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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider
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    Ben Lecomte

    • Distance swimmer Ben Lecomte plans to depart on Sunday from Japan to swim 5,500 miles across the Pacific to San Francisco.
    • He'll be swimming for eight hours a day and sleeping on a nearby boat. Lecomte plans to track his position with a GPS so he can resume swimming from the same spot.
    • He wants to raise awareness about plastic pollution, and has partnered with 27 scientific organizations to collect data while he's en route.


    If all goes according to plan, Ben Lecomte should arrive in San Francisco approximately six months from now.

    He plans to swim across the Pacific Ocean to get there.

    Lecomte is expected to begin his expedition from the coast of Japan on Sunday. His journey to the US' west coast will require crossing more than 5,500 miles of high seas, encountering marine wildlife including sharks and jellyfish, braving cold temperatures, passing through staggering quantities of plastic, and more.

    The first question many might ask him is: why?

    "It’s a very valid question, I am asking myself that question from time to time," Lecomte told Business Insider. "It started with a passion for the ocean, a passion for ocean water."

    After a 1998 swim across the Atlantic, which took 73 days, Lecomte said the Pacific just seemed like the next thing. Yet time, marriage, children, and various other factors delayed that trip for over a decade. Then about seven years ago, he began focusing on making the journey happen.

    Lecomte has partnered with Seeker and Discovery on the project, which they have named simply, "The Swim." The 51-year-old Frenchman hopes the undertaking will help him raise awareness for ocean health, particularly with regard to plastic pollution in the water. Throughout the entire trip, Lecomte and the boat accompanying him on the journey plan to collect samples and test the water, looking for everything from contamination from the Fukushima incident to the presence of microplastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

    "For me it couldn’t be a better opportunity to get the attention on the ocean and the state of the ocean by doing something crazy like this type of swim," he said.

    ben lecomte atlantic swim

    8,000 calories a day

    During the journey, Lecomte plans to swim for approximately eight hours per day. He'll spend the rest of the time resting, sleeping, and eating on a boat that will accompany him. The boat will be equipped with a GPS tracker so the crew can monitor where Lecomte exits the water every day and return to that spot for him to resume the next day.

    Lecomte will need to eat 8,000 calories a day to power himself through the journey. His meals will mostly consist of freeze-dried foods eaten in several sessions while he's on the boat, though he'll consume soup and other liquids while in the water. He said he doesn't eat sweets but does consume a lot of fat.

    For the swim itself, he'll be equipped with fins, a snorkel, and a wetsuit — which will be extremely necessary once he gets closer to the US, where colder waters could lower his body temperature to dangerous levels after hours in the water.

    "The most difficult will be the temperature," he said.

    But the waves, which could be up to 50 feet high, will also pose a serious challenge — especially if they start crashing, which could make it tough for Lecomte to stay near the boat.

    Another risk is attention from curious sharks. The boat is equipped with a means of broadcasting an electromagnetic field to keep them from venturing too close.

    "They'll be there," Lecomte said of the sharks, noting that the trip passes through an area where great whites are known to migrate. There will also be jellyfish, which he describes as painful, and dolphins, which he describes as "amazing to swim with."

    The Ocean Cleanup Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    Getting ready to depart

    Lecomte's physical preparation has been focused on getting his body accustomed to being active at about 60% of maximum heart rate for a full eight hours. He swims, bikes, or runs three to five hours per day, five or six days per week, and tries to keep his heart rate at 120 for the duration of those workouts. Recently, he's been doing six-hour open-water swims.

    From a mental perspective, Lecomte said he's been "working on disassociating my mind from my body."

    The trip has been planned in conjunction with various partners, which include 27 scientific organizations like NASA and Woods Hold Oceanographic Institution. The swimmer and boat crew will collect more than 1,000 samples as they travel, which will allow scientists to learn more about plastic pollution, mammal migrations, extreme endurance, phytoplankton, and other topics.

    This isn't the first time Lecomte has tried to start the cross-Pacific swim — previous attempts have been foiled by issues with boats or crew. But this time, on the verge of departure, he thinks everything is almost ready.

    Those interested in following Lecomte's progress can track the journey on Seeker, where there will be live coverage throughout the trip, along with short documentaries every two weeks and a documentary feature planned after the project's completion.

    "The big unknowns are really what will this be like for Ben, and how will this feat weigh on him in ways that we’re not yet predicting ... That could be anything from weather just to pure stamina," Caroline Smith, chief creative officer at Seeker, said. "We’re all hoping for the best for him."

    As for Ben, he's hoping the trip will inspire people to mobilize around the issue of plastic pollution.

    "We each need to take some action to alleviate the problem," he said. "A single-use plastic is something we can all decide not to use anymore."

    SEE ALSO: The giant garbage vortex in the Pacific Ocean is over twice the size of Texas — here's what it looks like

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This underwater jetpack lets you swim like Michael Phelps


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    california traffic

    How "green" is your city?

    WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities in the US across 22 "green" indicators to determine which cities are doing the best job saving the planet— and which cities could be doing more to protect the environment.

    They studied four main categories: "Environment,""Transportation,""Energy," and "Lifestyle and Policy."

    To determine each city's "Environment" rank, WalletHub examined factors such as air quality, greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and the amount of green space. For "Transportation," the share of commuters who drive, annual excess fuel consumption, and the amount of alternative fuel stations per capita determined the ranking. "Energy" rankings were based on solar PV installations per capita and the share of electricity from renewable resources. And for "Lifestyle and Policy," WalletHub calculated the number of community gardens, farmers' markets, and local programs promoting "green" energy use.

    Each of the 22 factors considered in the rankings were assigned a point value. Those points were combined to determine each city's total score. The lower the total score, the less environmentally friendly the city. As for the category rankings, they're on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the least sustainable.

    Here are the 50 least environmentally friendly cities in the US.

    50. Denver, Colorado

    Total score: 50.28

    Environment rank: 98

    Transportation rank: 13

    Energy sources rank: 26

    Lifestyle and policy rank: 10



    49. Aurora, Colorado

    Total score: 49.88

    Environment rank: 43

    Transportation rank: 73

    Energy sources rank: 34

    Lifestyle and policy rank: 93



    48. Durham, North Carolina

    Total score: 49.75

    Environment rank: 32

    Transportation rank: 54

    Energy sources rank: 77

    Lifestyle and policy rank: 55



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    san francisco

    With World Environment Day coming up on June 5, INSIDER researched the most environmentally friendly cities in the US. 

