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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider
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    apollo 8 earth blue marble nasa

    • On June 23, 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen told the US Senate it was time to acknowledge that climate change was happening and take action to limit its effects.
    • Thirty years later, the world has continued to burn fossil fuels faster and faster, cranking planet-warming carbon dioxide levels higher than they've been for millions of years.
    • Without taking action soon, it'll cost future generations trillions to try to deal with the problem.

    Exactly 30 years ago, James Hansen, the director of NASA's Institute for Space Studies, told the US Senate that the question of the day — whether climate change was happening — was no longer in doubt.

    "It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here," Hansen told reporters at the time.

    Hansen's testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 23, 1988 — coincidentally the hottest June 23 in the District of Columbia's recorded history— is frequently considered the most important climate change hearing in history.

    The greenhouse effect that Hansen described — in which the widespread combustion of fossil fuels causes a heat-trapping buildup of gases like carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere — has since become almost common knowledge. For more than 400,000 years, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 fluctuated between just under 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm). Levels are now over 400 ppm and climbing.

    The most alarming consequences of that change, like an uninhabitable planet, are still far off. But the near-term effects of climate change, things people alive today will see, include rising sea levels, exaggerated temperature extremes, and stronger hurricanes and typhoons.

    The question Hansen's testimony raised was what would be done about that threat. Leading scientists had spoken; political leaders had the information; and even ExxonMobil researchers had privately concluded that "major reductions in fossil fuel combustion" would be needed to prevent "potentially catastrophic events," according to prizewinning investigative reporting.

    But the answer to that question, 30 years later, is very little.

    The more time passes, the more difficult and expensive fixing the climate problem will get. Hansen is still sounding alarms — in a study published last year, he calculated that future generations could be forced to spend more than $530 trillion cleaning C02 out of the atmosphere (something we don't yet know how to do efficiently). For context, the entire US budget is about $4 trillion annually.

    That's quite a burden to leave the children of the future.

    The leaders that got us here

    People's Climate March (3 of 20)After Hansen's testimony, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works sent a letter to Lee Thomas, the EPA administrator, asking for an examination of policy options that would help stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

    "It was shelved,"Mary Wood, head of the University of Oregon School of Law's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center, told Business Insider.

    In 1988, George H.W. Bush, who would take the presidential oath the following January, vowed to"fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect."

    That didn't happen. In fact, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Bush famously declared that "the American way of life is not up for negotiation."

    The members of the 101st Congress in 1989 hailed mostly from the Silent Generation (the average age was about 53) and to be fair, they were stuck with a problem created by past generations, too. But by the time those leaders were in power, they had access to knowledge about the scale of the problem that previous generations' representatives did not.

    hottest yearOf course, behavioral psychologists and economists know that humans aren't good at coming together to deal with problems whose consequences seem far off.

    "On any issue, it takes an enormous amount of effort to overcome the status quo," environmentalist and author Bill McKibben told Business Insider. "In the case of climate change, it's doubly hard, since you have to deal with the entire world. In a certain way, we shouldn't be too surprised about how difficult it's all been."

    But the biggest barrier to action hasn't been cooperation, nor a lack of information.

    "It turned out that we were not engaged in an argument for which more evidence and data was the cure — we'd won the argument long ago," McKibben said. "It was a fight, and it was about money and power … And that one we were losing."

    The power of money and misinformation

    Energy company executives have long known the scientific consensus on global warming. Exxon leaders were informed by company scientists that there was general scientific agreement on the topic in the 1970s. Oil giant Shell created a film in 1991 explaining the future threats of extreme weather, flood, famine, and climate-related conflict.

    But they also knew that a serious fight against climate change would hurt their businesses, and lobbied against regulation.

    In the early 2000s, groups connected to energy billionaires like the Koch brothers also started funding efforts to discredit climate science. As Jane Mayer explained in her book "Dark Money," political consultant Frank Luntz showed these groups how to persuade voters that the science wasn't clear.

    "On cue, organizations funded and directed by the Kochs tore into global warming science and the experts behind it," Mayer wrote. From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs spent almost $25 million funding anti-climate groups, according to the book.

    Such groups poured money into political campaigns, directed at candidates (often Republicans) who voiced doubts about the established science. According to a 2013 study, organizations connected to fossil fuel companies have spent almost half a billion dollars on "a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public's understanding of climate."

    And lo and behold, political inaction continued. In 2001, George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which would have gone into effect and required emissions cuts by 2008. (Bill Clinton initially signed it.)

    In the most recent presidential election, Republican candidates had already been given a total of more than $100 million from fossil fuel barons by March 2016. President Trump's administration is now full of officials who don't accept the scientific consensus on climate change.

    "A government decision maker that has taken money from the fossil fuel industry cannot simply turn around and take action on the climate the next day," Wood said. "They've been compromised, they've breached the duty of loyalty."

    The influence that fossil fuels companies now have in politics, Wood added, has created a conflict of interest between government officials and citizens that's "the size of the Gulf of Mexico." Ironically, the Gulf is particularly at risk of being destroyed by the thousands of oil spills that happen there every year.

    Gulf of Mexico oil

    A straightforward solution

    Those in office during Hansen's initial testimony may have been part of the Silent Generation, but by the 111th Congress in 2011, the average age of leaders in the House and Senate marked them as Baby Boomers. And their generation has failed to confront the problem, too.

    Of course, it's wrong to blame two full generations for our climate crisis (as tempting as that may be for future generations). Many people have spent their lives pushing for solutions, and it's unfair to villainize the average layperson for the actions of politicians or the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions since 1988.

    However, the window in which action can still avert the most devastating consequences of climate change is rapidly shrinking. Hansen recently told reporters that his study last year suggested putting the problem off for even a few more years could create a situation where "the costs of trying to maintain a livable planet may be too high to bear."

    That means that the Baby Boomers currently running our country and energy companies are in a unique position. They may be our last line of defense, our final chance to fix the situation.

    "It's a historic moment, because we're at the last possible moment of opportunity to avert irrevocable catastrophe," Wood said.

    The solution is simple.

    china solar panels"The irony of all this is that it's been entirely clear from the beginning what we need to do," McKibben said. "It has to look like the very rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy."

    Eventually, the world will run out of fossil fuels and be forced to make that switch — though if we burn through all oil, gas, and coal before we do so, the planet will be drastically different. Many researchers believe the right policies can facilitate a much faster transition.

    "We undertake enormous expenditures to do things that we think are in the long term interest, national security expenses for example, undertaken with a view that they protect us against future threats,"Larry Karp, an economist at UC Berkeley, told Business Insider.

    Wood also likens the threat of climate change — and necessary action — to military efforts.

    "There was certainly a consensus in World War II when everyone stepped up to the threat. Car manufacturers made military equipment, toy manufacturers made gun bets — that kind of war effort was incredible then and that's exactly what's needed now," said Wood. "It takes a real leader to meet that threat."

    There are substantial bipartisan arguments in favor of switching to renewable energy: It's the only way for the US to achieve energy independence, and the falling price of renewables has already created a market trend towards cleaner energy.

    Plus, the cost of such a transition would be far cheaper than the alternative. A 2014 report by the International Energy Agency estimated that transitioning away from fossil fuels by 2050 would cost the world $44 trillion. But by cutting fuel use, the report estimates, we'd avoid $115 trillion in fuel costs, which would more pay for the switch (not to mention the fact that the costs of wind and solar have fallen significantly since those calculations were done).

    Rising activism around the world

    As older leaders continue to stall, millions of individuals in younger generations are now pushing for policies and investments that could avert the worst effects of climate change.

    "It became clear, we've got to organize for some power of our own," said McKibben — a Boomer who's devoted his career to this cause.

    McKibben's organization 350.org, is filled with young activists leading initiatives to fight projects like the Keystone Pipeline and other new oil, coal, and gas developments.

    Climate-related lawsuits are on the rise around the world as well. In the US, a group of 21 kids, aged 9 to 21, are currently suing the federal government. They argue that by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its dangerous consequences, the government has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

    youth climate lawsuit our children's trust

    Hansen's granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan is one of those kids. If their lawsuit succeeds, the case could establish a fundamental right to a stable climate and compel agencies to pursue that goal.

    Advocacy like this has contributed to the emergence of a stronger global consensus about the need to curb emissions.

    "Paris was a success, though you have to squint a little bit to see it — at least everyone agreed there was a problem," McKibben said.

