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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    Not all giraffes are the same species, it turns out. 

    Based on a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers concluded that giraffes belong to four species, rather than just the single previously recognized one (Giraffa camelopardalis):

    • Southern giraffe (G. giraffa)
    • Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi)
    • Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata)
    • Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis)

    For the study, the researchers looked at 190 giraffes in Africa. Based on their genes, the researchers concluded that the giraffes likely became separate species somewhere between 1.25 and 2 million years ago. 

    Apart from their genetic differences, the researchers also noted distinct physical traits among the animals. For example, as The New York Times notes, Masai giraffes have darker spots and more jagged lines on their skin, while northern giraffes tend to have horn structures.

    The news does also has some unintended consequences for zookeepers: 

    giraffe“All zoos across the world that have giraffes will have to change their labels,” Axel Jenke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and one of the authors of the study told The Times.

    SEE ALSO: These are the world's deadliest animals

    DON'T MISS: RANKED: These are the healthiest salad greens

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A 24-year-old has a solution for one of NASA's biggest problems

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    From hiking in its lush cloud rainforests to getting close-ups of its thriving wildlife, Costa Rica has thousands of unique opportunities for visitors.

    But these attractions aren't just tourist gimmicks — they represent the key ways Costa Rica is preparing for the future.

    As the world warms, Costa Rica will likely depend on its carbon-sucking national forests. Similarly, as the price of fossil fuels goes up, the country will lean more and more on sources of clean, renewable energy.

    Check out the numerous ways Costa Rica is setting an example for the future.

    SEE ALSO: I went to the source of the world's best coffee — and saw firsthand why the industry is in trouble

    DON'T MISS: I spent a day at a Costa Rican sloth sanctuary, and it was one of the most magical moments of my life

    It's a hotspot for wildlife, and the country doesn't forget it.

    More than 500,000 species of plants and animals call Costa Rica home. That's just about 4% of all of the world's species.

    Costa Rica is among roughly 20 countries who rank as having the highest biodiversity on the planet. Part of it owes to its spectacular location between two giant continents — North and South America. The country also is estimated to have the highest sheer number and diversity of plants and animals for its size, meaning it's the most dense country for biodiversity in the world.

    During my visit, I got to put my finger on a feeder at a hummingbird sanctuary and watch the bird land on my hand.

    It's figured out how to run without fossil fuels.

    Costa Rica recently made headlines when its state-run utility company said it had gone a full 76 days without using fossil fuels, beating their own record of 75 days last March. It's the longest historical record for a country powering itself entirely on renewables.

    Most of the country's renewable power is geothermal (the country is a hotspot for volcanoes, which engineers can tap and siphon to the grid) but sizeable portions are hydroelectric. The remainder are wind and solar. Keep in mind that its small population — just under 4.9 million — means it doesn't have to generate as much energy as most nations.

    The country also has plans to be entirely carbon neutral (meaning it would put out just as much carbon as its forests and other carbon-sucking resources suck in) by 2021. They first began working toward this goal in the 90s, when the government taxed fossil fuels and put 3.5% of all that money towards its national forests. 

    A large portion of the tourist industry is focused around educating people about the country's natural resources.

    Costa Rica's ecotourism boom got its start in the 1960s, with scientists flocking to the country to study biology and environmental science.

    The industry took off in earnest about a decade later, with the country quickly expanding its national park system to include 70 protected areas. Today, roughly 20% of the country is classified as a national forest or reserve.

    The photo above is from inside Manuel Antonio National Park, the country's smallest national park. Despite its tiny size, Manuel Antonio is unique for its dazzling wildlife diversity, with close to 300 mammal and bird species calling the park home.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Thousands of protesters have gathered in Cannon Ball, North Dakota to protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a proposed 1,172-mile pipeline enabling North Dakota-produced oil reach refining markets in Illinois.

    The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have attempted to block the project because it passes through North Dakota's Lake Oahe, a sacred site and a major water source for the Standing Rock Sioux.

    Whether or not the tribe is successful in stopping the pipeline, it is clear that the protest is reshaping the national conversation for any environmental project that would cross the Native American land.

    SEE ALSO: Obama administration blocks oil pipeline that would have crossed Native Americans' sacred grounds

    While members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes began protesting the project as early as April, protests heated up in August as numbers increased to the thousands.

    Source: Mother Jones

    The Tribe, and other Native Americans in Cannon Ball, are protesting the pipeline mainly because the route would cross sacred burial grounds, and a potential oil spill could contaminate the tribe's drinking water.

    Source: EcoWatch

    The tribe has consistently reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers, the main government body charged with approving the pipeline, since the project was announced in 2014. The tribe filed an injunction in early August to block construction, but a judge rejected the request.

    Source: EcoWatch

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    national geographic

    National Geographic's Nature Photographer of the Year contest has kicked off and the entries are awe-inspiring. This year's judges are looking for photos that showcase the "diverse natural world around us."

    Entries are divided into four categories: Landscape, Environmental Issues, Action, and Animal Portraits. Winners of their category will receive $2,500 in prize money, with $750 being given to runners up. The Grand Prize for the best photo across all categories is a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions. 

    You can browse more entries and enter the competition yourself here.

    SEE ALSO: I went to the source of the world's best coffee — and saw firsthand why the industry is in trouble

    An alligator poses for his close up in Apopka, Florida.

    2 endangered rhinos pause for a drink under the stars in South Africa.

    Lightning strikes lower Manhattan in a summer storm.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    polar bear

    A handful of Russian researchers are said to be surrounded by 10 adult polar bears on a minuscule island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean — and help is set to arrive in "about a month," the Russian news agency TASS reported.

    The weather scientists are stationed on Troynoy, an island north of Siberia, where the adult bears and some of their cubs have reportedly been circling them for two weeks.

    The researchers typically use flares and dogs to deter the bears, according to TASS, but their flare supplies have run out and one of their dogs has been killed by a bear.

    Vassiliy Shevchenko, who leads the state monitoring network in charge of the station, told TASS on Tuesday that a shipment of guard dogs and flares was on its way and would reach the station in "about a month."

    "We have issued a recommendation for the station's personnel to use extreme caution, not to leave the station without a serious need, and continue only with possible meteorological observations," Shevchenko said.

    polar bears

    While it sounds alarming, this is hardly the first time something like this has happened. Last September, a team of Arctic Russian researchers asked the government for help after their weather station became surrounded by polar bears.

    "At this time of year bears are landlocked waiting for the return of sea ice. They are very hungry as they haven't been able to hunt seals throughout the summer due to the seasonal loss of ice,"Lancaster University environmental chemist Crispin Halsall told Business Insider.

    But it's also the peak time for scientific research, since it's the warmest and sunniest time of year.

    "They'll happily stake out a science base on the off chance of food," added Halsall.

    arctic iceIt doesn't help that the island on which the researchers are based is tiny. At its longest point, it measures just 27 kilometers, just 5 km longer than the island of Manhattan in New York.

