Environmental Policy

2012 was a bad year for the Arctic
August 10, 2013 08:32 AM - Steve Williams, Care2

During 2012, the Arctic broke several climate records, including a level of unprecedented warmth that created rapid ice loss. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is warning in its "The State of the Climate in 2012" report that last year was one of the 10 hottest since the beginning of recording global average temperatures. In addition to this, Arctic sea ice melted to reach record lows during the annual summer thaw. To illustrate this, the report points out that in Greenland, around 97% of the region’s ice sheet melted: this a figure that is four times the expected figure based on the melt in previous years. We're still feeling the effects of this and continued warming today, with the North Pole Environmental Agency issuing a warning that the summer ice has melted so fast and by so much that a shallow lake has formed.

New York City Turns to Composting
August 8, 2013 12:43 PM - Debra Goldberg, ENN

In 2011, the United States produced 250 million tons of municipal solid waste, 56% of which was compostable materials. In New York City alone, more than 10,000 tons of trash is collected every day and shipped to landfills where organic materials decompose. Methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is produced as a result of the decomposition. Behind industry and agriculture, landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the United States. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized this major environmental concern in his State of the City address, and called for food waste recycling, the city’s “final recycling frontier". Of course New York City isn’t the first to come up with such an ambitious plan. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, San Antonio, and Portland, Oregon have been composting as early as 2009. Today, San Francisco mandates that all residents separate organic material, adding a third bin to trash and recycling. The compost bins can include all food scraps, along with vegetation and solid paper products such as coffee cups and milk cartons. Overall, 78% of San Francisco’s waste is now diverted from landfills.

Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica
August 6, 2013 08:58 AM - Rhett A. Butler, MONGABAY.COM

Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The research, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, is based on analysis of satellite data calibrated with visits to field sites in the lowlands of northern Costa Rica.

Marine ecosystems shifting in response to warming climate
August 6, 2013 06:19 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

The climate is getting warmer, and terrestrial ecosystems are responding. Species move up mountain slopes to remain in the temperature regimes they prefer (if there is a mountain slope to move up!). What is happening in the oceans? The warming climate is affecting ocean temperatures too, thought the oceans have vast thermal mass, so changes might be expected to be occurring more slowly than on land. Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface, yet our knowledge of the impact of climate change on marine habitats is a mere drop in the proverbial ocean compared to terrestrial systems. An international team of scientists set out to change that by conducting a global meta-analysis of climate change impacts on marine systems. Counter to previous thinking, marine species are shifting their geographic distribution toward the poles and doing so much faster than their land-based counterparts. The findings were published in Nature Climate Change.

EPA looking at contaminated sites for renewable energy
August 5, 2013 05:09 PM - Roger Greenway, ENN

There are a lot of contaminated sites in the US. Many are former landfills that are urban mounds of varying size, and they are often devoid of trees. This makes them good candidate sites for solar power or other forms of renewable energy. This is a win-win opportunity in many instances! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently updated its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool, which will now provide preliminary screening results for renewable energy potential at 66,000, up from 24,000, contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites across the country. The RE-Powering America's Land Initiative, started by EPA in 2008, encourages development of renewable energy on potentially contaminated land, landfills and mine sites when it is aligned with the community’s vision for the site. "We see responsible renewable energy development on contaminated lands and landfills as a win-win-win for the nation, local communities, and the environment," said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "In President Obama's Climate Action Plan, the administration set a goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020. By identifying the renewable energy potential of contaminated sites across the country, these screening results are a good step toward meeting national renewable energy goals in order to address climate change, while also cleaning up and revitalizing contaminated lands in our communities."

Jumbo problems for the Indian railways
August 5, 2013 09:12 AM - Shreya Dasgupta, MONGABAY.COM

Running late that morning, the Kanchankanya Express train zipped past Gulma and entered the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in northern West Bengal, India. Till a few minutes ago, impatience was writ large on every face. Now with the fog having finally lifted and the green forest cover glistening under the sun, things were finally looking up. But before my co-passengers could sigh with relief, the train came to a screeching halt, right in the middle of the forest. I looked out the door of my compartment. A group of passengers had already detrained and gathered by the railway track, speculating what was wrong. "Not to worry", one of them shouted back to us in Bengali, "The train just hit a grazing cow. We will be on our way soon." What he perhaps did not say, was that it could easily have been an elephant.

Increased grazing helps improve soil
August 5, 2013 06:18 AM - Luke Runion, NPR

The world's soil is in trouble. Ecologists say without dramatic changes to how we manage land, vast swathes of grassland are at risk of turning into hard-packed desert. To make sure that doesn't happen, researchers are testing out innovative ways to keep moisture in the soil. In eastern Colorado, one way could be in the plodding hooves of cattle. Conventional wisdom tells you that if ranchland ground has less grass, the problem is too many cows. But that's not always the case. It depends on how you manage them, if you make sure they keep moving.

Fuel from water advances
August 3, 2013 07:23 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

Fuel from water? A form of Alchemy? Researchers have been trying for years to find a limitless, environmentally benign source of fuel. Now a University of Colorado Boulder team has developed a radically new technique that uses the power of sunlight to efficiently split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, paving the way for the broad use of hydrogen as a clean, green fuel. The CU-Boulder team has devised a solar-thermal system in which sunlight could be concentrated by a vast array of mirrors onto a single point atop a central tower up to several hundred feet tall. The tower would gather heat generated by the mirror system to roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,350 Celsius), then deliver it into a reactor containing chemical compounds known as metal oxides, said CU-Boulder Professor Alan Weimer, research group leader.

Iraq creates first National Park
August 2, 2013 08:48 AM - Liz Shaw, ARKive.org

Iraq's Council of Ministers has approved the designation of the country's first national park, in the Mesopotamian Marshes of southern Iraq. Once the third largest wetland in the world, the Mesopotamian Marshes are widely thought to be the original 'Garden of Eden'. However, they were nearly destroyed during the Gulf War in the 1990s, when Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, drained the area and reduced the marshland to less than ten percent of its original extent.

China's aggressive Electric Vehicle program not meeting goals
July 30, 2013 06:27 AM - ERIC YUE, Worldwatch Institute

Over the past 30 years, China's rapid economic growth and industry development have been driven in large part by specific national plans that set very ambitious targets for certain industries. The electric vehicle (EV) industry is no exception. Yet even with prioritization by the central government, the EV industry does not seem to be on track to meet its targets." According to the Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST) 12th Five-Year Plan for Electric Vehicles and the State Council's Energy-saving and New Energy Automotive Industry Development Plan released in 2012, 500,000 EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are to be deployed by 2015, along with 400,000 charging piles and 2,000 charging or battery-switching stations. The nation is targeting 5 million EVs and PHEVs on the road by 2020.

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