Venezuela’s last remaining glacier is melting away

December 6, 2017 by  
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Venezuela’s last remaining glacier will be completely gone within the next 10 to 20 years. Until as recently as 1991, five glaciers were found in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida mountain range in Venezuela . As climate change has accelerated, so too has the meltdown. Named for the nearby Pico Humboldt, Venezuela’s second highest peak at over 16,000 feet, the Humboldt Glacier is one-tenth of the size it was three decades ago. Scientists hope to study the glacial disappearing act so as to learn more about what other communities might expect in a warming world. “This is a tragedy that should be highlighted as one more consequence of irresponsible behavior in energy-intense economies,” said Walter Vergara, a forest and climate specialist at Global Restoration Initiative in Latin America , according to GlacierHub . Unfortunately, Venezuela’s current political and economic crises make an international scientific study very difficult. The Humboldt glacier was last studied by an international team in 2015. Even then, the data was limited; a research team from Westfield State University in Massachusetts was only able to conduct a GPS survey and gather basic observations. While some data, such as measurements of ice coverage and reflection of solar radiation, can be studied using satellites, they would be more accurate if more researchers were able to spend time at Humboldt. Related: Venezuelans are getting Fridays off to battle an energy crisis It is often difficult for Venezuelan scientists to find success at home due to the economic and political crises that has gripped their country in recent years. Despite the challenges, Venezuela is not without its environmental heroes.  “Venezuela’s Minister for Environment, Ramón Velásquez-Araguayán, is a smart and capable climate scientist who is very sensitive to climate change issues and environmental conservation ,” Ángel G. Muñoz, a postdoctoral research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, and Princeton University, told GlaicerHub. Still, it is likely that Venezuela will soon become the first country to lose all of its glaciers . Sadly, it is not likely to be the last. Via GlacierHub Images via Wikimedia and Serge Saint/Flickr

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Venezuela’s last remaining glacier is melting away

INTERVIEW: Inhabitat’s own Greg Beach on telling global stories through the lens of a small town

