The Colony Fire was within a mile of Sequoia National Park's iconic Giant Forest Thursday afternoon, which hosts around 2,000 sequoias including the General Sherman Tree, considered the largest on Earth in terms of volume, the Los Angeles Times reported. Officials raced to protect the grove from flames that could reach it within a day.
"It's a very significant area for many, many people, so a lot of special effort is going into protecting this grove," Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks spokesperson Rebecca Paterson told the Los Angeles Times.
The General Sherman Tree has a volume of 52,508 cubic feet, The AP reported. It also extends 275 feet into the air and has a circumference at its base of 103 feet. It is between 2,300 to 2,7000 years old, BBC News reported. Firefighters are protecting it along with other trees in the grove, the Giant Forest museum and other buildings by wrapping it in aluminum, according to The AP.
The wrap used is "like tinfoil basically," Mark Garrett, a spokesperson for the firefighting efforts, told the Los Angeles Times. It is the same material used to wrap homes and works by shielding the trees from embers and reflecting heat. Vegetation around the trees was also cleared to help protect them.
The grove is being menaced by the KNP Complex Fire, a joining of the Colony and Paradise fires that stands at 9,365 acres, according to the most recent information from InciWeb. The two fires were started by lightning strikes around a week ago and 482 firefighters are currently working to contain them.
In addition to immediate protections, the grove is also protected by the park's history of conducting prescribed burns to clear out other vegetation that might otherwise fuel fires in sequoia groves, The AP noted.
A "robust fire history of prescribed fire in that area is reason for optimism," Paterson told The AP. "Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this unscathed."
Sequoias have evolved to withstand wildfires and even to spread their seeds with help from the heat. However, the more intense fires fueled by the climate crisis can be too much even for these trees. Last year's Castle Fire killed between 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias.California is in the midst of yet another in a series of extreme wildfire seasons fueled by drought and climate change. Last year, a record 4.1 million acres burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This year, more than 7,400 blazes have scorched more than 2.2 million acres so far, BBC News reported.
A tourist in Sequoia National Park in front of the largest tree in the world. haveseen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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A recent study published in Science of the Total Environment has the answer for this question, at least in the Spanish city of Barcelona. It found that the environmental toll of bottled water was 1,400 to 3,500 times higher than that of tap water, while drinking only tap water would only take an average of two hours off a resident's life.
"Our findings suggest that the sustainability gain from consuming water from public supply relative to bottled water far exceeds the human health gain from consuming bottled water in Barcelona," the study authors wrote.
A Tale of Two Assessments
The study is notable for being the "first attempt" to integrate two kinds of assessment for evaluating the health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices, study co-author and postdoctoral research at the Technical University of Catalonia Marianna Garfi told EcoWatch in an email.
The first is a health impact assessment (HIA).
"HIA provides a framework and procedure for estimating the impact of an intervention on a selected environmental health issue for a defined population," Garfi explained.
In this case, the researchers considered the risk of exposure to trihalomethane (THM), a by-product of the water disinfection process that is present in tap water and has been linked to bladder cancer. They then calculated years of life lost, years lived with disability and disability adjusted life years based on this exposure.
The second assessment is a life cycle assessment (LCA), which identifies the environmental impacts of a product from manufacture to disposal. In this case, the researchers focused on materials and energy used and waste generated.
They then used these assessments to consider the health and environmental impacts of four scenarios:
- Current drinking water patterns in Barcelona.
- What would happen if everyone switched to tap water.
- What would happen if everyone switched to bottled water.
- What would happen if everyone switched to filtered tap water.
The researchers focused on Barcelona because they were based there and had the data available. It also has THM levels and bottled-water consumption habits that are similar to those of other countries in Europe, which makes it a useful point of comparison.
The results indicate that bottled water is much worse for the planet than tap water. As of 2016, bottled water was the primary source of drinking water for 60 percent of Barcelona's population. The current state of affairs costs the planet around $50 million in resource extraction and 0.852 species a year. If everyone in Barcelona were to shift to bottled water, these costs would jump to $83.9 million and 1.43 species per year. However, in the scenario in which everyone drank only tap water or filtered tap water, the environmental costs were negligible. When compared to the all tap-water scenario, the all-bottled water scenario had 1,400 times more impact on ecosystems and cost 3,500 times more in terms of resource extraction.
