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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider
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    Boston blizzard cold weather

    • A winter storm is forecast to slam the East Coast this week, bringing snow and freezing weather from Florida to Maine.
    • The storm's central pressure is expected to drop to about 950 millibars, which is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.
    • The region is expected to be slapped with an Arctic air mass on Saturday to plunge temperatures to below zero in New York City.

    The East Coast will probably get even more frigid before the end of this cold snap, at least if current weather models hold true.

    A "cold-weather bomb" is bearing down on the East Coast, and it could bring heavy snowfall and record-breaking freezing temperatures.

    Winter-storm warnings have been issued from Florida up to Maine, though the storm's effects will depend on which way it tracks. As of now, it's looking pretty daunting for the Northeast.

    What is a 'weather bomb'?

    This isn't hyperbole — a "weather bomb," or "bombogenesis," is the term used by meteorologists for this kind of storm system. The phenomenon gets this ominous label when the central pressure of a low-pressure system drops at least 24 millibars (a unit for measuring atmospheric pressure) within 24 hours.

    Bombogenesis occurs when cold, continental air masses meet warm, moisture-rich oceanic air. That can create high winds and heavy precipitation, according to The Weather Channel.

    The storm working its way up the East Coast is expected to exceed the standard bombogenesis rate by several millibars and drop to a minimum pressure of about 950 millibars — equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. (Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York City and the New Jersey coast in 2012, had a minimum pressure of 946 millibars when it made landfall.)

    Meteorologists consider air pressure to be a measure of a storm's intensity, meaning this could be one of the strongest winter storms ever to hit the East Coast — at least on record.

    This GIF shows the projected pressure lows off the coast of New York and New England on Thursday afternoon, based on current models from the interactive forecast site Windy: 

    Current models show the storm creeping up the East Coast, bringing high winds, heavy snowfall, and the potential for coastal flooding. It's expected to dump 3 inches of snow on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Tuesday evening, a phenomenon not seen since 2010. Even Jacksonville, Florida, is expected to see some snowfall on Wednesday.

    By Thursday, if the storm track holds, a combination of heavy snowfall and high winds will create blizzard conditions that could dump over a foot of snow in much of southern New England, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland, according to Mashable's Andrew Freedman. People as far southwest as Dallas aren't expected to see temperatures above freezing for the next few days.

    This shows the projected wind circulation on Thursday afternoon: 

    After the snow, a deep freeze

    New Yorkers — who just lived through one of the most frigid New Year's Eves of the past century — may also see blizzard-like conditions if the storm shifts about 50 miles west. The National Weather Service expects New York to receive 2 to 4 inches of snow on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    Following the storm, temperatures are expected to plunge precipitously.

    An Arctic air mass over Canada's Hudson Bay creeping south, drawn in by the massive air circulation in the storm's wake, could bring temperatures in New York City to the single digits this weekend and well below zero on Saturday evening.

    Though it may seem counterintuitive, New Yorkers should hope for heavy snowfall.

    Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist, explained on Twitter that even a couple of inches of snow can serve as infrastructure insulation, protecting water pipes and subway tracks from extreme cold. Without that snow, water pipes can freeze or burst, which could then knock out power and create a cascade of damage that would make commutes (not to mention life in general) a bit miserable.

    Despite what President Donald Trump has claimed on Twitter, winter storms — just like hurricanes and heat waves — can be made more severe by climate change. As the White House and Congress gear up to take on infrastructure this year, that's probably a threat they should keep in mind.

    SEE ALSO: Millions of people are bracing for a snowy New Year's weekend with super-cold weather and potential travel delays

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Never scrape ice off your windshield again with this special screen

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    cold icicle face

    • Authorities across the US have blamed nine deaths over the past week on the low temperatures.
    • In one Minnesota town, it was negative 36 degrees Fahrenheit last week.
    • Older adults and young people are vulnerable to the low temperatures, but everyone should bundle up and take extra care to keep your hands, core, face, and head warm. 
    • If it's below zero degrees (Fahrenheit), or the windchill dips below -18, it's best to stay indoors and limit any skin exposure to less than 30 minutes outside. 

    Things are getting more than a little chilly this winter.

    The frigid waters of Lake Superior are looking steamy-hot as they waft into the below-zero air in northern Minnesota. On New Year’s Day, the temperature dipped to a record low of negative 9 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago. Ice chunks cluttered the city's river, prompting the cancellation of a polar plunge.

    In Atlanta, doctors are reporting a spike in hypothermia cases after temperatures dropped into the teens on New Year's Day. Kids in Indianapolis saw classes were cancelled on Tuesday, as public schools deemed the -12 degree morning too glacial for little ones to wait for the bus.

    Authorities across the US have blamed nine deaths over the past week on the chill, the Associated Press reports. And it's far from over — a "cold-weather bomb" is currently bearing down on the East Coast.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1,260 people die every year from being out in frigid temperatures. It's a sobering reminder that sometimes it really is too cold to be outside.

    But how cold, exactly, is too cold? 

    The Mayo Clinic suggests winter-loving exercisers should stay indoors for their workouts whenever the temperature dips into sub-zero territory. When the windchill drops below negative 18 Fahrenheit, frostbite can inch up fingers and toes in as little as half an hour.

    Not everyone reacts to cold in the same way, though. Biologists who've studied the Inuit people of Greenland think they may carry genes that help them process fat differently and stay warmer than others. Older adults with weakened heart muscle cells, on the other hand, can be especially vulnerable: more than half of cold-weather deaths occur in people over 60, according to the CDC. People with poor circulation and weakened immune systems are also susceptible to cold. (Having perpetually cold hands and feet are conditions largely determined by a person's genes.) 

    Here are five tips to keep in mind in the cold, bitter temperatures:

    Avoid early morning hours outside.

    The chilliest part of the day is typically during the dark hours early in the morning, so avoid going outside at that time if you can.

    Layering keeps you warmer.

    The National Weather Service suggests layering loose, lightweight clothes, since the air that gets trapped between layers of fabric acts as extra insulation. If you're exercising or shoveling outside, you always can peel off layers as you go, so as not to overheat.

    Don't wear water-logging cottons.

    Opt for moisture-wicking, waterproof, breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex or fleece. Wool garments won't absorb sweat, either. As Thomas Altena with the American College of Sports Medicine writes, "the ice formed on top of the fabric creates a natural wind barrier effective for keeping a person warm."

    Your head is important. Cover it with a hat or hood. 

    It's a myth that you lose the majority of your body heat from your head. Scientists have dropped people into cold water to study this, and found that a head exposed to the cold will increase total heat loss by about 10%. But a chilly head nonetheless impacts your core temperature, leading your entire body to cool off faster. So make your mother proud and bundle up on top. first snowball girl happy

    Cover as much skin as possible to avoid frostbitten fingers and toes.

    The first clues that you might be drifting into frostbite territory include numb, red skin and stinging or burning. After that, skin can turn white or grayish-yellow. It's best to see a doctor if you think this is happening, but if you can't get medical attention right away, remember to re-warm any exposed body parts slowly, submerging them in warm, not hot, water, or even re-heating them under your armpits, as the CDC suggests.

