What Is the Keystone Pipeline?
The Keystone pipeline is an existing structure that carries oil from Alberta, Canada, down to Cushing, Oklahoma. The major controversy surrounds a proposed 1,200-mile extension, or shortcut, between Alberta and Nebraska. Dubbed the Keystone XL pipeline, this additional route would connect into the existing Keystone pipeline in Nebraska, which extends onward to Texas. It's worth noting that the proposed shortcut shouldn't be confused with an already existing Keystone XL extension between Oklahoma and Texas, called the Gulf Coast pipeline, which has been operating since 2014.
The additional extension has been under consideration since 2008, when Canadian-based TC Energy (known as TransCanada at the time) decided this would be the best way to ramp up oil production as the route would allow 830,000 barrels a day to be transported to Texas. The current pipeline carries around 550,000 barrels a day from Canada. However, the proposed shortcut faced almost immediate objections from a varied contingency concerning the pipeline's environmental impact. For more than a decade the project has been caught in a tug of war between political administrations, environmentalists and oil lobbyists, alternating between having permits granted then revoked. The battle continues to this day.
How Much of the Keystone Pipeline Is Completed?
It's estimated that just eight percent of the Keystone XL pipeline has been built so far, although President Joe Biden canceled the project in January 2021.
Understanding the fuller picture of the pipeline's complicated history involves some patience. The pipeline first underwent environmental review by the U.S. State Department in 2009. Around this time, Nebraskans started raising concerns about the pipeline's potential impact on farmland and a major water system. The State Department approved the pipeline moving forward in 2010 after determining it would have a minimal effect on the environment, but this only increased opposition from state legislators and scientists. As a result, the State Department delayed the project for another year pending additional review, yet came to the same conclusion in 2011.
Following increased protest activity that year surrounding environmental concerns in Nebraska, the department revised its decision and ordered the pipeline to be rerouted through the state, and TC Energy agreed. Yet this wasn't the end. Barack Obama, president at the time, blocked the Alberta to Nebraska extension based on insufficient time for officials to properly review the new proposed route.
Meanwhile, TC Energy moved forward with the southern extension from Oklahoma to Texas in 2012 while re-submitting a new reroute application for the first leg. No sooner did Nebraska approve the new route in 2013 before opponents filed a lawsuit against the state government. In 2014 a Nebraska judge ruled in favor of the opposition, and the State Department once again suspended moving forward. After being laddered up to the Nebraska Supreme Court, the previous ruling was overturned in 2015 and the U.S. Senate greenlit Keystone XL to resume yet again. President Obama immediately vetoed the bill; later that year the administration rejected TC Energy's reroute application, putting a supposed end to the project.
That is, until Donald Trump took office in 2016. One of President Trump's first orders revived the Keystone XL pipeline in 2017. A federal judge blocked that order in 2018, pending an environmental review. Not to be outdone, President Trump issued a presidential permit in 2019 allowing the pipeline to proceed, and construction began in 2020.
Why Is There So Much Opposition?
Members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, including Native Americans, farmers and ranchers from across the United States, begin a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in front of the U.S. Capitol April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
The type of oil that TC Energy wants to transport from Alberta via the XL pipeline is known as tar sands, a thick-as-molasses oil due to a hydrocarbon substance called bitumen, which also contains a mixture of clay, sand and water. This type of oil is considered one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. Extracting it involves clearing large swaths of biodiverse boreal forest and using steam to liquefy the underground bitumen. All of this comes at a great cost to the environment and contributes to climate change, explaining why so many different groups are opposed to the project. Yet just as many groups have political and financial reasons to keep the Keystone XL pipeline alive.
For starters, the U.S. oil industry finds tar sands oil attractive because it means less of a reliance on oil from the Middle East, while the XL extension would prove cheaper than using rail transportation. Investors also want to protect their stake in the $8 billion pipeline.
Then there are other industry supporters, including the National Association of Manufacturers and construction unions, who have vested reasons for supporting claims that the pipeline would rely on renewable energy and achieve net-zero emissions by 2023, according to TC Energy. However, fully offsetting pipeline emissions wouldn't help to reduce any of the emissions created by those using the actual tar sands oil.
The Global Energy Institute within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports Keystone XL because it claims the pipeline's construction would provide more than 13,000 jobs to Americans and Canadians and generate $3.4 billion in U.S. GDP growth. That number also encompasses millions from state and local taxes. The Global Energy Institute has recently accused President Biden of making a politically motivated decision to cancel the pipeline, claiming that the pipeline would in fact protect the environment while boosting the domestic economy.
