty similar to other common plants in the US, so the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has a handy guide to identify it.

    On June 18, researchers reported that giant hogweed had spread to Virginia, and warned locals to watch out for it, saying even brushing against it can severe cause burns and blisters.



    Aconitum napellus, "Monkshood,""Wolfsbane"

    It looks beautiful and harmless, but all parts of the Monkshood plant are poisonous.

    In ancient times, people would use it on arrow tips and as bait to kill wolves, which is why it's also called Wolfsbane.

    A 33-year-old gardener allegedly died after touching (or possibly eating) the plant in 2014, the BBC reported.

    Monkshood can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and numbness if it's eaten.



    Ricinus communis, "Castor Bean"

    Castor beans are high in ricin, the effects of which can escalate quickly.

    Symptoms of ingestion can include "stomach irritation, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, profuse sweating, collapse, convulsions, and death within a few days," according to Union County College biology professor Tom Ombrello.

    Redditor Rabzozo said their boss spent a week in the hospital after he set a fire in his yard and inhaling smoke that happened to contain compounds from castor plants. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that "unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, except through the ingestion of castor beans."

    Don't eat them.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    solar road

    • China is starting to find more success than the US with solar highway projects.
    • Proponents of solar roads say they provide a way to generate solar power without paying for additional land. Critics say solar roads do not generate enough power for their cost, since the solar cells do not tilt toward the sun.
    • Both countries face challenges, like reducing the cost of installation and repairs.

    China, the world's biggest carbon-emissions emitter, is also the largest investor in solar energy.

    In 2017, the country poured $126.6 billion into the solar industry — a 30% increase from the year prior — in an effort to reduce urban pollution, a problem behind health epidemics in many Chinese cities.

    Most of China's solar megaprojects manifest as massive farms on the water or in open fields, where the country uses hundreds of acres of land to build onshore solar farms.

    A Chinese company called Pavenergy aims to create similarly ambitious solar projects on the country's freeways, where existing infrastructure can be repurposed.

    In late 2017, Pavenergy teamed up with Qilu Transportation, a state-owned interstate construction firm, to open the country's first solar highway. As The New York Times notes, the two companies are considered leaders in China's solar road development.

    Pavenergy's plastic-covered solar panels blanket a two-thirds-mile portion of a highway in Jinan, the capital city of eastern China's Shandong Province. The panel-covered highway is designed to withstand the pressure from the 45,000 cars and trucks that drive on it each day.

    Solar roads are more feasible today than ever before. Thanks in large part to an increase in Chinese solar production, a solar panel today costs a tenth of what it did a decade ago.

    But the US faces a unique infrastructure-related challenge with solar roads that China doesn't have to contend with. Most American roads include a lot of asphalt, which compresses slightly under the weight of heavy vehicles. On a concrete road, the nearly paper-thin solar cells can withstand a truck's load of weight. But on asphalt, the cells easily snap when bent.

    This is not as much of an issue in China, where most highways are built with a more sturdy concrete foundation, according to The Times.

    In the US, solar road projects have struggled to get off the ground. A company called Solar Roadways made headlines in 2016 when it installed the country's first public (and very small) test of a solar road. The project received several research grants from the US Department of Transportation, and raised an additional $2.2 million in a crowdfunding campaign.

    57f3edd457540c66048b491e 960 614

    The trial took place in a pedestrian square in Sandpoint, Idaho, that is devoid of car traffic. Because of the project's small scale, it generates only enough electricity to power a nearby fountain and restroom, according to the Spokane, Washington-based news station KREM 2.

    Kansas City, Missouri, started planning a more ambitious solar road project with Solar Roadways in 2016, and the state launched a campaign to crowdfund its installation along Route 66. But in late 2017, the Missouri Department of Transportation put the project on hold.

    China is facing its own roadblocks with making solar highways mainstream. Since the panels lie flat and don't tilt toward the sun's rays, they produce only half as much solar power as rooftop installations on average. Solar roads are also more expensive than traditional asphalt. Each decade, it costs about $11 a square foot to repair an asphalt road. It's more than four times as expensive to replace a road's solar panels.

    If solar road companies can get costs down, their products pose several advantages for cities.

    There's no added construction cost for land, because the roads already exist. Since roads run around and through cities, little power would be lost transmitting the electricity. And as BI's Dana Varinsky has noted, solar roads could making driving safer. Electric heating strips could melt snowy roads, and the embedded lights could alert drivers to construction, traffic hazards, and exits.

    Bob Brendel, the special-assignments coordinator with the Missouri Department of Transportation, recently said the state was not opposed to exploring solar highway projects in the future. But his team may choose to work with a foreign company next time.

    The future for solar highways appears to be more optimistic abroad. On the solar road in China, Qilu and Pavenergy have said they will soon embed sensors that could interact with and charge autonomous electric vehicles. And this month, Tokyo's government announced plans to trial solar road technology as early as 2019.

    SEE ALSO: China plans to build $3 billion-worth of solar farms shaped like giant pandas

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: You've been pouring your Guinness all wrong


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    heat wave

    • A heat wave is making its way across the US, bringing potentially record-breaking temperatures to the Midwest and Northeast. 
    • Air-quality alerts were issued in New York, Pennsylvania, and southern New England.
    • In hot weather, emissions from vehicles and power plants can react to form ozone, which can cause respiratory problems for children, elderly people, and those with pre-existing illnesses. 

    A record-breaking heat wave is sizzling across the US, bringing scalding temperatures and dangerous air pollution.

    Chicago experienced its hottest Father's Day since 1995 on Sunday, with the thermometer at Midway Airport hitting 103 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. The city is still under an excessive heat warning as of Monday morning.

    That hot air has made its way east, where it's blanketing the Northeast, including Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, and New York City.

    Temperatures may hit 95 degrees in New York this afternoon, which would be equal to the record-high temperature set in 1929, according to AccuWeather. Boston, Connecticut, and other parts of southern New England may also see temperatures in the high 90s. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the greater Boston area, parts of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and southern Maine. A few schools in the Camden school district in Pennsylvania closed Monday morning due to the heat. 

    The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for New York City, Long Island, and much of the Hudson Valley in response to the rising temperatures on Monday, urging people to limit outdoor exercise and curb the use of emissions-spewing vehicles and appliances. The advisory is in effect from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

    Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection also issued a Code Orange air-quality alert for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which means that young children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems are vulnerable to health issues from air pollution. 

    Why heat waves cause air quality to plummet 

    nyc smog

    The main air-quality concern is the formation of ground-level ozone, which can be especially dangerous to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma.

    Ozone in the upper atmosphere forms naturally and is useful for protecting Earth against the sun's harmful UV rays. But when the gas is created by human activity closer to the ground, it can cause severe problems. 

