By Marlene Cimons
It was love at first sight for Richard and Robin Kinley. But it took a sunset to seal the deal.
The Kinleys, both 59 and living in Atlanta, visited southwest Florida in January to look at Babcock Ranch, a planned community that could become the most sustainable town in America.
'World's Most Sustainable City' to Run on 100% Solar https://t.co/op2nY6QS44 @Green_Europe @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1462708209.0
When finished, Babcock Ranch, located about 20 minutes from Fort Myers, will be powered almost entirely by the sun, turning to natural gas on cloudy days. Homes will be energy-efficient, many of them constructed with insulated panels designed to handle any type of Florida weather.
The town will be walkable and bikeable, with 50 miles of nature trails. Residents will be able to plant crops in community gardens. Houses will be set near sidewalks so neighbors can more easily interact with one another. To encourage homeowners to drive electric vehicles, the town will install numerous charging stations. Its public vehicle fleet will be electric and driverless.
Richard and Robin Kinley. Babcock Ranch
The Kinleys found all of this irresistible. Returning to their hotel room after their tour, Kinley suggested to his wife: "Let's go back tonight and look at the sunset. We sat on the grass near this little lake, on the lot we were interested in and watched the sun go down. Everything just fell into place. We loved it."
The Kinleys were the first to buy a home at Babcock, where construction is now just getting underway. They expect to move into their one-story ranch style house in time for the fall and winter holidays.
"If I sat down and wanted to design a community from scratch, this would be it," said Kinley. "I love having a front porch where I can talk to my neighbors and a downtown area within a five-minute walk."
This is exactly what Babcock Ranch's developer, Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, had in mind when he conceived of the idea of creating a town that aims "to go back to the way we used to live when we were younger, where you know your neighbors and has the things you remember when you were growing up," he said. "We are dead set on proving that development and preservation can work hand-in-hand."
He traces his connection to nature to his childhood. "When I was very young, my parents didn't allow us to stay inside," Kitson said. "We went camping, deep into the woods for weeks at a time and I developed a deep love of the land. I appreciate what it means. I think people intuitively understand that you feel better when you are in the woods or on top of a mountain. I really believe you will live longer and have a better life."
On July 31, 2006, Kitson's company completed its purchase of 91,000 acres along Florida's southwest coast and that same day sold 73,000 acres back to the state and to Lee County in what has been described as the largest single land preservation agreement in Florida's history. The agreement kept the vast majority of the land untouched, allowing ranching operations to continue and leaving Kitson with nearly 18,000 acres—an area about the size of Manhattan—for development.
The Babcock Ranch plan calls for 19,500 homes, schools, shops, green spaces, lakes and nature trails. Eventually, they plan to add condos and apartments. Someday, as many as 50,000 people will live there.
Kitson says that, to achieve his goal of having, as he describes it, the first solar town in America, he found an ally in Florida Power & Light. The utility company built a new solar power plant in Charlotte County, whose 343,000 solar panels will supply power to Babcock Ranch.
In the evenings or on sunless days, the town will be powered by natural gas "until we get that solar storage puzzle solved," Kitson said. Finding ways to store solar power "is very important and we want to be a living laboratory to implement that into Babcock," he said.
Mitch Pavao-Zuckerman, assistant professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland's college of agriculture and natural resources—who is not involved with Babcock Ranch—calls the creation of a nearly all-solar town "a great opportunity to learn more about the feasibility of these kinds of developments."
"It could allow for testing how efficient these kinds of decentralized systems are in real settings and also how they respond to variability in weather—and solar production—and potential risks to the network," he added. "They've put a good deal of consideration into the physical and aesthetic design of the community and elements of environmental sustainability."
For starters, the homes will strive to be energy efficient. Brian Bishop, president of New Panel Homes, which manufactures—and will supply—the structural insulated panels for one of the home builders at Babcock Ranch, said the houses from his building kits all will meet standards established by the Florida Green Building Coalition, which administers green certifications throughout the state.
This 75 MW solar array will supply power to Babcock Ranch. Babcock Ranch
Bishop predicts that the energy cost for each house will run no more than about $90 a month. Because these homes must be air tight to be energy efficient, his team also ensures the air quality. "Our customers want a green, healthy, nontoxic home with a tiny electric bill, that is disaster safe," Bishop said. "This isn't just some quirky thing for yuppies. Everybody benefits."
