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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    toxic lake baotou

    There's a lake hidden in a corner of Inner Mongolia that few people have ever seen in person.

    That's because this is no ordinary lake — it's a horrifying window into the dark side of the tech industry.

    Reporter Tim Maughan traveled there with the Unknown Fields Division as part of a 3-week journey tracing the route that Chinese consumer goods take backwards from the stores where we pick them up to the raw resources that go into manufacturing them.

    And what they found at the end of the route is disturbing: a gigantic lake full of radioactive, sulfur-smelling, toxic sludge.

    "It feels like hell on Earth," Maughan wrote for BBC.

    The tech boom

    It's no coincidence that this lake exists in China. The country is home to the world's largest reserves of "rare Earth elements" (REE's) — one of the secrets behind it's explosive economic growth over the past few decades. The lake sits on the outer ring of the city of Baotou. Back in 1950 Baotou had under 100,000 people. The spike in worldwide demand for consumer tech goods has made people flock to the city. Now it has over 2.5 million.

    Most of us are blissfully unaware of how dependent we are on REE's, but they have a nearly ubiquitous presence in consumer tech goods. Everything from the insides of cell phones to electric car motors are made of them. For example, the REE called cerium coats smartphone screens and neodymium is used in the magnets that go inside earphones and computer hard drives.

    Despite their name, these minerals aren't so rare — you could probably find a few in your backyard right now. However, there are only a few places in the world that have a high enough concentration of REE's to make it worth mining for them.

    rare earth elementsEven where these minerals are abundant, mining them isn't easy, and it's incredibly destructive. The ground is dug up and the earth is flooded with chemicals to pull out the valuable parts. And all that waste has to go somewhere.

    Hell on Earth

    In 2009, over 90% of the world's REE's came from Baotou. However, China doesn't have the most of every single type of REE, Maughan pointed out. The country produces about 90% of the global economy's neodymium, but it has only about 30% of the world’s reserves. So to some degree, China may be profiting the most from REE's simply because it's willing to pay the heavy environmental price that comes from mining them.

    And business is booming. The Industrial Minerals Company of Australia estimates that China will produce about 130,000 tonnes of REE's by 2016.

    But for every ton of REE's mined, somewhere 340,000 to 420,000 cubic feet of waste gas made of dust, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid is released. You also get about 2,600 cubic feet of acidic wastewater and 1 ton of radioactive waste, according to the Chinese Society of Rare Earths

    The result is a constant stream of toxic sludge that feeds into a giant wasteland about 75 miles outside Batou:

    toxic lake mongoliaYou can get a sense of how huge the lake is from Google Maps:

    toxic lake
    Quantifying the environmental impact that this hell hole is having proved pretty much impossible for Maughan. Ironically a lot of the material mined here goes toward creating "green" tech like electric car motors and wind turbines, but REE factory workers clammed up every time Maughan asked about the environmental impact of the mining process itself. There doesn't seem to be any accessible research or data that tells us how all this waste is affecting the area either.

    It's easy to villainize certain industry sectors (like petroleum, for example) for destroying the environment. But what happens when one of the worst-offending industries is the producer of something we can't live without? It's harder to condemn the tech industry because we desperately want the latest smartphone model or the next-fastest computer.

    Demand for tech is only going to increase, and it's clear that we need a better strategy than simply dumping all the toxic byproducts in a lake of sludge.

    Hopefully with all this tech we can come up with a more sophisticated solution.

    SEE ALSO: Risky new technology means the next Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be much, much worse

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what happens when you get bitten by a black widow

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    Beekeepers use a bee smoker to calm bee colonies before transferring them to another crop after pollinating a blueberry field near Columbia Falls, Maine June 23, 2014.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif

    (Reuters) - Honey bees, critical agents in the pollination of key U.S. crops, disappeared at a staggering rate over the last year, according to a new government report that comes as regulators, environmentalists and agribusinesses try to reverse the losses.

    Losses of managed honey bee colonies hit 42.1 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, up from 34.2 percent for 2013-2014, and the second-highest annual loss seen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report issued on Wednesday.

    "Such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling," Jeff Pettis, a USDA senior entomologist, said in a statement.

    The 2014-15 yearly loss was down slightly from the 45 percent annual loss for 2012-2013 but well above the prior two years of annual measurements and above the benchmark of 18.7 percent that is considered economically unsustainable, USDA said.

    Millions of honey bees are relied on to pollinate plants that produce a quarter of the food consumed by Americans. Beekeepers travel the country with managed hives to help the process.

    But over the past few years, bee populations have been dying at a rate the U.S. government says must be addressed, and finding an answer has become a politically charged debate.

    Beekeepers, environmental groups and some scientists blame a class of insecticide known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, used on crops such as corn as well as on plants used in lawns and gardens.

    But Bayer, Syngenta and other agrichemical companies that sell neonic products say many factors such as mite infestations are harming the bees.

    The White House has formed a task force to study the issue, and some lawn and garden retailers have been cutting use of neonics.


    The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring a series of studies on neonic effects on bees and plans to issue the first of a series of assessments later this year.

    The USDA report issued on Wednesday said colony losses were 23.1 percent for the 2014-15 winter months, typically the higher loss period. The 2014 summer loss of 27.4 percent marked the first time summer losses exceeded winter, and marked a surge from the 2013 summer loss of 19.8 percent, USDA said.

    The results are considered preliminary and are based on survey responses from about 6,100 beekeepers managing 400,000 colonies, USDA said. Those beekeepers represent nearly 15.5 percent of 2.74 million U.S. bee colonies. A more detailed report is to be published later this year, USDA said.

    SEE ALSO: A popular pesticide seems to be harming wild bees

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    NOW WATCH: Watch This Mesmerizing Time-Lapse Of 12,400 Gallons Of Beer Fermenting Over 6 Days

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    Honolulu, Hawaii

    No one likes to be lagging behind in trends, so it's great to see that green is so in fashion right now.

    The EU has set renewable energy goals for 2020, but three countries have already met theirs, eight years ahead of schedule.

    Last year, clean sources were the biggest contributor to Germany's electricity supply, accounting for 24% of the total amount produced.

    That same year, Denmark set a world record for wind power, generating almost 40% of its total electricity from this source, putting it well on schedule for its 2020 goal of 50% of its electricity coming from renewables.