    Ground-level ozone forms when certain types of pollutants are emitted from cars, power plants, and refineries that burn gasoline or coal. The sun's heat spurs those compounds to react with naturally occurring gases, creating what's known as tropospheric ozone. The rate at which this ozone is produced increases with temperature, so the hotter it is, the more ozone pollution there will be. 

    That process, combined with the lack of wind on hot days, is why smog tends to hangs around on summer days. Ozone levels are usually highest in the early evening, since the amount of emissions in the air rises throughout the day. They then decrease at night as the temperature drops.

    "People, especially young children, those who exercise outdoors, those involved in vigorous outdoor work, and those who have respiratory disease (such as asthma) should consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity when ozone levels are the highest (generally afternoon to early evening)," New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said in its advisory. 

    The warning added: "When outdoor levels of ozone are elevated, going indoors will usually reduce your exposure. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or coughing should consider consulting their doctor."

    To help reduce ozone pollution, the DEC recommends carpooling or taking public transit, shutting your lights off, limiting the use of appliances in your home or office, and refraining from outdoor burning like grilling or smoking cigarettes.

    Heat waves and air pollution are likely to get worse

    Heat waves and record-breaking temperatures are becoming more common around the world due to climate change, and are expected to get worse. By 2075, strong heat waves that currently occur once every 20 years could become annual events on 60% of the Earth's land areas. Swaths of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and northern India could become uninhabitable over the next few decades because of extreme heat. 

    That will cause the air pollution problems in cities to get worse as well.

    According to a Harvard study, climate change could contribute to an additional three to nine days per year of unhealthy ozone levels — amounting to a 70-100% increase in ozone days, depending on the region.

    California, the Southwest, and the Northeast will be among the most affected areas, seeing up to nine additional ozone days per year, according to the study.

    The air-quality warnings of today could therefore be just a preview of what's to come if emissions continue unchecked.

    SEE ALSO: The US has added more solar power than any other type of electricity in 2018 so far — more evidence of an energy revolution

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why humidity makes you feel hotter


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    mcdonalds

    • McDonald's will start testing plastic straw alternatives at select US locations this year. In the UK, the company has decided to adopt biodegradable paper straws.
    • The announcement comes amid calls from environmental activists urging McDonald's and other food conglomerates to ditch plastic straws.
    • Several US cities have already enacted their own bans.

    Following calls from environmentalists, McDonald's is now testing alternatives to plastic straws in the US.

    The fast-food giant will trial them at select locations later this year, according to USA Today. No word on what the straws will be made of, but the announcement follows news that McDonald's will adopt paper straws at every UK location by 2019.

    Because plastic straws are tiny and don't easily biodegrade, they can commonly slip through the cracks of a city's waste-recycling process, clogging ponds, rivers, and oceans. And unlike their plastic counterparts (forks, takeout containers, plastic bags, etc), straws don't really offer a purpose besides a bit of convenience.

    Some American cities have started cracking down on single-use straws. In 2012, Miami Beach banned hotels from serving straws, because they often ended up on the sand and in the water, threatening marine life. (Fort Myers, Florida and Seattle took the same steps in January 2018.) New York City, as well as cities in Hawaii and California, also have pending straw ban legislation.

    Nationwide, McDonald's distributes millions of drinks every day, which means many of their straws have likely ended up in the wild.

    SEE ALSO: McDonald's to replace plastic straws with paper ones in UK and Ireland

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: You've been pouring your Guinness all wrong


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    Hurricane Irma flooding Florida

    • Coral reefs provide essential protection for people who live near coasts all over the world, according to a recent study.
    • But reefs are dying because of  the consequences of human activity, especially climate change.
    • The study found that without reefs, annual damage from flooding would double from $4 billion to $8 billion.

    On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys, whipping islands with 130-mph winds and bringing surging ocean waters 4 to 6 feet higher than normal.

    The Category 4 storm reduced almost all ground-level homes to rubble in some parts of the Keys. Boats crashed onto roads and into trees, and cars were washed across streets.

    For some, returning to the Keys after the storm was impossible. About eight weeks after Irma hit, Erich Bartels, a scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory's coral research facility on Summerland Key, told Business Insider that the local community was "just in shambles."

    But without the coral reefs that line the coasts of the Keys, things would have been much worse, Bartels said — waves higher than 20 feet could have slammed the islands, wrecking even elevated homes.

    "We lost a lot of our live coral out there. It basically gave its life so our buildings are still here," he said.

    Coral's function as a buffer is incredibly important for people all over the world, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers applied models used by coastal engineers and insurance companies to calculate how much property damage coral reefs prevent each year. They found that without living reefs, flood damage around the world would double, increasing from $4 billion to $8 billion annually. 

    Learning more about how reefs protect coasts has become urgent, since many experts think the majority of the world's coral reefs could die within decades.

    coral reef tout

    How coral reefs protect coasts

    Coral reefs are  living structures that build up near coastlines, providing essential habitats for marine life.

    The reason they serve as buffers is that during storms, surging floodwaters and massive waves must roll through coral reefs before reaching land. When the water hits the breakwaters created by the reefs, it loses much of its energy.

    But around the world, about 50% of the world's reefs have died over the past 30 years. 

    As humans have burned fossil fuels, the heat-trapping gases they emit have accumulated in the atmosphere, leading more heat to be trapped on the planet and Earth's average global temperature to rise. Earth's oceans have absorbed the majority of that heat — about 90% of it so far. As waters rapidly warm, corals lose the components that give them color and help them produce food, a process called bleaching. That slows their growth and makes them vulnerable to algae, disease, and death. Increased ocean acidification caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide causes this bleaching, too.

    Bleaching events killed about half of the largest reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, since 2016. Worldwide, 98% of reefs are expected to be exposed to potentially fatal conditions every year by 2030.

    In some places, overfishing has also wiped out healthy food chains, which allowed algae and parasites to overwhelm corals. At other sites, boats dragging anchors and nets — or just scraping along the sea floor — have damaged or destroyed reefs as well. These creatures are also threatened by pollution from agriculture and runoff from cities.

    This global coral die-off means coasts will lose significant protection. The new study estimated that if just the top meter of reefs were lost, annual flood damage would double from $4 billion to $8 billion. Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico, and Cuba would all be hit with more than $400 million in additional flooding damage every year. The US would have to spend about $94 million more every year on flood damage.

    "Unfortunately, we are already losing the height and complexity of shallow reefs around the world, so we are likely already seeing increases in flood damages along many tropical coastlines," Michael Beck, lead author of the new study and lead marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. "For the first time, we can now value what every national economy gains in flood savings by conserving its coral reefs every year."

    According to the study, floods would affect about 70% more land and 81% more people every year without reefs. And of course, big storms would hit harder and cause more damage. The destruction from so-called "100-year storms" (which are now happening more than once every 100 years) would increase by about 90% according to these models.

