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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
A roller coaster on the Jersey Shore flooded after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Hurricane_Sandy_New_Jersey_Pier.jpg: Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen / U.S. Air Force / New Jersey National Guard / CC BY 2.0

New Jersey will be the first state in the U.S. to require builders to take the climate crisis into consideration before seeking permission for a project.

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By Daisy Simmons

Food may be a universal language — but in these record-breaking hot days, so too is climate change. With July clocking in as the hottest month on Earth in recorded history and extreme weather ramping up globally, farmers are facing the brunt of climate change in croplands and pastures around the world.

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Last year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report sounded a global alarm about the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach "net zero" levels by 2050. While there have been stark climate warnings for decades, this time the reaction was different. There is an unprecedented global surge of inspired climate activism, and across the country governors and state legislatures are taking up emissions reduction plans. Even some top-tier Democratic presidential candidates are pushing climate policies that would have been mostly unthinkable just a few months ago.

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Murdo Morrison / Flickr

The monarch butterfly has a new chance at recovery, thanks to an innovative program seeking to crowdsource funding and habitat for the beloved species at an unprecedented scale and pace.

"The Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange is a market-based solution for restoring and conserving high-quality monarch habitat on America's private working lands," said David Wolfe, director of conservation strategy and habitat markets at Environmental Defense Fund. "We like to call it an 'Airbnb for butterflies' because it's the only program of its kind that can open the vast untapped potential of large-scale farms and ranches to make habitat available for monarchs, fast."

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France's Flamanville: Late and over budget. schoella / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Cheap renewables are mounting a serious challenge to nuclear power, which in 2017 has had a difficult year.

Key projects have been abandoned, costs are rising, and politicians in countries which previously championed the industry are withdrawing their support.

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The Sierra Bonita mixed use housing project in West Hollywood, California is a sustainable building. Patrick Tighe/CC BY 3.0

By Pierre Delforge

Reducing pollution from direct use of fossil fuels in buildings—such as burning natural gas, propane, and fuel oil in furnaces and water heaters—is critical to helping us stave off dangerous climate change and cut harmful pollution.

So finds a groundbreaking new NRDC report.

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By Jake Schmidt

It has been almost two years since world leaders agreed to the historic Paris agreement. Since then a lot has changed (both positive and negative). As leaders meet in Bonn, Germany for the next round of international climate negotiations there will be several key issues on the table. This meeting will set the tone for how leaders will come together in the era of President Trump and show that they are prepared to carry forward climate action.

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To the casual observer, we are making tremendous progress moving off fossil fuels and developing a clean, renewable energy system. The good news seems to be everywhere: The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, and legislation passed in the California Senate to mandate 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. After Trump announced he was backing out of the Paris climate agreement, communities across the country pledged to meet its goals. The cost of renewable energy is dropping fast, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) "Electric Power Monthly" seems to show that renewables are surpassing nuclear power.

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Anti fracking campaigners gather in Sherwood forest in an effort to stop INEOS carrying out seismic surveys in public forests across Nottinghamshire, UK, July 1. Ian Francis / Alamy Live News

By Jocelyn Timperley

The UK could soon see its first use of hydraulic fracturing since 2011.

The controversial technique for extracting shale gas and oil, known as fracking, is set to be used by the end of this year at a site in Fylde, Lancashire, owned by UK company Cuadrilla. The firm said it hopes to start drilling within weeks.

But how close is the UK to shale gas production on a large scale? And what would the carbon impacts of this be?

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By Han Chen

At the recent Belt and Road Summit hosted by China, 30 countries reaffirmed their support for the Paris agreement and called on all countries to implement their commitments under the agreement. At a time when the White House is attempting to backslide from the global effort to combat climate change, this statement demonstrates once again that a Trump effort to evade climate action would make the U.S. a global outcast.

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By Lauren Wolahan

Behold the Impossible Burger, the plant-based indulgence that looks, cooks, smells and tastes just like meat, but without the environmental price tag. The no-meat treat emerged onto the food scene in 2016, when it debuted at restaurants in Manhattan, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"I think the natural assumption people make is that because we've basically made a food that looks and tastes and cooks and smells just like meat from a cow … that there must be some kind of sketchy business going on," said Pat Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, which makes the Impossible Burger. "But, in fact, there was a lot of work that went into figuring out in detail what it took to make something that delivered all the sensory pleasures of meat using plant ingredients."

Recently welcomed onto the menus of Chef Brad Farmerie's Michelin-starred restaurants Public and Saxon + Parole, the Impossible Burger has solidified its place at the cutting edge of both gastronomy and sustainability. At a panel hosted at Public, Farmerie described the Burger as a "gateway drug" into alternative protein, offering his patrons the chance to enjoy a new treat that represents an "incredible flip on what we can do for our world."

The Impossible Burger.Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods is developing the whole gamut of traditionally animal-sourced meats, from fish to bacon. Brown said the decision to start with a plant-based burger was a no-brainer. The burger is an iconic American food and beef production has the biggest environmental impact of the foods we eat. The all-plant patty sends a clear message, he said, that "the best meats in the world don't have to come from animals."

Our food choices have a huge environmental impact. Livestock production accounts for a third of global cropland, pollutes water and air, and almost 15 percent of man-made greenhouse gases. Among farm animals, cattle are the biggest culprits, accounting for the large majority of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions. Demand for meat and dairy is set to skyrocket in the years to come.

Experts disagree on the best approach to shrinking the environmental impact of food production. Agricultural purists are deploying low-impact farming practices that reduce pollution, build healthy soils, and scrub carbon from the atmosphere. Agri-tech companies, on the other hand, are using advanced tools to increase yield crops and convert livestock waste to biogas. Some are even feeding seaweed to cows so that they burp less methane.

Many environmental advocates say we should look beyond the farm and try to change the way we eat—consuming more plants and less meat—as a way to combat climate change.

The Impossible Burger at Saxon and Parole.Lauren Wolahan

Asking people to change how they eat is a thorny subject. There are personal and cultural barriers to eating less meat. But Brown says we can protect the planet without asking people to sacrifice a beloved food by developing tasty, plant-based alternatives to meat. The Impossible Burger requires using 95 percent less land and generates 87 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a beef patty.

"Because we're constantly improving it, we're discovering fundamental things about how to make delicious meat flavor from simple plant ingredients and discovering new ways to make it better and better and better all the time," said Brown.

"This is how I know that we are going to succeed in our mission," he added. "As soon as we're kind of running even with the cow, the race is over, because the cow's not going to get any faster and we are—every single day."

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

The British government astonished the nuclear industry late last night by refusing to go ahead with plans to build the world's largest nuclear plant until it has reviewed every aspect of the project.

The decision was announced hours after a bruising meeting of the board of the giant French energy company EDF, at which directors decided by 10 votes to seven to go ahead with the building of two 1,600 megawatt reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, southwest England.

A computer-generated image of what the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant would look like. EDF Energy / PA

One director, Gerard Magnin, had already resigned in protest before the meeting, saying the project was "very risky." All six union members, who are worker directors, said they were going to vote against because they believed that any new investment should be directed at making ageing French reactors safer.

So certain were EDF that a signing ceremony with the British government would take place today to provide the company with 35 years of subsidies for their electricity that they had hired marquees, invited the world's press and laid in stocks of champagne to toast the agreement.

Myriad Voices

But EDF Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz, who had pushed for the deal, cancelled a trip to Britain on hearing the government announcement.

Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, who had never publicly endorsed the project like her predecessor David Cameron, has clearly heeded the myriad voices outside the nuclear industry that say this is a bad deal for British consumers.

Her new business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, in a brief statement, said the decision was deferred until "early autumn" while the "government reviews all the component parts of the agreement" to build what is the most expensive power plant the world has ever seen.

Hinkley Point C, as the new station would have been called, is estimated by the company to cost £18 billion, take nine years to build and provide 7 percent of the UK's electricity via two 1,600 megawatt reactors.

This is a new type of reactor, of which four are being built—one at Olkiluoto in Finland, one at Flamanville in France and two in China. All are years behind schedule and costs in France and Finland have trebled. None are expected to produce power until 2018, although what is happening in China is not clear.

Because of these delays, the French were not actually going to start pouring concrete for construction until 2019 and there were already severe doubts that the timetable proposed by the French for Hinkley Point could be met.

Some have even suggested that the delays elsewhere have shown that the design is flawed and that the reactors may never work efficiently. This may concern the British government, but the sticking point is more likely to be the staggeringly high cost that consumers will have to pay for electricity produced by the plants.

Up in the air: the controversial Hinkley Point project has been the focus of many past protests.Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament via Flickr

In 2012, the previous government agreed to pay £92.50 for each megawatt hour of electricity produced—a price that would rise with inflation.

With wholesale prices going down, that is already three times the current price of electricity and it is calculated that it would cost every bill payer in Britain £10 a year for 35 years just to keep the station open—and it could be more.

If Theresa May is anything like her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who did not think nuclear power was value for money, the project will be in jeopardy.

EDF already runs 15 ageing nuclear reactors in Britain and was looking to build the two at Hinkley and another two in Essex to replace the old ones as they close down. The Chinese, Japanese and Americans were being encouraged to build reactors in other parts of England and Wales. All these look less likely now.

The problem for nuclear power is that new stations cost billions to build and take a decade before they get any income back. This has brought EDF huge debts and borrowings, which has put the company in financial difficulty—hence the internal controversy about the Hinkley decision.

Claire Jacobson, head of climate, energy and environment policy at EEF, the British manufacturers' lobby group that supports the nuclear industry, said the government's decision was "yet another blow to a decision that has been hindered by many delays and uncertainties."

Emissions Targets

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, warned that failure to go ahead with the project would risk the lights going out and missing the country's carbon emissions reduction targets. He said ministers "need to act quickly to endorse the decision [to go ahead]."

However, critics of the controversial project were delighted. John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said: "Theresa May now has the chance to stop this radioactive white elephant in its tracks."

"She should look at the evidence and see that this deal would be a monumental disaster for the taxpayers and the bill payers. Countless experts have warned that for British families this power station will be terrible value for money, Sauven added."

Until last night, the UK was the most positive country in Europe about nuclear power and planned to build a total of 10 nuclear power plants, Hinkley Point being the first of them. This was despite the fact that nuclear costs continue to escalate while its main competitors—renewables of all kinds—fall in price.

The Hinkley Point project is now more expensive than offshore wind power, which is the most expensive renewable and is far more costly than solar and onshore wind. Biogas and small-scale hydro projects in Britain, all so far underdeveloped, are also cheaper than nuclear.

Safety Fears

The price of all renewables is going down as they develop, while the price rises for nuclear power, with safety fears and threats from terrorism pushing costs up.

It is also argued, even by the UK's national electricity grid, that the day of the large power plant is over, to be replaced by small local generators providing electricity near to homes and factories—something that renewables are ideally suited for.

Even France, which has 58 reactors and is building a Hinkley prototype at Flamanville in Normandy, has no plans to build any more. All its new energy projects are renewables and it has plentiful supplies of untapped wind and solar power, which are cheaper.

China, which is currently building more nuclear plants that any other country, is also hoping to build new plants in Britain, and China General Nuclear Power had agreed to fund one-third of the Hinkley Point project to get an entry to the UK market.

They were due to be at the celebrations in Somerset today, but in a statement said: "We respect the new government's need to familiarize itself with a project as important to the UK's future energy policy as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the government in this respect." They then flew home.