Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

May 25, 2018 by  
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Activists and scientists are concerned over the inclusion of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that could threaten the survival of the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. The provision would prevent the Lesser Prairie-Chicken from receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act for at least ten years, despite evidence of population decline suggesting that the Prairie-Chicken needs to be legally protected. It would also weaken safeguards put in place to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, while clearing away regulatory obstacles for oil and gas development. “We urge U.S. Representatives to oppose the grouse and prairie chicken rider,” Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy said in a statement . “This provision has nothing to do with national defense, will place imperiled species on the path to extinction and should be stricken.” Both species live in isolated populations that are greatly diminished from their pre-contact levels, with the number of grouse falling from 15 million to fewer than 300,000 today. The prairie-chicken population dropped 50 percent between 2012 and 2013, and its range continues to shrink. Congressional changes to the Endangered Species Act could further threaten the birds . “Endangered Species Act protection provides an essential backstop to hedge against species extinction, particularly in light of major increases in oil and gas drilling in priority grouse habitats in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado ,” Holmer explained. Related: ‘Acoustic lighthouses’ could warn birds about wind turbines While a 2015 review of the status of the Greater Sage-Grouse led to more favorable protections, it did not result in its listing on the Endangered Species Act. Now, those limited protections could be rolled back by Congress . Perhaps the more impactful provision requirement is that the Lesser Prairie-Chicken not be placed on the Endangered Species list for ten years, regardless of scientific opinion. Holmer said, “Potentially the most devastating provision is the one that precludes judicial review of these listing moratoria, which prevents the public from seeking protection for these species even if they are on the very brink of extinction .” Via American Bird Conservancy Images via USFWS Mountain-Prairie (1)

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Conservationists sound alarm over US House bill that weakens Endangered Species Act

Costa Rica to abolish fossil fuel use in a bid to be the world’s first decarbonized country

May 10, 2018 by  
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Could Costa Rica become the first decarbonized country in the world? That’s one of the goals of new president Carlos Alvarado. The Independent reported during his inauguration that he said, “We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies .” 38-year-old Alvarado, a former journalist, rode a hydrogen-electric bus to his inauguration ceremony, where he spoke of plans to ban fossil fuels in the Central American country. Alvarado said, “Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first.” Thousands of people attended the ceremony. Related: Costa Rica celebrates 113 days of 100% renewable energy (and counting) The Independent reported Alvarado said last month that Costa Rica would start carrying out a plan to stop the use of fossil fuels in transportation by 2021, which marks the 200th year of the country’s independence. Alvarado said in a victory speech, “When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate…that we’ve removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation.” The country generates over 99 percent of its electricity via renewable sources, The Independent said. But experts said rapidly reaching zero carbon transport could be tricky. Vehicle and Machinery Importers Association president Oscar Echeverría told The Independent, “If there’s no previous infrastructure, competence, affordable prices, and waste management we’d be leading this process to failure. We need to be careful.” University of California, Berkeley energy researcher Jose Daniel Lara told The Independent it may be unrealistic to fully cut out fossil fuels in a few years, but the plan could pave the way for speedier action, saying, “A proposal like this one must be seen by its rhetoric value and not by its technical precision.” Via The Independent Images via Depositphotos and Wikipedia

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Costa Rica to abolish fossil fuel use in a bid to be the world’s first decarbonized country

The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

May 10, 2018 by  
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While the news media focuses its attention on the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the scandals related President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, the Trump Administration quietly ended the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). With a $10 million annual budget and administered by NASA, CMS served to track the flow of Earth’s carbon, a particularly important mission as the United States and other nations confront climate change. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, told Science . Gallagher described the administration’s decision to end the program as “a grave mistake.” Much of the work done by the CMS since 2010 has focused on forests and the carbon that they contain. One such project involved a collaboration between NASA and the US Forestry Service, in which the organizations created an aircraft-based laser imaging device to quantify forest carbon stocks. “They’ve now completed an inventory of forest carbon in Alaska at a fraction of the cost,” CMS science team leader George Hurtt told Science . The CMS has also used its capacity to support other countries in their efforts to preserve and study their forest stocks, particularly in tropical locations. Related: Even NASA isn’t quite sure how to explain these holes in the Arctic Sea’s ice Though disheartening for those who work to combat climate change, the Trump Administration’s decision to end CMS fits with its previous policy making on climate change . However, this decision, like others, puts the United States outside of the global climate mainstream. “The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States,” said Hurtt. “But it is almost everywhere else.” The work of carbon monitoring will continue in Europe , though the United States has ceded leadership in the process. “We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology,” president of the Woods Hole Research Center Phil Duff told Science . Via ScienceAlert Images via IIP Photo Archive/Flickr and Joshua Meyer/Flickr

