Environmental Policy

Not all whaling is the same
July 30, 2015 06:44 AM - David Lusseau, The Ecologist

The Faroe Islands' annual 'grindadráp', in which hundreds of pilot whales are slaughtered with knives and hooks, is a horrifying spectacle, writes David Lusseau. But unlike industrial whaling it poses no threat to the species. And is it really any worse than the industrial factory farming that we routinely ignore?

Anyone that signs a petition to stop the Faroese grindadráp only to go home and roast a chicken that never saw daylight or moved much when it was reared is a hypocrite.

In the mid-20th century pilot whaling still took place in many north Atlantic nations such as the US and Canada.

Humpback Whale conservation is working in Australia
July 29, 2015 06:11 AM -

Australia has one of the highest rates of animal species that face extinction, decline or negative impacts from human behavior in the world. However, over the last decade, there have been rare occurrences of animals that are rebounding and thriving. One example is the conservation success story of the recovery of the humpback whales that breed in both East and West Australian waters. This new study, published in Marine Policy and led by Dr. Michelle Bejder, reviews data collected in past studies and proposes a revision of the conservation status for the humpback whales found in Australian waters.

In Australia, the east and west coast humpback whale populations are listed as a threatened species with a 'vulnerable' status as defined by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). However, according to Professor Lars Bejder at Murdoch University Australia, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences and his international co-authors, data reveals that these whale populations are increasing at remarkable rates (9% for West Coast and 10% for East Coast; as of 2012), the highest documented worldwide.

Diesel exhaust found causing health hazards in EU cities
July 23, 2015 06:59 AM - EurActiv

The automotive industry needs to face up to the hazard to health posed by its diesel engines. That stark reality was brought home again to Europeans and, in particular, Londoners last week when Transport for London and the Greater London Authority revealed that an additional 5,900 early deaths annually in the EU’s largest city are attributable to long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas emitted in urban areas largely from diesel engines.

Concern about the health effects of NO2 is growing fast. The gas was known to irritate lungs and cause respiratory infections and asthma, including acute respiratory illnesses in children. It has also been linked to birth abnormalities. But this new research by King’s College London estimates for the first time the number of premature deaths caused. The study also shows an additional 3,500 deaths are caused by PM2.5, bringing the total number of people who die early because of air pollution annually in London to 9,400.

Welcome three new National Monuments
July 17, 2015 06:59 AM - Judy Molland, Care2

Using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Obama announced last week that he was creating three new national monuments. The President designated scenic mountains in California as Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, pristine wilderness landscapes in Nevada as Basin and Range National Monument, and a fossil-rich site in Texas as Waco Mammoth National Monument.

Together, the new monuments protect more than one million acres of public lands. National monuments are similar to national parks, except that they can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government via a presidential proclamation. With these new designations, Obama will have used the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 19 national monuments in the United States in total. Altogether, he has protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters.

France estimates the economic costs of air pollution
July 16, 2015 06:40 AM - Editors EurActiv

The French Senate has called for new efforts to tackle air pollution, arguing it inflates healthcare costs, reduces economic productivity and agricultural yields, and has put Paris in the EU's bad books.

A Committee of Inquiry in the French Senate has described air pollution as an "economic aberration". The committee's proposals to reduce the phenomenon, which costs France over €100 billion every year, include raising the tax on diesel and taxing emissions of the worst polluting substances.

In the report entitled "Air pollution: the cost of inaction", published on Wednesday 15 July, the Senate committee estimated the annual cost of air Pollution in France at €101.3 billion.

How microbes are cleaning up the BP oil spill
July 12, 2015 07:06 AM - Lizabeth Paulat, Care2

Microbes, primarily bacteria and fungi, get a bad rap in today’s society. However they’ve long played an incredible role within the Earth’s ecosystem. And one of the most important places microbes are transforming the earth is in the Gulf of Mexico, where a number of strains are busy munching up the oil still left over from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which took place just over five years ago caused a massive ecological disaster in and around the Gulf of Mexico. This is partially because the spill took so long to quell, with oil companies scrambling (and often failing) to stem the flow of oil from the seabed.

Greece's economic problems linked to its coal-based energy policies
July 4, 2015 07:53 AM - Takis Grigoriou / Greenpeace EnergyDesk, The Ecologist

As Greece prepares for its referendum, Takis Grigoriou takes Greece to task for its highly polluting lignite power sector, its ditching of a successful solar program in favour of more coal, the minimal insulation in its buildings that locks in high fuel bills, and Syriza's failure to tackle these issues. The good news? Greece's latest €1.4bn coal project looks like going unfunded.

Instead of phasing out lignite Greece opted to engage in a long battle to preserve the ailing industry while putting an abrupt end to solar energy development by blocking new applications.

Study examines overall carbon cost of fuel from Canadian oil sands
June 28, 2015 06:34 AM - UC Davis via the ECOreport, ECOreport

Gasoline and diesel fuel extracted and refined from Canadian oil sands will release about 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over the oil’s lifetime than fuel from conventional crude sources in the Unied States, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory; the University of California, Davis; and Stanford University.

The researchers used a life-cycle, or “well-to-wheels,” approach, gathering publicly available data on 27 large Canadian oil sands production facilities. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found the additional carbon impact of Canadian oil sands was largely related to the energy required for extraction and refining.

Beijing growing explosively, impacting weather and climate
June 26, 2015 05:12 AM - JPL NASA

A new study by scientists using data from NASA's QuikScat satellite has demonstrated a novel technique to quantify urban growth based on observed changes in physical infrastructure. The researchers used the technique to study the rapid urban growth in Beijing, China, finding that its physical area quadrupled between 2000 and 2009. 

A team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used data from QuikScat to measure the extent of infrastructure changes, such as new buildings and roads, in China's capital. They then quantified how urban growth has changed Beijing's wind patterns and pollution, using a computer model of climate and air quality developed by Jacobson. 

Breeders select trait to conserve drinkable water
June 25, 2015 10:28 AM - Kaine Korzekwa, American Society of Agronomy

Plants need water. People need water. Unfortunately, there’s only so much clean water to go around — and so the effort begins to find a solution.

Luckily for people, some plants are able to make do without perfectly clean water, leaving more good water for drinking. One strategy is to use treated wastewater, containing salt leftover from the cleaning process, to water large areas of turf grass. These areas include athletic fields and golf courses. Golf courses alone use approximately 750 billion gallons of water annually in arid regions.

However, most plants cannot tolerate a lot of salt. As some areas of the United States run low on clean water, plant breeders are trying to breed plants that are more salt tolerant. This would conserve clean water while maintaining healthy turf.

Plant breeders can actually see the individual effect of what each parent plant passes on because the genes add intensity to the trait. These are additive effects. Breeders can more easily select for those features when they observe those differences.

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