    To find the most eco-conscious destinations across the country, we consulted a range of sources, including Siemens' Green City Index for the US and Canada, which measures and rates the environmental performance of 27 cities in North America, and WalletHub's 2017 list of the greenest cities in America, which compares 100 of the largest cities in the US across 22 "green" indicators like median air-quality and number of jobs accessible by public transit.  

    Keep reading to learn about 25 of the most eco-friendly US cities, from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Chicago, Illinois.

    Honolulu, Hawaii

    Honolulu, Hawaii's capital, topped The Daily Beast's 2014 list of the greenest cities in the US. The site based its findings on government data and research conducted by Experian Marketing Services, a market research firm that has tracked the greening of America for more than 50 years.

    According to The Daily Beast — which analyzed several categories of data ranging from "The percentage of people who think and act in an eco-conscious way" to "The number of energy efficient commercial buildings per capita, as recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency"— 66.1% of Honolulu residents are very eco-conscious. 

    Given that Honolulu boasts numerous beaches, lush vegetation, and incredible volcanic landforms that make it one of the prettiest cities in America, it makes sense that the people who live there are dedicated to preserving natural resources.

     

     

     



    Portland, Oregon

    Portland earned the top spot on Travel + Leisure's 2015 readers' survey of the greenest cities in America. The magazine asked readers to rank destinations based on eco-friendly offerings like mass-transit options and restaurants that source ingredients locally.

    From vegetarian food truck eats to thrift store threads, Portland isn't just hip— it's sustainable, too. 



    San Francisco, California

    With a cumulative score of 74.24, San Francisco came in first on WalletHub's 2017 ranking of America's greenest cities. The personal finance website compared 22 eco-focused data points for the 100 largest cities in the country such as median air-quality index and number of jobs accessible by public transit.  

    In 2011, Siemens named San Francisco the greenest city in the US and Canada on its Green City Index. From a law that requires residents and businesses keep recycling and compost material separate from normal trash to widescale dedication to solar energy (including 60,000-square-foot solar paneling on the roof of the San Francisco Convention Center), the Golden City demonstrates how metros can do their part to save the planet.

     

     

     



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    biking minneapolis minnesota

    World Environment Day, on June 5, is a day to think about the environment and do what you can to help it. A billion people get involved every year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to The Telegraph.

    But why stop there? You can make saving the planet part of your daily lifestyle. Here are 13 small things you can do everyday to live a sustainable lifestyle and help planet Earth.

    Walk or bike to work.

    If you live close enough to your office, walking or biking to work will prevent you from using a gasoline-guzzling car. You're also less likely to run into traffic, and you'll burn some calories in the process.



    Take public transport.

    If you're too far to take a bike, see if your local public transportation network is convenient enough to use on your commute. Cities upload their public transport data to Google Maps, which makes it easy to find out how long and convenient your commute would be.

    There are a litany of benefits to taking public transportation. It'll save you gas and money, and you can take the time to read on your commute instead of focusing on the road.



    Use a carpool service.

    If a bike or public transport aren't quite feasible, you don't have to sacrifice the comfort of a car: just use a carpool service.

    Some cities, like New York, organize their own carpools. You can also use an app, like Waze Carpool, Lyft Line, or uberPOOL.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Carolina_parakeet

    With scientists reporting that a sixth mass extinction is underway, it's more important than ever to pay attention to the impact we have on the environment.

    Keep scrolling to read about 15 animals that tragically went extinct, from a treefrog named Toughie to Martha, the world's last passenger pigeon. 

    The Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent native to the Great Barrier Reef, is considered to be the first mammal species wiped out by climate change.

    Also known as the mosaic-tailed rat, the Bramble Cay melomys was endemic to a coral cay— a type of small, low island — off the coast of Queensland, Australia. 

    Last seen in 2009 and declared extinct in 2014, the rodent had the distinction of being the sole mammal native to the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers at the University of Queensland concluded that the species met its demise due to rising sea levels that destroyed its habitat. 



    The world's last Rabbs' fringe-limbed treefrog, a male named Toughie, died in 2016.

    Technically critically endangered, the Rabbs' fringe-limbed treefrog hasn't been seen in the wild since 2007 — two years after scientists discovered the species in Panama, where the population had already been ravaged by deadly chytrid fungus

    Toughie, the last known member of his species, died in 2016 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Since he was already an adult when researchers found him, his age was unknown. He and another male were brought back to the US at the same time, but his fellow amphibian was euthanized in 2012

    Nicknamed the "loneliest frog in the world," Toughie — who was famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page— became a symbol of the frog extinction crisis. 

     

     

     

     



    According to folklore, a lighthouse keeper's cat named Tibbles was responsible for wiping out most of the Stephens Island wren population.

    We may think cats are cute and cuddly, but our feline friends have been detrimental to local populations of birds and other small animals for decades, killing millions each year. According to a 2013 study published in Nature Communications, free-ranging cats are "likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals." 

    Due to land development and predation by cats introduced to the area, the Stephens Island wren, a bird native to New Zealand, was extinct by 1895. According to folklore, a lighthouse keeper's cat named Tibbles enjoyed preying on the birds and wiped out a significant percentage of the species.

    However, a report by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand suggests he likely he didn't act alone.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Mark Dalio and Ray Dalio On Stage 2

    • Bridgewater hedge fund founder Ray Dalio is a proponent of ocean exploration and has long been involved in ocean research.
    • Dalio has announced a new initiative, OceanX, that aims to explore the world's oceans.
    • 95% of the world's oceans are still unexplored, so Dalio told Business Insider that learning about that unknown is "like discovering the planet anew."


    Ray Dalio wants to know what's in the depths of the world's oceans.

    Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund, and has been involved in ocean exploration for years. Using a crewed submersible (a deep-diving underwater vehicle) launched from his ship, the Alucia, researchers captured the first footage of a giant squid in its natural habitat in the wild six years ago.

    The team that filmed "Blue Planet II," one of the most remarkable nature documentaries ever, conducted a number of their shoots from the Alucia. These dives took filmmakers deeper under Antarctica than any person has ever gone and resulted in the discovery of new species. Just recently, a researcher from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution used an underwater drone owned by Dalio to discover a shipwreck off the coast of Colombia that may hold up to $17 billion in treasure.

    On Monday evening, Dalio and his son Mark announced a new initiative, OceanX, that aims to take ocean exploration to the next level.