The all-bottled water scenario did have a slight advantage for the health of Barcelona residents only. Currently, about 93.9 years of life across the city are lost due to tap water consumption. In the all-tap water scenario, this would jump to 309 years total, which equates to two hours of life lost per person. It would fall to 35.6 years lost if the city switched exclusively to filtered water and even further to 2.2 years lost if everyone drank bottled water.
However, the health outlook changed when the researchers considered how bottled-water production would affect people living outside Barcelona.
"The production of bottled water to meet the drinking water needs of [the] Barcelona population was estimated to result in 625 DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) per year in the global population," the study authors wrote. "This burden would be reduced to 0.5 DALYs if only tap water, or filtered tap water were consumed."
The reason that bottled water is so costly for the environment, Garfi said, came down to the making of the bottles themselves.
"Indeed, raw materials and energy required for bottle manufacturing accounted for the majority of the impact of bottled water use," she said. It was responsible for as much as 90 percent of the bottles' impact.
While this particular study found less impacts in terms of plastic waste, Barcelona's drinking habits are already harming its beaches and coastline. César Sánchez, communications director of recycling organization Retoma told EcoWatch in an email. He said that plastic bottles of all types accounted for 80 percent of the volume and 35 percent of the weight of litter gathered from the city's beaches. Farther out to sea, there are as many as nine million bits of waste floating per every square kilometer along the coast.
"Beyond that, in my personal experience sailing with fishermen of the area, I have had the chance of corroborat[ing] this situation," he said. "They say they already live in 2050 because they are getting more waste than fish out of the sea right now."
Both Sánchez and Garfi argued that the city of Barcelona should take steps to promote tap water over bottled water.
On a city-wide level, Garfi said that Barcelona could promote tap water through public information campaigns, as well as take steps to improve tap water quality and keep pollution out of local water sources. Sánchez further suggested setting up more public fountains and obliging bars and restaurants to offer free tap water to customers.
Individual consumers also have a role to play, Garfi said.
"Be aware of the impacts caused by the use of bottled water and try to find another solution," she advised, such as using a home filter to improve the taste of tap water.
Finally, to address the waste issue, Sánchez recommended a bottle deposit scheme.
"In all countries with deposit and return systems in Europe, more than 90% of beverage containers are reused or recycled, so it is the most effective tool to end... the littering problem," he said.
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
The world's first ever battery-electric freight train was unveiled in Pittsburgh on Friday.
The train, known as the FLXdrive battery-electric locomotive, was built by rail-freight company Wabtec and showcased at Carnegie Mellon University as part of a bid by the two organizations to decarbonize rail freight transport in the U.S., The Guardian reported.
"A bolder, cleaner, more efficient transportation system is in our grasp," Wabtec chief executive Raphael Santana said, as The Guardian reported. "This is just the beginning."
In addition to partnering with Carnegie Mellon on this venture, Wabtec is also working with fellow freight company Genesee & Wyoming, according to Railway Age.
"This partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Genesee & Wyoming further strengthens our efforts to decarbonize global rail transportation and will significantly increase freight rail utilization, efficiency, and safety throughout the rail network," Santana told Railway Age. "The transportation sector is at a critical inflection point. With technologies providing increased battery and hydrogen power capacity, we have the potential to eliminate up to 120 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year in North America."
The train completed a successful trial run in California earlier this year, traveling for three months and 13,000 miles between Barstow and Stockton and reducing fuel consumption for the journey by more than 11 percent.
However, Wabtec has plans to go further. The next model, which should be ready within two years, will be able to cut diesel fuel consumption by nearly a third, The Guardian reported. Eventually, the company wants to build a zero-emission train using hydrogen fuel cells, and believes it could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 300 million tons a year if used worldwide and 120 million in the U.S. alone.
The ground transportation of goods is an important source of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, businesses prefer to use trucks over trains, which only move seven percent of the world's freight. In the U.S., medium and heavy-duty trucks contribute about a quarter of transportation emissions. The railway industry hopes that by reducing the use of diesel fuel for trains, it can position itself as a climate-friendly alternative.
