Articles on this Page
- 03/20/15--17:48: _Pharrell to the UN:...
- 03/20/15--19:35: _Nevada wildlife man...
- 03/23/15--09:35: _Awesome satellite i...
- 03/24/15--07:00: _ Incredible image o...
- 03/24/15--10:27: _A giant sinkhole ju...
- 03/25/15--11:37: _Awesome shots of 'w...
- 03/25/15--12:25: _2 words will decide...
- 03/25/15--21:08: _Deadly tornadoes hi...
- 03/26/15--12:40: _Costa Rica has run ...
- 03/27/15--07:47: _The amount of water...
- 03/27/15--12:29: _Watch Jon Stewart r...
- 03/30/15--17:53: _One million new 'gr...
- 04/01/15--11:15: _Sharks are disappea...
- 04/02/15--13:28: _Horrific charts sho...
- 04/03/15--08:23: _There's a big probl...
- 04/03/15--12:46: _There's been a sudd...
- 04/03/15--13:35: _Award-winning video...
- 04/07/15--06:09: _An extremely detail...
- 04/08/15--09:39: _The future is terri...
- 04/08/15--15:05: _An architect envisi...
- 03/20/15--19:35: Nevada wildlife managers reject ban on coyote-hunting contests
- 03/23/15--09:35: Awesome satellite images of an erupted volcano
- 03/24/15--07:00: Incredible image of trucks driving across frozen lakes
- 03/24/15--10:27: A giant sinkhole just swallowed an SUV in New Jersey
- 03/25/15--11:37: Awesome shots of 'wave' clouds rolling through Georgia
- 03/25/15--12:25: 2 words will decide the fate of a key air pollution rule
- 03/25/15--21:08: Deadly tornadoes hit Oklahoma and Arkansas
- 03/26/15--12:40: Costa Rica has run on completely renewable energy all year
- Pacific Remote Islands protection not just a drop in the ocean
- World's largest survey of marine parks shows conservation can be greatly improved
- 04/02/15--13:28: Horrific charts show how fast California is losing its water
- 04/03/15--08:23: There's a big problem with Greek yogurt
- 04/03/15--12:46: There's been a sudden and dangerous surge in Amazon deforestation
- 04/07/15--06:09: An extremely detailed geography of climate change beliefs
UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It's time to go "from climate change to climate action" in efforts to save the planet, U.S. pop star Pharrell Williams said at the United Nations on Friday.
Singer-producer Williams, 41, partnered with the United Nations Foundation on the International Day of Happiness to raise awareness and call for more action on climate change.
"If you look at our behavior is hard to believe we’re all aware we only have one planet," Williams said in a General Assembly hall crowded with young people. "My main inspiration for being here today is that we’re in trouble, but we can change that. This earth is our home."
The star is the creative director of the Live Earth movement, which campaigns for a climate deal to be reached before a global summit takes place in Paris in December.
At January's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Williams and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore announced that a Live Earth music event to demand action on climate change will take place across seven continents, including Antarctica, on June 18.
As part of the celebrations of International Day of Happiness, the U.N. Foundation and Williams launched the "Happy Party for a Happy Planet" campaign and created a website (globalhappyparty.com) with the support of Google where people can upload photos of themselves which will then be assembled in an animated image set to Williams' hit song "Happy".
"Music brought me happiness… You should know happiness is your birthright," Williams told the young audience.
"On this day we are using the universal language of music to show solidarity with the millions of people around the world suffering from poverty, human rights abuses, humanitarian crises and the effects of environmental degradation and climate change,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message.
As the event wrapped up, the audience got up and started dancing to "Happy".
Williams later greeted young fans who swarmed the General Assembly hall's stage, sending U.N. security momentarily into panic as it struggled to contain the wave of screaming young people and their parents.
Earlier this week, Charlize Theron, Michael Douglas, James Blunt, Ed Sheeran and John Legend, among other celebrities, joined the United Nations #HappySoundsLike campaign to create "the world's happiest playlist."
The International Day of Happiness was established in 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the importance of happiness and well-being as "universal goals and aspirations in the lives of people around the world."
(Editing by Lisa Anderson)
(Reuters) - Nevada wildlife managers on Friday voted down a proposal that would have banned hunts offering cash and prizes for slaughtering coyotes in competitions across Western states that conservationists decry as "killing contests."
In December, California became the first U.S. state to prohibit inducements like money and merchandise for hunting events of wild animals including coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other creatures classified in the state as fur-bearers and non-game mammals.
The recent push by wildlife advocates to outlaw hunting contests for wild animals like coyotes, which are considered nuisances allowed to be shot on sight in most of the West, comes as increasing numbers of competitions are held in states such as Nevada, California, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon.
The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners rejected banning the hunts in a 7-1 vote during a meeting in Reno that heard several hours of emotional testimony, mostly from animal activists, said Commissioner Karen Layne.
Layne, who said her seat on the commission obliges her to represent the general public rather than sportsmen, said she voted in support of the prohibition because her constituents oppose the tournaments.
But she said her vote was largely symbolic, because the proposal from wildlife advocates was awkwardly worded and likely would not have passed legal muster in a state where coyotes are not a protected species subject to hunting restrictions.
Fauna Tomlinson, spokeswoman for the conservation group, Project Coyote, spoke in support of the ban.
She said that in some cases the contests have killed hundreds of coyotes per event, and she faulted sportsmen for encouraging young people to join in the "fun."
"That tells children that wildlife has no value, that committing mass slaughter of animals is acceptable," Tomlinson told Reuters by telephone.
Jason Schroeder, organizer of a coyote-hunting tournament that took place outside Reno in December, said the events allow sportsmen to keep coyote populations in check while celebrating the West's time-honored tradition of hunting.
"Any time someone tries to stop hunting, it's so totally ridiculous," Schroeder said of the proposal to ban the contests.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)
In the predawn hours of March 3, 2015, one of Chile's most active volcanoes exploded to life. Thousands of people evacuated from within a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius of Villarrica.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired the top image on February 22, 2015, prior to the main eruption. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the EO-1 satellite captured the second image on March 5. A large volume of volcanic material ejected during the eruption is apparent on the mountain's eastern side.
Activity at Villarrica had been increasing through much of February, made evident by a rise in seismicity, crater incandescenece, and explosions, according to reports from Chile's National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN) (posted in English by the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program).
A faint layer of ash is apparent on the volcano's flanks.
Just prior to the March 3 eruption, geophysicist Jeffrey Johnson and his family prepared to evacuate their home in Pucón, Chile, about 17 kilometers (11 miles) northwest of the volcano.
However, the eruption slowed after just 30 minutes. Johnson watched the fire fountain subside and then resumed his work analyzing low-frequency sounds captured by dozens of microphones placed on and near the mountain.
It's too soon to say what the sounds from the fire fountain and ensuing lahar will reveal. Johnson and students from Boise State are analyzing the data and they continue to monitor the volcano.
In the meantime, Johnson provided the photographs above, which show the transformation from unsullied glaciers just before the March 3 eruption (top) to slopes covered with tephra.
In the farthest reaches of northwestern Canada, there are few people and fewer roads. The largest settlements tend to be gold or diamond mining towns. And while just about every one of them has an airstrip capable of handling large planes, the cost of air freight is substantial.
So when winter comes, fuel, explosives, and heavy equipment move north in an unusual way: via trucks driving on frozen lakes.
The lakes in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut begin to freeze in early November. Once the ice is thick enough to support construction vehicles, crews plow snow off the surface and expose the ice directly to the intense cold, making it even thicker.
