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Climate change is getting costlier and deadlier. A new report from British charity Christian Aid found that 15 of the world's largest natural disasters in 2019 — including wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons and more — had links to a warming world. All 15 of those disasters cost more than $1 billion in damages, and seven of them cost more than $10 billion each.
Record rainfall in the spring caused more than $12.5 billion in damages throughout the midwest and southern U.S. due to flooding. On the flip side, a dry summer and record heat waves, which spurred massive wildfires in California, cost more than $25 billion in damages. The report, however, states many of the totals have likely been underestimated.
"These figures are likely to be underestimates as they often show only insured losses and do not always take into account other financial costs, such as lost productivity and uninsured losses," the report states.
Although the financial burden of these extreme events is severe, developing nations are experiencing the worst loss. More than 1,300 people lost their lives to Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi in March. Another 1,900 were killed in Northern India from June to October when monsoon flooding hit record levels. And 673 people were killed during Hurricane Dorian, which many regard as the worst natural disaster to ever hit the Bahamas.
"The great tragedy of climate change is that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most, despite us doing the least to cause it," Dr. Adelle Thomas from the University of the Bahamas said in a press release. "However as this year has shown, no continent is immune from global warming and its impacts."
This year is projected to be the second hottest year on record and losses from these extreme weather events are likely to get worse going into the new decade. The report urges world leaders to begin taking serious steps toward mitigating these losses.
"Last year emissions continued to rise, so it's essential that nations prepare new and enhanced pledges for action to the Paris agreement as soon as possible," Dr. Katherine Kramer, co-author of the report and the global lead on climate change at Christian Aid, said in a press release.
The Paris agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. But global temperatures have already increased 1 degree Celsius, and without more urgent action, they are expected to surpass the 2 degree mark by the end of the century.
"2019 was not the new normal," the Christian Aid report stated. "The world's weather will continue to become ever-more extreme and people around the world will continue to pay the price. The challenge ahead is to minimize the impacts through deep and rapid emissions cuts."
Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
2017 was an exceptional year for ordinary citizens who stepped up to come to their communities' needs and in the process, sent a clear message that anyone can make a difference. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we look to this list as inspiration for others to act as boldly.
1. The California Heroes
Wildfires have been blazing through the west since late summer and the natural landscape has been burnt to the ground in the process, causing families and animals to flee. Hundreds of volunteer firefighters have stepped up to fight the blaze and ordinary civilians have risked their lives to save family heirlooms, displaced pets and wild animals. These heroic acts prove that there is one thing the fires haven't taken and that is the human spirit.
2. The New Mexico Tribes Who Said No to Fracking
Several Native American tribes in New Mexico voiced their concerns about an ordinance to regulate oil and gas fracking on their sacred lands in November. They filled public meeting halls, calling for better protections for the land, air and water with the support of many community members who raised their fists in solidarity. Ahjani Yepa of Jemez Pueblo, one of the many brave tribe members who spoke out, said, "The land is our Bible. Once it is gone, you cannot print another copy."
3. The Concerned Citizens Who Blocked Approval of an Oil Train in California
An oil train moves through California's Central Valley. In 2009, 10,000 tank cars transported crude oil in the entire U.S. This one terminal alone proposed bringing in 73,000 cars a year. Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice
In November a group of citizens, with the help of Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, was successful in their lawsuit filed to Kern County, stating that the risk of a massive refinery and rail project in their community was not fully assessed. The project would have allowed imports of up to 63.1 million barrels of crude oil per year. The win was a huge success for the community and the environment.
4. The Peruvian Farmer Who Took a German Energy Giant to Court
Saul Luciano LliuyaPascale Sury
Saul Luciano Lliuya, a farmer in Peru, filed a lawsuit against German energy giant RWE that claims they have endangered his hometown of Huaraz by melting glaciers and swelling a mountain lake that threatens to flood the region. The suit calls for $20,000 towards the $4 million cost of building flood protections for Huaraz.
5. The Pangolin Men
The pangolin is the only scaled mammal in the world, it also the most trafficked. But, there a group of men in Zimbabwe who call themselves the "Pangolin Men" because they have devoted their lives to protecting the species. The men work at Tikki Hywood Trust, where they rehabilitate the animals so that they can go back into the wild.