"If we decarbonize all of the locomotives and decrease the number of trucks, we will get to where we need to be," Eric Gebhardt, Wabtec's chief technology officer, told The Guardian.
This is something U.S. politicians are actively working to promote. Also speaking at Friday's event were Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.-17), who have each introduced a bill to create a Freight Rail Innovation Institute to award a $600-million, five-year grant to projects like Wabtec's, as Railway Age reported.
Casey told 90.5 WESA that the bill was one of many ways to combat the climate crisis.
"If you haven't taken action by a certain date, the impact of climate change becomes substantially irreversible. That's what we have to be most concerned about," he said.
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The slaughter of a record 1,428 dolphins in the Faroe Islands is prompting outrage from environmental organizations and even local residents.
"For such a hunt to take place in 2021 in a very wealthy European island community just 230 miles from the UK with no need or use for such a vast quantity of contaminated meat is outrageous," Sea Shepherd UK COO Rob Read said in a statement.
On Sunday night a super-pod of 1428 Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins was driven for many hours and for around 45 km by… https://t.co/39WffMIFOE— Sea Shepherd (@Sea Shepherd)1631631692.0
The incident is part of a Faroe Islands tradition known as the Grind, in which marine mammals, particularly whales, are hunted, BBC News explained. Supporters say it is sustainable and an important part of the cultural heritage of the autonomous Danish territory. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that it is unnecessarily cruel to the animals hunted.
Sunday's hunt, however, was exceptional for several reasons. Faroese marine biologist Bjarni Mikkelsen agreed with Sea Shepherd that it was a record hunt. The previous record was set in 1940, when 1,200 animals were killed. In general, government figures say that an average of 600 pilot whales a year are caught, but the number of dolphins is usually much lower. It stood at 35 in 2020 and 10 in 2019.
By contrast, Sunday's hunt saw a pod of nearly 1,500 white-sided dolphins driven by motor boats and jet skis for several hours into Skálabotnur beach, where every one of them was killed, Sea Shepherd reported.
Locals told Sea Shepherd that the incident violated Grind laws in three ways:
- It was not called by the properly authorized Grind foreman.
- Several of the hunters involved did not have a license, which means they were not trained in how to properly kill the animals.
- Several of the dolphins were run over by motorboats, leading to a slow and painful death.
The exceptional numbers and cruelty of the incident sparked outrage among locals as well as activists. One lamented the waste to Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, according to Sea Shepherd.
"My guess is that most of the dolphins will be thrown in the trash or in a hole in the ground," said one.
Even proponents of the tradition said Sunday's killings were a mistake.
"I'm appalled at what happened," Heri Petersen, who chairs the hunting association where the incident occured, told the local In.fo news site, as The Guardian reported. "The dolphins lay on the beach writhing for far too long before they were killed."
A poll taken after the killings suggest that most people on the islands want the dolphin killings to end.
"We did a quick poll yesterday asking whether we should continue to kill these dolphins. Just over 50% said no, and just over 30% said yes," Trondur Olsen, a journalist for Faroese public broadcaster Kringvarp Foroya, told BBC News.
However, 80 percent of respondents to a different survey said they wanted to continue the Grind for pilot whales.
SEE GRIND VIDEO BELOW ON YOUTUBE (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES)
GRAPHIC IMAGES! Whalers on the Faroe Islands kill 1428 dolphins in a single day! youtu.be
Scientists have warned that coal burning needs to be phased out by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
"The structural transformation of the global electricity sector is accelerating, with countries increasingly steering away from coal power generation as they recognise that coal is a fuel of the past," report author and E3G research manager Leo Roberts said in a press release.
The new report was a joint effort from E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember, according to The Guardian. It found that a total of 40 countries have no new coal plants planned. This means that they could easily join the 44 countries that have already committed to no new coal.
Further, the report shows that the global turn away from coal has been effective. A total of 1,175 gigawatts of new coal projects have been canceled since 2015, the report noted. This means that the world avoided a second China's worth of new coal plants as of June 2021.
"Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have now been either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely to ever be built," Ember global programme lead Dave Jones said in the press release. "Multiple countries can add their voices to a snowball of public commitments to 'no new coal,' collectively delivering a key milestone to sealing coal's fate."
The report attributed the shift away from coal to a mixture of government policies, popular pressure and a changing energy market.
"The economics of coal have become increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy, while the risk of stranded assets has increased," report author and E3G associate director Chris Littlecott said in the press release. "Governments can now act with confidence to commit to 'no new coal.'"
Now, only six countries have the power to remove 82 percent of the world's new coal pipeline: China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh.
The report authors called on world leaders to use the upcoming UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow this November to enshrine a commitment to no new coal.
"[Coal] plants are incompatible with the international Paris climate agreement. The world's leading scientific bodies are clear: coal power needs to be essentially phased out in the next two decades to prevent dangerous climate change," report co-author and Global Energy Monitor program director Christine Shearer said in the press release. "The upcoming climate talks are an opportune time for the world's leaders to come together and commit to a world with no new coal plants, in line with what the science demands."
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A record 227 environmental and land defenders were killed in 2020 for protecting their homes and our planet, according to the annual Global Witness report released Monday.
That's an average of more than four people a week, and more than double the number reported in 2013, the report authors wrote. Further, they connected that rise in violence with the worsening of the climate crisis itself.
"It's the communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis who are speaking up to protect their land, their communities and our planet," Global Witness head of U.S. communications and global partnerships Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck told EcoWatch. "It's those environmental and land defenders who are especially vulnerable to killings and attacks."
'Another Climate Metric'
The number of environmental or land defenders — defined as anyone who peacefully protests the exploitation of the natural world — killed has risen every year but one since Global Witness began issuing its reports in 2012.
Miranda-Brobeck said that increase was not the result of better reporting. In fact, because the yearly counts are based on publicly available data and subject to strict verification criteria, Global Witness believes it underestimates the true number of fatalities. Instead, 2020's record death toll "can be understood as another climate metric," the report authors wrote, along with the fact that the year tied for the hottest on record and saw the worst North Atlantic hurricane season.
"Over time as the climate crisis worsens, as corporations get more and more access to land for mining and extraction and agribusiness, killings increase," Miranda-Brobeck said.
The report authors noted that the climate crisis and the violence against defenders share three key traits:
1. Inequality: Climate change disproportionately impacts poorer countries in the Global South that have historically contributed less to its impacts. The violence meted out against environmental defenders also predominantly occurs in Global South countries. This year, only one of the killings took place in a Global North country (Canada), and the top three deadliest countries were Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. The deadliest region was Latin America, while killings in Africa more than doubled from 7 to 18.
2. Business: The same extractive industries that perpetuate the climate crisis are also responsible for a significant amount of the killings. This year, more than a third of the attacks were linked to logging, mining, agribusiness and large hydroelectric projects. Logging was the deadliest this year, and more than 71 percent of the defenders killed this year died defending forests. In this case there is a clear connection between the forces robbing Earth of its natural carbon sinks and the violence enacted against the people who fight to preserve them.
3. Government (In)action: As with the climate crisis, governments either actively perpetuate the violence or do not do enough to curb it. This year in particular, many governments used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to limit freedoms such as the right to protest or to a free press. In fact, 158 countries imposed new restrictions on demonstrations in 2020. This is a problem because attacks are more frequent in countries that put more restrictions on civil society.
Case Study: Guatemala
One example of how rising authoritarianism, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic interact to increase violence is in Guatemala, where a total of 13 people were killed in 2020, according to the report.
"Guatemala is counted among the countries that will be most deeply impacted by the climate crisis, and this is evident in the contradictions surrounding land disputes in the country," general coordinator of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) Jorge Santos told EcoWatch.
One of the main causes of violence in the country is the attempt to impose an extractivist economic model. Outside of the capital, most of the aggressions against human rights defenders reported by UDEFEGUA in Guatemala occur in five departments rich in natural resources.
At the same time, the country is in the midst of an authoritarian turn, Santos said. The group recorded 1,055 aggressions against human rights defenders in 2020 and a further 551 in the first six months of 2021. Beyond outright killings, nearly 50 percent of the aggressions reported by UDEFEGUA this year were acts of criminalization of human rights defenders, such as illegal detentions or false accusations.
