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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    China pollution

    China's air is notoriously polluted, full of gray smog that covers the sky. 

    The health problems associated with that pollution are the reason for 1.6 million deaths a year, or about 4,000 people a day.

    But for a couple of weeks, the sky was bright blue. 

    In honor of a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Beijing managed to clean up its air. They've done this before, notably in advance of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

    Here's how they pulled it off.

    RELATED: China's air is so bad breathing it is like smoking 40 cigarettes a day in some areas

    UP NEXT: Slimy green algae is taking over China's beaches for an alarming reason

    Here's how Beijing looked on a particularly high pollution day in August, exactly a month before the parade.



    ... And here's how the skies looked on the day of the parade, September 3. Residents nicknamed the color of the sky "parade blue."



    China's had a pollution problem for years, as a result of rapid industrialization that started in the 1950s. In some areas, it's gotten so bad that its impact on your health is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

    (Source)



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Elon Musk - Sun Valley

    People are running "the dumbest experiment in history" by continuing to burn fossil fuels, Elon Musk said in an interview earlier this year with Wait But Why's Tim Urban.

    As Musk explained:

    "The greater the change to the chemical composition of the physical, chemical makeup of the oceans and atmosphere [due to increased carbon emissions], the greater the long-term effect will be.

    "Given that at some point they'll run out anyway, why run this crazy experiment to see how bad it'll be? We know it's at least some bad, and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it'll be really bad."

    Musk, a renewables entrepreneur who serves as CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and chairman of SolarCity, has clear reasons for saying this, yet it's hard to deny his logic.

    Use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas will end either when we run out of them or when we do enough damage to the earth that we have to stop.

    If you use data from oil and gas giant BP, at present rates of extraction we'll be out of oil by 2067, natural gas by 2069, and coal by 2121. It's possible that we'll discover more oil trapped in tar sands or deep under the ocean, but it just gets more expensive and riskier to extract. And we'll still run out.

    What's more we don't even want to use all the fossil fuels we have. Burning nonrenewable fuels makes the atmosphere warmer, and burning coal is worse than using other energy sources.

    If we get to that point, the limiting factor won't be how many years of fossil fuels we have left, it will be how much more atmospheric change the planet can take. Some researchers already think we've reached the point where there's enough carbon in the atmosphere to cause catastrophic impacts to humanity.

    That's why video game designer/Iron Man-protagonist Musk (and yes, genius tech entrepreneur) got involved with and became the CEO of the electric car company that became Tesla. Tesla's official mission is "to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible."

    If Tesla can convince the world that cars can run without oil, that would make a huge difference, as burning oil is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and getting electricity from a power plant through an electrical grid is more efficient than burning gas.

    Tesla Model S Blue

    Even in places in the US where coal provides a good proportion of electrical power, electric vehicles are still cleaner than gas-powered cars. But for true sustainability, electricity production needs to change too. In particular, countries need to stop using coal as soon as possible.

    Sustainable alternatives include renewables like hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal power. Nuclear power is also far cleaner than any sort of fossil fuel energy source.

    Musk's comment about a dangerous experiment echos what scientists have been saying for decades.

    In the 1950s, seminal global warming scientist Roger Revelle wrote about our industrial fuel consumption that "Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future." That line that would go on to be the most quoted statement in history of global warming, according to Daniel Yergin's "The Quest."

    It's just that now we're that much further along in that geophysical experiment, and if we don't put the brakes on it soon, we won't know how bad it'll be.

    Here's a Wait But Why chart that explains where we are:

    fossil fuels timeline

    Right now, we're just going along using fossil fuels, despite the fact that we know this is a bad idea and it has an endpoint. The sooner we get past that point and move to the next era in energy, the better.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Finally, the Jetsons' flying car you've been waiting for is here


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    After testing a major reservoir that supplies drinking water to Beijing, the World Health Organization has discovered that the water had lead levels 20 times the maximum limit. This comes two years after the Chinese government dedicated $850 million to cleaning up China's water pollution.

    Produced by Rob Ludacer

    Follow TI Video: On Facebook

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    Climate change is real, and it's coming.

    A new report from the British medical journal The Lancet finds that the effects of climate change will be more severe than we thought: Compared with 1990s levels, as many as four times as many people will be exposed to extreme rains and the number of people who experience drought will most likely triple, the New York Times says of the report's findings.

