The last year has been unprecedented in terms of climate change and climate news. President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement while two other remaining holdouts signed on, making the United States now the only country in the world that is not a signatory. Not only that, but he rolled back environmental regulations on everything from oil drilling to pesticide use.
In the face of inaction from the U.S. government, it is up to states, cities, and individuals to step up and be even more active on behalf of the environment. Everything from being better about recycling to writing to your Congresspeople and Senators will be a huge help in the fight for the earth.
May the New Year be filled with positive news about the climate and newly energized climate activists who are shining a light on the things the current U.S. government is doing to destroy our climate. It’s time for us to get engaged, get active, and make the environment a priority, both individually and politically.
This past week Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet signed a bill that will ban plastic bags in more than 100 coastal areas. Her decision, she said, was about “taking care of our marine ecosystems.”
“Our fish are dying from plastics ingestion or strangulation; [limiting plastic bags] is a task in which everyone must collaborate,” she added.
It’s a huge deal, not only for Chile’s environment, but for other countries considering their own plastic bag ban.
Chile’s World Wildlife Fund noted that the bill “marks a very important milestone for Chile and opens the door for the whole country to say goodbye to plastic bags.”
According to a 2015 study published in Science, about eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the sea every year, which can affect millions of marine species. And toxins ingested by fish exposed to those plastics can affect humans as well when they eat those fish.
Why would a city have such a law in place to begin with? Money, it seems: Grocery heavy-hitter Publix lobbied state politicians to the tune of $1 million to get the law against banning plastic bags instated. However, Stewart may be turning the (plastic) tides with her bill, if it’s passed. At the very least, it’s inspired a similar measure in the Florida House of Representatives.
Banning plastic bags in more places—both in the U.S. and elsewhere—is likely to be a huge boon to marine wildlife. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Motor vehicles are a huge source of pollution in cities. For many years, governments have used traffic management strategies to try and reduce vehicle emissions—but few seem to have made as much of a difference as road pricing.
Road pricing is essentially a “pay per use” plan that levies charges such as road tolls, congestion charges, and charges designed to discourage the use of certain types of vehicles or fuel sources in order to reduce pollution and congestion within city limits.
Other traffic management strategies include speed enforcement programs, lane management (e.g., HOV lanes), road and congestion pricing, and trip reduction strategies such as telecommuting or ride sharing.
“The strategies with the best evidence of air quality improvements are area road/congestion pricing and low-emission zones,” Bigazzi said. “Other strategies have potential benefits, but there is less empirical evidence, either because the benefits are very small or because the benefits are offset by some other effect.”
Why are road pricing and low-emission zones so effective? A major reason is that they reduce the amount of driving. They also ease congestion and reduce emission rates. Low-emission zones also encourage people to buy cleaner vehicles.
Of course, road pricing has to be implemented on a pretty large scale in order to be effective. Cities can’t just implement road pricing on certain roads, because motorists would find other ways to get into the city where they are not faced with road pricing or low-emission zones.
“Hundreds of cities in Europe have congestion pricing or low-emission zones in their city centers and are enjoying improved traffic flow and air quality,” Bigazzi said. “These strategies haven’t been embraced in North America in the same way for a variety of reasons, but there are great potential benefits for cities here ready to embrace innovation.”
What do you think? Would you like to see cities use traffic management strategies like road pricing in order to reduce pollution, even if it meant less convenience for you? Do you think road pricing would work in your city? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Climate change is responsible for a lot of things, but it may not be directly responsible for Hurricane Harvey.
Harvey is not the first hurricane to hit the Texas coast. A deadly hurricane struck Galveston in 1900, and that storm caused thousands to lose their lives, primarily due to the lack of warning. Meteorology was not an advanced science at that time, and there were no satellites to track the storms as they moved across the Atlantic Ocean.
However, climate change is almost certainly responsible for the epic rainfall and catastrophic flooding endured by the cities struck by Hurricane Harvey.
“This is they type of event, in terms of extreme rainfall, that we would expect to see more of in a warming climate,” Dr. Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford told the BBC.
There’s a physical law called the Clausius-Claperyon equation, which says that a hotter atmosphere holds more moisture. For every degree Celsius in warming, the atmosphere can hold 7 percent more water, which makes rainfall events more extreme.
The temperature of the seas also contributes to the strength of hurricanes.
“The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1.5 degrees warmer than they were from 1980 to 2010,” Sir Brian Hoskins of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change told the BBC. “This is very significant because it means the potential for a stronger storm is there, and the contribution of global warming to the warmer waters in the Gulf, it’s almost inevitable that there was a contribution to that.”
Although there have been slow-moving storms over Texas in the past, some scientists still attribute the intensity of Harvey to climate change.
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that a general slowdown in atmospheric circulation in the earth’s middle latitudes could be a result of changing climate in other parts of the world.
“This is a consequence of the disproportionately strong warming in the Arctic,” Rahmstorf said. “It can make weather systems move less and stay longer in a given location—which can significantly enhance the impacts of rainfall extremes.”
Other scientists think it’s a stretch to believe that the slowly moving nature of the storm is caused by climate change. “I don’t think we should speculate on these more difficult and complex links like melting in the Arctic without looking into these effects in a dedicated study,” said Dr. Otto.