    When combined with sea-level rise projections, that flood damage cost could quadruple.

    great barrier reef diving

    Saving reefs

    The reasons to save reefs extend beyond coastal protection. These stunning sites, which cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, are some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. About 25% of fish species spend some part of their life cycle in reefs, which means the loss of reefs could cause rippling ecosystem effects and more widespread ocean die-offs.

    Coral reefs also provide jobs for thousands who work in the fishing and tourism industries. Estimates of the overall economic value of reefs suggest they contribute between $30 billion and more than $375 billion to the world economy annually, though some scientists say those figures are far too low.

    For all of these reasons, scientists are trying to come up with ways to save reefs. Efforts include identifying coral that's particularly resilient to heat or acidity, and pioneering ways to quickly regrow coral so that dying reefs can be re-populated.

    Scientists involved in this work have achieved impressive results: in some cases they've recreated coral organisms that originally took a century or two to grow in just a few years.

    Other researchers are looking at ways to breed super-corals. On the Great Barrier Reef, researchers have been able to replant coral larvae in some sections after collecting coral eggs and sperm.

    Many experts think that with enough help, it's possible for reefs to recover in many places, at least to some degree.

    But if they are going to survive long-term, the global emissions causing climate change and ocean acidification need to dramatically reduced. Otherwise, we'll lose the protection, food, jobs, and pure enjoyment that reefs provide.

    "It is our hope that this science will lead to action and greater stewardship of reefs around the world," Beck said.

    SEE ALSO: The quest to save the fragile reefs Earth's oceans depend on

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    NOW WATCH: The terrible things that would happen if all the coral reefs died off


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    solar eclipse 2017

    • Renewable energy is set to provide close 50% of the world's energy by 2050, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 
    • Falling battery costs spurred by electric vehicle development will drive adoption of renewable energy, the report says.
    • Coal, on the other hand, seems to be on its way out

    Renewable energy is set to provide close 50% of the world's energy by 2050, mostly because of falling battery costs.

    That's according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which takes a long-term look at the world's energy production.

    According to the report, major gains in renewable energy production will come as a result of huge strides in battery technology. Power storage is one of the biggest bottlenecks to the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. 

    The report also suggests that the average cost of developing a solar photovoltaic plant is expected to drop by 71% in the next 30 years. The cost of installing a utility-scale wind power plant is expected to drop 58% over the same period.

    Coal is expected to be the biggest loser in the ongoing battle for energy dominance: Bloomberg NEF expects coal to provide only 11% of the world's power needs by 2050, down from 38% today. Despite President Donald Trump's pro-coal stance, close to 40% of US coal plants have already been either shut down or marked for closure, Bloomberg reports.

    A recent report from the investment bank Lazard showed that the cost of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity — a standard way to measure electricity production — fell to around $50 for solar power in 2017. The cost of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity from coal, by comparison, was $102 — more than double the cost of solar, according to Lazard's math. 

    The average cost of energy in north america

    In the first quarter of 2018, solar accounted for 55% of all US electricity added, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. That's more than any other type of electricity. 

    Batteries are also getting cheaper and more efficient at storing power from renewable sources, which are inherently less regular than the burning of gas or coal. 

    The price of lithium-ion batteries — the standard battery used in electric vehicles — has fallen nearly 80% since 2010, according to Bloomberg NEF, and will continue to fall as more companies develop electric vehicles.

    Overall, Bloomberg NEF expects $11.5 trillion will be invested in the renewable energy market between 2018 and 2050, with $8.4 trillion of that going to wind and solar and a further $1.5 trillion going to carbon-neutral power sources like nuclear and hydro.

    SEE ALSO: The US has added more solar power than any other type of electricity in 2018 so far — more evidence of an energy revolution

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    NOW WATCH: America's first offshore wind farm has some of the largest turbines in the world with blades 3X the size of a football field


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    Genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are pictured at Oxitec factory in Piracicaba, Brazil, October 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

    • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with mosquito engineering company Oxitec to develop a male mosquito designed to kill off future generations of malaria-transmitting bugs.
    • The genetic engineering technique has been used before to control populations of mosquitoes that carry Zika and yellow fever.
    • After decades of decline, malaria deaths are on the rise, and experts are worried about more drug-resistant strains of the disease cropping up.
    • The push is part of the Gates Foundation's global plan to eradicate malaria from the Earth "within a generation." 

     

    Beyond being itch-provoking summer pests, mosquitoes kill an estimated 830,000 people around the world each year. That makes them more deadly than any animal on Earth, humans included. 

    A majority of those mosquito-caused deaths (more than 440,000) are cases of malaria, which are transmitted person to person in a one-celled parasite that female mosquitoes pass around when they suck our blood.

    Bill and Melinda Gates have been on something of a crusade to eradicate the deadly disease since creating their foundation in 2000, funding around $2 billion worth of grants to combat malaria.

    Now the foundation is putting $4.1 million towards a new approach: dispatching a lab-engineered force of male-only mosquitoes built to essentially murder their own offspring.

    This week, the foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with UK-based Oxitec to develop the new mosquitoes, the company announced on Tuesday. Oxitec, a genetic engineering company that spun out of Oxford University in 2002, has trademarked its insects as "Friendly Mosquitoes," though the bugs are arguably anything but to disease-carrying female mosquitoes.

    Other strains of the "Friendly" mosquitoes have been deployed in the past to help kill off Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can carry Zika, dengue and yellow fever. They’ve been dispatched in Brazil, on the Cayman Islands, and in Panama, and have been tested in controlled cage trials in India, the company told Business Insider. In certain spots they've reduced wild populations of Aedes aegypti — the yellow fever and Zika-carrying mosquito — by around 90%.

    The Gates Foundation already poured at least $5 million into Oxitec to develop those strains of killer mosquitoes back in 2010, but it hasn't funded any Oxitec projects since, the company said.

    How malaria-killing mosquitoes could work

    A technician from Oxitec inspects larvae of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Campinas, Brazil, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

    Oxitec's newest genetically-engineered male mosquitoes will be released into the wild to mate with natural-born malaria-carrying females.

    Since only female mosquitoes bite, the lab-engineered insects won’t nip anyone once they are set loose. Instead, they'll mate with the females, and pass on to their offspring a "self-limiting" gene that is meant to kill off future generations of female mosquitoes before they reach adulthood, when their people-biting phase of life would normally begin.

    The males can then continue seeking out more female mosquitoes to impregnate with the self-limiting gene for up to another ten generations, the company said in a release.

    The process isn’t perfect. In one trial of yellow fever-carrying mosquitoes in Panama, Oxitec ended up releasing about one genetically-engineered female for every 10,000 males it set loose, but the company says those females are disease-free and die in days. 

    Finding new ways to combat the spread of malaria is becoming increasingly urgent because cases of the disease, which had declined 62% between 2000 and 2015, have since spiked around the world. 

    "We can confidently say that we have stopped making progress," Pedro Alonso, the director of the Global Malaria Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Switzerland, said last year. Alonso worries that as malaria rates fell, governments around the world shifted focus, and funding for anti-malaria initiatives has flatlined as a result.