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The Trump Administration just ended the program that lets us monitor carbon emissions

Macron says what Trump won’t and urges action on climate change in US Congress

April 26, 2018 by  
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While it seemed like French President Macron was cozying up to President Trump in Washington DC as the special guest of honor for the first State Dinner of the Trump Administration , the two leaders are an ocean apart on the issue of climate change. “Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent than transforming our economies to meet the challenge of global change.” Macron said in a speech to the US Congress. “In the long run, we will have to face the same realities. We’re just citizens of the same planet.” In his speech to Congress, Macron acknowledged the economic concerns regarding the initial cost of abandoning fossil fuels. “I hear [those worries]. . . but we must find a transition to a low-carbon economy,” said Macron. “What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the future of our children?” Macron urged the United States to understand that there is “no Planet B,” that the world must work together to solve the problem or all will suffer. Despite the current atmosphere in Washington, Macron remained optimistic that the disagreements between France and the United States, historic allies, would someday be resolved. ““I am sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement,” said Macron. Related: Macron offers 18 scientists the chance to “Make Our Planet Great Again” While Democrats heartily applauded Macron’s positions on climate change, the Republican side of the aisle was predictably less than enthusiastic. President Trump has notably called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese, withdrawn the United States from the Paris agreement, and increased tariffs on Chinese solar panels, therefore increasing the cost of solar power in the United States . Trump also picked Scott Pruitt, a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma and a climate-change skeptic, as head Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency , an executive appointment that was approved 52-46 by the United States Senate. Via Washington Post Images via C-SPAN

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Macron says what Trump won’t and urges action on climate change in US Congress

EPA to consider burning wood a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source

April 25, 2018 by  
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Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new policy which will classify the burning of wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ fuel source. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled this policy shift to an audience of timber industry leaders in Georgia, who have a vested interest in whether they can market wood-based fuel products as ‘green energy.’ Pruitt supported his decision by claiming that forest regrowth will lead to greater absorption of carbon dioxide and somehow counteract the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and burning wood. Scientists, none of whom were consulted in this policy change, disagree. “Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said in a  press release . A study published by British think-tank Chatham House concluded that when all emissions and carbon absorption is accounted for, harvesting energy from burning wood produces carbon pollution equivalent to that of coal . Further, using this method of energy to create steam may be 50 percent more carbon intensive than coal. Scientist William Moomaw, who focuses on forests and their role in climate change, told Mashable that the policy was announced with “zero consultation” of agency scientists or the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. “It’s a bad idea because anything that has carbon in it produces carbon dioxide when you burn it,” Moomaw said. “This is horrific.” Related: Iceland is replanting its forests 1,000 years after vikings razed them The EPA’s decision to inaccurately classify burning wood as carbon neutral may have global consequences. “Between this and the Europeans [who constitute the largest market for bioenergy], it means no chance of staying within the 2-degree limit,” Moomaw explained. Even if the forests do grow back to their original state, the damage will already be done. “The carbon dioxide in the air will have warmed the planet. … When the tree regrows, the glacier doesn’t regrow,” Moomaw said. “The climate change effects are irreversible. Carbon neutrality is not climate neutrality.” Via Mashable Images via Depositphotos (1)

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EPA to consider burning wood a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source