    Of course, all of us will be affected in different ways. How will your country fare?

    The folks at Eco Experts put together a great infographic based on data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation (ND-Gain) Index, an annual ranking of which countries are best poised to adapt to a warming world.

    While the maps provide a great zoomed-out perspective of what will happen globally as the earth warms, there are a few caveats to keep in mind when checking it out:

    • The map is based on rankings, not comprehensive evaluations of each country. In other words, the best-ranked countries are only as great as they seem compared against the countries that aren't performing so well.
    • The map looks only at the country-level. All of the state-specific, region-specific, or city-specific data is somewhat lost in this zoomed-out perspective. While the US gets a green light on this map, for example, specific parts of the country are far less equipped to handle climate change, including Miami and New York City.
    • Developed countries as a whole have far more infrastructure to adapt to a warming planet. The government can force people in coastal cities such as Miami Beach to move inland; we can also build new airports and transit hubs closer to the center of the country. The map reflects countries' abilities to do just that.

    Here's the full graphic:Climate Change infographic

    UP NEXT: Remarkable before-and-after photos make it undeniably clear we're ruining our planet

    SEE ALSO: The cost of living in every part of the world in one infographic

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How scientists uncovered a completely new world inside the tunnels of the most powerful physics machine on Earth


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    Eiffel_Tower_Thumbnail

    The climate talks in Paris this week and next are a big deal.

    The tide on climate discussions seems to be turning, and these talks could actually result in a binding agreement across the world to cut carbon emissions, and potentially curb climate change.

    Here's everything you need to know about the talks:

    What is it?

    The United Nations Climate Change Conference— also known as the COP21, which stands for the 21st annual "Conference of Parties" to decide the UN's Framework on Climate Change.

    It's also called the CMP11 for the 11th meeting of the Conference of the meeting of the Parties to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol.

    When is it?

    The conference is being held from November 30 to December 11, with legally binding agreements hopefully taking effect on the last day.

    Who is participating?

    Leaders from 195 nations are attending, including the US, China, India, the EU, and Brazil. The full list of countries can be found here.

    About 25,000 officials are expected to attend, with a total of 50,000 participants. Here's a very awkward panorama of most of the leaders:

    paris climate talks cop21What are they doing?

    The goal is for countries to agree to a specific, legally binding plan to cut their carbon emissions, with the hope to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

    The countries that create 90% of the world's carbon emissions have carbon-cutting plans at the ready coming into the meeting. But, according to the New York Times, studies suggest that even with these cuts, the world could still warm by up to 6 degrees Celsius.

    One of the big issues at play is what "legally binding" means, especially since it could be extremely difficult for the US Senate to agree to a formal treaty, since the Republican majority in Congress has a climate change denial streak.

    Developed countries also have to figure out how they're going to carve out $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries defend against the effects of climate change that have already been locked in.

    Meeting these goals will require a lot of negotiation and closed-door talks.

    Why now?

    Climate experts warn any global temperature spike above 2 degrees Celsius could bring devastating consequences, from unavoidable sea level rise to unpredictable shifts in weather and drought. These impacts could devastate agriculture and send people living in low lying areas of the world running.

    The planet's current emission rate has already brought us up 1 degree Celsius, and we still have no global strategy in place to combat climate change. Some scientists already think we've emitted too much carbon to keep the world below the 2 degree goal, but the sooner we act, the better humanity will fare in the long run.

    If that doesn't convince you, watch this galvanizing video from the UN:

    Hasn't the world tried to make similar agreements before?

    Yes.

    The first was the Kyoto Protocol in 1992, which US Congress never ratified, essentially making the agreement moot.

    A similar issue has happened at many talks over the years, including Copenhagen's in 2009— the nations just couldn't agree on a legally binding plan.

    So why will the Paris talks be any different?

    Quite frankly, they have to be.

    "There is such a thing as being too late,"President Obama said in his opening remarks at the talks, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. "And when it comes to climate change that hour is almost upon us."

    Public opinion in the US has finally swayed toward wanting to take action, too.

    Two-thirds of Americans now support signing on to an agreement that would legally bind the US, the rest of the world, to cut carbon emissions, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released Nov. 30.

    Where can I watch it?

    There's a livestream on the UN site here, which you can play back on demand.