Yet there are valid claims that the refined tar sands oil wouldn't even be sold in the U.S., but instead benefit the global market since Canada is free to sell the oil to anyone, all while the pipeline takes a toll on American land and water.
Not only that, but the State Department estimated that Keystone XL would ultimately create just 35 full-time jobs to operate the pipeline — so the thousands that are touted would be temporary jobs.
The pipeline became caught in political crosshairs since it crosses the Canadian border, meaning TC Energy can't proceed without a permit from the U.S. State Department.
Keystone XL has become highly politicized since its introduction in 2008, with democrats concerned about climate change (generally) opposing it and republicans who deny climate change (generally) supporting it. As mentioned in the timeline, former President Obama continually rejected the pipeline due to concerns about the rushed nature of environmental considerations. Later, former President Trump sought to immediately restore the Keystone XL project upon taking office: in part because his predecessor rejected it, and in part because of motivators that had more to do with maintaining economic reliance on the fossil fuel trade and less to do with worrying about climate change issues.
Ultimately, the real issue comes down to the environment.
How Does the Pipeline Impact the Environment and Society?
Heavy oil seen mixed with water in a tailings pond in the Alberta Oilsands. dan_prat / iStock / Getty Images
Tar Sands Oil
As previously touched upon, tar sands is not your average oil. Accessing it requires two different methods, neither of which is environmentally friendly. Both require water from the nearby Athabasca River in Alberta, taxing its finite quantities. The first method, involving surface mining, creates gallons of wastewater in the process. This wastewater is stored in "tailings ponds," where the toxic water is more likely to leak into the environment. The other method involves pumping steam underground in order to access the needed bitumen through a well. This method also requires burning fossil fuels in the process. In fact, extracting tar sands oil produces more greenhouse gas emissions than extracting other natural resources.
Extraction methods aren't the only environmental threat. Oil pipeline leaks and spills are very real dangers too. In 2010, a faulty pipeline carrying tar sands oil leaked 843,000 gallons into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Owned by Canadian-based Enbridge, the company's slow response to stop the spill prompted area evacuations and permanently damaged the Talmadge Creek, the initial site of the spill. The incident is considered the largest inland oil spill to occur in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the oil damaged more than 1,560 acres of streams and rivers and negatively impacted at least 4,000 area animals that needed to be saved. Not only that, but removing bitumen from the environment is a far more costly and involved process than typical crude oil, itself a costly and involved process. Whereas crude oil floats on a surface, bitumen sinks.
Then there's the matter of using tar sands oil itself as a fossil fuel. As it stands, burning the full amount that current technology is able to extract would contribute 22 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. The worst-case scenario predicts burning the maximum amount of tar sands oil that exists in Alberta would increase global warming by 0.4 degrees Celsius.
Parts of the proposed Keystone XL extension would run through or close to Indigenous territory, potentially threatening drinking water sources. There have already been oil leaks along existing parts of the Keystone pipeline, and the affected tribes, including the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, have no reason to believe the extension would be any different. Besides the environmental dangers, the initial permits granted by the State Department ignored existing treaties between the government and Tribal Nations.
Farmers and Ranchers
Tribes aren't the only ones whose rights and land have been threatened by the pipeline. Farms and ranches along the route have faced eminent domain, which would allow the government to take control of private land for public use; i.e., handing it over to TC Energy regardless of opposition. Nebraska has been a battleground state, with an estimated 92 percent of its land belonging to family-owned farms and ranches. Also at stake would be the Ogallala aquifer, an underwater supply that provides water to most of the state. If that's contaminated by leaks, the ramifications would take a toll on public health, agriculture, livestock and wildlife. One study estimates that even a small leak could contaminate five billion gallons of water. It's not just the tar-like bitumen that poses this danger; transporting sludgy tar sands oil requires carcinogenic chemicals to dilute it enough for pipelines.
Tar sands oil poses additional hazards, both to local Alberta residents and those who live along the proposed route. Numerous studies have already linked higher cancer rates from polluted air and water in areas where people live near tar sands oil production or tar sand spills.
It's not just the public who is at risk. For example, Nebraska is home to 20,000 acres of dunes and prairie hills known as Sandhills. It's a popular pitstop for migrating sandhill cranes in particular. TC Energy's proposed reroute would still cut straight through this region; a leak of any size could prove disastrous.
When Did the Pipeline Leak and Why?