    SEE ALSO: An unusual weather pattern explains why there's been so much snow already – and that could continue all winter

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why planes are de-iced

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    cold weather

    • The Northeast will experience some of the coldest temperatures in decades on Friday and Saturday as a 'cold weather bomb' bears down on the region.
    • Temperatures are expected to plummet to below zero Fahrenheit in New York City on Friday night.
    • Snowfall may actually insulate infrastructure from freezing too much. 


    A 'cold weather bomb' is bearing down on the East Coast. At least one meteorologist is warning that the frigid temperatures following the storm could be "literally the worst you've ever seen," with low temperatures not seen in decades. 

    Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist who spent 35 years with the National Weather Service, tweeted on Wednesday morning that the snowfall associated with the storm isn't the biggest issue.

    "There's a strong tendency to focus on the snow amounts, but please keep in mind the bitter cold and very low wind chills which follow this storm," Szatkowski said. "It may literally be the worst you've ever seen." 

    While 'bomb cyclones' — the type of storm that's heading toward the Northeast — aren't particularly uncommon, the temperatures this storm will bring to the region will be far colder than a similar storm that hit the region in November 2014. That storm, popularly known as the 'polar vortex,' dumped 65 inches of snow on Buffalo, New York, and brought temperatures across New York and the Northeast into the single digits for a few days. 

    The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and parts of Massachusetts as of Wednesday. 

    The upcoming frigid weekend won't be coldest the region has ever experienced, however. On February 9, 1943, the mercury hit 15 degrees below zero — the coldest day, before the windchill, in New York City's history, according to AccuWeather. Less than a week later, the city experienced the eighth coldest day in its history, with a low of 8 degrees below zero.

    Deep freeze polar vortex

    The coming storm, which is creeping up the East Coast, is set to unload up to a foot of snow across parts of Southern New England and Long Island on Thursday, according to the NWS. New York City, Philadelphia, and much of New Jersey are only expected to receive a few inches, but after the snow falls, the storm will pull a frigid Arctic air mass over region. That will likely plunge temperatures to the single digits on Friday and Saturday nights.

    By Thursday night, temperatures are expected to plummet to an average low of 10 degrees across the region, with gusts of winds up to 33 miles per hour. That could make it feel as cold as -14 Fahrenheit with the windchill. The NWS predicts the snow will stop falling on Thursday evening. By Friday night, the low forecast for New York is 3 degrees with wind gusts of up to 34 miles per hour, according to the NWS.

    That's true for much of the Northeast — in Boston, which is expected to get up to a foot of snow on Thursday, temperatures will plummet to a low of -3 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday evening, with wind chills of up to -35 degrees likely on Friday and Saturday nights.

    The National Weather Service warns that heavy snow and frigid temperatures will make travel difficult, and added that there are likely to be power outages throughout Boston, Eastern Massachusetts, and Rhode Island on Thursday. 

    Szatkowski explained on Twitter that a few inches of snow can serve as infrastructure insulation, protecting water pipes and subway tracks from freezing in the extreme cold. 

    cold people new york

    Saturday 's temperatures will creep back up into the teens in New York and Philadelphia, only to plunge to 5 degrees after the sun sets, though the NWS expects winds to subside. Single digits will continue that day in Boston. On Sunday, temperatures will move back up to a more normal (but still cold) high of 22 degrees around New York and Philadelphia, with a high in Boston around 16.

    If you live on the East Coast, temperatures could get cold enough to worry about frostbite. The Mayo Clinic warns that it's too dangerous to do any sort of outdoor workout once the thermometer dips below zero. When the windchill drops below negative 18, frostbite can hit fingers and toes in half an hour.

    SEE ALSO: A 'cold-weather bomb' is bearing down on the East Coast — and it could deliver lots of snow and record-low temperatures

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How long you can stay in extremely cold temperatures before getting frostbite

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    niagara falls freezing polar vortex

    • Bomb cyclone, explosive bombogenesis, and polar vortex are real meteorological terms.
    • But the weather phenomena they describe aren't as uncommon as the words might suggest — there are probably 40-50 storms in the northern hemisphere that qualify as bombs every year.
    • The cold air brought by the polar vortex is a real reason to be concerned.

    A "bomb cyclone" is headed for the Northeast.

    If you're wondering whether that term was only created to make you pay attention to the weather, you're not alone.

    But "bomb cyclone" is a real meteorological term— as are the "explosive bombogenesis" and "polar vortex" coming along with this storm. Those names can make the phenomena sound more intense than the normal (though still potentially dangerous) winter events they describe. But the cold that comes with the polar vortex is no joke.

    The term bomb cyclonedates back to a 1980 paper by Frederick Sanders and John Gyakum, which described the phenomenon as a "bomb." That sounds dramatic, but it actually refers to an extratropical surface cyclone: a storm occurring outside of tropics, usually between 30 and 60 degrees latitude if it happens in the Northern Hemisphere, whose central pressure falls at least 24 millibars over a 24-hour period.

    Central pressure is the measure of how much the atmosphere in the middle of a storm weighs, and it's one of the key indicators of any cyclone's intensity. The lower the air pressure in the middle of the storm, the more intense that cyclone is. Normal air pressure is about 1010 millibars; when central pressure is lower than that, things become more turbulent, with more air movement and wind kicking up.

    This particular storm looks like it's going to be intense, potentially dropping 45 millibars in 24 hours.

    That could put it on an intensity level close to that of Hurricane Sandy.

    When a storm undergoes a rapid pressure drop, that's known as "explosive bombogenesis." It happens on average between 40 and 50 times in the Northern Hemisphere each year, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue.

    A storm that becomes this intense in such a quick period of time is worth paying attention to. The flooding and wind gusts that will come with the current weather system will be enough to down power lines. That's especially bad when it's really cold out — and if you've stepped outside on the East Coast lately, enough said.

    Polar Vortex

    The intense cold is likely to become worse in the aftermath of the storm, due to an expanded polar vortex.

    The term polar vortex, which most of us didn't hear much about until 2014, describes the swirling low pressure masses of cold air that always surround Earth's poles, according to the National Weather Service.

    Sometimes, that mass of air expands and gets pushed south, carried along with the jet stream, a stream of wind that extends around the hemisphere and divides the air masses in the polar region from those further south.

    The air circulation coming with this imminent storm could help pull the jet stream and even more arctic air south, bringing temperatures to parts of the US that are simply too cold for people to safely be outside.

    SEE ALSO: The 23 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How El Niño and La Niña affect weather

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    Erie snowstorm

    A cold-weather 'bomb cyclone' is bearing down on the East Coast, bringing up to a foot of snow and bone-chilling temperatures across the region.

    The storm is currently sitting off the coast of Florida and Georgia, and will work its way up the East Coast on Wednesday night and Thursday. New York City and Philadelphia are under a winter weather advisory starting at 1 a.m. on Thursday, while Boston is under a blizzard warning starting at the same time.