    Still, while the situation sounds grim for the scientists, it's perhaps equally bleak for the polar bears, whose species is listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species as "vulnerable," one category below "endangered."

    According to the IUCN, the world's most thorough inventory of the conservation status of species, "Loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is the most serious threat to polar bears throughout their ... range."

    polar bear swimming

    The effects of global warming are felt acutely in the Arctic. In the spring, the snow is melting faster. In the winter, it is taking longer to freeze. As a result, the bears — not entirely unlike the scientists awaiting aid — become trapped on land during the summer. Landlocked bears are at a far greater risk of starving to death because seals, their main source of food, live in the ocean.

    Shevchenko told TASS that polar bears had settled on Troynoy before and typically leave the island to look for food in October or early November, when the waters close to the shore begin the freeze.

    SEE ALSO: Costa Rica went 76 days without fossil fuels, but that's not the only reason it's the future of the planet

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This is exactly what you should do if a bear attacks you

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    Damn german dams

    Sometimes the world seems normal and boring. Other times, not so much. Sometimes, you realize it's a place where mad sci—er, architects spend decades trying to implement kooky plans to drain the Mediterranean Sea and join the continents of Europe and Africa.

    Atlas Obscura writer Toon Lambrechts dug up this fascinating, discarded, real-life idea, which makes an appearance in the 1962 Phillip K. Dick novel "The Man in the High Castle" (the book that inspired the Amazon TV series of the same name).

    sorgelAs Lambrechts explains, the actual plan to drain the Mediterranean wasn't a Nazi idea at all — though its designer was happy to pitch it to them once they took power.

    German architect Herman Sörgel first proposed the scheme in 1929, then popularized it three years later in his book "Atlantropa." (Atlantropa was his name for the post-drainage Euro-African landscape.)

    Lambrechts explains how it would have worked:

    Not hampered by any sense of reality or modesty, Sörgel's Atlantropa design envisioned three gigantic dams which dwarf contemporary superstructures like China’s Three Gorges Dam. The biggest barrage would be built across the Straights of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, separating the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. A second dam would block the Dardanelles and shut off the Black Sea. As if that were not enough, a third dam would stretch out between Sicily and Tunisia, cutting the Mediterranean in two, with different water levels on either side.

    The result wouldn't have been entirely dry land between the continents, but a tremendous amount of hydroelectric power and plenty of new land to cultivate.

    Sörgel apparently thought the project, concieved after World War I, would unite European nations in common purpose and ease post-war tensions. Lambrechts writes that the German public and media loved the idea, though the Nazis rejected it. Even though he was never successful, Sörgel continued to push for Atlantropa until his death in 1952.

    Read more about it at Atlas Obscura.

    SEE ALSO: Trump has some questions about climate change. We answered them

    SEE ALSO: A massive solar storm could wipe out almost all of our modern technology — and we'd have just hours to prepare

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Scientists discovered something 'shocking' that could rewrite a key part of human evolution

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    Writing about climate change presents an interesting challenge.

    It's a slow, constant process. Global temperatures rise a little every year, bit by bit accruing disastrous consequences. We get used to hearing that this year, like many years in recent memory, will be the hottest on record. That glaciers are melting. That food insecurity is increasing. That more and more people face climate-induced natural disasters.

    As with any slow-moving (on human timescales) tragedy, it's difficult to sustain the degree of attention and horror that each new development deserves.

    But then you see something like this:

    That's a photo of a Swedish icebreaker sitting in open water at the North Pole, published about two weeks ago. (I first saw it retweeted on weather writer Eric Holthaus's Twitter account.)

    Let's put that in context. The North Pole has been entirely covered in ice, including during the summer, for thousands of years. That was still the case when I graduated from high school, and I'm 24.

    But a few years ago, predictions that our warming climate would cook the Arctic ice cap until it melted came true. Photos of a lake near the North Pole went briefly viral, then quickly faded from view. Now the Canadian Coast Guard can publish images of open sea at the North Pole and it can pass largely unnoticed.

    (One caveat: Though the CCG describes this image as from the North Pole, we don't know exactly where in the Arctic sea it was shot. I've reached out to them for comment and will update if I hear back.)

    The thing is, people know that climate change is a problem. Gallup reports that 64% of US adults are worried "a great deal" or "a fair amount" about climate change.

    It's hard to stay energized when there's so much else happening to worry about though, and that often means that the conspiracists and truthers are the loudest voices.

    But in a world where a major presidential candidate can offer no policy proposal at all to address climate change, without any apparent political repercussions, I still think a picture of open ocean at the North Pole is worth paying attention to.

    Update: In a statement on Twitter, the CCG said, "Due to ice drift, #Oden was ~0.75 nautical miles South of the geographic North Pole at the time of this photo." (That's .86 miles or 1.39 kilometers.)

    SEE ALSO: TRUMP: Claims of global warming still ‘need to be investigated'

    DON'T MISS: An economist figured out how much Hillary Clinton's climate change plan would actually cost

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Bill Nye offers up one scientific fact to shut down climate-change deniers

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    wood biomass woodchips maine us energy

    Billionaire and energy aficionado Bill Gates has announced his latest investment is in a biotechnology company that turns biomass into fuel and bioplastics.

    The company, Renmatix, uses a proprietary technique known as the "Plantrose Process" in which it puts natural "biomass"— wood chips, manure, certain plants — into a pressurized vat of water that extracts natural sugars.

    Those sugars can then be used to create biofuels with energy potential that equals, or even surpasses, gasoline. In many cases, it does so at a similar cost but with less of the carbon impact.

    "To effectively address climate change, we need to develop an energy infrastructure that doesn't emit greenhouse gas and is cost competitive," Gates said in a statement. "Renmatix provides an innovative process that is an exciting pathway to pursue."

    Gates' investment totals $14 million, and a licensing agreement with French oil and gas company Total S.A. will allow the company produce 1 million tons of the natural sugars ( known as cellulosic sugars) in its chemical manufacturing. According to Renmatix, with that quantity of sugars and energy potential, you could produce 120 billion disposable plastic cups or drive 1 million cars 2,000 miles.

    Renmatix CEO Michael Hamilton says the Gates investment will help keep the company's momentum going for several more years, ideally lowering the end costs to make it even more efficient than typical fuel sources.

    "He'll bring more awareness to our process," Hamilton tells Business Insider. "His efforts coming out of Paris nine months ago, with COP21, show his commitment to moving some of these energy innovations so they have impact and can scale."

    Gates was a prominent figure at the December 2015 COP21 event, a historic meet-up in which 195 countries agreed on a proposal to limit or prevent the effects of climate change. At the meetup, Gates secured the commitment 30 of the wealthiest and most powerful people in business and technology to invest in startups that can slow or prevent the effects of climate change.