    Oceans_ Our Blue Planet Mobula Ray

    OceanX is meant to be a mission like that of Jacques Cousteau, the French undersea explorer, inventor, diver, and filmmaker who introduced much of the general public to the wonders of the ocean, Dalio told Business Insider. The effort will combine scientific exploration of the ocean with the production of media designed to show people how exciting the underwater world is.

    More exciting than space

    Dalio has previously supported scientific research on the Alucia and contributed to the production of ocean-related media like "Blue Planet II" from the ship. Mark Dalio's OceanX Media (formerly known as Alucia Productions) co-produced the BBC Earth film "Oceans: Our Blue Planet."

    As a new philanthropic organization, OceanX is meant to unify and expand these ocean research, exploration, and media-creation efforts. 

    blue planet iiIn 2019, the organization plans to debut a new ship, the M/V Alucia2, which will be roughly 84 meters (276 feet) in length and have wet and dry labs for scientific research on board. The vessel will include a hangar for three submersibles that can carry crew members 1,000 meters underwater, along with a deployment bay for underwater drones, a helicopter deck and hangar, and a media center.

    Right now, OceanX is seeking ideas for missions that would benefit from being on board the new ship. OceanX already has a long list of partners to help fund research, conduct scientific expeditions, and create media, including BBC Studies, James Cameron, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the National Geographic Society, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and many more.

    As Dalio explains it, exploring the underwater world on our planet is more exciting than exploring space.

    "You go out to outer space and you get an interesting picture of what the Earth in outer space looks like, and then you go to Mars and you get a lot of rocks. I’m not saying it’s not interesting, but how many times can you look at the Earth from up there and say ‘wow,’ and how many times can you go to Mars? I think [the ocean is] far more exciting and I think it’s far more intimate in terms of affecting our lives," he said.

    Discovering the unknown

    Roughly 95% of the world's oceans are unexplored, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That means there's incredible potential for discovery underwater.

    "More than 50% of our air comes from the ocean, it affects our weather, it affects us in so many different ways, and it’s right there. Just go down, it’s cheaper to get to than going to Mars and so it’s more exciting and more important," Dalio said.

    He explained that OceanX plans to focus on a vast area of the ocean known as the twilight zone, which is considered to be particularly unexplored.

    "That’s the area where you start to lose light, below 350 to 500 feet down to a couple of thousand meters," Dalio said. "That’s where we’re particularly interested in exploring. We’re going to do that all over the world but we will initially start in the Indian Ocean."

    Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet's surface and are ultimately the support systems that allow life to exist here. Yet we know little about them in comparison to what we know about environments on land. That's why, for Dalio, the most exciting thing about this new exploration effort is the unknown.

    Oceans_ Our Blue Planet Coral Reef

    "Above the ocean’s surface, there are all of these worlds. There are different species, there are different terrains, there are mountains and plains and all of those things," he said. "Beneath the ocean, it is twice as large in terms of the worlds, the total area below … And it’s totally undiscovered. So to me it’s like discovering the planet anew."

    Through ocean exploration, there's potential to discover valuable minerals and chemicals, new species that could be sources of novel types of medications, and more. Plus, because ocean systems provide our oxygen and much of the food we rely on, it's important to learn about the underwater world so that we know how to protect these essential resources. 

    "Imagine continents that have never been discovered, species that have never been discovered, ecosystems that have never been discovered and they’re right there. It’s the not knowing that excites us," Dalio said.

    SEE ALSO: 'Do you like to breathe?': A group of scientists have figured out a way to regrow coral reefs and it could help save the oceans

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Octopuses are officially the weirdest animals on Earth


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    great barrier reef 2

    As humanity transforms the world, we're putting many of our most spectacular natural environments at risk.

    Threats to many of the world's natural wonders are growing, according to a 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which evaluates the threats faced by natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These sites include many of the most iconic wild places on the planet, including the Great Barrier Reef and snow-topped Kilimanjaro.

    Beyond being beautiful, these are important places both for nature and humanity. As the report's authors wrote, "[t]hey harbour unique ecosystems and species, support livelihoods, contribute to climate stability and buffer against natural hazards."

    Yet for more than a third of these sites, the outlook is critical or of significant concern. In places like Florida's Everglades where the threat level is critical, immediate large-scale action is needed for preservation. For sites like the Galápagos that have an outlook of significant concern, significant measures need to be taken to stave off deterioration.

    The biggest pressures on these critical sites — and on the rest of the natural world — include invasive species, climate change, tourism, human activities like hunting and fishing, and development. Looking to the future, climate change and severe weather are expected to become even more significant causes of harm, as will road construction and oil and gas development.

    These are far from the only crucial natural sites that are threatened by human activity. But they are some of the best-known, and it's worth remembering that if we can't protect these, we don't have much chance of protecting the rest of the world.

    Here are some of these spectacular places we could lose if we don't take action as soon as possible.

    SEE ALSO: The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most spectacular places on the planet — here's what it looks like as it dies off

    Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

    IUCN Status: Critical

    Illegal logging, extreme weather, and climate change-related disruption to seasonal migrations are all causing severe threats for this site, where Monarch butterflies make the longest-known insect migration to spend the winter.



    Iguaçu National Park, Brazil (and Iguazu National Park, Argentina)

    IUCN Status: Threatened

    There are a number of threats to these falls at the border of Brazil and Argentina, including invasive species, hunting, logging, water pollution, dams, and climate change.



    Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia

    IUCN Status: Critical

    Development and deforestation, especially by palm oil harvesters, has put the rainforests of Sumatra in critical condition.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    rain


     

    If it seems like the rain has been non-stop this spring, you’re not imagining things.

    In Seattle, it's been 30-40% rainier than normal, and locations on the Eastern seaboard from Miami to Washington DC have been pummeled with more than 10 inches of rain in the past 30 days — roughly double the norm.

    Researchers have found that when the sky opens up these days, it is dumping more water on all of us. Peak rain rates, which arrive when the fierce core of a storm is overhead, have increased 30% over the past 60 years, according to project scientist Andreas Prein from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

    Heavy, damaging storms are also becoming more frequent and more likely to flood people out of their homes — during those peak times, upwards of 4 inches of rain can fall per hour in some cases.

    "The bigger the storm, the better for flooding," Prein said.

    overflowing sewer

    This phenomenon is directly linked to what humans are doing on the ground: burning fossil fuels, which funnels carbon dioxide into the air, leading Earth's average temperature to rise.

    “Precipitation responds to global warming by increasing,” Angeline Pendergrass, a project scientist at UCAR, said at a conference for journalists last week.