    Scientists also think that some of the parasites that cause the deadliest forms of malaria are becoming more resistant to drugs.

    Genetically engineered mosquitoes are a controversial fix

    A technician from Oxitec inspects pupae of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Campinas, Brazil, January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo WhitakerThe new Oxitec mosquitoes might be ready for field trials by the fall of 2020, but the company has been met with some resistance for using genetic engineering tactics before. Oxitec is hoping to try out some of its other lab-made mosquitoes in the Florida Keys this summer, even though residents have in the past voiced fierce opposition to the idea.

    Residents voted against allowing the genetically modified mosquitoes out in 2016. This year, Oxitec has hosted some town hall meetings and met with local officials in the Keys, hoping to further court neighborhoods that voted in support of their plans two years ago, The Keys Weekly reported. 

    Oxitec isn't the only company trying to use GMO mosquitoes for malaria prevention. A group of scientists at Imperial College London are also working on a mutation that would essentially sterilize malaria-carrying female mosquitoes, NPR reported in 2016. The mosquitoes aren't out of the lab yet. 

    Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth have come out forcefully against the genetically-engineered mosquitoes, arguing we don't know how these lab-made creatures might impact the fragile balances of Earth's ecosystems. Scientists counter that the goal of releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes is not to kill them all off, but to make a bigger dent in killer diseases like Zika and malaria.

    "If we succeed, people won’t even notice," molecular biologist Tony Nolan, who works with GMO mosquitoes at Imperial College London, told Smithsonian Magazine. "There will be plenty of mosquitoes out there."

    SEE ALSO: Bill Gates says he now lumps the world into 4 income groups — here’s how it breaks down

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    NOW WATCH: The deadliest disease known to humans has been killing us for over 20 million years


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    kuta beach bali pollution

    Wide scale pollution has turned some of the world's most beautiful beaches into trash heaps.  

    From Hawaii's Kamilo Beach — which is so littered by man-made debris that it earned the nickname "Plastic Beach"— to Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific whose beaches are some of the dirtiest on Earth, these former sandy paradises now resemble garbage dumps.

    Looking at studies from different nonprofits, organizations, and researchers, we found 13 of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

    Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, United States

    Kamilo Beach, also known as "Plastic Beach," is one of the dirtiest places on the planet. Located in a rural area of Hawaii's Big Island, Kamilo is a wasteland of plastic debris. In fact, thousands of pounds of man-made detritus, ranging from hair brushes to water bottles, wash up every year. Some of the waste is carried from as far away as Japan and Russia. 

    One reason why this beach is so polluted is due to its proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a high-pressure area that traps ocean debris. It was discovered in 1997 by oceanographer and boat captain Charles J. Moore. Contrary to what many people imagine, the majority of the garbage is so small that it's not immediately visible to the naked eye. 

     



    Guanabara Bay Beaches, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Rio's notoriously polluted Guanabara Bay gained media attention before and during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when athletes competing in events like sailing and rowing were exposed to its mucky waters.

    According to an investigation conducted by the Associated Press, the bay water "contained dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage." Athletes who ingested as little as three teaspoons of the polluted water faced a 99% chance of infection. 

     

     



    El Gringo Beach, Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic

    Pure Earth — a New York-based nonprofit formerly known as the Blacksmith Institute that aims to identify and clean up polluted sites around the world — once designated Bajos de Haina as one of the most polluted places on Earth.

    Nicknamed "Dominican Chernobyl," the city outside El Gringo Beach is filled with chemical and pharmaceutical plants — not to mention an oil refinery. The Inter Press Service news agency reports that these factories emit high quantities of toxic substances including formaldehyde, lead, ammonium, and sulfuric acid each year. In addition to releasing airborne toxins, local factories are also said to dispose of waste by dumping it into the water.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Scott Pruitt

    • On June 7, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed changing the agency's approach to a cost-benefit analysis of environmental rules.
    • Pruitt is seeking to roll back three Obama administration air pollution initiatives: the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and combined carbon emission and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles.
    • A cost-benefit analysis has supported hundreds of EPA regulations for more than 30 years and will maximize public benefits.

    The Conversation

    Since the Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to produce cost-benefit analyses of their major regulations. These assessments are designed to ensure that regulators are pursuing actions that make society better off.

    In my experience working on the White House economic team in the Clinton and Obama administrations, I found cost-benefit analysis provides a solid foundation for understanding the impacts of regulatory proposals. It also generates thoughtful discussion of ways to design rules to maximize net benefits to the public.

    On June 7, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed changing the agency's approach to this process in ways that sound sensible, but in fact are a radical departure from how government agencies have operated for decades.

    As the agency frames it, the goal is to provide "clarity and real-world accuracy with respect to the impact of the Agency's decisions on the economy and the regulated community." But I see Pruitt's proposals as an opaque effort to undermine cost-benefit analysis of environmental rules, and thus to justify rolling back regulations.

    The importance of co-benefits

    Have you ever done something for more than one reason? An action that you justified because it "kills two birds with one stone"? When a regulation leads to improvements that it was not designed to produce, government agencies call the unexpected payoffs "co-benefits."

    For example, the Clean Air Act's Acid Rain Program was designed to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution from electric power plants, a key ingredient in acid rain. Some utilities complied by installing devices called scrubbers to capture sulfur dioxide emissions from plant exhaust.

    The scrubbers also reduced fine particulate matter, which is linked with a wide range of health effects that can cause premature deaths and illnesses. This represented a huge co-benefit – one that economists have estimated to be worth US$50 billion to $100 billion yearly.

    Historically, federal agencies have given co-benefits full weight in regulatory impact analysis because they help to show how Americans would be better off under the policy for multiple reasons. Pruitt wants to change this policy.

    Eliminating co-benefits from rule-making

    Pruitt's proposal solicits public comment on how to weigh co-benefits from pollution reductions. While this request may appear neutral, it reflects an interest in trying to minimize or eliminate consideration of co-benefits.

    Why would EPA's administrator seek to reduce estimated benefits of regulations? As I see it, the agency faces a regulatory conundrum. President Trump issued an executive order in 2017, focused on the costs of regulations that required agencies to eliminate two rules for every new rule they issue. Since regulations have benefits as well as costs, if an existing rule delivers more benefits than costs, then striking it would impose net harm on the public.

    For example, Pruitt is seeking to roll back three Obama administration air pollution initiatives: the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and combined carbon emission and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles. Halting these rules would save money for some electric utilities and vehicle manufacturers, but would also greatly increase air pollution.

    Specifically, one recent analysis estimates that eliminating these rules would increase premature deaths from inhaling fine particulate matter by more than 80,000 over a decade. In today's dollars, and using the current value EPA employs to monetize mortality risk reduction, public health costs from reversing these three rules amount to nearly $75 billion per year – far more than any potential benefits to industry.