    While snowfall is expected to grind traffic and air travel to a halt on Thursday, the bigger problem is the freezing temperatures set to descend on the region in the storm's wake. The circulation associated with the massive storm will drag frigid air sitting over Canada's Arctic south, plunging temperatures across the Northeast to below zero Farenheit. 

    Here's where the storm will hit where you live, and what to expect: 

    SEE ALSO: The cold weather 'bomb' headed for the East Coast may be the 'worst you've ever seen,' according to a meteorologist

    As of 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, the storm was hanging out off the coasts of Florida and Georgia.

    The color gradient in this map depicts the amount of precipitation, with pink being the highest and light blue the lowest. The lines on the map show the air circulation or wind. The wind's movement corresponds to the low-pressure center of the cyclone, similar to the way a hurricane behaves.

    As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the storm is dumping snow as far south as Tallahassee, Florida, and bringing freezing temperatures and a mix of snow and freezing rain to South Carolina's coast. Charleston, South Carolina is expected to receive up to 4 inches of snow by Wednesday night — the highest single-day snow total since 1989. 

    By midnight on Thursday, the storm will creep toward North Carolina's coast and start impacting Baltimore and Washington DC

    Washington DC and Baltimore, shown toward the top of the map, will be hit with minor snowfall on Wednesday night through Thursday morning. Temperatures in those cities will plummet to the single digits as the storm draws frigid polar air from the Canadian Arctic, according to the National Weather Service.

    Temperatures in DC will fall to a low of 9 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday evening, hitting a maximum low of 6 degrees on Saturday night. Daytime temperatures are expected to climb back into the teens as long as the storm doesn't deviate too far from its expected track.

    By 8 a.m. Thursday, the storm's center will be sitting just off the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, and southern New Jersey.

    The storm will drop between 5 and 8 inches of snow in New York City and Philadelphia from Wednesday night through Thursday evening. New Jersey's coast, however, will see significantly more snow: Up to a foot is expected in parts of New Jersey and Long Island.

    If the storm veers further east, snowfall accumulation could increase in New York City and Philadelphia. In any case, neither New York nor Philadelphia will be spared from frigid conditions.

    Temperatures in both cities will drop to the low single digits on Friday evening, with the coldest temperatures on Saturday night. With the windchill factored in, it'll feel as cold as -35 on Saturday. Both New York and Philadelphia are under a winter storm warming from Thursday at 1 a.m. through Friday at 1 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. 


    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Offshore drilling map jan 2018

    • The Trump Administration on Thursday proposed opening up 98% of US waters for oil exploration.
    • A majority of coastal governors oppose the idea, but a few in the Gulf Coast and Alaska are interested in more offshore drilling.
    • The 5-year leasing program, set for 2019-2024, is getting strong support from gas companies and loud opposition from environmentalists. 


    Step up to the auction block, oil companies.

    In an announcement on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a new proposal to lease huge new sections of US waters to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling — a move unlike anything seen in decades. offshore oil platform california

    The new plan would make "more than 98%" of the waters off the United States available for oil and gas leasing over the next five years, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wrote in a report released Thursday.

    There are a few notable exceptions. That other 2% of US waters includes an area of the Aleutian basin next to Alaska, as well as 12 coastal "marine sanctuaries" (those dot the shoreline in places like Monterey Bay in California and Stellwagen Bank at the mouth of the Massachusetts Bay). There's also a temporary hold on a section of the Gulf of Mexico that Congress has put a moratorium on until 2022.

    But many other protected areas of water could be up for grabs. The National Parks Conservation association said the shores bordering 88 other protected areas, like the waters off Acadia National Park and along the Santa Monica mountains could all be sold off. The last offshore oil sales on either coast of the continental US occurred in the 1980s, according to Reuters.  

    President Donald Trump already re-wrote some of the rules that former President Barack Obama put in place to protect waters in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans with his "America First Offshore Energy Strategy" in April 2017.

    Jellyfish Monterey Bay

    Oil and gas industry leaders voiced their approval for that move, as well as this new plan. 

    "I think the default should be that all of our offshore areas should be available," Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, told The New York Times

    The Governors of Alaska and Alabama, along with the Department of Natural Resources in Louisiana and Georgia support the idea too, as does the lieutenant governor in North Carolina.

    But Sierra Club director Michael Brune doesn't see it that way. 

    "Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters," he said in a statement

    Leaders of many coastal states up and down the East and West coasts, including California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and New York are against it. New York officials are also concerned that the plan might interfere with their intentions to build more offshore wind farms. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott quickly voiced his opposition.

    "I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration," Scott told Reuters

    In addition to lawmakers and environmentalists, the Pentagon is also worried about the move, according to The Washington Post

    But the Department of Interior says nothing is set in stone yet — typically, these sales take about two years to finalize. The BOEM wrote in its report that "each potential lease sale scheduled in the 2019–2024 Program will be subject to separate established pre-lease decision processes, including environmental review and analysis."

    SEE ALSO: The Justice Department is rescinding critical rules directing the federal government to keep its hands off of states' legal marijuana

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The Trump administration could bypass environmental regulations to build the wall — and it could cause a huge problem in Texas

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    nyc storm

    Hold on to your hats, East Coasters. It's not over yet. 

    Hurricane-force winds are whipping up snow and freezing rain across the Northeast, as the biggest storm of the season yet continues barreling it's way northwards on the Atlantic. 

    Parts of New York could see a foot of snow before it's all over, while Boston is getting slammed with a wall of freezing water larger than residents have seen in decades. 

    Fountains in Georgia went solid, while in the nation's capital, the President saw snow in his backyard.

    Meteorologists say that the storm — which has been dubbed a "bomb cyclone,"—  is experiencing "bombogenesis," with low air pressure creating an especially strong storm.

    Take a look at what's been happening.

    SEE ALSO: How to gauge when it's too dangerously cold to go outside

    As far south as Savannah, Georgia, fountains were frozen.

    Thermometers dipped into unseasonably icy, below freezing territory.

    Savannah got an unusual inch-plus of snow.

    These guys were out early in Forsyth Park Thursday morning as snow and cold weather blanketed the area. 

    It was the perfect opportunity for Jonas Kassof, who lobbed snowballs at his sister.

    The Washington Post said it's the heaviest snowfall that region's seen in nearly three decades.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    ocean coral reef great barrier reef

    • Two new studies show that the world's oceans are in dire straits — even more than scientists previously thought.
    • One study found that coral bleaching events, which can kill reefs, are now happening every few years instead of every few decades. And a new review found that oceans are losing oxygen faster than we realized, which could have serious consequences for marine life.
    • Ocean health has a huge impact on human health, so solving these problems is essential.

    Our world is an ocean planet.

    The seas support hundreds of millions of people by providing food and jobs around the globe. Ocean plants produce up to 85% of the oxygen in the air we breathe.

    But a pair of new studies published in the journal Science indicate that the oceans have been even more devastated by global warming and human activity than scientists previously thought.