The pandemic has exacerbated this repressive trend. Santos noted that, of the 11 states of emergency declared in 2020, only one was justifiable under international standards. Further, in its 20 years of reporting, UDEFEGUA has observed that violence tends to decrease in the first few years of a new government. 2020 broke that trend.
"Last year, in the first year of [the presidency of] Alejandro Giammattei, there's an increase in aggressions and it's the largest UDEFEGUA has ever registered," Santos said.
Guatemala has something else in common with the broader trend of violence against defenders: Indigenous communities are disproportionately targeted. Worldwide, Indigenous people make up a fifth of the total population, but were subject to more than a third of the attacks reported by Global Witness between 2015 and 2019.
In Guatemala, Indigenous people were often targeted by the state as an internal enemy during the country's 36 years of civil conflict. While peace accords were finally signed in 1996, the situation has begun to regress.
"Those Indigenous people who were victims of genocide are the same people who today peacefully resist the imposition of an extractivist economic model," Santos said.
However, he said the leadership of Indigenous communities in both resisting resource extraction and promoting democracy was likely "the most hopeful phenomenon that exists in the country today."
He argued that the repression evident in Guatemala against human rights defenders was likely a response to a more organized populace willing to defend their rights and called on the government to stop the violence.
Global Witness also issued recommendations for reversing the tide of violence against environmental defenders. These included separate action plans for the UN, governments and businesses.
The UN, Global Witness argued, should recognize the human right to a safe environment and make sure that commitments made at the next climate change conference comply with human rights obligations.
Governments should protect defenders by regulating extractive businesses and ending any attempts to criminalize protest and land defense. Further, they should hold companies located within their borders to account for anything that happens in their supply chain and fairly investigate and prosecute all acts of violence.
Businesses should enact "due diligence" procedures to prevent violence from happening anywhere in their supply chain, adopt a "zero tolerance" policy against any violence and offer reparations when it does occur.
Further, all of us can be aware of the sacrifices made by defenders and take their needs into consideration as we rebuild the global economy following the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's important that our economies and the health of our communities recovers during this pandemic," Miranda-Brobeck said, "but I think it's also really important that we recognize the threat to land and environmental activists on the ground, who not only are facing the health threats from the pandemic and the economic impacts of the pandemic, but are also facing the worst of the climate catastrophe and are just trying to defend our planet and their homes."
Last line of defence youtu.be
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The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) said Thursday that the birds were impacted by a spill at the Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.
"The number of oiled birds documented, with more expected, have been observed within heavy pockets of crude oil throughout the facility as well as nearby flooded fields and retention ponds," the LDWF said.
As of Thursday, 10 birds had been captured and taken to a rehabilitation center for cleaning, state biologist Jon Wiebe told The AP. A total of five birds had been found dead.
LDWF said that the bird species impacted by the spill included black-bellied whistling ducks, blue-winged teal and a variety of egret species. Alligators, river otters and nutria were also found partly covered in oil. The department said it could take weeks to save the affected wildlife.
The news comes as the U.S. Coast Guard investigates hundreds of oil spills in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall August 29, CNN reported. One example is a miles-long spill about two miles from Port Fourchon, Louisiana that divers believed emerged from a broken pipeline.
The Coast Guard is currently prioritizing around 350 of the spills, which range from "minor to potentially notable pollution reporting," Coast Guard Petty Officer Gabriel Wisdom told CNN.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency further said on Thursday that it had received 43 notifications of significant inland oil spills or chemical releases following the storm, according to The AP.
The Alliance Refinery spill was first reported by The AP September 1. The refinery is owned by Phillips 66, which initially downplayed reports of the spill. However, a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality investigation revealed that a levee had breached during the storm, allowing water to first flood the plant and then rush back out. The crude oil spill was being cleaned with booms and absorbent pads, the department said. Still, a spokesperson for Phillips 66 has continued to minimize the damage.
"The breach has been secured," spokesperson Bernardo Fallas told The AP Thursday. "Clean-up crews continue to remove oil and sheen contained within some flooded areas of the refinery. There has been no offsite impact. We continue to work with all appropriate regulatory agencies."