By early February in most years, they have created a roadbed as wide as an eight-lane freeway, with ice capable of supporting double trailers hauling up to 42 tons. Though there are some land crossings between lakes, 87 percent of the 600 kilometer (400 mile) road is on ice.
The ice sags under a load, and the faster the vehicle, the deeper the depression. This sends out waves under the ice, which bounce back from the shoreline and the shallows. In weak spots, these waves can shatter the ice. To reduce this danger, officials set speed limits for the road based on ice conditions, weather, and weight.
A 25 kilometer per hour (15 miles per hour) speed limit is typical for fully loaded trucks, while 60 kmph (35 mph) is permitted for empty trucks going southbound in "express lanes." Engineers regularly monitor the ice to keep it safe and passable.
The images above were acquired by the Landsat 8 satellite on February 24, 2015. The top image shows in detail where the winter road divides into two lanes over one of the lakes. The wider view includes almost all of the ice trucking route in northwest Canada.
The winter road terminated near the Diavik Diamond mine in 2015; in some years, it has been extended farther north to reach the Lupin and Jericho mines in Nunavut, but both have recently been shuttered.
The road carries thousands of loads each winter, bringing in items either too large or too expensive to carry on aircraft. Hauling freight over this ephemeral road system is six to eight times less expensive than flights, and some equipment, such as giant ore-carrying dump trucks, would never fit inside a plane.
The winter road closes to heavy traffic when spring arrives and the ice thins. It is completely impassable by mid-April.
The tonnage hauled and length of the driving season is quite variable from year to year. In 2006, for instance, warm weather and thin ice conditions kept the heaviest loads off the road all season, yet the very next year saw a record number of loads and a much longer than average hauling season.
A 20-foot deep sinkhole forced the evacuation on Tuesday of four New Jersey homes after crumbling part of a roadway and swallowing up a car, police said.
An underground water main break likely caused the hole to form suddenly in a residential area of South Amboy, New Jersey, a city about 20 miles south of Newark, the South Amboy Police Department said in a statement.
There were no reported injuries and no homes were damaged by the crater. Crews were working to secure the area and stop the sinkhole, which encompassed part of a paved street as well as a wooded area, from expanding.
The sinkhole was discovered early on Tuesday, when a man living in the area noticed that his son's car was no longer in its parking space and reported it stolen, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported on its website.
In fact, the vehicle had vanished into the sinkhole, the newspaper said.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)
For those enjoying a Sunday afternoon outdoors in Savannah, Georgia, a swath of asperatus clouds, or wave clouds, graced the skies with an impressive display.
Formed with an appearance that simulates rolling and crashing waves, the clouds filled area skies around noon EDT Sunday, March 22.
"Asperatus clouds form on the outside of precipitation areas, where the rain attempts to invade dry air," AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said.
The unique cloud formation can also appear deceptively ominous as the accompanying darkness and bulky shape do not always indicate a storm.
"The clouds seemed to have formed on the leading edge of some rain approaching from the west and south," AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "Light rain was developing in the area between 11 a.m. and noon."
A seemingly divided Supreme Court weighed the Obama administration's first-ever regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.
The rule, known as Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), was the first federal limit on the amount of these types of toxic air pollutants.
The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge brought by industry groups and Republican-led states arguing the EPA should have considered costs, which could reach $9.6 billion a year, when limiting emissions.
But the benefits are much greater, $37 billion to $90 billion annually, the EPA said. The savings stem from the prevention of up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 nonfatal heart attacks and 540,000 lost days of work, the EPA said. Mercury accumulates in fish and is especially dangerous to pregnant or breastfeeding women, and young children, because of concern that too much could harm a developing brain.
The dispute stems from a sentence at the heart of the Clean Air Act: "The Administrator shall regulate electric utility steam generating units under this section, if the Administrator finds such regulation is appropriate and necessary after considering the results of the study required by this subparagraph."
The petitioners —which include Michigan and 20 other states as well as organizations like the National Mining Association — think the EPA misinterpreted the words "appropriate and necessary."
In their most recent petition to the court, they state the EPA "treats the word 'appropriate' as meaningless and ignores a factor — costs — that Congress intended [the] EPA to consider." The EPA also "unreasonably fail[ed] to give 'appropriate' any meaning beyond that already ascribed to 'necessary.'"
Several conservative justices questioned whether EPA should have taken costs into account when it first decided to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants, or whether health risks are the only consideration under the Clean Air Act. The EPA did factor in costs at a later stage when it wrote standards that are expected to reduce the toxic emissions by 90 percent.
Justice Antonin Scalia was critical of the agency's reading of the provisions of the anti-air pollution law at issue in the case throughout 90 minutes of arguments. "It's a silly way to read them," Scalia said.
The court's four liberal justices appeared more comfortable with EPA's position, leaving Justice Anthony Kennedy as the possible decisive vote.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said EPA followed the same process in deciding whether to regulate other sources of emissions, including from motor vehicles.
The case is the latest in a string of attacks against the Obama administration's actions to rein in pollution from coal-burning power plants that harms health and contributes to global warming. The administration is seeking to use the Clean Air Act for the first time to control mercury and carbon pollution from the nation's power plants.
But numerous states have already filed challenges to a proposed rule to curb the pollution linked to global warming from the nation's coal-burning power plants. And Congress is working on a bill that would allow states to opt out of any rules clamping down on heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
The legal and political challenges ahead could undermine US efforts to inspire other countries to control their emissions, as they head into negotiations in Paris on a new international treaty later this year.
A disproportionate share of the 600 affected power plants, most of which burn coal, are in the South and upper Midwest. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, representing 21 states at the Supreme Court, said the law requires the EPA to take account of costs before deciding whether to step in. The states and industry groups also said the agency overstated the benefits of reducing mercury emissions.
Shuttering older plants or installing pollution-control equipment also will reduce emissions of particulate matter, such as dust, dirt and other fragments associated with a variety of respiratory ailments. The administration said it properly took those benefits into account, but the challengers argued that they are not relevant to the case.
Chief Justice John Roberts called the inclusion of those other benefits an "end run" around more stringent procedures EPA would have to follow to try to reduce emissions of particulate matter.
Several utilities that already have installed the equipment or that primarily rely on natural gas and nuclear power to make electricity said the EPA rules are economically practical. Moreover, they said that until the rules take effect their competitors who haven't yet complied with the rules have an unfair advantage. Another 16 states and several large cities also are backing the administration.
Congress first ordered the EPA to study the release of mercury among 180 toxic substances in 1990. The agency initially decided to go ahead with the limits on power plant emissions in 2000, the final year of the Clinton administration.
After President George W. Bush took office in 2001, the EPA tried to undo its earlier decision, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington blocked that attempt. When Barack Obama became president in 2009, the agency again decided to move forward. It issued final rules in 2012, and the appeals court upheld them last year.
A decision is expected by the end of June.
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The slow start to the nation's tornado season came to a violent end Wednesday, when tornadoes raked Tulsa during its evening rush hour, killing one person and injuring others.
Tulsa County Sheriff's Capt. Billy McKelvey said one person was killed in a mobile home park near suburban Sand Springs that was nearly destroyed Wednesday amid severe weather.
It wasn't yet clear whether it was a tornado or straight-line winds that hit the park, which McKelvey said could accommodate 40 to 50 trailers. McKelvey couldn't say exactly how many people were hurt, but said there were multiple injuries.
"It could have been much worse," he said.
Tornadoes were seen elsewhere in Oklahoma, as well as in Arkansas, but no injuries were reported from those.
A small tornado swept across parts of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb where 24 people died in a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado in 2013. Other twisters formed along a line from southwest of Oklahoma City to east of Tulsa, and some touched down in the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas.