Despite TC Energy touting an advanced leak detection system, the existing pipeline has leaked dozens of times since its inception in 2010, and locals have often been the first to notice and report many of them.
There were 35 leaks in the pipeline's first year alone, including a 21,000-gallon spill impacting North Dakota. In 2016, about 16,800 gallons of oil leaked in South Dakota, but that was small compared to the following year, when 210,000 gallons spilled near the small town of Amherst, South Dakota. TC Energy later revised that number to 407,000 gallons of leaked oil. In 2019, an additional 378,000 gallons spilled in North Dakota.
Tar sands oil is more likely to leak than crude oil due to its corrosive nature and the high temperatures needed to transport it, and leaks are also much harder to detect. Not only that, but cleaning it up has proven to be a Herculean task. An NRDC report found that tar sand leaks are three times more likely than conventional crude oil. On top of that, a 2012 report revealed that leak detection systems missed 19 out of 20 leaks during a 10-year period. TC Energy itself admitted in 2011 that the company could only detect leaks greater than 500,000 gallons of tar sands a day.
As for what specifically caused all of the leaks to date? That depends, although variations of equipment failure is a recurring favorite. It's still unknown what caused the massive 2019 leak in North Dakota.
What's Being Done About Keystone XL?
After years of back and forth, President Biden, who ran on a more climate-friendly platform than his predecessor President Trump, canceled the pipeline on his first day in office on Jan. 21, 2021. But the case still isn't closed. In response, 21 Republican-led states have since filed a lawsuit against Biden questioning his authority to make such a decision. (Nevermind that Trump overstepped his authority by issuing a 2019 presidential permit allowing the pipeline to proceed, thereby bypassing the required environmental reviews.)
Oil demand has also dropped since the pipeline's initial proposal back in 2008, due in part to an economic shift toward clean energy and then decreased oil usage during the 2020 COVID pandemic. Plus early investors, including Shell and the Koch Brothers, have since pulled out of the deal. Though Keystone XL appears to have reached the end of the line, opponents say the final step involves removing the existing pipeline infrastructure.
The canceled Keystone XL pipeline is a promising step toward a less oil-reliant future, but it's still a step. There remain other controversial pipelines caught up in legal battles, most notably the Dakota Access pipeline and Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project. Resolving the ongoing oil pipeline threat ultimately requires a continued push toward clean energy, thereby eliminating the need for pipelines in the first place.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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What Is Biodiversity?
Polar bears, honeybees, mango trees and coral reefs are all examples of the countless animal and insect species, plant life and ecosystems that comprise the planet's vast biodiversity. Every living organism has a role to play in an intricate web of connectedness, no matter the size, and without them, there would be no life on Earth. Removing just one from the chain can send significant ripple effects throughout the system, even if those effects aren't immediately felt. More crucially, every species lost increases the extinction risk to another connected species.
While biodiversity exists wherever there is life, there are some places on Earth that are considered biodiversity hotspots — specific areas that are teeming with native species that can't be found anywhere else in the world, from koalas in Australia to giant pandas in China. There are currently 36 areas that qualify as hotspots, but consider this: While that number comprises only 2.4 percent of the planet, those regions contain almost 43 percent of endemic species. But these hotspots are increasingly threatened by human activity and climate change.
Not only that, but a United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Report warned that about a million species currently face extinction, and for some it's just a matter of decades. As it stands, a 2018 World Wildlife Fund report shared that the world's vertebrate populations declined an average 60 percent in each category (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) since 1970.
Why Is Biodiversity Important to Ecosystems?
Mangrove roots in Mochima, Venezuela. Humberto Ramirez / Moment / Getty Images
Think of biodiversity as acting behind the scenes of day-to-day life. It's nature's way of providing clean air and water, food, resources (medicine, wood) and even climate protection. Yet consider that only 20 percent of Earth's species — at most — have been identified by science. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus began the daunting task in the 1700s, and since that time scientists have estimated that about 8.7 million unknown species exist, although only about 1.2 million species have been identified. Of that number, who knows how many critical ecosystem players have already gone extinct, or are critically endangered, before their role is even clear?
How Do Insects and Animals Impact Us?
It's impossible to discuss this without covering the sixth mass extinction. As the name indicates, there have already been five mass extinction events throughout history, with the last one wiping out the dinosaurs 67 million years ago following an asteroid strike. After each of the prior mass extinctions, which were mainly caused by environmental factors that eliminated as much as 95 percent of existing species, scientists estimated that it took millions more years before biodiversity regained pre-mass extinction numbers.
