During a bird evolution study on the island of Borneo in May of 2016, a research team discovered an owl that hadn't been seen in the wild since 1892. Quickly grabbing their cameras, the researchers captured the first-ever photos of the rare bird, identifying it as the rare Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, native to southeast Asia.
At the time of its re-discovery, the elusive owl was roosting just a meter above the ground. "It was a pretty rapid progression of emotions when I first saw the owl — absolute shock and excitement that we'd found this mythical bird, then pure anxiety that I had to document it as fast as I could," Andy Boyce, an avian ecologist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, told the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
The island of Borneo, which is divided politically among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is a hotspot for biodiversity — home to orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, according to the UN Environment Programme. It's also home to the Otus brookii brookii, one of the two sub-species and "far more elusive" Rajah scops owls, according to the Global Wildlife Conservation. The other sub-species, Otus brookii solokensis, is found in Sumatra and is well documented.
Researchers were able to identify the owl based on its distinct characteristics, such as its orange irises, small ear tufts and speckled brown and black crown, the GWC reported. But to their surprise, the researchers found that the feather colors and patterns of the O. brookii brookii varied from its Sumatran counterpart, meaning that the two owls may actually be entirely different species.
If the owl is endemic to only Borneo and is its own species, conservation action is more likely, Boyce explained. But researchers haven't been able to find the owl since and reckon its one-time sighting could mean its numbers are low in the wild.
"Unfortunately, we are only good at conserving what we know and what we name," Boyce said, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. "Our sole sighting during this intensive study confirms this owl lives in mature montane forests, likely above or below the survey area… To protect this bird, we need a firm understanding of its habitat and ecology."
Only half of Bornean forest cover remains today, the UN Environment Programme reported. As climate change, deforestation and expansion of palm oil continue to threaten the owl's habitat, researchers, with almost no data of the owl's vocalizations, distribution, breeding biology and population size, are running out of time to shine a light on the mysterious species.
Additional studies on the owl "could have important conservation implications," yet its rarity makes these studies "impossible," the researchers wrote in their findings, published last week in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Finding another individual or population is necessary to learn more about the Bornean Rajah scops owl and protect them from increasing climate-related threats.
John Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, said the important thing about rediscovering lost birds "is the excitement and interest they generate," according to the GWC. "The idea that there's a mysterious species out there that no one can find at the moment should be a call to action for birdwatchers in the area, and it's a way of getting people excited to search new areas and help make discoveries."
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Beef cattle have an outsized environmental impact because they belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In total, they account for 3.7 percent of the United States' total greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of all agricultural emissions, Inside Climate News reported. To replace beef, some environmentalists and scientists have suggested choosing chicken instead, which produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.
But a new study finds that consuming "less-carbon polluting meats," like chicken or fish, may not be a sustainable replacement to beef and instead may further add to its high emissions, The Academic Times reported.
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, examined meat consumption data between 1961-2013 -- a period when chicken consumption grew five-fold per capita and beef consumption almost stayed the same.
Richard York, a sociologist at the University of Oregon and the study's lead author, said, "If you have increases in the production of poultry and fish, it doesn't tend to compete with or suppress other meat source consumption," according to the University of Oregon. "It would be great if more poultry and fish production and consumption would reduce that of beef, but that doesn't seem to be the case."
In a 2012 study, York found that expanding renewable energy did not reduce fossil fuel emissions, but increased overall energy consumption. He called this phenomenon the "displacement paradox" and wondered if it could be applied to meat consumption patterns, The Academic Times reported.
"Adding more wind doesn't really result in using less coal. If we use more energy sources, we use more energy. Likewise, when additional meat choices are offered, that additional variety tends to, more simply, increase overall meat consumption," York explained, according to the University of Oregon.
Studies show that beef production creates about four to eight times the emissions of pork, chicken or egg production per gram of protein, according to The New York Times. Although emitting much less, chicken production still has a significant greenhouse gas impact.
Greenhouse gas emissions per serving of poultry, for example, are 11 times higher than those of one serving of beans, Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy For Animals wrote in Vox – "so swapping beef with chicken is akin to swapping a Hummer with a Ford F-150, not a Prius." Global poultry production is also rising globally. Between 1990 and 2013, it increased by 165 percent, while global beef production only increased by 23 percent, Garcés wrote.