6. The Man Teaching Ex-Coal Miners to Be Bee Keepers
Appalachians learn beekeeping skillsJohn Farrell
Mark Lilly, a retired insurance adjuster, has found a way to strengthen his rural West Virginia community through his favorite hobby, beekeeping. By teaching former coal miners in his town how to keep bees, he is giving them a new sense of purpose and some are even able to make a decent income at it. The bees are also helping the natural environment, which was been ravished by the coal industry. "We spent a lot of years scarring the land," Lilly said. "Now we will begin trying to heal some of those scars."
7. The Farmers Transforming Mountaintop Coal Mines
Crew members Eva Jones and Chris Farley, residents of Mingo County, work the soil. It is compacted, composed of blasted rock, and lacks organic matter. Paul Corbit Brown / YES! Magazine
As part of the Refresh Appalachia initiative, former coal miners and others who have been put out of work in West Virginia are turning mountaintop removal sites into hope. Through farming and forestry, the Refresh crews are revitalizing the hillsides to be profitable and sustainable for the local communities that surround them. The crew members also receive training in sustainability careers such as solar installation, making it win-win all around for the economically depressed region.
8. The 98-Year-Old Man Who Donated His Walgreens Investment to Build a Wildlife Refuge
Russ Gremel / Facebook / Chicago Tribune
Chicago-Native Russ Gremel found himself with quite a bit of money after investing $1,000 into Walgreens nearly 70 years ago. Gremel decided to donate the $2 million he had accrued to the National Audubon Society, who bought a 400-acre plot of land from Augustana College to turn it into a wildlife refuge that can be used for education and enjoyment for many years to come.
9. The Man Who Led a Volunteer Group to Clean up the Beach
When Afroz Shah, a 33-year-old lawyer, in Mumbai, India saw Versova Beach for the first time, he was shocked. The beaches were completely covered in rotting trash, with some patches getting up to 5.5 feet high. Recognizing the extreme risk to the health and safety of his community, Shah began cleaning. Slowly but surely, he built a volunteer group of 1,000 people to clean the beach. Almost two years later, Shah and his group, the Versova Resident Volunteers, cleaned up 11,684,500 pounds of trash, most of it plastic, that had accumulated along the shoreline. Shah won a "Champion of the Earth" award from the UN for his efforts.
10. The Kids Who Filed a Climate Lawsuit Against the U.S. Government
© Robin Loznak Photography, LLC
In an historic effort, a group of 21 young adults and children are challenging the U.S. government's approach on climate change. In November 2016, the group's lawsuit, supported by Our Children's Trust, was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken. In June, the Trump administration filed for an appeal of Aiken's order in the Juliana v. United States case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but it was denied. And the young group got a trial date for Feb. 5, 2018. "I'm excited that we have a date now," said Jayden Foytlin, 14, of Rayne, Louisiana. "I think we are all looking forward to our day in court. I feel like we are that much closer to justice."
As we look back on the most noteworthy environmental stories of 2017, one cannot help but start with the extreme weather that has caused so much destruction to so many around the globe. And with that, the year brought heightened concern for protecting our planet with focused attention on issues like renewable energy, electric vehicles and plastic pollution. And while 2017 was also marked by challenges with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris agreement and making other questionable environmental policy changes, we all enter a new year with the ability to make positive change.
1. Extreme Weather on the Rise
The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most catastrophic in decades. In August, Hurricane Harvey caused major damage in Houston, Texas. Then Hurricane Irma followed as the most powerful Caribbean storm on record. And on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, killing 64 people, destroying the power grid to such an extent that half the island is still without power, and causing billions of dollars in damage. In addition to the hurricane season, wildfires stretched across the west with the Jones and Whitewater fires in Oregon, the Pyette Wilderness fires in Idaho, and the Reef fire in Montana. Several more fires continued to blaze through the end of the year, with the most notable being the Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in California in history, which began burning in early December and will likely continue into 2018. Earthquakes also shook the world in unprecedented numbers. A 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Philippines in February displaced more than 3,000 families. And in December, a 6.5 magnitude quake in Cipatujah, Indonesia could be felt from 190 miles away. The U.S. also experienced several small earthquakes, including eight quakes in August in Oklahoma and a few more recently in Santa Clara County and San Jose, California.
