Sustainability

Why aren't hybrid car owners showing more loyalty to hybrids?
April 29, 2016 07:51 AM - Leon Kaye, Triple Pundit

Hybrid cars have come a long way since the first frumpy Toyota Prius debuted in Japan almost 20 years ago. The same can be said for electric cars since GM rolled out its EV1 in the late 1990s, only to backtrack, repossess and destroy all of them, infuriating its fans in the process. There are now dozens of hybrid models, and they enjoyed a surge in saleswhen gasoline prices spiked in 2007 and again in 2012. But more recently, their sales overall have been on the decline. Meanwhile electric vehicles are becoming more sophisticated, are improving their range and have seen sales on the uptick while the automakers have become more competitive in their advertising.

As expected, hybrid cars’ sluggish sales numbers have much to do with the fact that oil prices have been in a two-year slump while conventional gasoline engines keep getting cleaner and more fuel efficient. When hybrids started becoming more popular a decade ago, it was often assumed that when it came time for a new upgrade, owners would stay loyal and trade in one hybrid car for another.

 

Long-eared bat denied habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act
April 26, 2016 12:13 PM - Center for Biological Diversity

Although northern long-eared bat populations have declined by 90 percent in their core range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said it will not protect any of its critical habitat, saying it would not be “prudent” for the species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government can opt not to designate critical habitat if there is factual evidence that a species would be placed at greater risk of extinction from poachers, collectors or vandals. But in the case of the northern long-eared bat, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, there is almost no evidence that the species is at risk from these types of threats. Instead its dramatic decline has been driven mostly by disease and habitat loss.  

“This is a terrible turn of events for the northern long-eared bat,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If you don’t protect the places endangered species live, it becomes that much harder to save them. This is yet another instance where the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone out of its way to appease special interests rather than protecting our most vulnerable animals.”

 

The ohia tree is in trouble
April 25, 2016 01:08 PM - Richard Schiffman, Yale Environment360

The ʻohiʻa is Hawaii’s iconic tree, a keystone species that maintains healthy watersheds and provides habitat for numerous endangered birds. But a virulent fungal disease, possibly related to a warmer, drier climate, is now felling the island’s cherished `ohi`a forests.

Hawaii’s isolation, 2,390 miles from the North American mainland, has given the island chain a unique array of species found nowhere else, including the ʻohiʻa lehua, an evergreen in the myrtle family with delicate pom-pom-shaped flowers composed of clusters of showy stamens in a range of hues from red and orange to pale yellow. In 2010, homeowners on the Big Island of Hawaii began reporting that ʻohiʻa in their upland rainforest were dying without apparent cause. Researchers named the mysterious condition “Rapid ʻOhiʻa Death” (ROD). 

On Google Earth, you can see the telltale brown streaks in the Puna forest reserve, Hawaii's largest remaining upland rainforest located on the slope of Kilauea volcano, where many ʻohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees have already succumbed. If you scroll over 60 miles to the west to the other side of the island, the green canopy behind Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast — where Captain James Cook first set foot on Hawaii and was later killed — is pocked with the bleached skeletons of dead and dying trees. 

Scenes like these have become commonplace in the American West, where several conifer species, weakened by long-term drought and warmer temperatures, have been decimated by bark beetles. Researchers are wondering if climate change may also have stressed ʻohiʻa trees, perhaps helping to trigger the current outbreak on Hawaii. 

The fungus clogs the vascular system of the trees, making them wilt and die as if from a drought.

An overall decrease in trade winds has created drier conditions in recent years in parts of the islands, at the same time that rising temperatures have warmed things up in the cool upland forests where ʻohiʻa thrive. 

VW agrees to buy back or "fix" 500,000 cars in North America
April 22, 2016 12:23 PM - Jan Lee, Triple Pundit

With only days to go before the deadline, Volkswagen AG (VW) and the U.S. government reached a partial settlement over how to deal with the automaker’s “dieselgate” emissions scandal.