    China and the U.S. are also now world leaders in green energy investment.

    Now, jumping on the bandwagon, Hawaii's legislature just passed a bill that states that by 2045, 100% of the state's electricity must come from renewable sources. Right now, only 22% of the grid is supplied by green energy; by 2020 this must increase to 30%, followed by 70% for 2040, Clean Technica reports.

    The governor, David Ige, must reject or pass "House Bill 623" by May 15 or it will automatically become law, but his background in engineering, coupled with the fact he is a Democrat, has people anticipating a positive response.

    "We'll now be the most populated set of islands in the world with an independent grid to establish a 100 percent renewable electricity goal," State Senator Mike Gabbard told Think Progress. "Through this process of transformation we can be the model that other states and even nations follow. And we'll achieve the biggest energy turnaround in the country, going from 90 percent dependence on fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy."

    solar panelsThese goals shouldn't be unachievable, either; Hawaii has already invested a substantial amount in solar, installing panels on one in every eight houses, according to Think Progress. This has helped the country generate around 10% of the total electricity needs from this renewable source. Furthermore, being adorned with active volcanoes has allowed geothermal projects, which also contribute a significant chunk to the grid.

    Hawaii is keen to climb on board with renewables largely because of the excessive costs of electricity on the archipelago. Currently, their major source of electricity is oil-fired power plants, but since they have to import their oil, it's on average about three times more expensive than what other U.S. states pay.

    Regardless of motives, it's great to see that more and more governments are taking green energy and the environment seriously. Take Costa Rica, for example: Back in March, they announced that they had used only renewables to produce electricity for 75 days straight, which is certainly a remarkable achievement. Let's hope these impressive feats spur more and more countries into much needed action.

    [Via Think Progress, Clean Technica and IEEE Spectrum]

    SEE ALSO: Costa Rica has run on completely renewable energy all year

    DON'T MISS: China just put every country to shame with its solar energy plan

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    NOW WATCH: This 13-year-old found the math formula for capturing the sun's energy

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    California Drought Go_Mill

    LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (AP) — At first glance, nothing seems amiss at this lush, members-only golf club in one of the priciest communities in Orange County. A bubbling fountain gurgles out of an artificial lake. Emerald-green fairways stretch into the distance. Golf carts zoom across the grass like white ants.

    But behind the man-made stream and arcing sprinklers, California's epic drought is reshaping the course at El Niguel Country Club and dozens of others statewide.

    Pressed by the four-year dry spell and state-mandated water cuts, some of the finest courses in California are taking such steps as tearing out the grass in places where it won't affect the game, planting drought-resistant vegetation, letting the turf turn brown in spots and installing smart watering systems.

    "The new buzzword in the industry is 'Brown is the new green.' We can't provide the same kind of product as we'd like to anymore," said Mike Williams of Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco. "Everybody can't play on a lush green surface like the Masters."

    It's a move the golf industry says is necessary for its long-term survival as the drought drags on.

    Last week, state regulators ordered a 25 overall cut in the use of drinkable water in California, leaving it up to local water agencies to decide how to achieve it. Golf courses are starting to find out what that will mean for them — cuts in their water allocations, tough sprinkler restrictions and perhaps higher water rates.

    In California, an average 18-hole golf course sprawls over 110 to 115 acres and conservatively uses almost 90 million gallons of water per year, enough to fill 136 Olympic-size swimming pools, said Mike Huck, a water management consultant who works with golf courses statewide.

    Screen Shot 2015 05 13 at 11.07.26 AM

    Some golf courses already are spending up to $500,000 a year on water to maintain that oasis look. Country clubs also realize that the sight of great expanses of perfect grass won't sit well with the public when people are being asked to take four-minute showers, flush less and let their own lawns wither.

    As a result, many of California's more than 860 golf courses have jumped at turf reduction rebate programs run by water agencies. The programs offer $2 to $3 for every square foot of turf removed.

    California Drought Go_Mill (2)

    A golf course can easily tear out up to 25 acres of grass next to the fairways and around the clubhouse without affecting the game, said David Fleming, a golf course architect whose business is booming.

    El Niguel Country Club applied for rebates last year to rip up 22 acres, and the final phase is now underway. The project will save 12 million gallons a year, just in time for cuts to the course's water allocation that begin in June, said Brian Archbold, golf course supervisor.

    Screen Shot 2015 05 13 at 11.06.26 AM

    On a recent spring day, golfers playing in a charity tournament at El Niguel putted their way around dozens of orange-shirted landscapers who were gouging out dead grass and planting buckets of drought-tolerant species such as firecracker plants, acacias, primavera and golden grass.

    Golfer Keith Stribling has seen similar redesigns at several courses around Southern California and doesn't mind it.

    "The way most courses are doing it, you can see they're not putting it right in the middle of the golf course," he said. "They're just removing turf where you shouldn't be hitting it over there anyway."

    California Drought Go_Mill (3)

    Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, down the road in San Diego County, tore out almost 19 acres late last year and replaced it with sandy beds dotted with brightly colored yellow, purple and white desert plants for an eventual water savings of 13 million to 15 million gallons a year, Fleming said.

    The rebates have become so popular with the industry in Southern California that the regional Metropolitan Water District is talking about creating a lifetime rebate cap and taking other measures to avoid maxing out its funds.

    California Drought Go_Mill (4)

    Other courses are investing in wireless soil probes that can provide real-time feeds to groundskeepers on their cellphones. The readouts indicate exactly where to water and exactly how much, to within a fraction of an inch, eliminating the need for sprinklers that drench large areas.

    Some golf courses are installing liners in their artificial lakes, turning off sprinklers in areas of less foot traffic and considering on-site facilities that treat wastewater from the sewers — a strategy Australian golf courses used to survive a recent 10-year drought.

    California Drought Go_Mill (1)

    Ed Osann, a water use expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the golf course industry must shift away from using drinkable water over the next decade or risk its future.

    "We may not be at the most severe part of this drought yet," he said. "This could get worse before it gets better."

    SEE ALSO: 13 things Californians are doing that waste more water than eating almonds

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    NOW WATCH: Scientists have discovered the biggest threat to the avocado industry — and it's not the drought

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    Move over, mammals and birds, and make room for a fish called the opah in the warm-blooded club.