    SEE ALSO: This is what Earth will look like in 100 years — if we're lucky

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A never-before-seen look at the dangerous epidemic that could change our oceans forever

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    One year later, the shade balls in the Los Angeles Reservoir have been deemed a success by the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

    Follow BI Video: On Twitter

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    north dakota

    Someday water will be worth more than oil. Just like it was for most of human existence until some clever men figured out to dig ancient hydrocarbons out of the ground and create things like plastic and gasoline.

    According to many, that day may soon come. As clean water becomes an increasingly valuable natural resource, the search for a greener alternative to oil is growing. One thing is for certain: We will eventually use up all the planet’s oil reserves, and will need to find other ways of powering our lifestyle. As for water, we will never be able to survive without it.

    An ongoing crisis right now in America encapsulates these problems, and perhaps represents a turning point in the way we think of, and value, water and oil. The Dakota Access Pipeline, currently being laid across four Midwestern states, would transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day from oil fields to refineries. But a movement spawned by the Standing Rock reservation Sioux has spread like wildfire across the country, drawing Native Americans and other protesters to the site of the conflict and inciting nationwide protests against the pipeline.

    Unlike most other pipeline protests, such as the epic Keystone XL battle, this clash isn’t centered on the role of fossil fuel emissions in fueling climate change or the infuriating use of eminent domain. This is a fight centered on water.

    The Sioux are worried that the pipeline, which runs through areas of great cultural heritage, could leak and pollute their main water source, the Missouri river. As the encounter between the pipeline companies and the protesters has escalated into another national referendum on fossil fuel infrastructure, courts and government officials find themselves tied up in a tricky knot full of historical deformities and unflattering loopholes.

    Cultural observer and environmentalist Rebecca Solnit has called the nascent movement “extraordinary and possibly transformative.”

    “What’s happening at Standing Rock feels like a new civil rights movement that takes place at the confluence of environmental and human rights and grows from the last 60 years of lived experience in popular power and changing the world,” she recently wrote in The Guardian.

    north dakota pipeline

    On Friday, the U.S. army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interiorannounced the government would discuss with tribes how “to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights.”

    The resource the Sioux are concerned most with having is water. The oil is the one they don’t want infiltrating their land.

    John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program and author of the new book Water is for Fighting Over, told me that this encounter adds to a long history of disregard for Native American water rights.

    “We’ve done a poor job of recognizing and respecting the rights and values of native communities to water,” he said. “We can’t keep doing that, both for legal reasons—Indian rights to water have a special legal status in U.S. law—but also for moral reasons. Solutions to the nation’s water problems have to incorporate the values of all the affected communities.”

    Fleck offered two instructive ways of comparing our reliance on oil to that of water.

    “Oil is a substitutable good, meaning there are economically viable alternatives for meeting human energy needs,” he said. “Water is not substitutable. There are no alternatives to water. There’s a second difference that is more subtle, but is also really important—transportability. Oil can be economically transported in human-usable quantities over vast distances. The volumes of water needed by humans are so much larger that it’s not economical to transport it very far.”

    He said one solution to the transportation issue is to use food as a substitute, since food is grown with water.

    “One of the solutions to transboundary water conflicts is to trade food across borders, making up for shortfalls of water on one side of a border with food grown on the others. In this way, collaborative trade agreements can lessen conflict.”

    Tuesday was a nationwide day of protests in support of the thousands of people now camped out in North Dakota hoping to stop the Dakota Access pipeline or at least alter its path.

    north dakota pipeline protesters

    In Washington, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of several thousand gathered in front of the White House. He said there are a lot people who believe future wars won’t be fought over oil, but over water, and that now is the moment to focus on the more precious resource in the long-term.

    “We cannot allow our drinking water to be poisoned so that a handful of fossil fuel companies can make even more in profits,” he said. “We stand united in saying, ‘stop the pipeline, respect Native American rights and let us move forward to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.’”

    Van Jones, an environmental activist and former member of Obama’s White House Council on Environmental Quality, also spoke. He said, “oil is death, literally.”

    Oil is made from the leftovers of ancient fossilized plants and animals, turned into an extremely powerful chemical with a high carbon content after millions of years of subterranean transformation. What did those plants and animals rely on to survive millions of years ago? Also water—clean, pure, essential water. The symbolism is quite literal.

    The point of this moment is not to bicker over who’s responsible for what. For Native Americans, that much is clear. The 200 or so different tribes gathered at Standing Rock are laying out their history like a long tapestry alongside the pipeline’s freshly dredged path. They are asking Americans and the global community to actually, really, seriously consider the future for a minute. The future that none of us alive today will exist to see. That future. The future of 2150; of 2250; of 2350.

    We will need water then, and hopefully we won’t need much oil—because there won’t be much left.

    The water those around Standing Rock are putting their lives on the line for is the same water people living in the foothills of the Himalayas need to survive. Which is to say, there is a certain amount of water on the planet, only a small percentage of which is fresh.

    keystone xl

    The more of that that becomes polluted or otherwise sullied, the less there is to go around. New technologies to filter water and desalinate it shift this equation slightly, but in the end demand needs to equal supply. With global population still growing and per capita water use rising, it’s only a matter of time before entire nations enter into prolonged water crises that are unlikely to be solved entirely within their borders, or the bounds of diplomacy.

    According to the United Nations, over 750 million people don’t have access to clean water. And bear in mind that water is not just for drinking—far from it. Water for irrigation and food production uses more than two-thirds of global freshwater withdrawals, and up to 90% in fast-growing areas.

    Fleck remains optimistic in society’s ability to address these challenges, especially in light of the successful adaptation to water scarcity in the western United States over the last 20 years.

    “In all the major cities of the western United States, water use is declining, even as population rises,” he said. “We’re not just talking about a reduction in per capita use, but total use. And if you look at the conservation behavior of California during the drought of the last five years, you can see in the data signs that when push comes to shove, municipal users have lots more room to conserve even more. We’re nowhere near the bottom.”

    He said even farming communities are learning to be more productive with less water.

    “They’re doing this without much conflict,” he said. “Communities of water users have come together to form water sharing and water use reduction agreements that have avoided the sort of legal fights that used to be a dominant feature of Colorado River Basin management.”

    So as long as there isn’t oil in the water, there’s hope for the future.

    SEE ALSO: A biotech startup is 3D-printing fake rhino horns to try to stop poaching

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This 'thirsty' concrete absorbs 880 gallons of water a minute

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    United Airlines Food 7858Besides likening themselves to cattle shoved into an airborne metal tube, there's nothing airline passengers like to complain about more than how terrible airplane food is. But how and where those disappointing in-flight meals get made is rarely thought of. 

    United Airlines recently let our cameras into its catering facility, Chelsea Food Services, near Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Surprisingly, the food we saw was super fresh, made entirely by hand, and meticulously planned in advance. Another shocker? The airline's newest menu additions are actually pretty good. 

