Promise or Peril? Importing Hydropower to Fuel the Clean Energy Transition
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
The era of building large dams in the United States, which defined so much of the 20th century, is over. The prime spots for development were cemented decades ago, and the ensuing harm to fish and other wildlife has been well documented. Attention is now focused on removing obsolete dams and retrofitting existing hydroelectric dams to reduce ecological harm and increase energy efficiency.
Many other countries are in the same boat. Across Europe and North America "big dams stopped being built in developed nations because the best sites for dams were already developed, and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable," found a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Canada appears to be the exception to that.
Large dams are still being built across Canada, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the generically titled "Site C" in British Columbia, despite cost overruns, outcry from some First Nations and even environmental concerns from the United Nations.
Hydroelectric power already supplies 60% of the country's energy. But the dam building isn't just to feed Canada's power needs. It's also become a hot export commodity.
As U.S. states look to meet new clean energy targets, imported low-carbon hydropower from across the northern border has become a larger part of the conversation — and the grid. New England already gets 17% of its energy from Canadian hydropower, Midwest states around 12% and New York 5%.
That number is likely to jump.
A new transmission project to bring 250 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the United States just came online in Minnesota. Two more are in the works for Massachusetts and New York.
Proponents say we need large-scale hydro to grease the wheels of the clean energy transition. Others caution that it comes with a larger environmental cost compared to wind and solar and could open the floodgates for more dam building.
There's one shared bit of common ground, though: We need to act quickly and wisely to tackle the climate crisis.
"This is the decade for getting 50% of the way there on renewables, but also proving out the pathway to get to net-zero by mid-century, if not before," says Peter Rothstein, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
How hydro figures into that process is still a complicated issue.
Clean Energy Demand Surges
The Northeast is one place where the energy transition is off and running.
All six New England states have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% over 1990 levels by 2050, and some are aiming higher.
Neighboring New York is also keeping pace. Last year the Empire State committed to achieving an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 70% renewable electricity by 2030.
How will those goals be achieved?
For some, imported Canadian hydropower looks poised to play a big role, and two new projects appear close to breaking ground.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 330-mile-long transmission line, would deliver 1,000 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New York metro area and could supply about a million homes — helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The project — a joint venture of the province-run Hydro-Québec and Transmission Developers Inc., a subsidiary of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — has already received the necessary permits for construction, but no contracts for the power have been signed.
Construction, however, could still start next year, with the project scheduled to come online in 2025.
Massachusetts has an even bigger project in the works. New England Clean Energy Connect would bring 1,500 megawatts of capacity through a 145-mile-long transmission line running through Maine from Canada to Massachusetts. It too would come from Hydro-Québec, this time working in conjunction with Central Maine Power.
The project, which is projected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons a year in New England, has received its necessary permits from the state of Maine but still awaits federal permits from the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Opposition groups, including some environmental organizations, are also challenging various aspects of the project in court. And a coalition of First Nations communities that have seen dams built on their ancestral lands have voiced their opposition. (You can read more about that transmission line in Part I of this series.)
More could be on the way. Nalcor Energy — the province-run hydro company of Newfoundland and Labrador — is nearing completion on its 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydro project on the Churchill (or Grand) River. Costs have just surpassed $13 billion — twice what was first estimated.
Some of the energy is already slated to be sent to other parts of Canada and then — hopefully, according to Nalcor — to New England.
What's the net impact of these planned projects? That's hard to say. Tallying the environmental benefit or harm from large-scale hydro is complicated.
One of the biggest metrics of assessing environmental impact is greenhouse gas emissions.
The first phase of emissions comes just from building its infrastructure. Large-scale hydropower involves the construction of generating stations, and often accompanying dams and reservoirs. And then there are hundreds of miles of transmission lines that need to be constructed to move that power.
What comes next, once a project comes online, depends on multiple factors. Research has shown that hydropower emissions vary widely based on the location, climate and area of land flooded. Hydro emissions are also highest when a reservoir is first flooded and then decrease in the following years.
All told, over the life cycle of a project, most hydropower is cleaner than fossil fuels, although not always as clean as wind and solar. A study in Nature Energy on the projected life-cycle emissions of energy sources put solar at 6 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour and wind at 4. The researchers estimated typical hydro at 97, but there's great variation between sites.