Until Tuesday, when a waterspout formed over an Arkansas lake, the U.S. hadn't had a tornado in more than a month.
Television video Wednesday evening showed roof damage in a Moore neighborhood — the Moore storm two years ago scraped lots to their foundations. A glass door at the Tulsa building that houses the National Weather Service office was smashed, and several cars in the parking lot lost their windows.
Don Ruffin said he and a neighbor were at a convenience store in far southeast Moore when he saw the tornado approaching.
"I don't know how close it was to us, but it looked like it was coming toward us, and so we didn't take any chances," Ruffin said. "We got in our vehicles, ran home and got in our shelters."
Ruffin said after the storm passed, there were some fences knocked down and "patio furniture thrown everywhere."
Electric companies reported 27,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Oklahoma City area and 28,500 had lost power in Tulsa County. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said an overturned tractor-trailer had snarled traffic in both directions on Interstate 35, a major north-south route.
"Those troopers are working their guts out there right now," Lt. John Vincent said.
The tornado season usually ramps up for parts of the U.S. in March, but weather patterns funneled cold air into much of the country, depriving the atmosphere of the warm, moist air necessary to form bad storms for most of the month.
That all changed this week. Southerly winds pushed temperatures into the 70s and 80s across the Ozarks and Southern Plains, while weather fronts churned the air into Wednesday's storms.
Meteorologist Jeff Hood in Little Rock said a weak waterspout tornado briefly touched down in Bull Shoals Lake in Marion County in northwest Arkansas on Tuesday night. He said it will likely be classified an EF0 — the weakest tornado with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph. A waterspout forms over water. The tornado never made it onto land, and there were no reports of damage.
"This will be the 'tornado' that breaks the drought for March," Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist for the Storm Prediction Center, said before Wednesday's storms hit.
Before this week, only about two-dozen twisters had been recorded this year during a period when about 120 are typical. The last time the U.S. had no twisters in March was nearly 50 years ago, according to figures from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Costa Rica deserves a huge round of applause, and perhaps even a high five, for managing to produce all of its electricity from renewables for 75 days straight. According to the state-owned Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the country hasn't had to burn fossil fuels to supply the grid with electricity so far in 2015, a stretch that has never been previously attained by any nation.
Of course, we don't mean all of their energy has come from renewables as their vehicles, for example, still use fossil fuels, but what they have achieved is extremely laudable.
"The year 2015 has been one of electricity totally friendly to the environment for Costa Rica," the ICE said in a statement last week.
As reported by Think Progress, the country's clean streak is predominantly attributable to heavy rains experienced this year, which have kept four of the main hydroelectric power stations busy. In fact, these have been churning out so much energy that virtually all of 2015's electricity demands have been met through these plants, according to Quartz.
The remainder of the country's grid requirements have been met through a combination of wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy.
In Latin America, Costa Rica ranks second in terms of electricity service provision (behind Uruguay) with a household coverage rate of 99.4%.
And thanks to this boon in renewables, citizens are shortly due a 12% drop in electricity rates this year and given the reserves so far accumulated, this downward trend is predicted to continue in the second quarter, Latin American Herald Tribune reports.
Costa Rica is determined to become carbon-neutral by 2021, which seems an achievable goal given that the country is currently meeting around 94% of its energy needs from renewables. Around 68% is sourced from hydroelectric power plants, followed by geothermal energy that contributes about 15%.
This dedication to clean energy combined with the country's broader environmental policies has meant that Costa Rica has been consistently ranked in the top five eco-friendly countries worldwide, according to The Telegraph.
Although what Costa Rica is achieving is something to aspire towards, it won't be easy for many countries to follow in their footsteps. The tropical country is adorned with a string of active volcanoes that allow for geothermal projects, such as the $958 million endeavor approved last year.
Costa Rica also experiences high rainfall and features a mountainous landscape, both of which are ideal for the generation of renewable energy. Furthermore, the country is able to invest substantial amounts into environmental issues due to the fact that it ditched its military back in 1948.
While Costa Rica's dependence on renewables is commendable, it also has its drawbacks and leaves the country vulnerable to the effects of climate change. A drought, for example, would impede their ability to produce electricity from hydropower stations. Furthermore, hydroelectric dams can have negative effects on fish populations.
Costa Rica is, of course, not the only country dedicated to going green. The EU has set renewable energy goals for 2020, but Sweden, Bulgaria and Estonia managed to meet these eight years ahead of schedule.
China is also investing a substantial amount in renewables, which has been proposed to be a key factor in the fact that CO2 emissions stalled last year. Bonaire, a small Caribbean island, also currently produces almost all of its energy from renewable sources.
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Water use in California is a hot topic of debate as the state continues its fourth year of drought.
And there's some question as to whether California is misallocating the water that it does have.
...agriculture uses 80% of the water in California but accounts for less than 2% of the economy. So how much water does almond production alone use? More water is used in almond production than is used by all the residents and businesses of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined.
It's important to note that California produces a huge chunk of the produce consumed in the United States. Presumably having food on the table is vastly more important to society than it would seem if you just look at it from a percentage-of-the-economy perspective.
But what about the almonds in particular? It takes a disproportionate amount of water to grow them versus other crops.
FT Alphaville's Matthew C. Klein pointed out this is just a comparison of direct consumption. It doesn't account for other ways that people in LA and San Francisco use water, like, say, the irrigation used to grow the food that they eat.
In my mind, though, this doesn't matter much. It would matter, if Californians relied on almonds as a staple of their diet. A few might. But by and large almonds are a luxury food in the United States. If California stopped growing so many almonds, prices would go up, but few people would see their daily life profoundly affected.
But then there's another problem. Almonds are one of California's largest agriculture exports. According to Orcam Financial Group's Cullen Roche, 62% of California's almond production is exported. The US produces about half of the world's almonds. Ceasing production would be a big deal.
But would it be a bigger deal than some of the other consequences of not having enough water in California?
While those of us who live in the Northeast may not believe it, last winter was America's warmest ever recorded.
California was already experiencing drought conditions, and the warm winter and lack of snowpack going into the summer won't help.
Florida is also at risk for negative consequences of climate change — but for sea level rise and flooding.
Neither of these states have put forward quite the best response to their respective impending dooms, which of course provides perfect fodder for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
Employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were famously barred from using the words "climate change" and "global warming" since Rick Scott became governor of the state in 2011.
In a news clip on The Daily Show, former Florida state employee Kristina Trotta said they were not even allowed to mention "sea level rise," but had to use the term "nuisance flooding."
Just trying to help, Jon Stewart whipped out his "Roget's Denial Thesaurus" to suggest Florida officials could use the terms "moisture inconvenience,""statewide jaccuzification," and "surprise pool party."
But really, Florida has made it too easy for Jon Stewart to get laughs at its expense. All the show had to do to underscore the absurdity of the situation was play a clip of Florida's Emergency Management Chief speaking at a state Senate hearing.
When directly asked a question about the state's response plan for future climate change related emergencies, the poor man had to do linguistic backflips to avoid saying the forbidden phrase. The entire Senate chamber erupted in laughter.
A tough nut to crack
On the other side of the country, California has instituted restrictions on personal water use, such as requiring restaurants to give water only to customers who ask for it.
But Jon Stewart isn't convinced that's the right way to address the drought problem: "California's fix for the biggest drought in its history is to slightly curtail the personal water use that makes up a whopping 4% of California's water footprint."
Agriculture is the sector that guzzles most water in California, and some crops require more than others. Alfalfa, used for livestock feed, takes about a fifth of the state's water. Almond growing is another top water consumer for the state.