    We're the ones making it rain

    As people create pollutants that throw off the atmosphere's delicate balance, those greenhouse gases trap more of the sun's heat, which raises the planet's temperature.

    Increased precipitation is a side effect of that process, kind of like a feverish sweat: the hotter the atmosphere gets, the easier it is for evaporation to occur on the surface of the Earth. More water evaporating and forming clouds leads to more precipitation. Warmer air can also hold more water, which prompts heavier rains and more summer floods. 

    "A future storm might cause a much, much bigger flood because it produces so much more water," Prein said.

    Scientists call this trend an intensification of the hydrologic cycle. The phenomenon has already made US storms between 10% and 70% wetter than they used to be, which is much higher than the roughly 7% atmospheric moisture increase that Prein's scientific models predicted.

    Mari Tye, who studies weather extremes at UCAR, estimates that the damage from more intense thunderstorms totaled to $145 billion dollars in the US last year, rivaling the $125 billion cost of Hurricane Harvey.

    Just two days of storms across the Midwest in November 2017 created a total of $275 million worth of damage, according to Aon Benfield analytics. 

    the wettest one percent of storms are getting much wetter map

    As the globe's temperature continues to heat up, that intensification will likely continue.

    "Over a city, this can be very devastating," Prein said. 

    But while wet places get wetter, dry places will continue to get drier. And when rain does hit those spots, there's a higher risk of catastrophic flooding because the ground will be more dry and impermeable to water.

    The Earth's temperature is on track to rise several more degrees before 2100, so we can expect to get caught in more wet, damaging storms more frequently.

    SEE ALSO: Hurricane season officially starts today — and you're at risk even if you live far from the shore

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: An 'atmospheric river' is about to dump a ton of rain and snow on the West Coast — here's what an atmospheric river actually is


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    hurricane harvey

    • Over the past 70 years, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, according to new research.
    • That doesn't mean storm systems have become less intense, just that they're crossing Earth more slowly, which actually gives storms more time to dump rain and lash an area with powerful winds.
    • Over land, especially in the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific, storms are moving 20-30% more slowly.


    When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast on August 25, 2017, it made landfall as a Category 4 storm with 130-mph winds. 

    Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the US since 2005, but it weakened to a tropical storm over land, which hurricanes tend to do when they are no longer drawing warmth and energy from the sea. But then the storm did something different.

    It stalled.

    For days, Harvey dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on and around Houston. It sucked up more water from the Gulf and even reversed direction, setting records and causing more than $126 billion in damage and economic loss.

    Tom Di Liberto described it on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) website as the "storm that refused to leave."

    Instead of being anomalies, storms like Harvey might represent a sort of new normal, according to a new assessment published in the journal Nature. The analysis, done by by NOAA researcher James Kossin, shows that hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical storms are moving more slowly over the Earth's surface, especially over land.

    That doesn't mean these storms are any less powerful — in fact, they may be intensifying and developing into powerful hurricanes in a shorter time span, according to other recent research. Instead, moving at a slower pace gives storms even more time to dump rain and whip coasts with powerful winds, making them more destructive.

    The storm slowdown

    Storms have slowed by an average of 10%, according to Kossin's research. Over the time period he studied — from 1949 to 2016 — the average global temperature rose 0.5 degrees Celsius due to climate change. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so when you take into account 1 degree Celsius of warming, a 10% slowdown could double the amount of rainfall and flooding that an area experiences. 

    "These trends are almost certainly increasing local rainfall totals and freshwater flooding, which is associated with very high mortality risk," Kossin said in a news release.

    Kossin found that the amount storms slowed down varied by region across the globe.

    World Map Hurricane Infographic FINAL 1200 pixels

    In general, cyclones in the western North Pacific — where these storms are known as typhoons — slowed the most, by 20%. 

    But Kossin also looked at changes in the speeds at which storms moved over land: in the western North Pacific, storms slowed 30% over land, while in the North Atlantic, they slowed by 20%.

    Kossin thinks this cyclone slowdown is likely caused by changes in the circulation of Earth's atmosphere due to climate change. While the factors that drive atmospheric winds are complicated, one expected symptom of climate change — and something that's been observed over the time period Kossin studied — is that the atmospheric factors that drive cyclone movement are weakening.

    "Tropical cyclones tend to 'go with the flow,' meaning that the direction and speed at which they travel are guided by the winds in the surrounding environment," Christina Patricola, a climate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, wrote in an article published alongside Kossin's new paper.

    She called current-day storms "sluggish." 

    That means that in a warmer world, we should expect storms to become more intense, dump more rain, and move more slowly, causing more damage.

    hurricanes

    A devastating impact

    The peak rain rates of storms have increased by 30% over the past 60 years. 

    As we saw with Harvey, storms that move slowly can cause an incredible amount of damage. We saw the same destructive slow rainy patterns with Typhoon Morakot, which hit Taiwan in 2009, and Cyclone Hyacinthe, which looped by the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean several times in 1980, according to Patricola.

    One interesting wrinkle raised by Kossin's new research is that we don't know if storms like Harvey have been dumping more rain primarily because they're moving slowly or because they're holding more moisture due to atmospheric temperatures. It could be both.

    We need more research to know just how much more we should expect cyclones to slow in a warmer world, according to the new paper.

    But as hurricane season kicks off in the North Atlantic, slower storms are yet another thing to look out for.

    SEE ALSO: The most spectacular places on the planet that have the most to lose as humans reshape the world

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The best dog breeds for apartment living


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    the ocean cleanup plastic great pacific garbage patch

    • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive area measuring more than 1.6 million square kilometers, but it's just part of the North Pacific Gyre, an ocean region where currents collect plastic.
    • Researchers from the Ocean Cleanup foundation conducted a survey of plastic in the area, using planes to observe from the sky and boats to trawl the water.
    • They found that the amount of plastic there seemed to be increasing exponentially and that there could be 16 times as much as previously thought.

    There's far too much plastic in the world's oceans, and the problem continues to build up.

    Every little bit of plastic that gets tossed into the ocean or swept downstream out to sea either sinks or is picked up by currents. Much of it is eventually carried into one of five massive ocean regions, where plastic can be so concentrated that areas have garnered names like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

    While "garbage patch" might make you think of something you pass by on the side of the road, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean is less like a patch and more like a massive swirling vortex more than three times the size of Spain and more than twice the size of Turkey or Texas.

    And it's growing and collecting more plastic rapidly, according to a study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports by researchers associated with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation.

    There may be more than 16 times as much plastic in the vortex than previous studies have estimated, according to the researchers behind the study.