    Coral reefs are the most biodiverse environments in the ocean. But according to one of the new papers, they are now exposed to conditions that can damage or destroy them every few years. They used to face such conditions only occasionally — every few decades — giving them time to recover. Now these fragile environments are getting damaged more quickly than they can rebuild themselves. And since they are such key environments, this could cause a ripple effect that destroys life throughout the oceans and pose huge consequences for people around the globe.

    Another new review found that oxygen loss in the ocean — an ongoing problem that's been documented for some time — is also worse than scientists thought. The volume of ocean water that is completely devoid of oxygen and inhospitable to life has quadrupled over the past 50 years, the authors found. They expect that problem to continue as the world warms, which could lead to conditions that we associate with major extinction events.


    Ocean die-offs

    Humans are a major cause of what's happening to reefs and to ocean oxygen levels, according to the new studies.

    Coral reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea due to the amount of life that depends on them. Approximately 25% of fish species spend some part of their life cycle in reefs. Researchers have also discovered incredibly valuable organisms in reefs that have helped us create antiviral and anticancer drugs.

    But reefs cover less than 1% of the sea floor and are fragile. Stressful conditions cause the coral animals to eject the algae that live in them, a process called bleaching, which makes them vulnerable to disease, parasites, and death.

    Bleaching events can happen naturally, but they've dramatically increased in frequency over the past few decades, according to the new study. Until the 1980s, these events used to happen to various reefs around the world every 25 to 30 years. But an analysis of data from 100 reef sites around the globe shows that bleaching events are now happening every six years — outpacing reefs' natural ability to recover.

    At local levels, humans can cause bleaching by polluting the water with runoff from agriculture or sewage from cities. On a global scale, the oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat that Earth's atmosphere has trapped due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, which come from burning fossil fuels. As the seas absorb heat and carbon dioxide, they become warmer and more acidic, conditions that can cause bleaching and make it harder for reefs to recover after a bleaching event.

    "We are pushing coral reefs around the world to the brink of extinction," Michael Crosby, a marine scientist and the president of Mote Laboratory and Aquarium, an organization working on developing new ways to revive reefs, told Business Insider before these recent studies were published. "The changes we are seeing now have such a negative impact that coral itself does not have time to catch up and survive."

    Warming and pollution also affect the amount of oxygen in the ocean in the first place. There's 2% less oxygen in the ocean now than there was in 1950, according to the new review. As waters get warmer, they're less able to absorb oxygen, leading to the emergence of ocean dead zones. Pollution creates dead zones as well. In some places, productive fisheries can spring up near dead zones in the short term, but in the long term, researchers think this could be devastating to ocean life.

    "If you can't breathe, nothing else matters. That pretty much describes it," lead review author Denise Breitburg told the Associated Press. "As seas are losing oxygen, those areas are no longer habitable by many organisms."

    A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

    Consequences for humanity

    The degree to which dying reefs and changing oceans affect humanity cannot be overstated.

    The world has lost 50% of its coral in the last 30 years. If these bleaching events continue unabated, it's likely we could lose the rest of it in our lifetimes. Reefs protect cities from storm surge that would otherwise cause devastating floods, and they directly support more than 500 million people by providing food or jobs. Losing the 25% of ocean life that at least partially depends on reefs could cause a cascading effect throughout the ocean.

    At the same time, ongoing oxygen loss in the place that most of the world's oxygen comes from is scary.

    Many researchers think that by taking steps to rapidly cut emissions and eliminate local stressors like pollution, we may still be able to protect these environments or restore them enough so that they have a shot at recovery.

    But time is limited, and as these new studies show, the pressure is on.

    SEE ALSO: The 23 best science movies and shows streaming on Netflix that will make you smarter

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Ocean ‘dead zones’ exist — and there are more of them than scientists thought

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    cape town water shortage

    • The supply of water in Cape Town, South Africa, is on track to reach critical levels by May.
    • Officials are urging locals and travelers not to flush the toilets unless it's absolutely necessary.
    • The city is hoping it won't have to resort to turning off the taps.

    The water-conservation maxim "if it's brown, flush it down; if it's yellow, let it mellow" is becoming something of a rallying cry for city officials in Cape Town, South Africa.

    The city's water supply is on track to reach lows that will prompt strict mandatory rationing before May.

    Even travelers to the city, which is home to nearly 4 million people, are being asked to conserve. The New York Times reports that safari-, beach-, and vineyard-bound tourists arriving at the city's international airport are being reminded to be cautious about their flushes.

    "A single flush uses 5 days of drinking water," one sign says. "Our taps will run dry if we don't act now."

    The city has been grappling with its worst drought in over 100 years, fueled by months of dry weather. In October, Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille asked her fellow Capetonians to limit their water use to no more than 87 liters a day. In February the city released a list of its top 100 water consumers, The Huffington Post (now HuffPost) reported, hoping to shame people into using less.

    It's tough to know exactly how much water we each pull from the tap every day, but a single toilet flush can drain about 9 liters (more than 2 gallons), and a five-minute shower uses about 47 liters (12.5 gallons). Even a typical pot of coffee will set you back another liter or more, so it's easy to see how quickly water use can add up from a quick morning routine.

    To help people track how much of the municipal resource they're using every day, Cape Town has created an online water-consumption calculator. Some residents have installed their own tanks to collect water for gardening and are using buckets to conserve shower water.

    The city is also trying to find new water sources, since dams that supply the city are hovering at just about 30% of their storage capacity. But the efforts may not be enough to keep residents hydrated. The coastal city says it will be forced to turn off the taps when the dams fall to 13.5% capacity. At that point, they'll switch to a system of daily water allotments that people will have to collect at checkpoints around town, according to The Times.

    Cape Town isn't the only city in water trouble. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025 two-thirds of the world will be dealing with water shortages as droughts become more frequent in a warming world.

    Scientists warn that cities across Asia could also get hit with big water problems by 2050 if drastic measures aren't taken there. In addition to climate extremes like drought and environmental stressors, population growth is creating challenges around freshwater consumption. As more people in densely populated countries like China and India move out of poverty, water resources are further strained.

    The Cape Town drought means rainwater suppliers and well-diggers are "doing a roaring trade,"Bloomberg reports, as people who can afford to pay line up to stay supplied.

    It remains possible that Capetonians will never reach "Day Zero," when the city projects it will turn off the taps. But for now, there's just a single chance of rain in the Cape Town forecast for the next two weeks.

    SEE ALSO: Pollution is killing more people than wars, obesity, smoking, and malnutrition

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Erin Brockovich: Here's why water across the US is turning brown, yellow, and other colors

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    california fires

    • Natural disasters including wildfires and hurricanes caused $306 billion in damage in 2017, making it the costliest year on record.
    • 2017 surpassed the previous cost record, which was set in 2005 when a series of hurricanes (including Katrina) caused $214 billion in damage.
    • Damaging storms and rising costs part of an ongoing trend that's getting worse. 


    A series of hurricanes, wildfires, and other severe weather-related events have made 2017 the costliest year on record for natural disasters.

    The combination of property damage and spending on aid and relief cost the US a total of $306 billion in 2017. There were 16 weather events that each caused over $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Last year shattered the previous cost record, which was set in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Dennis, and Wilma caused $214 billion in damage (adjusted for inflation).

    Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread flooding in Houston in August, was the single most expensive storm in 2017, causing $125 billion in damage, according to NOAA. Harvey was followed by Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico in September and led to an ongoing crisis from which the island is still recovering. That storm caused $90 billion in damage. And Hurricane Irma, which lashed Florida in September, was the third-costliest disaster in 2017 with $50 billion damage, according to NOAA. 

    2017 billion dollar disaster map

    The wildfires in northern and southern California, combined with fires in Montana and Colorado, caused $18 billion in damage. The rest of the costly disasters in 2017 are a mix of tornadoes, floods, and severe thunderstorms.

    More frequent, severe natural disasters and rising costs associated with recovery and relief are part of a larger trend, since climate change makes weather more erratic and extreme. According to a recent study in Nature, the planet may get 15% hotter by the end of the century than scientists' highest projections,which means extreme weather and costly disasters are likely to get much worse.

    The hurricane season in 2017 was considered "extremely active," according to the National Hurricane Center, with September breaking the all-time record for the number of hurricane days in one month. And 14 of the 20 largest wildfires in California's history have occurred since 2000 — with the Thomas Fire, which burned over 280,000 acres in Ventura County in December, now the largest fire in the state's history. 

    The Government Accountability Office projects that the US government's recurring annual costs due to climate change — such as wildfire suppression — could increase by up to $35 billion per year by 2050. Whereas there were 16 weather events in the US that cost $1 billion this year, the entire decade of the 1980s only saw 21 that crossed that billion-dollar mark. 

    SEE ALSO: A winter 'bomb cyclone' lashed the Northeast — bringing blizzards, floods, and frigid temperatures

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    NOW WATCH: The biggest risks facing the world in 2018

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    Green sea turtle

    • Up to 99% of endangered green sea turtles born on Australia's east coast are female, which poses a grave threat to the long-term survival of the species.
    • The culprit is increasing temperatures. Green sea turtles don't develop into males or females based on sex chromosomes — rather, it's the temperature outside of the egg that determines the gender of the embryo.
    • If temperatures to continue to rise, some turtle populations are at risk of becoming "completely feminized," which could, in turn, wipe out the population over the course of a few decades. 


    There's something strange happening with green sea turtle populations in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and now scientists believe they have figured out why.

    A new study in the journal Current Biology found that 99% of green sea turtles born in prime nesting habitat on Australia's east coast are female — which poses a serious problem for the survival of the endangered species. The reason, according to the study's authors, has everything to do with rising temperatures.

    Unlike humans — and most other species — green sea turtles do not develop into males and females based on sex chromosomes. Rather, the temperature outside of a turtle egg — while the embryo is developing — controls the gender. At a "pivot" temperature (29.3 degrees Celsius), turtles hatch with a relatively even split between males and females, according to the researchers. 

    Green sea turtle

    But just a few degrees above the pivot temperature, and the hatched turtles will skew female. That's exactly what's happening among the turtle populations the researchers observed on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The transitional range of temperatures that produce 100% female or 100% male turtles is just a few degrees Celsius, the researchers note, so small variations in temperature year-to-year can have disastrous effects on the long-term survival of a green sea turtle population. 

    And green sea turtles play a crucial role in keeping the ecosystem around them healthy, primarily by chomping down on seagrass beds. 

    In one population towards the southern end of the reef, the turtles skewed 65-69% female, according to the researchers.While that's bad for that populatio' survival rate, it's not nearly as alarming as what the researchers found in a genetically distinct population in the warmer areas toward the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

    Up to 99% of these hatched turtles, including juveniles and young adults, were female, which poses an existential threat to the population. It's one of the largest populations of the endangered species left, with an estimated 200,000 nesting females, according to the researchers. 

    The problem seems to be getting worse with each generation. Researchers found that adult-sized turtles in the northern population were around 87% female. Just a few generations later, that proportion increased to 99%.

    The culprit is rising temperatures. 

    baby green sea turtles

    When the researchers combined their data with temperature data, they found the northern population has been producing primarily females for over two decades. If temperatures continue to increase, or at least fail to stabilize, the researchers said the "complete feminization" of this population of turtles is possible in the near future. 

    While male turtles exhibit "polygynous" behavior — that is, they have several partners — which helps mitigate skewed gender ratio, the problem is likely to continue getting worse before the turtles can adapt to the changing climate. 

    A recent study in the journal Nature found the planet may get up to 15% hotter by the end of the century than scientists had originally projected. The turtle researchers warned that without proper management, we could see these critical green sea turtle populations go extinct within a few decades. 

    SEE ALSO: The US spent more money on weather disasters in 2017 than any year on record — here's the final total

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    NOW WATCH: Here's what losing weight does to your body and brain

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    Palm Beach Florida

    • Last week, the Trump Administration announced a plan to potentially open 98% of US waters to offshore drilling.
    • Florida Governor Rick Scott quickly voiced his opposition, as did many other coastal governors.
    • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke now says Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts will be off-limits to drilling because the state is "obviously unique." 


    Last Thursday, the Trump Administration released a plan that would allow the US government to lease out nearly all federal waters to oil companies for offshore drilling. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reversed course on part of that plan, saying the Florida coast is now "off the table" because the state is "obviously unique."

    "The president made it very clear that local voices count," Zinke said, according to the Associated Press, adding, "we are not drilling off the coast of Florida, which clearly the governor has expressed that’s important."

    The original plan, announced by the Department of the Interior last week, would allow oil companies to bid for drilling rights in nearly all US waters over the next five years, save for a few marine sanctuaries and congressionally banned spots. The plan includes Atlantic and Pacific waters that hadn't been up for grabs since the 1980s. 

    This map shows what the original proposal, announced last week, included:

    Offshore drilling map jan 2018


    Florida Gov. Rick Scott was a vocal opponent of the plan, and promised to set up a meeting with the administration as soon as possible to discuss his disapproval. Protecting the state's natural resources, he said, is more important than opening up its waters for oil extraction.

    Florida's economy has been threatened by drilling mishaps before: In 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon spill sent oil gushing into the waters near Louisiana and Mississippi, Florida lost millions of tourism dollars, Reuters reported

    The Florida Ocean Alliance estimates that coastal counties in the state drive 79% of its economy, with tourism and recreation accounting for the vast majority. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that fishing, tourism and related industries in the state employ over 383,300 Floridians.

    But Florida isn't the only state where the economy is inextricably linked to the ocean, of course. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that in 2014, the so-called ocean economy contributed more than $352 billion to US GDP and supported 3.1 million jobs. 

    Officials from other coastal states are furious about the decision to spare Florida from drilling, since their strong opposition to the plan seems to be getting ignored so far. California's State Attorney General was quick to raise his voice on Twitter Tuesday night:

    CA AG Xavier Becerra drilling tweet

    The California Coastal Commission said that "producing oil and gas in these areas could have significant, longterm, and far-reaching effects on marine and coastal wildlife, commercial fishing, wetlands, ocean and beach users, and coastal tourism." 