While there are no official estimates of how much oil has spilled, the refinery has the capacity to process more than 255,000 barrels of crude oil a day. As of Thursday, it remained closed with no date fixed for reopening.
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The world's largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is up and running.
The plant, called Orca, is located in Iceland. It was constructed by Swiss company Climeworks and Icelandic company Carbfix, and the two firms announced that it had begun to work on Wednesday, The Guardian reported.
"We are proud, excited, and beyond delighted to have arrived at this stage in our journey to reverse climate change," Climeworks co-CEO and co-founder Christoph Gebald said in the company's launch announcement. "Orca is now a reality and it is a result of concerted efforts from every stakeholder involved."
The plant works by using industrial vacuums to suck climate-warming gases out of the air, Gizmodo explained. Those gases are then stored underground and converted to stone within two years. Climeworks has said that the plant will be able to remove 4,000 tonnes (approximately 4,409 tons) of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of 870-cars-worth of emissions, The Guardian explained.
Construction on the plant began in May of 2020 using "stackable, container-sized units," Climeworks said. This means that the plant could be built in less than15 months. Climeworks said it hoped to use the same methods to build more such plants in other locations.
"Orca, as a milestone in the direct air capture industry, has provided a scalable, flexible and replicable blueprint for Climeworks' future expansion," Climeworks co-CEO and co-founder Jan Wurzbacher said in the announcement. "With this success, we are prepared to rapidly ramp up our capacity in the next years. Achieving global net-zero emissions is still a long way to go, but with Orca, we believe that Climeworks has taken one significant step closer to achieving that goal.''
Carbon capture technology is slightly controversial because it is extremely expensive and critics worry it will take a long time to be able to build enough of it to make a meaningful difference, The Guardian noted. Climeworks pays for its operations by getting companies and even individuals who want to offset their emissions to fund their projects, Gizmodo explained. Its website even offers subscription plans to this effect.
There is also concern that new technologies can distract businesses and governments from the work of reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that both carbon capture technology and emissions cuts are necessary to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as the Paris agreement stipulates.
"The most important thing to know about carbon removal, in general, is that it's not a replacement for cutting emissions," David Morrow, the director of research at the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy at American University, told Gizmodo in an email. "It is an important supplement to cutting emissions, but not a replacement."
Climeworks - ORCA | Launch event Iceland www.youtube.com
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A unique partnership has produced the first-ever high-resolution satellite map of the world's shallow coral reefs.
The Allen Coral Atlas announced its completion Wednesday as a tool that policy makers, conservationists and the general public can use to understand and preserve the world's reefs at a time when they are under increasing threat from the climate crisis and coastal development.
"We're trying to create a kind of moral mirror that we hold up to humanity," Andrew Zolli, vice president of sustainability and global impact at Planet, the company that provides the satellite images for the project, said in a press conference.
A Digital Public Good
The atlas is the product of three years of work, more than 450 research teams and nearly two million satellite images. It was named for the late Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, who was an early instigator of the project.
However, the atlas was a team effort. The high-resolution satellite imagery is provided and regularly updated by Planet. Arizona State University then cleans the images and the University of Queensland uses machine learning and regional data to generate different map layers. The National Geographic Society trains conservationists in how to best use the map, while Allen's company Vulcan funded the website that makes it accessible.
"One of the things that the Atlas represents is a kind of digital public good," Zolli said.
An Allen Coral Atlas partner looks at a map during development of the Atlas. Allen Coral Atlas
It is also a major milestone. Previously, only 25 percent of the world's reefs had been mapped using high-resolution images, and there was no consistent mapping process linking the different regions.
"It's quite an undertaking that hadn't been achieved at this resolution and with this kind of detail," director of Arizona State University's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science Greg Asner said during the press conference.
The only limit on the project is depth. Current satellite technology, Asner said, can only "punch through the seawater" to about 15 meters (approximately 49 feet). Which is why the atlas offers data products that extend from either zero to ten meters (approximately 33 feet) or zero to 15 meters.
Dr. Alexandra Ordonez Alvarez from University of Queensland collects georeferenced data in Far Northern Great Barrier Reef on Ashmore Bank. Chris Roelfsema
The map also comes at a pivotal moment for the world's coral reefs and the ecosystems and human communities that depend on them.