The difference today is that the current ongoing extinction threat could have been avoided since it's a human-led catastrophe. A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that more than 237,000 populations of 515 species have likely gone extinct since 1900, with many more not far behind; or, 100 times faster in the past 100 years compared to the more normal range of up to 10,000 years for some species. So what does that really mean?
Without the proper number of species performing their daily tasks, the everyday aspects of life that we take for granted, including oxygen and a plentiful food supply, will worsen. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed seven honeybee species as critically endangered. If all of the world's bees were to disappear, there would be few insects left to pollinate certain plants, ultimately affecting global food supply chains and the economy. A recent study found that bees and other insect pollinators contributed 34 billion to the U.S economy in 2012 alone.
While the worst-case scenario has yet to happen regarding bees, the world is still dealing with the very likely connection between biodiversity loss and infectious diseases. Though still unproven, scientists are getting closer to linking habitat loss and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Less land increases the likelihood of diseases spreading from animal species, such as bats, to humans. Until habitat loss is properly addressed, experts warn that pandemics will only increase in severity and frequency.
Then there are the financial costs, which are twofold. A UN report found that governments around the world allocated between $78-91 billion a year on biodiversity goals, when in fact hundreds of billions of dollars a year are needed, the report estimated. Without spending more to tackle the issues, biodiversity loss will wind up costing the world up to $140 trillion a year.
Which Species Are Most At Risk?
A Toucan feeds on fruit offered on Aug. 24 2020 at an inn at km 110 of the Transpantaneira highway whose fire consumed everything around along with the wildfires that has already burned more than 16.500 sq. km of the Brazilian Pantanal. Gustavo Basso / NurPhoto / Getty Images
The IUCN Red List identifies which species are most at risk for extinction, including their numbers, direct threats and conservation efforts. The Red List estimates that more than 37,000 known species currently face extinction, including, but not limited to, 41 percent of amphibians, 36 percent of sharks, 33 percent of coral reefs, 26 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds. The IUCN has categorized species into Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct. Among the most critically endangered are Amur leopards, vaquita porpoises, Sumatran rhinos and Cross River gorillas. In some cases, such as the vaquita porpoise, researchers believe less than a dozen exist in the wild.
Many other species, including those in the food chain such as Chilean sea bass and Atlantic bluefin tuna, are being pushed toward extinction thanks to popular consumer demand, which leads to overfishing.
Then there are the species that the world has permanently lost in the last 100 years, from the Tasmanian tiger, which was hunted to extinction (mainly for museum display purposes) to the Pinta giant tortoise, a Galápagos native that was hunted to extinction by the fishing industry. The last known survivor, Lonesome George, passed away in captivity in 2012. In more recent years, the media has been following the world's last two remaining northern white rhinos. Both female, their kind is headed toward extinction, but scientists are attempting IVF using white rhino surrogates in the wild.
Yet the question remains, why are so many species going extinct or are threatened with extinction compared to previous centuries? As with most complex issues, there's no one explanation. Rather, a combination of population growth/overconsumption, the wildlife trade, pesticides, pollution, hunting, deforestation, wildfires, invasive species, big ag and climate change are among the larger culprits.
This category poses the largest threat to global biodiversity as rainforests to plains are cleared to make way for agriculture, housing and everything else that comes with modern-day living. Rainforests around the world especially suffered in 2020, having lost 12 percent of tree cover due in part to wildfires. Many of these wildfires in turn are caused by deforestation, with Brazil leading the way under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to raze this resource for more profitable industries involving cattle and soy. As a result, Brazil's deforestation loss hit a 12-year high in 2020 according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This biodiverse hotspot is now at risk of losing endangered species such as the Amazonian jaguar, hyacinth macaw, pink dolphins and spider monkeys. Other major habitat loss threats throughout the Amazon come from gold mining and logging. Unfortunately, this scale of destruction isn't limited to the Amazon, with habitat loss taking a toll on species everywhere from Nepal and Borneo to China and Africa.
Ironically, the industry responsible for providing the world's food supply is also a major contributor. Industrial agriculture is a main culprit behind habitat loss as increasing amounts of land are converted to feed growing populations. Compounding this is an overreliance on a small number of crops and animals to meet global food supply needs, placing some of these species at risk for extinction.