November 17, 2017 by  
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How much do you know about your hometown? Author and Inhabitat writer Greg Beach , who moved to Watertown, Massachusetts at age nine, was inspired to dig more into his town’s history after the Boston Marathon Bombing. You may only be familiar with the name Watertown because of the attack, but Beach shows there’s a lot more to this place in his new book The World and Watertown: Tales of an American Hometown . Not only was Watertown once the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s largest town, today it’s home to a garden cemetery, permaculture farmers, a project to preserve the stories of Armenians far from home, and the artist of an Afghan-American wheelchair superhero comic . But this isn’t just the story of one city. Beach’s book explores issues relevant to the entire world through stories set in this small New England town. Read on for our interview after the jump. INHABITAT: What was your initial inspiration for The World and Watertown? BEACH: The original spark was what happened after the Boston Marathon Bombing. The whole greater Boston area shut down, but 20 blocks in Watertown had a particular experience other parts of the city didn’t. There were a lot of questions I was curious about after it was all over. Stories started coming out of things people were concerned about and wanted to talk about, and there wasn’t really a space to do that immediately after because people were relieved it was over and feeling patriotic about the whole thing. So they didn’t really want to ask some of those tough questions. Once I got into that I realized it was a lot bigger than what I was capable of doing as a part-time writer. It was both too big and too small because the town is a lot more than this event that happened. I’d been thinking about writing a book for a long time, and it was a way for me to dig into issues I’ve always really cared about and tell those big stories, whether it’s the war on terror, or ecology , or native people, through that localized lens. That’s why the ‘world’ comes before ‘Watertown,’ because it is the story of a town, but it was mainly to be a story of how the world finds it its way through this little town. INHABITAT: Watertown is very much a focus in the book, but you also wanted to tell stories that have a global relevance. How did you balance the local with the global? BEACH: It depended on the particular topic. For example, one thing that really energized me about talking about the Armenian community in Watertown – a community of friends and family I grew up with – was that it was only as an adult, with the onset of the Syrian civil war, that I started to understand the Armenian presence in Syria and around the world. It’s important to do what we can to support Syrian refugees because they’re our neighbors in the global fence, but also they’re our literal neighbors. Some of our neighbors were born in Syria, and their family members are still over there, and I wanted to think about how we can tie that together. There were other issues that guided my thinking; for example, I talk about this rise of luxury apartments in these big cities, trying to figure out what exactly is going on because to me, it just doesn’t seem right. Something about it doesn’t make sense in terms of the supply and demand. I started reading Inhabitat when I was in college, years before I started writing for the publication, and I remember reading stories about ghost cities in China. I didn’t put that in the book, but things like that were in the back of my mind, thinking something’s not right here, and there’s a lot of clues, but I don’t know how to put them together. And I was trying to tell universal stories of people trying to do good in their community , and finding ways to build connections and support each other. These big issues are really complex. For example, in the United States right now, there’s this big public debate over police brutality and racism, so I had to talk about that because it’s important, but at the same time I had to acknowledge the police officers who are really doing their best to do well, and not just individual officers, but police departments who recognize flaws, and they’re trying to do better – without excusing anything, but just saying, we want to bring the good up, even as we’re trying to push back on the bad. INHABITAT: When did you personally start becoming interested in ecology and sustainability? How did growing up in Watertown play a role in shaping that passion for you? BEACH: One of my favorite chapters in the book is the first chapter, digging into local ecology. Before I was born, the Charles River was very polluted, and I heard stories of how awful it was when my parents were children, and now, the ecosystem is really revitalized, and it’s a beautiful community resource. Boston didn’t clean up the Charles River and the Boston Harbor until there was a court order to clean up these waterways . Boston has this reputation now as this progressive global city, but for a long time, it had the same challenges that a lot of other parts of the United States are facing. It was forced to do it, but eventually, it did something about it. There are many ways society and the public can make positive changes to protect our ecosystems. And I just love being outside, and the green spaces in Watertown, and being by the ocean – there’s just a lot packed into a really small place, and of course, that small place is connected to the larger eastern Massachusetts region. As I got older, I got into growing food and permaculture and incorporated that into my work as an educator. INHABITAT: In the book, you brought out the stories of people that went outside their comfort zones to help make Watertown a better place. One of the people I’m thinking of is Harry Friedman, who you affectionately dubbed the Weird Guy Pulling Carts From The River. What did you take away from those stories? BEACH: I walked the river path often, and I would see this guy standing there every season, and eventually I got over my New England awkwardness where people don’t say hello and thought, this guy seems like someone worth knowing, so just started talking to him. Harry showed me it’s okay to be yourself and be yourself in a very friendly, open way. Also, I remember talking to Ruth Tomasian, who started this organization called Project SAVE , which has archived 45,000 photographs of Armenian history. She was also very inspiring. I’d said about the book, ‘Oh, this is kind of an amateur effort I’m doing,’ and she said, ‘You’re working this into something, you’re getting out there,’ and shared with me some of the mistakes she made in starting this big project and being open to putting yourself out there. You might fail, but you also might open up some doors and encourage other people to open up. I saw the book working in three different layers. One layer was the big issues like the war on terror, the war on drugs, or ecology. The next layer was how all these