So what better way to emphasize agriculture's attitude in California than have a talking almond and burger show up to bully Stewart into not asking for water at restaurants so they can get their water?
Watch the whole video below, courtesy of Comedy Central.
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly one million new "green jobs" are expected to be created in China, the United States and the European Union by 2030 if the regions stick to their current pledges to curb global warming, scientists said on Tuesday.
The three regions combined produce more than half the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so their policies are crucial for shaping a new global climate agreement to be finalised at a U.N. conference in Paris in December.
The United States is due to submit its plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations this week, and the EU has already done so, but most governments including China will miss an informal March 31 deadline, complicating work on the deal.
If the three regions managed to produce all their energy from renewable sources by 2050, more than 3 million jobs would be created and they would save around $520 billion a year in fossil fuel imports, according to a study by the NewClimate Institute, an environmental research group.
"Governments formulating climate action plans should consider the significant benefits for their people that could be achieved by setting their ambition levels to maximum," study co-author Niklas Hoehne said.
Reaching those ambitious targets, however, seems unlikely with a few exceptions.
"Denmark wants to phase out fossil fuels entirely, Sweden is coming close, and Germany has a target of getting 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050," Hoehne told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The study only examined potential job benefits from creating new energy systems in wind, solar and hydro power.
Potential employment in retrofitting old buildings to make them more energy-efficient was not included, meaning the total number of new jobs is likely to be higher, Hoehne said.
Some jobs will be lost in petroleum-related industries, such as oil refining, he added, but these figures were not taken into account in the study.
Europe alone, through its climate action plan, stands to save $33 billion annually on fossil fuel imports by 2030, if it meets its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels, Hoehne said.
The United States plans to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China said in November it would aim to peak its CO2 emissions by around 2030 but would strive to achieve the target earlier.
Scientists have warned that if global warming causes average temperatures to rise by more than two degrees, the world could enter a period of catastrophic climate change.
(Editing by Emma Batha)
Marine protected areas — essentially nature preserves in the ocean — are meant to provide a safe harbor for sharks, rays and other ocean species being lost because of intense and often unregulated fishing.
In a study published in Conservation Biology last week, we and other collaborators set out to quantify how populations of sharks and rays have changed over time at Cocos Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world's oldest marine protected areas.
Perched 550 kilometers (340 miles) off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Cocos is an isolated paradise. Jacques Cousteau called it the most beautiful island in the world, and its lush rain forests were the inspiration for Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park.
Underwater, Cocos teems with life. It is renowned amongst scuba divers as the best place in the world to swim with large schools of hammerhead sharks. Giant manta rays, sea turtles, yellowfin tunas, and whales sharks are also regularly seen.
And yet, there is trouble in paradise. We analyzed data on fish sightings reported after divemasters' trips collected over the past two decades and found that all four of the most common shark and ray species at Cocos have declined significantly.
Among the declines, we found the number of scalloped hammerhead sharks has dropped by almost half during that time. This tragedy is not altogether unexpected because hammerhead fins are highly prized in the international shark fin trade. These iconic sharks roam widely along coastlines in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, migrating between Cocos, Malpelo Island, and the Galapagos. Each of these islands is designated as a marine protected area, but hammerheads are still caught both within and outside of these areas.
More surprising, was the precipitous drop in Cocos's other common shark and ray species, which inhabit the protected area year round. The whitetip reef shark is still seen on most dives at Cocos, but the number of this small reef-restricted species has plummeted by three-quarters. Ditto for the marble ray, a large stingray. Numbers of eagle rays, a large majestic pelagic species, have dropped by a third. All three of these species are thought to be reef-restricted and thus should be protected within the waters surrounding Cocos. Not so.
The declines in the number of sharks and rays restricted to the waters surrounding Cocos are a clear indication that the protected area isn't working.
We also found that there have been increases in a few species. Not a single tiger shark was seen by divers at Cocos in our data until 2000. These large distinctive sharks are now seen on over 10% of dives. The abrupt increase suggests that some tiger sharks have simply set up shop at Cocos. Observations of the blacktip shark and the Galapagos shark also increased in frequency, so the Cocos marine protected area may be working for these two smaller reef-restricted shark species.
One can point to the increases in tiger, blacktip, and Galapagos sharks as signs the protected area is working. This is probably partially correct. But it also reflects a larger shift in which species inhabit the waters around Cocos Island.
In other words, increases in several species may be a sign of larger problems caused by changes in the ecosystem around Cocos Island. Higher numbers of some species, in particular large predatory species such as the tiger shark, may alter the relationships between species already present.
On land, parks with inadequate enforcement against hunting are often referred to as "paper parks"— existing merely as boundaries drawn on paper but with little on the ground protection. This conveys a false sense of conservation.
Perhaps understandably, illegal fishing is rampant within the Cocos Island marine protected area: the island is remote, enforcement has been limited, and shark fins are a hot commodity. Cocos is a 36 hour boat ride away from the mainland. This remoteness is part of what makes Cocos such a draw for divers from around the world, but it also makes the island a sitting duck for illicit fishing activities.
Funding for monitoring and enforcement has been minimal. MarViva, a regional environmental NGO, has patrolled the island along with the Costa Rican Coast Guard since 2003 and caught illegal fishing in the process. Costa Rican laws make it tough to prove [illegal fishing] has occurred, however, and most cases to date have been dismissed in court. As a result, the illegal fishing continues.
A labour of love
Many divers, however, recognize Cocos for the treasure that it is.
Over the past 21 years, a group of dedicated divemasters working at Undersea Hunter, a live-aboard dive company specializing in trips to Cocos Island, has meticulously recorded every shark and ray they saw while diving at the island.
Our study synthesized their observations of over 1.4 million sharks and rays.
Without these data, it would be impossible to know how underwater life at Cocos is changing. Like many parts of the developing world, Costa Rican waters are without dedicated marine research surveys or comprehensive fisheries data. The foresight of Undersea Hunter's owner Avi Klapfer to begin their monitoring program, and the dedication of the divemasters to continue it over two decades, is a testament to their love of Cocos.
In this remote area, with no official monitoring, the Undersea Hunter data provide a window to see how sharks and rays have changed over two decades in this isolated and globally unique marine reserve.
Watching sharks and rays at Cocos, it is hard to believe that there used to be even more of these beautiful animals. The reef still appears to be covered with them despite the declines recorded by the divemasters over the years.
So what can be done?
More effort needs to be directed towards enforcement and monitoring at Cocos. Recent efforts by environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs), including MarViva, Forever Costa Rica, and Conservation International are encouraging. The groups are now working together, with assistance from Oceans 5, to install a radar on the island to help control illegal fishing. The Costa Rican government also needs to get serious about prosecuting offenders.
If Costa Rica is to maintain its status as a leader for progressive environmental policies, it needs to double down on efforts to protect its most iconic species and the national treasure that is Cocos Island.
To read more on the marine protection areas, see:
Last year was one of the driest years on record for the sunshine state of California and this year is looking like it might be even worse, according to these charts from the United States Drought Monitor. The drought has already been named the worst in the last 1,200 years for the area:
This time last year a major source of water for millions of Californians — the Tuolumne River Basin in Sierra Nevada — had more than twice the amount of water that it has today, according to a report from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The basin is filled by melting snow that runs down from the Sierra Nevada mountains, but over the last few years, the extreme drought means that snowfall — which makes up 70% of the state's annual precipitation — has been limited, so there's less and less run off from the mountains.
The horrifying GIF below shows just how bad things have become. These pictures of Yosemite Parks' famous 9,000-foot-tall Half Dome were taken from the Yosemite Conservancy Webcam. The first picture, which shows the dome covered in snow, was taken March 19, 2011, the year before California's drought began choking the state. The later images were taken around the same time in 2012, 2013, 2014, and this year.