    Although President Trump has said the US is withdrawing from the agreement, cities and states around the country have vowed to meet the Paris agreement's emissions reduction goals anyway. Other countries, including China and the EU, have said they plan to stick to their pledges no matter what.

    The question, however, is whether any of these efforts can yield results quickly enough.

    "In order to catch up with the physics of climate change we have to go at an exponential rate," McKibben said. "It's not as if this was a static problem. If we don't get to it very soon, we'll never get to it."

    The looming cliff

    himalayan glacier getty

    More Gen Xers and Millennials are assuming positions of authority every day. But the threat of climate change is quickly getting harder to deal with.

    I am a Millennial — I was born five years before Hansen's testimony — and I'm also a father. I wonder every day if we will solve this in time for my son to avoid the most disastrous versions of climate model projections.

    "He's going to look back and think, 'what the hell were you all thinking,'" McKibben said of my son. "And the answer will be that we weren't thinking enough."

    "Huge swaths of the world will be living in places that by the end of the century will have heat waves so deep that people won't be able to deal with them, you have sea level rising dramatically, to the point that most of the world's cities are drowning, the ocean turning into a hot, sour, breathless soup as it acidifies and warms," McKibben said.

    The legislators currently in power cannot, of course, be held responsible for that stark future. And they're not to blame for a problem that started at the beginning of the industrial era. But by virtue of their position at this moment, they're the ones with the power to finally do something.

    "They're sitting in a historic moment that is cast upon them by nature itself," Wood said. "Everybody in the future will know that we sat in this one fleeting moment of time. Everybody will know who stood up and who stood on the sidelines."

    This story was originally published on July 22, 2017. It has been updated for the anniversary of James Hansen's testimony.

    SEE ALSO: The world faces a future of floods, famine, and extreme heat — here’s what it’ll take to bounce back

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why pandas are the most overrated animals on the planet


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    space earth iss

    • An important existential question about human survival is also relevant to the search for alien life: Is it possible for a civilization to survive long enough to explore the stars?
    • A new paper suggests there are four pathways a civilization could follow as it develops. On three of those paths, civilizations change their environments too much and overuse resources, which causes them to die off.
    • On one pathway, sustainable existence is figured out.
    • That's a good reason to take action on climate change, according to the paper's lead author.


    It's possible that the human species has already passed the point of no return, and we just don't know it yet.

    Or perhaps we're on our way to figuring out how to live sustainably on our planet.

    One of the most important questions for the long-term survival of the human species is how civilizations handle the changes they make to their environments as they become more technologically advanced. That question could also help us evaluate the chances that other intelligent life exists in the universe.

    A study recently published in the journal Astrobiology suggests there are four different scenarios a civilization can follow as it develops. One of those four pathways leads to sustainable existence. But in the other three, civilizations overuse resources and collapse or die off as a result.

    The logical question, then, is: Which path are we on?

    "The laws of physics demand that any young population, building an energy-intensive civilization like ours, is going to have feedback on its planet," Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.

    As humans have developed new technology, our civilization has become more and more energy intensive. In the industrial era, we've mostly burned fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. In doing so, we're transforming our planet and are causing it to heat up — so much so, in fact, that we're now trying to figure out how much climate change is going to impact our world and how to handle that new reality. 

    "Seeing climate change in this cosmic context may give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it," Frank said.

    This perspective on civilizations could also help explain why we have yet to encounter any other intelligent life in the universe.

    The four pathways

    Frank and his colleagues developed mathematical models of the effects that harvesting energy could have on a planet. Then they modeled how that energy harvesting might affect the continued existence of a technological civilization. As Frank explains in a YouTube video about his paper, the team's models take into account physics, chemistry, and population dynamics.

    The researchers also used data from studies of extinct civilizations on Earth, like Easter Island, to inform these models.

    Their results suggested four different trajectories for civilization growth. In all of the scenarios, harvesting energy and using resources triggers world-transforming climate chang for any intelligent planetary civilization (like humans on Earth). The question is at what point a civilization realizes that the world is changing, and whether there's time to stave off catastrophe.

    four scenarios

    In the first scenario, the "die-off" model, population growth transforms the planetary environment so much that almost all — about 90% — of the population is unable to survive the changes. Small pockets of people (or other intelligent beings on a different planet) might live on, but probably without any of the modern energy-intensive technology that caused the environmental changes. This scenario is sometimes explored in post-apocalyptic fiction in which humanity has reverted to a pre-energy-harvesting existence. 

    The second scenario is the sustainability or "soft-landing" model. In this case, Frank said in the video, "the population rises, the planet starts to heat up because of it, but you're able to find a nice stable equilibrium where population comes to a stable level and planet doesn't change anymore."

    The third scenario matches that of Easter Island — a cautionary tale. In that case, the population grew far more rapidly than the island's resources could support. When those resources were used up, the population collapsed. We could do the same thing to the entire planet by changing the climate so fast that it becomes inhospitable to human life.

    Although that third model sounds scary, the fourth scenario is the one Frank described as most frightening, since it could be where we are now. In that case, a civilization realizes they've triggered rapid environmental change and tries to shift to using resources in a way that won't transform the planet. But that switch comes too late, and collapse happens anyway.

    "Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you could still have your population collapse," Frank said in the statement.

    Aliens easter island

    The Great Filter

    Frank and other scientists like paleontologist Peter Ward have theorized that climate change could be the answer to a famous question known as the Fermi paradox.

    The question is simple: Statistically, other intelligent civilizations should almost certainly have evolved in the universe, so why haven't we seen evidence of them?

    One possible answer is that environmental transformation (whether that means using up necessary resources or irreversibly changing a climate) is a filter that prevents civilizations from surviving long enough to travel to distant stars. This idea is known as the "Great Filter."

    As philosopher Nick Bostrom has explained, this concept suggests that life on an Earth-like planet has to achieve several "evolutionary transitions or steps" before it can communicate with civilizations in other star systems. But an obstacle or barrier makes it impossible for an intelligent species like ours to progress through all those steps before collapsing. That would explain why we haven't heard from or seen any other life.

    Bostrom wrote:

    "You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be powerful enough — which is to say, the critical steps must be improbable enough — that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals, at least none that we can detect in our neck of the woods."

    If that's the reason we've never found evidence of intelligent life, the "Great Filter" idea would suggest that most planetary civilizations can't figure out the sustainable pathway that Frank and his colleagues describe.

    But theoretically, it's likely that somewhere in the universe, some civilizations figure out how to become sustainable and avoid collapse or die-off, as Frank explained in the YouTube video.

    There are steps we can take to try to achieve that goal here on Earth — but it requires people to get on the same page and act to limit the avoidable effects of climate change. That would require a transition away from fossil fuels and the restoration of certain natural environments. It may also require us to develop ways to efficiently remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    "Climate change is not our fault. We didn't trigger climate change because we're greedy," Frank said in the video. Instead, climate change may just be a part of civilizational development. But the way we respond to it going forward matters a great deal.

    "Now, however, we know, and if we don't do something about it, it will be our fault," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Having sex and reproducing in space comes with serious scientific and ethical problems. We may need to create a new species of human to make it work.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why pandas are the most overrated animals on the planet


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    Howard Schultz Starbucks

    • Starbucks' outgoing executive chairman Howard Schultz says climate change is going to impact the quality of coffee in the future.
    • Scientists are already seeing the effects of climate change on coffee production around the globe, and they predict things will get worse by 2050. 
    • Starbucks is testing dozens of new varietals, hoping to develop some heat- and fungus-resistant strains that taste good.

     

    Outgoing Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz is worried about the future of your morning coffee ritual.

    "Climate change is going to play a bigger role in affecting the quality and integrity of coffee," Schultz told Time on a recent visit to a Starbucks coffee farm in Costa Rica.

    As the Earth warms, predictable weather systems are going haywire. Rainy seasons are turning dry in some areas, while increased precipitation has brought flooding to others.

    Farmers that grow coffee around the planet’s midsection are already feeling the pressure of less predictable growing seasons. In Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, bean counts are down due to the damaging Hemileia vastatrix fungus, which started spreading six years ago. Scientists think this coffee rust, as its known, thrives in radical high-and-low temperature swings, which are characteristic of climate change. Coffee production decreased 31% on average in Colombia during a rust epidemic from 2008 to 2011, and the coffee indicator price went up 55% in that time, according to a study in the journal Food Security

    In Brazil, an unusually soppy May last year slowed down harvests and made coffee drying challenging, but in 2018, Brazil's production is expected to jump by six million bags, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports.