    An aerial view of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch might at first appear to be open water. But inside there's debris from all over the world — debris that traps or is eaten by marine animals, filling up their bodies to the point of being fatal and tainting our food supply.

    More than 320 million metric tons of plastic are produced every year — and a disturbing amount ends up in the ocean, with much of it accumulating in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

    SEE ALSO: A 22-year-old is moving ahead with a controversial plan to trap plastic floating in the great Pacific garbage patch

    DON'T MISS: A 51-year-old just began a 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco

    Much of the Ocean Cleanup foundation's data on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from a 2015 expedition involving 18 vessels.

    The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch organization started by a young entrepreneur named Boyan Slat, wants to launch a somewhat controversial effort to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and has conducted research about the scale of the problem.



    The ships trawled the waters using manta trawl nets outfitted with mesh to catch as much plastic as possible.



    The area they focused on is a particularly concentrated part of one of the five global gyres where ocean currents collect plastic from around the world.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Rainy day couple

    • The idea that it rains more on weekends because of weekday pollution is a myth.
    • But it is true that pollution can have a small effect on rainfall in highly polluted or dense areas.
    • That effect wouldn't make a big enough difference for you to notice it, however, and most scientists don't think the "weekend effect" is real.
    • Generally speaking, it is more common for rain to fall in the afternoon.

     

    If it feels like you're getting drenched every weekend, rest assured: the sky is not out to get you this summer. 

    Ever since the industrial revolution in England, scientists have worried that we might be ruining our own weekends by creating weekday pollution that leads to more rain on Saturdays and Sundays.

    The idea is that as people pollute the air with exhaust from cars and factories, we send more solid, rain-fueling particles called aerosols into the atmosphere. Those tiny pieces of industrial trash become building blocks for clouds, since water can condense onto them. But when lots of aerosols are floating around in the atmosphere, they can crowd each other out and create much smaller cloud droplets, leading to less rainfall. 

    "They take longer to grow big enough to fall out as rain," Angeline Pendergrass, a project scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research who studies precipitation, told Business Insider.

    But she said any argument that this phenomenon makes weekend days rainier simply doesn't hold water. "If there is an effect, it's really small," she said.

    Some of the most recent research-based myth-busting on this subject was done by weather expert David Schultz in 2007. After studying more than 200 weather stations across the US, Schultz and his colleagues ruled that there was no discernible pattern of particularly rainy days in a week. 

    The processes through which aerosols form clouds are complex, and pollution is not the only thing determines when rain falls or how long clouds stay in the air. Aerosols can also build up from all sorts of natural solids like dirt and salt. Weather patterns also change based on other factors like the jet stream and whether clouds form over land or sea.

    The real reasons for your rainy weekends

    singin in the rain

    Pendergrass proposes a different reason why it can feel as though it's raining more on the weekends.

    "I think it's more psychological than meteorological," she said.

    When we're out of the office and want to be spending our days at the beach or in the park, it can be very disappointing to see rain in the forecast. Those strong feelings can make weekend precipitation more memorable, even though there's no true increase on Saturday or Sunday. 

    There may also be an additional reason why weekends seem extra-rainy this year in particular: portions of the US are much rainier than normal right now.

    It's been a wet spring across several areas of the country, especially on the East Coast and throughout the northern plains. Rainfall in areas around Washington DC has been 300% above usual in the last 30 days. Parts of Florida, Nebraska, and Montana have been equally soaked.

    Scientists like Pendergrass who study the global climate say people should get used to this: increased rainfall is part of a warming world. So are stronger, more damaging hurricanes. Think of it like the Earth's version of a feverish sweat.

    But if you want to know the best time of day to make plans based on the chances of rain, here's an evidence-based hack: stay inside in the afternoon.

    When the sun comes up in the morning and starts heating the surface of the Earth, warm air rises and clouds form. By afternoon, there's enough energy in the sky for a storm to form. So if it's pouring on you on a weekend afternoon, you can blame that hot ball in the sky, no matter what day it is.

    SEE ALSO: Rainstorms are now up to 70% stronger and wetter than they were in the 1950s — and this is only the beginning

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Rainbows aren't just arcs in the sky — they're actually full circles


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    The Conversation

    Scott Pruitt EPA environment health Trump administration

    • According to 45 current and retired EPA employees, Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are aggressively reorganizing the EPA to promote interests of regulated industries.
    • These efforts have come at the expense of its official mission to "protect human health and the environment."
    • Academics call this activity "regulatory capture," which occurs when an agency makes decisions based on the interest of a regulated industry, rather than public interest.
    • If passed, Pruitt's proposals would undo, delay or otherwise block at least 30 existing rules beneficial to public health, such as the Clean Power Plan.

    The Environmental Protection Agency made news recently for excluding reporters from a "summit" meeting on chemical contamination in drinking water. Episodes like this are symptoms of a larger problem: an ongoing, broad-scale takeover of the agency by industries it regulates.

    We are social scientists with interests in environmental health, environmental justice and inequality and democracy. We recently published a study, conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative and based on interviews with 45 current and retired EPA employees, which concludes that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration have steered the agency to the verge of what scholars call "regulatory capture."

    By this we mean that they are aggressively reorganizing the EPA to promote interests of regulated industries, at the expense of its official mission to "protect human health and the environment."

    How close is too close?

    The notion of "regulatory capture" has a long record in US social science research. It helps explain the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In both cases, lax federal oversight and the government's over-reliance on key industries were widely viewed as contributing to the disasters.

    How can you tell whether an agency has been captured? According to Harvard's David Moss and Daniel Carpenter, it occurs when an agency's actions are "directed away from the public interest and toward the interest of the regulated industry" by "intent and action of industries and their allies." In other words, the farmer doesn't just tolerate foxes lurking around the hen house — he recruits them to guard it.

    Serving industry

    From the start of his tenure at EPA, Pruitt has championed interests of regulated industries such as petrochemicals and coal mining, while rarely discussing the value of environmental and health protections. "Regulators exist," he asserts, "to give certainty to those that they regulate," and should be committed to "enhanc(ing) economic growth."

    In our view, Pruitt's efforts to undo, delay or otherwise block at least 30 existing rules reorient EPA rule-making "away from the public interest and toward the interest of the regulated industry." Our interviewees overwhelmingly agreed that these rollbacks undermine their own "pretty strong sense of mission … protecting the health of the environment," as one current EPA staffer told us.