About 600 million people populated the planet in 1700 compared to 7.7 billion in 2019. Future projections put that number even higher, reaching 10.9 billion by 2021. This massive population boom has taxed Earth's finite resources. While a Population Action International study has concluded that this boom is an indirect cause of biodiversity loss, it's nonetheless a habitat loss driver as more land is needed every year for food and other resources, along with urban and industrial development.
With increased land clearing and development comes increased pollution on a range of levels. This takes a toll on ecosystems in a myriad of ways: For example, chemical-laden water causes toxic algae blooms; rapidly changing climates make it difficult for many species to adapt; rising ocean temperatures bleach and kill coral reefs; oil spills kill fish, birds and other wildlife; and plastic pollution strangles or slowly kills wildlife that ingest it. Throw in noise pollution, light pollution, acid rain and pesticides, and it's no wonder that many species are experiencing population declines due to decreased breeding and numbers.
Speaking of pesticides, these chemicals are most notably destroying bee populations. While they're not the only reason, pesticides are a direct link. The Center for Food Safety found that some beekeepers have been reporting a complete loss of their colonies in recent years; at the same time, studies are showing a link between declining bee populations and pesticides: neonicotinoids in particular. Not only are these the most common insecticide, but neonicotinoids saturate an entire plant, not just the surface, proving especially toxic to bees. To put this in greater perspective, the United Nations Environment Programme has determined that 71 out of 100 crops are pollinated by bees, and these 100 crop varieties supply 90 percent of the global food supply.
This category is another contributor to bee loss, but invasive species are increasingly threatening all manner of plant and animal life. Invasive species are non-native plants or animals that have been introduced, either intentionally or by accident, and inflict ecological damage to their new environments as they compete for resources and disrupt an established ecosystem. In fact, invasive species rank just behind habitat loss when it comes to biodiversity threats. A 2019 study revealed that out of 953 extinctions since 1500, more than 400 were attributed to invasive species. For example, simply introducing cats to New Zealand in 1769 led to the downfall of the Stephens Island wren by 1900. In more recent times, Florida has banned 16 invasive species, including popular pet iguanas, as a way to reduce ecological and economic damages.
While some invasive species have been inadvertently introduced throughout the centuries, the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade is another driver — both for introducing invasive species and biodiversity loss. A 2019 study predicted that the wildlife trade threatens almost 9,000 land species with extinction; this trade is the largest illegal market after drugs and weapons, with pangolin scales and elephant tusks among the market's most popular commodities.
Though not as large of a market, many plant-loving consumers are likely unaware that their latest acquisition could have been sourced via the illegal plant trade.
Poaching (illegal hunting) fuels the wildlife trade, but legal hunting is also detrimental to species' survival. During the Trump administration, many hunting regulations were scaled back, such as allowing hunters to shoot and kill bears and wolves in a wildlife refuge, along with their offspring, in their dens. Yet hunting easements aren't limited to administrations. Idaho recently passed a bill giving hunters the greenlight to kill 90 percent of the state's gray wolf population, which would reduce the overall number from around 1,500 to just 150. The endangered threshold is 100.
Overfishing falls into this category as well. Illegal fishing is a common practice, marine sanctuaries have opened up to commercial fishing and large numbers of marine life are getting caught up in fishing nets as unintended bycatch. Consumer demand has caused species such as beluga sturgeon, Atlantic halibut and bluefin tuna to land on the endangered list.
Certainly not least, this vast area encompasses enough issues for a separate discussion. In a nutshell, ever-increasing greenhouse gases are exacerbating the gamut of climate-induced events: rising seas, droughts, floods, wildfires, etc., all of which threaten plant and animal species just as much as they threaten human life.
What's Being Done About It?
M/V Farley Mowat crew member Tomas, pilots a boat at the port of San Felipe, in the Gulf of California, northwestern Mexico, in 2018, as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's operation "Milagro IV" to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. GUILLERMO ARIAS / AFP / Getty Images
Despite the many extinction threats facing species, global and local entities are working to address the problem.
The Convention on Biological Diversity formed in 1993 to protect biodiversity, and includes 196 participating nations. In 2010, the group set 20 biodiversity goals to meet by 2020. Unfortunately none of those goals have been met, although six targets were partially achieved, such as conserving protected areas and preventing invasive species. A recent UN report determined that it's not too late for global leaders to take action, but that countries need to focus on sustainability in general, from food systems and oceans to land and infrastructure. The next opportunity for countries to address biodiversity issues will occur in October 2021 in China, when the UN Biodiversity Conference convenes to troubleshoot biodiversity loss.