    Scientists predict that the "coffee suitable" growing spots in Latin America (where plant-pollinating bees thrive) could be reduced 88% by 2050, while temperatures on the Tanzanian highlands are already at their upper limit for coffee production.

    Starbucks is the fourth largest coffee seller in the world, according to 2017 research from Euromonitor International, so the company has a lot to lose when it comes to climate change. To confront that threat, Starbucks is researching new heat-resistant tree varieties and making findings open-source information. The company is also giving farmers seedlings and seeds from newly developed strains of coffee trees, vowing to put 100 million in the ground by 2025

    "We have to be in the soil, growing coffee, to understand firsthand how to rectify and fix the situation," Schultz told Time.

    More demand, but less coffee to go around

    Coffee is now the second-most traded commodity in the world (after oil). Coffee consumption in China has tripled in the past four years, according to a recent report from CBS News. Even Canada’s coffee habit increased an average of 3.3% each year from 2010 to 2015, according to Euromonitor research. The Coffee Association of Canada now says more Canadian adults drink coffee than tap water on a daily basis.

    ripe coffee beans

    That means coffee production will need to increase in the coming years to keep up with rising demand.

    But time is not on Starbucks' side. New coffee plant varietals take between four and five years to mature before their beans can be harvested, which is longer than the three to four years it takes a traditional coffee tree to bear fruit. Plus, some of Starbucks' fungus-resistant trees don't produce as many coffee cherries, so the yields are smaller than usual when they finally do arrive.

    Of course, coffee is just one crop. Researchers have recently predicted that climate change will likely cause shocks corn production, hurt vegetable yields, and make our food less nutrient-rich. But climate experts have long said that people living in temperate, coffee-growing zones are more vulnerable to climate change than others.

    "Coffee is a finicky crop," Bambi Semroc, vice president of sustainable markets and strategies for Conservation International, told Starbucks recently. "It needs to grow at a precise altitude and receive a precise amount of rainfall. You already have these limiting factors, then climate change comes along and wreaks havoc on the land that you thought was suitable for coffee production."

    SEE ALSO: There's even more evidence that coffee is good for your heart — and 4 cups a day might be the ideal amount

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The world is running out of coffee — here's why


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    volvo ocean race

    The Volvo Ocean Race, one of the toughest sailing races on the planet, has come to a thrilling conclusion.

    The DongFeng Race Team sailed to victory on Sunday evening, finishing the around-the-world race just 16 minutes ahead of the pack.

    It was the closest the race has ever been, and also the first time that a team that included women took the trophy. 

    Held every three years, the nine-month, 40,000-mile race is a grueling test of will and ability for some of the world's best sailors. Along the way, the teams visit six continents, cross the equator, and experience temperatures ranging from below freezing to burning hot — all with as little gear as possible to keep weight down on the boats.

    The race has been called the 'Everest of sailing' because of the difficult conditions teams face.

    But the payoff is worth it, the competitors say.

    "When you think about that sense of achievement when you get to another country, it's incredible," Brian Carlin, an onboard reporter that Volvo Ocean Race pays to sail with the competitors, told Business Insider. "It's a pretty unique event and certainly very, very unique experience."

    The winner of the race is determined by a points system. Teams earn points by pulling into ports first, second, or third at the end of each of the race's 11 legs. Double points get awarded for the most difficult legs, and the team with the fastest overall time receives bonus points. In the end, the group with the highest overall total wins the trophy. 

    Here's what it's like to sail thousands of miles through the open ocean with the fleet.

    SEE ALSO: This fisherman risks his life to catch the world's most elusive, notorious underwater creatures — here's what he's caught

    Only the toughest, most experienced sailors are capable of participating in the race. On the longest legs, competitors spend close to a month at sea, running the boat 24 hours a day.



    The boats are designed for speed — not comfort — so it can be a wet, bumpy ride when the weather isn't cooperating. Each boat is 65 feet long and built to withstand punishing ocean conditions.



    "It's an experience," Carlin said. "It can be pretty bleak and if you're on deck, you're getting hosed by waves and the salt water gets into your skin and you get calluses and you get rashes and it's... Yeah, it's actually not that appealing when you think about it."



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    new york heat wave

    • The Northeast is expected to see 90-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures this weekend.
    • Overall, this summer is expected to be hotter than average.
    • You can thank climate change for that.

    It's going to be a hot weekend, and it's only the start of what meteorologists expect to be a scorching summer. 

    On the heels of a heat wave that brought scalding temperatures and smog to the US Midwest and the Northeast last week, the thermometer is set to reach the mid-to-high 90s this weekend in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. In New York City, weather forecasting site Wunderground anticipates temperatures in the high 80s.

    While the heat isn't likely to break records, it can bring dangerous air-quality conditions to major cities. 

    On hot days, emissions from vehicles and power plants can react with sunlight and other naturally occurring gases to create ground-level ozone, which can hang over cities on hot summer afternoons. Ground-level ozone is especially dangerous to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma.

    Summer officially started in the northern hemisphere last week with the June solstice, and forecasts suggest it will be a hot one. The US Climate Prediction Center says there's more than a 50% chance that the Northeast will be warmer than average from July through September. 

    This heat forecast is part of a trend of rising temperatures across the globe due to climate change. The five hottest years on record since 1880 have all occurred since 2010, with 2016 setting the record for highest average temperature. Projections suggest that by 2075, strong heat waves that currently occur once every 20 years could become annual events on 60% of the Earth's land areas. 

    According to a Harvard study, climate change will also contribute to an additional three to nine days per year of unhealthy ozone levels by 2050 — amounting to a 70-100% increase in ozone days, depending on the region.

    Stay cool out there. 

    SEE ALSO: A heat wave on the East Coast could break records — and it's prompting warnings about dangerously poor air quality

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why humidity makes you feel hotter


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    untitled 20

    When Disney River Country opened in 1976, visitors flocked to Orange County, Florida, to ride the winding slides and traverse the wooden bridges.

    The park closed down 25 years later, and today, it lies abandoned.

    In 2016, A Cleveland-based photographer who works under the pseudonym Seph Lawless documented ghostly portraits of the once busy attraction in his photo series "Dismaland." (This is also the name of Banksy's 2015 art exhibition, a fake apocalyptic theme park near Bristol, England.)

    But River Country will not stay abandoned for much longer. Disney is planning to demolish the decaying park and turn it into a timeshare resort and hotel, GrowthSpotter reports.

    Check out Lawless' photo project below:

    SEE ALSO: The National Park Service turns 100 today — and Obama just protected 87,000 acres of Maine land

    River Country in Orange County, Florida was Walt Disney World's first water park.



    It is one of just two Disney parks, along with Discovery Island in Orange County, to close permanently. Both parks were left to deteriorate.



    Lawless took about 150 photos of the decaying park, he told Business Insider.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    north brother island new york city bronx google maps

    Less than a mile from Manhattan— one of the priciest and most densely populated places in the world — sits a mysterious island that people abandoned more than half a century ago.

    "North Brother Island is among New York City's most extraordinary and least known heritage and natural places," wrote the authors of a recent University of Pennsylvania study about the location.

    The city owns the 22-acre plot, which pokes out of the East River between the South Bronx's industrial coast and a notorious prison: Rikers Island Correctional Center.

    It's illegal for the public to set foot on North Brother Island and its smaller companion, South Brother Island. But even birds seem to avoid its crumbling, abandoned structures (and contrary to Broad City's depiction of the island, there isn't a package pick-up center).

    In 2017, producers for the Science Channel obtained the city's permission to visit North Brother Island — and the crew invited Business Insider to tag along.

    The story of our small expedition premiered this month on "What on Earth?", a popular satellite-image-based TV show that's now in its fourth season. (Our segment closes out episode 12.)

    Here's what we saw and learned while romping around one of New York's spookiest and most forgotten places.

    SEE ALSO: Incredible photos from space reveal the biggest news stories on Earth in 2017

    DON'T MISS: One of the best nature documentaries of all time is back in its second season

    North Brother Island is accessible only by boat. Leaving from Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx is one of the quickest ways to get there.



    Watch your step — the boat ramp is covered in slippery algae at low tide.