topics fit in the local history. And then for me, the most important layer – the book wouldn’t have a heart if it didn’t have these people who bring these stories to life. It makes people care. I wanted it to write the book to serve my town and Massachusetts, but I did want people, no matter where they’re from, to get something out of it. Those universal stories of people in the community, participating in their own way to make it a better place, that happens everywhere around the world. INHABITAT: You mention wins for Watertown, like a garden cemetery providing a habitat for wildlife, and also losses, like the empty luxury apartments most locals couldn’t afford. With the knowledge that no city is perfect, how, in your opinion, could cities approach ecology more holistically? BEACH: There are a lot of hidden costs of exploiting the world’s resources. The cost of cleaning up pollution is socialized, everyone has to pay for it in one way or another, but the profits are privatized. Whether it’s a municipal government or a national government, they should find a way to put those costs in at the beginning of the calculation instead of waiting; 20 years down the line you’re going to be paying more, you’re going to have more damage. I think of Flint , and I know there are big structural issues at play like racism and poverty. But I think about small things, like investing in public spaces, investing in bike trails , and taking land that was previously vacant and turning it into something open to the public. That’s what’s happened in Watertown for the past several decades. The river path I talked about wasn’t there when my dad grew up in Watertown; it was an overgrown place. They could have taken that and developed it into waterfront property, and maybe today they would, but they didn’t and now that’s preserved for future generations. It’s the same thing with building bike trails along old rail lines; finding the low hanging fruit that really does provide so much of a benefit for the community, in terms of fitness, bringing people together, mental health; it’s something to be proud of in the community, it’s a place to put up art. Those big structural issues will be there, and we have to deal with those too, but there are some small ways to bring the community together and serve them. INHABITAT: You don’t shy away from Watertown’s historical failures even as you celebrate its successes. How did your view of your hometown change and evolve the more research you did about its past and the more people you talked to while writing the book? BEACH: A lot of people I spoke to I met from doing the book, so that was really encouraging because it made me feel closer to the town. It made me feel like I really understood its character today and in the past. I’ve been a student of history for a long time, so I know the broad strokes and the mistakes that have been made in New England and the United States and how they continue today, but something that’s really important that I try and get across in the book – and in my work with middle school students as a teacher – is this idea that there can be multiple truths that exist at the same time: that you can hold different, seemingly conflicting things to be true at the same time. You can say yes, the United States has this history of colonialism and racism, but at the same time, this is a place that so many people have come to call home, and however it was formed and however it’s continued, in that place there’s a lot of good, and a lot of people trying to do good and make it a better place for everyone. Those two things have been true about the United States since the beginning. You want to make your home a better place, you want to make sure your town or your country is a good place to live. It’s not easy; you have to keep working at it. It’s clear that the United States is very divided right now, but I think generally people around the world all want the same things. We all want to feel like we belong, we want to feel like we have meaning in our lives. So I try and bring those things up as much as I can. INHABITAT: How would you encourage people to get more involved in their own hometowns? BEACH: It depends on who you are and what you enjoy, because not everyone is going to feel comfortable getting involved in a civic organization or a town committee. Every person can find a way of contributing. It could be spending more time on green spaces and meeting people that way. It could be trying to start a community garden, or it could just be sharing vegetables you grew with someone in your community. It also goes back to that idea of being willing to be yourself and say hello and engage with people. Just learning is also a way to get involved. I knew a lot about my town and the country, but I learned so much about so many different things in writing this book. That has to affect how I think about issues, or how I try and engage with people. I’ve met so many people through this and learned from them and been inspired by them. And I’m an introvert too. I need to get away from people to recharge, but I love getting to know people and connecting with them. INHABITAT: What do you hope readers will take away from the book? What do you hope they walk away thinking about? BEACH: I hope they walk away with more information, maybe a better understanding of some of these big issues, but at the same time feel encouraged to ask questions and then pursue them. That was driving me the whole time: I just had these questions that I needed answered, and I want readers to feel similarly excited to trace questions and see where they lead, and they might not have an answer. I think also it goes back to the theme of holding multiple ideas to be true at the same time, recognizing that the world is a huge place, and there are these huge systems it’s so hard to really get ahold of them, but then, it’s also a very small world, because there are individuals and groups out there trying to build a better world in small places. I realized the other day that I applied for a job at Inhabitat right around the same time I was starting to really write the book. It actually happened on Christmas Eve. I was sick so I didn’t go out with my family and I was at home, and I saw this opening for Inhabitat, which I had been reading for years. I’d given articles from Inhabitat to students. I got a response and started writing. Those two things running parallel to each other really supported and reinforced each other. Being concise and clear on Inhabitat is really important because there’s a lot of content out there, and you want your readers to get to the meat of it, but you also make sure there’s an appealing style to the writing. Some of the topics I cover in the book actually started off as Inhabitat articles, like one I wrote about Japanese knotweed . I just wanted to add some context to the connections. You can buy The World and Watertown here . + Greg Beach + Greg Beach Facebook Images courtesy of Greg Beach and Harry Friedman, lead image via Wikimedia