While scientists admit they don't have a silver bullet solution to limiting global warming below the Paris agreement's target of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, they say curbing emissions from food production is a necessary part of the equation, calling it a "dark horse of climate change," The New York Times reported.
York suggests policymakers concentrate on supply chains, looking at the fossil fuel and meat industries side-by-side. "Rather than simply increasing renewable energy production, we need to actively suppress fossil fuel production instead of just giving more options," York said. "With meats, we may need to address the level of subsidies given for meat consumption to realize a desired reduction in meat production."
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Embracing solar power means reducing both your reliance on traditional utility companies and your environmental footprint, but the high upfront cost of solar panels can be a big deterrent for some homeowners.
If you're considering solar, you may have questions like: How much does it cost to install a solar energy system? What are some of the factors that can impact pricing? What else should home- and business owners know about going solar? In this article, we'll touch on each of these important topics, with the goal of helping you make a fully informed, financially responsible decision about solar energy.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost to Install?
To begin with, let's take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installation. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average price of a residential solar system was $2.94 per watt, which would mean a 5 kWh system would cost $14,700 and a 10 kWh system would cost $29,400.
The exact price you'll pay for solar panels will depend on a number of factors, including your geographic location, the size of your home and more.
Now, you might rightly wonder: What exactly are you paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total cost. Remaining expenses include labor, maintenance and additional parts and components (such as inverters).
What Factors Determine Solar Pricing?
As mentioned, there are a few key things that can lead to variation in solar system installation costs. Analyzing these can help you determine whether solar panels are worth it for your home. Let's take a look at them in greater detail.
Your Electrical Needs
The solar panels themselves will be rated for a particular wattage, which reflects the amount of energy they can absorb for storage and ultimately for power generation. You will actually pay according to wattage, which means that the greater your household energy needs, the more you'll have to spend to get the correct number of solar panels.
So, how do you determine how much energy you need for your home? The best way to figure this out is through a consultation with a solar installer. (We recommend shopping smart by requesting free consultations with two or three top solar companies in your area.)
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on total square footage, the number of people who live in your home, the number of appliances and power-draining devices that you have connected and more. It can then recommend the ideal solar panel system size to accommodate your energy usage.
Type of Panels and Other Components
Variation in manufacturing can also affect the cost of solar panels. There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Of these two, monocrystalline options tend to be more energy-efficient and thus may provide you with greater savings in the long run. They are also a bit pricier on the front end. With that said, homeowners with a smaller roof surface area may benefit from getting the most efficient solar panels, even if the initial cost is a bit steeper.
Other components you'll need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts and more. The quality of these materials can affect your total solar system cost. For example, if you spring for the best solar batteries, they may add a few thousand dollars to your investment.
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Your geographic area. Solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and thus a lot of photovoltaic light. This basically means that solar panels can operate more efficiently, and in many cases means that fewer total panels are needed. Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems.
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 26% federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels between 2020 and 2022. It is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023 and may not be extended thereafter.
Local incentives vary by state, but most of the best solar panel installers will help you identify and apply for these programs so you don't miss out on savings.
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. Different vendors are going to offer different levels of customization, expertise and consumer protections (including guarantees and warranties). The bottom line? It is wise to shop around a bit, determine the average cost of solar panels in your area and evaluate the value of services offered by a few solar installation companies.
Solar Panel Price Vs. Return on Investment
Clearly, your upfront solar panel installation cost may be a little steep. Now, let's look at the flipside: How much money will you actually save? And will your energy savings be enough to offset the initial cost of your solar energy system?
It is not unreasonable to think that you can cut your monthly utility bills by as much as 75% or more by switching to solar energy. Of course, the specific dollar amount will depend on where you live, the size of your home and the number of people in your household.
One way to look at it: The average household energy bill is somewhere between $100 and $200 monthly. It would probably take about 15 years for your energy savings to cancel out the cost of solar panel installation. In other words, within a decade and a half or so, your solar system might pay for itself. Factor in savings from tax rebates and other incentives, and most solar systems pay for themselves in closer to seven or eight years.
Note that most solar energy companies offer free solar calculators, which help you arrive at a ballpark for monthly energy savings. While these calculators are imprecise, they can certainly give you a general sense of the financial benefits you will experience when you convert to solar energy.