    This small aluminum boat was our ride.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    • Running on a highly progressive, Democratic-Socialist platform, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives in a primary election on Tuesday night.
    • She is one of the first American politicians to put forward a climate change plan that would keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
    • Ocasio-Cortez hopes to move the entire country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.


    On Tuesday night, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toppled a 10-term Congressman from New York City in a landslide Democratic primary victory. The shocking result virtually assures that the U.S. Congress will welcome its youngest female member ever next year.

    The upset win also essentially guarantees that Ocasio-Cortez will bring with her the boldest climate platform of any representative in history.

    Ocasio-Cortez, who was without a Wikipedia page on Monday, unseated Joe Crowley, the 20-year representative of New York's 14th Congressional District who was vying to become the next Speaker of the House. The New York Times, her hometown newspaper, didn't even cover the race. CNN called the victory "a real wakeup call for Democrats."

    Ocasio-Cortez said her triumph was "the start of a movement." As a millennial woman of color, she's already been referred to as the future of the Democratic Party.

    Since her district, which comprises parts of Queens and the Bronx, is among the most strongly Democratic in the country, the general election in November likely will not be competitive. Pending the results of other elections across the country, Ocasio-Cortez seems almost certain to join Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as one of the few socialists ever elected to Congress.

    Among her many progressive bona fides, it's really her plan for tackling climate change that deserves the most attention.

    In one of her first campaign tweets on the topic of climate change, more than one year ago, Ocasio-Cortez framed the issue as an "existential threat"— one that young people should be taking the lead on.

    Ocasio-Cortez is one of the first American politicians to put forward a climate change plan that would keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    To meet that goal while leaving space for developing countries to move at a slower pace, independent assessments suggest that the United States needs to reduce its emissions by approximately 75 to 125 percent or more — actually drawing carbon dioxide out of the air — by 2035. Ocasio-Cortez hopes to move the entire country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Even Bernie Sanders' climate plan didn't set such an ambitious goal.

    The crash carbon diet would require "the complete mobilization of the American workforce to combat climate change,"as Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPost reporter Alexander Kaufman.

    On her campaign's website, she summarizes the danger that climate change poses to the planet:

    Climate change is the single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization, and the effects of warming can be hard to predict and self-reinforcing. We need to avoid a worldwide refugee crisis by waging a war for climate justice through the mobilization of our population and our government. This starts with the United States being a leader on the actions we take both globally and locally.

    According to Ocasio-Cortez, such an effort would cost "trillions of dollars," but would "not only save our planet from the ravages of climate change but would also lift millions of Americans out of poverty."

    It's an audacious plan that's easy to dismiss as wishful thinking. But last night's results just brought Ocasio-Cortez's vision a step closer to reality.

    SEE ALSO: Past generations created a climate crisis for Millennials and Generation Z. Today marks 30 years of inaction.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Trump pitched peace to Kim Jong Un with this Hollywood-style video starring Kim as the leading man


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    documerica nyc

    New York City produces twice as much trash as any other mega-city on Earth, according to a recent study. The Environmental Protection Agency has described Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal as "one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies." And air pollution, coming largely from transportation and construction, remains a threat to residents.

    But before the EPA formed in 1970, pollution in NYC was even worse.

    Soon after the EPA's founding, the agency dispatched 100 photographers to capture America's environmental issues in a photo project called Documerica. It shows what the US, from California to Ohio to New York, looked like from 1971 to 1977. Of the 81,000 images the photographers took, more than 20,000 photos were archived, and at least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives.

    Many of the photos were taken before the US regulated things like water and air pollution.

    The Trump administration has already rolled back a number of environmental regulations. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has also moved toward repealing the Clean Water Rule — which prevents industries from dumping pollutants into waterways and wetlands — and eliminating the Clean Power Plan — the Obama administration's biggest initiative to fight climate change by curbing emissions.

    Progressives around the country nowworry whether Anthony Kennedy's retirement from the Supreme Court will seal the fate of these environmental protections. The 81-year-old justice has been a crucial swing vote on many environmental issues for the past three decades.

    Many reports suggest that if Pruitt succeeds, parts of the US could return to the state they were in before EPA regulations.

    Take a look at a few New York City Documerica photos that were taken between 1973 and 1974.

    SEE ALSO: Photos show how California's fires gave Disneyland an apocalyptic glow

    Many Documerica photos show scenes of general life in New York City in the 1970s, but several also document environmental issues.



    In the first six months of 1973, more than 300 oil spills occurred in the New York City area. An oil slick creeps up on the Statue of Liberty in this 1973 photo.

    More than 800 oil spills happened in the mid-Atlantic region during the same time period, according to a 1973 Coast Guard survey.

    Source: The New York Times



    Air pollution was also a huge issue in the city. As seen in this 1973 photo, smog obscures the George Washington Bridge.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    sunburn skin cancer

    • Hawaii just became the first US state to ban the sale of certain kinds of chemical sunscreen that may damage coral reefs.
    • The two banned chemical names are oxybenzone and octinoxate.
    • Mineral blockers are an alternative to chemical sunblocks. They physically keep the sun away.

     

    If you're going to slather on sunscreen before jumping in the water, you might want to check the label first. 

    The state of Hawaii is moving forward with a groundbreaking plan to ban the sale of all sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate by the beginning of 2021. The Hawaii senate just sent the bill to governor David Ige, who's expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

    The state says these chemical sunblocks can kill developing coral; induce feminization in adult male fish; and mess with normal development in fish, sea urchins, coral, and shrimp. If concentrations are high enough, they can damage a coral’s DNA, potentially making its life shorter and sicker. Studies suggest that the chemicals promote coral bleaching at lower-than-normal temperatures, and they may also be hormone disruptors, increasing reproductive diseases. 

    "Some sunscreen chemicals, in certain situations, cause coral larvae to stop swimming, change shape, and ultimately die," a 2018 briefing from the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) explains. "Oxybenzone has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor, causing the outer epidermal cells of coral larvae to turn into skeleton at the wrong stage in their development." 

    Many of the previous studies on corals have been done in the lab, and the chemicals are usually present in tiny concentrations once they get mixed into the ocean. Concentrations of oxybenzone greater than one part per million were found in one study in the US Virgin Islands, but concentrations in areas studied around Hawaii were lower. The ICRI says more research in the wild is needed to know for sure whether the amount of sunscreen that's present in ocean waters really has a measurable effect on coral health. 

    What kind of sunscreen you can use

    There are two broad classes of sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens — those are the ones Hawaii is worried about—use chemicals to block harmful UV rays. Oxybenzone, for example, works by absorbing a particular wavelength of UV and converting it into heat energy, keeping you from getting burnt.

    The other class of sunscreens uses minerals to physically put a barrier between your skin and the sun. These are called mineral blockers, and while they block out the sun by bouncing light off your skin, they can also make your skin really white. They often include ingredients like zinc, aluminum, and titanium (think: lifeguard nose). 

    "They’re like tiny metal particles that you’re putting on the skin," dermatologist Kathleen Suozzi from the Yale School of Medicine recently told Business Insider.

    Mineral blockers also provide better protection, and are less likely to cause skin reactions, she said. 

    "I typically recommend those [mineral blockers] to my patients because they have much less risk of being irritating to the skin, and you're getting that broad-spectrum coverage." 

    coral reef

    Many mineral blockers have become easier to use in recent years. As manufacturers start adding in tints and micronizing particles, the products have become more sheer and less white than ever.

    Not all of these improvements are good for the corals. Researchers say the nanoparticle form of zinc oxide may not be safe for marine life. The UK-based NGO MarineSafe has started stamping its seal of approval on products it deems safe for ocean life, and keeps a list of dangerous chemicals online.  

    Sunscreen is far from the biggest problem the world's corals are facing. Many experts believe the invertebrates could be completely wiped out in just decades, as our oceans heat up and become more acidic. Still, if it turns out we can help coral better reproduce by dumping fewer chemicals into the water when we swim, it's probably worth a try to save the rocky, colorful, quiet corals that are hard at work protecting coastlines all over the world. 

    SEE ALSO: How long your sunscreen actually protects you, according to dermatologists

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The terrible things that would happen if all the coral reefs died off


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    hawaii woman hiking cliff

    • Hawaii is likely to ban the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can kill reefs.
    • These chemicals disrupt the development of reefs and make them more likely to undergo bleaching, which causes coral to lose color and become vulnerable to disease and death.
    • Mineral sunscreens containing zinc and titanium are a good alternative to chemical sunscreens.
    • But there are still questions about whether banning these sunscreens will do enough to save reefs.