Roosevelt Skerrit / Flickr
2. The U.S. Withdraws From the Paris Agreement
On June 1, President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, spurring backlash from nation leaders worldwide. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, started a campaign called "Make Earth Great Again," and announced that he would be giving away $70 million in multi-year grants to climate scientists who want to continue their research in France. The U.S. now stands as the only country in the UN that does not support the agreement.
3. Continuing Rise of Renewables
Despite the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, many cities and States made huge progress in 2017. Oregon and Washington joined a global alliance in November, promising to phase out coal by 2030. In May, Madison, Wisconsin committed to 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions and Abita Springs, Louisiana voted to go all renewables by 2030.
4. New U.S. Leadership Steps up to Fill the Void
The U.S. also had major corporations and private and public leaders step up to the challenge in the wake of President Trump's withdrawal. At COP23 in Germany, 20 companies promised to phase out coal including BT, Engie, Kering, Diageo, Marks & Spencer, Orsted and Storebrand. In October, New York City's former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $64 million to shut down coal plants in the U.S. And in June, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a nonbinding agreement with China to cooperate on renewable energy technology, including zero-emissions vehicles and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and President Xi JinpingAaron Berkovich
5. China Takes Huge Steps in Renewables
In possibly the most unexpected scenario, China, which topped the charts with nearly double the carbon emissions of the U.S., made drastic changes to their consumption. In January, the country announced a $361 Billion Renewable Energy Investment by 2020 and started work right away. They installed 35GW in just seven months—more than twice as much as installed by any other country in all of 2016—increasing their solar PV capacity to 112GW total. They've also temporarily shut down thousands of factories to cut down on the deadly air pollution and the city of Shenzen has almost completely electrified their bus fleet. China's new perspective on climate action has already changed the lives of the more than 1.3 billion of its people and will no doubt be making the planet healthier for all of us in the future.
A 40-megawatt floating solar farm in China's coal-rich Anhui provinceSungrow Power Supply Co., Ltd.
6. Pruitt Undermines the EPA
On Feb. 17, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) administrator. Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, sued the EPA more than a dozen times before taking leadership of the agency. Pruitt has made an effort to dismantle the EPA by dismissing several scientists from its Board of Scientific Counselors, supporting the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, and lifting federal regulations on the oil and gas industry. Then, after a six month review, on Oct. 9 Pruitt signed a measure to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from electric power generated by coal-burning power plants by 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited the USS Lead Superfund in East Chicago, Indiana. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / YouTube
7. Zinke Shrinks National Monuments
While Pruitt undermines the EPA, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke has reduced precious regulations on U.S. protected lands. With Zinke's support, on Dec. 4, Trump announced huge reductions to two national monuments in Utah—the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante—rolling back two million acres of federally protected land and potentially opening it up to oil drilling and logging. Zinke also urged unspecified reductions in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the California-Oregon border. The report also urges the president to consider changing the boundaries of two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean: Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll. And in December, Zinke auctioned off 700,000 acres of public lands for fracking.
Bears Ears National Monument Valley of the GodsBob Wick / BLM
8. President Trump Signs Executive Order on DAPL and Keystone XL
On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive order to move the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines forward. Just one day later, on Jan. 25, a diesel pipeline in Northern Iowa spilled 138,600 gallons from a leaked system. It was also reported on Jan. 23, that 52,830 gallons of crude oil spilled onto an aboriginal land in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Water protectors and state security personnel faced off across a fence near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site. Rob Wilson / Facebook
9. Oceans Littered With Plastic
A number of studies were released in 2017 that opened the lid on plastic pollution in the world's oceans. In June, it was reported that microplastic particles have infiltrated the pristine Antarctic, and the levels are five times higher than previously estimated. In November, it was found that deep sea creatures who live seven miles below the surface were consuming plastics. And there were several instances were whales, birds and other marine life were found dead with stomachs full of plastic. Fortunately, there were many who stepped up to start cleaning beaches and find innovative ways to clean the sea.
Greenpeace Philippines sent a strong message about plastic pollution with a giant "Dead Whale" art exhibit.Vince Cinches
10. Electric Vehicles Change the Game
Electric vehicle sales surged 63 percent in 2017, with China topping the market. Several car brands also announced their own inexpensive electric models including Volvo and Volkswagen, making them more affordable and accessible than ever. In addition to the surge, Tesla installed huge supercharger stations in California, making it ever more possible to get from point A to point B without fear of the batteries running out.