    Many other states argue their coastline and waters are "unique" as well. Governors, tribal leaders, members of Congress, public officials, and members of the general public submitted public comments voicing their concern about the plan to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

    Leaders of states up and down both coasts, including Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia and New York all agreed they were against the idea last week. But unlike Florida, none of those states voted for Trump in 2016. 

    Now other states that pulled the lever for Trump in 2016 want their voices heard, too. After hearing about Florida's special treatment, South Carolina's Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said he's pressing the administration for an exemption from the plan for his state, the Star Telegram reported. Meanwhile up the shoreline in North Carolina, democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vocal opposition to the idea is at odds with his Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest, who said offshore drilling could bring "thousands of jobs" to that state.

    SEE ALSO: The Trump Administration is proposing auctioning off nearly all US coastal waters for offshore drilling

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    NOW WATCH: These Greek beaches are covered in black sludge after more than 2,500 tons of oil spilled from a tanker

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    Bill de Blasio

    • New York City is taking on fossil fuels by divesting billions from the city's pension funds, and suing five oil companies.
    • The city alleges the fossil fuel industry was aware for decades that burning fuel was impacting climate change.
    • The defendants in the city's federal lawsuit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.


    New York City is taking on the oil industry on two fronts, announcing a lawsuit Wednesday that blames the top five oil companies for contributing to global warming and saying the city will sell off billions in fossil fuel investments from the city's pension funds.

    Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio received immediate blowback from some of the companies, while winning praise from environmentalists and others.

    "We're bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits," the mayor said. "As climate change continues to worsen, it's up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient."

    The city alleges the fossil fuel industry was aware for decades that burning fuel was impacting climate change.

    The defendants in the city's federal lawsuit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. Three of the companies shot back against the mayor's accusations, while two others — ConocoPhillips and BP — declined to enter the fray.

    New York City skyline

    "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions," said Exxon Mobil's Scott Silvestri. "Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life — simply do not do that."

    Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall called the lawsuit meritless and said the litigation will do nothing to address climate change. Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman, said the courts are not the venue to address climate change.

    New York's lawsuit, filed in federal court follows similar litigation filed by San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Cruz in California.

    Also Wednesday, de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer said they intend to divest the city's five pension funds of roughly $5 billion in fossil fuel investments out of its total of $189 billion. They say the divestment is the largest of any municipality in the U.S. to date.

    "Safeguarding the retirement of our city's police officers, teachers and firefighters is our top priority, and we believe that their financial future is linked to the sustainability of the planet," Stringer said.

    Clara Vondrich of the DivestInvest campaign says the city joins a movement that started about six years ago. She says hundreds of institutional investors managing assets of over $5.5 trillion have taken their money out of fossil fuel investments.

    exxon mobil

    Last month, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to have the state pension funds also divest from fossil fuel investments. He and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli are creating an advisory committee to examine the way to proceed with divestment.

    In November, Norway's central bank urged the Norwegian government to consider divesting oil and gas company shares held in the $1 trillion oil fund.

    Vondrich said other cities and entities selling off fossil fuel interests have included Berlin and Washington, D.C.; insurance companies Swiss Re, Axa and Allianz; and educational institutions such as the University of Oxford in Great Britain, Stanford University in California and Trinity College in Ireland.

    Philanthropies have included the Wallace Global Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, notable because the late John D. Rockefeller grew his wealth as an oil baron.

    Kyle Isakower, vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, has previously said that divestment is a "tactic of misinformed activists" that is "incompatible with job creation, affordable energy, and economic prosperity." The industry group's New York executive director, Karen Moreau, accused him of hurting pension holders in "a disgraceful way to score cheap political points."

    Linda Kelly, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group, called the lawsuit a stunt.

    "Ironically, this attack on energy manufacturers comes at a time that New Yorkers have depended on natural gas and heating oil to carry them through the recent extreme cold," she said. "The mayor's announcement may raise his profile, but it will do nothing to address climate change and will ultimately fail."

    Longtime environmental activist Bill McKibben called the actions by the city "one of a handful of the most important developments" in the past 30 years. "The mightiest city on the planet has now sort of walked into a real fight with the richest and most irresponsible industry on the planet," he said.

    SEE ALSO: The world's largest oil and gas companies are getting greener after fighting with shareholders for months

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    NOW WATCH: Why you should never throw away these bags again

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    Theresa May

    • Theresa May will announce plans to extend the 5p plastic charge and tell retailers to create plastic-free aisles in order to crack down on plastic waste.
    • The prime minister will vow to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
    • Labour described the move as a "cynical attempt at rebranding" the Tory party's image.

    LONDON — Theresa May will today pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 in a speech on her government's environmental policies.

    The prime minister is set to outline a 25-year plan for addressing the "one of the great environmental scourges of our time" which will involve extending the 5p plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers in England and supermarkets being encouraged to sell shelve food without plastic packaging.

    "Today I can confirm that the UK will demonstrate global leadership.  We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates," May will say on Thursday morning. "To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic."

    The prime minister is set to announce the following policies:

    • The extension of the 5p plastic bag charge to all retailers in England.
    • Encourage retailers to introduce plastic-free aisles where all food is loose.
    • Assessment of how extra tax or charges could be used to reduce plastic waste.
    • New funding for plastics innovation.
    • Help developing nations decrease plastic waste through UK aid. 

    Labour has accused the Conservatives of a "cynical attempt" at "rebranding the Tories' image" amid concern within May's party that it is struggling to connect with young people.

    The Liberal Democrats said it "beggared belief" that a 25-year target had been announced when action was required immediately.

    In a speech this morning, May is expected to say: "We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do.

    "In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.

    "In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.

    "This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats.

    "1 million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.

    "This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time." She'll add "I want the Britain of the future to be a truly Global Britain, which is a force for good in the world. Steadfast in upholding our values – not least our fierce commitment to protecting the natural environment.

    "When we host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April we will put the sustainable development of our oceans firmly on the agenda.

    "We will work with our partners to create a Commonwealth Blue Charter and push for strong action to reduce plastic waste in the ocean.

    "We will direct our development spending to help developing nations reduce plastic waste, increase our own marine protected areas at home, and establish new Blue Belt protections in our Overseas Territories."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This congressman wants to target the USPS to help stop the opioid crisis

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    climate change trump removal


    The Trump Administration is quietly changing things on .gov websites — and a group of academics and non-profits is keeping track.

    The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) released a new report on Wednesday that details how references to our changing climate and greenhouse gases have been erased from federal webpages since President Donald Trump took office. 

    But new side-by-side comparisons from EDGI provide a kind of virtual trip back in time to the web before Trump took office, shedding light on the subtle ways that the administration is making it harder to track down information about climate change and alternative energy sources online.

    However, the group also said that climate research and data does not seem to be getting totally scrapped from online government archives, and federally funded reporting on climate change continues. In November, the administration signed off on a report from federal scientists saying that "there is no convincing alternative explanation" for the "continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean."