    Even for an administration with a strong deregulatory tilt, such a step would raise political red flags. It also would run afoul of another executive order that has governed regulatory review in Democratic and Republican administrations since 1993, and requires agencies to issue rules if their benefits justify the costs. The Obama administration concluded that each of these air pollution regulations passed that test.

    But what if the EPA can find a way to ignore major categories of benefits, such as zeroing out estimated co-benefits from reducing premature deaths? Then regulatory rollback could appear to pass a cost-benefit test on paper, even if it makes the American people worse off in the real world.

    Pruitt has already taken other steps in this direction. Notably, the EPA has reduced its estimate of the damages from climate change from $42 per ton of carbon pollution at the end of the Obama administration to as low as $1 per ton now. This makes the social benefit of actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Clean Power Plan, look much smaller than they actually are.

    Gaming the numbers

    The late Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who often called for limited government intervention in the economy, once wrote that "cost-benefit analysis may also be useful for undermining misleading claims of self-interested political pressure groups.." By this he meant that rigorous, transparent assessment of a regulation's social benefits and costs makes it politically hard for special interests such as the coal industry to hijack the rule-making process.

    Some conservative critics argue that under the Obama administration, the EPA gamed cost-benefit analysis to justify overregulation by introducing what they describe as speculative "social costs" and "social benefits." But this approach is not new or imprecise. When regulators do cost-benefit analysis, they are calculating the net change in "social welfare" that a regulation is expected to produce. This term comes from the White House guidance to agencies for conducting such analysis. Economists define social welfare as social benefits minus social costs.

    The EPA used this process during the Reagan administration to show that the public would benefit from reducing lead in gasoline. Under President George H.W. Bush, the EPA's cost-benefit analysis supported phasing out chlorofluorocarbons that were destroying the ozone layer. Cost-benefit analysis has also supported hundreds of other EPA regulations over more than 30 years.

    Indeed, transparent analysis of the social benefits and costs of regulations helps to hold regulators accountable. But if agencies put their thumbs on the scale by excluding major public health benefits, they will weaken the legitimacy of regulatory policy and make the American people worse off.

    SEE ALSO: THE US FINTECH REGULATION REPORT: How the US regulatory environment is holding back the fintech industry

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    NOW WATCH: This top economist has a radical plan to change the way Americans vote


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    apollo 8 earth blue marble nasa

    • On June 23, 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen told the US Senate it was time to acknowledge that climate change was happening and take action to limit its effects.
    • Thirty years later, the world has continued to burn fossil fuels faster and faster, cranking planet-warming carbon dioxide levels higher than they've been for millions of years.
    • Without taking action soon, it'll cost future generations trillions to try to deal with the problem.

    Exactly 30 years ago, James Hansen, the director of NASA's Institute for Space Studies, told the US Senate that the question of the day — whether climate change was happening — was no longer in doubt.

    "It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here," Hansen told reporters at the time.

    Hansen's testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 23, 1988 — coincidentally the hottest June 23 in the District of Columbia's recorded history— is frequently considered the most important climate change hearing in history.

    The greenhouse effect that Hansen described — in which the widespread combustion of fossil fuels causes a heat-trapping buildup of gases like carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere — has since become almost common knowledge. For more than 400,000 years, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 fluctuated between just under 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm). Levels are now over 400 ppm and climbing.

    The most alarming consequences of that change, like an uninhabitable planet, are still far off. But the near-term effects of climate change, things people alive today will see, include rising sea levels, exaggerated temperature extremes, and stronger hurricanes and typhoons.

    The question Hansen's testimony raised was what would be done about that threat. Leading scientists had spoken; political leaders had the information; and even ExxonMobil researchers had privately concluded that "major reductions in fossil fuel combustion" would be needed to prevent "potentially catastrophic events," according to prizewinning investigative reporting.

    But the answer to that question, 30 years later, is very little.

    The more time passes, the more difficult and expensive fixing the climate problem will get. Hansen is still sounding alarms — in a study published last year, he calculated that future generations could be forced to spend more than $530 trillion cleaning C02 out of the atmosphere (something we don't yet know how to do efficiently). For context, the entire US budget is about $4 trillion annually.

    That's quite a burden to leave the children of the future.

    The leaders that got us here

    People's Climate March (3 of 20)After Hansen's testimony, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works sent a letter to Lee Thomas, the EPA administrator, asking for an examination of policy options that would help stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

    "It was shelved,"Mary Wood, head of the University of Oregon School of Law's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center, told Business Insider.

    In 1988, George H.W. Bush, who would take the presidential oath the following January, vowed to"fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect."

    That didn't happen. In fact, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Bush famously declared that "the American way of life is not up for negotiation."

    The members of the 101st Congress in 1989 hailed mostly from the Silent Generation (the average age was about 53) and to be fair, they were stuck with a problem created by past generations, too. But by the time those leaders were in power, they had access to knowledge about the scale of the problem that previous generations' representatives did not.

    hottest yearOf course, behavioral psychologists and economists know that humans aren't good at coming together to deal with problems whose consequences seem far off.

    "On any issue, it takes an enormous amount of effort to overcome the status quo," environmentalist and author Bill McKibben told Business Insider. "In the case of climate change, it's doubly hard, since you have to deal with the entire world. In a certain way, we shouldn't be too surprised about how difficult it's all been."

    But the biggest barrier to action hasn't been cooperation, nor a lack of information.

    "It turned out that we were not engaged in an argument for which more evidence and data was the cure — we'd won the argument long ago," McKibben said. "It was a fight, and it was about money and power … And that one we were losing."

    The power of money and misinformation

    Energy company executives have long known the scientific consensus on global warming. Exxon leaders were informed by company scientists that there was general scientific agreement on the topic in the 1970s. Oil giant Shell created a film in 1991 explaining the future threats of extreme weather, flood, famine, and climate-related conflict.

    But they also knew that a serious fight against climate change would hurt their businesses, and lobbied against regulation.

    In the early 2000s, groups connected to energy billionaires like the Koch brothers also started funding efforts to discredit climate science. As Jane Mayer explained in her book "Dark Money," political consultant Frank Luntz showed these groups how to persuade voters that the science wasn't clear.

    "On cue, organizations funded and directed by the Kochs tore into global warming science and the experts behind it," Mayer wrote. From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs spent almost $25 million funding anti-climate groups, according to the book.

    Such groups poured money into political campaigns, directed at candidates (often Republicans) who voiced doubts about the established science. According to a 2013 study, organizations connected to fossil fuel companies have spent almost half a billion dollars on "a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public's understanding of climate."

    And lo and behold, political inaction continued. In 2001, George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which would have gone into effect and required emissions cuts by 2008. (Bill Clinton initially signed it.)

    In the most recent presidential election, Republican candidates had already been given a total of more than $100 million from fossil fuel barons by March 2016. President Trump's administration is now full of officials who don't accept the scientific consensus on climate change.

