Environmental Policy

Natural carbon sinks and their role in climate
January 10, 2016 11:32 AM - Mark Dwortzan | MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Protected areas such as rainforests occupy more than one-tenth of the Earth’s landscape, and provide invaluable ecosystem services, from erosion control to pollination to biodiversity preservation. They also draw heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil through photosynthesis, yielding a net cooling effect on the planet.

Determining the role protected areas play as carbon sinks — now and in decades to come — is a topic of intense interest to the climate-policy community as it seeks science-based strategies to mitigate climate change. Toward that end, a study in the journal Ambioestimates for the first time the amount of CO2 sequestered by protected areas, both at present and throughout the 21st century as projected under various climate and land-use scenarios.

Changing climate and reforestation
January 10, 2016 08:24 AM - AsociaciĆ³n RUVID via ScienceDaily

For the past six years, researchers at the Universitat Politènica de València (Polytechnic Univeristy of Valencia, UPV) have been studying the performance of twelve Aleppo pine varieties native to different regions of Spain in reforestation campaigns across three national forest areas. Different varieties or genotypes have different levels of resistance to cold and drought, which influence how well they perform in a given geographical region, and researchers wanted to find out which varieties worked best and where.

To do so, the different national varieties or genotypes were used to repopulate forest areas in La Hunde, Valencia (as the control region), in the drier Granja d'Escarp, Lleida, to the north and further inland in Tramacastiel, Teruel, where the climate is much cooler.

"The varieties from Inland Levante and La Mancha performed the best overall, while those from further south seem to be perfect for reforestation efforts in regions already affected by climate change," observes Antonio del Campo, researcher at the UPV's Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (IIAMA).

As gas prices fall, consumers going back to less fuel efficient vehicles
January 9, 2016 08:04 AM - Scott Horsley, NPR

There were high-fives this week from Detroit to Washington, D.C., as carmakers celebrated record auto sales.

Americans bought 17.5 million cars and trucks in 2015. That's a huge turnaround from 2009, and the Obama administration cheered the rebound as vindication of the president's decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy.

"Because of the policy decisions that were made by this administration to place a bet on those workers, America has won, and our economy has been better for it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory developing underground battery system to store energy and CO2
January 6, 2016 04:30 PM - Lawrence Liverpool Laboratory.

Meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels will require increased use of renewable energy and reducing the CO2 intensity of fossil energy use.

The intermittency of when the wind blows and when the sun shines is one of the biggest challenges impeding the widespread integration of renewable energy into electric grids, while the cost of capturing CO2 and storing it permanently underground is a big challenge for decarbonizing fossil energy.

However, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ohio State University, University of Minnesota and TerraCOH, Inc. think they’ve found an answer to both of these problems with a large-scale system that incorporates CO2 sequestration and energy storage.

 

County of origin labeling on our meat no longer required
January 5, 2016 05:09 AM - Mary Clare Jalonick, Organic Consumers Association

It's now harder to find out where your beef or pork was born, raised and slaughtered.

After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animal's country of origin on packages of red meat. It's a major victory for the meat industry, which had fought the law in Congress and the courts since the early 2000s.

Lawmakers said they had no choice but to get rid of the labels after the World Trade Organization repeatedly ruled against them. The WTO recently authorized Canada and Mexico, which had challenged the law, to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States.

US Files Complaint Against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations - not the kind of German engineering the VW Group wants to be known for
January 4, 2016 03:56 PM - US Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, today filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit, Michigan against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC, Porsche AG, and Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (collectively referred to as Volkswagen). The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution. The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”

Will Styrofoam Get the Plastic Bag Treatment?
January 4, 2016 07:09 AM - Kevin Mathews, Care2

Say farewell to Styrofoam take-out containers in the nation’s capital. It’s been a few years in the making, but Washington, D.C. has finally enacted a firm ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers. Henceforth, all restaurants will have to provide biodegradable alternatives if they want to send their patrons home with leftovers.

Solar gaining on coal in India
January 4, 2016 06:15 AM - Chris Goodall, Ecologist

A KPMG study shows that the cost of solar power in India, revealed by public auctions, is barely half a cent above that of cheap local coal , writes Chris Goodall, with generators bids falling well below 5p (UK) / 7¢ (US) per kWh. The idea put about at COP21 that India and other poor but sunny countries need coal to develop their economies is fast running out of steam.

When the accountants have fully loaded the network and other costs PV ends up as very slightly cheaper than using lndian-mined coal. And, of course, this advantage will grow as solar gets cheaper.

Commentators eager to arrest the move towards renewable energy are facing increasing difficulties finding arguments for the continued use of fossil fuel.

Is the Pope right on climate change?
January 2, 2016 11:26 AM - Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government; Member of the Board; Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Last June, Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, which received tremendous praise from diverse quarters. The same day, Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, noted that the papal encyclical "is as much an indictment of the global economic order as it is an argument for the world to confront climate change." Ms. Davenport quoted me (accurately) as saying that elements of the encyclical were unfortunately "out of step with the thinking and the work of informed policy analysts around the world." In this column, I will elaborate.

First of all, the Pope is to be commended for taking global climate change seriously, and for drawing more world attention to the issue. There is much about the encyclical that is commendable, but where it drifts into matters of public policy, I fear that it is — unfortunately — not helpful.

The long encyclical ignores the causes of global climate change: it is an externality, an unintended negative consequence of otherwise meritorious activity by producers producing the goods and services people want, and consumers using those goods and services. That is why the problem exists in the first place. There may well be ethical dimensions of the problem, but it is much more than a simple consequence of some immoral actions by corrupt capitalists. The document also ignores the global commons nature of the problem, which is why international cooperation is necessary.

Good news about restoring river ecosystems
January 1, 2016 10:17 AM - Lizabeth Paulat, Care2, Care2

t is a commonly held belief that most ecosystems take about a lifetime to recover after damage is introduced by humans. However, researchers at Ohio State University are finding that initial recovery can be dramatic if the right conditions are present. The discovery was made while monitoring how dam removal impacted local species. 

The studies focus on the reintroduction of birds and salmon to the habitat. What they found was that if just birds were introduced, they tended to have low weight and poor numbers of offspring. However, when dams came down and salmon and fish were put together, both species flourished and impacted the surrounding ecosystem positively.

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