    Climate Talks Live is also keeping track of what's trending by the hour. And Twitter has multiple hashtags for the event, with #cop21 being the most popular, but very active and frequently in languages other than English.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Animated map shows what the US would look like if all the Earth's ice melted


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    Polar Bear and Grizzly Hybrid Baby

    In 2006, a white bear with brown splotches, believed to be a hybrid of a polar bear and a grizzly, was shot by Arctic hunters. Then in 2009, a possible hybrid of a right whale and a bowhead was photographed in the Bering Sea.

    The increased hybridization of animals is a strong indication that our climate is changing.

    As Arctic sea ice continues to melt at drastic rates, different species of seals, whales, and bears previously blocked by huge slabs of ice will begin mingling in the same regions and possibly mating.

    Hybrid animals are generally infertile. But the trend is worrisome because it could drive certain species to extinction since those animals are no longer mating with their own kind.

    A study published in the journal Nature in 2010 listed 34 species that are at risk of cross-breeding because of a warming climate.

    We asked artist Nickolay Lamm to help us imagine what some of those hybrid animals would like if they came to life. 

    Elin Pierce, a writer and editor with a Ph.D. in biology, helped to hypothesize what features the hybrid animals would have, based on dominant features of the original two species, and any descriptions or photos of those hybrids that already exist in the wild.

    A beluga whale is on the left and narwhal is on the right.



    This is a beluga-narwhal hybrid. In this artist's interpretation, the hybrid has some narwhal coloring and the forehead has less of a bump. In the late 1980s, a whale skull thought to be that of a beluga-narwhal mix was found in west Greenland. Local hunters say they have also spotted the hybrid.



    A polar bear is on the left and a grizzly bear is on the right.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    obama xi jingping cop21 climate talks paris

    The United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP21, kicked off in Paris November 30, and they don't end until December 11.

    Over the next couple weeks we'll see history unfold, since the Paris talks could be where the world finally agrees to a legally binding, specific plan to limit carbon emissions.

    Global leaders from 195 countries are going to try to figure out how to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, and raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to do so.

    Luckily, the internet has lots of ways to stay up to date with the monumental decisions that are being made at the conference, even if you can't be there in person.

    Watch Live:

    Read the best coverage:

    If you want to catch up on the day's events, check in on the New York Times' live blog.

    Reuters has a very visually engaging live blog, too.

    And the BBC, of course, has lots of video.

    Follow who is there, on Twitter:

    Twitter has multiple hashtags for the event, with #cop21 being the most popular. They even made neat little emojis that automatically get added when you use the hashtags.

    Here are a few other twitter accounts to follow:

    The official conference account

    Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

    Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

    David J. Unger, Energy editor at Christian Science Monitor

    Megan Rowling, Reuters

    Justin Catanoso, environmental journalist

    Perrin Ireland, science communications specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: If you think China's air is bad, you should see the water


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    China is having some serious problems with smog, according to the ongoing United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris.

    Across the country, cities are drowning in a smog that has lasted multiple days. Residents of Beijing, where the level of cancer-causing carcinogens in the air are at absurd levels — 20x what is considered safe — have even been advised to stay indoors.

    This video, shot from a high-rise apartment building in Hi'an City, proves why locals better listen. Although the footage is shot from the 26th floor, the ground is completely invisible. 

    Story by Allan Smith and editing by Stephen Parkhurst

    INSIDER is on Facebook: Follow us here

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    SEE ALSO: Scientists grew a pair of vocal cords that produce sound — a huge medical advance

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    paris

    By midcentury, an emerging public health problem will change how we eat and travel and even determine where we live.

    World leaders are discussing it for the 20th time beginning today in Paris.

    It's climate change, and it's is happening so fast it’s prompted the BMJ to write a letter to the World Health Organization recently urging them to declare the phenomenon a public health emergency.

    But we shouldn't lose hope just yet.

    As the authors of a large recent paper in the British medical journal The Lancet argue, "tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century."

    Here's how:

    1. We could stave off hundreds of thousands of deaths and illnesses from respiratory disorders

    New Delhi smog

    Ever wonder why smog always seems so much worse on a hot, sunny day? Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The chemical reactions that form ozone— one of smog’s main components — happen faster at higher temperatures.