    Keep scrolling to see all of the work that goes into the making of your in-flight meals, and to find out about the shocking waste that occurs when your flight is delayed.  

    Welcome to United's Chelsea Food Services facility, where a team of 1,000 produces 33,000 meals per day.

    Food services manager Leon Britton showed us around. Britton has worked here for 28 years.

    Absolutely everyone is required to wear a hair net, and most wear lab coats. To our eyes, the facility was spotlessly clean.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    greenpeace fracking

    The UK’s advertising watchdog has admitted it made the wrong decision when it banned a Greenpeace advert last year which claimed fracking would not cut energy bills.

    The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) originally ruled in May 2015 that the advert was misleading due to the green group’s statement that experts agreed fracking would not reduce energy costs.

    But on Wednesday the ASA council, following an investigation led by its independent reviewer, conceded that it erred in upholding a complaint against the advert, as the “general consensus” was that a meaningful reduction in bills was highly unlikely. One of the only high-profile figures to have made the claim that hydraulic fracturing would cut household bills was the then prime minister, David Cameron.

    It is relatively rare for the ASA to overturn its rulings following an appeal, which in this case Greenpeace had made after the watchdog banned the advert, which ran in the Guardian in January 2015.

    Hannah Martin, Greenpeace UK’s fracking campaigner, said it was an embarrassing climbdown for the ASA.

    “This was a farcical attempt to stifle the crucial public debate on fracking, and it should have never happened,” she said. “This U-turn is an embarrassment not just for the advertising watchdog but for all the industry advocates who keep touting fracking as the miracle cure to high energy bills.”

    The advert had said: “Fracking threatens our climate, our countryside and our water. Yet experts agree – it won’t cut our energy bills.” Lord Lipsey, a member of the House of Lords economics affairs committee, had complained to the ASA and said the claim could not be substantiated, a complaint which the ASA upheld.

    The revised ruling on Wednesday rowed back on that. “While a range of more conditional expert views also existed, the general consensus among most appeared to be that a meaningful reduction in UK domestic energy bills was highly unlikely and/or was limited to a small number of potential scenarios. We therefore considered the claim as it was likely to be interpreted by readers had been substantiated and was not materially misleading,” it said.

    An ASA spokeswoman said: “It is only right that, where our council is presented with persuasive arguments and evidence, we are prepared to overturn our original ruling and put that on the public record.”

    The revised ruling comes as a decision is expected within the next fortnight by Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, on whether the government will accept an appeal by fracking company Cuadrilla, after its planning application for two shale gas sites was turned down by Lancashire council last year.

    Lancashire anti-fracking campaigners plan a “peaceful presence” at Buckingham Palace later this month against such a move.

    In a letter to the Queen, they wrote: “The decision to refuse planning permission for fracking in Lancashire was local democracy in action. However, the government’s support for shale means that the power has been passed from Lancashire’s elected representatives to the hands of a few, who are interested in aiding the interests of big business, rather than the interests and health of the residents of Lancashire.”

    This week it also emerged that shale gas company Ineos’s plans for a rapid expansion of exploratory drilling had fallen flat, after the Telegraph reported that the company was yet to drill a single well or submit one planning application for fracking.

    SEE ALSO: Australian state to permanently ban onshore gas fracking

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The last harvest moon eclipse of the decade has come and gone — here’s what a harvest moon actually is

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    mushrooms burger

    The next genetically modified food you eat probably won't be a GMO.

    At least not in the conventional sense of the term, which stands for genetically modified organism.

    It will probably be made using Crispr, a new technique that lets scientists precisely tweak the DNA of produce so that it can do things like survive drought or avoid turning brown.

    On Thursday, the agriculture giant Monsanto nabbed the licensing rights to the technology from the Broad Institute to use in its seed development. This is the first license the institute has issued to a company for use in agriculture. (The agriculture giant DuPont Pioneer, on the other hand, is collaborating with another science company, called Caribou Biosciences, to license its own Crispr crops, including corn.)

    Using Crispr, an agriculture company can get around the restrictions on GMOs and, they hope, the opposition to them — because a crop altered using Crispr isn't technically a GMO at all.

    Harvard geneticist George Church thinks crops like these might be our best hope for ending the war against GMOs, which he and dozens of other experts call misguided, once and for all.

    "It's a beautiful thing," Church recently told Business Insider.

    The US Department of Agriculture seems to agree, as does Monsanto. The USDA has already moved two crops made with Crispr — a type of mushroom and a type of corn— closer to grocery store shelves by opting not to regulate them like conventional GMOs. DuPont, the company making the corn, says it plans to see the crop in farmers' fields in the next five years.

    When a GMO is not a GMO

    What makes these crops not GMOs, you might ask? It all comes down to the method that scientists use to tweak their genes. And Crispr is a far more precise method of modifying genes than scientists have had access to.

    Instead of relying on the genetic engineering people are referring to when they talk about GMOs, which involves swapping a plant's genes with chunks of DNA from another organism such as a bacterium, Crispr allows scientists to simply swap out a letter or two of the plant's genetic code (composed of nucleotides denoted by the letters A, G, C, and T) and replace it with another one that, say, would prevent the crop from turning brown.

    "Changing a G to an A is very different from bringing a gene from a bacteria into a plant," Church said.

    Grilled Corn

    At the center of the department's decision not to subject the new crops to its rules is the fact that the Crispr-edited crops don't contain any "introduced genetic material" or foreign DNA, which is what most GMOs are made with.

    This could mean that everything we know about genetically modified food is about to change.

    "DuPont views the USDA's confirmation as an important first step toward clarifying the US regulatory landscape and the development of seed products with Crispr technology," Neal Gutterson, DuPont Pioneer's vice president of research and development, told Business Insider in an email.

    A world of Crispr crops?

    Teams of researchers across the globe are working on developing more crops made with Crispr, and experts say the USDA's recent decision is a promising development.

    "If USDA decides the first product does not require regulation, that would definitely be encouraging for the many people already using Crispr," Joyce Van Eck, an assistant professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute, told the Genetic Expert News Service in April, shortly before the USDA made its decision.

    Crispr was introduced in 2013 as a genome-editing tool in a couple of common laboratory plants, including a weed called arabidopsis and a tobacco plant. Since then researchers have experimented with it in a number of crops, including oranges, potatoes, wheat, rice, and tomatoes.

    "By the end of 2014, a flood of research into agricultural uses for Crispr included a spectrum of applications, from boosting crop resistance to pests to reducing the toll of livestock disease," Maywa Montenegro wrote in January in the science magazine Ensia.

    Of course, Church would prefer that people embrace GMOs as they are now, since numerous scientists have determined they are safe. After all, he said, Americans have embraced GMOs in other things like clothing. (More than 80% of the cotton that goes into things like T-shirts is genetically modified.)