Free Quote: See How Much You Can Save on Solar Panels
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could save up to $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive tax rebates.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Solar Panels
As you continue to weigh the pros and cons of solar energy, it's natural to have a few questions. The best way to resolve these is really to set up a solar consultation with a local expert, but in the meantime, here are a few general answers to some of the most common solar inquiries.
How much will it cost to maintain my solar energy system?
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring any maintenance or upkeep. As such, you should not really need to factor maintenance into the equation for the first 20 years or so after you install your system. (And most solar companies will offer you warranties and guarantees to give peace of mind on this front.)
How will solar energy impact my property values?
Many homeowners want to know how going solar will impact the value of their homes. Going solar increases property values. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported buyers are willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar panel system. With that said, you are only going to see your property values go up if you own your solar system outright, as opposed to leasing it.
How can I finance the cost of solar panels?
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing consumers some flexibility. With that said, there are three basic options for paying for your solar energy system:
- Purchase your solar energy system outright (that is, pay in cash).
- Take out a solar loan to purchase the system, then pay it back with interest.
- Lease your system; you will pay less month-to-month but won't actually own the system yourself.
Which is better, buying or leasing my solar system?
It all depends on your motivation for going solar. If you want to maximize long-term savings and increase the value of your home, then purchasing your solar system is usually best. However, if you just want a low-maintenance way to reduce monthly energy costs and practice environmental stewardship, then leasing might be a better option. Also note that leasing can be a good option for those who do not plan on being in their home for exceptionally long.
How can I be sure my roof will accommodate a solar system?
If your roof faces south, has ample space and has little to no shade cover, it should work just fine. Even roofs that are not optimal can still be utilized with a few tweaks and adjustments. Your solar energy consultant will advise you on whether your home is a good fit for solar energy.
How long will my solar energy system last?
Solar systems are designed to be exceptionally durable. With just the most basic upkeep, most solar energy systems should continue to work and produce power for anywhere from 25 to 35 years.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the initial cost of solar panels is more than offset by the long-term, recurring energy savings. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to embrace solar power.
California Officials Move to Stop Nestlé From Taking Millions of Gallons of Water From Public Streams
California water officials have accused Nestlé of draining more water out of southern California's Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest than permitted. The drafted cease-and-desist order, which was sent to the company on Friday, asked Nestlé to stop draining millions of gallons of water out of the forest every year and comes at the same time California's Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in two counties.
Nestlé, which sells its bottled water under the Arrowhead brand, maintains rights to California spring water that date back to 1865, The Guardian reported. But state officials say the company, which is based in Switzerland, has been taking more than its share, citing a 2017 investigation which found that Nestlé was illegally drawing from Strawberry Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana river, which supplies over 750,000 residents with clean drinking water.
"We have a limited amount of water," said Julé Rizzardo, the assistant deputy director of the Division of Water Rights, according to The Guardian. "And as we face our second dry year in a row, it's important that we use our authority to protect the municipal water supply and the environment."
Currently, the U.S. Forest Service issues a $2,100 permit to Nestlé per year to operate in the San Bernardino National Forest, but it does not charge for water, The San Joaquin Sun reported. Last year, Nestlé took 58 million gallons of California water -- "far surpassing the 2.3m gallons per year it could validly claim," The Guardian reported. So the company could be draining 25 times more water than it has the right to, The Story of Stuff Project, an environmental organization, pointed out.
"Paying next to nothing in royalties, Nestlé makes billions of dollars a year selling our water. In communities across North America, the pattern repeats itself: Nestlé enters a local town making promises of local job opportunities and the highest sustainability and environmental standards to its water bottling operations," The Story of Stuff Project wrote in a statement, regarding its campaign aimed at taking back public control of water.
The draft cease-and-desist order, which still requires approval from the California Water Resources Control Board, is a product of years of organizing by grassroots campaigns.
"These are people who just want to make money, but they've already dried up the upper Strawberry Creek and they've done a lot of damage," said Amanda Frye, an activist who has been protesting Nestlé's pumping from Strawberry Creek for years, according to The Guardian. "They're a foreign corporation taking our natural resources, which makes it even worse."
Environmental groups say that as droughts and wildfires in California worsen, Nestlé's water usage will impact both local communities and ecosystems. "In the context of a global pandemic and increasing droughts and wildfires across North America, it's clearer than ever that water should be owned by and for the people," The Story of Stuff Project wrote. "All too often over recent years, we've seen water being privatized and sold in plastic packaging that's accelerating a waste crisis instead."