    The warmer it is outside, the more ozone gums up the air. Ozone doesn’t just dirty the horizon, though. The toxin also exacerbates a host of respiratory conditions (from asthma to bronchitis and emphysema) by irritating the delicate tissue lining the lungs.

    In recent years in some parts of the US, ground-level ozone has reached dangerous levels. Overall, though, the US is a partial success story for the pollutant: Ozone levels started to decline for the first time here in the 1980s.

    Ozone levels are still on the rise in other parts of the world, however, leading to more complications and even deaths from respiratory conditions that could have previously been treated. In India, levels of the pollutant were so high in 2014 that scientists estimated it killed enough crops to feed close to 100 million people in poverty.

    2. We could prevent thousands of cases of heat stroke

    Having a psychiatric illness like depression can more than triple your risk of dying during a heat wave.

    First, depression can make it harder to take the necessary steps to protect oneself from changes in the environment. People with depression already experience difficulties with self-care, such as staying hydrated, maintaining personal hygiene, and taking their medications consistently. High temperatures can make these activities especially taxing.

    Worse still, people who take medications to treat mental illness are especially susceptible to heat stroke, a serious condition that results when the body overheats, because many mental health medications interfere with our body’s natural ability to regulate its temperature. Antipsychotics like Abilify and Risperdone, for example, block brain cells from communicating with the body's thermostat, the hypothalamus. Anticholinergics, such as Cogentin and Enablex, inhibit sweating and make it easier to overheat.

    3. We could curb the spread of infectious disease

    Anopheles_albimanus_mosquito

    Increased heat will expand the range of pests carrying deadly disease. In the past few years, mosquitoes carrying malaria (which killed 630,000 people last year) have already begun creeping up mountains to recently-warmed, higher-altitude elevations, where they spread malaria to areas never previously exposed to the disease.

    Since they've never been exposed before, people living in these areas will have zero protective immunity from the disease. The result? Malaria will be deadlier than ever.

    Mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer climates, also carry diseases like dengue and yellow fever, which collectively kill more than 50,000 people each year. As temperatures rise, more and more areas around the globe will become increasingly hospitable to the pests.

    Bacteria, too, will take advantage of their newly-welcoming habitats.

    Vibrio cholerae, the comma-shaped bacteria responsible for cholera, prefers to nest in warm, coastal seawaters. As recently as last year, however, the bacteria were discovered floating in usually cooler Baltic Sea that separates Central and Northern Europe. Cholera now kills between 100,000 and 130,000 people worldwide each year, almost entirely in areas where there is a lack of clean water. Warming waters means that the bacteria can live longer and spread to more locations. At one site in Bangladesh, cholera risk rose two to four fold in the six weeks after a 9-degree Fahrenheit spike in water temperature⁠.

    4. We could prevent needless deaths from lack of access to water

    Water scarcity is another emerging threat. Severe droughts have already begun plaguing the west coast of the US. In Tulare County, south of Sacramento, Calif., the board of supervisors has declared a state of emergency. People can't flush toilets, wash clothes, fill cups, or bathe without buckets of bottled water that are driven in from elsewhere.

    In other parts of the world, where crops that feed the rest of the globe depend on a steady stream of slowly-melting glacier water, water scarcity is an even more serious problem. The Himalayan glacier, for example, presently supplies 25% of the world's cereal crop. If it melts too quickly, however — as some estimates suggest it has already begun doing — it will become nearly impossible to meet the needs of a growing, hungrier planet.

    5. We could prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of starvation

    WFP global hunger climate change

    With the exception of a few, the majority of the world's crops will be ravaged by the new pests and diseases that take advantage of warmer temperatures.

    Climate change is projected to drive down global food production by 2% every ten years, even as the demand for food increases by 14%. Across Africa and South Asia — regions where much of the world's food is produced — yields of wheat, corn, and millet will fall nearly 10% by mid-century. As a result of this rocky imbalance, the price of rice and corn will skyrocket, likely doubling by 2050.

    6. We could curb rising rates of anxiety and PTSD

    AP560245317289

    In 2006, a team of psychologists visited thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina — six months after the original event. They diagnosed nearly half of the residents they visited with a serious anxiety disorder. One in six, the doctors said, had PTSD, and many suffered from both illnesses. Over time, these disorders can lead to suicidal thoughts and, in some cases, suicidal behaviors.

