Will the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit in Paris kick the can down the road again?
November 14, 2015 07:41 AM - Mark Dwortzan, MIT News

Big hopes are riding on the 2015 United Nations climate change conference planned for Nov. 30-Dec. 11 in Paris, where more than 190 nations will strive to hammer out an international agreement aimed at lowering global temperatures through significant reductions in human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the meeting, known as COP21, or the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is also attracting a fair amount of skepticism.

For good reason: More than two decades of UN climate summit meetings have yielded limited results. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 established GHG emissions reduction commitments for a small number of industrialized countries from 2008 to 2012, but was not ratified by the U.S. because it made no demands on developing countries. Overcoming this hurdle, the Copenhagen meeting in 2009 produced voluntary pledges from both developed and developing countries through the year 2020 that promised little headway in keeping global temperatures below the 2 degree Celsius threshold identified by the UNFCCC as necessary to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change.

America Recycles Day November 15th
November 13, 2015 10:13 AM - JustMeans, Justmeans

Thousands of creative recycling events are being planned for America Recycles Day (ARD), a Keep America Beautiful initiative, which takes place on and in the weeks leading up to Nov. 15.

America Recycles Day is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States. In its 18th year, ARD educates people about the importance of recycling to our economy and environmental well-being, and helps to motivate occasional recyclers to become everyday recyclers.

A number of ARD special events are focusing on this year’s theme of “Bathrooms, Bags & Gadgets." They include:

Reduction in snow pack puts large areas at risk of insufficient water supplies
November 12, 2015 08:08 PM - Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Gradual melting of winter snow helps feed water to farms, cities and ecosystems across much of the world, but this resource may soon be critically imperiled. In a new study, scientists have identified snow-dependent drainage basins across the northern hemisphere currently serving 2 billion people that run the risk of declining supplies in the coming century. The basins take in large parts of the American West, southern Europe, the Mideast and central Asia. They range from productive U.S. farm land to war-torn regions already in the grip of long-term water shortages.

Snow is an important seasonal water source mainly around large mountain chains. From higher elevations, snowmelt runs gradually into the lowlands during spring and summer growing seasons, when human demand peaks. But global warming is upsetting this convenient balance. Studies show that in many areas, more winter precipitation is falling as rain, not snow, and washing away directly; the snow that does fall is settling at progressively higher elevations, and melting earlier. The new study estimates snow’s potential to supply present human needs in both current and projected climates, taking both weather trends and population into account.

To Kill or Not to Kill: The Great Specimen Debate
November 12, 2015 07:20 AM - Shreya Dasgupta, MONGABAY.COM

Indeed, museum collections are fascinating. Many of us probably still gawk at stuffed collections of extant and extinct birds, beetles, vibrantly-colored butterflies, and other animals that fill up glass cases and exhibition halls. Many of these collections were borne out of expeditions to remote parts of the world; treks that involved trapping, killing, preserving and cataloging animals that explorers encountered. Many of these collections have been useful in shaping what we know of the natural world. However, species conservation or scientific advancement was not always the goal of animal-collection. Often, it was done simply to suit the aesthetic whims of society’s elite.

Why do more people commute using their bikes in Europe?
November 11, 2015 05:25 AM - Anum Yoon, Triple Pundit

Though cycling to work has the potential to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your overall health, you’re probably not doing it. In many communities, bike lanes simply don’t exist, making it difficult or downright dangerous to battle automobile traffic to bike to work.

Cities like Washington, D.C., and New York have installed bike paths for commuters, and the investment has paid off. In D.C., bike commuting has increased by 120 percent, and in New York ridership has doubled, all thanks to offering cyclists appropriate infrastructure. While it’s certainly good news, the sad fact remains that the U.S. still lags far behind European nations when it comes to bicycle commuting.

A tale of two continents

Acid rain's effects on forest soils found to be reversing
November 8, 2015 08:47 AM - USGS Newsroom

Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The new research shows that these changes are strongly linked to acid rain decreases, although some results differ from expected responses.  

"Reduced acid rain levels resulting from American and Canadian air-pollution control measures have begun to reverse soil acidification across this broad region," said Gregory Lawrence, a USGS soil and water chemist and lead author.  "Prior to this study, published research on soils indicated that soil acidification was worsening in most areas despite several decades of declining acid rain.  However, those studies relied on data that only extended up to 2004, whereas the data in this study extended up to 2014. "

The massive Indonesian fires
November 7, 2015 07:25 AM - lisa palmer, Yale Environment360

The fires that blazed in Indonesia’s rainforests in 1982 and 1983 came as a shock. The logging industry had embarked on a decades-long pillaging of the country’s woodlands, opening up the canopy and drying out the carbon-rich peat soils. Preceded by an unusually long El Niño-related dry season, the forest fires lasted for months, sending vast clouds of smoke across Southeast Asia.

Fifteen years later, in 1997 and 1998, a record El Niño year coincided with continued massive land-use changes in Indonesia, including the wholesale draining of peatlands to plant oil palm and wood pulp plantations. Large areas of Borneo and Sumatra burned, and again Southeast Asians choked on Indonesian smoke.

The new imperative in buildings, cleaner air!
November 6, 2015 06:59 AM - Bill Roth, Triple Pundit

A study just published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has linked a building’s indoor air quality directly to its occupants’ cognitive function. Cognitive function is defined as the cerebral activities that lead to knowledge including acquiring information, reasoning, attention, memory and language.

The revolutionary finding of this study is that lowering indoor air levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) improves human cognitive function. In other words: Cleaner air makes us smarter!

Rat poisons endanger California wildlife
November 5, 2015 08:13 AM - Center for Biological Diversity

Researchers at the University of California released a study today indicating that rat poisons increasingly pose a significant risk for California’s imperiled Pacific fishers, small, forest-dwelling mammals that are protected under the California Endangered Species Act. The study shows that increasing numbers of fishers are being exposed to, and dying from, greater varieties of rat poisons, or rodenticides, found at illegal marijuana farms. It also affirms reports and data from across the state that rodenticides continue to poison and kill numerous California wildlife species. 

“These poisons are silently killing our country’s most majestic wildlife by indiscriminately causing animals to literally bleed to death from the inside out,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to ban these poisons from the market to protect fishers, bald eagles, great horned owls and kit foxes from a painful, gruesome fate.”

Nuclear waste site near St Louis threatened by landfill fire
November 3, 2015 07:49 AM - VĂ©ronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio, NPR

Imagine you are a parent, and that out of the blue, you get a letter from your child's school telling you not to worry — that they're ready to evacuate or shelter in place if an underground fire at a nearby landfill reaches radioactive waste on the same property.

That's pretty much what happened recently in suburban St. Louis.

Landfill fires are pretty common. But this one is different: It's only about a thousand feet away from nearly 9,000 tons of nuclear waste — and there's no barrier in between.

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