The 40-stall "Mega" Supercharger station in Kettleman City, CaliforniaTesla
Protecting the natural environment may seem overwhelming with increased natural disasters, melting sea ice, and threatened wildlife. But your choices can truly go a long way for your community and your health. Here are ten ways to be a better steward in 2018 and help others do the same!
1. Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Food
Reducing your carbon footprint can seem daunting when learning about the many ways in which humans contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. But there are a few things you can do to directly cut back on your own influence. Start by looking at your consumables, especially your food. When you factor in transportation, land use, pesticides and waste, food produces up to twice as much pollution as all of the cars on the planet. Being mindful of where your food comes from and how it was produced is the easiest way to cut back.
2. Reduce your Meat Consumption
jlastras / Wikimedia Commons
In addition to knowing where and how your food was produced, it is also wise to cut back on meat. Livestock take up 49 percent of all agricultural emissions on the planet, according to a 2017 study. Although going vegan may not be the best option for you, reducing your meat consumption to just once a week, or even once a day, can make a world of difference. Try healthy alternative proteins such as pea protein or vitamin-rich vegetables such as beets. Your body and the planet will thank you.
3. Buy From Local Farms or Start Your Own
Fort Vancouver National Historic SiteNPS / Troy Wayrynen
Buying from local farms is a great way to ensure that your food stays close to home and cuts back on the transportation costs or "food miles" of delivering food across the country, which can account for up to 11 percent of agricultural emissions. If locally-sourced food is scarce in your neck of the woods, consider starting your own community farm project. This is a great way to pull your town together toward a common goal and even solve social issues like poverty, hunger, mental illness and more.
4. Compost your Natural Waste
Another great way to spare the environment from your waste is to compost. This simple technique would put a major dent into the 60 billion pounds of food materials that unnecessarily go to U.S. landfills each year. Many cities offer fairly cheap composting services and will make the entire process hands-off for you. You can also do it yourself and end up with rich soil for your own garden!
5. Change Your Mode of Transportation
U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer
Despite the surge of electric and hybrid vehicles in 2017, fossil fuel transportation still accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Electric cars are more affordable and accessible than ever before, but there are plenty of ways to get from point A to point B in 2018 that will spare your wallet and the environment. Bicycling has grown tremendously in popularity, with more than 66 million bicyclists on the road as of 2017. Public transportation and ridesharing are also great ways to cut down on your fossil fuel consumption in 2018.
6. Cut Down On Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics
Humans have created 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the past 67 years—6.3 billion tons of which have become waste in our landfills and natural environment, especially the ocean. Though these numbers may seem insurmountable, the simple decision to not buy single-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws and any products containing microplastics such as exfoliators and glitter, would help tremendously.
7. Stop Buying Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion is the term used for clothing that is produced quickly and inexpensively, usually at the cost of the environment. The items are thrown away almost as fast as they are bought, and are filling up landfills at an alarming rate of 12.8 million tons of textiles annually in the U.S. alone—that's about 80 pounds of clothing per person per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can drastically reduce these numbers by making smart, long-lasting decisions about what you choose to wear. There are also several companies doing their part to slow down fashion and create clothes that don't harm the planet.
8. Volunteer and Educate Yourself
Bureau of Land Management / Flickr
Volunteering is a great way to educate yourself on environmental issues. Try volunteering for a community garden, a clean up crew, or even joining national service organizations like AmeriCorps. Working with others toward environmentally sound goals makes a real and lasting difference in a community.
9. Learn About and Vote for Climate-Friendly Policies
The Blue Diamond
Exercising your rights as a citizen is a meaningful way to make a difference not just for yourself, but for your entire community. In recent years, several cities and states have made climate progress by banning fracking, plastic bags and certain harmful pesticides through the polls. Having conversations and reading current issues is the best way to stay updated on what is happening to the environment. You can also subscribe to the EcoWatch newsletter for email updates.
10. Participate in Public Events
People's Climate MarchWikimedia Commons
In April 2017, the People's Climate March drew massive crowds of more than 200,000 people in Washington, DC. Then on Earth Day, thousands more joined the March for Science all across the nation. Organized marches, rallies and protests raise awareness in a visible way and engage the community to act toward progress.