    Researchers said in the journal Science on Thursday that this deepwater denizen is the first fish known to be fully warm-blooded, circulating heated blood throughout its body, enabling it to be a vigorous predator in frigid ocean depths.

    Tuna and certain sharks can warm specific regions of their body such as swimming muscles, brain and eyes in order to forage in chilly depths but must return to the surface to protect vital organs such as the heart from the effects of the cold.

    The opah, also called the moonfish, internally generates heat through constant flapping of wing-like pectoral fins, with an average muscle temperature about 7 degrees to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (4-5 degrees Celsius) above the surrounding water temperature at the time.

    The opah boasts a unique structure that prevents this heat from being lost to the environment.

    Warm-blooded animals, such as birds and mammals, and known as endotherms, generate their own heat and maintain a body temperature independent of the environment. Cold-blooded animals, known as ectotherms, include amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and most fish.

    "With a more whole-body form of endothermy, opah don't need to return to surface waters to warm and can thus stay deep near their food source continually," said fisheries biologist Nicholas Wegner of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.

    The opah is a rusty reddish color, has white spots and bright red fins. It weighs up to 200 pounds (90 kg) and is about the size of a car tire, with an oval body shape. Found in oceans worldwide, it spends most of its time at depths of 165-1,300 feet (50-400 meters), hunting fish and squid.

    opah3A unique structure within its gills lets warm blood that leaves the body core help heat up cold blood returning from the gills' respiratory surface, said fisheries biologist Owyn Snodgrass of NOAA and Ocean Associates Inc.

    Being warm-blooded gives it distinct advantages over its cold-bodied prey and competitors including faster swimming speeds and reaction times, better eye and brain function and the ability to withstand the effects of cold on vital organs.

    Fish dwelling at such depths typically are slow and sluggish, ambushing rather than pursuing prey.

    The researchers documented that opah are warm-blooded by tagging and tracking them off California's coast, measuring their body temperature, water temperature and the depths at which they swam.

    SEE ALSO: 8 horrific diseases we're close to wiping off the planet for the first time in history

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    NOW WATCH: 11 facts that show how different China is from the rest of the world

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    oil slick

    A decade-old oil leak where an offshore platform toppled during a hurricane could continue spilling crude into the Gulf of Mexico for a century or more if left unchecked, according to government estimates obtained by The Associated Press that provide new details about the scope of the problem.

    Taylor Energy Company, which owned the platform and a cluster of oil wells, has played down the extent and environmental impact of the leak.

    The company also maintains that nothing can be done to completely eliminate the chronic oil slicks that often stretch for miles off the coast of Louisiana.

    Taylor has tried to broker a deal with the government to resolve its financial obligations for the leak, but authorities have rebuffed those overtures and have ordered additional work by the company, according to Justice Department officials. Those officials were not authorized to comment publicly by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

    "There is still more that can be done by Taylor to control and contain the oil that is discharging" from the site, says an Interior Department fact sheet obtained by AP.

    A boat in an Gulf of Mexico oil slick

    Federal regulators suspect oil is still leaking from at least one of 25 wells that remain buried under mounds of sediment from an underwater mudslide triggered by waves whipped up by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

    A Taylor contractor drilled new wells to intercept and plug nine wells deemed capable of leaking oil. But a company official has asserted that experts agree the "best course of action ... is to not take any affirmative action" due to the risks of additional drilling.

    An AP investigation last month revealed evidence that the leak is far worse than Taylor, or the government, has publicly reported during a secretive response to the slow-motion spill.

    The AP's review of more than 2,300 Coast Guard pollution reports since 2008 showed a dramatic spike in sheen sizes and oil volumes since Sept. 1, 2014. That reported increase came just after federal regulators held a workshop last August to improve the accuracy of Taylor's slick estimates and started sending government observers on a Taylor contractor's daily flights over the site.

    Presented with AP's findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company. In a February 2015 court filing, Taylor cited a year-old estimate that oil was leaking at a rate of less than 4 gallons per day.

    A Coast Guard fact sheet says sheens as large as 1.5 miles wide and 14 miles long have been spotted by Taylor since the workshop. Since last September, the estimated daily volume of oil discharged from the site has ranged from roughly 42 gallons to 2,329 gallons, with a daily average of more than 84 gallons.

    Oil in New Harbo Island

    Some experts have given far greater estimates of the leak's extent. Based on satellite imagery and pollution reports, the watchdog group SkyTruth estimates between 300,000 and 1.4 million gallons have spilled from the site since 2004, with an annual average daily leak rate between 37 and 900 gallons.

    In 2008, Taylor set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for leak-related work as part of a trust agreement with the Interior Department. The company says it has spent tens of millions of dollars on its efforts to contain and halt the leak, but it hasn't publicly disclosed how much money is left in the trust. The company sold all its offshore leases and oil and gas interests in 2008, four years after founder Patrick Taylor died, and is down to only one full-time employee.

    Justice Department officials say the company approached the government concerning the trust fund, but they declined to discuss the terms of its proposal. Federal agencies responded that more work needed to be done, including installing a more effective containment dome system, and that the company remained responsible for doing that work, the officials said.

    One official said the company's proposed resolutions involved trying to recoup money that was still in the trust, but those overtures were rejected. Federal officials declined to comment on the status of any negotiations.

    A spokesman for the company declined to comment Friday.

    Only the broad outlines of the company's response work are known. The government has agreed to keep many details under wraps in the name of protecting the company's trade secrets.

    In response to AP's investigation, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson last month called on federal officials to disclose technical data and other information about the leak. A spokesman for the Florida Democrat said Nelson confirmed with the Interior Department that Taylor "was formally asking to be excused from any further cleanup costs."

    "This case illustrates how hurricanes and oil rigs don't mix," Nelson said in a statement. "And I'm going to keep doing everything I can to make sure the Interior Department holds this company accountable."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Scientists Created A Teflon-Like Surface That Could Make Oil Tankers Super Fast

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    Volunteers participate in a reforestation campaign in Catequilla, Ecuador on May 16, 2015

    Catequilla (Ecuador) (AFP) - Ecuador broke the world record for reforestation Saturday, as thousands of people pitched in to plant 647,250 trees in a single day, President Rafael Correa said.

    "I have just been informed that we have broken the Guinness record for reforestation," the president said in his weekly address. 