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INTERVIEW: Inhabitat’s own Greg Beach on telling global stories through the lens of a small town

New Harvard study links pesticide consumption with reduced fertility in women

October 31, 2017 by  
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When trying to get pregnant, many women adopt a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables . But it turns out they may be compromising their chances — unless the produce is organically grown. According to a new study published in  the journal JAMA Internal Medicine , women who ate 2.3 servings or more of high- pesticide -residue fruits and vegetables had an 18 percent lower probability of getting pregnant and a 26 percent lower probability of giving birth to a live baby. 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 participated in the study. CNN reports that they were already undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers gave the women diet questionnaires and recorded their height, weight, overall health, intake of supplements, and residential history. They then analyzed each woman’s pesticide exposure by determining whether the fruits and vegetables she consumed were treated with high or low levels of pesticides — chemical concoctions that are sprayed on fruit to protect plants (and humans) from mold, fungi, rodents, insects, and weeds. The scientists analyzed the pesticide levels based on reports from the US Department of Agriculture’s  Pesticide Data Program . Strawberries typically top the list as the #1 sprayed fruit, whereas avocados , onions, dried plums, corn and orange juice are typically low in pesticide residue. The results were disturbing: compared to women who ate less than one daily serving of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, those who ate more than 2 servings were 26 percent more likely to have a miscarriage. “Most Americans are exposed to pesticides daily by consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Yu-Han Chiu, first author of the study and research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “There have been concerns for some time that exposure to low doses of pesticides through diet, such as those that we observed in this study, may have adverse health effects, especially in susceptible populations such as pregnant women and their fetus, and on children. Our study provides evidence that this concern is not unwarranted.” Related: Facial deformities in Ugandan apes linked to pesticide use The researchers also determined that consuming low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables was associated with increased odds of pregnancy and giving birth. “Although we did find that intake of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables were associated to lower reproductive success, intake of low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables had the opposite association,” Chiu said. The researcher concluded: “A reasonable choice based on these findings is to consume low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables instead of high-pesticide-residue ones. Another option is to go organic for the fruits and vegetables known to contain high pesticide residues. It is very important to keep in mind that, as far as we are aware, this is the first time that this association is reported, so it is extremely important that our findings are replicated in other studies.” + JAMA Internal Medicine Via CNN Images via Pixabay ,  Reader’s Digest ,  HerFamily.ie

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New Harvard study links pesticide consumption with reduced fertility in women

A business prescription for reducing toxic chemical use

October 18, 2017 by  
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Here’s how companies big and small in Massachusetts are demonstrating the financial case for greener chemicals.

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A business prescription for reducing toxic chemical use

Scientists warn CO2 from warming soils could lead to uncontrollable temperature rise

October 6, 2017 by  
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There’s a lot scientists don’t know about how global warming could impact Earth’s natural systems. Now, a 26-year-study of soil in Massachusetts’ Harvard Forest provides new insight. Researchers discovered warming soils are releasing more carbon than once thought, with the potential to lead to a tipping point , kicking off an uncontrollable increase in temperature . The scientists started the Harvard Forest experiments back in 1991. They scrutinized plots of soil, heating some to five degrees Celsius higher than normal levels with underground cables. Microbes played a role in the greater production of carbon. In the first 10 years, the scientists saw a spike in the carbon the heated plots released, and then there was a seven-year period when the release lessened – scientists think soil microbes were adjusting to the warmer conditions. But then the release of carbon increased again. The past three years has seen carbon release slow again, with researchers thinking microbes might be reorganizing. Related: Tipping points accelerated climate change in the last Ice Age, new research shows The heated plots lost around 17 percent of the carbon stored in the soil’s top 60 centimeters. Study lead author Jerry Melillo, of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, said in a statement , “Each year, mostly from fossil fuel burning, we are releasing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere …The world’s soils contain about 3,500 billion tons of carbon. If a significant amount of that is added to the atmosphere, due to microbial activity in warmer soils, that will accelerate the global warming process. And once this self-reinforcing feedback begins, there is no easy way to turn it off.” Daniel Meltcalfe of Lund University, who was not a part of the study, told The Guardian if the findings hold across other terrestrial ecosystems, a larger amount of soil carbon might be vulnerable to decomposition than we thought. The journal Science published the study today. Scientists from institutions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire contributed to the research. Via The Guardian Images via Daniel Spiess on Flickr ( 1 , 2 )