A 2014 report prepared by the research group CIRAIG on behalf of Hydro-Québec found the average life-cycle emissions of the company's fleet of 62 generation stations was between 6 and 17 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
Alain Tremblay, Hydro-Québec's lead scientist on greenhouse gas emissions, says tracking from their most recent complex of dams on the Romaine River shows emissions between 5 and 10 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
There are other environmental considerations beyond greenhouse gas emissions.
The nonprofit Natural Resources Council of Maine opposes the New England Clean Energy Connect, in part out of concern about fragmented habitat and critical wildlife populations, including brook trout. The transmission line would require clearing a 53-mile stretch of forest through the North Maine Woods.
In New York the nonprofit Riverkeeper reversed its earlier support for the Champlain Hudson Power Express and has now come out against that project, which would send its electrical cable down the length of the Hudson River.
"This sets a precedent that the Hudson is a conduit for extension cords from Canada or from anywhere," says John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's vice president of advocacy. "It should be off limits to that kind of thing."
The Hudson contains legacy pollution from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dumped decades ago and other contaminants that could be turned up as the cable is dug in the riverbed. Over the years some of that pollution has been remediated, but not all. And plans to avoid putting cable in the areas of the worst-known contamination aren't sufficient to protect the ecosystem, he says.
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
There's also concern that imperiled fish species, like endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon, could be harmed by the electrical cable. The river was designated as critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon, but no Endangered Species Act review has been initiated to assess if the cable could threaten fish populations.
"Both of these fishes have nervous systems similar to that of sharks, which are incredibly sensitive to electric signals," says Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "It's a huge experiment to suddenly put an electrical signal down the backbone of this river."
Lipscomb shares this concern. After all the work that's been done in recent years to help restore the Hudson and its estuary, he says "it's heartbreaking that we still think of this river as a resource."
Hydropower may be renewable, he says, but from an environmental perspective it isn't sustainable. "Unless a river's value is zero," he says. "If a river has any value as an ecosystem, as a host for life, then hydropower isn't even a consideration."
Upstream Justice Concerns
In 1990 a group of Cree and Inuit protestors paddled the Hudson River to Manhattan to ask New Yorkers to oppose a power purchase agreement between the state and Quebec and the construction of a second dam in the James Bay hydroelectric project in northern Quebec.
They were successful. Now, 30 years later, a different group of First Nations is making a similar plea.
On October 7 the First Nations of Pessamit, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy stating their opposition to the Massachusetts transmission line. The groups wrote that one-third of Hydro-Québec's installed power is "produced in our respective ancestral territories from reservoirs, dams, power plants and various other installations, without prior consultation, without our consent and without compensation."
Over the decades of hydropower buildout in Canada many First Nations communities — but not all — have been consulted on projects and struck agreements with power companies.
Major hydroelectric projects have altered the flow of rivers and in some cases, the food and cultural resources used by Indigenous communities.
There are also health concerns.
A 2016 study by Harvard University researchers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that flooding reservoirs for hydroelectric projects in Canada would increase the risk of mercury poisoning in Indigenous communities at 90% of the dam sites.
When land is flooded for a reservoir, the microbes in the soil convert naturally occurring mercury into more dangerous methylmercury, which then works its way up the food chain. That puts anyone who relies on local wildlife such as fish, birds and seals at risk. In the northern reaches of Canada, that's largely Indigenous people.
The researchers looked at how three Inuit communities downstream of Nalcor's Muskrat Falls project would fare. And they found that, on average, risk of exposure for community members would double after the area was flooded. That could translate to higher risks for cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays for children.
The more people rely on local food sources, the more harm they're exposed to. And in this remote region where store-bought food is very expensive, that's a serious concern.
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
"People have a very high prevalence of economic insecurity and that translates into insecure access to Western foods at the grocery store," says Ryan Calder, a co-author of the study and now an assistant professor of environmental health and policy at Virginia Tech. "Traditional food systems account for a smaller and smaller fraction of overall calories, but a wildly disproportionate fraction of nutrient intake."
Despite this, he doesn't think their research should be taken as a commentary on whether hydroelectric power itself is good or bad. "We really just criticized [the company's] risk assessment," he says.