    He said several different species were planted and that the reforestation efforts took place all over Ecuador, which boasts varied geography from its Pacific coast, high Andean peaks and low Amazon basin.

    Environment Minister Lorena Tapia said on Twitter that 44,883 people planted the trees on more than 2,000 hectares of land.

    The record, set just last year, apparently was taken from a group in the Philippines, Guinness said.

    Scientists believe planting trees helps offset carbon buildup, as they sequester carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and help to reduce global warming. 

    Ecuador holds several other world records, including the most plastic bottles recycled in one week and the most people buried in sand simultaneously, according to Guinness.

    SEE ALSO: Huge ice shelves in Antarctica are close to 'complete disintegration'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Scientists Are Planting A Forest Of Prehistoric Trees — And They Won't Tell Anyone Where Exactly It Is

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    Millions of tiny spiders recently fell from the sky in Australia, alarming residents whose properties were suddenly covered with not only the creepy critters, but also mounds of their silky threads. But that's not where the frightful news ends: Experts say such arachnid rains aren't as uncommon as you might think.

    This month's spider downpour in the country's Southern Tablelands region is just the most recent example of a phenomenon commonly known as "spider rain" or, in some circles, "angel hair," because of the silky, hairlike threads the spiders leave behind. Ian Watson, who lives in the region affected by the spooky shower, took to Facebook to describe what this strange "weather" looks like, according to the Goulburn Post.

    "Anyone else experiencing this "Angel Hair" or maybe aka millions of spiders falling from the sky right now? I'm 10 minutes out of town, and you can clearly see hundreds of little spiders floating along with their webs and my home is covered in them. Someone call a scientist!" Watson wrote on the Goulburn Community Forum Facebook page. [Fishy Rain to Fire Whirlwinds: The World's Weirdest Weather]

    So, here at Live Science, call a scientist (or two) is exactly what we did. Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist at the University of California at Riverside, said Watson and his neighbors most likely saw a form of spider transportation known as ballooning.

    spiderweb"Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders," Vetter told Live Science. "They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off. This is going on all around us all the time. We just don't notice it."

    People don't usually notice this ingenious spider behavior because it is not common for millions of spiders to do this at the same time, and then land in the same place, said Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

    "In these kinds of events [spider rains], what's thought to be going on is that there's a whole cohort of spiders that's ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven't been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it," Blackledge told Live Science.

    spiderwebThis is most likely what happened in New South Wales, where certain species of small spiders — as well as the tiny hatchlings of larger spider species — are known to balloon around the Outback during late autumn (May) and early spring (August).

    But, as Blackledge explained, an abrupt change in the weather or wind pattern may have carried these migrating spiders up and away and then back down to earth en masse — not the orderly dispersal that they (or the residents of the Southern Tablelands region) were expecting.

    For the startled citizens of Goulburn and surrounding areas, however, the tiny spiders raining down from the sky probably pose no threat to humans, both Blackledge and Vetter said.

    "There's a tiny, tiny number of species that have venom that's actually dangerous to people. And even then, if these are juvenile spiders, they're going to be too small to even bite, in all likelihood," Blackledge said.

    spiderwebBut such a huge group of spiders could damage crops, which might become so enshrouded in silk that they don't get enough sunlight, Vetter said.

    Watson (the Goulburn resident who recommended that someone call a scientist) noted that tiny spiders had a way of becoming entangled in human facial hair.

    "You couldn't go out without getting spider webs on you. And I've got a beard as well, so they kept getting in my beard,"Watson told Yahoo News.

    Check out a video on spider ballooning:

    Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on Live Science.

    Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    READ MORE:  Admit it, you had no idea these 15 common animals made these noises

    SEE ALSO: A giant man-made hole in Earth's atmosphere is finally closing up

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    NOW WATCH: Amazing video captures how exotic animals drink water

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    Ivory tusks, rhinoceros horns and canine teeth from big cats seized by Singapore authorities are put on display in this photo by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore

    Singapore authorities seized the biggest illegal shipment of ivory and other exotic animal parts in more than a decade Tuesday, with the haul from Kenya worth an estimated Sg$8 million ($6 million). 

    The animal parts were discovered stashed among bags of tea leaves in two 20-foot containers while transiting through the city-state to Vietnam, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Singapore Customs said in a joint statement.

    Authorities uncovered 1,783 pieces of raw ivory tusk hidden among the bags, the statement said.

    Four pieces of rhino horn and 22 teeth believed to be from African big cats -- cheetahs and leopards -- were also found in the containers, it said.

    The haul weighed 3.7 tonnes and is the largest seizure of illegal ivory in Singapore since 2002 when six tonnes of ivory were intercepted, the statement said.

    The shipping of ivory has been banned since 1989 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) -- to which Singapore, a major hub for seaborne trade, is a signatory.

    In April last year, local authorities intercepted a shipment of illegal ivory worth Sg$2.0 million, labelled as coffee berries, transiting from Africa, according to the statement.

    A similar cargo, also from Africa, worth Sg$2.5 million was uncovered in January 2013.

    Ivory ornaments are coveted in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China despite fears that the trade is pushing wild elephants to extinction.

    Rhino horn is prized for its supposed medicinal properties. 

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    honey beeThe federal government hopes to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making more federal land bee-friendly, spending more money on research and considering the use of less pesticides.

    Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops — have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease, and pesticides. The federal plan is an "all hands on deck" strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy, according to White House science adviser John Holdren.

    "Pollinators are struggling," Holdren said in a blog post, citing a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico's forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades, so the U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitat in the southern part of that country.

    The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.

    The plan is not just for the Department of Interior, which has vast areas of land under its control. Agencies that wouldn't normally be thought of, such as Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, will have to include bee-friendly landscaping on their properties and in grant-making.

    That part of the bee plan got praise from scientists who study bees.

    "Here, we can do a lot for bees, and other pollinators," University of Maryland entomology professor Dennis vanEnglesdorp, who led the federal bee study that found last year's large loss. "This I think is something to get excited and hopeful about. There is really only one hope for bees and it's to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe healthy environments. The apparent scarcity of these areas is what's worrying. This could change that."

    honey bees

    University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk said the effort shows the federal government finally recognizes that land use is key with bees.