This high up in the mountains, these snow levels aren't day to day variations but are built up over the season for multiple snowfalls.
Notice how the peaks in the background in the last image, shown below, are almost completely bare.
In a drastic step to defend against Mother Nature's unrelenting wrath, California's governor Jerry Brown, issued mandatory water restrictions on Wednesday, April 1. It's the first such restriction in California history.
Brown called upon the State Water Resources Control Board to cut water supply by a quarter over the next year for 400 locale water supply agencies. These agencies supply water to 90 percent of the state's residents — roughly 35 million people.
"People should realize we are in a new era,"The New York Times reported Brown saying at a news conference on April 1 when he issued the restriction. "The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past."
Greek yogurt may be good for your gut, but figuring out what to do with its biggest waste product can give producers heartburn.
Thick, creamy, high in protein and rich in bacteria that aids digestion, Greek yogurt has been a trendy snack for the past several years.
But straining liquid out of the yogurt — the process that makes it so creamy — produces a huge amount of acid whey, a watery dairy byproduct with a pH comparable to tomato juice, wine — or acid rain.
For every 7,000 gallons of milk used in making Greek yogurt, as much as 4,900 gallons of acid whey gets produced, according to a 2013 Cornell University report. The cost of handling and disposing of all that whey is a drag on the industry, which has been a boon to the sagging economy of upstate New York.
But it's also rich in nutrients and sugars, so researchers hope to figure out ways to cheaply break it apart and sell the components the way other dairy byproducts have been converted to profitable uses.
Cream, for instance, gets sold on its own or made into butter. Even cheesemakers have figured out how to make nutritional supplements out of the less-acidic whey left behind from their work, Cornell University agricultural economist Andrew Novakovic told VICE News.
"The yogurt guys really haven't come up with a formula yet that allows them to recover much economic value out of the whey that they're generating," Novakovic said. "They're in kind of in a least-loss situation, which is where the cheese industry was 50 years ago. There's definitely things you can do, not for the lack of technology, but most of these technologies cost more than the value of the product that they make."
So most acid whey gets dumped on fields as fertilizer or added to animal feed, said Dean Sommer, a cheese and food technologist at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Research. But there are limits to how much can be spread onto the land, "because of how much the soil can handle," Sommer told VICE News. "They don't want it running off into streams and such."
Previous whey spills have been blamed for killing thousands of fish as the organic material decays, depleting the surrounding water of oxygen — a problem that's not unique to acid whey. In 2011, the owner of a hog farm in Ohio was sentenced to six months in prison and fined more than $50,000 for letting thousands of gallons of cheese whey spill into a nearby creek, killing more than 36,000 fish.
Acid whey isn't exactly tasty, but it's not toxic when eaten; it sometimes rises to the top of a yogurt container before it's opened, Novakovic said. "It will have a little tartness to it, but it's not going to burn your tongue."
It's also rich in proteins, calcium and milk sugars, Sommer said. It's those compounds that researchers hope to extract.
"We believe we can grab some of the lactic acid out of the acid whey and utilize the lactose from it," he said. "There's a lot of things in there that in of themselves that have value," he said. "The problem is that when they're all mixed together in this thing that we call 'acid whey,' they're problematic."
Acid whey can also be used to produce galactose, a sugar that may help the gastrically challenged. "Lot of people are lactose-intolerant but can tolerate galactose," Sommer told VICE News.
Chobani, the biggest player in the Greek yogurt market, found another use for the waste in a massive plant it built in Twin Falls, Idaho. The company uses reverse osmosis to extract water from the whey, using the liquid for cleaning and leaving the remainder in a more concentrated form. That means it draws about 20 percent less water from city reservoirs and runs fewer trucks to get rid of the remainder, the company said.
And some acid whey has been used in anaerobic digesters — devices that mimic the human digestive system, breaking down organic material and producing methane, which can be burned as fuel. But don't expect it to become the next miracle fuel, Novakovic told VICE News.
"Whey is mostly water," he said. "You've got to get rid of this water first, and if you just use whey only as a raw material it'd be really inefficient. But if you mix it in with a whole bunch of manure, then it kind of balances out."
Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl
Originally published on Yale Environment 360.
Ecologist Philip Fearnside has lived and worked in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years and is one of the foremost authorities on deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest.
A professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, Fearnside has focused his work on how to sustainably develop the Amazon in the face of enormous pressures to cut and clear the forest.
Fearnside is now watching with alarm as, after a decade of declining deforestation rates, the pace of cutting and forest clearing in the Amazon is on the rise again. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Fearnside explains the factors behind the resurgence in deforestation, including a slowly improving global economy, rising commodity prices, and recently enacted Brazilian laws and policies that are encouraging the development of the Amazon. Fearnside warns that this great tropical forest will sustain even graver losses if Brazil’s newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff — who is backed by large landowners and agribusiness interests — doesn’t change course.
Yale Environment 360: Deforestation is now rising dramatically in the Brazilian Amazon. When did this begin?
Philip Fearnside: Deforestation went up a bit — they call it the hiccup — in 2013, but now in just the past six months there has been an explosion. Deforestation, as measured from images taken by Brazil’s DETER satellite system, far more than doubled from September 2014 through January 2015 over what it had been during those same months a year earlier.
The government hid these figures before the recent election. The August and September data would normally have been released in October [before the October 26th presidential election]. But they sat on the data, and it was not disclosed until the end of November. It’s a scandal.
e360: This comes as a surprise to many observers who thought that Brazil had the deforestation problem under control. Rates of deforestation actually declined from 2004 until 2012. How do you account for these earlier declines?
Fearnside: The exchange rate with the Brazilian real hit a peak in 2002. From almost 4 reals to the dollar, it went all the way down to 1 ½, which means if you are exporting things like soybeans or beef, all your expenses are in reals and you get paid in dollars, and they are worth half as much in Brazil, so it’s not nearly as profitable. At the same time, you had international commodity prices going down. The soybean peak was in 2003, it crashed in 2007, and beef prices were in a similar downward trajectory. Those two factors — the exchange rate and commodity prices — together explain basically all of the decrease in deforestation until 2008.
e360: What happened after 2008?
Fearnside: From 2008 to 2012, commodity prices recovered. The exchange rate didn’t recover until the end of that period. But what changed in 2008 was a Central Bank resolution that ties financing for agriculture and ranching — to buy tractors and fertilizers and such — to having a clean record with the environment department, IBAMA. If you have cut the forest illegally and have an unpaid fine, you don’t get financing. This blocking of credit is something with real teeth in it, and there are no appeals. It had a big effect, especially on the large landowners. So commodity prices recovered and yet deforestation still stayed low.
e360: So now deforestation rates are rising sharply. How do you explain this dramatic change?
Fearnside: One factor is the new Forest Code, which became law in 2012. It weakens critical environmental protections and also offers an amnesty for all those who violated environmental laws before 2008. So if you cleared illegally, you got away with it. And the expectation is that if you clear illegally now, sooner or later there will be another amnesty that will forgive your past crimes. On the other hand, if you actually obeyed the law, you lost money. So the incentives are very perverse.
Another thing is that the prices for soy and beef are now high, and the exchange rate has been going up in the past few months, making it more profitable. These are the big factors that are leading to more deforestation.
e360: How does commercial logging factor into the deforestation problem?