Earlier studies by Nalcor claimed the effect on the Inuit would be negligible as the mercury would quickly dilute in downstream waters.
"They had no basis for saying there was going to be no impact," says Calder. "It was clear that they were trying to ignore their obligations — if not legal, then certainly moral — to Indigenous people."
The researchers also found that about half of the other sites they studied would have equal or greater concentrations of methylmercury than Muskrat Falls.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, who lives near the Muskrat Falls project, says she wasn't surprised by Nalcor's position. "Aboriginal people don't count to this government and so we have to make the Aboriginal people count," she says.
She has spoken to environmental organizations in the United States to help raise awareness about some of the local effects of dam development in Canada.
"I want people in the United States to understand that when they flip their light switch, if they accept these power lines from Canada, they're poisoning northern communities," she says.
New York and Massachusetts have been eager for hydropower from Canada as long as it doesn't mean the construction of new dams for the transmission projects.
Hydro-Québec says it has enough reserves for export to New York and Massachusetts without redirecting power from its existing United States or Canadian customers.
It's nearly finished with the last dam in the complex of four generating stations on the Romaine River, which along with other projects, has added 5,000 megawatts of capacity over the last decade. Although it does has the lowest reserve margin of utilities in the region, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's 2019 assessment.
In previous years Hydro-Québec did preliminary work to explore the possibility of new dams on the Little Mécatina River, but company spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent says they currently have no plans for new dams and that project is no longer in their strategic plan.
Gary Sutherland, director of strategic affairs for northeast markets at Hydro-Québec, says that additional energy demand for export could be met with increased energy efficiency in Quebec and more wind projects. Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted last week that the province's next addition of capacity, if needed, would be the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind farm.
Elsewhere in Canada, however, dam building continues.
Manitoba Hydro and four First Nations are in the process of building the Keeyask project, a 695-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River.
British Columbia also continues to muddle along on development at Site C, a 1,100-megawatt dam on the Peace River that has faced mounting problems and protests.
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
This includes, according to a report in The Narwhal, legal challenges from "landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 128 kilometers of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting Indigenous burial grounds, traditional hunting and fishing areas, habitat for more than 100 species vulnerable to extinction and some of Canada's richest farmland under up to 50 meters of water."
New research by energy analyst Robert McCullough, who runs a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm, found that if the project continues its likely to have surplus energy that will need to be sold outside the province at a loss to ratepayers.
But a poor financial outlook doesn't always mean the end of dam projects in Canada.
In Labrador Nalcor also has another large project planned — the 2,250-megawatt Gull Island dam, farther upstream from Muskrat Falls, which could be built if there's a buyer for the power.
It's a prospect Benefiel finds shocking, considering the company's most recent project was so over budget that it prompted a provincial Commission of Inquiry, which found that Muskrat Falls put the financial health of the entire province at risk.
Is Hydro Needed?
Considering all the complexities of hydro projects and the related transmission infrastructure, is it necessary to move U.S. states off fossil fuels and toward clean energy goals?
That depends on who you talk to.
Despite investment in wind and solar, "hydro has a couple of things going for it," says Rothstein of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. The first is that it's able to compete on costs, and second is the "dispatchability."
Thanks to decades of dam building, Canadian hydropower is ready to go — pending transmission capacity. It's also seen as less variable than wind and solar, although hydropower does fluctuate by season and by year, depending on precipitation.
"I think hydro will play a role, but it's not going to be the only resource," says Rothstein. Offshore wind holds the biggest potential for large-scale projects in the region, he says.
New York has already awarded contracts to procure 1,700 megawatts of offshore wind and in July put out a call to solicit another 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,500 megawatts of land-based, large-scale renewables.
Massachusetts is making strides toward wind energy, too. In 2016 Gov. Charlie Baker signed an energy bill requiring the state's utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and could soon double that.
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
All told around a half a dozen major projects now await a green light, pending permitting decisions by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
All down the East Coast, "there's a whole constellation of projects close to breaking water," says Rothstein.
In the past offshore wind has been stymied by NIMBYism, but he says both the public perception of wind has changed and so have costs. New projects being proposed are farther offshore and out of view. And more established, global wind developers are competing for projects, helping to bring down prices.
