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By Lucy Goodchild van Hilten
A towering elm tree stands 30 meters (approximately 98 feet) tall, somewhere near the border between England and Scotland, defying the fate that so many of its cousins met when Dutch elm disease ravaged the species in the 1970s. One of relatively few elm trees left, it is a haven for wildlife. Look closely and you can see the erratic fluttering of a small brown butterfly, with a W-shaped white streak across its wing.
This butterfly is making history: It's crossed the border into Scotland, where it has settled happily in a native wych elm tree and been sighted in the country for the first time in 133 years. The white-letter hairstreak—Satyrium w-album—has been squeezed slowly out of its habitat over the last 40 years, but now it seems to be getting a helping hand from an unexpected source: climate change.
By Lorraine Chow
The world's plastic problem may seem vast and incalculable, but its footprint has actually been measured. In a sweeping 2015 study, researchers calculated that 9 billion tons of the material have been made, distributed and disposed in fewer than 70 years. That's an astonishing figure, but it's also one that's hard to picture. Perhaps a better way to illustrate the problem of plastics is by looking at the damage that can be caused by a single drinking straw.
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By Robert Walker
Call it "The Great Stall." Hurricane Florence lingered over the Carolinas for four days, dumping some 30 inches of rain. Flood waters are still rising, even as Typhoon Mangkhut, a superstorm 500 miles across, rakes the Philippines and Hong Kong and crashes into China. Florence is just the latest in a long series of catastrophic events generated by stalled weather patterns—slow-moving systems which occur when one of the jet streams that flow around the Earth pinches off a massive section of air from normal wind flows for a prolonged period of time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has compiled a long list of severe weather events in the U.S., and most of them are linked, in one way or another, to stalled weather systems.
By Reynard Loki
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images of animal abuse.
In September of last year, two executives of JBS, the world's largest meat producer, based in Brazil, were arrested and charged with insider trading. In May 2017, the billionaire siblings—Wesley Batista, JBS's CEO, and his younger brother Joesley, the firm's former chairman—admitted to bribing more than 1,800 politicians and government officials, including meat inspectors, in an effort to avoid food safety checks.
By Sabine El Gemayel
The Trump administration is considering proposals for a national 5G wireless infrastructure in order to counter China's position in global technology markets, despite the many uncertainties and potential dangers of this technology for human health and the environment.
By Reynard Loki
Whole Foods bills itself as "America's healthiest grocery store," but what it's doing to the environment is anything but healthy. According to a new report, the chain is helping to drive one of the nation's worst human-made environmental disasters: the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.
By Lucy Goodchild van Hilten
Three years into the Sustainable Development Goals—17 global goals set by the United Nations—many countries' policy makers are developing domestic legislation that will help them reach environmental targets, from cutting carbon emissions to improving clean water and sanitation. But when it comes to environmental research and action, weighing the options to reach policy decisions relies on personal experience and perspective as well as facts and evidence, and gender plays a major role.
By Mike Ludwig
As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf.
By Dahr Jamail
Former nuclear industry senior vice president Arnie Gundersen, who managed and coordinated projects at 70 U.S. atomic power plants, is appalled at how the Japanese government is handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
"The inhumanity of the Japanese government toward the Fukushima disaster refugees is appalling," Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 45 years of nuclear power engineering experience and the author of a bestselling book in Japan about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, told Truthout.
By Bruce Melton
Our planet's systems have a tremendous capacity to absorb punishment before they begin to show signs of degradation. Earth's ecology self-heals like a cut on a finger. It assimilates pollution by chemical, physical and biological means—it changes pollutants into non-hazardous materials and proceeds upon its merry way as if there had been no pollution at all. Up to a point.
Acid rain is an excellent example of how our planet can self-heal. By the late 1960s, the U.S. was emitting so many sulfate and nitrate pollutants (smog) from burning fossil fuels, that sulfuric acid washed from the sky was killing forests and lakes. President Richard Nixon's Clean Air Act stopped about half of the sulfur from going into our atmosphere. This was enough to allow nature to take over again and our forests and lakes began to heal.
Global warming didn't really get started in a big way until the 1950s. Today, the warming rate is seven times greater than it was in the 1950s and the carbon emission rate is four times greater than in the '50s.
That same sulfur pollution that caused all the acid rain in the '60s and '70s is a global cooling pollutant that hides warming. With grossly increasing smog in Asia since about the turn of the century, the results have been that 30 percent of warming that should have occurred has been masked or covered up by global cooling sulfate smog.