Fearnside: Timber extraction doesn’t come up in the numbers as deforestation. It’s not like clear-cutting in the northwestern U.S., where you cut all the trees and there is basically just bare ground left where there was forest. Here you just take out the most valuable timber and most of the trees are left standing. So the satellite will show it as forest. Nevertheless, it is very important for deforestation, because logging is one of the big sources of money that pays for the people who deforest. You’re selling timber and using the income to clear forest for cattle pasture or plantations. To get the timber out, you also need to build temporary roads that facilitate the entry of people who clear the forest for farms. There are various ways that logging speeds up deforestation.
e360: How much illegal logging is going on?
Fearnside: A lot of the logging is illegal, there’s no question. But even if you follow all the regulations to the letter and log legally, it’s not sustainable, because of all sorts of loopholes that have been put into the regulations. Some companies are granted concessions on federal or state land. To qualify, loggers have to come up with a forest management plan. With forest management, the idea is that you divide up the forest into parcels and you take the big trees out of one parcel one year and out of another in another year. After thirty years you come back to the first parcel and the trees will have grown back and you take out the big ones — so that’s the idea, you just keep on going round and round and this will be sustainable.
So theoretically, you are going to sit there for 30 years doing nothing, with no income before you harvest it again. But nobody is going to do that. Nothing obliges people to do this forever. So you say you’ve changed your mind, you’ve decided to clear it for pasture. Other people just sell the land off. Is it likely that the new owner is going to sit there for 30 years waiting for the new forest to grow back? It’s just not going to happen. You have these loopholes that have been inserted in the law, so that all of the logging that is happening — on paper it is all sustainable, but in practice it really isn’t.
e360: What impact has this kind of logging had on the forest?
Fearnside: For one thing, selective logging makes the forest much more vulnerable to forest fires, because there are all of those dead treetops drying out in the forest. People driving around with a bulldozer in the forest wind up killing many other trees. You’ve opened up the canopy, so you have more sunlight coming in, more wind coming in to the forest and drying things out. It makes it much more likely to catch fire, and sets a degradation cycle into motion that ends up destroying the forest after a while.
e360: Isn’t global warming also contributing to the fire problem? Is fire something new in Amazonia?
Fearnside: Over the centuries, there have been occasional forest fires. Studies looking at charcoal in the soil have shown that there have been four mega forest fires in the past 2000 years, so it is more or less one every 500 years. But now fires are happening far more often, generally during big El Niño years. El Niño leads to drying, especially in the northern part of the Amazon. It happened in 1982, 1997, and 2006. We had destructive forest fires in the northern part of the Amazon.
Now we have another phenomenon that has increased even more quickly than El Niño — though El Niño has increased a lot — called the Atlantic Dipole. El Niño is caused by warming of the surface waters in the Pacific Ocean. The Atlantic Dipole is a warm patch of water in the tropical part of the North Atlantic. It results in drought and forest fires in the southwestern part of the Amazon, in Acre state and neighboring areas.
This happened in 2005, and then five years later again in 2010. You have water warming in this part of the Atlantic that has traditionally been [cooled] by a lot of dust in the air, much of it coming from the deserts in Africa and industrial pollution in Europe. The dust has functioned as a kind of shield — some of the radiation from the sun hits these dust particles instead of hitting the water. With global warming, you have more rain globally and that is cleaning the air of the dust, so more of the sun’s energy is actually reaching the water and warming it up in that part of the Atlantic, and it leads to droughts in the western Amazon.
e360: The Amazon forest is said to create its own climate. Transpiration from the trees creates clouds, which in turn produce rain. What impact does cutting the forest have on rainfall?
Fearnside: You know, there is a big drought now in Sao Paulo. It’s not something that you can conclusively pin on deforestation. But a lot of the water in Sao Paulo comes from the Amazon. It’s water that has been recycled through the trees, so if you cut [the forest] down and turn it into a cattle pasture, that water isn’t going to go to Sao Paulo anymore, it is going to flow straight into the Amazon River, [then] into the Atlantic. If you keep clearing the Amazon, you’ll end up with there being a permanent drought, not just a one-year thing. You’re not going to have that transport of water vapor to Sao Paulo. It will have a big impact all the way down to Argentina. Argentina is very worried about deforestation in the Amazon. There are also connections to North America and other parts of the world as well, so deforestation would have some effect on rainfall in North America in important agricultural areas in the Midwest, for example.
e360: Recently re-elected Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has pledged to push rural development. What impact might this agenda have on the Amazon forest?
Fearnside:You have the so-called PAC, the five-year plan for the acceleration of growth. Dilma is known as the mother of the PAC. It consists of a list of projects, building roads and dams and so on, projects that will lead to more deforestation.
The most dramatic case is the proposed BR 319 Highway, which would link Manaus in the center of the Amazon with the arc of deforestation in the south, where 80 percent of the deforestation has occurred, along the southern and eastern edges of the forest. If the actors in the arc of deforestation — companies, individuals — move out of that region into the rest of the forest, it changes everything. It isn’t just that one road; a series of side roads that are planned will open up that big block of intact forest in the western Amazon. Once you build a road like that a lot of what happens is no longer under the government’s control — people moving into the forest and so on. The government may go after them, but it usually ends up legalizing what has happened.
e360:So what needs to be done to bring deforestation under control?
Fearnside: Some effective measures include taxing land speculation, stopping subsidies and fiscal incentives for development that leads to deforestation, greatly reducing road building, and ending the practice of allowing pasture as an “improvement" for establishing land tenure. The government also needs to have much tighter controls on major development projects. And an important part of any solution is to pay rural populations a stipend for preserving forests and the ecosystem services they provide, like watershed functions and storing carbon. If the government doesn’t start enacting some of these measures soon, the forests of Amazonia will be lost.
e360: Are you pessimistic?
Fearnside: It’s very important not to get fatalistic about this. There is a tremendous tendency with the Amazon to say the problems are so great, the forest is going to be cut down no matter what you do, so you might as well worry about something else. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if you believe it. The opposite is also true: If you say deforestation is down, nobody does anything either. So it’s very important that you keep focused on the problem.
There are lots of groups working in Brazil putting pressure on the government to change course. Brazil is a very diverse place, including the Brazilian government. Even though most of what is going on is pushing for more deforestation, you have 39 different ministries and thousands of people in the government, and that includes many people who are very concerned about these things. So it’s important not to become fatalistic.
Even if you've swum amongst the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, chances are you've never seen coral like in the award-winning video "Slow Life."
Because coral moves on a much slower time-scale compared to our fast-paced world, Australian-based nature cinematographer and artist Daniel Stoupin had to take hundreds of thousands of photos of the same coral and sponges over nearly 9 months to show how these vibrant marine creatures grow and behave in their natural environment.
All of that hard work payed off last year when Stoupin's video was awarded the Imaginal Visual Science Award in the 2014 Imagine Science films competition.
Coral are spineless marine animals that generally grow in dense, compact colonies. They begin when a soft-bodied creature, called a polyp, attaches itself to a rock on the sea floor. After that, the polyp can reproduce into thousands of identical clones, meaning they're genetically identical.
Polyps look like miniature flowers, but don't be fooled by their seemingly innocent appearance.
They are carnivorous creatures that use tiny tentacles to snatch free-floating crustaceans and fish larvae that float too close. Polyps are especially active at night, which is when they come out to feed. It's an incredible sight to watch them, quite literally, bloom to life:
Although an individual polyp is only a few centimeters in size at most, coral reefs are the largest biological structures on Earth. But they don't just grow over night.
Reefs are actually the result of many individual coral colonies living together harmoniously. The coral reefs we see today actually began from individual coral colonies that started growing over 50 million years ago — well before humans ever walked the Earth.
These individual organisms are masters at surviving.
The most impressive thing about Stoupin's epic video is that all of the colors in his shots are real "and not exaggerated or digitally enhanced," he writes in the video description on Vimeo.