In addition to the damage caused by the flooding, pollution is causing the floodwaters to become a toxic stew of sewage, garbage, chemicals from more than 20 Superfund sites in the Houston area, oil and petrochemicals from damaged refineries, and much more, are causing concern.
“There’s no need to test [the water],” Houston Health Department spokesman Porfirio Villareal told the New York Times. “It’s contaminated. There’s millions of contaminants.”
On June 14, a federal judge put a temporary block on the use of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by stating that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to reconsider some of its environmental impact studies.
U.S. district judge James Boasberg said that the corps had failed to take into account the level to which a spill might affect “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
Boasberg had previously rejected two of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s appeals—one based on the fact that construction threatened sites of historical and cultural significance to the tribe, and the other that oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe would damage sacred waters.
“Now that the court has rejected these two lines of attack, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River here take their third shot, this time zeroing in on DAPL’s environmental impact,” Boasberg wrote in his decision. “This volley meets with some degree of success.”
The judge wrote that while the Army Corps of Engineers had “substantially complied” with the National Environmental Policy Act, federal permits issued for the pipeline were in violation of the law in certain ways. “To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court,” Boasberg wrote.
Later on, the judge will consider whether the pipeline must halt operations while the additional research is being conducted. A status conference is scheduled for the week of June 19.
Whether the pipeline is shut during the review or not depends on whether the omissions in the Corps’ analysis can be addressed quickly, or whether they’re large errors that might require more study.
“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and we will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.
Just days after being sworn in, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Corps to do whatever it needed to do to get the pipeline construction underway. In February, the Corps granted the final easement needed to finish the pipeline.
This decision marks “an important turning point,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the tribes in the lawsuit. “Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Trump administration…prompting a well-deserved global outcry.”
Although the protests by the Standing Rock tribe and its allies were effectively over in February, when the main encampment was cleared and the pipeline completed, this decision by Judge Boasberg shows that the struggle for justice—both for the environment and for the tribe—is not over yet.
With a lack of horizontal space for farming in urban environments, vertical farming could be the only plausible solution to food scarcity. As Lauren Hepler of GreenBiz notes, “with more reports sounding alarms about looming food scarcity issues, the urban agriculture sector is increasingly melding with the boom in agriculture tech, breeding companies offering everything from unorthodox growing setups to soil sensors, hydroponics and all manner of crop data analytics.”
The question of “how do we feed a growing global population?” has billion-dollar potential.
Unlike the dot-com boom, “the problem is so huge and broken in so many places that there are many billion-dollar markets you could just jump into,” Brad McNamara, co-founder of Boston container farming startup Freight Farms, told GreenBiz. “There are connections being formed and local food systems and food markets that people are hungry for.”
On a small scale, technology like hydroponic grocery stores can be seen as an opportunity for local retailers to grow indoors, on site, more efficiently. This could allow business owners to tap directly into local consumer demands, customize their shopping experiences, dramatically reduce the cost of shipping, and capitalize on buzz about food miles.
On a large scale, vertical farmscapers could profit from the consumer demand for multifunctional urban space. Some believe farmscapers might be able to produce enough food to feed greater and greater future populations.
Modular technology, built for moving the farms, is a consistent theme in both approaches. Not only can the farms be relocated easily, but also modular technology allows the farms to scale up or scale down efficiently to meet specific needs. Modular design can be seen throughout the commercial real estate, residential properties, and, most recently, tiny home designs. Modular designs in factories have allowed owners with unlimited flexibility to respond quickly and cost-effectively to changing business needs. It’s possible that this same flexibility could provide much needed adaptability to the farming industry.
Thanks to a newly developed plan, river dolphins and Amazonian manatees in Peru will finally receive protection.
Researchers from the University of Exeter in England worked with Peruvian officials for more than two years to develop that law.
“These species are only found in the Amazon,” said Dr. Joanna Alfaro, formerly of the University of Exeter. “Neighboring countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador already had legislation to protect them, but Peru did not. To bring about this legislation, we worked in lose collaboration with the Peruvian government, with support from [World Wildlife Fund] Peru, and held five workshops with local authorities.
Like other species of dolphins and manatees, river dolphins and Amazonian manatees face threats from climate change, fishing, and loss of habitat, not to mention pollution, noise, and boat traffic.
The new law, the National Action Plan for the Conservation of River Dolphins and the Amazonian Manatee, was approved by Peru’s Ministry of Production. It requires conservation and monitoring of habitats. It is also designed to bring about better management of the species’ habitats.
“We are delighted to have been a part in the development of this law, and we are excited to see the plan in full implementation,” said researcher Elizabeth Campbell. “It was a long process, but it showed how government agencies can work with non-governmental academics, private companies, and others.”
Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter, who supervised the research, said, “We believe this action plan will aid conservation and reduce the threats that dolphins and manatees face in the Amazon today. It is a great example where research was used as a baseline for the legal framework to protect biodiversity.”
The University of Exeter project was funded by the Darwin Initiative, a UK-based grant program that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide. It provides funding to countries rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives in preserving that biodiversity.