The EPA wants to limit what science can be used to create regulations

April 25, 2018 by  
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Just weeks after this year’s March for Science ,  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt is taking a shot at science — “secret science,” in his words . Pruitt recently proposed a rule that would limit the kinds of research the agency could draw on in crafting regulations. Reuters described the move as “an apparent concession to big business” which has angled for the restrictions for a long time. Pruitt’s proposal would mean the EPA wouldn’t be able to use scientific research based on confidential data. That means the agency would only be able to draw on studies that make all their data publicly available for everyone to scrutinize, according to NPR . The administrator said in a statement, “The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an end. The ability to test, authenticate, and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of rulemaking process. Americans deserve to assess the legitimacy of the science underpinning EPA decisions that may impact their lives.” The EPA’s statement said the proposal is consistent with scientific journals like Nature and Science ‘s data access requirements. Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science But some scientists are worried — the move could place crucial data off limits. NPR quoted Sean Gallagher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science ‘s senior government relations officer, as saying, “Our concern with this is they are quite literally limiting the best available science that can be used by the EPA.” Epidemiological studies are often utilized in the agency’s regulatory decisions, and Gallagher said, “Those studies involve people like you and me, signing confidentiality agreements that the scientists doing the studies won’t reveal my personal health information, like my vital statistics, or my death certificate, if I die during the course of the study. This is the kind of science that the EPA relies on, whether it looks at chemicals or particulates and their mortality or health effects. It involves private data.” The proposal won’t enter into force yet; Reuters said there will be a 30-day comment period and the proposal would need to be finalized. + Environmental Protection Agency Via Reuters and NPR Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and NRDC pix on Flickr

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Shimmering Solar Arch to generate power for a post-industrial Connecticut town

April 25, 2018 by  
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A giant gleaming arch clad in solar panels is set to transform the waterfront of downtown Willimantic. This spectacular energy-generating artwork, called Rio Iluminado, was revealed today as the winner of Land Art Generator Institute’s most recent design competition. Designed by Pirie Associates Architects in collaboration with architect Lindsay Suter and sculptor Gar Waterman , the public artwork is capable of generating 25.5 MWh of clean energy a year for a 3.4-acre remediated brownfield. Developed as part of an initiative to reclaim and beautify the Willimantic waterfront , Rio Iluminado aims to reconnect the community with the river and generate renewable energy in a beautiful way. Located on the riverbank, the site-specific Solar Arch will be covered in a 900-square-foot solar array while the underside is finished with polished stainless steel panels. The artwork’s curvature was designed to follow the path of the sun and to reflect its surroundings. In addition to the Solar Arch, the Rio Iluminado will include a River Well in the Tree Copse that demonstrates the daily sun cycle with a solar-powered pump that only draws underground water during the day; an interactive Spiral Channel that moves the water from the River Well to the River Platform; and the 3,400-square-foot River Platform, decorated with murals and other art, that gradually fills with water while overflow is channeled into a two-stage bio-swale system. In the winter months, the River Platform will be transformed into an ice-skating surface. Related: Land Art Generator Initiative Santa Monica winners address California’s energy needs and drought Rio Iluminado was developed in close collaboration with the community, whose comments helped inform the final design. “Rio Iluminado cleverly addresses how to bring the river closer to the community—and vice-versa,” says WWP President James Turner. “We are thrilled to have a project design that will result in such an intricately conceived and strikingly executed work of art for the community to enjoy and be inspired by for years to come.” The project will now enter the next phase, where the winning team will focus on design development, cost estimates, and prototyping, followed by the final design fabrication and installation. + Land Art Generator Institute Images via Land Art Generator Institute

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Shimmering Solar Arch to generate power for a post-industrial Connecticut town

Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

Finland’s two-year universal basic income experiment is coming to an end

April 19, 2018 by  
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The Finnish government is planning to conclude its much-touted universal basic income experiment at the end of a two-year study period instead of extending it. Since early 2017, the Finnish government gave 2,000 unemployed Finns between the ages of 25 and 58 an unconditional monthly payment of 560 euros, or $690. “Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income,” Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told Svenska Dagbladet . Though there had been plans to include workers in the basic income experiment starting in early 2018, this did not happen. Because workers were not included, researchers are limited in their ability to analyze the impact of universal basic income in promoting career changes or job training. “Two years is too short a time frame to be able to draw extensive conclusions from such a vast experiment,” basic income expert Olli Kangas told YLE . “We ought to have been given additional time and more money to achieve reliable results.” While Finland’s experiment is wrapping up with potentially disappointing results, basic income is an increasingly popular social policy among tech sector leaders, such as Elon Musk , Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Related: Stockton, California is launching the first basic income experiment in the US Finland’s government seems less enthused about basic income. The Finnish government recently passed a bill that requires unemployed people to work at least 18 hours over three months or risk losing their benefits. “When the basic income experiment ends this year, we should launch a universal credit trial,” Finnish Finance Minister Petteri Orpo told Hufvudstadsbladet . Such a trial could be modeled on the United Kingdom ‘s system, which combines various benefits and tax credits into a single account. More comprehensive results from Finland’s basic income experiment will be available after the trial’s conclusion at the end of 2018. Via Business Insider Images via Depositphotos and Wikimedia

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