This was a year of tug-of-war for the environment. With Donald Trump becoming president of the U.S. at a time when wildfires, hurricanes, and floods were devastating the country, it was challenging for scientists, activists and concerned citizens to get their voices heard. But several stood out as global leaders on climate and helped give rise to those who were silenced. Below are 14 of the most notable influencers of 2017 and how they fought for a cleaner, safer environment for all.
1. Emmanuel Macron
After his inauguration as president of France, just a few months after U.S. President Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron made immediate waves. He started off by addressing Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement with a "Make Earth Great Again" slogan and welcoming American climate scientists to France to continue their research. He forged on, offering multi-year grants totaling $70 million. Macron also hosted the One Planet Summit where 20 international companies announced they would phase out coal. With his continued criticism of Trump's decisions regarding the planet, Macron has proven himself a global leader on climate change and has set the stage for progress in 2018.
2. Elon Musk
Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of several companies including SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, began 2017 with a seat on President Trump's economic advisory council. Musk made multiple attempts to reverse Trump's stance on climate change, but after Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Musk left the council on June 1, causing a huge media storm. Then in October, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the islands without power, Musk swooped in and began building a solar grid. He started with restoring a children's hospital in San Juan and has continued delivering and installing Tesla battery systems since. Musk has also made huge strides in green technology with his push for electric vehicles and renewable energy in the U.S., despite the Trump administration's favoritism towards the fossil fuel industry.
3. Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped up to the plate as one of 2017's female leaders on climate in a multitude of ways. Nicknamed the "Climate Chancellor," Merkel has outwardly expressed her differences with Trump, calling his stance on climate change "regrettable." She reassured the UN that Germany would uphold its targets for the Paris agreement, despite the U.S. change of heart. She has also made significant progress in ensuring sustainable growth in Germany with the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. Then, in November at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Merkel sent a strong message to all global leaders, saying "we will not be able to adhere to the 2°C or 1.5°C target with the current national commitments. That is why each and every contribution is incredibly important."
4. Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders didn't let his loss in the 2016 presidential race stop him from speaking out on climate. In 2017, Sanders relentlessly criticized Trump's rejection of the Paris agreement and his outright denial of climate science. He is one of the few politicians who has spoke out about the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, which aims to expand the fossil fuel industry. He also introduced a $146 billion recovery package for Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit and Trump neglected to provide relief. The package would rebuild Puerto Rico's infrastructure with sustainable resources. He also helped to introduce the 100 by 50 Act, which would support workers in the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.
5. Pope Francis
Pope Francis has openly condemned climate change deniers for years, but 2017 might have been the most radical year yet for the sovereign. In February, the Pope spoke up for indigenous peoples and their right to consent when it comes to government activities on their sacred lands. The strong words came shortly after President Trump signed two executive orders calling for the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in January, though the Vatican said the timing was coincidental. On World Food Day in October, the Pope urged governments to mitigate climate change, as it is a lead driver of the increase in world hunger. And in November at COP23, he outlined four "perverse attitudes" that are preventing climate action. To top it off, he also acquired an electric car.
6. Michelle Rodriguez
Actress and climate activist Michelle Rodriguez is one of the newer voices of the climate movement. In March, Rodriguez joined an all-woman survey team known as Operation Ice Watch on an expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada where the seal population is under siege by hunting and ice loss caused by climate change. Led by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Animal Justice, the crew surveyed the ice, or lack thereof, while filming a documentary to raise awareness about the "ecological catastrophe." Rodriguez also partnered with Operation Taino Spirit Promise and Sea Shepherd to provide relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck and start a campaign for a sustainable rebuild.
7. Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also a notable influencer of 2017, representing the U.S. at COP23 where he, alongside Governors Jerry Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington introduced the We Are Still In coalition, a network of U.S. politicians who support climate action despite Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement. In October, Bloomberg also announced that his charity would donate $64 million to the retirement of U.S. coal plants, greatly impeding Trump's efforts to revive the American coal industry.
8. Patricia Espinosa
Mexican politician and current executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa made significant progress on shifting the dialogue surrounding climate action in 2017. In February, she said getting fossil fuel companies "on board" is a critical factor in combating climate change. She also used her position to direct the climate conversation away from technology and toward security, arguing that security officials "understand that our current crisis pales in comparison to what is coming if climate change is left unchecked." She also spoke about women's involvement at COP23 and introduced the Gender Action Plan to promote meaningful participation by women in the climate movement.