Sierra Club's Downs thinks northeast states could meet their goals without imported hydro. Instead he'd like to see more focus on large-scale solar installations in upstate New York on brownfields or fallow farmland, and more offshore wind.
"And then we need to be doing more and more programs for smaller, community-based wind and solar," he says.
Whatever mix of low-carbon power is secured, Downs hopes it doesn't turn rivers into transmission corridors and does account for the full environmental and social costs of power generation.
"We have an obligation to protect cultural rights, Indigenous rights and also the vast Canadian wilderness," says Downs. "We shouldn't be exporting our environmental problems."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Kang-Chun Cheng
Modoc County lies in the far northeast corner of California, and most of its 10,000 residents rely on cattle herding, logging, or government jobs for employment. Rodeos and 4-H programs fill most families' calendars; massive belt buckles, blue jeans, and cowboy hats are common attire. Modoc's niche brand of American individualism stems from a free-spirited cowboy culture that imbues the local ranching conflict with wild horses.
The History of Horse Management<p>Before the 1950s, feral horses were largely unregulated in the U.S. They were released, grazed, captured, killed, sold, and otherwise <a href="http://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/WHB-Report-2020-NewCover-051920-508.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">managed by local inhabitants</a> as they saw fit. Around that time, Velma Bronn Johnston, aka "Wild Horse Annie," started raising public awareness of the "perceived inhumane capture and treatment of free-ranging herds."</p><p>Thanks in part to Johnston's efforts, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law by President Nixon in 1971. It declared that the animals "shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this, they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands."</p><p><a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6148/847.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">This act</a> has been amended four times since its conception to accommodate the fluctuating opinions and conditions around maintaining a "thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands"—an admirable although highly subjective goal. Achieving it involves juggling competing interests: those of local residents, permanent grazers, hunters and fishers, advocacy groups, conservationists, and Indigenous tribes.</p><p>The Bureau of Land Management must manage these many conflicting interests. Modoc County's <a href="https://www.fs.fed.us/wild-horse-burro/territories/DevilsGardenPlateau.shtml" target="_blank">Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory</a> epitomizes the challenges of this task. Officially deemed wild horse territory, the garden consists of 258,000 acres and is wholly within permitted livestock allotments. It is also home to wildlife such as cougar, antelope, migratory birds, and aquatic species dependent on delicate high-desert riparian areas.</p><p>The presence of wild horses has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014019631530094X" target="_blank">decrease native wildlife species diversity</a> for both birds and mammals. Pronghorn antelope are an icon in Western grasslands, known for their annual 350-mile migration along historic routes estimated to be 5,800 years old. This awe-inspiring trek is one of the longest large-mammal migration corridors remaining in North America, but 75% of <a href="http://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00548.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pronghorn migration routes</a> have already been lost because of disturbances from the accelerated leasing of public lands and energy development. Horses also affect the pronghorn's yearly migrations by <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014019631630218X" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">monopolizing watering holes</a>, thus preventing native species from drinking.</p>
Indigenous Support for Ecological Balance<p>Ken Sandusky, a public information officer who has worked for the Forest Service in Modoc County for 13 years, lives by his station's mission statement: "Caring for the Land and Serving People." In his work, Sandusky aims to include the broad range of stakeholders and often acts as a tribal liaison. Sandusky himself is a member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, but as a Modoc native, is more culturally in touch with the local Klamath tribe.</p><p>When it comes to rangeland health, he says, there's a tangible split in what that actually means. "It depends on what you are measuring the outcome against," Sandusky explains. Range managers may perceive progress from a year-to-year basis, but to many Indigenous tribes, the baseline for "progress" goes back generations, to pre-contact times. "They have long memories," he says. "Tribes see damage that is a hundred-plus years in the making."</p>