    "A government decision maker that has taken money from the fossil fuel industry cannot simply turn around and take action on the climate the next day," Wood said. "They've been compromised, they've breached the duty of loyalty."

    The influence that fossil fuels companies now have in politics, Wood added, has created a conflict of interest between government officials and citizens that's "the size of the Gulf of Mexico." Ironically, the Gulf is particularly at risk of being destroyed by the thousands of oil spills that happen there every year.

    Gulf of Mexico oil

    A straightforward solution

    Those in office during Hansen's initial testimony may have been part of the Silent Generation, but by the 111th Congress in 2011, the average age of leaders in the House and Senate marked them as Baby Boomers. And their generation has failed to confront the problem, too.

    Of course, it's wrong to blame two full generations for our climate crisis (as tempting as that may be for future generations). Many people have spent their lives pushing for solutions, and it's unfair to villainize the average layperson for the actions of politicians or the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions since 1988.

    However, the window in which action can still avert the most devastating consequences of climate change is rapidly shrinking. Hansen recently told reporters that his study last year suggested putting the problem off for even a few more years could create a situation where "the costs of trying to maintain a livable planet may be too high to bear."

    That means that the Baby Boomers currently running our country and energy companies are in a unique position. They may be our last line of defense, our final chance to fix the situation.

    "It's a historic moment, because we're at the last possible moment of opportunity to avert irrevocable catastrophe," Wood said.

    The solution is simple.

    china solar panels"The irony of all this is that it's been entirely clear from the beginning what we need to do," McKibben said. "It has to look like the very rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy."

    Eventually, the world will run out of fossil fuels and be forced to make that switch — though if we burn through all oil, gas, and coal before we do so, the planet will be drastically different. Many researchers believe the right policies can facilitate a much faster transition.

    "We undertake enormous expenditures to do things that we think are in the long term interest, national security expenses for example, undertaken with a view that they protect us against future threats,"Larry Karp, an economist at UC Berkeley, told Business Insider.

    Wood also likens the threat of climate change — and necessary action — to military efforts.

    "There was certainly a consensus in World War II when everyone stepped up to the threat. Car manufacturers made military equipment, toy manufacturers made gun bets — that kind of war effort was incredible then and that's exactly what's needed now," said Wood. "It takes a real leader to meet that threat."

    There are substantial bipartisan arguments in favor of switching to renewable energy: It's the only way for the US to achieve energy independence, and the falling price of renewables has already created a market trend towards cleaner energy.

    Plus, the cost of such a transition would be far cheaper than the alternative. A 2014 report by the International Energy Agency estimated that transitioning away from fossil fuels by 2050 would cost the world $44 trillion. But by cutting fuel use, the report estimates, we'd avoid $115 trillion in fuel costs, which would more pay for the switch (not to mention the fact that the costs of wind and solar have fallen significantly since those calculations were done).

    Rising activism around the world

    As older leaders continue to stall, millions of individuals in younger generations are now pushing for policies and investments that could avert the worst effects of climate change.

    "It became clear, we've got to organize for some power of our own," said McKibben — a Boomer who's devoted his career to this cause.

    McKibben's organization 350.org, is filled with young activists leading initiatives to fight projects like the Keystone Pipeline and other new oil, coal, and gas developments.

    Climate-related lawsuits are on the rise around the world as well. In the US, a group of 21 kids, aged 9 to 21, are currently suing the federal government. They argue that by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its dangerous consequences, the government has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

    youth climate lawsuit our children's trust

    Hansen's granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan is one of those kids. If their lawsuit succeeds, the case could establish a fundamental right to a stable climate and compel agencies to pursue that goal.

    Advocacy like this has contributed to the emergence of a stronger global consensus about the need to curb emissions.

    "Paris was a success, though you have to squint a little bit to see it — at least everyone agreed there was a problem," McKibben said.

    Although President Trump has said the US is withdrawing from the agreement, cities and states around the country have vowed to meet the Paris agreement's emissions reduction goals anyway. Other countries, including China and the EU, have said they plan to stick to their pledges no matter what.

    The question, however, is whether any of these efforts can yield results quickly enough.

    "In order to catch up with the physics of climate change we have to go at an exponential rate," McKibben said. "It's not as if this was a static problem. If we don't get to it very soon, we'll never get to it."

    The looming cliff

    himalayan glacier getty

    More Gen Xers and Millennials are assuming positions of authority every day. But the threat of climate change is quickly getting harder to deal with.

    I am a Millennial — I was born five years before Hansen's testimony — and I'm also a father. I wonder every day if we will solve this in time for my son to avoid the most disastrous versions of climate model projections.

    "He's going to look back and think, 'what the hell were you all thinking,'" McKibben said of my son. "And the answer will be that we weren't thinking enough."

    "Huge swaths of the world will be living in places that by the end of the century will have heat waves so deep that people won't be able to deal with them, you have sea level rising dramatically, to the point that most of the world's cities are drowning, the ocean turning into a hot, sour, breathless soup as it acidifies and warms," McKibben said.

    The legislators currently in power cannot, of course, be held responsible for that stark future. And they're not to blame for a problem that started at the beginning of the industrial era. But by virtue of their position at this moment, they're the ones with the power to finally do something.

    "They're sitting in a historic moment that is cast upon them by nature itself," Wood said. "Everybody in the future will know that we sat in this one fleeting moment of time. Everybody will know who stood up and who stood on the sidelines."

    This story was originally published on July 22, 2017. It has been updated for the anniversary of James Hansen's testimony.

    SEE ALSO: The world faces a future of floods, famine, and extreme heat — here’s what it’ll take to bounce back

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    NOW WATCH: Why pandas are the most overrated animals on the planet


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    space earth iss

    • An important existential question about human survival is also relevant to the search for alien life: Is it possible for a civilization to survive long enough to explore the stars?
    • A new paper suggests there are four pathways a civilization could follow as it develops. On three of those paths, civilizations change their environments too much and overuse resources, which causes them to die off.
    • On one pathway, sustainable existence is figured out.
    • That's a good reason to take action on climate change, according to the paper's lead author.


    It's possible that the human species has already passed the point of no return, and we just don't know it yet.

    Or perhaps we're on our way to figuring out how to live sustainably on our planet.

    One of the most important questions for the long-term survival of the human species is how civilizations handle the changes they make to their environments as they become more technologically advanced. That question could also help us evaluate the chances that other intelligent life exists in the universe.

    A study recently published in the journal Astrobiology suggests there are four different scenarios a civilization can follow as it develops. One of those four pathways leads to sustainable existence. But in the other three, civilizations overuse resources and collapse or die off as a result.

    The logical question, then, is: Which path are we on?

    "The laws of physics demand that any young population, building an energy-intensive civilization like ours, is going to have feedback on its planet," Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.