    "From my perspective, it's a wake-up call," Bromenshenk wrote in an email. "Pollinators need safe havens, with adequate quantities of high-quality resources for food and habitat, relatively free from toxic chemicals, and that includes pollutants as well as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals."

    The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year, up $34 million from now.

    The Environmental Protection Agency will step up studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, the report said.

    "They are not taking bold enough action; there's a recognition that there is a crisis," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. She said the bees cannot wait, comparing more studies on neonicotinoids to going to a second and third mechanic when you've been told the brakes are shot.

    The report talks of a fine line between the need for pesticides to help agriculture and the harm they can do tobees and other pollinators.

    Lessening "the effects of pesticides on bees is a priority for the federal government, as both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture," the report said.

    SEE ALSO: The top export and import in every US state

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    NOW WATCH: This robot competition inspired students and will get you excited about the future

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    California Oil Spill

    GOLETA, Calif. (AP) — An oil spill that fouled beaches and threatened wildlife along a scenic stretch of the California coast spread across 9 miles of ocean Wednesday as cleanup efforts began and federal regulators investigated how the pipeline leaked.

    The company that owns a pipeline that spewed oil into California coastal waters says that under the worst-case scenario, up to 105,000 gallons of crude leaked in the spill.

    Workers in protective suits raked and shoveled stinky black goo off the beaches, while boats towed booms into place to corral the two slicks off the Santa Barbara coast where a much larger spill in 1969 — the largest in U.S. waters at the time — is credited with giving rise to the American environmental movement.

    The pipe was carrying 84,000 gallons an hour before the leak was detected, suggesting more oil escaped than the 21,000 gallons initially estimated.

    It took three hours to shut down the pipe Tuesday, but officials didn't say how long it leaked beforehand or discuss the rate at which oil escaped the pipe.

    Federal regulators from the Department of Transportation, which oversees oil pipeline safety, investigated the leak's cause, the pipe's condition and the potential regulatory violations.

    California Oil Spill

    The 24-inch pipe built in 1991 had no previous problems and was inspected about two weeks ago, though results of that inspection had not been analyzed yet, said Darren Palmer, a district manager with the company that owns the pipe, Plains All American Pipeline LP.

    "Plains is taking responsibility and paying for everything associated with this spill," Palmer said.

    California Oil Spill

    A combination of soiled beaches and pungent stench of petroleum caused state parks officials to close to Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, both popular campgrounds west of Santa Barbara, over the Memorial Day weekend.

    Still, tourists were drawn to pull off the Pacific Coast Highway to eye the disaster from overlooking bluffs.

    "It smells like what they use to pave the roads," said Fan Yang, of Indianapolis, who was hoping to find cleaner beaches in Santa Barbara, about 20 miles away. "I'm sad for the birds — if they lose their habitat."

    California oil spillEnvironmental damage was anticipated, but dead fish and oily birds had not been found in the calm seas or rocky coast by late morning, said Capt. Mark Crossland of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    The department closed fishing and shellfish harvesting for a mile east and west of Refugio beach and it deployed booms to protect the nesting and foraging habitat of the snowy plover and the least tern, both endangered shore birds, a spokeswoman said.


    Members of the International Bird Rescue were prepared to clean any birds covered with oil.

    Environmental groups used the spill as an opportunity to take a shot at fossil fuels and remind people of the area's notoriety with oil spills.

    "Big Oil comes with big risks — from drilling to delivery," said Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Santa Barbara learned that lesson over 40 years ago when offshore drilling led to disaster."

    Large offshore rigs still dot the horizon off the coast, pumping crude to shore. The leak occurred in a pipe that was carrying crude from an onshore facility to another point in the chain of production that eventually leads to a refinery.

    The oil spilled into a culvert running under a highway and into a storm drain that emptied into the ocean.

    The spill was not expected to affect gas prices, even though the pipeline was out of operation for now, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy at the Oil Price Information Service.

    In fact, Californians probably will see high prices drop a bit because the price of crude has dropped 60 cents in the past week, Kloza said.

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    Elon Musk

    Morgan Stanley has cut its earnings outlook for AGL and Origin, forecasting that so many Australians are keen to buy Tesla’s Powerwall or similar home battery systems that there will be a big fall in grid power needs.

    Tesla this month unveiled a suite of home batteries designed to save for use at night energy generated from solar panels during the day. Tesla says it’s all about weaning the world off fossil fuels.

    The analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate the two retail power companies could see earnings fall by $30 million to $40 million in the 2017 financial year, rising to $90 million-$100 million in 2020.

    “This potential downward revision of earnings is in the same order of magnitude experienced by the companies over the 2009-13 period when the first wave of household solar and energy efficiency came through,” Morgan Stanley says.

    morgan stanley batteries

    About 2.4 million Australian households are willing to spend up to $10,000 on a home battery system if the payback period for the investment is 10 years, according to an AlphaWise survey of 1,602 in March.

    “The conventional results confirm our view that industry headwinds in merchant utilities continue, and give us conviction that the surprisingly strong level of interest in solar and battery systems is real,” Morgan Stanley says.

    The retrofit market, about 1.1 million households with solar panels already installed, will be among the first to adopt the new batteries.

    AGL and Origin are expected to work hard on a competitive response, leveraging customer data and relationships and balance sheets.

    morgan stanley batteries

    “But we think the replacement earnings streams may only partly offset the revisions to core earnings, or may be lost to new entrants,” Morgan Stanley says.

    AGL this month got the jump on Tesla, announcing that it is the first local Australian utility to launch a household battery product.

    The electricity provider has also changed its policy, saying will combat climate change by not building another coal-fired power station and making sure all existing plants are closed by 2050.

    Morgan Stanley remains overweight on Origin, which has 4.3 million customers, with modest profit growth expected in 2016 and good revenue from LNG sales. It’s underweight on AGL, which has 3.8 million customers.


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    hiker drinking bottled water in desert

    Pressure is growing for Nestle Waters to move its water bottling operations out of drought-stricken California.

    Last month, Southern California newspaper The Desert Sun reported that Nestle had been drawing water from an area just north of Palm Springs for nearly 30 years without officially testing how the bottling operation may be affecting the environment. According to the Sun, the company also has not renewed its permit to transport water from the forest since 1988.

    In response to these reports and a growing sense of alarm about the situation in the state, protestors gathered outside two Nestle plants on Wednesday to demand that the company stop bottling water in the state. Many of them waved signs referencing a petition that has gotten 500,000 signatures and demands that the company leave California.