    Nonetheless, these snapshots reveal what's missing from the updated federal websites:

    SEE ALSO: The Trump administration is removing Florida from its offshore drilling plan because the state is 'obviously unique' — and other coastal states are furious

    Some of the changes on the web mirror federal policy shifts since Trump took office. For example, The Bureau of Land Management says 'clean and renewable energy' isn't a priority anymore.

    The BLM website used to say that the agency was focused on "energy for today and tomorrow" and "leading the way in allowing for orderly, environmentally responsible development" of sun, wind, and geothermal energy sources.

    You can see the old page here, thanks to the Wayback Machine. 

    Today, the same page says the US favors an "all of the above" energy approach: "The BLM supports the America First Energy Plan, which includes oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable energy resources such as wind, geothermal and solar," the website reads. 

    The top priority listed on the BLM website now is "making America safe through energy independence." 

    Some content has been completely scrapped from official sites. This old part of the Environmental Protection Agency's website no longer exists:

    The deleted content isn't just educational.

    Vital information that state officials and experts could use to respond to flooding, hurricanes, and other natural disasters is no longer easily accessible on the web, EDGI says.

    For example, plans the EPA drew up for "climate change adaptation"— including advice about how to prepare for flooding and get protection from toxic chemical exposure —are much harder to find now. 

    Most of these things are still available on archived federal pages. (You can access the old version of the page shown above here.) But not everything is still in those records.

    Some educational materials have been taken down completely, like this old EPA page for kids:

    "Of all agencies, the EPA has removed the most climate web content," the EDGI report says.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    • According to McDonald's sustainability goals, the company plans to drop foam packaging globally by 2019.
    • The chain also said it will switch to packaging made from recycled materials in every location by 2020.
    • The changes are in response to environmental concerns, since foam packaging is hard to recycle.


    If you order an extra-large soda at McDonald's, the fast-food giant might give you a foam cup to fill. But that's about to change.

    By the end of 2018, McDonald's says it will ditch foam cold-beverage cups and trays in every location around the world. The company also plans to use 100% recycled fiber-based packaging globally by 2020. Fiber-based packaging currently makes up over half of all cups, wrappings, containers, and trays, according to McDonald's.

    This is the first time McDonald's has committed to a strict deadline to drop foam materials, which represent 2% of its packaging.

    In recent years, environmental groups and some customers have expressed concerns about the toll McDonald's single-use foam packaging takes on the environment, since it's nearly impossible to recycle.

    According to a 2015 report by environmental NGOs As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council, most large food brands are not doing much to address the issue. The report analyzed 47 food companies — including McDonald's, Burger King, and Domino's Pizza — based on what they call the "four pillars of packaging sustainability:" switching to reusable packaging; recycled content; recyclability and materials use; and boosting materials recycling. None of the 47 brands fulfilled all four pillars.

    McDonald's initially made the foam-packaging announcement on its website in May 2016, and published a report that further outlined its sustainability goals.

    In 1986, the company started serving burgers and chicken nuggets in foam "clamshells," but later dropped them in 1990. A year later, it switched to more environmentally friendly paper wrappings and containers in some locations.

    The latest decision to stop using foam packaging could encourage other fast-food giants to do the same.

    SEE ALSO: 11 photos that show how McDonald's has changed since the 1950s

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    WINDFARM FEATURE puerto rico blackout after Hurricane Maria

    • An estimated 1.5 million Puerto Ricans remain without power more than three months after Hurricane Maria lashed the US territory.
    • Early this month, the island's energy commission unveiled a handful of proposed regulations that could revamp the island's power grid.
    • Those proposals emphasize the importance of clean, renewable power from wind and solar — something experts say the rest of the US should embrace, too.


    The lights are still out in more than half of Puerto Rico.

    After Hurricane Maria struck the US territory on September 20, a crippling blackout descended over its 3.4 million residents, cutting communication between loved ones, spoiling food and life-saving medications, and nixing access to banks and clean water.

    The death toll, initially estimated at 64, is now thought to be at least 1,000, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

    More than three months after the storm, 1.5 million Puerto Ricans remain without power, and hundreds of thousands have no clean water.

    It's the result of an abused electric grid left to rot — and what's happening in Puerto Rico could happen in many other parts of America. 

    Many mainland states depend on a dilapidated and crumbling network of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas pipelines for electricity, as does Puerto Rico. Many parts of the system are just one big natural disaster — superstorm, flood, wildfire, earthquake — away from being decimated.

    "Generally speaking, the US gets about a D+ for things like this," Vivek Shandas, an urban-planning professor at Portland State University, told Business Insider after the fall's triple threat of hurricanes lashed Puerto Rico and mainland US. "Much of our infrastructure was built in the late 1800s and it's beginning to fall apart."

    Yet some experts say the storms have offered up a silver-lining for Puerto Rico: the chance to rebuild better, stronger, and cleaner.

    Early this month, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission unveiled a handful of proposed regulations designed to help nail down what the future of power will look like on the island.

    The biggest takeaway after more than 50 companies and organizations weighed in was that microgrids — mini power networks like wind farms or solar arrays that can often function without direct links to the main grid — will play an important role in the territory's energy future.

    Experts say the rest of the US should follow suit.

    'This is a time where we could help Puerto Rico take a major level jump'

    As in much of the mainland US, the power grid in Puerto Rico is more of a patchwork than a unified network. Most of the island’s large power plants lie on its southern coast, but most of its people live in the north, beyond mountainous terrain that makes distributing power difficult. Power plants owned by Puerto Rico’s bankrupt government-owned power authority, Prepa, are four decades old on average.

    WINDFARM FEATURE Tesla tau island microgrid solar 2

    The week after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico and unleashed the single largest blackout in US history, Blake Richetta, the senior vice president of a renewable-energy company called Sonnen, boarded a plane bound for the island. Sonnen makes solar batteries designed to supply homes with an independent source of energy, similar to the Powerwall systems built by Tesla.

    “We got started as soon as we could,” Richetta told Business Insider. “We knew there was going to be a disastrous situation, and we prepared for the worst.”

    To Richetta, providing support was a necessity. But the situation also gave Sonnen the chance to showcase the potential of renewable energy systems as a way to provide immediate power to people in need.

    “This is a time where we could help Puerto Rico take a major level jump,” Richetta said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis, but it’s also a huge opportunity for growth.”

    Sonnen's batteries capture and store the power made by solar panels when the sun is shining so that it can be used later when it’s cloudy or dark. 

    Richetta and a handful of Sonnen staff set up half a dozen solar microgrids in communal areas in some of Puerto Rico’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, in partnership with a company called Pura Energia.

    In Humacao, a blacked-out province where people were using bacteria-infested streams for washing and laundry, Sonnen and Pura Energia helped set up washing machines powered by the sun. In another part of the island, the companies used the microgrids to set up cellphone-charging stations so that people could attempt to reach out to loved ones on other parts of the island or in the mainland US.

    A movement towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more balanced grid

    Microgrid systems are already helping provide some coverage to various parts of the mainland US — but most of these projects are still in the early stages.