    In 2008, mental health workers returned to New Orleans. To their surprise, the number of people regularly contemplating suicide hadn't fallen (as is usually the case after a natural disaster). On the contrary, the number of suicidal residents had risen significantly, along with the number of people with serious mental illness. Even in 2009, the number of suicides in New Orleans Parish remained double its pre-Katrina levels.

    Because cases of mental illness and suicidal behavior increased in general in the years after the recession, which happened to coincide with the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, it's impossible to pinpoint Katrina as the sole driving force behind the huge uptick in mental illness here.

    However, the pattern of increases in depression and anxiety after any severe natural disaster is well documented: The mental health infrastructure in Haiti nearly collapsed in the wake of the 2012 earthquake there; Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded to hit land, led to a spike in incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder among victims in the Philippines; and the 2011 East African drought in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia caused existing psychosocial support networks in the region to crumble.

    SEE ALSO: 22 devastating effects of climate change

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 8,000 people in China have squeezed their way into this pool to escape the heat


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    kevin mccarthy

    US House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says the House will not go along if President Barack Obama tries to commit taxpayer money to support a climate accord reached in Paris.

    He says Congress has the authority to decide how to spend US taxpayer dollars, "and I don't think that's the best use of our money."

    McCarthy's thoughts aside, his district, California's 23rd, has some of the worst air pollution in the entire country. 

    The California Republican suggested that a must-pass year-end spending bill currently in the works could become the vehicle for language blocking any climate spending.

    He also criticized Obama's overall approach at the Paris talks. 

    In an op-ed he wrote for Reuters on Sunday, McCarthy took potshots at Obama's strategy in Paris, and claimed that Obama has ignored the relative success of natural gas hydraulic fracking in reducing America's carbon emissions: 

    To demonstrate true leadership, Obama should start emphasizing the important role of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development across the globe. America would then be standing for policies with proven results rather than for ideas that may sound good, but just don’t work.

    Congress will promote the American energy story and reject commitments based on a misguided understanding of our climate, economic progress, and our needs for tomorrow... We are listening to the American people, who largely do not support the president’s regulatory agenda and who understand that there is a better way. Obama’s policies will kill jobs, increase costs, and decrease reliability in an attempt to achieve a goal that the free market is already achieving.

    The House votes this week on several pieces of legislation aimed at confronting Obama on his climate policies, including taking aim at the administration's controls on power plant emissions.

    SEE ALSO: OBAMA: 'I'm anticipating a Democrat succeeding me'

    DON'T MISS: Devastating photos of California show how bad the drought really is

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Activists vandalized 600 billboards in Paris to call out these giant corporations in a huge way


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    China smog

    As the Paris climate talks get underway, one of the cities with the most notorious air pollution problems is experiencing its worst smog of the year. 

    China's air quality is so bad, scientists estimate the health problems associated with it claim 1.6 million lives a year, or about 4,000 a day.

    Here's what the air looked like on November 30 and December 1, the first two days of the climate talks.

    RELATED: These 10 cities have the worst air pollution in the world, and it is up to 15 times dirtier than what is considered healthy

    UP NEXT: Slimy green algae is taking over China's beaches for an alarming reason

    In Beijing, air pollution often leaves the city covered in a thick smog, as seen surrounding this statue of pandas on Tuesday, December 1.



    Here's what that pollution looked like, as seen from space, on Monday, November 30. The fog is tinged gray and yellow because of the air pollution.



    China's had a pollution problem for years, as a result of rapid industrialization that started in the 1950s. It's gotten so bad that in some areas, its impact on your health is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

    (Source)



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    california drought

    A new State of the Air report from the American Lung Association found that years of drought have deteriorated California's air quality.

    Using data gathered between 2011 and 2013, the report evaluated California's main metropolitan areas based on the levels of ozone (the main ingredient of smog), and measurable particles that built up in the air.

    The report found that the Central Valley had the most airborne particulate pollution, while Los Angeles County was the smoggiest over the observed time period. 

    How does drought affect the air?

    In dry conditions, soils lose moisture and dust is released into the atmosphere. 

    When there's little precipitation, this dust — particulate pollution — is trapped closer to the ground. These particles end up in people's lungs, contributing to a whole range of respiratory infections and asthma attacks, reports the USA Today

    This lack of moisture on the earth's surface can contribute to even hotter weather, allowing ozone to collect and smog to form, further reducing air quality. And that's not to mention the increased likelihood of wildfires, and the drying up of California's groundwater supply

    But Californians are trying hard to conserve their water. California Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought an emergency situation in January of last year, and increased water reduction targets to 25% of 2013 levels. 

    As of Tuesday, when October usage had been compiled, Californians narrowly missed the mark, reducing their water consumption by 22.2%, the LA Times reports

    Though a minor dip, this is the first month that Californians have missed their target, and comes on the heels of the worst heat wave in 25 years

    "I was relieved," State Water Resources Control Board Chairperson Felicia Marcus told the LA Times. "That indicates continuous, conscious efforts by Californians — they haven't eased up."

    SEE ALSO: These stunning images from Google show you how climate change is affecting the world

    DON'T MISS: These hybrid animals will be created because of climate change

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This could be the storm system California's been waiting for


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    ngm_november_2015_cvrAlong with a changing environment inevitably comes a changing set of animals.

    For some, climate change is forcing them to adapt and find new habitats to live in. But for others, their changing environments are seriously threatening their existence.

    In a series of images from theNovember issue of National Geographic magazine, photographer Joel Sartore captured the animals are in the best and worst shape to survive climate change.

    CHECK OUT: Giant, ancient viruses are thawing out in Siberia — and they're changing everything we thought we knew about them

    UP NEXT: These 10 cities have the worst air pollution in the world, and it is up to 15 times dirtier than what is considered healthy

    Loser: Arctic Fox. This furry creature does best in the coldest of winters. With their Arctic tundra habitat melting, the Arctic foxes will have less of a shot at finding food for their pups.



    Winner: American Bullfrog. These amphibians are doing a great job at being an invasive species. The bullfrog has made its way onto other continents, so the threat of climate change may come more as a boost than a hindrance.



    Loser: White-Fronted Lemur. National Geographic reports that these lemurs in Madagascar will lose 60% of their habitat in the next 70 years. But, the biggest problem will be the pressure of a growing human population and its ever-more-intensive farming practices.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Drought Land Dry Climate Change

    The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned.

    New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil.

    The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analyzing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was “catastrophic” and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices.

    The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes.

    “You think of the dust bowl of the 1930s in North America and then you realize we are moving towards that situation if we don’t do something,” said Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the University of Sheffield.

    “We are increasing the rate of loss and we are reducing soils to their bare mineral components,” he said. “We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up. The soils are silting up river systems – if you look at the huge brown stain in the ocean where the Amazon deposits soil, you realize how much we are accelerating that process.

    “We aren’t quite at the tipping point yet, but we need to do something about it. We are up against it if we are to reverse this decline.”

    The erosion of soil has largely occurred due to the loss of structure by continual disturbance for crop planting and harvesting. If soil is repeatedly turned over, it is exposed to oxygen and its carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing it to fail to bind as effectively. This loss of integrity impacts soil’s ability to store water, which neutralizes its role as a buffer to floods and a fruitful base for plants.

    Degraded soils are also vulnerable to being washed away by weather events fueled by global warming. Deforestation, which removes trees that help knit landscapes together, is also detrimental to soil health.

    Researchers are presenting the new research at climate talks in Paris.

    The steep decline in soil has occurred at a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It’s estimated the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion people. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the increase in food production will be most needed in developing countries.

    The academics behind the University of Sheffield study propose a number of remedies to soil loss, including recycling nutrients from sewerage, using biotechnology to wean plants off their dependence upon fertilizers, and rotating crops with livestock areas to relieve pressure on arable land.

    Around 30% of the world’s ice-free surfaces are used to keep chicken, cattle, pigs and other livestock, rather than to grow crops.

    “We need a radical solution, which is to re-engineer our agricultural system,” Cameron said. “We need to take land out of production for a long time to allow soil carbon to rebuild and become stable. We already have lots of land – it’s being used for pasture by the meat and dairy industries. Rather than keep it separated, we need to bring it into rotation, so that that there is more land in the system and less is being used at any one time.”

    Cameron said he accepted this would involve direct government intervention, funding for farmers and “brave” policymaking.

    “We can’t blame the farmers in this. We need to provide the capitalization to help them rather than say, ‘Here’s a new policy, go and do it,’” he said. “We have the technology. We just need the political will to give us a fighting chance of solving this problem.”

    This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk 

    SEE ALSO: The countries most likely to survive climate change in one infographic

    CHECK OUT: This year's El Niño is shaping up to be one of the most powerful on record

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    NOW WATCH: This animated map shows how different our oceans will be by 2050


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    Patagonia Glacier

    World leaders are meeting in Paris to hammer out a comprehensive climate deal.

    The stakes couldn't be higher: Nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to NASA

    This issue is especially pressing in Patagonia, the sparsely-populated and mountainous region straddling Argentina and Chile.  

    Glaciers — the lifeblood of Patagonia (and a major source of fresh water for the rest of the world) — are melting rapidly throughout the region, and the rate at which they are disappearing is only set to increase.

    A 2012 study from the University of London surveyed 626 Patagonian glaciers using historical and satellite data. The authors found that 90.2% of them had receded since 1870, the first year data was available. Even more alarming, the pace at which the glaciers are shrinking is accelerating. The observed glaciers shrank twice as rapidly from 2001 to 2011, than from 1870 to 1986, according to the study's authors. 

    Mario Tama, a photographer from Getty, spent a week at the end of November observing glaciers in Argentina's famous Los Glaciares National Park. The images are striking and show just how much we stand to lose.

    h/t The International Business Times

    Patagonia's glaciers are melting rapidly. This ice melted from the Perito Moreno glacier (background).

    Source: Getty



    Ice calves from the Perito Moreno glacier into Lago Argentino

    Source: Getty



    The Perito Moreno glacier is a major tourist attraction in Argentina

    Source: Getty



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    A general view of Bento Rodigues district which was covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, in Mariana, Brazil, in this file picture taken November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/FilesLast month, a dam burst at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil, unleashing 50 million tons of highly toxic mud and mining waste, covering an area the size of 25,000 Olympic pools.

    Brazil is calling it the worst environmental disaster in its history. “It is not a natural disaster,” Brazil’s environment minister said. “It is a disaster prompted by economic activity but of a magnitude equivalent to those disasters created by forces of nature.”

    The search for bodies and survivors was slow. Mudslides knocked out roads and cellular towers, covered houses, upturned cars, smothered wild and farm animals in their paths, cut off drinking water for a quarter-of-a-million people, and raised health and environmental concerns in cities more than 186 miles downstream.

    Brazil’s environmental officials warn the damages to aquatic flora and fauna could last a generation. The contaminated waters have both surged upstream and reached the Atlantic by now, killing thousands of fish and turtles in the process. Depending on the tides, they could reach a system of islands and reefs that are a safe haven for endangered sea turtles and dolphins to breed.

    During the climate conference in Paris this week, president Dilma Rousseff blamed the disaster on the “irresponsible action of a company,” Samarco, which operates the site and is owned by two mining giants, Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia. Brazil will sue the companies for $7.2 billion in damages.

    BHP Billiton is helping in Brazil’s damage control efforts, particularly with Operation Noah’s Ark, an effort to rescue and relocate aquatic life, but it denies the U.N.’s claims that the residue is highly toxic.

    Residents observe the Bento Rodrigues district covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst in Mariana, Brazil, November 6, 2015.



    An aerial view of the flooded Rio Doce (Doce River).



    The mud which flooded the Rio Doce joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    China smog

    As the Paris climate talks get underway, one of the cities with the most notorious air pollution problems is experiencing its worst smog of the year. 

    China's air quality is so bad, scientists estimate the health problems associated with it claim 1.6 million lives a year, or about 4,000 a day.

    Here's what the air looked like on November 30 and December 1, the first two days of the climate talks.

    RELATED: These 10 cities have the worst air pollution in the world, and it is up to 15 times dirtier than what is considered healthy

    UP NEXT: Slimy green algae is taking over China's beaches for an alarming reason

    In Beijing, air pollution often leaves the city covered in a thick smog, as seen surrounding this statue of pandas on Tuesday, December 1.



    Here's what that pollution looked like, as seen from space, on Monday, November 30. The fog is tinged gray and yellow because of the air pollution.



    China's had a pollution problem for years, as a result of rapid industrialization that started in the 1950s. It's gotten so bad that in some areas, its impact on your health is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

    (Source)



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    china smog

    Beijing has just issued its first-ever red alert for heavy smog — the highest-level emergency response the city can issue to signal a threat to public health.