    "I hope people wake up one day and realize, 'Hey, almost everything is GM' — it's in the air, on our bodies, in our medicine. Maybe we can get over the GM foods controversy," Church said.

    Until then, we have Crispr.

    ALSO CHECK OUT: You've been avoiding the wrong 'unhealthy' ingredient all along

    READ MORE: I went to the source of the world's best coffee — and saw firsthand why the industry is in trouble

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    NOW WATCH: New USDA dietary guidelines have good news for coffee drinkers — and drop breakfast recommendation and cholesterol warnings

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    File photo of a view of the lake formed by meltwater from the Pastoruri glacier, as seen from atop the glacier in Huaraz, September 19, 2013.  REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

    OXFORD, England (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The planet could pass a key target on world temperature rise in about a decade, prompting accelerating loss of glaciers, steep declines in water availability, worsening land conflicts and deepening poverty, scientists said this week.

    Last December, 195 nations agreed to try to hold world temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, with an aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    But the planet is already two-thirds of the way to that lower and safer goal, and could begin to pass it in about a decade, according to Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre.

    With world emissions unlikely to slow quickly enough to hit that target, it will probably be necessary to remove some carbon pollution from the atmosphere to stabilize the planet, scientists said at a University of Oxford conference on how to achieve the 1.5 degree goal.

    That could happen by planting forests or by capturing and then pumping underground emissions from power plants. Or countries could turn to controversial "geoengineering" techniques, such as blocking some of the sunlight arriving on the planet, to hold down temperatures, they said.

    "Negative emission technologies are likely to be needed, whether we like them or not," said Pete Smith, a plant and soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen.

    But other changes – such as reducing food waste and creating more sustainable diets, with less beef and fewer imported greenhouse vegetables – could also play a big role in meeting the goal, without so many risks, he said.

    "There are lots of behavioral changes required, not just by the government ... but by us," Smith said.

    The scientists said building resilience to deal with climate change impacts was likely to prove tricky, not least because their scale and timing remains hard to predict with precision.

    "We need to get ready to deal with surprise," said Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

    To warn — or not to warn?

    Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, said officials in the Netherlands failed to issue a heat warning earlier this month, despite a prediction of very hot days, because they assumed – falsely – that lower nighttime temperatures in September would help moderate the problem.

    That kind of difficulty in making good decisions about changing conditions is playing out in many places, van Aalst said.

    "This is the sort of misperception ... that will determine how we cope with these risks," he said.

    Virginie Le Masson, a researcher on disaster risk, climate change and gender issues at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, said climate change was another factor – on top of widespread problems such as bad governance and social inequality – adding to the pressures people face.

    Helping those most vulnerable to climate change to withstand the problem will require efforts to help them not only adapt to changes but also to absorb shocks, van Aalst said.

    Ethiopia's government, for instance, operates a public works program that pays poor people cash or food for work on public projects, such as improving water channels or roads.

    The program can be quickly scaled up in times of drought to provide a social safety net for those affected, while the work done improves water systems and builds drought resilience, said Stephane Hallegatte, a senior economist working on climate change issues at the World Bank.

    Other effective ways to boost resilience among the poor include Rwanda's push to provide health insurance – 80 percent of people now have coverage – and giving poor people access to savings accounts, as a safer alternative to the tradition of putting cash into disaster-vulnerable livestock, Hallegatte said.

    Competition for land

    The problem, the scientists said, is that some of the coming pressures may be very hard to reduce. Competition for land, for instance, is likely to grow in coming years as it is simultaneously needed to grow food, to protect biodiversity and store carbon in forests, and to grow more climate-friendly biofuel crops.

    That makes holding down global temperature rise – currently on a path toward at least 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming – more difficult, the scientists said.

    "We are woefully behind in our current response to climate change," said Stefan Raubenheimer, the director of SouthSouthNorth, a Cape Town-based organization.

    SEE ALSO: These are the world's deadliest animals

    DON'T MISS: This is what Earth will look like in 100 years — if we're lucky

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    ground coffeeWe’re all familiar with the never-ending debate over whether drinking coffee has health benefits or risks, but you probably don’t know that the popular pick-me-up could save lives.

    In a study published this month by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), researchers identified coffee grounds as a potentially game-changing medium that can cleanse drinking water polluted by lead and mercury.

    The issue of heavy metals contaminating a community’s water supply became a public health crisis in America, after thousands of residents in Flint, MI, were exposed to drinking water that had high levels of lead. As a cost-cutting measure, officials changed the city’s water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River in 2014, but failed to treat aging pipes with corrosion inhibitors that would’ve prevented lead from leaching into the water.

    Using a United States-patented technique that creates polymer-based foams out of different kinds of agricultural byproducts, researchers developed a coffee grounds-based foam that they placed in different concentrations of lead- and mercury-infused water to act as a filter (by weight, the foam is about 60% coffee).

    At the lowest level of lead concentration tested—35 parts per million—the coffee filter removed a whopping 99% of lead from the water over a 30-hour period, according to the study.


    Grounded Coffee FolgersResearchers also found that the lighter the lead concentration, the better the coffee foam was at removing it. This is a positive sign for real-world applications because even the lowest lead levels tested in the lab were nearly three times as polluted as the worst of the water samples found in Flint (13 parts per million).

    “We saw that the foam can remove about 13mg of lead ions and 17mg of mercury for every one gram of foam,” Despina Fragouli, one of the study’s lead authors, told me.

    The potential for this kind sustainable technology can’t be overstated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that “at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead.” Overexposure to the metal—which often happens by drinking water that’s been contaminated—can lead to behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, and hearing problems in children, and can also harm adults, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In the U.S., it has historically affected inner city black populations the most (more than half of Flint’s population identifies as black). Worldwide, lead poisoning is also a major health concern.

    Previous studies already found that coffee grounds could be used to remove heavy metals when dropped into drinking water. The metal particles tend to attach themselves to coffee in a process called adsorption. But this potential solution introduced another problem: How do you get loose coffee grounds out of the now-murky water? Complex filtration or centrifuge systems would have to be developed, but they’re impractical and costly. That’s why IIT’s technology is such a potential gamechanger.


    “You just dip the foam in the water, you wait, and then you just remove the foam,” said Fragouli. “We can imagine that we use this type of foam, for example, to coat the walls of a container that contains polluted drinking water, or coating a bigger container that holds industrial waste, before it gets released into the environment.”

    The Italian government-funded IIT conducted lab tests on other foams, and found that they’re fully biodegradable. Although tests have yet to be done on the coffee-ground foam, Fraugouli said, “We expect that this material will also be biodegradable in the end.”

    Following this success, her team is now focusing on how to improve the technology so it can extract the smallest hints of lead in water, as even tiny amounts are considered unsafe. The EPA considers water with more than 15 parts per billion of lead to be a health risk.