Nestlé Waters North America, which has recently rebranded to BlueTriton Brands, has 20 days to appeal the draft order and request a hearing, according to The Guardian. But if California's water board approves the cease-and-desist order, the company could be fined up to $1,000 a day, dating back to 2017, which would retroactively accumulate to over $1 million, The San Joaquin Sun reported.
"The state will use its enforcement authority to protect water and other natural resources as we step up our efforts to further build California's drought resilience," added Rizzardo.
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Three-and-a-half decades after the world's worst nuclear disaster, Ukrainian officials are transforming the deserted Chernobyl exclusion zone into a monument that educates and warns tourists about the consequences of human error.
On the night of April 26, 1986, reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded and caught fire, sending radioactive material into the air just 65 miles north of the capital city of Kyiv. Despite the health risks of the explosion, Soviet leaders attempted to keep the accident quiet, according to the AP.
The explosion's radiation killed 31 plant workers and firemen in the immediate aftermath, and later killed thousands more due to radiation-related illnesses, such as cancer, The Guardian reported. Eventually, tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from the surrounding areas.
"This is a place of tragedy and memory, but it is also a place where you can see how a person can overcome the consequences of a global catastrophe," said Bohdan Borukhovskyi, Ukraine's deputy environment minister, according to the AP. "We want a new narrative to appear — it was not a zone of exclusion, but a zone of development and revival."
Ukrainian officials are hoping to classify Chernobyl as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the plan to transform Chernobyl's grim narrative. "We believe that putting Chernobyl on the UNESCO heritage list is a first and important step towards having this great place as a unique destination of interest for the whole of mankind," said Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine culture minister, according to The Guardian. "The importance of the Chernobyl zone lays far beyond Ukraine's borders... It is not only about commemoration, but also history and people's rights," he added.
Officials have taken initial steps toward making the site a monument in hopes of attracting more tourists and funding, the AP reported.
Other initiatives include using part of Chernobyl's exclusion zone as a storage ground for the country's nuclear waste for the next 100 years. Currently, Ukraine transports its nuclear waste to Russia, so the new repository at Chernobyl will save the government up to $200 million a year, the AP reported.
Ukrainian officials also hope to turn Chernobyl into a tourist attraction; visitors doubled in 2019 following the release of the critically acclaimed HBO mini-series about the disaster, Euronews reported. Although pandemic restrictions halted travel in 2020, officials hope the site will eventually earn more money for future restoration.
"Our tourism is unique; it is not a classic concept of tourism," said Borukhovskyi, according to Euronews. "This is an area of meditation and reflection, an area where you can see the impact of human error, but [where] you can also see the human heroism that corrects it."
Today, visiting certain parts of the exclusion zone with an experienced guide is relatively safe thanks to low levels of radiation. Despite higher levels of radiation in other areas, the zone is thriving with bears, bison, wolves, lynx and dozens of bird species, the AP reported. Biologists also use the site to study how animals adapt to radiation, finding that they're surprisingly resistant to exposure.
Gaining the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site could mean additional protection and more visitors for Chernobyl, but Tkachenko warns that, "Chernobyl should not become a wild playground for adventure hunters," according to the AP. "People should leave the exclusion zone with the awareness of the historical memory of this place and its importance for all mankind."
Update: The headline was updated from "Nuclear Explosion" to "Nuclear Disaster" as the latter is more accurate.
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When marine biologist Daniel J. Madigan was working on a research project around Isla San Esteban, Mexico, he heard rumors of illegal shark poaching occurring off the Gulf of California. At the time, eight fishermen illegally caught and killed as many as 14 great white sharks, Hakai Magazine reported.
After contacting the poachers and examining the shark teeth they had collected, Madigan, from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, was able to determine that four of the 14 sharks were juveniles and almost half could have been mature females.
Surprised by the findings, Madigan and his colleague, University of Delaware assistant professor and shark specialist Aaron Carlisle, compared their findings with a NOAA report that estimated the adult female mortality rate for the entire eastern Pacific was around just two sharks annually, UDaily reported.
When they saw these mortality numbers didn't line up, the researchers realized there was a "harvest of a large‐bodied, protected species that has been largely hidden from researchers and managers," they wrote in their findings, published in Conservation Letters.