Not everyone, however, is happy with the Babcock Ranch project. The South Florida Wildlands Association, a nonprofit that works to protect wildlife in the state, argues that the town will prevent the endangered Florida panther from expanding its current breeding grounds. Only about 100 of these panthers remain in the wild.
"This is one of the worst locations they could have chosen to build the city of the future," said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the association. "It will preclude the panthers from using that area."
U.S. National Park Service
But Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, points out that panthers have never used the Babcock area for breeding. "There were no established panthers on the land," he said. "The land is a good distance from where the panthers currently live and breed and [there's] no reason to think they will someday cross the [Caloosahatchee] river—[the northern boundary of their current active habitat]—and migrate there."
Still, Kitson & Partners, working with the state, set aside 17,000 acres in the preserved area for panther habitat, if they should ever try to migrate there. The animals, however, still would have to find a way to cross the river, as the only routes there are bridges with vehicle traffic.
For his part, Kitson hopes his future town "will be a model for the rest of the country, maybe even the world," he said. "The greatest thing we can do is create a model that works economically and where people want to live."
The Kinleys are believers. Kinley hopes his company will approve a transfer. If not, he may retire. "That's the worst case scenario and that's not a bad worst case scenario," he said. He laughed. "After we signed the papers and they told us we were the first ones, I joked and said you should name the lake behind our house after us."
To be sure, he was just kidding. But they liked the idea, so that's what they did.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Richard B. Primack
Weather patterns across the U.S. have felt like a roller coaster ride for the past several months. December and January were significantly warmer than average in many locations, followed by February's intense cold wave and a dramatic warmup.
The leaves on this cherry tree have suffered damage from a late frost. Richard Primack, CC BY-ND
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America's infrastructure a C- grade in its quadrennial assessment issued March 3. ASCE gave the nation's flood control infrastructure – dams and levees – a D grade. This is a highly concerning assessment, given that climate change is increasingly stressing dams and levees as increased evaporation from the oceans drives heavier precipitation events.
Figure 1. Debris fills the Feather River from the damaged spillway of California's Oroville Dam, the nation's tallest dam, after its near-collapse in February 2017. The Oroville incident forced the evacuation of nearly 190,000 people and cost $1.1 billion in repairs. California Department of Water Resources
Figure 2. The L-550 levee on the Missouri River overtopping during the spring 2011 floods. USACE
By Jacob Carter
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it will be rescinding secretarial order 3369, which sidelined scientific research and its use in the agency's decisions. Put in place by the previous administration, the secretarial order restricted decisionmakers at the DOI from using scientific studies that did not make all data publicly available.
Science Rising at Interior<p>The rescinded secretarial order is not the only notable victory we have seen from the DOI recently. The Biden administration has moved swiftly to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/biden-interior-department-haaland.html" target="_blank">restore consideration of climate change</a> in its decisions, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/biden-expected-to-reverse-trump-order-to-shrink-utah-national-monuments" target="_blank">reverse assaults on our public lands</a>, and <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/biden-halts-trump-rule-gutted-landmark-bird-protection-law" target="_blank">taken actions to protect our nation's wildlife</a>. These decisions, unlike many made at the DOI over the past four years, have been informed by science—and President Biden's pick to lead the DOI, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, has <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/haaland-confirmation-remarks/index.html" target="_blank">promised in her confirmation hearing</a> to continue to make decisions that are guided by science.</p><p><strong>Saving Migratory Birds</strong></p><p>One of the parting gifts of the prior administration was a <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/jacob-carter/outgoing-administration-gave-thumbs-up-to-migratory-bird-massacre-its-time-to-reverse-the-damage" target="_blank">reinterpretation of a long-standing rule that protected migratory bird species</a>. For decades, the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Treaty Act</a> (MBTA) had protected migratory bird species, which are in decline in the US, by allowing the DOI to fine industries that failed to take proper precautions to protect migratory birds. For example, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/threats-to-birds/entrapment-entanglement-drowning.php#:~:text=An%20estimated%20500%2C000%20to%201,trays%2C%20and%201%25%20spills." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not placing proper netting over oil pits</a>, which can result in the death of migratory birds. The rule, however, was reinterpreted by the prior administration such that industries could only be fined if bird deaths were "intentional" and not if they occurred incidentally due to a lack of precautions.</p><p>The prior administration, in its final days, also <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/03/endangered-species-recovery-interior-deb-haaland/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eliminated protections for the northern spotted owl</a>, which is currently listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a threatened species. More than 3 million acres of the owl's habitat were removed from protection to pave way for timber harvesting. Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/biden-interior-department-haaland.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stated that she had received</a> "…several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, 'Did you know this is happening? The bird won't survive this."</p><p>The Biden administration, following the best available science, has delayed the implementation of both rules.</p><p><strong>Restoring Public Lands</strong></p><p>In 2017, two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante of Utah, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/trump-bears-ears.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were reduced in size by some two million acres</a>, the largest reduction of federal land protection in our nation's history. Later, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/climate/bears-ears-national-monument.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">internal emails at the DOI</a> would show that these actions were not a product of following the best available science, and were instead guided by a push to exploit oil and natural gas deposits within the boundaries of the protected land. In particular, the decision did not consider the archaeological importance of the protected lands or their cultural heritage. Sidelining these facets of this decision is likely what <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/02/biden-orders-review-of-trumps-assaults-on-americas-natural-treasures/?utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=naytev&utm_medium=social" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prompted a review of the reductions</a> by the Biden administration.</p>
Bringing Science Back Across the Administration<p>Beyond the Interior department, the Biden administration has taken quick steps to bring science back to the forefront of decisionmaking across the federal government. In January, President Biden signed a <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/memorandum-on-restoring-trust-in-government-through-scientific-integrity-and-evidence-based-policymaking/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">presidential memo</a> to strengthen scientific integrity and evidence-based decisionmaking. The memo, among many other positive steps for science, has initiated a review process on scientific integrity policies that should be finalized toward the end of the year. Given the <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">unprecedented number of times we documented political interference in science-based decision-making processes</a> over the past four years, such a review, and the subsequent recommendations arising from it, are clearly warranted.</p><p>The Biden administration also has formed multiple scientific advisory groups to help make choices informed by the best available science to protect public health and our environment. This includes advisory groups on critical issues such as <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/memorandum-on-restoring-trust-in-government-through-scientific-integrity-and-evidence-based-policymaking/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific integrity</a>, <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/02/10/president-biden-announces-members-of-the-biden-harris-administration-covid-19-health-equity-task-force/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">COVID-19</a>, and <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2021/02/04/495397/mapping-environmental-justice-biden-harris-administration/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">environmental justice</a>. The administration also is moving quickly to <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/biden-transition-updates/2020/12/17/938092644/biden-to-pick-north-carolina-regulator-michael-regan-to-lead-epa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appoint qualified leaders</a> at science-based agencies and has asked the heads of agencies to expeditiously establish scientific integrity officials and chief science officers.</p><p>In addition to rescinding the secretarial order at DOI, the Biden administration has also rescinded several other anti-science actions taken over the past four years. Among the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/02/24/executive-order-on-the-revocation-of-certain-presidential-actions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">many anti-science executive orders reversed by President Biden are </a>an order that directed agencies to arbitrarily cut their advisory committees by one-third and another that required agencies to cut two regulations for every new regulation they issued.</p><p>There has been a lot of progress for science-based decisionmaking over the past six weeks, with more expected as qualified individuals are appointed to head science-based agencies. And yet we know through our research that <a href="https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/uploads/5/4/3/4/5434385/berman_emily__carter_jacob.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">every administration has politicized science-based decisionmaking to some extent</a>.</p><p>We will continue to watch, demand, and ensure that science guides the critical decisions being made by the Biden administration. Our health, our environment, and our safety depend on it.</p><p><em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/author/jacob-carter#.YED_bRNKjt0" target="_blank">Jacob Carter</a> is a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from the <em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/jacob-carter/science-wins-at-the-interior-department" target="_blank">Union of Concerned Scientists</a>.</em></em></p>
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.
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