    Down the line, Fraugouli plans to collaborate with “industries that produce spent coffee” to scale up production. But for now, local sources are providing enough raw material to produce the modest batches of coffee-ground foam that researchers have tested.

    “In Italy, we drink a lot of coffee and so we have a lot of spent coffee,” Fragouli told me, adding that her team actually experimented on coffee “from the cafeteria.”

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The world’s largest pyramid is not in Egypt

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    dunkin donuts

    For years, Dunkin' Donuts has said it would replace its iconic plastic foam cups with cups that are more environmentally friendly.

    In a 2010 report, the coffee chain said it considered its use of foam to be "the most prominent sustainability issue we must deal with."

    In a follow-up report two years later, the company said it was still searching for an alternative to foam. Dunkin' Brands CEO Nigel Travis said in its 2012 corporate social responsibility report that it hoped to roll out a more sustainable cup in two to three years.

    That effort has pretty much stalled.

    Six years after declaring that replacing foam cups was the company's "#1 sustainability priority," a majority of Dunkin' Donuts restaurants still serve coffee in cups made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam. And the company hasn't made much progress transitioning to a suitable alternative.

    "We are not prepared to transition fully out of foam at this time," Christine Riley Miller, Dunkin' Brands' senior director of corporate social responsibility, told Business Insider in a statement.

    Like McDonald's golden arches, Dunkin' Donuts' foam cups have become an icon of the brand. The company loves them because they're cheap to buy; customers love them because they insulate hot beverages well. But polystyrene foam is one of the most environmentally unfriendly materials out there, clogging up landfills and choking animals in the wild, among other things.

    Because foam is so detrimental to the environment, many municipalities across the country are banning it. In those places, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced cups made of a recyclable plastic called polypropylene, which the company says is "currently the best available alternative to foam."

    Polypropylene is much easier to recycle than polystyrene, though it's not as easy to recycle as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is the material used to make most plastic soda bottles.

    Polypropylene can be identified by the number 5 that appears on the bottom of cups. A 6 means polystyrene. PET is coded with 1.

    Dunkin' Donuts' polypropylene cup was the result of years of research to find an alternative to foam that would keep beverages hot and be accepted in municipal recycling facilities, Miller said. But the company won't be rolling out the cups nationwide anytime soon for a few reasons.

    One issue with the polypropylene cups, according to Miller, is the cost. The polypropylene cup and lid cost a lot more than the foam cup and lid combo.

    Miller also said customers "are not satisfied with the lid on the new cup." The lid, she said, is still made of polystyrene, which is banned in some places and not recyclable.

    As a result, Miller said the company is still working to find a better alternative.

    "They're being reactive," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow, an organization that has been pushing Dunkin' Donuts to phase out its foam cups. "They're in a comfortable spot because they've made the commitment, and now they say they're just trying the get the logistics right."

    One of the main challenges in getting Dunkin' Donuts to adopt sustainability initiatives, like on-site recycling bins, is its ownership structure, MacKerron said. Most Dunkin' Donuts shops are franchises, and, according to MacKerron, there would be a lot of pushback.

    mcdonalds mcdlt

    However, MacKerron noted that McDonald's, which also franchises a majority of its restaurants, was able to make the switch from foam to paper cups.

    In 2013, McDonald's announced that it would phase out foam cups in favor of paper-based cups at all of its US restaurants. Back in 1990, the fast-food giant ditched its foam food containers, The Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

    Starbucks' hot cups are made with 10% recycled paper fiber, and while what is and isn't recyclable varies by municipality, a representative from Starbucks told Business Insider the company pays "local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost, and trash."

    Starbucks has prioritized putting recycling bins in its stores, but that solution only goes so far. After all, many customers take their Starbucks cups to go and then dispose of them in trash cans. As of last year, about 60% of Starbucks stores had front-of-store recycling.

    While the coffee chain has been promoting reusable cups by offering a discount to customers who bring in their own, progress has been slower than expected. Starbucks had to drastically lower its goal of serving 25% of its beverages in reusable cups to 5%. Currently, only about 1.6% of Starbucks drinks are served in personal tumblers.

    In 2015, when New York implemented a ban on foam food containers, Dunkin' Donuts made headlines by saying it was "phasing out Styrofoam." The chain temporarily switched to the recyclable polypropylene cups it had been testing in other regions.

    But just a few months after the city's foam ban went into effect, a judge overturned it, under pressure from the restaurant industry. And Dunkin' Donuts soon switched back to its foam cups.

    SEE ALSO: Why Starbucks doesn't recycle most of its cups

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    NOW WATCH: 9 items you shouldn't buy at Costco

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    Environment 4x3

    On November 8, Americans will have the chance to go to the polls and elect the next president of the United States.

    Both major parties, Republican and Democrat, will make their cases to voters in the coming weeks.

    The candidates' positions on environmental issues are very different.

    While Hillary Clinton lists "Protecting animals and wildlife" and "Climate change" as two major topics on her campaign website, Trump doesn't include anything about the environment.

    We've rounded up their statements publicly and on their websites to find out how the two stack up on environmental issues.

    Environment Graphic

    Climate change

    hillary clinton climate change energy environment

    On her campaign site, Clinton calls climate change an "urgent threat" to "our economy, our national security, and our children's health and futures." She wants to uphold the Paris Agreement that sets targets to reverse the worst effects of global warming, which nearly 200 countries agreed to last December.

    "When it comes to climate change, the science is crystal clear," Clinton said on ScienceDebate. "That’s why as President, I will work both domestically and internationally to ensure that we build on recent progress and continue to slash greenhouse gas pollution over the coming years as the science clearly tells us we must."

    Clinton has proposed investing in clean energy and more efficient vehicles, cutting energy waste by implementing more robust efficiency and pollution standards, and cutting subsidies on oil and gas as ways of dealing with climate change.

    donald trump environment recycling

    Trump doesn't accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and wants to dismantle the Paris Agreement.

    In response to a question about his views on climate change on ScienceDebate, Trump implied that the US shouldn't waste "financial resources" on climate change and should instead use them to ensure the world has clean water, eliminate diseases like malaria, increase food production, or develop alternative energy sources.

    "There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of 'climate change,'" he said. "We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous."


    California drought

    Over the past several years, the western states have suffered from one of the worst droughts in US history. California is in its fifth straight year of severe drought, which has put considerable stress on crops and water use. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given infrastructure across the country "D" grades for dams, drinking water, and wastewater.

    Clinton wants to establish a Western Water Partnership to coordinate water use among agencies and states in the Western US, and a Water Innovation Lab to use and reuse the resource more efficiently.

    In addition, Clinton has called for increased investments in water infrastructure to, "repairing, replacing and expanding" existing infrastructures that are often more than 100 years old.