    Representatives from the San Bernardino National Forest Service, the area of land where Nestle is bottling its water, told the Sun they didn't know the permit had expired. They also said that they were in the process of investigating the operation's environmental impacts.

    Business Insider's request for comment from the San Bernardino National Forest Service wasn't immediately returned.

    Despite the protests, Nestle seems unlikely to back down from its water bottling operations.

    In an interview with KPCC earlier in May, Nestle Waters North America's CEO Tim Brown defended his company's decision to draw water from the state, pointing out that "If I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy a different brand of bottled water." He then added, "In fact, if I could increase [bottling], I would.”

    Other companies have responded to calls to stop bottling operations in California. Last week, for example, Starbucks declared it would be moving its bottling operations out of state.

    But others have continued to bottle water despite the drought. Wal-Mart, for example, still bottles water in California, as do companies at more than 100 other plants that are still licensed to bottle water in the state.

    UP NEXT: Devastating photos of California show how bad the drought really is

    SEE ALSO: People are furious that Nestle is still bottling and selling California's water in the middle of the drought

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    NOW WATCH: Scientists have discovered the biggest threat to the avocado industry — and it's not the drought

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    Volunteers fill buckets with oil from an oil slick along the coast of Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, United States, May 20, 2015.

    RTX1DV80On May 19, a pipeline started leaking near the coast of Santa Barbara, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the water.

    RTX1DV3JThe cause of the leak remains uncertain, but the impact on the environment is unambiguous. Oil slicks on the surface stretched for roughly nine miles as California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency.

    oilIt was an event eerily reminiscent of another spill in Santa Barbara that occurred in 1969 and is widely credited with helping to jumpstart the environmental movement.

    RTX1E153In this case, the flow of oil into the ocean was stopped quickly--within a few hours--but estimates of the amount of crude released into the environment ballooned from early reports of 21,000 gallons to worst-case scenario estimates of 105,000 gallons.

    RTX1DPUDThe U.S. Coast Guard is supervising the cleanup efforts. Though more advanced oil spill technology has been developed, cleanup crews for this spill still appear to be relying on traditional methods to contain the spill.

    oilRight now, the main methods of getting oil out of the water and off of the beaches seem to be decidedly low-tech. Ships with booms (long, floating oil barriers) are corralling the oil slicks into place, keeping them from spreading.

    RTX1DTXGThen, skimmers (boats that remove oil from the water) enter the oil corral and literally skim the oil off the surface, removing it like you would take fat off the top of a pot of chicken stock. The company responsible for the pipeline, Plains All American, said that 6,000 gallons of oil had already been recovered this way.

    RTX1DTLHAny oil that reaches the shore is met by a cadre of workers with shovels, who are scooping up contaminated soil, putting it in bags and buckets, and removing it from the scene.

    RTX1E1I3As with all oil spills, even after the cleanup, the full impact of the spill may not be known for a long time. Though the Santa Barbara spill is much smaller than disasters like Deepwater Horizon (which spilled 210 million of gallons of oil in 2010) and the Exxon Valdez disaster (11 million gallons in 1989), those larger events show how the impact of an oil spill can linger for years, if not decades.

    RTX1DUBVJust this past Wednesday, a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report implicated the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the deaths of bottlenose dolphins along the Gulf coast.

    This article originally appeared on Popular Science

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    This article was written by Mary Beth Griggs from Popular Science and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


    LEARN MORE: Up to 105,000 gallons of oil might have spilled off the coast of Santa Barbara

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    NOW WATCH: 70 people were injured while filming this movie with 100 untamed lions

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    Little is known about the habits and behaviors of the six species of penguins that live in the extreme environments of Antarctica, especially in the winter when conditions are too harsh for scientists to observe them. 

    What scientists do know is that some of these species are thriving while others are dwindling in numbers. 

    To better understand some of these species of penguins and what's causing changes in their populations, Tom Hart, a penguinologist at Oxford University, set up cameras in 2014 in spots along the Antarctic coastline where penguins frequent.

    Since then, these cameras have recorded video and snapped over 500,000 images of thousands of penguins. Although the team is still reviewing oodles of data they have collected, here's a small sample of some of the incredible pictures the team collected.

    Many species of penguins spend most of their time at sea, making it difficult for scientists to study their behavior.

    Most Antarctic species will migrate to the shorelines to breed during the fall. It's on these shorelines that Hart and his team spied on thousands of penguins for a full year.

    One of the only ways to study penguins is to attach GPS trackers on individual birds. The team's cameras are less invasive and provide a better idea of population size.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    California oil spill

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 10-square-mile oil slick off the coast of California is thinner than a coat of paint and it's becoming harder to skim from choppy waters, officials said Friday as more dead animals were discovered on the Santa Barbara coast.

    The combination of sunlight and waves helped evaporate and dissolve some of the oil that blackened beaches and covered wildlife in thick goo after a pipeline on shore leaked up to 105,000 gallons Tuesday.

    Federal regulators ordered Plains All American Pipeline to drain the pipe that leaked, test the metal in the damaged section of pipe, and complete a series of steps before it can ask to resume pumping oil through the pipe to inland refineries.

    "Before restarting operations, we're going to make sure they do things right," said Linda Daugherty of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    Investigators with the agency are looking into the cause of the spill and whether there was something Plains should have known about conditions in the underground pipeline and factors that could have contributed to the accident.

    The spill is also being investigated by federal, state and local prosecutors for possible violations of state and federal law.

    California oil spill

    The pipeline safety agency's corrective action order said the 10.6-mile line had recently been inspected, but the results weren't known. Tests of the 2-foot-diameter pipe in 2012 found 41 anomalies mostly due to external corrosion, frequently near welds, the agency said.

    The company has said there were no previous problems with the pipe.

    Plains said it could take weeks or even months before investigators find what caused the disaster.

    There's no estimate to how much damage the spill caused, but a dead dolphin was found in Santa Barbara Harbor and three dead pelicans were recovered.

    It's not clear if the dolphin found in the harbor, about 20 miles from the source of the spill, died from exposure to oil, said Veterinarian Michael Ziccardi.