It's also a very common misconception that some of the warming is natural. However, until about 100 years ago, our climate was cooling. The planet cooled about 5 degrees F in polar regions near Greenland (half or less globally) over the last 6,000 years. This research comes from mini-icecaps on Baffin Island where easily dateable rooted plants were revealed from melt. In the last 100 years, the temperature on Baffin has warmed about 7 degrees Fahrenheit; 2 degrees warmer than at any time in the last 120,000 years. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1950s.
The extremes we are experiencing now (temperature, rainfall, drought, etc.) will not increase at the same rate as the average temperature. The physics of thermodynamics say extremes will increase nonlinearly. Earth has lost its ability to buffer the warming. As we replace coal with non-fossil fuel alternatives, masking of warming by global cooling pollutants will also disappear, compounding the nonlinear rate of increasing extremes.
We live on a very complicated and dangerous planet that is worthy of great respect and awe. The past year's advances in climate science should urge us to put that respect and awe into practice, taking definitive action against global warming.
The American Meteorological Society's latest report on weather extremes tells us: "Without exception, all the heat-related events studied in this year's report were found to have been made more intense or likely due to human-induced climate change and this was discernible even for those events strongly influenced by the 2015 El Niño."
Human-caused "anthropogenic" influence was documented in 23 of 28 major global geographic regions. The events included increasing average temperature, warming of winter extremes, decreasing humidity due to warming, increasing dryness, increasing heavy precipitation, increased sunshine, more extreme drought, more extreme tropical cyclones, increased wildfire burn area and intensity, decreased arctic sea ice, more high tide flooding and decreased snowpack.
2. Attempts at Climate Reform
President Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is the first policy to set a national limit on power plant-generated CO2 pollution, was one of the major developments of 2015. The CPP is almost identical to the U.S. Kyoto Protocol commitment (created in the mid-1990s) of reducing CO2 emissions but the CPP is 18 years behind Kyoto. In other words, the new regulations are no different than they were a generation ago and we have emitted almost as much additional carbon dioxide during the delay. Implementation of the CPP began in June 2015, six years after carbon dioxide was successfully declared a pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In February 2016 however, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the CCP back to Federal Appeals Court to determine if it is legal or not. This is the first time that the U.S. Supreme Court has ever blocked an EPA rule.
The U.S. climate commitment at Paris, 80 percent CO2 emissions reductions by 2050, is 30 percent less than and 30 years behind Kyoto Phase 2, which was supposed to be implemented by 2020. President-elect Trump has threatened to back out of the Paris Agreement and he will also have final say over the CPP when it returns from court. After over 20 years of trying, we remain without meaningful climate pollution regulations, even though the U.S. is the single country that has unarguably emitted a third of all CO2 ever emitted—three times more than China. It is also very important to note that the U.S. is the only country in the world that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
3. Increasing Wildfires Across Western North America
Work from the Sierra Nevada Research Institute by Anthony Westerling reveals the western U.S. wildfire season has increased by more than 60 percent since the 1970s, from 138 days to 222 days, because of earlier onset of spring. The average burn time has increased nearly 800 percent, from six days to 52 days, because of deeper drying from early snowmelt. Burned area increased an astonishing 12 times (1,271 percent). Human-caused ignition has played a very small role in increasing wildfire trends. Westerling also notes: "Given projections for further drying within the region due to human-induced warming, this study underlines the potential for further increases in wildfire activity."
Work from the University of Idaho and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led by John Abatzoglou revealed that most of the increase in wildfire across the American West has happened since about 2000 and beetle killed trees are not factored into the trends (40 million acres across the US West has been killed by native beetles since 2000). Abatzoglou said that in 20 to 30 years, so much of the forest will have burned that the annual burn rate will begin to fall even with continued warming, because there will be too little forest left to burn.
4. The Amazon Continues to Emit More Carbon Than it Absorbs
It began in 2005 with a 100-year drought. Then in 2010, there was another, more extreme drought. Billions of trees were killed. As a result, the Amazon is no longer absorbing CO2. Instead, it is emitting it to the tune of 257 megatons annually—more than half of Brazil's annual emissions. The most recent and extensive study of this topic, from 56 researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, led by Ted Feldpausch, showed the decreasing sequestration was not from drought kill alone, but drought stress induced by higher temperatures was also responsible.
In 2010, I spoke with Leeds University researcher Simon Lewis who performed some of the first work on Amazonia after the 2010 drought. He said billions of trees were killed in the two droughts, and that for all of the trees to decay will take a relatively short 29 years in the rain forest. Lewis continued, "Two droughts like this in one decade will not completely offset the sink within that decade, but three in a decade may." Considering the newer work by Feldpausch shows the flip has already occurred, it's clear that—as so often happens with climate science—the deeper we look, the more extensive the damage really is.