9. Al Gore
Former vice president and environment activist Al Gore is known for his stance on climate change. But in 2017, with the release of his newest documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," Gore found another big spotlight. In July, he boldly predicted that the U.S. would still meet the targets of the Paris agreement, despite Trump's about-face in June. On Dec. 4-5, Gore also hosted the Climate Reality Project's "24 Hours of Reality," where he highlighted citizens taking action all across the globe to inspire others to do the same. The program reached more than half a billion viewers on TV and 32 million online, making it the world's largest social broadcast on climate to date.
10. Jerry Brown
At almost every turn for the past 365 days, California Governor Jerry Brown has undermined President Trump. In June, almost immediately after Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, Brown partnered with Chinese President Xi Jinping to continue expanding green technology and trade. In July, Brown extended California's climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And as wildfires have raged through the state and region, Brown said he was "linking with other similar-minded people all over the world" and "pushing forward even as Trump blusters."
11. Noam Chomsky
Well known linguist and scientist Noam Chomsky spoke out numerous times in 2017 for the sake of the environment. In an interview with Truthout in March, Chomsky called out the Trump administration for cutting federal spending to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, stating that his actions are an "attack against future generations." In May he spoke out again, telling BBC Newsnight that the Republican Party's denial of climate change has made them the most dangerous organization "in human history." Chomsky's criticisms opened up an intellectual dialogue for conservative voters and encouraged the scientific community to weigh in.
12. Leonardo DiCaprio
Actor and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio made impressive strides on climate action in 2017, including investing in the entirely plant-based food company Beyond Meat and a farm-raised seafood company LoveTheWild. In June, DiCaprio also partnered with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to conserve the Gulf of California for the vaquita porpoise, classified as the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Most recently, at the Yale Climate Change Conference in September, DiCaprio announced that his foundation will be awarding $20 million in grants to more than 100 environmental organizations.
13. Stephen Hawking
World-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking represented the majority of the scientific community in 2017 on several occasions, urging Trump to stop denying evidence of climate change. In June, Hawking had a few choice words about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, warning that "we are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible." And in November, Hawking once again pushed Trump to stop denying climate change and take action. Hawking nearly gave up on Earth altogether, telling WIRED UK that "our Earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."
14. David Attenborough
English documentary filmmaker and naturalist David Attenborough, whose series Blue Planet II began in October, spoke out several times on plastic pollution in 2017. In September, Attenborough told Greenpeace of the "heartbreaking" footage he recorded of mother birds feeding their babies plastic, an iconic moment for him that pushed him to speak up about plastic pollution in oceans., and tell Trump to reconsider his withdrawal from the Paris agreement. He emphasized that "never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet—and never before have we had such power to do something about it."
A draft letter backed by officials in Arizona and Utah is urging the Trump administration to review the uranium mining ban near the Grand Canyon. The letter, which is expected to be sent to Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke on Monday, asks the department to completely overturn the Obama-era environmental protections.
The 20-year ban was issued in 2012 by former Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. It prohibits new claims for mining in the region, which includes more than 1 million acres of public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon. The ban, however, does not restrict existing mines, four of which continue within just a few miles of the rim of the Colorado River.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed many reports on the safety of the water in the region, which helped lead to the ban. In 2010, they found that 15 springs and five wells contained concentrations of uranium that exceeded drinking water limits. Also in 2010, the USGS found radioactive dust several hundred feet from the Kanab North Mine Site at more than 10 times the background concentration for uranium, according to Grand Canyon Trust.
But the draft letter to be sent by the Mohave County board and other regional leaders says that the ban is unlawful and stifles the economic growth of the mining industry. A second letter, planned to also be sent on Monday, will ask the federal government to rollback national monument protections for popular tourist destinations, including the Vermilion Cliffs area in northern Arizona and the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix.
Board chairman Gary Watson told The Guardian, "I think the Trump administration is very interested in looking at the situation. A number of companies are very anxious to get in there and start extracting uranium. There is no danger."
Moreover, the letter states that uranium has many military uses and calculates that $29 billion could be profited from uranium mining in the region. A rural area known as the Arizona Strip could "provide power generation to the state of California for 20 years."
These numbers might grab the attention of the president, but there are major concerns from area residents, including native tribes.