    WINDFARM FEATURE ams tesla powerpack microgrid installation socal edison

    In Southern California, a company called Advanced Microgrid Solutions is spearheading a project that involves replacing the energy that was once provided by a large (now decommissioned) nuclear power plant with a series of solar arrays and batteries that AMS can turn on and off based on when the prices for conventional energy are low and when there’s the most demand.

    “We take hundreds of buildings — picture entire city blocks — and each building has a battery. We get the information from each battery, each building, and operate the whole fleet of buildings like one virtual power plant,” Manal Yamout, a vice president at Advanced Microgrid Solutions, told Business Insider.

    The AMS system is still connected to the wider grid, and it isn't designed to provide stand-alone power. But it could.

    Islanded microgrids — systems that can run independently of the wider grid — can power entire communities.

    Ta’u Island in American Samoa is one example of this. There, Elon Musk's energy company, Tesla, has built a network of 5,328 solar panels and 60 Powerpack batteries that supply the entire island with clean energy. On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, a Tesla solar farm accounts for a fifth of the island's peak energy demand.

    The way Yamout sees it, it's less about various individual projects and more about a bigger movement towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more balanced grid. In the event of a natural disaster or emergency, these systems are much more resilient, and perhaps even critical. But if deployed across the entire US, they would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean up our air, promote energy independence, and make energy distribution more cost-effective and convenient.

    "It’s not just about batteries. This is going to take the form of things consumers are adopting anyway — things like the smart thermostats, electric vehicles. It's going to transform the way the grid operates," Yamout said.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how technology is shaping the future of education

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    mudslides ca jan 12 2018

    The death toll is rising as mudslides continue to ravage southern California. 

    Nineteen people have died as a result of the disaster in the wealthy enclave of Montecito, a community about 90 miles up the coast from Los Angeles.

    The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office says finding anyone alive in the muck at this point would be a "miracle," even as rescue workers continue searching for survivors this weekend. The eighteenth victim, an 87-year-old man, was found dead in his home on Friday, the Associated Press reported, and 25-year-old Morgan Christine Corey's body was found Saturday in the mud.

    Rescue workers are using search and rescue dogs to help wade through the mud and rocks — which is sometimes thigh-deep or higher — to search homes and cars. The damage from torrential rains was made worse by recent wildfires in the area that charred the earth and scrubbed the land of vegetation, making the ground slicker and the slides more dramatic.

    Take a look at what rescue crews are dealing with as they survey the deadly damage: 

    SEE ALSO: This year's deadly flu season is reaching its peak — here's how to tell if you're contagious

    Cal Fire search and rescue crews used their hands to get free as they trudged through the mud, looking for survivors.

    Most people who have evacuated are being told to stay away from their homes for at least two weeks, the Associated Press reported. 

    Crews are using search-and-rescue dogs to hunt for victims.

    But time is running out, as authorities plead for the public's help locating six people who are still missing.

    Source: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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  • 01/15/18--05:38: Do lobsters feel pain?
  • Boil Lobster

    • A new animal protection law in Switzerland requires that lobsters be stunned before being cooked.
    • Animal rights activists and some scientists argue that lobsters' central nervous systems are complex enough that they can feel pain. 
    • There is no conclusive evidence about whether lobsters can feel pain.

    People are more sensitive about killing lobsters than other animals.

    Few diners cringe at the thought of a fish slowly suffocating to death or being slaughtered on the deck of a boat, for instance, but there is considerable more stress associated with dropping Maine's icon into a pot of boiling water.

    In Switzerland, lobsters now must be stunned before they are killed, according to a new animal protection law that will take effect in March.

    But the research on whether or not these creatures feel pain is still inconclusive.

    The Lobster Institute in Maine argues that the lobster's primitive nervous system is most similar to the nervous system of an insect. And while lobsters react to sudden stimulus, like twitching their tails when placed in boiling water, they do not have complex brains that allow them to process pain like humans and other animals do, the institute maintains.

    "Cooking a lobster is like cooking a big bug," said Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute. He added: "Do you have the same concern when you kill a fly or a mosquito?"

    Most consumers still don't see it that way. Lobsters inspire more compassion than chicken, pork, or other fish because it is one of the few foods that urbanites have to kill themselves when cooking.

    In 2014, a scientist from Queen's University in Belfast argued that lobsters and other crustaceans probably do feel pain, on the grounds that crabs in a study learned to avoid a hideaway where they were repeatedly given an electric shock. A Norwegian study from 2005 concluded the opposite: lobsters do not have brains, so they do not feel pain.

    In 2006, Whole Foods banned the sale of live lobsters and crabs in its stores — with the exception of those in Maine — citing that transporting, storing, and cooking live animals was inhumane. In 2013, a video released by PETA that showed live lobsters being ripped apart by hand at a Maine processor again struck a chord with animal rights groups.

    We will never know how the lobster feels, which is why the Lobster Institute focuses on ways to cook lobster so that "it minimizes our own trauma," said Bayer.

    He suggested putting the lobster in either fresh cold water or chilling it in the freezer (without freezing it) before cooking. Both methods, according to Bayer, will "put the lobster to sleep."

    One Maine processor uses an 80,000-pound machine called the "Big Mother Shucker" to kill lobsters in just six seconds using high water pressure.

    Another option is the CrustaStun, a device that home chefs can purchase for several thousand dollars to "zap lobster's nervous system in one jolt," said Trevor Corson, author of "The Secret Life of Lobsters."

    A large kitchen knife will also make for a quick death when cooks hold the lobster upside down and slice it in half from the tail to the head. Corson provides step-by-step instructions for this method on his blog.


    As for the most humane way to kill a lobster, "there's no absolute answer," said Bayer. It's based on what we perceive as pain or perhaps hear as "screams," even if those sounds are just the steam escaping the lobster's shell.

    SEE ALSO: Maine processor has an incredible way of getting lobster out of its shell

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    NOAA deep ocean

    There's a spectacular, uncharted alien world right off the Gulf Coast, and a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) expedition sought to uncover its secrets.

    This past December, a NOAA team, aboard the Okeanos Explorer, conducted the first of three month-long studies of the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico, with the dual aim of exploring the diversity of deep-water habitats and mapping the seafloor. 

    Using a mix of remote-operated submersibles (ROVs), and shore-based instruments, the team brought back stunning images of previously unexplored areas. 

    Here's a sample of what they found in the inky depths:

    SEE ALSO: Here are the most stunning images NASA has ever taken of our planet

    Over dozens of dives, NOAA's submersibles brought back images of deep-water creatures that had seldom been observed before.

    Here, the coiled tip of a bamboo coral is pictured growing out of the sediment on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the surface. 

    A submersible explores a shipwreck first spotted by an offshore drilling exploration firm in 2002.

    The submersible, Deep Discoverer, conducted a full archaeological survey of the wreck, collecting 3D mosaic images and analyzing the life living on it. NOAA's researchers believe the ship is a merchant vessel dating back to around 1830. 

    In this image, you can see a tiny snake star, surrounded by the spiny arms of larger sea stars coiled among the branches of a coral, at a depth of 1,315 feet.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider