By Andrea Germanos
Climate action groups and ocean defenders issued strong praise Monday after the Biden administration announced its intention to boost the nation's offshore wind capacity with a number of steps including preparing forfede leases in an area off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
"Today's announcement marks a revolutionary moment for offshore wind. This powerful renewable resource has been waiting in the wings of our energy system for too long, and now it can finally take center stage," Hannah Read, an associate with Environment America's Go Big on Offshore Wind campaign, told Common Dreams.
Taken together, the initiatives will create 77,000 jobs, generate enough electricity to power over 10 million homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to the administration.
The plan would general 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030—a capacity that would surpass the roughly 19 GW predicted in 2019 by some industry analysts. As NBC News noted, the nation's offshore wind capacity is largely untapped:
[W]hile on-land wind farms have flourished in recent years, offshore wind has yet to take off in a significant way, in part due to bureaucratic and permitting hurdles that were a source of major frustration for renewable energy companies during the Trump administration. As of now, the U.S. has only one operational offshore commercial wind farm, with just five turbines.
According to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, making up for such inaction is urgent.
"For generations," Haaland said in a statement, "we've put off the transition to clean energy and now we're facing a climate crisis."
Although "every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that," Haaland said that "not every community has the resources to rebuild, or even get up and relocate when a climate event happens in their backyards." She noted that the "climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families."
"As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and the climate crisis, we must transition to a brighter future for everyone," said Haaland.
Among steps announced by the Interior, Commerce, and Energy departments were a data sharing agreement between NOAA and offshore wind development company Ørsted Wind Power North America to help development of infrastructure; the identification of nearly 800,000 acres in the shallow ocean triangle known as the New York Bight to be "Wind Energy Areas"; $8 million for 15 new offshore wind research and development projects; and notice that BOEM would launch an Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind's proposed 1,100 megawatt facility off the coast of New Jersey.
"The ocean energy bureau said it will push to sell commercial leases in the area in late 2021 or early 2022," the Associated Press reported.
@SecDebHaaland @SecGranholm @SecRaimondo @SecretaryPete @ginamccarthy46 It’s a bit buried, but here’s the final map… https://t.co/TBdHTFQOdl— Brett Edkins (@Brett Edkins)1617040318.0
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.)—who's previously introduced legislation to incentivize offshore wind—framed the development as "a sea change in American energy policy and a new day in the fight against climate change."
"This is a down-payment on our national future for our children and their children after them," Pascrell tweeted.
Read, with Environment America, said the administration's announcement could serve as a major catalyst.
"The potential to power our country using clean, renewable energy off our coasts is immense, and the Biden administration's commitment forges a path to take full advantage of offshore wind. This federal leadership should give states the confidence to continue making bold commitments to go big on offshore wind. Now that the executive branch is throwing its weight behind timely and ambitious development, it's full-steam ahead," she said.
The news also drew praise from climate group 350.org, which, like Haaland, put the announcement in the context of the multiple crises gripping the nation.
"This is the type of climate action we need from the Biden administration: major investment in renewable energy that creates thousands of good-paying union jobs," the group's U.S. communications director Thanu Yakupitiyage said in a statement.
"In this moment of compounding health, economic, racial, and climate crises," Yakupitiyage continued, "it's beyond time to get our country off fossil fuels and on track towards a renewable future that centers the working class and communities of color."
For Oceana, the administration's good news for offshore wind must be matched with an equally important element—a forceful departure from dirty energy.
"We applaud the Biden-Harris administration helping to make offshore wind a reality in the United States—a necessary step in our climate strategy," said Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer with the group, adding that it must also have "strong protections for ocean habitat, especially for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale."
But for "the U.S. to successfully take full advantage of this unlimited resource that can help solve our climate and energy challenges, Oceana is calling for permanent protections from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling as well," Savitz added.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Biden Admin Advances First Major US Offshore Wind Farm Project ›
- Biden Admin Advances First Major US Offshore Wind Farm - EcoWatch ›
- Offshore Wind Power Is Ready to Boom. Here's What That Means for ... ›
- U.S. Approves Its First Big Offshore Wind Farm, in a Breakthrough for the Industry ›
Kids are the ones that will be inheriting the world from us. Getting them invested early in protecting the environment will ensure that their curiosity and interest will live on once they become adults.
Figuring out how to introduce the concept of renewable energy to kids can be tricky. The more significant challenge comes down to getting kids interested and excited versus putting them on the receiving end of another lecture.
It will take a bit of planning and creativity, but there are ways to get children interested in renewable energy even at a young age.
What to Explain
The concepts you plan on teaching children should be age-appropriate. An elementary schooler doesn't need to know the inner complexities of thermodynamics. Start small and slowly build into the topics you want to cover.
Start With Sustainability
Leaping straight into renewable energy is a quick way to lose a kid's interest. If you start throwing around terms they don't understand, they will quickly tune out. Depending on their age, you may even get an eye roll.
Sustainability means something can continue to exist for an indefinite amount of time. Gardening is an easy example to present to children for this concept. If a tomato is grown, that tomato contains seeds. Those seeds can be replanted, and the cycle will continue.
Once they understand the concept of sustainability, you can move on to the next step.
Continue With Energy Sustainability
Now that sustainability is a familiar concept, start leading them into how it applies to energy.
Most, if not all, children today know the basics of electricity as it applies to charging items they interact with, like tablets or even smartphones. Explaining to them that energy is where electricity comes from shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.
If you want to continue the gardening analogy for continuity's sake, it's adaptable. Using energy sources like natural gas, fossil fuels, and oil, you will still get tomatoes. However, these tomatoes don't have seeds. Eventually, you won't even be able to grow tomatoes due to a lack of seeds.
Other ways of explaining it may be easier depending on the children. The key factor they need to learn is that the current energy sources are not sustainable.
End With the Types of Renewable Energy
There are five primary renewable energy types, but you don't want to introduce them all to kids in one go. Be sure to fully explore all of them so the kids can grasp how and why each one is an option.
The primary types of renewable energy to include in your discussion include:
- Solar - solar energy is one of the most popular forms of renewable energy and one of the easiest to teach kids about. Turning the sun's rays into electricity is sure to catch their interest. Teach them about how solar panels capture the heat and light (even on cloudy days) and convert all of that into usable energy. You can even describe how astronauts in space rely on solar energy on the International Space Station.
- Hydro - this is another easy renewable energy to explain. It's a rare child that hasn't interacted with a creek or river at some point. Explain that the constant movement of the water from the current can be converted into usable energy.
- Wind - show a child a picture of those massive wind turbines and they're bound to be curious. The wind turns the blades of the fan, much like a pinwheel, which then creates energy that we can use. Really get them thinking about the world around them and how something as simple as the wind can be turned into energy.
- Geothermal - geothermal energy may require a bit of extra explanation if the children haven't learned about the earth's core and how hot it is. If they already know about that, then you can show them how pipes that go deep into the ground run steam from this heat up into plants that turn it into electricity.
- Biomass - biomass renewable energy is as simple as burning a source of fuel, so most of this explanation will be what they set on fire and how do they get it. The fuel for these fires comes from byproducts of plants and animals. Manure, crops, and other waste can all apply here.
How to Explain It
Stanislaw Pytel / Stone / Getty Images
Now that you know the basics, it's time to pass that on to the kids. The big question is, how are you supposed to make all of this sound cool enough to get the kids interested in renewable energy?
Kids tend to be more into visual learning, so just telling them about these concepts isn't going to make anything stick.
There are a plethora of options online that can help teach children about renewable energy. Educational games are a great pick to get them interacting with the information, but YouTube videos or simple animations can do the trick as well.
You can use these resources to help kids understand the big picture. Or, you can find videos and games revolving around specific steps like how exactly river currents can provide energy or why fossil fuels aren't sustainable.
This is one of the best options you can choose to teach kids about renewable energy. Helping them create a science project to test out an aspect of renewable energy will be sure to hold their interest. A hands-on approach always helps with getting the information to stick.
Try these projects for an immersive adventure in alternative energy:
- Build a mini water wheel - the water wheel has been used throughout history, and having kids build their own is a great way to teach how hydropower is created. It can be as simple or as complex as you want, but used popsicle sticks can be turned into a wheel in a pinch. Having a nearby creek or river will be the most immersive way to test this project, but using the water in your sink will get the job done.
- Purify water - this is an effortless multi-day project to set up and will help you explain how versatile the heat from solar energy is. All you need is two containers (one smaller than the other), some water, food coloring, plastic wrap, and a rock. Long story short, the sun's heat will cause condensation and create a container of purified water. Bonus points if you can show the same results with your stove to show that the energy used naturally is more sustainable.
- Build a wind turbine - while you won't be able to make it as large as actual wind turbines, this is still a sure way to show how efficient it is to harness the wind's power. The items you use to build this can vary greatly but cut-up plastic water bottles tend to make solid fan blades. Once you and the kids have created the wind turbine just take it outside and watch the wind spin it around! A pinwheel works if you'd just rather explain with an example, but the act of building the wind turbine will work wonders.
- Cook using a campfire - this may sound more like a leisurely activity than a science experiment, but that was before you told the kids about using biomass for renewable energy. Unless you have casual access to manure, the fuel can just be dead branches and leaves you might find lying around. As you use the fire's heat to cook (something that requires electricity with the stove) you can show that the fuel to provide the heat came from dead plants that will eventually regrow the lost leaves and branches used. However, be sure to point out the smoke caused by the fire and how any fuel source that creates too much of that can be harmful to people and the planet.
Take a Field Trip
Field trips don't just have to be school-organized. See if you can find a day to take your child (or students) to a nearby renewable energy plant. Many of these locations are willing to give tours or educate interested people about what they do there.
This is also an excellent way to get free knowledge directly from the experts. They can answer any questions your kids may have that you would need some extensive researching to answer. It's also engaging for the children to directly see the process that they've been learning about.
Show the Impact of Non-Renewable Energy
This is far more effective when the children in question love animals and nature, but it can be useful regardless. Showing them videos of how things like pollution and global warming negatively impact nature can inspire them to start learning about renewable energy to help prevent it.
Be a Role Model
Kids do quite a bit of learning just from observing what the adults in their lives do. How you utilize energy in your day-to-day life can greatly help or hinder the learning process for the kids around you.
It's not an option for everyone, but many people are beginning to have solar panels installed on the roof of their house. Explaining to kids that their phones charge by way of the power of the sun is sure to get them interested in the overall process.
One way anyone can be a role model is to conserve energy where they can. Once your children know that most energy comes from non-renewable sources, they will realize why you always want lights off when not in use or when you try to keep your energy bills low (besides money).
How to Keep Them Interested
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images
Now that you have the children interested in renewable energy, you'll have to make sure that interest continues to grow as time goes on. Unless they completely fell in love with the concept, they may start to forget important information if you don't keep them engaged.
Have a Weekly Theme
This has the dual purpose of keeping children interested and getting them to look forward to learning.
Give each week a theme that you can base activities and games around. Wind Week could involve some time at the park messing around with kites, or Hydro Week could be learning new aspects of hydroelectricity like how the tides can be used as well.
Home Improvement Projects
You shouldn't trust a group of young ones to go and install solar panels on the roof, but there are smaller projects around the house or classroom that you can do with them so that they feel they are directly contributing to using clean energy.
These projects don't even have to be big ones. It could be as simple as swapping out your current light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones. The key is to make children feel involved in the process and let them know exactly how these projects are helping.
One of the best ways to get children interested in anything is to make a game of it.
Whether it's at home or in the classroom, a game will get them involved in an activity that could continue to teach them about renewable energy. It could be as simple as a made-up card game or as complex as setting up stations around the yard and have them decide which energy would work best at each station.
Some kids also enjoy incentives, so don't be afraid to offer some sort of prize or reward if they do well in the games.
Keep Your Kids Invested in Clean Energy
It can be a challenge teaching complex concepts to kids, especially if you want them to take an interest in it. Start by breaking down the basic concepts so that you can have good conversations with them about renewable energy.
Kids learn best from visuals and by hands-on learning. Showing them videos, designing and creating projects, and even taking them to a renewable energy plant are all great ways for them to learn. Just remember, they also need a role model to look up to if they are going to take a true interest.
They may stay interested on their own, but there are ways that you as a parent or teacher can help that along. Creating fun ways to bring the subject back around like setting up games, projects, or weekly topics can go a long way towards keeping them interested and invested in renewable energy.
Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
Denmark approved plans on Thursday to construct an artificial island in the North Sea and use it as clean energy hub.
When built, the island will supply both clean power to homes and green hydrogen for use in shipping, aviation, industry and heavy transport.
The decision came as the EU unveiled plans to transform the bloc's electricity supply. The bloc aims to rely mostly on renewable energy within a decade while increasing offshore wind energy capacity roughly 25-fold by mid-century.
Tapping Into 'Enormous Potential' of Wind Power
The planned island, which will be located 80 kilometers off Denmark's west coast, will initially be 120,000 square meters in size, bigger than 18 standard football fields.
"The energy hub in the North Sea will be the largest construction project in Danish history," Climate Minister Dan Joergensen told a press briefing.
"It will make a big contribution to the realization of the enormous potential for European offshore wind,'' he continued.
Authorities hope to have the hub operable by 2033. The first phase of the project is expected to cost around 210 billion Danish crowns ($33.87 billion).
Big Step for Global Green Transition
The surrounding wind turbines will have a capacity of at least 3 gigawatts, ramping up to 10 gigawatts over time.
"This is truly a great moment for Denmark and for the global green transition," continued Jorgensen.
The energy island is an important part of country's legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70% of the 1990 levels by 2030.
"Only by inspiring others and developing new green solutions they also want to use, can we really do something to combat climate change,'' Joergensen added.
Decades of Wind Power
The Nordic country, with its favorable wind speeds, was a pioneer in both onshore and offshore wind, building the world's first offshore wind farm almost 30 years ago.
Bloomberg Green reports Denmark gets 40% of its electricity from wind power. The nation is also home to the world's largest wind turbine producer, Vesta Wind Systems and the world's top developer of offshore wind, Orsted AS.
In December, the government decided to halt the search for oil and gas in the Danish part of the North Sea.
No date has yet been set to begin construction of the island, which will be controlled by the Danish government.
The state also has plans for a second energy island in the Baltic Sea.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina are working to procure nearly 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035 — a huge leap from the five turbines currently generating 30 megawatts in Rhode Island waters. If a regulatory backlog of projects awaiting approval from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is finally unstuck — as experts hope will happen this year — the buildout of offshore wind will arrive during a crucial decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Spinning turbine blades on the watery horizon may be a welcome sight in the fight against climate change, but they still come with potential threats to marine wildlife. Many environmental groups believe the challenges aren't insurmountable if scientific study can help inform regulatory action and if we can learn — and adapt our practices — as we go.
"We believe that offshore wind can absolutely be developed in an environmentally responsible manner," says Francine Kershaw, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But that has to be incorporated throughout the whole process — from site assessment through development, construction and operations."
Threats to Birds
One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.
The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.
Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."
Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but habitat displacement.
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"There's some evidence that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a study published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.
Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are attracted to wind developments and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.
"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.
Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.
But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.
Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."
Threats to Ocean Life
Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.
Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.
The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but not all cases, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.
The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.
"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.
"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.
And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.
There are a few other potential threats, too.
Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10
And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.
Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, research has found.
And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's Discovery of Sound in the Sea program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.
Ensuring Safe Development
Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.
When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of 10 knots in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.
Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.
For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.
Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a demonstration project is being built.
If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC researchers reported. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.
"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."
That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.
Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.
Putting Research Into Action
Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.
"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.
And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.
"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.
President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy and birds, and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.
There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.
New York, for example, has established an Environmental Technical Working Group composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.
The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.
New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and requires developers to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.
Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.
The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.
"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."
Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.
"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."
Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.
"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Tatiana Kondratenko
Dressed in a futuristic wetsuit that enables her to stay submerged for hours, diver and scientist Mirai is trying to discover secrets of the deep in the Western Pacific.
Mirai is the animated protagonist in Beyond Blue, an ocean adventure video game set in the near future. Inspired by the BBC Blue Planet II nature documentary, and using some footage from the British broadcaster, the game is designed to make players care about the marine world.
Both Mirai and the deep she is exploring are based on insights from three real-life experts active in the field of marine biology, oceanography and ocean exploration.
Alan Gershenfeld, a co-founder of E-Line Media, the U.S. game publisher and developer behind Beyond Blue, said he wanted to create a strong protagonist who would serve as a role model for players to connect with and look up to.
"The more gamers care about the ocean, the more they want to explore the ocean, avocational or as a career," he told DW. "I believe, that's a key step towards ocean preservation."
According to a UN report, environmental video games like this one might be the next step in raising environmental awareness. Around 2.6 billion people, or one in three across the globe, play video games. And the industry generates annual revenue of over $140 billion (€116 billion) — more than Bollywood, Hollywood and recorded music sales combined.
The report describes the reach, creativity and problem-solving ethos of the gaming industry as an "untapped resource for encouraging engagement in environmental issues."
Environmental Issues in Mainstream Games
While nature has long featured in virtual landscapes, game design is now shifting towards specific environmental issues.
In Bee Simulator, for example, players become bees, buzzing through the microworld of their declining population — the fate of the family lies on the player's wings when people decide to destroy the tree that holds the hive. The survival game Endling, coming out later this year, is told through the eyes of Earth's last remaining mother fox, trying to protect her cubs in a world destroyed by humans.
Likewise Minecraft — which has sold 200 million times in all formats — has a Climate Hope City map that invites players to explore real-world green solutions like vertical farms and an energy generator that can produce different types of green energy.
More recently, Sims, the life simulation game that first emerged in 2000, has released an Eco Lifestyle expansion pack where players can run a clean-water and recycling project or build wind turbines on rooftops to decrease their carbon footprint. True eco-warriors can even go dumpster diving.
Alenda Chang, author of the book "Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games" says players can learn about the human impact on the environment by witnessing different scenarios of how their actions impact their world.
"Games force us to interact with the system, and they produce feelings," Chang said. "Players do things and can feel guilty because of their choices. Or they can feel the flash of success when things work out in the game."
Gen Z Levels Up the Game
Chang attributes the trend toward more eco-based storylines to both the needs of younger players and the priorities of new designers.
"Young people see climate change as something that informs who they are as individuals," she said. "Organically what's happening is that this new wave of game designers is bringing these interests with them."
The virtual environmental experience can inspire, and appears to have already inspired, players to be more active in their real lives. When the American software development firm Niantic, Inc — which developed and published Pokemon Go — called on players to collect waste on Earth Day in 2019, more than 17,000 people in 41 countries showed up. Together, they picked up more than 145 tons of trash.
@NianticLabs Earth Day Cleanup event at Algés - Portugal by our local #PokemonGO community (10 attendees)… https://t.co/y5VwykHyol— Luís Oliveira (@Luís Oliveira)1555182867.0
And in China, the Alipay payment app introduced Ant Forest in 2016, a mini-game featuring a virtual tree that grows when users earn points by reducing their CO2 emissions. For each virtual tree, Alipay plants a real one; 220 million trees have been planted in arid areas in China in five years.
In 2019, 21 companies, including giants like Sony Interactive, Microsoft and Google, formed Playing For The Planet Alliance — convened by the UN Environment Programme — to unlock the potential of gaming to tackle environmental issues.
"We want to inspire the gaming community to think what role they can play in tackling the climate crisis," said Sam Barratt, chief of the Youth, Education and Advocacy Unit in UNEP's Ecosystems Division and co-founder of the alliance. "We also want to get the industry to hit net-zero emissions as soon as possible."
Gaming's Green Image Problem
Gaming itself generates its own environmental problems, though, whether as e-waste or as contributing to a country's carbon footprint.
It's hard to estimate how much electricity gamers consume since it varies based on how often a gamer plays, what platforms they use and how energy efficient their devices are.
In 2012, for example, the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that gamers with personal computers consumed around 75 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity globally.
In a further study, gamers with a high-end desktop computer and external display were shown to use up to 1250 kilowatt-hour a year.
And when it comes to the world's trash problem, gaming consoles in 2019 contributed to the 4.7 million tons of e-waste generated by Small IT products, including mobile phones and personal contributors, or about 9% of the total e-waste generated worldwide, according to the UN's Global E-waste Monitor.
What Gaming in 4k and Eating Beef Have in Common
Then, there's a question of distribution. While sales of physical copies of games are dropping, another obvious package-free alternative is growing: downloads. However, a 2014 study of Play Station 3 in the UK found it to be a more CO2-intensive practice than the use of Blu-ray Discs (BDs). Downloads only have a lower carbon footprint than BDs for games smaller than 1.3 GB while the average size of modern titles is 20 GB.
But this comes with extra pressure on data centers and network infrastructure. Lancaster University in northern England estimated that if gamers moved to streaming by 2030, carbon emissions could increase by 30%. And that's before taking into account streaming in higher resolutions, such as 4k.
"We already more or less have a connection in our heads that eating meat is bad for the environment. But we don't have the same thinking for a game stream in 4k," Chang said. "This mindset needs to be translated over to gaming, too."
With more advanced graphics and new devices for VR and AR games, the pressure is on for companies with climate ambitions to look at the whole value chain of their products.
Truly green gaming will mean winning on all those fronts.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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Few structures are as synonymous with modern civilization as the skyscraper. The grandeur of these tall structures comes at a cost—buildings account for close to 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
While our tallest buildings take a heavy toll on the environment, they also offer opportunities for improvement. Today, green skyscrapers are transforming how cities worldwide address their ecological footprint. In many ways, they show our collective capability to adjust modern life for a more sustainable future. Here's a closer look at what makes a "green skyscraper" and why that matters in the world today.
What Makes a Skyscraper Green?
Skyscrapers are typically defined as buildings with multiple levels that reach at least 100-150 meters tall (usually with a minimum of 40-50 stories).
At first glance, "green" and "skyscraper" seem like an oxymoron. These gargantuan glass-sided buildings require immense amounts of resources for both construction and daily operation. The environmental cost of keeping them comfortable is significant alone, as air conditioning accounts for 14 percent of global energy use.
Green skyscrapers, in contrast, make environmental sustainability a defining priority. There's no set standard for what makes skyscrapers green, but rather dozens of steps architects and building managers can take to make the structure as resource-efficient as possible.
In this way, green skyscrapers utilize sustainable design, construction, and operation principles to produce a better indoor space for both people and the broader world.
Many generate their own renewable energy through solar panels or wind turbines, while others focus on reducing water usage with ultra-efficient fixtures. Some even transform the building's exterior into a verdant green space filled with plants that pull in CO2 from the air and convert it into oxygen.
Are Green Skyscrapers Better Than Green Buildings?
Considering how resource-intensive skyscrapers are to begin with, is attempting to make them more eco-friendly a waste of effort? After all, it will always take tremendous amounts of energy to get hot water up 80 stories to a penthouse apartment. Some may argue society's time would be better spent investing in smaller-scale structures instead.
However, comparing a green skyscraper to other forms of green buildings is flawed logic. Living in an environmentally efficient single-family home may be a sustainable choice, but only at the scale of the individual. When it comes to housing millions of people, a city of skyscrapers wins out over smaller dwellings.
That's because skyscrapers offer some of the most energy-efficient spaces in cities by concentrating people and resources in one place. Not only does this reduce transportation distances and encourage people to walk or take public transit instead of drive, but it slows down suburban sprawl and keeps untouched land out of development.
What are the Benefits of Green Skyscrapers?
Far beyond generating positive press for their architects, green skyscrapers offer real benefits for humans and the natural world. Here's what they offer.
May Increase Greenspace
Skyscrapers typically exist in places with minimal greenspace. An emerging trend is to bring the natural world back to the city by creating vertical forests on the sides of buildings. Today, some structures are home to hundreds of plant species that grow along the exterior, supporting biodiversity by providing homes for birds and insects.
Reduces CO2 Emissions
Buildings generate a disproportionate amount of the world's greenhouse gasses, and sustainable construction and operation can reduce emissions considerably. The UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative predicts that the building sector has the potential to more than halve these emissions in skyscrapers by 2050 through greater energy efficiency and the switch to renewable energy.
For example, Australian buildings that achieve Green Star certification produce 62 percent fewer emissions and require 51 percent less potable water than comparable structures. Similarly certified buildings in India, South Africa, and the United States also achieve emissions reductions approaching 25-50 percent by investing in green technologies for skyscrapers.
Lowers Energy Expenditure for Tenants
Living or working in a green skyscraper can reduce your personal energy expenditure. One Chicago-based study found that those living in suburban areas close to commuter rail lines and the subway system used 27 percent more energy per person than those who lived in green architecture high-rise buildings in a walkable downtown environment.
Reduces Need for Heating and Cooling
The EPA states that heating and cooling accounts for over 43 percent of all energy use in America, which makes maintaining comfortable temperatures in indoor spaces a serious cause of climate change.
By utilizing more energy-efficient windows, optimizing cooling systems, and even planting shade plants along the exterior and around windows, green skyscrapers can bring their heating and air conditioning use down to a minimum.
Provides Physical and Mental Health Benefits for Tenants
Living and working in green buildings can have real impacts on your health, thanks to better air quality. Research shows that green buildings reduce asthma, respiratory allergies, stress, and even depression among employees and lead to improvements in productivity.
Further data indicates that better indoor air quality can lead to performance improvements up to eight percent and that workers in well-ventilated apartments received better scores on cognitive tests.
Lower Maintenance Costs
Building a green skyscraper might cost more upfront, but the sustainability measures usually pay for themselves.
LEED-certified buildings tend to achieve 20 percent lower maintenance costs than comparable buildings. These green retrofits usually decrease operating costs by ten percent each year and pay for themselves within seven.
That's even better news for landlords, as rents in LEED-certified buildings often average 30 percent higher.
Less Use of Natural Resources
Green buildings are efficient by design. This means they use less water, energy, and other resources than comparable buildings.
These savings add up fast, as buildings account for 12 percent of the total water consumed in the United States. Research shows that LEED-certified facilities use 25 percent less energy on average and divert more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills every year.
Are Green Skyscrapers Too Good To Be True?
Despite these benefits, green skyscrapers aren't a panacea for our planet's environmental crisis. Even the best-designed structures today still have drawbacks.
To start, clusters of tall towers produce enormous shadows that shade out the streets below and trap heat and pollution at ground level. Not only does this reduce the quality of life for those living below the top suites, but it can increase the amount of air conditioning and electric lighting used at lower levels.
Likewise, some reports indicate that green building certifications aren't as stellar as they seem. For example, many argue that LEED criteria over-emphasizes construction choices and fails to fully account for how a building is used in the long run. This can reward flashier projects without putting the spotlight on the structures that make more of a difference for the planet on a day-to-day basis.
Even so, the benefits of learning how to make skyscrapers green seem to far outweigh the drawbacks, and they remain a smart solution for building more sustainable cities.
Green Skyscrapers Worldwide
Globally, green skyscrapers are taking off. Here's a closer look at some of the standout sustainable structures around the world today.
Green Skyscrapers in China
In past decades, China wouldn't come to mind as an emblem of sustainability. The country burns close to half the world's coal supply and is home to some of the most polluted air on the planet. By some estimates, it kills up to 4,000 citizens a day.
Today, the country is transforming this legacy and constructing some of the world's greenest skyscrapers.
The International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong is one worthy of attention. Constructed in 2010, the 108-story tall structure has LEED gold certification, earning it a place in the top 3 percent of green buildings worldwide.
The building boasts a network of sensors that wirelessly monitor the building's lighting, elevators, air conditioning units, and more to provide massive amounts of data for optimizing its energy use in real-time. This makes it possible to shut down unused facilities at a moment's notice to prevent any unnecessary energy expenditures.
From a construction standpoint, the ICC is oriented to maximize natural light retention while minimizing solar heat gain and lowering noise levels for occupants. By some estimates, the green building tower has conserved 15 million kWh of energy since 2012, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 4,500 three-member households in China.
The Jin Mao Tower of Shanghai is another green skyscraper that's achieved LEED Gold certification. It has committed to reusing or recycling at least 70 percent of all the waste generated over its 88 stories. Likewise, the Kingkey 100 Tower of Shenzhen reclaims its resource use by halving the amount of wastewater it generates and by using 100 percent of its used potable water for landscaping.
Not to be forgotten is the Shanghai Tower, which boasts being both the tallest building in China (the second tallest worldwide) and of achieving LEED Platinum status, the highest green building certification level possible.
Bosco Verticale of Milan
Perhaps no building better emulates the ideal of a green skyscraper than the Bosco Verticale of Milan. Translating to "vertical forest" in Italian, these twin buildings' exteriors are home to more than 800 trees and 14,000 plants growing along their balconies to create a vertical forest.
Not only are these plants beautiful to look at, but they consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen in its place while acting as a natural temperature regulator and noise buffer for those within the building. In total, the skyscrapers provide ten times the plant habitat space that would be possible at ground level.
Today, the Bosco Verticale is fast becoming the poster child for green buildings and has inspired numerous imitations worldwide.
Vertical Farming and Green Skyscrapers
Beyond better resource use, some of the most significant potential for sustainable skyscrapers is through food production.
As things stand now, the world's farmers have over seven billion mouths to feed. The UN estimates that the planet's population will approach ten billion by 2050, close to 80 percent of whom will live in urban areas. To keep up with these caloric needs, global food production must increase by an estimated 70 percent.
One way to meet this deficit is by growing food where the people are—in the middle of cities. Vertical farming is the practice of growing food indoors in vertically stacked layers, rather than in fields. Most utilize a hydroponic system where plants grow soil-less and within a continuously circulating nutrient-rich water.
These indoor growing systems make it possible to control every variable for plant growth, including temperature, light exposure, moisture level, and more. By optimizing growing conditions, producers can generate large yields with less water, minimal amounts of amendments, and in far less space than traditional growing systems.
The goal is to grow as much food as possible within a small space, ideally keeping it close to the people who will consume it. This eliminates the risk that erratic weather poses for traditional farmers, makes it possible to grow out of season, and can reduce fuel use for transportation.
However, vertical farms are costly to develop and don't account for some agriculture factors like pollination. Likewise, the food they produce requires 24/7 access to technology—an unexpected power outage can spell disaster.
Despite these drawbacks, the vertical farming industry is starting to take off in the United States. Many skyscrapers incorporate these farms into their overall green scheme, as food production pairs well with renewable energy generation and water conservation measures.
In 2009, the world reached a critical milestone. For the first time in history, more people made a city their home than a rural space. This trend towards urbanization shows no sign of slowing down, so it's never been more critical to increase the sustainability of our cities. Green skyscrapers are poised to address an important component of this equation.
When set up correctly, they offer one of the lowest per-capita carbon footprints possible for a large population. Looking ahead, there's more reason than ever to invest in sustainable housing and office space within dense urban environments.
By finding ways to make the places we live and work lighter on the environment, we are more likely to maintain a planet worth passing down to future generations.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
In 2017 the Trump administration altered the interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) arguing that it only prohibited the direct hunting or killing of birds, not unintended deaths from wind turbines or oil spills, for example, EcoWatch reported at the time.
The change "overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity," Interior Spokesperson Tyler Cherry told The Associated Press.
Obama U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe warned that the change could lead to billions of bird deaths in subsequent decades, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Before Monday's reversal of this interpretation by Biden's Department of the Interior, the Trump ruling had already encountered legal challenges. In August, a New York federal judge deemed the new interpretation to be invalid.
"It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime," U.S. District Judge Valorie Caproni wrote in her decision. "That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence."
The Trump administration moved forward despite the decision, and finalized the rollback during its last weeks in power.
However, Biden's administration delayed the new rule from taking effect and reopened it for public comments, HuffPost reported. Now that it has been jettisoned, Cherry said a replacement rule would be forthcoming.
"The department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common-sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry," Cherry told Courthouse News Service.
The 1918 MBTA resulted from overhunting and poaching of migratory birds, The Associated Press reported. The policy makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, kill, capture or possess migratory birds or their parts without a permit, HuffPost explained. Since the 1970s, the act has also been used to penalize companies when their actions accidentally harm birds.
For example, the act helped win a $100 million settlement from BP after the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed about 100,000 birds, The Associated Press reported.
It's estimated that around 460 million to 1.4 billion birds die every year from human-made causes, including oil pits and glass buildings. Between 2010 and 2018, civil and criminal enforcement cases against companies led to $5.8 million in fines, excluding the BP settlement. However, most of those cases did not lead to criminal prosecutions since many companies were willing to implement bird protections.
While industry groups backed the Trump rollback, they also did not oppose the Biden reversal.
"We are committed to working with the Biden administration throughout their rulemaking process in support of policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty," Amy Emmert, American Petroleum Institute senior policy advisor, told Courthouse News Service.
Conservation groups said this general atmosphere of cooperation made the Trump rollback unwarranted.
"There really had been a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of consensus about what best management practices looked like for most major industries," Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president with the Audubon Society, told The Associated Press. "There was a lot of common ground, which is why the moves from the last administration were so unnecessary."
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By Rich Collett-White and Rachel Sherrington
Fossil fuel companies could face legal challenges over their misleading advertising, after a DeSmog investigation uncovered the extent of their "greenwashing."
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have put companies on notice with the publication of the Greenwashing Files. The analyses, which use DeSmog's research, show how adverts of major fossil fuel companies and energy producers continue to overemphasize their green credentials, giving the public a misleading impression of their businesses.
DeSmog analyzed the advertising output of Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Ineos, RWE, Shell and Total, and compared this with the reality of the companies' current and future business activities.
ClientEarth submitted a complaint against BP's advertising in 2019, before the company decided to withdraw its "Possibilities Everywhere" campaign. The lawyers say other fossil fuel companies could face similar challenges if they mislead the public through their advertising. The group is calling for tobacco-style advertising bans and health warnings to counter fossil fuel companies' "deceptive" marketing.
DeSmog's investigation found messaging that touts companies' climate pledges without being transparent about their large emissions contributions is widespread across advertising campaigns and social media promotions.
The adverts regularly highlight the companies' preferred solutions to climate change — from carbon capture and storage, to experimental algae biofuels, and investment in renewable energy sources — without being open about the small percentage of overall investment allocated to these technologies, nor their various limitations.
The Greenwashing Files lay bare the contrast between the public image these adverts create, and the reality of the fossil fuel companies' activities.
All companies featured in this article were contacted for comment.
ExxonMobil – 'Powering Progress'
"We're working on ways to provide energy while addressing the risks of climate change, producing clean-burning natural gas to reduce emissions from power plants, capturing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, and exploring unexpected energy sources like biofuels made from algae," a reassuring voice tells us in Exxon's "Powering Progress" advert – one of several released in recent years that present the US oil giant as a leader in green technologies.
But while the ad shows Exxon scientists hard at work developing "algae farms" and technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air, its business activities tell a different story.
Exxon is increasingly an outlier among fossil fuel companies and other major emitters, having refused to set an absolute emissions reduction target, opting instead for gradual "carbon intensity" reductions which still allow for overall emissions to increase. It has no plans to cut oil and gas production, which energy analysts say is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While Exxon remains responsible for a significant portion of global emissions – with documents in 2019 revealing a total annual output roughly equivalent to that of Canada – its spending on clean energies has been a tiny fraction of its investments, with just 0.2 percent of its investment in new projects going to low carbon sources between 2010 and 2018.
And while "Powering Progress" and other ads put Exxon's investments in algae biofuels at the fore, it has spent just $300 million on the technology in a decade, compared with yearly capital investment of around $20 billion. Experts doubt whether the technology will ever be commercially viable or usable at scale.
RWE – 'We are the new RWE'
A video by German energy giant RWE takes the viewer through landmark inventions that have spurred on human civilisation since the industrial revolution – the light bulb, the radio, mass transport – before arriving at the present day. "Every time has its energy," the ad tells us, adding that "times are changing. Society is changing. Companies are changing, and we are changing too."
The images cut to wind turbines, and the forces of nature that are powering what we are told is today's "renewable age." The company positions itself at the heart of this transition, telling the viewer it is "focusing on renewable energies and storage, for a sustainable world," and that it is providing "clean, reliable and affordable" energy as part of its transition to "the new RWE."
The campaign accompanies pledges to become "carbon neutral" by 2040 and oversee a significant expansion into wind and solar energy.
But the growth of RWE's low-carbon activities has not been matched by an exit from fossil fuels. RWE remains the largest emitter in Europe, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and its three major lignite coal-fired power stations all feature in the EU's top five highest-emitting plants. Under current plans, it will continue to generate coal-fired electricity until the end of 2038, almost a decade after the deadline recommended for OECD countries by climate experts, at the same time as expanding its already significant fossil gas business.
Despite its claims to focus on clean energy, 80 percent of the company's energy still comes from non-renewable sources, mostly highly-polluting brown coal, hard coal and gas. The company also counts controversial and carbon-intensive biomass amongst its "renewable" energy sources despite warnings from scientists over its use.
Drax – 'Beyond Coal'
Drax, another energy company that now relies heavily on biomass and operates the UK's largest power station in North Yorkshire, has worked hard to bolster its green credentials in recent years, positioning itself as an ally in the fight against climate change.
Last year, it released an advert celebrating the company's shift away from coal-fired energy production, which it completed in March. Set to an uplifting soundtrack, the video calls the move a "major step towards Drax's ambition to become carbon negative by 2030," while touting a new "Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce" to ensure the surrounding area "isn't defined by its past, but by its future."
A 2020 year-in-review video meanwhile describes Drax as "among Europe's lowest carbon intensity power generators," producing "77 percent renewable electricity."
But the company's claims about the climate-friendliness of biomass, which has now taken over from coal as the principal source of energy at its power station thanks to generous government subsidies, have been widely disputed. Burning wood pellets has been found to be more carbon-intensive than fossil fuels in most circumstances, while experts doubt that trees planted in their place can re-absorb the carbon dioxide emitted, on a meaningful timescale.
Carbon capture and storage – another key plank of Drax's low-carbon strategy – remains uneconomical at scale, with the company's own use of the technology still in the pilot phase.
In response to questions from DeSmog, Drax said emissions from biomass energy are "already accounted for in the land-use sector and therefore considered carbon neutral at the point of combustion," in line with "established global best practice" set out by the UN IPCC.
It also said biomass should be considered renewable "because the forests we source from are growing and storing more carbon" and pointed to its plans for a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) unit by 2027, "creating tens of thousands of jobs" and "permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year."
Aramco – 'The Moment is Now'
The Saudi Arabian state-owned oil and gas giant, Aramco, became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the stock market at the end of 2019. But the fossil fuel behemoth is at pains to assure viewers it is concerned about more than just its bottom line.
In an advert titled "The Moment is Now," an Aramco employee tells a lecture theatre full of colleagues that "as we open up to the world, we know more than ever before that we must continue towards a sustainable future."
"We value the natural resources we discover but never forget it is our human energy that drives us to create a better world," she says to the audience, who reward her presentation with a standing ovation.
Elsewhere, the company insists it is driven by a "commitment to preserving the environment because protecting our planet is one of our most important values."
That's despite the company being the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for an estimated four percent of all global emissions since 1965.
Aramco's oil and gas reserves total more than those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total combined, while the company refuses to disclose its full emissions. Its majority shareholder, the Saudi Arabian government, has been at the forefront of efforts to stall international action on climate change for decades. At the last UN climate talks in Madrid, over a third of Saudi Arabia's representatives were associated with the oil and gas industry, many with Aramco.
Equinor – 'This is what changed us.'
Previously trading under the name Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil and gas company Equinor rebranded in 2018, with the hope of highlighting its transformation into a "broad energy company" and its growing low-carbon energy division.
Equinor explained its reasons for the name change in an advert called "Equinor. This is what changed us." Scenes of raging storms and melting ice caps are displayed while the narrator says: "Some changes are so profound that they transcend everything. Changes that require us to find a new balance."
In a more recent ad, the company insists that "emissions must come down and it must happen fast."
Equinor is certainly taking steps to increase its investments in low-carbon technologies, with plans to up its renewable energy capacity to 4-6 gigawatts by 2026, and has set a "net zero" emissions target for 2050.
But this shift is largely in addition to, rather than in place of, its core oil and gas business. The company is still exploring for more oil and gas reserves and does not intend to start reducing its fossil fuel production before 2030. Last year, it opened the largest oil field in Western Europe and is heavily involved in ventures in the Arctic.
Equinor promotes natural gas as the "perfect fuel to balance renewable energy" and was given a warning two years ago by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority for claiming the fuel was a "low-carbon" energy source.
Another technology the company touts is carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the projects it is involved in currently amount to less than three percent of its overall emissions.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said the collection of adverts showed the fossil fuel companies were involved in a "great deception."
"We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he said.
"These adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies' businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans," he added, saying that "we cannot underestimate the real world impact this advertising has on the pace of change."
You can find the full set of adverts and analyses here.
Additional research by Michaela Herrmann. Edited by Mat Hope.
Disclaimer: ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac sits on the board of DeSmog UK Ltd.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best for E-Commerce - Shopify
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset Program?
What is a carbon offset program?
Every day, you engage in activities that leave behind an environmental footprint. You add to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. Others help to offset the travel, shipping, or production that are part of other industries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Climate Offset Programs
Mischa Keijser / Getty Images
There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 8 Best Carbon Offset Programs
While Shopify is not a carbon offset program, they do provide a platform to help more merchants and buyers offset the carbon emissions of their e-commerce deliveries. For merchants and businesses, they developed an app called Offset that allows them to opt in and offset all of their deliveries. For customers, there is the Shop app, and for every order purchased using Shop Pay, Shopify will offset all of the emissions from the delivery. All Shopify carbon offsets are purchased from Pachama, a company that seeks to use technology and A.I. to help drive carbon capture and protect global forests. Shopify notes that "offsets are not a perfect solution—but they're a necessary tool." We appreciate that they are making it easier for more and more people to use this necessary tool to reduce carbon emissions with every purchase.
You can visit the Shopify site to learn more about their carbon offsets strategy.
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images
Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
As the death toll mounts, secondary effects of the Texas grid failure, driven primarily by the failure of gas, coal, and nuclear plants to handle the cold, are becoming apparent.
At least 16 people are dead and 2.6 million Texas customers were without power as of Wednesday evening.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he did not know when power would be restored and state regulators said as much generation was falling off the grid as was being added on. Food is also becoming scarce as the storm disrupted food distribution systems.
Meanwhile nearly 12 million Texans, approximately 40% of the state's population and more than the entire population of Michigan, live in one of the state's 590 public water systems that have reported service disruptions.
That includes St. David's South Austin Medical Center, which as of Thursday morning still lacked heat because of low water pressure, an issue affecting "a number of other hospitals in the area," according to its CEO.
Houston residents were expected to be required to boil their water even after pressure is restored — hopefully late Thursday, though more bad weather is expected — and burst pipes caused flooding in Dallas.
For a deeper dive:
Death toll and outages: Washington Post; Thermal plant failures: Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, NPR; Unknown restoration timeline: Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle, AP; Food shortages: Texas Tribune; Statewide water disruptions: Texas Tribune; Hospitals: Austin American-Statesman; Houston: Houston Chronicle; Dallas: Dallas Morning News
By Jacob Carter
Since 1918 the federal government has implemented its authority under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to hold industries accountable for the death of birds due to their operations. Such operations include the spraying of insecticides that poison birds, maintaining oil pits that can lead to drowning, or contact with infrastructure such as wind turbines that can cause death on impact.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated in 2002 that up to two million birds were killed in oil pits every year. This number dropped in 2012 with a best estimate of 500,000 to 1 million birds killed in oil pits every year. The FWS attributes the decrease in bird deaths to oil operators taking prevention measures that reduce migratory bird mortality because of the industry's operations. The MBTA provides an incentive for oil operators and other industries to take such prevention measures.
But on January 7, the outgoing administration changed the legal interpretation of the MBTA such that the FWS will no longer be able to hold industries accountable for the "incidental" killing of migratory bird species. This means that if an oil operator, for example, did not place mesh lining over an oil pit to prevent migratory birds from dying in that oil pit – the oil operator would not be at fault nor held accountable for the deaths of migratory birds.
The Logic is Ludicrous
I think that the logic used in the revised MBTA is ridiculous for one very important reason: we know that migratory bird species die because of bad industry practice and that such deaths are preventable.
There is a clear need to hold industries accountable for migratory bird death, especially since we know it happens and that it is preventable. And if we know a bad thing is preventable, we should create mechanisms (like the MBTA) to encourage folks to take prevention measures to help ensure that a bad thing does not happen.
Imagine that you have a toddler that continues to explore that "dangerous chemicals cabinet" (you know the one) in your household. What do you do? Well, you probably "toddler-proof" that cabinet to prevent said toddler from ingesting harmful chemicals — or you potentially face punitive measures for child neglect.
My point is that it makes absolutely no sense to discourage the use of measures to prevent a bad thing we know will happen — in this case it is the death of migratory bird species.
Bird Death Affects Us All
The number of birds in the U.S. is falling. The number of birds in North America has fallen by 29 percent since 1970 according to one study in Science. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds than there were 50 years ago.
These losses do not only mean that we have fewer gorgeous birds for birders to enjoy. Bird species are incredibly vital to ecosystem health that your health, my health, my grandmother's health, are all dependent on. Bird species control unwanted pests, they pollinate plant species, they are seed dispersers, and they bring in loads of cash to our economies every year. The FWS estimates that bird watchers alone bring in nearly $15 billion to local economies and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
If we lose our native bird species then our ecosystems will be not be the same, our local economies will not be the same, our health will not be the same. This is the future-to-come if the Biden administration allows the new interpretation of the MBTA to go into effect on February 8 of this year. We should be working to strengthen protections for bird species, not fighting to kill them.
President Biden's nominee to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI), Deb Haaland, should prioritize and work quickly to interpret the MBTA to its original intent to protect declining bird populations. In fact, we have provided a number of recommendations for President Biden and Representative Haaland to restore science back to the DOI. President Biden has stated that he plans to bring science back to decision-making — and we will be holding him accountable to his word.
Jacob Carter is a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
The panel, coordinated by the UK-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan — an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena — of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.
1. Seabirds Could Help Spot Illegal Fishing
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.
2. Marine Vessels and GPS Spoofing
Vessels plying the ocean navigate and transmit their locations and identities mainly through the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and automatic identification system (AIS). The panel points out that a recent rise in GNSS spoofing and AIS cloning incidents could facilitate the trade of illegal goods and hamper authorities' efforts to identify vessels engaged in illicit resource extraction activities such as fishing and dredging.
3. More Corals May Suffer From Lack of Oxygen
Several factors — including climate-driven marine heat waves and nutrient runoff from land — can lower oxygen levels in the ocean. Corals in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans have died from this hypoxia, and, although those events weren't widespread, some scientists fear that the threat may grow significantly as climate change further warms the ocean. Research is needed to better understand the extent and impact of low oxygen conditions on coral reefs.
4. Understanding the Impacts of Increased Dissolved Iron on Coastal Polar Ecosystems
Coastal zones in polar latitudes are among Earth's most productive — that is, they create and support large numbers of organisms ranging from tiny marine plants to animals such as polar bears and seals — a characteristic driven by the availability of dissolved iron from glaciers and ice. Increased melting in the polar regions will result in higher iron concentrations, which in turn will probably fuel more intense phytoplankton blooms and enable organisms on the seafloor to capture more carbon and other nutrients. Such changes could have wide-ranging effects — including impacts on the structure of the region's marine ecosystems and on carbon sequestration — and warrants investigation.
5. What to Do With a Growing Number of Decommissioned Offshore Energy Platforms
It is estimated that 3,000 offshore oil and gas platforms will be decommissioned in the coming decades and that the number of offshore wind farms will continue to grow. Currently, decommissioning practices vary by country and include full removal, conversion of platforms to artificial reefs, and abandonment. As new offshore energy infrastructure is built and old platforms are phased out, nations will need to evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of their decommissioning strategies on the marine environment.
6. A Drug Problem in the Water
When some chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and in garden and farm products are introduced into waterways — usually through runoff or via sewage systems directly or in human waste — they can cause changes in fish and other organisms, including altering the number of female to males in a population, lower fertility, and deformities. There is emerging evidence that the effects of exposure can be multigenerational, affecting organisms that were never directly exposed.
7. Changes in Low Cloud Cover
Low clouds shade sizable portions of the planet in subtropical regions. It is predicted that these clouds will become increasingly unstable if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise at current rates. The resulting changes could have negative effects on wildlife and human communities.
8. Tree Planting as a Simple Carbon Sequestration Solution
Pledges to plant large areas of trees to help tackle climate change are often perceived as a win for conservation. However, tree planting must be planned and implemented with a clear understanding of regional ecosystems to avoid negative effects on biological diversity.
9. Logging to Reduce Fire Risk
As nations around the world contend with more extreme wildfires, some policymakers suggest that tree removal may be part of the solution. However, the effectiveness of such policies is uncertain, and any short-term gains from removing trees are often offset by the growth of non-native grasses and flowering plants, which may themselves be highly flammable.
10. Large-Scale Adoption of Sustainable Farming Techniques Across India
Driven by government policies and local innovations, sustainable farming practices are becoming more prevalent in India. The state government of Sikkim has adopted organic farming as policy, and the state of Andhra Pradesh, with 6 million farmers, plans to adopt natural farming practices by 2025. Other states across the country plan to follow suit. Early evaluations indicate that these large-scale transitions boost crop yields and incomes, improve the health of farmers, and increase women's access to microfinance. With such results, there is the potential for similar large-scale shifts in other parts of the world.
11. Low Earth-Orbiting Satellites May Mislead Animals Responding to Celestial Cues
More than 2,600 artificial satellites currently orbit the earth, a number that is rapidly increasing. Many species of mammals, insects, and birds use celestial cues to migrate long distances and to orient themselves in local habitats and could be affected by the proliferation of satellites.
12. Bitcoin Mining With Stranded Energy
An emerging use for stranded energy sources, such as low-value methane byproducts vented from oil wells and excess energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, is to power computers used for Bitcoin mining — the process of creating new Bitcoin by solving complex algorithms. Monetizing stranded energy in this way is a mixed bag that decision-makers will probably have to evaluate. The practice could increase carbon emissions from marginal fossil fuel sources but also could incentivize the deployment of renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum selling price.
13. Open-Source Investigations of Environmental Threats
Scientists demonstrated some success with using online videos, social media posts, and other open-source data to document the effects of the locust swarms in East Africa in 2020. As faster internet connections and access to smartphones continue to grow globally, the use of open-source data may become an effective tool for researchers.
14. Self-Healing Building Materials
The potential to engineer building materials made of chemicals, polymers, and bacteria that can fix themselves when damaged could reduce the need for repairs and shrink the environmental footprints of construction projects. Recently, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder used a type of cyanobacteria found in the ocean, along with other materials, to engineer a living building material that can regenerate when fractured.
15. A Waterway to Connect the Baltic and Black Seas
A planned 1,200-mile inland navigable waterway connecting the Baltic and Black seas would alter the flow of cargo and trade in the region. However, the waterway, which would pass through Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, could alter habitat in 70 wildlife areas and numerous international conservation areas, introduce non-native species, and change the region's rivers and wetlands. Additionally, dredging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could disrupt radioactive sediment.
Jim Palardy is a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation science program. He served on this year's horizon scan panel and is a co-author on the resulting study.
Reposted with permission from The Pew Charitable Trust.
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