    "Chronic underinvestment in our nation's drinking and wastewater systems has sickened and endangered Americans from Flint, Michigan, to Ohio and West Virginia," Clinton said on ScienceDebate. "Outdated and inadequate wastewater systems discharge more than 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year, posing health risks to humans and wildlife life, disrupting ecosystems, and disproportionately impacting communities of color."

    Trump says clean water may be the "most important issue we face as a nation for the next generation," and it will be a "top priority" for his administration.

    "We must make the investment in our fresh water infrastructure to ensure access to affordable fresh water solutions for everyone," he said on ScienceDebate. "We must explore all options to include making desalinization more affordable and working to build the distribution infrastructure to bring this scarce resource to where it is needed for our citizens and those who produce the food of the world."



    Clinton wants to "keep public lands public,"combat wildlife trafficking around the world, encourage the humane treatment of pets and livestock, and "modernize" how we protect natural resources, including national parks.

    "Conserving biodiversity is essential to maintaining our quality of life," she said on ScienceDebate. "We need to collaborate across all sectors and at all levels to conserve our natural resources and maintain the viability of our ecosystems."

    Clinton has further called for efforts to reverse or slow the decline of at-risk wildlife species.

    Trump has said he wants to keep public lands in the control of the federal government, a position that his Republican opponents criticized him for during the primary. He hasn't announced positions on other conservation issues.

    "In a Trump administration, there will be shared governance of our public lands and we will empower state and local governments to protect our wildlife and fisheries," he said on ScienceDebate. "Laws that tilt the scales toward special interests must be modified to balance the needs of society with the preservation of our valuable living resources."

    SEE ALSO: TRUMP: Claims of global warming still 'need to be investigated'

    DON'T MISS: An economist figured out how much Hillary Clinton's plan to save the world from runaway climate change would actually cost

    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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    Suzanne Buchta

    Climate change, and mankind's attempt to slow it down, is becoming one of the big investing themes of the 21st century.

    BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager with almost $5 trillion (£3.7 trillion) in assets, this month said that all investors need to factor climate change, and the investment needed to halt it, into their future risk-assessments.

    "Investors can no longer ignore climate change," said Philip Hildebrand, the firm's vice-chairman, and Deborah Winshel, head of impact investing.

    The financing gap that needs to be bridged to avoid an environmental catastrophe is known as the "Valley of Death." Green bonds, where organisations use money by special bonds to fund environmentally-friendly projects, have emerged as both a $40 billion (£30.9 billion) industry and one way of helping to cross that gap.

    Suzanne Buchta, who runs Bank of America Merrill Lynch's green bond practice, said the securities are simple, safe and allow investors "to vote with their debt dollars as to how that money would be used."

    We sat down with Buchta, who has championed the development of green bonds since being struck by an inspirational quote she found on an office teabag in 2003, to see what is happening:

    Business Insider's Ben Moshinsky: Which investors are the most interested in green bonds?

    Suzanne Buchta:We feel like there's a groundswell of a grass roots movement that's trickling up to the asset managers. It could be a high net worth individual that wants to effect some positive change in the environment with their money and communicates that to a mainstream asset managerOther times, it's a university endowment; if the students are protesting for divestiture from fossil fuels, the green bonds are kind of a counter-positive for that. A lot of insurance companies have interest in part because of their increased expenditure on extreme weather events.

    We feel like there's a groundswell of a grass roots movement that's trickling up to the asset managers. It could be a high net worth individual that wants to effect some positive change in the environment with their money and communicates that to a mainstream asset manager.

    Our teabags always had quotes on them and the quote said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world" (Gandhi).

    BM: What about the young?

    SB: We were working with a real estate developer who said they were working on green office space in New York, partly because as the younger generation come to decide whether to work for a company, one of their questions is what that company is doing to become environmentally friendly.

    If the company can say "look we're in this very environmentally friendly building," they find that helps them attract the younger candidates and the best talent.

    Next generation millennials are increasingly focused on investing with purpose. If they are creating their own wealth, then they often want to invest that wealth with impact. Also as the younger generation inherits their parents’ wealth, they're changing advisors to get access to green products or advice about investing with a purpose. Old school advisors may be unaware of the existence of these products, but we're seeing a shift. For example, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has an environmental and social investing platform and a number of our competitors are growing their offering as well.

    BM: How did you get involved in green bonds?

    SB: I started off doing maths thinking I'd be a maths professor. I got about halfway through my PhD and decided that maths was a little too isolating for me, I was a social person, so I decided to get a masters instead of a PhD and wound up working at the bank.

    After initially working on interest rate derivatives I moved into debt products, finding various debt finance solutions for clients looking to raise funds.

    In 2003, we were thinking about how to come out of the dotcom crash and what would be the future areas of research and development. I thought to myself that it would be alternative energy and that bankers would be driving electric sports cars at some point. I remember reading about Tesla during the auto crisis in the US and thinking it was fascinating.

    One day I was thinking about how we needed to solve this clean energy problem – how to make the energy and how to grow the market for it – and I went to get a cup of tea in the office. Our teabags always had quotes on them and the quote said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world" (Gandhi). There were different quotes everyday and I'd always read them and that day I got that quote.

    climate change protestI thought maybe I should start educating myself about alternative energy.

    I started reading everything I could get my hands on. It was the first time I'd ever been so passionate about something that I'd work during my free time. I'd be reading things during the weekend and on the way home from work. I would take vacation days, pay to take seminars, get certified by LEED so that I could understand what green certification for building work was. And ironically the test for that was in the same centre where you take your regulatory exams for banking.

    Two things happened in 2010.

    I was invited by the bank to attend a conference on climate change at the UN. It focused on the financing gap for alternative energy, that they were calling the "Valley of Death." That concept really resonated with me. I also learned about the World Bank green bond and I remember thinking that the structure provided the first step in bridging the “valley of death.” Most investors can buy something like that, they're rated AAA.

    The folks on my team also really liked the concept. Once in a while they would take a day and go to a conference. I told them they had to ask what the investors wanted. The investors said they wanted these bonds in bigger size and from different issuers. We made some internal pitches of who those issuers could be. The obvious one was ourselves since the concept was important to the bank, and the bank raises debt on a frequent basis. It took a couple of years but that's what we ended up doing.

    BM: Is there anything that you learned in those years that would be applicable to someone who might want to do the same thing?

    SB: For an individual, whatever role they have, they can find a way to apply their passion to every area of their life. They have to incorporate it into their life day-to-day. They might find that there's no way to incorporate it into their jobs, in which case that would motivate them to move to different jobs. Many things in the world don't exist without financing and you can finance positive things. And green companies from their inception need financing, so within a bank there's lots of ways to work on the green story.

    For an individual, whatever role they have, they can find a way to apply their passion to every area of their life.

    BM: How bad could the environment get? Are you stockpiling food? What future scenarios are most likely?