    Around 6:30pm local time on Monday, the Chinese capital's state news agency, Xinhua, informed its citizens that half the city's drivers would be banned from the roadways and that school would be suspended until further notice.

    It is the first code red Beijing has issued since the color-coded pollution response system began in 2013.

    Pollution levels in China's major cities have been a mounting problem over the last decade, as the country's rapidly growing manufacturing industry races ahead of the government's ability to control emissions, particularly from coal burning.

    The result is a constant and ever-expanding cloud of gray that engulfs China's urban areas.

    Emergency red alerts are meant to be issued at least 24 hours before the onset of dangerous smog, based on wind and weather forecasts, the New York Times reports.

    Smog is considered dangerous depending on its reading in the air quality index. A score above 200 is considered "unhealthy," while a score between 301 and 500 is "hazardous."

    On Monday, Beijing's municipal reading was 253.

    Here is Xinhua's announcement, with an accompanying photo of the Bird's Nest, Beijing's iconic stadium used during the 2008 Olympics.

    The emergency initially began as an orange alert issued on Saturday, the Times reports. An orange alert requires outdoor construction to stop and companies with heavy emissions to quit running.

    Red alerts, like the current one, can halt factory production for days on end and close schools, until the skies become clear enough again to lower the threat level.

    Smog levels have become so treacherous in China, especially in the northern region, that breathing in a day's worth of polluted air does the equivalent lung damage as smoking 40 cigarettes, or two packs a day.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This is proof that China's pollution is getting out of hand


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    obama xi jingping cop21 climate talks paris

    The United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP21, kicked off in Paris November 30, and they don't end until December 11.

    Over the next couple weeks we'll see history unfold, since the Paris talks could be where the world finally agrees to a legally binding, specific plan to limit carbon emissions.

    Global leaders from 195 countries are going to try to figure out how to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, and raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to do so.

    Luckily, the internet has lots of ways to stay up to date with the monumental decisions that are being made at the conference, even if you can't be there in person.

    Watch Live:

    Read the best coverage:

    If you want to catch up on the day's events, check in on the New York Times' live blog.

    Reuters has a very visually engaging live blog, too.

    And the BBC, of course, has lots of video.

    Follow who is there, on Twitter:

    Twitter has multiple hashtags for the event, with #cop21 being the most popular. They even made neat little emojis that automatically get added when you use the hashtags.

    Here are a few other twitter accounts to follow:

    The official conference account (though it's mostly in French)

    Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

    Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

    David J. Unger, Energy editor at Christian Science Monitor

    Megan Rowling, Reuters

    Justin Catanoso, environmental journalist

    Perrin Ireland, science communications specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: If you think China's air is bad, you should see the water


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    business insider newsroom

    Business Insider Science is looking for a paid editorial intern to join us this Winter!

    Interns at Business Insider aren't sent on coffee runs or forced to spend their days filing or making copies.

    Instead, they are an integral part of our team. Many of our current writers and editors started as interns. 

    As a BI intern, you'll spend your time doing meaningful, important work: researching, pitching, writing, and even breaking science news. We want people who can find their own stories, pitch them, and write quickly, cleanly, and intelligently.

    Our style is smart, conversational, exciting, and geared toward non-scientists. Careful attention to detail and an ability to be efficient in a quick-turnaround environment are both skills that are absolutely required for this job. We also prize agility in and enthusiasm for tackling wildly different topics — from the latest fitness trends to the growing problem of climate change to new research in space and psychology.

    Our aim is to help readers engage with the world around them in as many smart, creative ways as possible. Science is everywhere.

    This position is at our Flatiron headquarters in New York City. Internships run for six months and interns are encouraged to work up to 40 hours a week.

    Consider applying if:

    • You have awesome writing and copy editing skills.
    • You can translate complicated studies, decrypt complex developments, and make science and health exciting for a general audience.
    • You're constantly coming up with new story ideas.
    • You're ready to take one subject or piece of news, research, and tackle it from multiple angles.
    • You always have something to add to the conversation when it comes to trending news.
    • You thrive in a fast-paced, collaborative setting.

    Apply here with a resume, clips, and a cover letter telling us what makes you passionate about science reporting.

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    NOW WATCH: People doing backflips on a two-inch wide strap is a real sport called slacklining


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