    California oil spill

    Two sea lions, an elephant seal and six pelicans have been rescued, said Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

    Workers wearing yellow protective suits, rubber gloves and face masks scrubbed pelicans with toothbrushes in a soapy bath at the International Bird Rescue in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles.

    The disaster, which led officials to close Refugio and El Capitan state beaches just before Memorial Day weekend, was sure to make more campers unhappy as the state announced the popular parks and campgrounds would be closed until June 4, longer than originally announced.

    Rough seas have made recovery efforts more difficult, and the light sheen of oil was becoming harder to skim off the surface, said Rick McMichael, a Plains representative.

    California oil spill

    Plains All American and its subsidiaries operate 17,800 miles of crude oil and natural gas pipelines across the country, according to federal regulators.

    Since 2006, four subsidiaries of Plains All American have reported at least 223 accidents along their lines and been subject to 25 enforcement actions by federal regulators.

    The accidents resulted in a combined 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled and damages topping $32 million. Corrosion was determined to be the cause in more than 70 of those accidents. Failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 80 times.

    The company has defended its record, saying accidental releases have decreased as the number of miles of pipelines has increased. It said it spent more than $1.3 billion since 2007 on maintenance, repair and enhancement of its equipment.

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    California droughtCalifornia farmers who hold some of the state's strongest water rights avoided the threat of deep mandatory cuts when the state accepted their proposal to voluntarily reduce consumption by 25 percent amid one of the worst droughts on record.

    Officials hope the deal agreed upon on Friday will serve as a model for more such agreements with growers in the nation's top-producing farm state, where agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water drawn from rivers, streams and the ground.

    "We're in a drought unprecedented in our time. That's calling upon us to take unprecedented action," Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board, said in announcing the agreement.

    The rare concession from the farmers is the latest indication of the severity of the water shortage in California, which is suffering through its driest four years on record.

    California water law is built around preserving the rights of so-called senior rights holders — farmers and others whose acreage abuts rivers and streams, or whose claims to water date back a century or more, as far back as Gold Rush days.

    The offer potentially could cover hundreds of farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the heart of California's water system. About 25 percent of all California river water runs through the delta, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.

    Some of the farmers made the offer after state officials warned they were days away from ordering the first cuts in more than 30 years to the senior water rights holders' allotments.

    California droughtThe state already has ordered cities and towns to cut their water use by 25 percent, and it has curtailed water deliveries to many other farmers. But in recent weeks, many city dwellers and others have complained that agriculture should be made to share more of the sacrifice.

    Rudy Mussi, whose family farms about 4,000 acres in the delta southwest of Stockton, reacted with mixed emotions about state approval of the deal.

    "The 25 percent savings, that gives us certainty," Mussi said. "But at the same time I'm being asked to give up 25 percent of my paycheck."

    By itself, the delta farmers' offer would not go far enough to save shrinking waterways statewide. But if more farmers sign on across the state, California could save significant amounts of water, since the nearly 4,000 senior water rights holders alone consume trillions of gallons a year.

    The agreement "is an illustration of creative practical approaches that water managers in the state of California are taking to help get us all through this devastating drought," said Michael George, state water master for the delta.

    California Drought Go_Mill (1)California produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S., but agriculture experts say they would expect only modest immediate effects on food prices from any reduction in water for the senior water rights holders. Other regions would be able to make up the difference, economists say.

    Under the deal, delta farmers have until June 1 to lay out how they will use 25 percent less water during the summer. That could include irrigating their crops less or leaving some of their land fallow.

    In exchange, the state gave assurances to the farmers it will not cut the remaining 75 percent of the water to which they are entitled.

    "When your back is up against the wall, I guess you'll do anything," said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation and an almond grower in the Modesto area, outside of the delta. He said he is skeptical the deal will protect the farmers if the drought worsens.

    Senior water rights holders last saw their water cut in 1977, but that move applied only to dozens of people along a stretch of the Sacramento River.

    Ellen Hanak, a water policy expert at the Public Policy Institute of California think tank, said senior water rights holders don't necessarily face complete water cutoffs, as people with less venerable claims to water have endured.

    "It's important for people to realize that there are haircuts that are partial — they don't necessarily mean shaving everything off," Hanak said.

    Any accord with delta farmers would probably rely largely on the honor system. California currently does not require monitoring or meters for superior rights holders.

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    Saudi Arabia solar

    So what to make of the statement by Saudi Arabia’s oil minister that the world’s biggest oil exporter could stop using fossil fuels as soon as 2040 and become a “global power” in solar and wind energy?

    Ali Al-Naimi’s statement is striking as Saudi Arabia’s wealth and influence is entirely founded on its huge oil wealth and the nation has been one of the strongest voices against climate change action at UN summits.

    “In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels,” said Naimi at a business and climate conference in Paris on Thursday. “I don’t know when - 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy,” he said in comments reported by the Guardian, Bloomberg and the Financial Times. “Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts of electric power.”

    Naimi also said he did not think that continuing low crude oil prices would make solar power uneconomic: “I believe solar will be even more economic than fossil fuels.”

    Paris is the venue for a crunch UN climate change summit in December and Thursday’s conference was part of the French government’s preparations. The Saudi signal provides a ray of sunlight for those hoping for a strong deal to tackle global warming.

    “Saudi Arabia is sending a strong signal to all oil producers and companies they must plan for an energy transition,” said Mark Fulton, former head of climate research at Deutsche Bank and advisor to the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI).

    Saudi Arabia solar

    “If Saudi Arabia is starting to hedge its bets by developing solar capacity, this could change the fundamentals of the oil market,” said James Leaton, CTI head of research.

    But Naimi also said that the idea of keeping most fossil fuels in the ground, as scientists say is necessary to tame climate change, “may be a great objective but it is going to take a long time” and needed to be put “in the back of our heads for a while”. He said fossil fuels will still dominate the world’s energy supply up to 2050.

    Saudi Arabia had already said in 2012 it aimed to be powered by 100% renewable energy and later that year announced a $109bn solar plan. In January, that plan was delayed by eight years.


    So Ali Al-Naimi’s comments on Thursday need to be treated with a degree of scepticism. Furthermore, making the kingdom itself fossil-fuel free doesn’t rule out continuing to export oil for many years. And in the past, Saudi Arabia has suggested it should be compensated for keeping any of its oil in the ground.