    As humans have developed new technology, our civilization has become more and more energy intensive. In the industrial era, we've mostly burned fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. In doing so, we're transforming our planet and are causing it to heat up — so much so, in fact, that we're now trying to figure out how much climate change is going to impact our world and how to handle that new reality. 

    "Seeing climate change in this cosmic context may give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it," Frank said.

    This perspective on civilizations could also help explain why we have yet to encounter any other intelligent life in the universe.

    The four pathways

    Frank and his colleagues developed mathematical models of the effects that harvesting energy could have on a planet. Then they modeled how that energy harvesting might affect the continued existence of a technological civilization. As Frank explains in a YouTube video about his paper, the team's models take into account physics, chemistry, and population dynamics.

    The researchers also used data from studies of extinct civilizations on Earth, like Easter Island, to inform these models.

    Their results suggested four different trajectories for civilization growth. In all of the scenarios, harvesting energy and using resources triggers world-transforming climate chang for any intelligent planetary civilization (like humans on Earth). The question is at what point a civilization realizes that the world is changing, and whether there's time to stave off catastrophe.

    four scenarios

    In the first scenario, the "die-off" model, population growth transforms the planetary environment so much that almost all — about 90% — of the population is unable to survive the changes. Small pockets of people (or other intelligent beings on a different planet) might live on, but probably without any of the modern energy-intensive technology that caused the environmental changes. This scenario is sometimes explored in post-apocalyptic fiction in which humanity has reverted to a pre-energy-harvesting existence. 

    The second scenario is the sustainability or "soft-landing" model. In this case, Frank said in the video, "the population rises, the planet starts to heat up because of it, but you're able to find a nice stable equilibrium where population comes to a stable level and planet doesn't change anymore."

    The third scenario matches that of Easter Island — a cautionary tale. In that case, the population grew far more rapidly than the island's resources could support. When those resources were used up, the population collapsed. We could do the same thing to the entire planet by changing the climate so fast that it becomes inhospitable to human life.

    Although that third model sounds scary, the fourth scenario is the one Frank described as most frightening, since it could be where we are now. In that case, a civilization realizes they've triggered rapid environmental change and tries to shift to using resources in a way that won't transform the planet. But that switch comes too late, and collapse happens anyway.

    "Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you could still have your population collapse," Frank said in the statement.

    Aliens easter island

    The Great Filter

    Frank and other scientists like paleontologist Peter Ward have theorized that climate change could be the answer to a famous question known as the Fermi paradox.

    The question is simple: Statistically, other intelligent civilizations should almost certainly have evolved in the universe, so why haven't we seen evidence of them?

    One possible answer is that environmental transformation (whether that means using up necessary resources or irreversibly changing a climate) is a filter that prevents civilizations from surviving long enough to travel to distant stars. This idea is known as the "Great Filter."

    As philosopher Nick Bostrom has explained, this concept suggests that life on an Earth-like planet has to achieve several "evolutionary transitions or steps" before it can communicate with civilizations in other star systems. But an obstacle or barrier makes it impossible for an intelligent species like ours to progress through all those steps before collapsing. That would explain why we haven't heard from or seen any other life.

    Bostrom wrote:

    "You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be powerful enough — which is to say, the critical steps must be improbable enough — that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals, at least none that we can detect in our neck of the woods."

    If that's the reason we've never found evidence of intelligent life, the "Great Filter" idea would suggest that most planetary civilizations can't figure out the sustainable pathway that Frank and his colleagues describe.

    But theoretically, it's likely that somewhere in the universe, some civilizations figure out how to become sustainable and avoid collapse or die-off, as Frank explained in the YouTube video.

    There are steps we can take to try to achieve that goal here on Earth — but it requires people to get on the same page and act to limit the avoidable effects of climate change. That would require a transition away from fossil fuels and the restoration of certain natural environments. It may also require us to develop ways to efficiently remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    "Climate change is not our fault. We didn't trigger climate change because we're greedy," Frank said in the video. Instead, climate change may just be a part of civilizational development. But the way we respond to it going forward matters a great deal.

    "Now, however, we know, and if we don't do something about it, it will be our fault," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Having sex and reproducing in space comes with serious scientific and ethical problems. We may need to create a new species of human to make it work.

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    NOW WATCH: Why pandas are the most overrated animals on the planet


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    Howard Schultz Starbucks

    • Starbucks' outgoing executive chairman Howard Schultz says climate change is going to impact the quality of coffee in the future.
    • Scientists are already seeing the effects of climate change on coffee production around the globe, and they predict things will get worse by 2050. 
    • Starbucks is testing dozens of new varietals, hoping to develop some heat- and fungus-resistant strains that taste good.

     

    Outgoing Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz is worried about the future of your morning coffee ritual.

    "Climate change is going to play a bigger role in affecting the quality and integrity of coffee," Schultz told Time on a recent visit to a Starbucks coffee farm in Costa Rica.

    As the Earth warms, predictable weather systems are going haywire. Rainy seasons are turning dry in some areas, while increased precipitation has brought flooding to others.

    Farmers that grow coffee around the planet’s midsection are already feeling the pressure of less predictable growing seasons. In Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, bean counts are down due to the damaging Hemileia vastatrix fungus, which started spreading six years ago. Scientists think this coffee rust, as its known, thrives in radical high-and-low temperature swings, which are characteristic of climate change. Coffee production decreased 31% on average in Colombia during a rust epidemic from 2008 to 2011, and the coffee indicator price went up 55% in that time, according to a study in the journal Food Security

    In Brazil, an unusually soppy May last year slowed down harvests and made coffee drying challenging, but in 2018, Brazil's production is expected to jump by six million bags, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports.

    Scientists predict that the "coffee suitable" growing spots in Latin America (where plant-pollinating bees thrive) could be reduced 88% by 2050, while temperatures on the Tanzanian highlands are already at their upper limit for coffee production.

    Starbucks is the fourth largest coffee seller in the world, according to 2017 research from Euromonitor International, so the company has a lot to lose when it comes to climate change. To confront that threat, Starbucks is researching new heat-resistant tree varieties and making findings open-source information. The company is also giving farmers seedlings and seeds from newly developed strains of coffee trees, vowing to put 100 million in the ground by 2025

    "We have to be in the soil, growing coffee, to understand firsthand how to rectify and fix the situation," Schultz told Time.

    More demand, but less coffee to go around

    Coffee is now the second-most traded commodity in the world (after oil). Coffee consumption in China has tripled in the past four years, according to a recent report from CBS News. Even Canada’s coffee habit increased an average of 3.3% each year from 2010 to 2015, according to Euromonitor research. The Coffee Association of Canada now says more Canadian adults drink coffee than tap water on a daily basis.

    ripe coffee beans

    That means coffee production will need to increase in the coming years to keep up with rising demand.

    But time is not on Starbucks' side. New coffee plant varietals take between four and five years to mature before their beans can be harvested, which is longer than the three to four years it takes a traditional coffee tree to bear fruit. Plus, some of Starbucks' fungus-resistant trees don't produce as many coffee cherries, so the yields are smaller than usual when they finally do arrive.