Mother Nature certainly has an artistic side:
On his blog, Stoupin writes a more detailed description about why he initiated this project and ultimately what he hopes viewers take away from it.
"The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger and you have the power and finances to change its fate instead of scavenging what's left of it."
Check out the full video below and make sure to go full screen on this one. It also comes complete with an epic soundtrack.
CHECK OUT: Epically awesome photos of Mars
First, the not-so-bad news: 63 percent of Americans believe that, yes, global warming is happening. Now the groaner: Less than half think humans are causing it, thanks to hotbeds of skepticism in places like Rusk County, Texas (37 percent), and Emery County, Utah (35 percent).
That's according to a fascinating statistical model developed by Yale and Utah State University, estimating public opinion on climate change right down to congressional districts and more than 3,000 counties. Researchers built the model using national data from the Climate Change in the American Mind project, and checked it via follow-up surveys in several states and cities.
The resulting maps, which you can explore interactively, depict a nation thoroughly uncoordinated on its climate science and risk awareness. Shown here in shades of blue, for example, are places where less than 50 percent of the populace believe humans are behind global warming:
And these are regions where only 30 to 35 percent of people believe scientists agree on climate change. (Ninety-seven percent agree, for the record.) There's a lot of skepticism swirling around in America's heartland and the South:
More than half of the people located in the yellow/orange zones below report being worried about climate change:
One thing the United States is almost united on: Nearly three-quarters of the population thinks the government should regulate CO2 as a pollutant (redder areas believe this more strongly):
Which city frets the most over global warming? That would be Washington, D.C., according to the researchers:
Nationally, 52% of Americans are worried about global warming. But, as the results show, this national number glosses over the geographic diversity in public opinion across the country. Concern about global warming ranges from an estimated low of 38% in Pickett County, Tenn., to a high of 74% in Washington, D.C.
The results also identify significant variation within states. For example, in Texas, public worry about global warming ranges from a low of 39% in King County to a high of 61% in Travis County.
On a warm March afternoon, farmer Cannon Michael walks alongside wheat fields adjacent to his house in Los Banos, in California's Central Valley. Most of these fields won't be watered again this year.
"Wheat's not a glamorous crop, but it makes a lot of bread," Michael quips.
This wheat, though, won't return much money, Michael says. So it will be harvested for his sister's two bakeries in San Francisco and the land fallowed, along with some fields formerly planted in alfalfa and cotton. They are among more than 1,000 acres Michael left unplanted this season to try and conserve water, amounting to about 10 percent of the 10,500 irrigated acres that make up his farm, Bowles Farming Company.
Walking past the fields with his wife, Heidi, and their three young sons to a nearby barn with goats and sheep, Michael jokes about an imaginary Taylor Swift song called, "Sheep It Off," much to his kids' dismay.
Michael has a humorous side, but laughter can't mask the rough reality of farming today in the Central Valley, a place famed for its abundant bounty of fruits and vegetables.
By the spring of 2014, the region's farmers had gone into survival mode. They hoped to secure enough water for a decent harvest, but last summer about 15,000 farmers on San Joaquin Valley's east side received zero allocations of water from the Central Valley Project, the federal project in charge of storing and managing much of California's water. The state's worst drought in 1,200 years ravaged the region.
The drought, in combination with this long-established government system for deciding who gets water and who does not, has split the valley. Now Michael's life, it seems, is almost exclusively focused on finding ways to conserve water and helping his neighbors who lack the precious resource.
There's no time to waste. If Michael and his peers can't figure out a way to conserve and share the water that remains, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions will be jeopardized. California agriculture is a $46 billion industry, and the Central Valley alone produces nearly half of the United States' vegetables, fruits and nuts in its Class 1 soil — the highest quality.
Water here has always been in relatively short supply. Head west of the 100th meridian in the United States and rainfall becomes less prevalent, making irrigation necessary for cultivating crops. Aridity varies even within California, with most precipitation happening in the north and most agriculture in the south.
To bring the water south, the federal government authorized the Central Valley Project in 1935. The project involved the construction of dams, reservoirs, canals, conduits and tunnels that make it possible to transport water from the state's largest reservoir, the now shrinking Shasta Lake in northern California, south about 450 miles to Bakersfield. There, the water is allocated to customers for various uses, including to irrigate about 3 million acres of farmland — about 38 percent of the state's 7.9 million acres of irrigated farmland.
The Central Valley Project is one of California's two largest water projects. The other, the State Water Project, began in the late 1950s and now supplies water from northern state rivers for 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland and 25 million residents in the south. Most farmers contract to receive a specific amount of water from one of these two projects, but the byzantine system of allocations means that some farmers are at the front of the line for water, while others stand much further back. In a time of drought, a lack of access to this water can be fatal.
A Friendly Deal
When his neighbors on the east side of the valley were struggling last spring, Michael saw frustration and heartbreak all around him. Workers were laid off, land for row crops fallowed and high-profit almond orchards ripped out because they were too water thirsty. Water traded hands on the open market at rates much higher than usual. These were his friends and colleagues, and the men and women responsible for supplying much of the country's tomatoes, carrots, grapes, apricots, and asparagus and 80 percent of the world's almonds.
In response, Michael and some of his peers who had water did something unprecedented: They implemented conservation measures and fallowed land early in last year's season to make 13,500 acre-feet (4.4 billion gallons) of water, from a reservoir known as Millerton Lake, available to east-side farmers who had been cut off. And they did so at an affordable price.
This was the first time in Bowles' history the company — along with other west-side farmers — exercised its rights to take their allotment from Millerton Lake. Michael says he didn't want to put a call on his historic water source, but felt he had no choice. He wanted to find a way to help his east-side neighbors by fallowing land and putting some extra water back on the market for junior users.
"You can't survive on zero allocations," Michael says. "It's not going to work."
While water sales, or "transfers," occur regularly each year, shifting surface water to farmers in need, the process is not as simple as it might appear due to California's complicated dual water system. Just who gets surface water, how much and in what order is determined by that system, which incorporates both riparian rights (access for those adjacent to waterways) and prior appropriation, which gives senior rights to those who first diverted water for beneficial use. Meanwhile, to get a groundwater right, for the most part a user need only drill a well.
The Water Commission Act of 1914 established today's permit process for surface water and the agency — now the State Water Resources Control Board — to administer it. Farmers with junior rights need a permit; those, like Michael, with pre-1914 rights — senior rights — don't.
What made last year's transfer different from a typical water deal is that the senior appropriators priced water at $250 per acre-foot, while other sales at the time priced water between $1,000 and $2,000 per acre-foot. Had they sold at the higher price, the senior appropriators could have made $27 million, according to a local news report.
"We saw an opportunity to transfer some water to our neighbors who were struggling," Michael says.
Chris Hurd, a fourth-generation farmer with junior rights in the San Joaquin Valley with 1,500 acres — row crops, almonds and pistachios — says he doesn't begrudge senior appropriators for exercising their right last year. Though Hurd wasn't a recipient of last year's transfer, he commends what his fellow farmers did, while acknowledging they were privileged enough to make that move.
"Cannon is a friend and a great farmer, but his world is considerably different than mine because of senior water rights," Hurd says.
While Michael thinks it's too soon to say whether another transfer can happen this year, Hurd says there's not even enough water in the system to move around. The 33-year-veteran farmer doesn't know what will happen to his business in the coming years. But the outlook isn't good. Though he has transitioned his farm to 100 percent drip irrigation, he removed 120 acres of almonds from production last year and may soon fallow another 80 acres.
"[The drought] is not easy," he says. "It's very complex, it's very emotional, and I just say a little prayer for my grandkids that they get to farm one day."