"He (Madigan) found, in just a two-week time period, more mortality in this one location than what we thought for the whole ocean," Carlisle told UDaily. "It was pretty clear then that, well, something kind of important is happening here."
Researchers estimate that great white shark populations are very small, with only hundreds of large adults and a few thousand white sharks total. Usually gathered around seal colonies, the handful of great white shark populations can be found in areas such as Central California, Guadalupe Island in Mexico, South Australia, and South Africa, according to UDaily.
Researchers say their results are alarming, as they show high rates of mortality of the eastern North Pacific (ENP) population, expected to be only a few hundred adults. Their results also highlight how little they previously knew about great white shark populations in the Gulf of California, Hakai Magazine reported.
"It's been about 20 years since a new 'population' of white sharks has been discovered," Carlisle told UDaily. "The fact that the eastern Pacific has so much infrastructure focused on white sharks and we didn't know that there were these sites in the Gulf of California was kind of mind-blowing."
Although their findings raise a "red flag" to other researchers and scientists that more needs to be done to protect the important predators, the study's authors were hesitant to publish their findings at first, knowing it would spark tension between them and local fishermen, Hakai Magazine reported.
Currently, 80 percent of fishing in the Gulf of California is considered unsustainable. Although the United States and Mexico have laws in place to prevent the catching and killing of the species, as resources continue to become more scarce, fishermen are forced to rely on less conventional, and sometimes illegal, fishing practices for income, like poaching white sharks, Hakai Magazine reported.
"It was an ethical dilemma for me," Madigan explained, according to Hakai Magazine. "I didn't love the potential side effects of publishing the paper. But once I had that information, I felt obligated to put it out there."
While the researchers said their study was not intended to cause problems in the fishing community, they hope it can shine a light on alternative ways coastal communities can support their local economies.
"This seems like it would be a perfect situation for ecotourism, much like there is at Guadalupe Island," Carlisle explained, according to UDaily. "There could be huge opportunities to build businesses around these populations of sharks, and that's just from a management point of view. From a science point of view, there's all sorts of fun things you could do."
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As California enters its second consecutive dry year and braces for what could be another devastating wildfire season, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency on Wednesday, in just two counties. The declaration targets Mendocino and Sonoma counties, known for their wineries and grape growing, and where conditions are desperately dry.
Standing in the dry bottom of Lake Mendocino, Newsom said, "Oftentimes we overstate the word historic, but this is indeed an historic moment, certainly historic for this particular lake, Mendocino," according to AP News. The lake is at about 40 percent of its normal capacity. Lake Sonoma, another local reservoir, is only about 62 percent full.
Here in Lake Mendocino, we should be 40 ft. underwater but it’s dry. This is climate change. Today, we declared a… https://t.co/ISsasLAihB— Office of the Governor of California (@Office of the Governor of California)1619034124.0
According to the California Department of Water Resources, this is the state's fourth-driest year on record, especially in the northern parts of the state. At the beginning of the month, state officials announced that snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Cascades was about 40 percent below average levels, The Guardian reported.
Newsom's declaration has already faced criticism from state officials and farmers in the Central Valley, who say the governor's approach isn't sufficient to address the drought that impacts almost all parts of the state.
"(T)he Central Valley can't afford to be overlooked," state Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) said in a statement, according to The Mercury News. "We need a statewide emergency declaration immediately in order to deliver more water to farmers and growers in the Valley."
To others, the governor's regional approach "sounds like a good idea," Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis, told The Mercury News, who added that the governor should not declare a widespread drought too early, to avoid "crying wolf."
Currently, California is in a similar situation to what it experienced six years ago when former Gov. Jerry Brown declared a water emergency. But state officials say today's current drought will be unlike anything seen before, requiring innovative measures, according to CalMatters.
Although the governor has yet to declare a state-wide emergency, officials have been warning Californians of the drought. In March, the California's State Water Resources Control Board, for example, "sent early warnings to 40,000 water rights holders urging them to start conserving," AP News reported.
"If you're in a different part of the state, you probably need to know that this will one day happen to you," Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said of the drought declaration, according to AP News.
In early April, a group of state legislators sent a letter to Newsom urging him to declare a drought emergency, CalMatters reported. "This is the slowest, most foreseeable train wreck imaginable," said Sen. Borgeas, who helped write the letter.