A Willingness to Try New Things<p>"Americans don't know what's happening on these lands," says Suzanne Roy, the executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, an advocacy organization. The Bureau of Land Management, she says, "is run by and for the livestock industry. They come from a ranching background. The term 'rangeland' management itself illustrates how livestock management is the dominant perspective."</p><p>Roy is particularly concerned about how resources are being allocated: "Policies of land management agencies don't reflect the desires and interests of the public." To illustrate, most Americans associate public lands with national parks and environmental conservation; only 29% of respondents to a recent poll considered livestock grazing an acceptable use of those lands.</p><p>Grazing on public lands certainly aligns with the financial interests of cattle ranchers and helps explain why they insist on increased wild horse management. Cattle can <a href="http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS21232.pdf" target="_blank">graze on public lands</a> for $1.35 per animal per month, while grazing on comparable private land costs ranchers $23 per animal per month (American taxpayer dollars make up the difference). To be fair, though, small-scale ranching would not be viable without public lands.</p><p>The campaign hopes to work toward more equitable resource allocation and improvements to overall habitats for horses and wildlife generally. "There are workable solutions to this issue," Roy says. "Common pushback from rangers is that new conservation strategies will 'destroy our way of life,' but change doesn't have to be bad."</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0362331994900264" target="_blank">social conservatism</a> intrinsic to human cultures makes change seem daunting and people reluctant to try new tactics even in the face of suboptimal systems. Roy uses a case in adjacent Marin County to illustrate: Until 2001, the county ran a USDA program focused on killing apex predators (e.g. coyotes, mountain lions, and cougars) in defense of livestock. Unfortunately, this strategy fails to take into account the science of predators. Killing one mountain lion, for example, creates a vacuum and will eventually lead to increased competition for this newly available territory. In 2001, Marin introduced a country-run program that promoted nonlethal methods such as fox lights, guard dogs, and fladry to deal with predator incidents while compensating ranchers for sheep and lambs lost to predation.</p><p>Ranchers were initially livid, concerned that bans on shooting and trapping hindered their rights, making them defenseless against livestock predation. But 15 years later, a majority agreed that this form of humane <a href="http://www.projectcoyote.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Camilla-Fox-Thesis-FINAL-January-2008.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">adaptive management </a>has successfully reduced both livestock losses and the total number of predators. Ensuring its continued success, the program requires active participation on behalf of all stakeholders and long-term commitment from the local government for support.</p><p>As one fifth-generation sheepherder, Gowan Batiste, explained in an interview to the <a href="https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/mendocino-county-rancher-and-others-calling-for-non-lethal-wildlife-management/ar-BB16CJ8g" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ukiah Daily Journal,</a> "Livestock is a food of desperation for predators; the more you harass them and make life difficult for them, the more likely they are going to come into conflict with humans."</p>
Keeping Wild Horses in Check<p>When it comes to wild horses, many solutions are already in the works. Through annual autumn wild horse roundups, known as gathers, the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals has become one of the U.S.'s most successful adoption sites. The California Cattlemen's Association, a nonprofit trade association and organization popular among ranchers in Modoc, urges its members to support the wild horse gathers in Devils Garden, saying they are humane, good for the horses themselves (since competition for scarce water and forage resources may instigate aggression and <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1439-0310.1981.tb01930.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">herd violence</a>), and necessary to support local ranchers and Modoc's agriculture-reliant economy.</p><p>Another popular solution for controlling wild horse populations is a fertility-control vaccine called PZP, given to female horses on the range <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur7w3UPTCsk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">using dart guns</a>. Mares are tracked on foot or with game cameras while drones are used to locate more elusive herds. The PZP vaccine has been endorsed by the American Wild Horse Campaign as the "<a href="https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/fertility-control" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">most promising strategy</a>" for managing wild horses in their habitats and is also recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Importantly, a dose of the vaccine only costs $30.</p><p>Lastly, land acquisition and <a href="https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/equitable-share-resources" target="_blank">grazing lease buyouts</a> can promote equitable sharing of public lands and available forage. Acquiring key pieces of land adjacent to or within federally designated wild horse habitat areas can reduce conflicts over resource allocation.</p>
A Global Search for Solutions<p>Pastoralists all over the world face similar land-use conflicts, despite huge variations in climate and culture. The ongoing situation across rural California resonates with that of Fulani cattle herders in Niger and Sami reindeer herders in the Arctic.</p><p>Herders everywhere are accused of having too many animals or are perceived as selfish and irresponsible by their own communities. Overgrazing is certainly an issue, but it's not simply the number of animals that matters: The <a href="https://savory.global/holistic-management/" target="_blank">amount of time</a> animals spend in a certain area is critical to rangeland health. And in the context of such allegations, the ecological value of grazing is frequently omitted. Grazers, both wild and domestic, <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/food-everyone/2019/02/04/restoring-the-range-can-beef-be-earth-friendly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are key to regulating soil health and allowing for species diversity and coverage, </a>as well as efficient carbon sequestration.