"We are faced with the potential dangers of uranium contamination into our sole water supply, (local) testing in other areas has already shown traces of uranium from mining in the Grand Canyon region, and I don't think we would be able to survive an environmental catastrophe here, I just don't know where we would go," said Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai tribal council.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, have been huge proponents of the ban, pushing for it to be upheld as several mining companies have filed lawsuits to local governments for rights to the land in the past five years.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, uranium mining leaves a toxic legacy on public lands and sacred American Indian sites. It affects habitat for more than 100 sensitive species and has the potential to seep pollutants into underground aquifers used for drinking water.
"There was a very good reason the ban was put in place: toxic uranium mining contaminates groundwater," said Randi Spivak, public lands program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. "A reversal of the ban would harm people and wildlife while lining the pockets of industry."
Green Sea Turtles in Australia's Great Barrier Reef are some of the world's most majestic creatures. They have a lifespan of up to 50 years, but after recent results from blood tests on the marine animals, their health might be in jeopardy.
Man-made substances and chemicals are contaminating the ocean and, consequently, sea turtles. After testing Green Turtles' bloodstream in various locations along the 1,400 mile stretch of the reef, researchers from the University of Queensland found that the turtles had a wild cocktail of common drugs like milrinone for heart problems and allopurinol for gout, household cleaning products, cosmetics and hundreds of thousands of other industrial chemicals like pesticides and herbicides in their systems.
"The worrying thing is there are more chemicals we could not identify than chemicals we could," said Amy Heffernan, co-author of the study. "There is one new chemical registered for use every six seconds, so the libraries and the databases that we use to identify these chemicals just can't keep up."
Some of the more obvious signs of harm to the turtles' health were inflammation and liver dysfunction. But, the extent of the impact remains unknown.
"Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don't always know what they are and what effect they are having," said Heffernan. "What you put down your sink, spray on your farms or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef."
What is known, however, is that the reef has been under quite a bit of pressure in recent decades due to climate change. With overfishing, waste dumping and increased pH levels leading to massive coral bleaching and die off, the turtles' habitat is at major risk of total extinction. A heavy dose of foreign substances is just the cherry on top.
The research is just one element of a larger study funded by the World Wildlife Fund who will be working with farmers to find better management practices for the turtles and all wildlife in the reefs.
Nitrous oxide, the main ingredient in laughing gas, does more than just act as a nerve agent; it is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and scientists believe could be leaking from ancient reservoirs beneath Arctic permafrost.
A team of researchers from Sweden, Finland and Denmark analyzed 16 frozen peat cores from the Finnish Lapland and melted them in a specialized warming chamber in their lab. The goal was to see what kind of elements would be emitted if warming temperatures were to ensue in the Arctic. Their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that nitrous oxide could emerge from more than one-fourth of the Arctic's peatland surfaces.
The researchers collected peat core samples. Carolina Voigt
There would be a five-fold increase in the amount of nitrous oxide released, compared to the average seasonal thawing of the uppermost part of the peat. The emissions would be so high, they'd match that of tropical rainforests, which are the highest polluters of nitrous oxide.
In fact, due to climate change in the region, there are already "hotspots" releasing the gas at a much higher rate than expected. This is what prompted the researchers to analyze nitrous oxide in the first place, since it usually isn't seen as much of a threat compared to methane and CO2.
"Usually nitrous oxide emissions from Arctic soils were believed to be negligible, basically because the nitrogen content—the substrate for production of N2O—is probably rather low, or the production rate is rather low due to the cold climate," said Carolina Voigt, from the University of Eastern Finland.
Another concern from the study is the lack of vegetation in the Arctic, without plants to suck up the nitrous oxide, it will go straight into the atmosphere.
"Plants take up nitrogen from the surface soil so they reduce the nitrogen pool that's available for N2O production in the soil profile, so plants are very effective at reducing N20 emissions," Voigt said.
Voigt said the wetter the conditions are, the less likely nitrous oxide is to be released from the peat.
"So future N2O emissions in the Arctic probably will depend largely on how vegetation and moisture conditions will develop in the future," she said.
With Arctic warming at an all time high, however, this may soon be the reality.
The Rink Glacier, the largest glacier on the west coast of Greenland, was exhibiting some strange melting behaviors during the hot summers of 2010 and 2012 that can only be described as a "warmed freezer pop sliding out of its plastic casing." This kind of mass melt lasted four months between June and September in 2012 with a loss of 6.7 gigatons of mass.