    This week, Hawaii Governor David Ige is expected to sign a bill that will ban the sale of certain popular sunscreens containing chemicals that can damage and kill coral reefs.

    Banning popular sunscreens in a place where most tourists travel to get sun — and where the visitor sector, which includes tourism and related businesses, is the largest part of the economy— might seem shocking.

    But the coral reefs that surround Hawaii are incredibly valuable, providing coastal protection from storm surges and erosion, protecting valuable fish and marine life habitats that make the Hawaiian waters vibrant, and drawing tourists who want to see the colorful underwater wonderland.

    According to one study commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hawaii's coral reefs are worth $33.57 billion.

    Hawaiians hope to protect all that value by banning the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which research has shown can kill coral.

    The question is whether doing so is enough to protect reefs.

    coral 2

    What chemical sunscreens do to reefs — and what you can use instead

    Sunscreens in general fall into two categories. Chemical sunscreens, like those that contain oxybenzone (which is found in 70% of sunscreens) convert ultraviolet rays into less harmful rays. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, physically block light from your skin. The most common mineral ingredients used for these sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

    Researchers have long known chemicals in that first class of sunscreens can damage corals.

    As a 2018 briefing from the International Coral Reef Initiative explains,"[s]ome sunscreen chemicals, in certain situations, cause coral larvae to stop swimming, change shape, and ultimately die."

    Oxybenzone in particular disrupts the development of coral, according to that briefing: "Oxybenzone has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter, causing the outer epidermal cells of coral larvae to turn into skeleton at the wrong stage in their development."

    Corals that are stressed by heat or carbon dioxide — or chemicals like sunscreen — lose the colorful algae that help them derive nutrition from photosynthesis. This process is known as bleaching, and as bleached corals turn white, it makes them vulnerable to disease, harmful forms of algae, and death. 

    It's possible that some mineral sunscreens could have a negative environmental impact as well, but in general, most experts think they are a safer choice for reefs. Some experts say they can be better choices for people, too.

    "I typically recommend those [mineral blockers] to my patients because they have much less risk of being irritating to the skin, and you're getting that broad-spectrum coverage," dermatologist Kathleen Suozzi from the Yale School of Medicine recently told my colleague Hilary Brueck.

    People have shied away from zinc- and titanium-based sunscreens in the past because of the white sheen many products can leave on top of skin. However, sunscreen technology has improved, and many products now are easier to apply and don't leave a white coating on skin. In general, if you want a more environmentally-friendly choice, look for a titanium- or zinc-based product.

    sunscreen

    Will a sunscreen ban protect reefs?

    One of the biggest questions is how much of an impact sunscreen use has on reefs in the first place. After all, the ocean is a vast place, where anything is rapidly diluted in the water.

    But while much of the research on sunscreen and corals comes from lab studies, there is real-world data indicating that in places with a lot of tourists, enough sunscreen gets into the water to cause harm.

    According to one 2016 study of the effects of sunscreen on reefs in the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, it only takes a tiny bit of oxybenzone to start damaging the DNA of coral and trigger harmful effects. That study found oxybenzone levels in Hawaii were lower than those around the Virgin Islands, but still high enough to cause harm.

    That's good reason to try to steer clear of chemical sunscreens if you're going to be near coral reefs. But it doesn't mean avoiding sunscreen will be enough to save these valuable assets.

    For one thing, the ban itself may have limited effect. When it goes into effect, it'll ban the sale of these sunscreens on the island, but that doesn't mean travelers can't bring them along in their baggage. Plus, a huge number of cosmetic products contain oxybenzone, as do prescription sunscreens — neither of these will be affected by the ban. When people use these products and shower, that oxybenzone-contaminated wastewater makes its way into nearby oceans, even if you don't swim while coated in these products.

    And while it's worth doing anything possible to protect reefs on a local level, like avoiding harmful chemicals, that alone won't be enough to save them all. Research indicates that reefs around the world are largely suffering because of climate change, which raises ocean temperatures and makes waters more acidic. Chemicals just compound that damage.

    According to some estimates, the combined effects of climate change and other human activity have killed about half the world's reefs in the past 30 years, and it's possible that by 2030, 98% of the world's reefs will be exposed to conditions that can kill them every year.

    Avoiding harmful sunscreen could be a helpful step. But without action on climate change, it won't be enough.

    SEE ALSO: Coral reefs provide crucial protection for coastal cities — without them, flood damage could double, a new study finds

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Cannibalism used to be a popular medical remedy — here's why humans don't eat each other today


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    polar bear

    • A Canadian father has been mauled to death by a polar bear while protecting his children.
    • 31-year-old Aaron Gibbons was visiting a popular fishing spot in the northernmost territory of Nunavut at the time of the attack.
    • A relative said that polar bear tours in the area were acclimatizing bears to humans — making them less afraid to attack.


    A Canadian father was mauled to death by a polar bear which he faced down to give his children time to run for their lives.

    in the country's northernmost territory of Nunavut while protecting his children.

    31-year-old Aaron Gibbons was killed by the bear while visiting Sentry Island, a fishing and hunting spot in the northernmost Canadian territory of Nunavut.

    According to the Toronto Star newspaper, Gibbons' uncle Gordy Kidlapik said: "When they were on the island walking around… a bear surprised them. The bear had started to stalk the children."

    Canadian national broadcaster CBC reported that Gibbons was unarmed when he confronted the bear, and put himself between it and his children to give them a chance to escape.

    Gibbons died on the scene, but his children were unharmed. The bear was shot and killed by another adult who came to the area, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

    Kidlapik said that increasing tourism in the area is partly to blame for the incident, as it has emboldened the bears in recent years.

    In a tweet, he wrote that a "walk with bears tour" becoming popular in the area had left his relative "having to defend against approaching bears that lost their fear of humans."

    Kidlapik's fears may be warranted — Ian Stirling, professor at the University of Alberta and polar bear expert, told the Toronto Star that polar bear tourism is an increasing concern among the community.

    "If a bear that’s gotten used to you, then also gets to be starving or hungry or whatever… I would think it would have much less reticence about attacking and killing a person for food," he said.

    Stirling stipulated, though, that not enough is known about Gibbon's death yet to say if its contact with humans had been a factor in the attack.

    It's been 18 years since a polar bear attack was recorded in the area.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Learning to celebrate failure at a young age led to this billionaire's success


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    Documerica

    • Before the Environmental Protection Agency started regulating pollution in the nation's air, water, and land, things were dire. These photos show how bad it was.
    • We've made significant progress since then, but there's still a lot of work to do to keep our environment and those who live in it healthy.
    • The Trump administration's EPA aims to roll back a number of environmental protections, though Scott Pruitt resigned on July 5 amid ethics scandals.
    • The new acting administrator of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is likely to continue with a similar agenda.
    • Now that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement, many experts think a number of environmental regulations could get overturned.

    As the story goes, the chemical-filled Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burst into flames on June 22, 1969, possibly ignited by a spark from a passing train.

    That had happened at least dozen times before on the Cuyahoga. Additional fires were known to blaze up on rivers in Detroit, Baltimore, Buffalo, and other cities.

    River fires were far from the only environmental disasters in the US at the time. A spill from an offshore oil rig in California coated the coast in oil and pollutants. Smog and car exhaust choked cities around the country.

    In the late 60s, Americans were growing more aware of how unregulated pollution and chemical use were endangering the country and the people in it. People were ready for a change. 

    In his 1970 State of the Union address, President Richard Nixon said: "We still think of air as free. But clean air is not free, and neither is clean water. The price tag on pollution control is high. Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called."

    Nixon followed that up with a list of requests to Congress and later that year announced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA.

    Soon after it was founded, the EPA began a photo project called Documerica that captured more than 81,000 images showing what the US looked like from 1971 to 1977. More than 20,000 photos were archived, and at least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives.

    The EPA's role since then has varied from administration to administration.

    Trump's former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt worked to roll back a number of rules that were previously put in place to protect air and water. Many reports suggested Pruitt's primary aim was to eliminate most environmental protections and dismantle parts of the regulatory agency.

    But on July 5, in the wake of a long list of scandals, Trump announced he'd accepted Pruitt's resignation.