    But the fact that the Saudi’s feel the pressure to make such statements at all feels politically significant in the year that the world has set itself the task of sealing a climate change deal.

    It also adds to the momentum being delivered by the fast-growing, UN-backed, divestment campaign which argues investors should sell their stocks in fossil fuel companies whose hunger for ever more coal, oil and gas are seen as endangering the climate.

    Axa, one of the world’s biggest asset managers, announced on Friday that it was selling €500m of coal company stocks, by far the biggest divestment so far. Maybe, just maybe, the dark clouds that have glowered over efforts to tackle global warming for years are starting to disperse and let the sunlight in.

    This article originally appeared on

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    Sea lion California oil spill

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A sea lion that became streaked with petroleum from an oil spill on California's Santa Barbara coastline has died after it was taken to SeaWorld in San Diego to be treated, officials said on Saturday.

    Up to 2,500 barrels (105,000 gallons) of crude petroleum gushed onto San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles (32 km) west of Santa Barbara on Tuesday when an underground pipeline that runs along the coastal highway burst.

    The spill left a number of birds and marine mammals streaked with petroleum. So far, a greater number of presumed oil spill casualties have been found alive than dead.

    The sea lion was found alive in the area earlier in the week with petroleum on its coat and was shipped to SeaWorld San Diego to be cared for and cleaned.

    But the mammal died overnight, said Ashley Settle, a spokeswoman for the joint-agency command for cleanup and recovery.

    Dave Koontz, a spokesman for SeaWorld, confirmed the death.

    "It's always very saddening to our rescue team when an animal doesn't make it and often the situation is that the animal is past the point of being able to recover," he said.

    Koontz added that a necropsy is planned to determine the animal's cause of death.

    So far, two dolphins without visible signs of petroleum exposure have also been found dead, Settle said, as have five petroleum-streaked pelicans and 50 invertebrates.

    Another surviving sea lion also was being cared for at SeaWorld, Koontz said.

    Separately, wildlife workers have managed to keep alive nine pelicans, one western grebe and a sea elephant that were streaked with oil, Settle said.

    California oil spill

    The full extent of the toll on wildlife has not been determined, and experts fear the oiled birds and marine mammals found to date may represent only the tip of a potential calamity.

    Plains All American Pipeline LP, the owner of the oil pipeline that burst, must take numerous corrective measures, including an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the spill and a plan to fix any flaws found before they can restart the line, U.S. safety officials said on Friday.

    The spill was the largest to hit the ecologically sensitive shoreline northwest of Los Angeles since a massive 1969 blowout dumped up to 100,000 barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel. That disaster, which dwarfs Tuesday's accident, killed thousands of sea birds and other wildlife, helping to spark the modern U.S. environmental movement.

    (Editing by G Crosse)

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    California Oil Spill

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of oil on the California coast was the only pipe of its kind in the county not required to have an automatic shut-off valve because of a court fight nearly three decades ago, a county official said.

    The original owner of the pipeline skirted the Santa Barbara County requirement before.

    It successfully arguing in court in the late 1980s that it should be subject to federal oversight because the pipeline is part of an interstate network, said Kevin Drude, deputy director of the county's Energy and Minerals Division. Auto shut-off valves are not required by federal regulators.

    "It's the only major pipeline that doesn't have auto shut-off," Drude said. "For us, it's routine."

    Federal regulators are investigating the cause of Tuesday's leak that spilled up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil from an underground pipe into a culvert and as much as 21,000 gallons into the ocean at Refugio State Beach. The spill killed untold numbers of fish, at least five pelicans and a sea lion. It also mired other wildlife, including an elephant seal, in the muck.

    Plains All American Pipeline was still draining the pipe and trying to locate the leak Saturday. Federal regulators ordered the company to remove the damaged section and send it to a lab for tests on the metal, along with a series of other steps before it could resume pumping oil through the pipe to inland refineries.

    Plains said the pipeline had one valve to shut it down if oil flowed in the opposite direction and three valves controlled by operators in its Midland, Texas, control room.

    California Oil Spill

    Plains defended its people approach to manually shutting down the system, saying it's the standard across the country for liquid pipelines.

    "It is much safer for operators who understand the operations of the pipeline to shut it down following a planned sequence of steps than for computer to automatically close a valve on oil that is traveling in confined space at high pressure," Patrick Hodgins, the company's senior director of safety, said Saturday. "This is all standard operating procedures within our industry."

    While it's not known if an auto shut-off valve would have detected the leak and reduced the size of the spill, environmentalists have criticized the lack of such a device, saying it could have averted or minimized the disaster.

    "Everyone is pretty mystified why the pipeline didn't automatically shut down when the leak occurred," said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center.

    California oil spill

    Santa Barbara County regulations sometimes exceed state and federal standards, requiring additional environmental analysis or imposing conditions to further protect health and the environment, Drude said. One additional requirement is a valve that can detect changes consistent with a leak and automatically shut down.

    The county successfully fought another operator that didn't want to install automatic shutdown valves on a pipeline from an offshore drilling platform, Drude said.

    However, when there was a leak on that line in 1997, an operator overrode the automatic shutdown, and it continued spewing crude into the Pacific Ocean a couple miles from shore. The 10,000 gallon spill fouled 21 miles of shoreline and killed more than 150 birds.

    Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., which investigates pipeline incidents, said such valves aren't always effective, though newer, more sophisticated "smart" models provide more accurate signals that can trigger shutdowns.

    California oil spill

    A Plains employee discovered the leak early Tuesday afternoon, about three hours after mechanical issues with the pipeline, according to the company. The pipe was restarted for about 20 minutes before a pump failed and then it was shut down because of changes in pressure.

    The company said it was looking into whether those earlier problems led to the leak.

    A surge in pressure from starting up a system could cause a leak or exacerbate one, but it's too soon to tell, Kuprewicz said.

    "In the past, surge pressures have caused pipes to rupture. But there were other failures, too," he said, speaking in general and not about the Plains incident. "If that were the case, that would become fairly evident ... pretty quickly."

    Plains All American subsidiaries have reported at least 223 accidents along their lines and spilled a combined 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquids since 2006, according to federal records. The company has been subject to 25 enforcement actions by federal regulators and tallied damages topping $32 million.

    The company has defended its record, saying accidental releases have decreased as its pipelines have increased to 17,800 miles.

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