"Coral reefs are sort of at the nexus of the climate and biodiversity crisis," managing director for government and community relations at Vulcan Chuck Cooper said at the press conference.
The atlas, therefore, is designed with special tools that can help governments and scientists respond to these crises. National Geographic Society program manager Brianna Bambic said the predominant use so far was in the planning of marine protected areas.
The atlas provides a layer called a benthic map, which helps planners see where different types of habitat are located on the reef, such as coral or seagrass. It also provides a layer that allows planners to see which areas are already protected.
"We now have the highly detailed coral reef maps needed to create new spatial plans and marine protected areas. These map layers would have taken us five years to create and only if we had the budget or resources to do so, which we do not," Wen Wen, a marine spatial planner in Indonesia, said in a press release. "The Allen Coral Atlas is playing a large role in prioritizing 30 million hectares of a new Marine Protected Area zoning plan and providing alternative locations for a coastal economic development project that is environmentally sustainable. This tool is a blessing to our country."
This type of use is expected to become even more important as countries are set to convene at a summit of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China next year. One goal that is expected to come out of that conference is the aim of protecting 30 percent of land and water by 2030.
"The coral atlas is going to be a really valuable tool for them to do that," Cooper said.
Indeed, countries like Mozambique and Fiji that have already committed to the goal are in the process of using the atlas to choose what part of their coastline to protect.
In addition to helping determine what parts of reefs to preserve, the atlas can also be used to determine where to restore coral reefs.
This is something that the nonprofit Coral Vida is doing in the Bahamas, Asner said, by using a layer called the geomorphic map. While the benthic map is more biological, the geomorphic map shows the physical or geological contours of the reef and can be used to determine the best location to plant new corals raised in nurseries.
In addition, the Allen Coral Atlas also includes a bleaching monitoring system updated every couple of weeks to tell users when a reef or part of a reef may be suffering a bleaching event. This is what happens when warm water forces coral to expel the algae that gives them nutrients and color, and is an increasing danger as the oceans heat up. The monitoring system enables conservationists to see what parts of a reef might be susceptible to bleaching so as not to attempt to plant new corals there.
Asner said he originally developed the bleaching tool in the Hawaiian islands, where it had another use. His team worked with the government to determine six things concerned citizens could do to reduce stress on the reef once bleaching was detected, such as limiting their fishing on the reef.
Limiting extra stress, Asner said, "can spell the difference between surviving and not surviving among corals," during bleaching events.
"That was successful, we believe," he said, "and we believe that that sort of approach can be implemented by governments... or anybody using our bleaching tool."
Now that the team behind the Allen Coral Atlas has developed the technology and partnerships that made it possible, they do not plan to rest on their laurels.
One goal, Asner said, is to integrate coastal data into the atlas.
"Climate change is one of the big problems that reefs are facing, but coastal development and coastal impacts are just as important," he said, "and so you'll see us expanding into that realm over the next couple of years."
On a larger scale, Zolli said that developing the atlas showed the team the kind of collaboration that is needed to solve other major challenges. There are now "child efforts" of the atlas to create similar digital public goods for forests or greenhouse gas emissions.
"This approach is as important as the outcomes that it generated," he said.
The Allen Coral Atlas recently released the world's first satellite-based global coral reef monitoring system, shown here with New Caledonia bleaching data for the May 10, 2021 biweekly period.
That's just one of many shocking figures from the Meat Atlas 2021, a comprehensive look at the meat industry released by European nonprofits the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Friends of the Earth Europe and BUND Tuesday.
"Europeans today eat an average of 66 kilograms (approximately 146 pounds) of meat per year per capita, which is almost twice as much as the World Health Organization actually recommends, and this persistently high consumption and production also comes with immense social and ecological costs," Lisa Tostado, head of the International Climate, Trade & Agriculture Policy Programme for Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said at a public launch event. "And to raise awareness, provide information, and also foster a nuanced debate on the livestock center, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth have compiled facts and figures on meat."