</p><p>Part of the problem in these heated grazing debates is that moderate viewpoints are drowned out by extremist agendas—those who prioritize wild horse populations at all costs and those who want all of the horses gone, period. "The majority of people don't really have strong views about the horses," Sandusky says. "But the ones who do can get really into it." These unwavering views make it difficult to find compromises that account for all stakeholders.</p><p>"There is no biological problem, merely a social one," says professor Nicholas Tyler, a pastoralism expert at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway. Tyler maintains that in the case of horses and cattle in the West, as with so many others, the so-called equilibria argument is specious and quasi-biological. "Certainly a lot of horses will influence the species composition," he says. "Remove the horses, things change. Add horses, things change again. There is nothing magical about that."</p><p>But Tyler takes it one step further: "There never was, is, or will be a balance. There are shifting equilibria, which is something quite different," he says. "It is up to the community to decide which state of that equilibrium it prefers."</p>
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3. The Human Element (2019)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f426ed5154f3133a6f8cb5d8d39cf211"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/k34FhplukXQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This doc follows environmental photographer James Balog on his quest to portray Americans on the frontlines of climate change whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the collision between people and nature. Balog captures how the four elements of earth, water, air and fire are being transformed by a fifth element — the human element — and what that means for our future.</p>
4. Before the Flood (2016)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="619d7c35d25e9cfc6e239bc1bd7d1ea2"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/D9xFFyUOpXo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/leonardo-dicaprio-before-the-flood-2057070140.html">this doc</a>, actor Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with National Geographic to travel the globe and witness the effects of global warming that are already visible, such as rising sea levels and deforestation. Featuring prominent figures such as Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis and Elon Musk, the doc offers solutions for a sustainable future and shows how we can challenge climate change deniers.</p>
5. Tomorrow (2015)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8fdcf7de6bd422b6ab96134ce49366d9"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NUN0QxRB7e0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Need an optimistic view on how to tackle the climate crisis? Then this upbeat French doc seeking out creative alternatives to our current form of agriculture, energy supply and waste management is for you. It introduces everyday sustainability innovators from across the world, such as urban gardeners and renewable energy enthusiasts, to inspire the rest of us to make local changes</p>
6. Racing Extinction (2015)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec29ed8282004cb6ccc6e0eae7de1ae"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MwxyrLUdcss?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In this film by Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos, a team of activists expose the illegal trade of endangered species and document the global extinction crisis, which could result in the loss of half of all species. By using covert tactics and state-of-the-art technology, they take you to places where no one can go, uncover secrets and show you images you have never seen before.</p>
7. Virunga (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6922c47a9603f24dd431f6e5282f7cb5"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wxXf2Vxj_EU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the only places in the world where you can still find wild mountain gorillas. But the park and its inhabitants are under attack from poachers, armed militias and companies wanting to exploit natural resources. This gripping doc follows a group of people trying to preserve the park and protect these magnificent great apes.</p>
8. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9b7e7a93c26b3a3fc4f8a8374d98e2f2"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nV04zyfLyN4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This crowdfunded documentary explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. The film has caused controversy by suggesting that animal agriculture is the primary source of environmental destruction and the main emitter of greenhouse gases, rather than fossil fuels.</p>
9. Years of Living Dangerously (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="585f966df408ae57e3e31747a6c0a66b"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/juXzfwvVHZQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In this Emmy-winning documentary series, celebrity correspondents travel the world to interview experts and scientists on the climate crisis and its effects. But rather than focusing on its star power, the two-season series also shines a spotlight on ordinary people affected by the climate crisis and shows how we can save our world for future generations.</p>
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Brett Wilkins
Despite acknowledging that the move would lead to an increase in the 500 million to one billion birds that die each year in the United States due to human activity, the Trump administration on Friday published a proposed industry-friendly relaxation of a century-old treaty that protects more than 1,000 avian species.
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