    EPA Scott Pruitt

    Many of these targeted rules have well-documented public benefits, which Pruitt's proposals — assuming they withstand legal challenges — would erode. For example, rejecting a proposed ban on the insecticide chlorpyrifos would leave farm workers and children at risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorders. Revoking the Clean Power Plan for coal-fired power plants, and weakening proposed fuel efficiency standards, would sacrifice health benefits associated with cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

    A key question is whether regulated industries had an active hand in these initiatives. Here, again, the answer is yes.

    Nuzzling up to industry

    Pruitt's EPA is staffed with senior officials who have close industry ties. For example, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist. Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, was formerly an executive at the American Chemistry Council. And Senior Deputy General Counsel Erik Baptist was previously senior counsel at the American Petroleum Institute.

    Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Pruitt has met with representatives of regulated industries 25 times more often than with environmental advocates. His staff carefully shields him from encounters with groups that they consider "unfriendly."

    EPA Scott Pruitt chart2

    The former head of EPA's Office of Policy, Samantha Dravis, who left the agency in April 2018, had 90 scheduled meetings with energy, manufacturing and other industrial interests between March 2017 and January 2018. During the same period she met with one public interest organization.

    Circumstantial evidence suggests that corporate lobbying is directly influencing major policy decisions. For example, just before rejecting the chlorpyrifos ban, Pruitt met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, which manufactures the pesticide.

    Overturning Obama's Clean Power Plan and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord were recommended by coal magnate Robert Murray in his "Action Plan for the Administration." Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show detailed correspondence between Pruitt and industry lobbyists about EPA talking points. They also document Pruitt's many visits with corporate officials as he formulated his attack on the Clean Power Plan.

    Muting other voices

    Scott Pruitt EPA environment health Trump administration 2

    Pruitt and his staff also have sought to sideline potentially countervailing interests and influences, starting with EPA career staff. In one of our interviews, an EPA employee described a meeting between Pruitt, the home-building industry and agency career staff. Pruitt showed up late, led the industry representatives into another room for a group photo, then trooped back into the meeting room to scold his own EPA employees for not listening to them.

    Threatened by proposed budget cuts, buyouts and retribution against disloyal staff and leakers, career EPA employees have been made "afraid … so nobody pushes back, nobody says anything," according to one of our sources.

    As a result, enforcement has fallen dramatically. During Trump's first 6 months in office, the EPA collected 60 percent less money in civil penalties from polluters than it had under Presidents Obama or George W. Bush in the same period. The agency has also opened fewer civil and criminal cases.

    Early in his tenure Pruitt replaced many members of EPA's Science Advisory Board and Board of Scientific Counselors in a move intended to give representatives from industry and state governments more influence. He also established a new policy that prevents EPA-funded scientists from serving on these boards, but allows industry-funded scientists to serve.

    And on April 24, 2018, Pruitt issued a new rule that limits what kind of scientific research the agency can rely on in writing environmental regulation. This step was advocated by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute.

    What can be done?

    This is not the first time that a strongly anti-regulatory administration has tried to redirect EPA. In our interviews, longtime EPA staffers recalled similar pressure under President Reagan, led by his first administrator, Anne Gorsuch.

    Gorsuch also slashed budgets, cut back on enforcement and "treated a lot of people in the agency as the enemy," in the words of her successor, William Ruckelshaus. She was forced to resign in 1983 amid congressional investigations into EPA misbehavior, including corruptive favoritism and its cover-up at the Superfund program.

    EPA veterans of those years emphasized the importance of Democratic majorities in Congress, which initiated the investigations, and sustained media coverage of EPA's unfolding scandals. They remembered this phase as an oppressive time, but noted that pro-industry actions by political appointees failed to suffuse the entire bureaucracy. Instead, career staffers resisted by developing subtle, "underground" ways of supporting each other and sharing information internally and with Congress and the media.

    Similarly, the media are spotlighting Pruitt's policy actions and ethical scandals today. EPA staffers who have left the agency are speaking out against Pruitt's policies. State attorneys general and the court system have also thwarted some of Pruitt's efforts. And EPA's Science Advisory Board — including members appointed by Pruitt — recently voted almost unanimously to do a full review of the scientific justification for many of Pruitt's most controversial proposals.

    Still, with the Trump administration tilted hard against regulation and Republicans controlling Congress, the greatest challenge to regulatory capture at the EPA will be the 2018 and 2020 elections.

    SEE ALSO: Lawmakers want FBI investigation into latest Scott Pruitt scandals, including Chick-fil-A bombshell

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How to survive a snake bite


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    • IKEA has set the ambitious goal to be a fully circular business by 2030.
    • Bosses say IKEA also aims to be carbon neutral by the same year.
    • It wants to be a global leader in other megatrends like urbanisation and insecure employment.

     

    IKEA has announced a major strategic plan to make the furniture giant both circular and climate neutral by 2030.

    The move supports IKEA's new long-term strategy of adapting to a new future, marked by resource scarcity and urbanisation. As part of this initiative, IKEA has sketched out a strategy document called "Three Roads Forward", which outlines the furniture group's future direction towards 2025.

    The three roads are centered on accessibility, the environment and affordability.

    "It was worked out a little under a year ago and aims to make IKEA more priceworthy for people who can't afford it today, more accessible for those who aren't reached today and create a positive impact on people, society and the planet," Göran Nilsson, a concept innovation manager at IKEA, told Veckans Affärer this spring.

    In conjunction with the Democratic Design Days, IKEA's annual media event taking place in its headquarters in Älmhult this week, the furniture chain is detailing the the third road — People & Planet Positive 2030.

    IKEA wants to be circular and 'climate positive' by 2030

    Besides the usual corporate commitments to inclusion, equality and improving biodiversity, IKEA is making a pledge to transform the very resource use of its business.

    The goal is to become "circular" and entirely climate positive. This means the company aims to only use renewable or recycled inputs for its products by 2030.

    "Our ambition is to become people and planet positive by 2030 while growing the IKEA business. Through our size and reach we have the opportunity to inspire and enable more than one billion people to live better lives, within the limits of the planet" said Inter IKEA Group CEO, Torbjörn Lööf.

    The logo of IKEA is seen above a store in Voesendorf, Austria, April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

    As part of the circularity pledge, the furniture company — already conditioned to living by near-religious principles since its founder Ingvar Kamprad nailed down IKEA's core theses in 1976 — has now outlined nine new circular design principles, which will be challenging some of the company's standard practices and will be fully in place by 2022.

    A preamble to that strategy came last year, when the company unveiled its "click technology" that makes screws redundant.