Newsom's reluctance to declare a state-wide emergency may have something to do with his looming recall campaign, set for later this year, according to political strategist Dan Schnur, The Mercury News reported.
"It's hard to think of another explanation about why he'd be tiptoeing around such a critically important issue," Schnur told The Mercury News. "He's clearly very sensitive about pushing voters too hard on water usage in the aftermath of the pandemic restrictions."
Regardless of whether the declaration covers their county, some local water districts are already taking matters into their own hands. In Marin County, for example, adjacent to Sonoma, water officials voted Tuesday to require residents to reduce water use by measures such as not washing vehicles at home or filling backyard pools, AP News reported.
As the state continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and a sluggish economy, scarce resources and the threat of another wildfire season will only ignite further tensions. Acknowledging that water is a "politically fractious issue" in the state, Gov. Newsom urged people not to resort to "old binaries" like urban vs. rural, The Mercury News reported.
"This is California," he said. "We are Californians."
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In just a few weeks billions of cicadas are expected to emerge after 17 years underground, swarming portions of the U.S. from Northern Georgia to New York, The Guardian reported. While some people's skin might crawl upon hearing this news, cicada researchers are hoping to learn more about the mysterious species.
Ecology and evolutionary biologists at the University of Connecticut, including Professor Chris Simon and Assistant Professor in Residence John Cooley, are among the scientists studying the molecular genetics, evolutionary biology and behaviors of periodical cicadas, which are cicadas that are tied to a 13- or 17-year life cycle. But to answer their looming questions, researchers need to understand where to find the cicadas this spring and summer, UConn Today reported.
"I used to have to contact every agricultural extension agent in every county a brood of cicadas occupied and ask them to gather information," Simon explained, according to UConn Today. "I had to go to the county courthouse, meet the agent, pick up a map of each county, get the phone numbers and address for people who reported, and then drive around to each house or farm."
Today, researchers are enlisting citizen scientists to help track cicadas on smartphones. Developed by Gene Kritsky, dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St Joseph University in Cincinnati, the app, called Cicada Safari, encourages anyone to snap a photo of a cicada.
Once the photo is uploaded, the app captures the time, date and geographical coordinates, helping scientists better track the cicadas' emergence.
"Using citizen science to help map periodical cicadas goes back to the 1840s, when Gideon B. Smith wrote newspaper articles asking readers to send him details of where they saw cicadas," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "By the time of his death in 1867, he had documented all the known broods of cicadas."
The cicada swarms are expected to appear in mid-May as temperatures rise. Known as Brood X, they "may amass in millions in parks, woods, neighborhoods, and can seemingly be everywhere," Gary Parsons, an entomologist at Michigan State University, told The Guardian. "When they are this abundant, they fly, land and crawl everywhere, including occasionally landing on humans."
While cicadas don't harm people, scientists do suggest preventing pets from eating the insects because it might make them sick. The insect mating calls will also be hard to miss, as their sounds can reach up to 100 decibels — "the same sound as standing next to a motorcycle revving its engine," The Guardian reported.
The cicada emergence could give researchers access to data they've never had before, The Guardian noted. "I have been mining historical emergence records for 45 years, and in the process we have discovered new populations of broods that had been missed for over a century," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "It's amazing that an insect that has been studied for so long and by so many still has secrets to reveal."
This year, scientists behind the app are hoping to receive 50,000 observations. "This is the big one, a generational event," Kritsky told Entomology Today. "For those who weren't alive 17 years ago or who were too young at the time and can't remember, they are in for quite an experience."
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The survey compared six environmental concerns: drinking water pollution; pollution in rivers, lakes and reservoirs; tropical rainforest loss; climate change; air pollution; and plant and animal species extinction. While most Americans showed concern for all of these threats, the majority were most worried about polluted drinking water (56 percent), followed by polluted rivers, lakes and reservoirs (53 percent), Gallup reported.
"When it comes to environmental problems, Americans remain most concerned about two that have immediate and personal potential effects," Gallup noted. "For the past 20 years, worries about water pollution – both drinking water and bodies of water — have ranked at the top of the list. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, laid bare the dangers of contaminated drinking water and no doubt sticks in the public's minds."
According to a new study, 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2018, Asher Rosinger, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health, anthropology and demography at Penn State, wrote in The Conversation.