The mass moved 2.5 miles every month for the first three months, then 7.5 miles all at once in September. That's actually pretty speedy considering the Rink Glacier usually melts at a speed of one to two miles a year. But, still, it was slow enough that NASA had to use aerial GPS data to measure the movement.
"You could literally be standing there and you would not see any indication of the wave," said Eric Larour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and coauthor of the research. "You would not see cracks or other unique surface features."
The animation shows the mass melt in the summer of 2012. NASA/JPL-Caltech
There was also a similar melting pattern in the summer of 2010, but scientists didn't recognize it on first glance and had to go back and quantify it with the data from that period. Sure enough, there was a wave in 2010 as well, smaller than the one in 2012, but it moved at the same speed.
NASA scientists aren't quite sure why this is happening but they suspect it has something to do with surface melting. During these two summers, there was more standing water due to melting than ever before. In fact, in 2012, more than 95 percent of the surface snow and ice was melting, creating giant lakes on top of the Rink Glacier. The water had to flow somewhere, so it might have carved channels through the ice, weakening the infrastructure of the glacier. This lubricated the ice mass, allowing it to slide out of its pocket, slowly, over the course of the summer.
"Intense melting such as we saw in 2010 and 2012 is without precedent, but it represents the kind of behavior that we might expect in the future in a warming climate," said coauthor Erik Ivins of JPL. "We're seeing an evolving system."
Understanding how and why the ice melts is essential to understanding how climate change is affecting the glaciers over time. This ultimately helps scientists calculate sea level rise and changes to the global carbon cycle.
Bill Maher is sick of billionaires' obsession with Mars, more like "Mars-a-Lago," he said.
In a new animation produced by ATTN:, the popular talk show host of Real Time, discusses the perils of our planet, including how "climate change is killing us."
He talks about Trump's new budget proposal, which slashes funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third, from $8.2 billion to $5.65 billion. It's the agency "which protects our water, our air and the future of our planet," as Maher puts it.Meanwhile, Trump signed a bill in March calling for a mission to Mars by 2033. NASA estimates the trip will cost $450 billion. Citing initiatives by Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Tesla's Elon Musk, Maher said these missions are a waste of time. Mars is not habitable nor is it economically feasible.
Maher suggests that instead of exploring Mars, we should explore the facts. He explains how environmental policies have been proven to work and can completely reverse the effects of climate change. But, cutting them will get us nowhere, except to maybe the "airless, lifeless, freezing sh*thole" which we seem so preoccupied with getting to, even though it would take about eight months to get there by spaceship and there's no guarantee humans would survive. After all, the temperature at night on Mars "runs a balmy minus 25 to a quite chilling 76 below."
Maher said we should focus our budget on the planet we know we can live on: "Earth: You are Here. You are Home."
California's plethora of salmon and trout species are dwindling at a rapid rate. A new study found that of the 31 genetically distinct kinds of salmon and trout on the West Coast, 23 will likely go extinct within a hundred years.
The study is a follow up to a 2008 report that drew the same conclusions, however, the outlook wasn't as grim almost 10 years ago. The old assessment gave a time period of 50 years for five of the species, the new one says now 14 species are likely to be lost within that timeframe.
"As we began drafting the 2017 report, we realized that the new information and increasingly obvious impacts of climate change required us to rethink the metrics used in the 2008 report to evaluate status [of each species]," Peter Moyle, co-author of the new report, told NPR.
Salmon and trout need cool, clean water to thrive and with increasingly warming temperatures and pollution in the ocean, California's coasts may become uninhabitable. In fact, some locations may dry up altogether, making it impossible for the fish to trace back to their nesting grounds.
Agriculture is also a big driver because fertilizers and pesticides from major crops seep into the waterways, changing the chemical makeup and spawning harmful algae blooms. Irrigation for crops also takes water from rivers and other freshwater sources, furthering habitat loss.
Some of the species in jeopardy are the prized Chinook populations, of which, six out of eight are in trouble. Coho salmon are also critically threatened, with as few as 5,000 fish returning to their nesting grounds to fertilize eggs.
The report states there is still time to mitigate the effects on these fish species by restoring riverside floodplains, spring-fed creeks and coastal marshes. Another method would be removing dams so fish can swim upstream or making smarter agricultural decisions.
"We do still have time," said California Trout's Executive Director Curtis Knight. "We are optimistic that with some effort, we can have a future that involves these fish."