    IKEA pinpoints the importance of infrastructure and partnerships to support a waste-free and circular economy.

    "Change will only be possible if we collaborate with others and nurture entrepreneurship. We are committed to taking the lead working together with everyone — from raw material suppliers all the way to our customers and partners", said Torbjörn Lööf, CEO of Inter IKEA Group.

    From solar packs to veggie hot dogs

    To achieve climate positivity, IKEA said it will reduce the carbon footprint from its stores and other operations by 80% in absolute terms by 2030, with 2016 as the baseline year. The furniture retailer also aims to reduce greenhouse emissions by "at least 15% from the IKEA value chain in absolute terms compared to 2016."

    This measure translates on average to a 70% reduced climate footprint per IKEA product, achieved in part by strict requirements on suppliers, product materials and design and transportation. Even the company's upcoming "veggie hot dog" will play a part in reducing footprints.

    jesper brodin johan nilsson tt

    In conjunction with this, the company will be doubling down on consuming and buying 100% renewable energy by 2020, IKEA said in the press release. Having recently invested some $1,7 billion in renewable energy, IKEA its also looking to offset its overall consumption with renewables within this same time period.

    IKEA will also be enabling its customers to save and generate renewable energy in their homes, in part through the company's wall-mounted solar packs released in 2017.

    IKEA wants to set a corporate benchmark for sustainability

    Intensifying pressure from e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Alibaba has made traditional retailers increasingly aware of the need for fast transformation. IKEA, a global firm with 355 stores and 149,000 employees in 29 countries, knows this.

    Having taken big initiatives — from buying forest to announcing electric vehicle support — over the past few years, IKEA now seems to be taking sustainability into its core business practices. Its massive scale — IKEA consumes around 1% of the world's wood supply — will undoubtedly make a dent, and perhaps set a sustainability precedent for other global corporates in the coming decade.

    In order to become a fully circular business by 2030, more than investment has to be shifted: an entirely new mindset will be required.

    "IKEA has to ask themselves — is a loyal customer one that comes back often or someone that loves us but makes purchases less often", said Malin Sundström, associate professor at the University of Borås.

    How does the People & Planet strategy connect with the company's Three Roads Forward initiative from earlier this spring?

    Jonas Carlehed, who is head of Sustainability at IKEA Retail Sweden, said: "It's very much part of it. Now we are charting the course for the third road, that we'll have a positive impact on people as well as environment. But this action plan is also part of the two other roads around low prices and affordability. It's our new core business."

    But the company's third road will be all but straight.

    IKEA needs to go from selling just new items to providing a host of services in order to prolong the lifecycle of its furniture. An example of that is an initiative with Swedish secondhand marketplace Blocket, which lets IKEA's premium members advertise their used products without paying.

    "For example, we could help by selling different spare parts to furniture. We are going to communicate around that opportunity, but we'll also be looking at utilising our bargain sections better by, for example, accepting used items," said Carlehed.

    What have been the hardest parts of outlining the People & Planet strategy?

    "That has absolutely been the consumption bit. We have two things that we will be good at — to create products and to create a better everyday life for the masses. We need to do both in a sustainable way," said Carlehed.

    IKEA's sustainability commitments for 2030 include:

    • Designing all IKEA products with new circular principles, with the goal to only use renewable and recycled materials
    • Offering services that make it easier for people to bring home, care for and pass on products
    • Removing all single-use plastic products from the IKEA range globally and from customer and co-worker restaurants in stores by 2020
    • Increasing the proportion of plant-based choices in the IKEA food offer, like the veggie hot dog launching globally in August 2018
    • Becoming climate positive and reducing the total IKEA climate footprint by an average of 70% per product
    • Achieving zero emissions home deliveries by 2025
    • Expanding the offer of affordable home solar solutions to 29 IKEA markets by 2025

    SEE ALSO: Sonos and Ikea are teaming up to create a speaker that can act as a shelf

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    NOW WATCH: Sneaky ways Costco gets you to buy more


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    Miami king tide flooding

    Sea level rise is threatening coastal cities around the world.

    If you live in a city like Miami, New York City, or Charleston, the evidence is apparent if you head to the right neighborhood during high tides — especially those known as king tides. These are the highest tides of the year, and they coincide with full moons during spring and fall.

    King tides themselves aren't caused by sea level rise, but as the highest tides of the year, they show how sea level has already risen over the past century — the neighborhoods they flood on sunny days now didn't flood like this decades ago, even during high tides.

    In 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that cities around the country experienced a record number of flooding events related to high tides, according to the National Climate Report. More than a quarter of coastal locations tied or set new records for the number of flooding days. And in 2018, flooding on the US coastline is expected to be 60% higher than it was just 20 years ago.

    Perhaps most importantly, high and king tides are a preview of what's to come as seas continue to rise. What happens during high tides now will happen on a regular basis in the future.

    As sea level rises, waters come back up through storm drains and wash over barricades. They flood houses and roads. And in many cases, they may be full of bacteria and potential pathogens.

    Most cities recognize the situation at this point and are doing everything they can to try to beat back the rising tides. But seas will continue to rise as warmer oceans expand and glaciers melt. It's likely that neighborhoods and even some cities will be uninhabitable far sooner than many think.

    SEE ALSO: Miami is racing against time to keep up with sea-level rise

    Annapolis, Maryland: Sea level is rising faster along the East Coast than in many places. In Annapolis, tides can cause the Chesapeake Bay to flood the city.



    Seattle, Washington: King tides sometimes cause Puget Sound to rise to discomforting levels in Seattle, as is shown here in 2011.



    Boston, Massachusetts: Boston set a new record for the number of flooding days the city experienced in 2017, with higher sea levels making high tide flooding more common, especially when storms were in the area.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    smog carbon dioxide pollution

    • The average concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere topped 411 parts per million in May.
    • In April — the previous month — the concentration hit 410 ppm for the first time in recorded history.
    • These are the highest CO2 levels in the 800,000 years for which we have good data.
    • This is expected to have a catastrophic effect on human health and the planet. 

    We have a pretty good idea of what Earth's atmosphere has looked like for the past 800,000 years.

    Humans like us — Homo sapiensevolved about 200,000 years ago, but ice-core records reveal intricate details of our planet's history from long before humans existed. By drilling more than 3 kilometers deep into the ice sheets over Greenland and Antarctica, scientists can see how temperature and atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels have changed.

    From that record, we know the atmosphere and the air that we breathe has never had as much carbon dioxide in it as it does today.