U.S. President Joe Biden formally announced a conservation plan in 2021 to protect 30 percent of the country's land and water by 2030. Additionally, under Biden the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement, ended permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline and halted oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Other recent biodiversity wins include Biden's plan to restore migratory bird protections, however, protecting gray wolves and monarch butterflies is still under review.
There are numerous wildlife groups devoted to conserving biodiversity; some of the major players include the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and the Jane Goodall Institute. Meanwhile, conservation tourism remains a growing area, despite experiencing COVID-19 pandemic setbacks. For example, the African Wildlife Foundation has partnered with the Rwandan government to protect endangered mountain gorillas, resulting in a booming tourism industry. Elsewhere in Africa, wildlife safaris and game drives remain a critical way to bolster local economies while protecting species that are favored by poachers, such as rhinos and elephants. By no means limited to Africa, conservation tourism is helping to boost and/or protect the numbers of giant pandas in China, Bengal tigers in India, polar bears in Canada and giant tortoises in the Galapagos.
Zoos and animal facilities around the world have been participating in captive breeding programs since the 1960s, which are meant to increase populations of endangered species. While some programs breed animals that will remain in captivity, particularly zoos, others breed with the intention of introducing endangered species back into the wild. Not all attempts have been successful, but there are positive stories. Take the black-footed ferret, a North American species that was declared extinct in 1979. A captivity breeding program launched after 18 were found a couple years later; today, it's estimated that 301 survive in captivity and another 340 live in the wild. The ferrets are also notable for the fact that they're the first endangered species in the U.S. to be cloned, raising new hope for not just the ferrets, but other endangered species as well — even those that are extinct, such as the passenger pigeon.
While there's overlap with general wildlife conservation groups, an equal number of conservation organizations are dedicated to protecting marine life: Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and The Cousteau Society are among those making a difference by addressing pressing issues that involve, but aren't limited to, overfishing, coral reef bleaching, plastic pollution, commercial whaling and ocean acidification.
What Can We Do?
Greenpeace activists create a burnt smoldering rain-forest with a lifelike animatronic orangutan at the headquarters of Oreo cookies, in protest over their use of palm oil on November 19, 2018 in Uxbridge, England. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images
Luckily, there are ways to make an impact on a smaller scale, and the more people that partake in these efforts, the greater the overall effect will be.
Support Sustainable Products and Food
Where possible, choose sustainably made goods, whether that's organic coffee from producers who eschew pesticides or furniture made from FSC-certified wood. (This designation certifies that the wood was sourced from well-managed forests.) Supporting local, organic farmers is another way to make a difference, along with understanding which types of seafood are more sustainable and being aware of eco-certification labels and what they really mean.
Avoid Palm Oil Products
Palm oil plantations have devastated large swaths of land across Asia, Latin America and Africa, although the majority of this popular vegetable oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Mass production comes at the expense of endangered species facing habitat loss: the Sumatran elephant, orangutan, rhino and tiger are now among the critically endangered as plantation land expansion continues unchecked. Consumers can fight back by avoiding products made with palm oil; however, this can prove difficult since the ingredient is prevalent in everything from makeup products and laundry detergent to chocolate and soap. Read labels closely, since many items disguise palm oil under other names, or use other names for palm oil derivatives. Vegetable oil, palmate and sodium lauryl sulfate are all clues that a product contains palm oil.
Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Another way to avoid palm oil is by switching to a plant-based diet. But this diet has much larger environmental benefits for biodiversity as it requires far less land usage and reduces reliance on a small number of animal species as a global food source. The world is currently using 80 percent of its agricultural land to raise livestock; consider how much biodiversity could be saved and preserved otherwise.
Become a Citizen Scientist
It's not uncommon for environmental organizations to seek help from average citizens to participate in all manner of projects. Whether it's keeping track of cicadas, searching for penguin eggs or identifying coral reef damage, there are programs around the world that welcome assistance. Even better, it's entirely possible to find projects that can be performed in your own backyard.
The world has reached a critical make-or-break point for preserving a million species at risk for extinction, some within the next few decades. The issue may seem overwhelming, much like climate change, but it's not hopeless. As with anything related to the environment, getting involved at a local level, learning about the current issues and becoming a conscious consumer are good starting points for fighting back against biodiversity loss.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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You can't discount the importance of your gut health. Research shows that the microbiome within your digestive system has a disproportionate impact on how well your whole body functions.