Volkswagen agreed to fix or buy back some 500,000 vehicles caught up in the crisis. What wasn’t agreed upon is how much the company should pay in fines and compensation to consumers affected by the crisis.

 

USGS study shows why some chemicals bio-accumulate and others don't
April 20, 2016 11:19 AM - USGS Newsroom

Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.

According to the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey, two traits were identified that indicate how chemicals can build up and reach toxic levels:  how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.

These traits account for how most chemicals concentrate, or biomagnify, in ever-higher levels as one goes up the food chain from its base to its top predators, such as fish, people, or polar bears. Chemicals that have the ability to biomagnify, such as DDT, can have adverse effects on human and wildlife health and the environment. 

 

Is your home making you sick?
April 20, 2016 06:40 AM - University of Surrey

New research in the journal Science of the Total Environment has highlighted the dangerous effects of indoor pollution on human health, and has called for policies to ensure closer monitoring of air quality.

A collaborative effort of European, Australian and UK researchers, led by the University of Surrey,  assessed the harmful effects of indoor pollution in order to make recommendations on how best to monitor and negate these outcomes.

Dr Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey explained, “When we think of the term ‘air pollution’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke. However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices. From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside.”

Microbots Could Play Key Role in Cleaning Up Our Water Systems
April 18, 2016 06:56 AM - Lizabeth Paulat, Care2

What if we could not only clean up the heavy metals in our water systems, but also recycle those metals and reuse them?

A new study from the Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Spain suggests that, soon, we might be doing just that.

Shift in global winds caused record flooding in the Balkans
April 17, 2016 07:40 AM - Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) via ScienceDaily

Disastrous floods in the Balkans two years ago are likely linked to the temporary slowdown of giant airstreams, scientists found. These wind patterns, circling the globe in the form of huge waves between the Equator and the North Pole, normally move eastwards, but practically stopped for several days then -- at the same time, a weather system got stuck over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia that poured out record amounts of rain. The study adds evidence that so-called planetary wave resonance is a key mechanism for causing extreme weather events in summer. Further, the scientists showed that extreme rainfall events are strongly increasing in the Balkans, even more than the globally observed rise.

"We were surprised to see how long the weather system that led to the flooding stayed over the region -- it's like the Vb cyclone 'Yvette' was trapped there," says Lisa Stadtherr from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead-author of the study to be published in Science Advances. "Day after day the rain was soaking the soil until it was saturated, which lead to the flooding that reportedly caused several dozen casualties and 3.5 billion Euro of damages."

 

Study shows most US roofs can support a solar system
April 14, 2016 07:40 AM - Sandia National Laboratories.

Most U.S. rooftops in good repair can take the weight of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. That’s the conclusion of a three-year study by a research team led by Sandia National Laboratories.

“There is a misperception in the building industry that existing residential rooftops lack the strength to carry the weight load of rooftop solar photovoltaic installations,” said Sandia structural engineer Steve Dwyer. “Most existing well-built wooden rooftops can support PV system loads.”

Sandia took on the job of analyzing rooftop structural strength to address concerns raised in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar America Cities program. The agency named 25 cities to promote adoption of solar technology at a comprehensive, local level through photovoltaics.

 

The Paris climate accord looks promising
April 12, 2016 08:04 PM - Robert N. Stavins, Director, Harvard Environmental Economics Program

The climate talks that concluded last December were a great success, but it will be decades before we can judge whether the Paris Agreement itself is ultimately successful. What can be said is that the accord provides a good foundation for meaningful progress on climate change, and represents a dramatic departure from the past 20 years of climate negotiations.

I have long viewed the dichotomous distinction between Annex I and non–Annex I countries in the Kyoto Protocol as the major stumbling block to progress. The protocol included mandatory emissions-reduction obligations for developed countries, but none for developing countries. That made progress impossible, because significant growth in emissions since the protocol came into force in 2005 has been entirely in the large developing countries — China, India, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia.

 

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