A Permanent Fixture
Michael's water rights go back generations. His great-great-great grandfather was Henry Miller, "the Cattle King," who emigrated from Germany in the 1800s and became one of the largest landowners in the United States. A plaque in Henry Miller Plaza in downtown Los Banos — a city of about 37,000 — notes his importance: "Miller created one of the West's largest water irrigation systems, a series of gravity-fed canals … dug to transport water from San Joaquin River to the fertile farm fields."
Growing up in San Francisco, Michael spent summers working at Bowles Farming Company, which his grandfather and great-uncle had started in the 1960s. After receiving an English degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Michael moved to Atlanta to work in real estate. In 1998, he returned to his family business after the uncle in charge of Bowles fell ill, and in January 2014 he became president, overseeing crops of cotton, alfalfa, corn, wheat, tomatoes, onions, melons and almond trees (planted a few years ago, before the drought got really bad). He also manages 650 acres as waterfowl habitat.
Michael has also become a leader of collaboration among his peers; his Twitter profile says, "Ag interests need to unite." The 43-year-old, sixth-generation farmer aims to "keep California farmers farming," he says, with the fourth year of drought looming.
In addition to the water transfer, Michael has reduced tillage to help the soil retain more water. He's also part of a University of California Cooperative Extension team evaluating how drones can save water by, for example, capturing detailed data to pinpoint irrigation leaks for immediate repair.
At Bowles, stacks of PVC pipes lie in wait around the farm to be buried in trenches for drip irrigation. Almost half of the farm is now on drip, and Michael expects to eventually get to 70 percent. Up-front costs aren't cheap — $1,500 per acre in materials and labor to install — but drip irrigation saves substantial amounts of water and labor and improves yield, he says. Bowles previously flooded cotton fields, requiring six acre-feet of water; drip irrigation cuts that water consumption in half.
The Drought's Toll
The multi-year drought has shown the chain reaction of drastic water shortages: from farmers leaving land fallow, resulting in less food, to dropping incomes to less work available for farmworkers to harming the state's economy. About 17,100 jobs have been lost, and the drought cost the agricultural sector an estimated $2.2 billion in lost crop revenue and wages and increased groundwater pumping last year, according to a July 2014 UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences report. Researchers estimated that by the end of 2014 at least 410,000 acres in the Central Valley would be fallowed.
Making matters worse, Stanford scientists recently released a major report finding that climate change will likely make drought a permanent fixture in California. By early March, about 94 percent of the state remained in severe drought and the statewide snowpack was about 19 percent of historical average. Michael calls snowpack the state's "bank account to get through the year" because during drier months waterways draw on the snowpack for replenishment. At 19 percent, Michael says, "we don't have a bank account."
On March 12, an op-ed by Jay Famiglietti in the Los Angeles Times brought more dire news, stating that California has only about one year of water left in its reservoirs and noting that groundwater and snowpack levels are also at all-time lows. Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote that NASA satellites show the total amount of water stored in all the snow, soil, groundwater, rivers and reservoirs in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014.
All of this is leading farmers to drain the state's underground aquifers, causing the valley to sink. Groundwater used to be how farmers supplemented water needs, but as the drought continues, it has become the go-to source. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act took effect January 1, 2015, to address overpumping, but the legislation doesn't immediately stop the practice, instead requiring the formation of local agencies to adopt sustainability plans within five to seven years. Plan objectives must then be achieved within 20 years. Michael dug wells on his farm, he says, "as an insurance policy in case we have to use them." He'd rather not.
"We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California," Famiglietti wrote in the LA Times, "we're losing the creek too."
Besides the drought, problems seem to stem from poor accounting of water usage. The state's water right allocations now total five times more surface water than is available in a good rainfall year, and regulators struggle to figure out whose supplies to cut during a drought because of inaccurate reporting from water appropriators and the complicated water-rights system, according to a UC Davis report published in August.
Ted Grantham, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at the university who now works as a research biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, and colleagues analyzed all post-1914 appropriative water rights, which includes state allocations and allocations from the federal Central Valley Project (riparian and pre-1914 rights were excluded because they're not fully accounted for in the state's database) and found that allocations exceed surface water supply by about 300 million acre-feet — more than five times the 70 million acre-feet available in a good rainfall year. Of 27 major rivers, 16 had allocations greater than 100 percent of natural supplies; the San Joaquin River had the highest allocation level at 861 percent.
The researchers also found that most water right holders have a permit but not a license. Permits spell out the specific parameters of proposed projects to divert water for beneficial use, and the license is supposed to be the final confirmation of a water right, issued once the project has been completed and inspected. The licensing stage should be a time for review, but the State Water Board isn't seeing permits through to this point. If it did, Grantham says, it might help with the overallocation issue. "That's an opportunity to modify water rights and bring them closer to reality in terms of what is actually being used," he says.
Trying to Find a Solution
In February, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation once again allocated no water deliveries from the Central Valley Project for junior appropriators. Municipal and industrial users will get 25 percent of their historic use or enough to meet health and safety needs. Though the project is obligated to deliver 75 percent of requested amounts to senior appropriators, Michael is expecting to get a 40 percent supply because this is a "critical year" for Shasta Lake. Michael says the project's obligation can be broken by a provision in the contract known as an "Act of God" provision, which includes drought conditions.
The nonprofit Water Education Foundation recently named Michael to its board of directors, through which he'll work with businesses, environmentalists and water agencies to raise public awareness about water as a valuable and limited resource.
"I'm pretty proud of that, actually," Michael says, as he drives his pickup truck fast down an empty country road to the Bowles almond orchard. "That's a group trying to take a nonpartisan look at the water situation, and they didn't have any farmer on there."
March 26, 2015 — Editor's note: This story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative news organization.
Imagine a future in which all the Earth’s divisions are removed: countries abolished, borders dissolved, and governments overthrown.
Such is the version of planet Earth for which “Civilization 0.000″, the 2013 master’s thesis project by Dimo Ivanov of RWTH Aachen University, is designed.
Envisioning a future free of “unnatural division” and where the earth’s resources are measured and meted out according to human need, the project proposes a series of interlinked skyscrapers or “0.000 Units” that harness local earth resources.
Each of the units assumes one of 6 key functions: living space, education, resource management, production, energy storage, and electricity generation. Functions are determined by the environment in which the units are sited.
Inspired by Jacque Fresco’s notion of the resource-based economy, Civilization 0.000 responds to what Ivanov describes as “our present dominant form of social structure—the so-called consumer culture… A system that pursues profit and not sustainability.”At 520m tall, the Civilization 0.000 skyscrapers would stand on par with some of the highest skyscrapers in the built world. Ivanov proposes that the first of the units would be placed at Cape Horn in Southern Chile, and specialize in electricity generation. Making use of the ample wind, wave, and tidal energy of this region, the structure would utilize a combination of 19 wind turbines, 4 wave power plants, and 6 tidal power turbines to create electricity.The entire structure is engineered to provide maximum energy levels, and would convert an estimated 40% of all kinetic energy received into usable electricity. It is projected that the skyscraper would create 100 million kWh of renewable energy each year. Hugging its coastal site at ground level and sinking 260m below the surface of the sea, Cape Horn’s Civilization 0.000 appears to emerge from the ground plane, clad in a material that the architect likens to the “surface of shark skin”.Ivanov foresees a mixed-use program, with functions including research and education, a heliport, power stations, a port, and living areas. On-site accommodation in the structure’s upper levels would house 500 residents; 100 of these would be students, the other 400 scientists and researchers. Restaurants and social areas would support the residential program, alongside facilities for sport and leisure activities.
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