    Pruitt had announced plans to kill the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's main initiative to fight climate change by lowering emissions. Under Pruitt, the EPA also reversed a ban on a pesticide that can harm children's brains and moved to rescind the Clean Water Rule, which clarified the Clean Water Act to prohibit industries from dumping pollutants into streams and wetlands.

    Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, was Pruitt's deputy and is now acting administrator of the EPA, so it's likely that he will pursue a similar agenda.

    The resignation of Pruitt, along with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, raises new questions about the future of environmental regulations in the US. Kennedy, who plans to finish his work on July 31, was the swing vote in a number of environmental cases, including the one that granted the EPA the ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A new Trump nominee may be more likely to overturn key environmental protections, according to legal experts.

    As a reminder of what the US looked like before many of the EPA's policies were in place, here's a selection of the Documerica photos from the 1970s.

    SEE ALSO: Half of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016 — here's what happens if all coral reefs on Earth die off

    Many of these photos show life in America at the time, but several also document concerning environmental issues.



    Smog, seen here obscuring the George Washington Bridge in New York, was a far bigger problem.



    Smog was common, as this shot of Louisville and the Ohio River from 1972 shows.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Amur Leopard

    Every day, species around the planet are going extinct. And for each species that goes extinct, many more become and remain endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, and climate change.

    These threatened animals are included on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species — the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species.

    Here are 13 species at risk of extinction, including some that you probably didn’t even know existed:

    Simone Scully contributed to a previous version of this post. 

    SEE ALSO: Disturbing before-and-after images show what the San Francisco Bay Area could look like in 2100

    The Bornean orangutan

    Found only on the island of Borneo, Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) have a broader face and shorter beard than their cousins, Sumatran orangutans. This July, the IUCN changed their status to critically endangered because the population has declined by 60% since 1950, and, according to Scientific American, new projections estimate that their numbers will fall by another 22% by the year 2025.

    The main threats for these animals are habitat loss (forests are turned into rubber, oil palm or paper plantations) and illegal hunting. Aggravating the problem, females only reproduce every six to eight years— the longest birth interval of any land mammal — which makes conservation efforts slow.



    Pika

    Ili pika (Ochontana iliensis) is a small mammal (only 7-8 inches long) that's native to the Tianshan mountain range of the remote Xinjiang region of China. Living on sloping bare rock faces and feeding on grasses at high elevations, this little creature is very rare — there are less than 1,000 left.

    The species was only discovered in 1983, but its numbers have declined by almost 70% since then, reports CNN. This is because the mammal's habitat is being affected by climate change. Rising temperatures have forced the pikas to retreat up into the mountain tops. In addition, grazing pressure from livestock and air pollution have likely contributed to their decline.



    Giant Otter

    Found only in South America, Giant otters, or Pteronura brasiliensis, are the largest otters in the world, with some as long as 6 feet. 

    Historically, giant otters were hunted for their pelts, causing a huge decline in their numbers. While they are no longer hunted today, they remain endangered because many of their aquatic habitats (rivers and lakes) have been degraded and destroyed, causing the fish populations they rely on for food to dwindle.

    They are often viewed as nuisances by humans, especially by fishermen. They are also threatened by gold-mining in the region, which leads to mercury poisoning. 



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Natural Gas

    • Natural gas is replacing coal, which burns fewer carbon emissions and would potentially help fight climate change.
    • However, the production and manufacturing of natural gas releases methane into the air, which also contributes to climate change. 
    • Methane emissions from oil and gas operations are much higher than current EPA estimates.

    The Conversation

    Natural gas is displacing coal, which could help fight climate change because burning it produces fewer carbon emissions. But producing and transporting natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas that also contributes to climate change. How big is the methane problem?

    For the past five years, our research teams at Colorado State University have made thousands of methane emissions measurements at more than 700 separate facilities in the production, gathering, processing, transmission and storage segments of the natural gas supply chain.

    This experience has given us a unique perspective regarding the major sources of methane emissions from natural gas and the challenges the industry faces in terms of detecting and reducing, if not eliminating, them.

    Our work, along with numerous other research projects, was recently folded into a new study published in the journal Science. This comprehensive snapshot suggests that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are much higher than current EPA estimates.

    What's wrong with methane

    One way to quantify the magnitude of the methane leakage is to divide the amount of methane emitted each year by the total amount of methane pumped out of the ground each year from natural gas and oil wells. The EPA currently estimates this methane leak rate to be 1.4%. That is, for every cubic foot of natural gas drawn from underground reservoirs, 1.4% of it is lost into the atmosphere.

    This study synthesized the results from a five-year series of 16 studies coordinated by environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions and 50 natural gas companies.

    The effort brought together scholars based at universities, think tanks and the industry itself to make the most accurate estimate possible of the total amount of methane emitted from all US oil and gas operations. It integrated data from a multitude of recent studies with measurements made on the ground and from the air.

    All told, based on the results of the new study, the US oil and gas industry is leaking 13 million metric tons of methane each year, which means the methane leak rate is 2.3%. This 60% difference between our new estimate and the EPA's current one can have profound climate consequences.

    Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released.

    An earlier EDF study showed that a methane leak rate of greater than 3% would result in no immediate climate benefits from retiring coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas power plants.

    That means even with a 2.3% leakage rate, the growing share of US electricity powered by natural gas is doing something to slow the pace of climate change. However, these climate benefits could be far greater.

    Also, at a methane leakage rate of 2.3%, many other uses of natural gas besides generating electricity are conclusively detrimental for the climate. For example, EDF found that replacing the diesel used in most trucks or the gasoline consumed by most cars with natural gas would require a leakage rate of less than 1.4% before there would be any immediate climate benefit.

    What's more, some scientists believe that the leakage rate could be even higher than this new estimate.

    What causes these leaks

    Perhaps you've never contemplated the long journey that natural gas travels before you can ignite the burners on the gas stove in your kitchen.

    But on top of the 500,000 natural gas wells operating in the US today, there are 2 million miles of pipes and millions of valves, fittings, tanks, compressors and other components operating 24 hours per day, seven days a week to deliver natural gas to your home.

    That natural gas that you burn when you whip up a batch of pancakes may have traveled 1,000 miles or more as it wended through this complicated network. Along the way, there were ample opportunities for some of it to leak out into the atmosphere.

    Natural gas leaks can be accidental, caused by malfunctioning equipment, but a lot of natural gas is also released intentionally to perform process operations such as opening and closing valves. In addition, the tens of thousands of compressors that increase the pressure and pump the gas along through the network are powered by engines that burn natural gas and their exhaust contains some unburned natural gas.

    Since the natural gas delivered to your home is 85 to 95% methane, natural gas leaks are predominantly methane. While methane poses the greatest threat to the climate because of its greenhouse gas potency, natural gas contains other hydrocarbons that can degrade regional air quality and are bad for human health.

    Inventory tallies vs. aircraft surveillance

    The EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory is done in a way experts like us call a "bottom-up" approach. It entails tallying up all of the nation's natural gas equipment – from household gas meters to wellpads – and estimating an annualized average emission rate for every category and adding it all up.

    There are two challenges to this approach. First, there are no accurate equipment records for many of these categories. Second, when components operate improperly or fail, emissions balloon, making it hard to develop an accurate and meaningful annualized emission rate for each source.

    "Top-down" approaches, typically requiring aircraft, are the alternative. They measure methane concentrations upwind and downwind of large geographic areas. But this approach has its own shortcomings.

    First, it captures all methane emissions, rather than just the emissions tied to natural gas operations – including the methane from landfills, cows and even the leaves rotting in your backyard. Second, these one-time snapshots may get distorted depending on what's going on while planes fly around capturing methane data.

    Historically, top-down approaches estimate emissions that are about twice bottom-up estimates. Some regional top-down methane leak rate estimates have been as high as 8% while some bottom-up estimates have been as low as 1%.

    More recent work, including the Science study, have performed coordinated campaigns in which the on-the-ground and aircraft measurements are made concurrently, while carefully modeling emission events.

    Helpful gadgets and sound policy

    On a sunny morning in October 2013, our research team pulled up to a natural gas gathering compressor station in Texas. Using an US $80,000 infrared camera, we immediately located an extraordinarily large leak of colorless, odorless methane that was invisible to the operator who quickly isolated and fixed the problem.

    We then witnessed the methane emissions decline tenfold – the facility leak rate fell from 9.8% to 0.7% before our eyes.