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Researchers engineer new antibody able to fight 99% of HIV strains

September 26, 2017 by  
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Researchers have made what the International Aids Society called an “exciting breakthrough” in the fight against HIV/AIDS . Pharmaceutical company Sanofi and the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) together engineered an antibody that can tackle 99 percent of HIV strains. The antibody has prevented infection in primates . The new antibody can interact with three crucial parts of the HIV virus. And it targets more strains than naturally occurring antibodies, the best of which attack 90 percent of strains. Researchers ran experiments on 24 monkeys. They gave one antibody to eight monkeys, a different one to another eight, and the final eight they gave the new antibody. Five days later they exposed the monkeys to strains of SHIV, a monkey form of HIV. None of those given the new antibody developed an infection. Related: 44-year-old British man could be the first to receive HIV cure The antibody is called a tri-specific antibody because it’s a combination of three broadly neutralizing antibodies. NIH described it as a three-in-one antibody. Broadly neutralizing antibodies tackle “something fundamental to HIV” according to the BBC. Sanofi Chief Scientific Officer Gary Nabel said tri-specific antibodies “can block multiple targets with a single agent.” He told the BBC, “They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.” International Aids Society president Linda-Gail Bekker told the BBC, “These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date. It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018. As a doctor in Africa , I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.” The journal Science published the study last week. Scientists from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and The Scripps Research Institute also collaborated on the research. Human trials are slated to begin next year. Via the BBC and the National Institutes of Health Images via NIAID on Flickr and Sanofi

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Researchers engineer new antibody able to fight 99% of HIV strains

Nearly 10,000 plants grow on NYCs largest public indoor green wall

September 26, 2017 by  
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A tropical oasis has blossomed inside Manhattan’s concrete jungle. Greenery NYC recently unveiled the city’s largest public living green wall in Korean beauty brand Innisfree’s flagship store in Union Square earlier this month. Lush, textured, and evergreen, the beautiful 1,820-square-foot wall grows nearly 10,000 plants with eleven different tropical varieties that can be enjoyed year-round. Korean beauty brand Innisfree prides itself on its use of natural materials and is no stranger to the use of green walls in their shops. The living wall at this new Union Square location, however, is at a much larger scale than the company typically handles. Measuring 76 feet in length and 24 feet in height, this lush living wall of plants fills up an entire wall and is equipped with a custom-designed irrigation system that minimizes water use and maintenance. Related: The world’s tallest vertical garden lives and breathes in Sydney “Construction is already a difficult process with many moving parts, but when you factor in almost 10,000 living organisms that each need individual care to stay alive during the build out, it almost feels like you’re trying to juggle while walking a tight rope,” said Adam Besheer, Director of Operations at Greenery NYC. “Seeing the finished product is an incredible reward though—we’re excited to work with a company that shares our values, and for the chance to once again introduce the enormous beauty of natural plant life in the city.” Greenery NYC, which creates plant-filled multi-sensory sanctuaries in the city, has also created similar lush green walls and projects for high-profile clients such as Etsy , The Brooklyn Nets, and TED Talks. + Greenery NYC

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Nearly 10,000 plants grow on NYCs largest public indoor green wall