    For the first time in recorded history, the average monthly level of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded 410 parts per million in April, according to observations at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. In May, that number climbed above 411 ppm, according to researchers from Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The record is not a coincidence — humans have rapidly transformed the air we breathe by pumping CO2 into it over the past two centuries. In recent years, we've pushed those gas levels into uncharted territory.

    That change has inevitable and scary consequences. Research indicates that if unchecked, increased CO2 levels could cause pollution-related deaths to increase by tens of thousands, and lead to the slowing of human cognition (especially when you take into account the fact that CO2 levels tend to be higher indoors in cities). Carbon dioxide also contributes to warming that causes sea-level rise, searing heat waves, and superstorms.

    "As a scientist, what concerns me the most is what this continued rise actually means: that we are continuing full speed ahead with an unprecedented experiment with our planet, the only home we have," Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, said on Twitter.

    thwaites glacier

    Breathing the air of a new world

    For the 800,000 years for which we have records, average global CO2 levels fluctuated between about 170 ppm and 280 ppm. Once humans started to burn fossil fuels in the industrial era, things changed rapidly.

    Only in the industrial era has the number risen above 300 ppm. The concentration first crept above 400 ppm in 2013, and it continues to climb.

    There's a debate among scientists about the last time CO2 levels were this high. It might have been during the Pliocene era, 2 million to 4.6 million years ago, when sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher than today. Or it may have been in the Miocene, 10 million to 14 million years ago, when seas were more than 100 feet higher than now.

    In our 800,000-year record, it took about 1,000 years for CO2 levels to increase by 35 ppm. We're currently averaging an increase of more than 2 ppm a year, meaning we could hit an average of 500 ppm within the next 45 years.

    CO2 doesn't directly harm human health at these concentrations. But because it traps heat on the planet that then cranks up the global thermostat, it can have a very significant effect on health.

    Global temperature tracks very closely to atmospheric levels of CO2. The potential effects of higher average temperatures include tens of thousands of deaths from heat waves, more extreme weather events, and the spread of diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes — something we're already seeing. (There's a full list of possible ways climate change will affect human health on an archived Environmental Protection Agency page.)

    Global annual temperature and CO2 levels, 1959 to 2016

    Higher levels of CO2 and the warming they cause also exacerbate ozone pollution. One 2008 study found that for every degree Celsius the temperature rises because of CO2 levels, ozone pollution can be expected to kill an additional 22,000 people via respiratory illness, asthma, and emphysema.

    Humans have never had to breathe air that's this polluted. Increased air pollution has been shown to cause lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and higher rates of allergies and asthma. A recent study found that 9 million people died prematurely from pollution-related diseases in 2015, accounting for 16% of all deaths worldwide.

    Other research has raised even more concerns. The average CO2 level doesn't represent the air most of us breathe. Cities tend to have far more CO2 than average — and those levels rise even higher indoors. Some research indicates that it may have a negative effect on human cognition and decision-making. 

    For these reasons, President Barack Obama's EPA ruled in 2009 that CO2 was a pollutant that needed to be regulated under the Clean Air Act. But the Trump administration is reevaluating that ruling.

    Pedestrians cross a road amidst smog on a polluted day in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

    Drowning in CO2

    The human-health effects of CO2 increases are just one part of the bigger story here.

    The change we've seen in CO2 levels recently has been much more rapid than the historical trends. Some experts think we're on track to hit 550 ppm by the end of the century, which could cause average global temperatures to rise by 6 degrees Celsius. For context, the increase in superstorms, rising sea levels, and spreading tick-borne disease that we're already seeing comes after a 0.9-degree rise.

    temperature and CO2

    Projections of sea-level rise will also get more extreme as CO2 levels continue to climb.

    Right now, carbon-dioxide emissions are still rising. The goal set in the Paris agreement on climate change is to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius or less. But as a recent feature in the journal Nature revealed, we're on track for more than 3 degrees of warming.

    The latest measurements show that if we want to avoid that dangerous scenario, we need to make dramatic changes very quickly.

    This story was updated on June 12 to include the newly released data on CO2 levels hitting a new record in May and to clarify the means through which higher levels of CO2 affect human health.

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

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    Shopaholic

    • Swedish scientist David Anderson created web-service 'Svalna' to track the environmental impact of your spending habits.
    • Svalna uses your transaction data to analyse the 'energy-per-krona' for your shopping behaviour.
    • The service aims to help you identify how and where you can decrease your environmental impact.

     

    The site 'Svalna' wants to help you keep track of how much your shopping happiness costs the earth. 

    The web-service is developed by scientist David Anderson, who has done a research in sustainable consumption at the Chalmers University of Technology.

    By creating an account at the site, you allow Svalna to connect to your bank account and extract transaction information from your bank. To provide a correct picture, you then need to fill out some information about your living situation, family and car ownership.

    According to the founder, the site is the first of its kind since it analyses actual transactions. This provides a more accurate picture of how much your consumption actually affects the environment.

    "We call the bluff," said David Anderson in an interview with NyTeknik. "I think that there is a huge risk that people forget how many jeans they bought last year."

    This is why the use of transaction information provides a more truthful picture of your consumption habits than if you would answer a questionnaire alone.

    Your transaction information is then processed through data on the energy consumption in different production steps within different industries. From Statistics Sweden doing so, the company provides a unit "energy-per-krona" for each sector and then applies it at the data you have shared with them.

    So far, it provides a rather rough estimate. The founder points out that the more people that use the service, the better the estimates will get.

    Currently, their main challenge is to make people feel comfortable sharing their transaction data. Until people feel comfortable with this type information sharing, the service comes in a less intimate alternative where you enter other information such as income and registration number on your car. This enables the service to extract other types of data through other channels.

    The purpose of the web-service is to increase awareness of your consumption's environmental impact, and ultimately, help you understand how you could decrease your impact and which measures that will do so most effectively.

    "We have realised that many want to know what plays a larger and smaller part in their environmental impact. Many are motivated and feel responsibility, but don't know where to start," explained David Anderson.

    SEE ALSO: Rising carbon dioxide levels could cause a malnutrition crisis

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    plastic

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Source: Reuters



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

    Source: Reuters



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

    Source: Reuters



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    mcdonalds

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    the ocean cleanup plastic great pacific garbage patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    drinking straws

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

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

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

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

    New Jersey beaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    There are other options. 

    plastic straws

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    antarctica ice melt

    Melting ice, rising seas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    antarctica iceberg a68 satellite photo nasa

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

    Time is running out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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