Unfortunately, bad diets, the overuse of antibiotics, and other stressors mean many of our digestive systems are in trouble. Probiotic supplements claim to solve this problem by replenishing your gut with the healthy bacteria it needs for optimal functioning. Here, we'll analyze the popular probiotic brand Seed to determine whether its supplements are worth taking.
How We Review Probiotics
Whenever we review a probiotic supplement, we evaluate six specific categories.
- Number of active strains - How many types of bacteria are included?
- AFU (Active Fluorescent Units)/ CFU (Colony Forming Units) - These units of measurement tell you how many billions of bacteria are estimated to be within each supplement dose.
- Storage Requirements - Some probiotics are shelf-stable, while others require refrigeration.
- Ingredient Transparency – does the company disclose where it sources its active strains and provide clinical research for their efficacy?
- Value - How are the probiotics priced? Can you purchase them without an auto-ship program?
- Sustainability - Does the company show ways its supplements are better for the environment through sustainable ingredient sourcing or packaging?
Let's evaluate these criteria for Seed.
About Seed Probiotics
Seed is an e-commerce supplement brand with a single product—the DS-O1 Daily Synbiotic probiotic. The company got its start in 2018 when cofounders Ara Katz and Raja Dhir determined that the current probiotic supplements available weren't hitting the mark.
Katz's experiences of pregnancy and breastfeeding as a new mom led her to develop a deeper appreciation of the body's microbiome and its role in overall health. She joined forces with Dhir, who had the scientific experience to understand what could be improved within the probiotic industry.
Together, they strove to create a supplement that "raised the bar on bacteria" by giving the body what it needed for all its systems to operate most effectively. They collaborated with a large team of entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists to develop a probiotic known as DS-01 Daily Synbiotic.
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic
- Active Strains - 24
- AFU - 53.6 billion AFU
- Storage Requirements - Shelf-stable for 18 months after opening
- Ingredient Transparency - Clinical data available for each strain
- Sustainability - First order ships in reusable glass canisters and subsequent orders arrive in compostable biofilm.
- Value - $49.99/60 supplements (30-day supply subscription)
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is a broad-spectrum probiotic that combines 24 probiotic strains with a non-fermenting prebiotic concentrate of Indian pomegranate for better delivery. Of these strains, 23 are human-derived, and one is isolated from fruit and added to promote healthy cholesterol levels.
These strains work synergistically to support the 38 trillion bacteria that make up your microbiome. They will purportedly help the body digest food, minimize inflammation, and better synthesize nutrients.
This supplement contains four distinct probiotic blends:
- Digestive Health/ Gut Immunity/ Gut Barrier Integrity: 37.0 Billion AFU
- Dermatological Health: 3.3 Billion AFU
- Cardiovascular Health: 5.25 Billion AFU
- Micronutrient Synthesis: 8.05 Billion AFU
(See strain-specific studies here)
How It Works
With these multiple strains, the company claims to take a 'Microbe-Systems Approach' through microbes that impact specific physical functions beyond the digestive system. These include skin and heart health, better immune system functioning, and micronutrient synthesis.
In other words, DS-01 goes beyond digestive issues to support full-body health. The company claims it's even one of the first probiotic formulations able to synthesize folate and increase its production.
Seed's DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotic also stands out with its delivery system. The supplement utilizes "nested capsule technology" along with a patented algae delivery system. This two-in-one capsule design houses the probiotic formula within a prebiotic casing made from Indian pomegranate to ensure these fragile bacteria survive both sitting on store shelves and the perilous journey through stomach acid to your colon.
Through this method, Seed claims to average a 100% delivery rate of the probiotic's starting dose to your colon. According to internal testing, DS-01 probiotics will exceed the living cell counts listed on the label even after ten days of constant 100º F exposure.
Adults can take two Seed probiotic supplements per day, preferably at the same time. It's best you do so on an empty stomach to limit the capsule's exposure to digestive enzymes that start to break it down. However, those with sensitive stomachs may want to eat something first. While you'll get optimal results from taking the supplements daily, it's not a problem if you occasionally skip one.
If you're new to probiotics, start by taking one per day for the first three days and then increasing your dosage to two per day. You may feel its effects on your digestive system within 48 hours, though long-term improvements to the cardiovascular system take more time and might not be noticeable to you.
Seed probiotics don't need require refrigeration. They are shelf-stable for 18 months at temperatures up to 78℉ and are safe to take when expired. Just note that the company can't guarantee their potency at this point.