Lyme disease shot could offer 100% protection

July 24, 2017 by  
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Lyme disease is a growing issue in the United States. Since the 1990’s, the number of cases has more than doubled . Scientists at a laboratory associated with the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School are working on an answer, and have made progress on a shot that could protect people against contracting the disease . Lyme disease, which is contracted after infected ticks transmit a bacterium to humans, is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is “ the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the United States .” 14 states, most on the East Coast of the country, have reported 95 percent of confirmed cases. Every year 30,000 cases are reported to the CDC, and that number is only increasing. Related: GUIDE: Effective Non-Toxic Bug Repellents for You and Your Family The shot – which Western Mass News makes clear is not a vaccine – could be groundbreaking. Professor Mark Klempner said the scientists have isolated one antibody that could prevent Lyme disease from being transmitted to humans. The antibody could kill the bacteria in the tick’s gut when it bites so a person won’t get the disease. One injection could last from the spring through the fall. So far, the team has tested the antibody in mice . Klempner told Western Mass News, “We take ticks that carry the bacteria – many of them – six or seven, put them on a small rodent, and then give that mouse a little bit of that antibody. It’s been 100 percent effective in preventing many ticks from transmitting.” The method has been entirely effective in preventing mice from contracting the disease. Klempner said the discovery of the antibody came during research in which he was involved for a vaccine, now discontinued. With the new research, the team thus far has not seen any unfavorable side effects, but needs to do more testing. Undergoing Food and Drug Administration trials could take around two to three years. Via Western Mass News Images via Pixabay and U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr

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Lyme disease shot could offer 100% protection

Cypress home embedded in the landscape lets rainwater flow underneath

May 17, 2017 by  
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O’Neill Rose Architects designed a home for a nature loving couple that maximizes the experience of the outdoors. Located in the countryside of Sheffield, Massachusetts, the Undermountain home covers a spacious 3,000 square feet across a linear footprint. The elevated home also allows rainwater to flow underneath through a boulder-strewn rain garden and out to the meadow beyond. Built for a couple who wanted a home where they could age in place, Undermountain was conceived as a single-story building so that the occupants could live comfortably without fear of future mobility issues. To mitigate slope changes on site, the long and rectangular building is anchored into a hill on one side, while stone blocks support the other end above marshy wetland . A boulder-strewn rain garden occupies the gap between the stone blocks. Related: Beautiful Maine home uses passive solar principles to achieve near net-zero energy Inspired by the rural vernacular, Undermountain is clad in vertical strips of ebony-stained cypress and punctuated with large windows that frame key vistas. Rural inspiration and cypress can also be found in the interior, which is contemporary with clean lines and light-filled spaces. The addition of a screened porch allows enjoyment of the outdoors year-round. + O’Neill Rose Architects Via ArchDaily Images © Michael Moran

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California defies Trump with tough emissions rules

March 29, 2017 by  
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California is shaping up to be the thorn in President Donald Trump’s side that Texas was during former President Barack Obama’s time in the White House — mounting legal challenges to Trump’s attacks on environmental regulations and strengthening the state’s own environmental rules. The latest volley came Friday when the California Air Resources Board finalized its rules for vehicle emissions through the year 2025. The standards for the years 2022-2025 would slash tailpipe emissions a third, from about 36 miles per gallon today to 54 mpg in 2025. The fight with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over fuel efficiency standards isn’t just about California. Currently, Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have all adopted California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Related: California introduces its own 100% renewable energy bill The board also reaffirmed a rule requiring automakers to accelerate the adoption of zero emission and low emission vehicles in California — fully electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid. The rule calls for more than a million zero emissions vehicles on the road by 2025, a significant increase from the about 250,000 clean cars traversing the state today. A Bloomberg editorial backing California over Trump on car emissions, while acknowledging a better way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to impose a carbon tax or at least a higher gas tax, says that tougher fuel-economy standards are the way to go: “Unless he’s willing to fight for a smarter policy, Trump should do the country a favor and leave the existing rules alone.” Via Autoblog Image 1 , 2 via Wikimedia

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California defies Trump with tough emissions rules

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