    It is not economically feasible, of course, to equip all natural gas workers with $80,000 cameras, or to hire the drivers required to monitor every wellpad on a daily basis when there are 40,000 oil and gas wells in Weld County, Colorado, alone.

    But new technologies can make a difference. Our team at Colorado State University is working with the Department of Energy to evaluate gadgetry that will rapidly detect methane emissions. Some of these devices can be deployed today, including inexpensive sensors that can be monitored remotely.

    Technology alone won't solve the problem, however. We believe that slashing the nation's methane leak rate will require a collaborative effort between industry and government. And based on our experience in Colorado, which has developed some of the nation's strictest methane emissions regulations, we find that best practices become standard practices with strong regulations.

    We believe that the Trump administration's efforts to roll back regulations, without regard to whether they are working or not, will not only have profound climate impacts. They will also jeopardize the health and safety of all Americans while undercutting efforts by the natural gas industry to cut back on the pollution it produces.

    SEE ALSO: There are more Americans working in solar than in coal or natural gas

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why Rolex watches are so expensive


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    iphone

    You'd be surprised by how much raw material goes into the everyday items you use.

    For example, take your coffee habit. The average cup of coffee requires about 100 beans. So if you drink one cup per day, you'd need at least nine coffee trees producing full-time to give you a year's worth of joe. (That's not to mention the vast amounts of water, fertilizer, and manual labor needed to keep a coffee farm running.)

    In our modern lives, it's often easy to forget how many resources we're using day to day, since most of us are far removed from the places and processes in which most foods and products are made. 

    For that reason, we've compiled this list of how much raw material goes into 11 common food items and products.

    SEE ALSO: 15 books Bill Gates says you should read this summer

    It takes around a pound of sugarcane, depending on the variety, to produce 15 sugar cubes.

    Sugar production is a global industry, spanning the planet's tropical and subtropical regions. It's labor-intensive process: Sugarcane, the plant sugar comes from, must be harvested — usually by hand — and then cut, mashed, and boiled to become sugar.

    Depending on the variety, one ton of sugarcane can yield between 170 and 225 pounds of refined sugar, according to Purdue University's Center for New Crops and Plant Products.

    That means you'd need roughly one pound of sugarcane to make 15 3-gram sugar cubes, or around 3 ounces of raw sugarcane to make one sugar cube.

     

     



    Each iPhone contains 31 grams of aluminum.

    Your iPhone contains a number of metals, including titanium and iron. But there is far more aluminum, which is used to make your phone's outer case, than any other metal.

    Aluminum comprises around 24% of an iPhone's mass, followed by iron, which makes up around 14% of the device's mass, according to Motherboard.  

    The rest of the iPhone contains various rare earth elements and other metals like titanium, cobalt and nickel. 



    You'll need the annual yield of nine coffee trees to give you one cup of coffee per day for a year.

    Here's how this breaks down: An average cup of coffee uses around 100 coffee beans. A coffee tree can produce, on average, 4,000 coffee beans in a year, according to Treehugger. That means you'll need at least nine trees to produce a year's worth of coffee for a cup-per-day drinker.

    That's not to mention the inputs required for coffee to grow, get roasted, or brew, nor the fact that it takes a coffee tree at least 5 years to reach full productivity. 



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    plastic

    • Starbucks announced on Monday that it plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020. Last month, McDonald's said it will start testing plastic straw alternatives at select US locations this year.
    •  The announcements come amid calls from environmental activists urging American cities and food conglomerates to ditch plastic straws.
    • The effort to ban straws may seem like misplaced energy relative to the scale of all plastic waste, but it may serve as a litmus test for similar bans in the future.

    Two of the largest food conglomerates are moving toward ditching single-use plastic straws.

    On Monday, Starbucks announced that it will eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020. McDonald's said last month that it plans to test plastic straw alternatives at select US locations this year. In the UK, the fast-food giant has already decided to adopt biodegradable paper straws by 2019. And Bon Appétit Management, a food-service company with 1,000 US locations, announced last May that it's phasing out plastic straws as well. 

    Meanwhile, several American cities have enacted their own bans or have proposals in the works. In 2012, Miami Beach banned hotels from serving straws because they were ending up on the sand and in the ocean, threatening marine life. Fort Myers, Florida and Seattle took the same steps in January 2018. 

    New York City, as well as cities in Hawaii and California, have pending straw-ban legislation, too.

    Much of the reasoning behind straw bans is environmental. Because plastic straws are tiny and take more than 400 years to biodegrade, they commonly slip through the cracks of cities' waste-recycling processes, clogging ponds, rivers, and oceans. And unlike their plastic counterparts (like forks, takeout containers, plastic bags, etc.), straws don't offer a purpose besides a bit of convenience.

    In addition, disposing of plastic waste costs cities a lot of money. New York City, for example, spends at least $10 million a year to transport plastic, which includes straws and bags, to out-of-state landfills. Not offering plastic straws, or switching to metal ones, saves food companies money, too.

    A growing plastic problem

    Plastic straws make up a small fraction of all plastic waste. The most predominant types of plastic pollution are food wrappers and containers, which account for an estimated 31.1% of all plastic waste globally in 2017, according to a report from several environmental groups. That's followed by plastic bottle and container caps (15.5%), bags (11.2%), straws and stirrers (8.1%), beverage bottles (7.3%), and takeout containers (6.3%). Out of all the plastic that ends up in the ocean, straws comprise 4% of that waste, according to a 2018 study from a group of Australian scientists.

    In the past six decades, the mass production of plastics has increased so rapidly that it has generated around 6.3 billion metric tons of trash as of 2015. A 2017 study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that globally, 91% of all plastic isn't recycled.

    Much of this plastic pollutes the world's beaches, oceans, and landfills, and gets eaten by unsuspecting marine life.

    Strawless Lid Starbucks

    Banning plastic straws could serve as a litmus test

    While focusing on straws may seem like misplaced energy relative to more significant types of plastic waste, straw-ban legislation could lay the groundwork for wider plastic bans in the future.

    Some metros have struggled to pass bans on larger types of plastic waste — like grocery bags, cups, and cutlery — due to concerns that the changes would be too jarring to consumers.

    In April 2018, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a statewide plastic bag ban, but it has faced skepticism in the state legislature. According to Popular Science, some representatives see such regulations as evidence of government overreach.

    The plastic industry has largely opposed plastic bans and pushed for rules against the bans. Some officials have also argued that the power to enact such bans should lie with state governments, not individual cities. 

    In Tempe, Arizona, a city with 182,000 people, at least 50 million plastic bags get thrown away each year, according to New York Magazine. Tempe tried to implement legislation to limit plastic bag use, but in 2015, the Arizona State Legislature passed a bill that effectively outlawed bans on plastic products. 

    In 2017, Michigan became the seventh US state to do the same.

    Compared to plastic bags and containers, straws are an easier form of plastic waste for cities and businesses to eliminate — or, at the very least, find biodegradable alternatives for.

    In Starbucks' hometown of Seattle, the legislation the city passed in January seems to have prompted the company's straw ban. According to the new regulation, businesses that sell drinks will need to ditch their single-use straws by July 2019.

    Starbucks has a simple strategy to eliminate straws. First, the chain plans to launch recyclable straw-less lids and straws made from non-plastic materials. The company will roll out the initatives in two phases, starting in Seattle and Vancouver this fall, a company spokesperson told Business Insider. Starbucks locations throughout the rest of the world will follow by 2020.

    SEE ALSO: McDonald's is testing plastic straw alternatives as US cities crack down on single-use straws

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    NOW WATCH: This reusable straw collapses to fit on your keyring and 'will last a lifetime'


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    antarctica iceberg a68 larsen c ice shelf nasa earth observatory usgs

    • A Maryland-size iceberg broke off Antarctica in July 2017.
    • One year after calving, iceberg A68a has floated about 40 miles away from its birthplace.
    • A68a is wandering north, where it should eventually break up and melt.
    • Although the process may take a few years, some large icebergs survive for decades.

    One of the largest icebergs ever documented is still mostly intact one year after it broke off Antarctica, despite losing a big chunk and having its northern flank smashed to bits.

    The huge ice block, called A68 or A68a, calved from the Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017. It's hard to say exactly when A68 was born due to limited satellite coverage and thick cloud cover, but it happened sometime last year between July 10 and 12.