How to Buy
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotics are only available on a subscription basis. They cost $49.99 per month and ship free throughout the US (international orders include a $10 shipping fee).
You will receive a 30-day supply (60 capsules) when you order through the company website, and the first order includes a reusable glass canister and travel vial. Each subsequent order arrives in compostable biofilm so you can transfer the capsules to the reusable ones.
All first orders are covered by a 30-day risk-free trial, during which you can return the probiotics for a full refund. It's possible to cancel the subscription at any time by contacting customer service at [email protected].
Note: At publication, these probiotics were sold out. They are available for pre-order and expected to ship again in 2-4 weeks.
What We Like About Seed
As a product within the largely unregulated supplement industry, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics earn major points from us for both transparency and abundant clinical research. The company shares detailed information about every bacterial strain within the supplement and links out to the scientific studies highlighting their effectiveness.
Customer reviews on Facebook and other review sites show that Seed probiotics work as described for many users. Some shared they experienced positive improvements in their digestive system within 48 hours and noticed better-looking skin within a month.
Those with allergies or food sensitivities will also appreciate these supplements are soy-free, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free, and free of binders and preservatives.
From a consumer standpoint, Seed makes taking probiotics simple. The shelf-stable formula means you won't have to store them in the fridge, and each 30-day supply is guaranteed to remain viable for 18 months after opening. Likewise, the nested capsule delivery system should improve how many billions of bacteria make it into your digestive system intact.
Equally noteworthy, we love Seed's commitment to environmental sustainability. By sending each customer two reusable glass containers at the start of their subscription, the company minimizes the packaging waste for each subsequent order.
What We Don't Like
Despite these positives, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics have some downsides. To start, they are pricier than many competitors. You will pay $1.66 per day's dose, which is more than some want to pay for supplements.
It's also not possible to try them without committing to a monthly subscription. While it will take several weeks or longer to start noticing their effects, some customers might not want to be locked into an auto-ship program so early in the experimenting process.
Likewise, some customer reviews complained of unexpected side effects such as breakouts and rashes. It's not clear whether these went away for users after a few weeks of use.
Finally, it's currently only possible to pre-order these supplements. If you're dealing with digestive distress today, you may want to try a probiotic brand that's available right now for faster relief.
Seed Safety & Side Effects
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotics are considered safe for adults over 18. Each supplement is vegan and free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn. They have undergone extensive third-party testing and adhere to the highest global regulatory standards for safety.
As with all probiotics, you might notice unpleasant side effects when you start taking them. Many people experience bloating, increased gas production, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems for the first few days.
This can be discouraging, as many users take probiotics precisely to combat these symptoms in the first place. However, your system should adjust to the new bacteria within two weeks, and this digestive distress should diminish accordingly.
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is classified as safe for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, although the company recommends speaking with a medical professional before starting them. As will all probiotics, you should not take these supplements if you have a weakened immune system, recently underwent surgery, or if you have a serious illness. Speak with your doctor before starting any dietary supplement if you have concerns or questions.
Takeaway: Are Seed Probiotics Worth It?
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is well-formulated and shows clinical evidence of improving your gut biome for far-reaching health benefits. The company solves the tricky problem of selling a live product with its innovative delivery system that keeps the bacteria within the supplement safe both on the shelf and through the digestive process.
If you are dealing with digestive problems, or are looking for a way to improve your general health, then this broad-spectrum probiotic might be one worth trying.
Just keep in mind that you might feel worse for a few days before the microbes will take full effect in your gut and that giving it a try means you are committing to a monthly subscription.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?
Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.
Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.
The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn't become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas' severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn't merely warming.
Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?
Marc Guitard / Moment / Getty Images
Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It's estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn't start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.
Then there's biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that's threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil's Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they're absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.
It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there's yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can't find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.
Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia's dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.
As touched upon earlier, it's one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.
Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.
Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.
What's Happening and Why?
Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington, UK. Chris Conway / Moment / Getty Images
The Earth's temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.
The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn't start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.
But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.
Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.
Then there's rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world's rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they're absorbing.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.
Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural Climate Change
Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.
How We Can Combat Climate Change
Participant holding a sign at the climate march on Sept. 20, 2020, in Manhattan. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images
While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society's ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there's still time to take action.
As a Society
In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it's believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world's biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it's worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.
Then there's the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.
On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that's produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.
While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.
In Our Own Lives
While it's up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn't mean individuals can't make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.
Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.
Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.
Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren't shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it's possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.
Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.
It's taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there's still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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