    Of course, coffee is just one crop. Researchers have recently predicted that climate change will likely cause shocks corn production, hurt vegetable yields, and make our food less nutrient-rich. But climate experts have long said that people living in temperate, coffee-growing zones are more vulnerable to climate change than others.

    "Coffee is a finicky crop," Bambi Semroc, vice president of sustainable markets and strategies for Conservation International, told Starbucks recently. "It needs to grow at a precise altitude and receive a precise amount of rainfall. You already have these limiting factors, then climate change comes along and wreaks havoc on the land that you thought was suitable for coffee production."

    SEE ALSO: There's even more evidence that coffee is good for your heart — and 4 cups a day might be the ideal amount

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    NOW WATCH: The world is running out of coffee — here's why


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    volvo ocean race

    The Volvo Ocean Race, one of the toughest sailing races on the planet, has come to a thrilling conclusion.

    The DongFeng Race Team sailed to victory on Sunday evening, finishing the around-the-world race just 16 minutes ahead of the pack.

    It was the closest the race has ever been, and also the first time that a team that included women took the trophy. 

    Held every three years, the nine-month, 40,000-mile race is a grueling test of will and ability for some of the world's best sailors. Along the way, the teams visit six continents, cross the equator, and experience temperatures ranging from below freezing to burning hot — all with as little gear as possible to keep weight down on the boats.

    The race has been called the 'Everest of sailing' because of the difficult conditions teams face.

    But the payoff is worth it, the competitors say.

    "When you think about that sense of achievement when you get to another country, it's incredible," Brian Carlin, an onboard reporter that Volvo Ocean Race pays to sail with the competitors, told Business Insider. "It's a pretty unique event and certainly very, very unique experience."

    The winner of the race is determined by a points system. Teams earn points by pulling into ports first, second, or third at the end of each of the race's 11 legs. Double points get awarded for the most difficult legs, and the team with the fastest overall time receives bonus points. In the end, the group with the highest overall total wins the trophy. 

    Here's what it's like to sail thousands of miles through the open ocean with the fleet.

    SEE ALSO: This fisherman risks his life to catch the world's most elusive, notorious underwater creatures — here's what he's caught

    Only the toughest, most experienced sailors are capable of participating in the race. On the longest legs, competitors spend close to a month at sea, running the boat 24 hours a day.



    The boats are designed for speed — not comfort — so it can be a wet, bumpy ride when the weather isn't cooperating. Each boat is 65 feet long and built to withstand punishing ocean conditions.



    "It's an experience," Carlin said. "It can be pretty bleak and if you're on deck, you're getting hosed by waves and the salt water gets into your skin and you get calluses and you get rashes and it's... Yeah, it's actually not that appealing when you think about it."



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    new york heat wave

    • The Northeast is expected to see 90-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures this weekend.
    • Overall, this summer is expected to be hotter than average.
    • You can thank climate change for that.

    It's going to be a hot weekend, and it's only the start of what meteorologists expect to be a scorching summer. 

    On the heels of a heat wave that brought scalding temperatures and smog to the US Midwest and the Northeast last week, the thermometer is set to reach the mid-to-high 90s this weekend in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. In New York City, weather forecasting site Wunderground anticipates temperatures in the high 80s.

    While the heat isn't likely to break records, it can bring dangerous air-quality conditions to major cities. 

    On hot days, emissions from vehicles and power plants can react with sunlight and other naturally occurring gases to create ground-level ozone, which can hang over cities on hot summer afternoons. Ground-level ozone is especially dangerous to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma.

    Summer officially started in the northern hemisphere last week with the June solstice, and forecasts suggest it will be a hot one. The US Climate Prediction Center says there's more than a 50% chance that the Northeast will be warmer than average from July through September. 

    This heat forecast is part of a trend of rising temperatures across the globe due to climate change. The five hottest years on record since 1880 have all occurred since 2010, with 2016 setting the record for highest average temperature. Projections suggest that by 2075, strong heat waves that currently occur once every 20 years could become annual events on 60% of the Earth's land areas. 

    According to a Harvard study, climate change will also contribute to an additional three to nine days per year of unhealthy ozone levels by 2050 — amounting to a 70-100% increase in ozone days, depending on the region.

    Stay cool out there. 

    SEE ALSO: A heat wave on the East Coast could break records — and it's prompting warnings about dangerously poor air quality

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    NOW WATCH: Here's why humidity makes you feel hotter


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    untitled 20

    When Disney River Country opened in 1976, visitors flocked to Orange County, Florida, to ride the winding slides and traverse the wooden bridges.

    The park closed down 25 years later, and today, it lies abandoned.

    In 2016, A Cleveland-based photographer who works under the pseudonym Seph Lawless documented ghostly portraits of the once busy attraction in his photo series "Dismaland." (This is also the name of Banksy's 2015 art exhibition, a fake apocalyptic theme park near Bristol, England.)

    But River Country will not stay abandoned for much longer. Disney is planning to demolish the decaying park and turn it into a timeshare resort and hotel, GrowthSpotter reports.

    Check out Lawless' photo project below:

    SEE ALSO: The National Park Service turns 100 today — and Obama just protected 87,000 acres of Maine land

    River Country in Orange County, Florida was Walt Disney World's first water park.



    It is one of just two Disney parks, along with Discovery Island in Orange County, to close permanently. Both parks were left to deteriorate.



    Lawless took about 150 photos of the decaying park, he told Business Insider.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    north brother island new york city bronx google maps

    Less than a mile from Manhattan— one of the priciest and most densely populated places in the world — sits a mysterious island that people abandoned more than half a century ago.

    "North Brother Island is among New York City's most extraordinary and least known heritage and natural places," wrote the authors of a recent University of Pennsylvania study about the location.

    The city owns the 22-acre plot, which pokes out of the East River between the South Bronx's industrial coast and a notorious prison: Rikers Island Correctional Center.

    It's illegal for the public to set foot on North Brother Island and its smaller companion, South Brother Island. But even birds seem to avoid its crumbling, abandoned structures (and contrary to Broad City's depiction of the island, there isn't a package pick-up center).

    In 2017, producers for the Science Channel obtained the city's permission to visit North Brother Island — and the crew invited Business Insider to tag along.

    The story of our small expedition premiered this month on "What on Earth?", a popular satellite-image-based TV show that's now in its fourth season. (Our segment closes out episode 12.)

    Here's what we saw and learned while romping around one of New York's spookiest and most forgotten places.

    SEE ALSO: Incredible photos from space reveal the biggest news stories on Earth in 2017

    DON'T MISS: One of the best nature documentaries of all time is back in its second season

    North Brother Island is accessible only by boat. Leaving from Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx is one of the quickest ways to get there.



    Watch your step — the boat ramp is covered in slippery algae at low tide.



    This small aluminum boat was our ride.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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