"It's important not to blame people for distrusting what comes out of their tap, because those fears are rooted in history," Rosinger explained.
Meanwhile, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surveys found that almost 50 percent of rivers and streams and more than one-third of lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported. Without action, concerns over water quality will become increasingly relevant as the demand for fresh water is expected to be one-third greater by 2050 than it is today.
Gallup researchers have tracked environmental concerns among Americans since 2000, and water quality worries have consistently ranked high, Gallup noted.
The survey also revealed an environmental partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. For example, 68 percent of Democrats were highly concerned about global warming compared to 14 percent of Republicans.
Another recent Gallup survey found that 82 percent of Democrats believed that global warming effects had already started compared to 29 percent of Republicans. "That's a gap of 53 points; for comparison, in 2001, the gap was a mere 13 points," Grist reported.
Similarly, a 2020 Pew Research Center report revealed the widest partisan gap to date concerning whether or not climate change should be a top policy priority. Protecting air and water quality ranked as the second most divisive issue among Republicans and Democrats, The New York Times reported.
"Intense partisan polarization over these two issues in particular" has been growing for decades, Riley Dunlap, a professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University, told The New York Times last February. "Voters take cues on their policy preferences and overall positions," he added. "President Trump has, in the past, called climate change a hoax and all that. You get a similar message from many members of Congress on the Republican side. And most importantly, it's the message you get from the conservative media."
Gallup's latest figures also showed that concern about environmental threats either increased or remained the same between 2019 and 2020.
"The fluctuations in worry levels since 2019 are largely driven by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who became more worried, on average, about the six environmental problems in 2020 during the presidential campaign and are now less worried with Joe Biden as president," Gallup reported.
While surveys like these are "not a full-blown diagnostic rundown of the nation's psyche," they are informative tools for understanding how and what Americans are feeling and thinking, Grist reported.
Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.
Published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday, the study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Although studies have previously documented the impact of climate change on coffee production, what's less understood is how varying climates could change the flavors of specialty coffee, the researchers wrote.
The team aimed to fill this gap. Their results provide a glimpse into how future climate change could impact local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation, underscoring the value of local adaptation measures.
Researchers analyzed how 19 different climate factors, such as mean temperatures and rainfall levels, would affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types in the future, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) reported. Although researchers found that areas suitable for growing "average quality coffee" may actually increase over time with climate change, regions where specialty coffee is grown will shrink — a pending problem in light of the global demand for high-quality coffee.
"This is an issue not just for coffee lovers, but for local agricultural value creation," Abel Chemura, the study's lead author, told the PIK.
Coffee profiles rely on specific climate patterns for their unique flavors, levels of acidity and fragrances. But in a warmer climate, the coffee cherry — the fruit picked from a coffee plant — matures faster than the bean inside, making for a lower quality cup of coffee, the PIK reported.
For example, the sought-after Yirgacheffe variety of coffee, which is cultivated in southwestern Ethiopia, could lose more than 40 percent of its suitable growth area by the end of the century, PIK reported. This could impact small farms and threaten Ethiopia's economy, the researchers noted.
"If one or more coffee regions lose their specialty status due to climate change this has potentially grave ramifications for the smallholder farmers in the region," Christoph Gornott, co-author of the study, told the PIK. "If they were forced to switch to growing conventional, less palatable and bitter coffee types, they would all of the sudden compete with industrial production systems elsewhere that are more efficient." In a country where coffee exports account for nearly a third of all agricultural exports, "this could prove fatal," Gornott added.
Climate change impacts on coffee production are not unique to Ethiopia. In Columbia's mountainous coffee-growing regions, temperatures are warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, according to Yale Environment 360. Extreme levels of precipitation, which are becoming more common, also impact production, as they spread insect and fungal diseases.
"In earlier times, the climate was perfect for coffee," one small farmer in Columbia told Yale Environment 360. "In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed and we now don't know when it will be summer, when the coffee will blossom."
But researchers say there are glimmers of hope, emphasizing the importance of local adaptation measures that are designed for particular climates and communities. For example, in regions where temperature is an important factor for specialty coffee cultivation, the researchers suggest improved agroforestry systems that could maintain canopy temperatures, a promising step toward sustaining the "availability and taste of one of the world's most beloved beverages and, more importantly, on economic opportunities in local communities of the Global South," Gornott concluded.
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Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
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