    Scientists at the time estimated iceberg A68 to be about the size of Maryland. It measured 1,000 feet thick and weighed 1.1 million tons — roughly the weight of 20 million Titanic ships.

    Iceberg A68 appears mostly intact today; satellites are watching as it floats in the Weddell Sea about 40 miles off the ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

    However, an animation shared by the Antarctic research program Project Midas shows that the 'berg has taken a beating.

    "The iceberg has been pushed around by ocean currents, tides, and winds, and its northern end has repeatedly been grounded in shallower water," the authors of a Project Midas blog post wrote on Monday. "These groundings led eventually to further pieces of the iceberg being shattered off in May 2018. Whilst not quite large enough to be given labels themselves, the total area of icebergs lost from A-68 in May was the size of a small city."

    The time-lapse animation below shows part of the Antarctic Peninsula from March 12, 2017 through July 5, 2018. You can see a huge crack in the Larsen C ice shelf creep north until the iceberg completely breaks off, then follow the path it has taken since.


    "Over the last year A-68 has not drifted far because of dense sea-ice cover in the Weddell Sea," Project Midas said.

    What will eventually happen to iceberg A68

    Antarctic icebergs calve naturally as snow piles up, forming ultra-dense ice that gravity then drags toward the ocean.

    From there, a predictable yet erratic story plays out.

    historical iceberg tracks scatterometer climate record pathfinder esa

    Most icebergs that calve from the Antarctic Peninsula get caught up in wind and water currents that drag them clockwise around the Southern Ocean as they move north.

    Scientists can't be sure where iceberg A68 will ultimately float, though some think it could drift more than 1,000 miles north to the Falkland Islands. The largest 'bergs can even reach South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands before vanishing.

    Martin O'Leary, a researcher at Swansea University and Project Midas, said on Reddit last year that A68 could take a couple of years to drift that far.

    It could be many years before it completely melts.

    In the case of B15, the second-biggest iceberg in recorded history, the process has taken nearly two decades. B15 snapped off Antarctica's Ross ice shelf in 2000. It had a surface area of 4,200 square miles — about the area of Jamaica and twice that of A68. Today it's drifting in warm waters near South Georgia.

    St Andrews Bay on South Georgia penguin seal beach shutterstock_438314467

    Warmer air causes surface melt that "works its way through the iceberg like a set of knives," Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a NASA Earth Observatory post in October 2017. "This is often the end of the life cycle of a lot of Antarctic icebergs."

    Scientists continue to study and debate what caused A68 to break off, including the role of climate change driven by human activity.

    "To me, it's an unequivocal signature of the impact of climate change on Larsen C," Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA JPL, told CNN in July 2017. "This is not a natural cycle. This is the response of the system to a warmer climate from the top and from the bottom. Nothing else can cause this."

    SEE ALSO: Antarctica shed a colossal iceberg — here's how big it is compared to things you might comprehend

    DON'T MISS: Antarctica's sixth-largest iceberg is doomed — here's how its slow death will play out

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    NOW WATCH: A 1.1-trillion-ton iceberg has broken off Antarctica, and scientists say it's one of the largest ever recorded


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    Hurricane Chris

    • In 2018, we've seen three named storms form early in the Atlantic, including Hurricane Chris and Hurricane Beryl.
    • But unlike last year, it's looking like this might be a relatively calm Atlantic hurricane season.
    • That's because ocean temperatures are cool, an El Niño might form in the Pacific, and there's a lot of Saharan dust in the air.


    Earlier in the year, there were some signs that we could be in for another intense Atlantic hurricane season.

    Initial projections pegged the season as being likely to have slightly more storms than average — though 2017's "extremely active" hurricane season began with a similar forecast.

    Yet early signs of activity aside, projections for the rest of the hurricane season are changing, with experts now projecting a year that's average or even below average in terms of activity.

    First, a named storm, Subtropical Storm Alberto, showed up in May, a few days before hurricane season even officially kicked off.

    Hurricanes Beryl and Chris both formed by July 10, the fourth time there had been two hurricanes by that date in the satellite era (since 1966). Beryl threatened Caribbean islands still recovering from hurricanes like Irma and Maria. Chris formed off the coast of the US, whipping up strong surf.

    The remnants of Chris are now headed out to sea near Newfoundland, Canada, though the storm is still expected to create dangerous rip currents in the Northeast US on Thursday and Friday.

    Chris had the lowest pressure — a measure of a storm's intensity — for an Atlantic hurricane this early in the season since 2010's Hurricane Alex, Colorado State University (CSU) meteorologist Philip Kotzbach said on Twitter. As Kotzbach also noted, this was the first time since 1906 that a storm as strong as Chris was so far north by this time of year.

    Conditions around the globe, in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Pacifc, and in the winds from North Africa, all provide reason to think this year's hurricane season will be less stormy than last year's.

    hurricane maria

    What makes a hurricane season

    An average hurricane season is based on the 30-year average from 1981 to 2010. By that definition, an average season includes 12 named storms and six hurricanes, with three of those being major hurricanes — storms that qualify as category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

    CSU's newest forecast projects four hurricanes and ten named storms, with one being a major hurricane. If you average the predictions from major research institutions, government agencies, and universities, the mean prediction is six hurricanes, which would make this an average Atlantic season.

    Hurricanes in the Atlantic are formed by a confluence of global conditions, including ocean temperatures in both the Atlantic and the Pacific (which can affect winds), long-term ocean currents, and atmospheric winds.

    Right now, the tropical and subtropical Atlantic are abnormally cool, which favors less storm activity since tropical cyclones derive energy from warm waters. 

    A weak El Niño is also looking like it may form in the Pacific, meaning waters there could be slightly warmer than normal. That can create wind shear in the Atlantic, which tears apart hurricanes before they form. Caribbean trade winds are also quite strong right now, which can indicate a quiet season, according to Klotzbach.

    The final factor that's dampening storms right now comes from Africa. A lot of Saharan dust is being kicked up by winds and carried across the Atlantic, according to NASA. This dust can suppress storms before they form or intensify.

    Anyone who experienced the 2017 hurricane season in the Atlantic is hoping for a quiet season this year. But just one storm is all it takes to do damage to a populated area.

    SEE ALSO: How to avoid tick and mosquito bites this summer — a step-by-step guide

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    NOW WATCH: Super-Earths are real and they could be an even better place for life than Earth


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    greenland iceberg

    • This massive glacier is hovering over the tiny village of Innaarsuit in northwest Greenland.
    • Residents have been evacuated from the danger zone.
    • If it calves, the glacier could prompt a massive tsunami, swamping the town.

    They're used to seeing icebergs floating around in Greenland, but nothing quite this big.

    A massive iceberg came just shy of one football field's distance (100 meters) away from the shore there on Thursday, and some residents had to be evacuated to hillier spots.

    Keld Quistgaard from the Danish Meteorological Institute told the Danish Broadcasting Corporation that the 'berg weighs anywhere between eight and 10 million tons, and rises nearly 300 feet in the air above the water.

    "We are used to big icebergs, but we haven’t seen such a big one before," Susanna Eliassen, a member of the village council in Innaarsuit, told the Greenlandic Broadcasting Corporation (KNR).

    Just 169 people live in Innaarsuit, according to The New York Times. At least 33 people have been evacuated so far, KNR reported.

    On Saturday, the giant ice flow had moved out from the shore, and was sitting about 0.3 miles (500 meters) away from the village, but KNR was still calling it a "special situation," and images showed the town is not out of the danger zone yet.

    It's part of a troubling trend in the Arctic, where global warming is happening twice as fast as it is elsewhere on the planet.

    "The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region it was decades ago,"the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said when it released its 2017 Arctic Report Card.

    Last year, at least four people were killed in Greenland when a huge wave washed ashore in June. F our houses were also flushed out to sea after a tsunami was prompted by a landslide.

    Watch what happens as just a sliver breaks off from the giant iceberg hovering over the town, causing a giant wave to head towards the shore, and gently rocking the entire mass of ice:

    Of course, Greenland isn't the only place feeling the heat recently.

    This summer, temperatures have sweltered across the US, with cities suffering through stifling heat waves from New York to LA.The Times reports that our steamy nights are warming nearly twice as fast as days, and it's becoming a deadly problem across North America.

    SEE ALSO: The Arctic is melting — and it shows no sign of returning to being reliably frozen

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    NOW WATCH: See Greenland's vast, untouched wilderness