    SB: I honestly try not to think about it. I saw a video about what the world will look like in a 2 celsius world, a 3c world, and a 4c world. It was around the same time I was trying to grow a tomato plant for the third year in a row, but was having a lack of success that year because it got so hot that the tomato plants just stopped growing.

    So I was aware that extreme heat did cause a problem with food growth. The video was also showing that extreme heat stopped food from actually growing. That's very scary. And based on my tomato plant, completely believable. So, what am I doing? I'm working on green bonds.

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    NOW WATCH: STIGLITZ: The Fed could more than double its inflation target

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    hammock ocean

    It isn't news that our planet's climate is warming and changing. But a new, 2-million-year history of Earth's sea surface temperatures offers some alarming insight into what that change could mean over long time spans.

    Published Monday as a letter in the journal Nature, it suggests that greenhouse gas emissions released since the Industrial Revolution may already "commit" Earth to as much as a five degree Celsius hike over the next several millennia.

    A challenge in building very long histories of our planet's climate is that it's impossible to stick a thermometer in the air and know how warm it was 500,000 years ago.

    Carolyn Snyder, a Stanford-affiliated climate researcher and a policy director at the EPA, collected 20,000 reconstructions of sea surface temperature from the last 2 million years of Earth history. These reconstructions use a range of proxies, like the density of micro-fossils in sediment from particular geological eras, to estimate changes in temperature over time spans of thousands of years.

    The goal isn't to offer exact weather reports for 783,245 years ago, but to paint with a fairly broad brush a picture of how our planet's climate has shifted over time.

    Snyder compared her findings about how sea surface temperatures have changed to ice core data on the long history of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. She found that changes in greenhouse gases such as those we've already seen tend to associate with temperature increases of about five degrees Celsius over the course of a couple thousand years.

    This research matters because it helps us peer into the long future of our planet's history. Not only does Snyder's research further back up more immediate work using different methods about how our planet's climate is changing, it tells us how much it's likely already changed in the big geological picture. Policy leaders like to talk about holding human-generated emissions within the range of  a two-to-three-degree heat hike.

    Snyder shows we may have already blown past that mark.

    SEE ALSO: An economist figured out how much Hillary Clinton's plan to save the world from runaway climate change would actually cost

    DON'T MISS: TRUMP: Claims of global warming still 'need to be investigated'

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    hillary clinton donald trump debate

    Four years ago, CNN's Candy Crowley had the perfect opportunity to ask President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney what they would do about climate change. An audience question on gas prices sparked a heated debate about energy policy and oil drilling. But when neither candidate mentioned global warming, Crowley quickly moved on.

    Climate hawks squawked with outrage. Where is global warming in this debate?tweeted former Vice President Al Gore. Climate change is an urgent foreign policy issue. The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert called climate the debate's great unmentionable.

    I had that question for all of you climate change people, Crowley would later respond to critics. But she skipped it, choosing to stick with the economy instead.

    The 2012 cycle would turn out to be the first since 1988 in which climate went unmentioned in either a presidential or vice presidential debate — although to be honest, it's hardly ever a popular topic with moderators. The advocacy group Media Matters for America analyzed the 1,477 questions asked during the first 20 debates of this year's primary season and found that only 22, or 1.5 percent, covered climate.

    That is really malfeasance on the part of our fourth estate, says Shawn Otto, a cofounder of ScienceDebate, which pushes for more discussion of scientific issues from candidates.

    Because so few moderators have chosen to ask about climate over the years, Grist turned the tables and asked moderators to answer for themselves. Most declined, including Crowley, but those who spoke up said a good debate question includes two elements:

    1. It exposes differences for undecided voters.
    2. It makes for dramatic TV.

    The exercise was always trying to draw out differences, says Scott Spradling, a former anchor of New Hampshire's WMUR, who participated in four2008primarydebates. Allow there to be opportunities to clearly state positions by the candidates, but to also draw distinctions so voters can be educated on where they differ.

    Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus, who moderated primary debates in 2000 and 2008, said: The second big goal, to put it as crassly as possible, is to produce a good television show. Climate, apparently, gets poor ratings — a conclusion you can also draw from the scant amount of coverage it receives on thenightly network news.

    It doesn't grab viewers the same way other stuff does: bombing in New York, terror, immigration, says Tom Fahey, a former New Hampshire Union Leader reporter who worked two presidential primary debates. I'm just talking about Joe Sixpack.

    Despite that, Fahey asked one of the most straightforward questions on climate in recent debate history: Is science wrong on global warming? he queried GOP hopefuls in 2007. And what, if any, steps would you take as president to address the issue of climate change?

    Environmentalists say the focus on other issues is an industry problem. The media themselves think of climate change as an environmental issue, and they have niche reporters on it, says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. They're not the reporters who moderate debates. Their questions tend to go more to what's in the news that week or some of the political attacks, some of the partisan stuff, some of the issues that they consider more immediate — and even silly things.

    Juliet Eilperin, the Washington Post's White House bureau chief (and a former environmental reporter), says debate moderators rarely have environmental expertise. While I think it's most notable in terms of the moderators, you also see that on the trail itself. The candidates may not be asked about this as much because the people who are with them day in and day out have not been immersed in these issues.

    Will this year be different? Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will meet in New York on Monday night for their first debate, and climate change shows signs of becoming a more salient election issue. This year's Paris Climate Accord, a string of temperature records, and Clinton primary challenger Bernie Sanders have made the issue increasingly central in 2016.

    An August poll showed 65 percent of adults want the U.S. government to act on climate change domestically and abroad. And a July analysis from Yale and George Mason showed the highest percentage of Americans alarmed about climate change since 2008 — but also the deepest gulf between climate voters and deniers since that same year.

    Climate change began as an issue that was obscure and little known and poorly understood, says McManus, the L.A. Times columnist. It is now one of the signal issues that divides the two parties.

    With political pressure building for climate action, advocates are also pushing for more airtime on climate during the debates. Several environmental organizations, including, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), and Climate Truth, have created petitions, mobilized their hundreds of thousands of members, and lobbied via social media to challenge moderators on climate. For the upcoming debates, LCV, Media Matters, the NRDC Action Fund, and others have collaborated on a petition calling for climate questions, which now has over 100,000 signatures. An effort spearheaded by the same coalition has pushed out more than 90,000 emails to moderators of the September 26 debate.

    Sometimes pressure works. During the Republican primary, Climate Truth worked with a group of 21 Florida mayors on letters to moderators that helped get airtime for two climate questions.

    Numbers matter, says Spradling, the WMUR anchor. The more people are asking that question, the more likely that question gets asked in higher-profile debates.

    McManus calls Trump's claim that climate change is a hoax catnip for a debate question. In other words: good TV.

    SEE ALSO: TRUMP: Claims of global warming still 'need to be investigated'

    DON'T MISS: An economist figured out how much Hillary Clinton's plan to save the world from runaway climate change would actually cost

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