Numerous studies are showing that Americans are driving less. Younger people no longer see buying their first car as an eagerly anticipated rite of passage. Fewer own cars for reasons ranging from cost—they're paying off student loans, not making major purchases—to the fact that many are moving back to cities where a car is not only not a necessity but a costly nuisance. The number of miles driven by the population as a whole has been declining for years for many reasons, not just the cost of gas. So the trend is unlikely to reverse, despite the drop in gas prices. And that's good news in more ways than you might think.
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1. It's good for your bank account. Between payments, upkeep, insurance and gas, owning a car can take a major bite out of a household budget. While a post-World War II culture had a fetish for cars and saw them as a form of entertainment, today they're more like a utility that fills a need. If that need is filled by walking, bicycling or public transportation, personal costs drop steeply. That frees up income to use in other more enjoyable ways than getting your brakes fixed.
2. It's good for local businesses. Because it eliminates that major drain on people's budgets, a critical mass of carless people has more money to spend on activities like eating out, patronizing entertainment options or giving to worthy causes. Walkable urban cores attract carless younger people, which fuels everything from entrepreneurship to active nightlife. On the other end of the spectrum, it also attracts retirees and empty-nesters who want to give up their cars now that they no longer have to drive kids to soccer practice and music lessons. They're likely to patronize a city's cultural offerings, restaurants and stores.
3. It's good for infrastructure efficiency. Growth in denser urban cores rather than far-flung suburbs is more sustainable. Suburbs with their malls, shopping strips and business parks grew up around freeway exits as car-dependency increased in the ’50s and ’60s, starting a vicious cycle of infrastructure attracting population and population requiring infrastructure. Whether it was roads, schools or water systems, that infrastructure was duplicative and costly as it served a more geographically spread-out population. It also often meant abandonment of existing infrastructure—see: Detroit—creating an incalculable amount of waste. Giving up cars has helped fuel the recycling and reuse of that older infrastructure.
4. It's good for diversity. Living in more densely populated urban areas puts people in constant contact with those of different races, cultures, socio-economic classes and ideas. Entrepreneurial immigrants are more likely to settle in urban areas to start businesses, offering residents the chance to become familiar with customs and cultures from around the world. Interacting with people who aren't mirror reflections of yourself tends to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the interests and needs of others.
5. It's good for your personal health. Not having a car means that you tend to walk more. If you take public transit, chances are you'll walk at least a short distance at both ends of your trip. More people are turning to bicycles too, with infrastructure like bike racks, bike "boxes" which lock up your bike and keep it safe from the elements and bike-sharing programs growing. Regular, moderate physical activity is an essential component in maintaining a healthy weight, keeping the heart and lungs in shape, building muscle and bone strength, and staving off a whole host of chronic diseases.
6. It's good for public health. Less obesity and fewer chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure mean a healthier populace overall. That decreases the strain on the health care system and in turn leads to lower health care costs for everyone.
7. It's good for the air we breath. Despite reductions in harmful emissions from auto exhaust in the last several decades, cars are still a major source of carbon pollution, spewing a variety of harmful chemicals into the air. Fewer cars on on the road means cleaner air for everyone to breath and a reduction in many chronic conditions, especially respiratory diseases such as asthma.
8. It's good for the planet. Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions which fuel climate change. Electric cars are a small-scale solution and very expensive, unlikely to lure many people who have given u their cars back to car ownership. Fewer cars on the road means slowing the rate of climate change-driven global warming. And that's not just beneficial—it's critical for the Earth's survival.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.