Launch of the Meat Atlas 2021: Facts and figures about the animals we eat www.youtube.com
Listen to the Science
The Meat Atlas 2021 is a comprehensive account of the industry's impact on environmental and public health, totaling more than 70 pages and covering more than 30 topics from land use to greenhouse gas emissions to pesticides. These impacts include:
- Climate Change: The food and farming sector in industrialized countries accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector alone is responsible for 14.5 percent of global emissions: 45 percent of that from feed production and processing, 39 percent from methane release from ruminants and 10 percent from the storage and management of manure. In fact, 20 top livestock companies together emit more than Germany, the UK or France.
- Land Use Change: Meat and milk require more land than any other consumer product, and 77 percent of agricultural land is used for either livestock or livestock feed. This means that the expansion of livestock agriculture is a major driver of land conflicts that displace Indigenous and traditional communities. The conversion of land into cattle pasture drives at least two-thirds of deforestation in the Amazon region, for example.
- Public Health: The coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to the dangers of zoonotic diseases, diseases that pass from animals to humans. Almost 75 percent of these diseases can be traced to wildlife, and the land grabs of the meat and dairy industry increase the chance that humans will encounter new zoonotic diseases as habitat is destroyed. The rampant use of antibiotics in agriculture also increases the risks that bacteria will evolve to resist these drugs. Already, drug-resistant bacteria kill 700,000 people a year, yet 73 percent of the antibiotics used worldwide are used on animals.
Despite these and many other consequences, both meat consumption and meat production are on the rise. Meat consumption has more than doubled in 20 years, and is expected to rise another 13 percent by 2028. Meat production has also been trending upwards. In the 1970s, it stood at one third of current levels, though it declined slightly in 2019 because of an outbreak of African swine fever.
The increase in production has been enabled by many of the things that make that production so problematic: more and more animals are kept in feedlots instead of pastures. This requires their feed to be grown somewhere else, gobbling up more land. Further, such crowding is only possible with antibiotics to prevent infections from spreading in close quarters.
With all of this evidence, the report argued that reducing meat consumption in industrial countries is a case of "listening to the science," something world governments have yet to do seriously with regards to this issue.
"We are talking not about a lack of information, and politicians not acting because they don't know," the atlas' chief executive editor and head of the International Agricultural Policy Division at Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Dr. Christine Chemnitz said at the launch. "We are talking about a lack of political will to steer or transition the agricultural sector into a climate-friendly and biodiversity-friendly direction."
A Meat Atlas 2021 graphic summarizes meat's impact on the world. Bartz / Stockmar / CC BY 4.0
Race to the Bottom
One clear indication we are headed in the wrong direction, Chemnitz noted, is the sheer numbers of animals slaughtered: 75 billion a year as of 2019.
But this death translates directly into profits for the largest meat and dairy companies, Shefali Sharma, one of the report authors and director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) European office, said at the launch.
Sharma explained that the top companies are so powerful that they can set the prices they pay to producers at below the cost of production, and governments will either directly or indirectly subsidize the difference.
This creates a "race to the bottom of cheap prices, more animals, more production, more profits," she said.
However, there is a way up and out. Sharma recommended a three-prong strategy of:
- Redirecting resources away from industrial agriculture and towards more regenerative approaches.
- Regulating companies and holding them responsible for the emissions generated by their supply chains.
- Regenerating by shifting to agroecology.
Agroecology means growing food in ways that respects natural limits while incorporating local and traditional knowledge, Stanka Becheva, a report contributor and Food and Agriculture Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, explained during the launch.
"It's really the only transformative framework which will help move the industrial... farming sector away from the concentration and the devastating impacts it has," she said.
She also called for a ban on factory farming; turning to more diversified mixed plant and animal farming solutions; ensuring fair prices for small-scale, sustainable farmers; and changing diets to emphasize fresh, local, plant-based food.
A Strong Statement
One hopeful indicator cited by the report is the shifting attitudes of young people. The atlas highlighted a representative survey conducted by the University of Göttingen in Germany of young adults between 15 and 29 years old. It found that nearly 13 percent of them were either vegan or vegetarian, more than double the percentage of the overall German population. A further approximately 25 percent considered themselves flexitarians and only ate meat every so often.
But what was especially striking to Chemnitz was the motivation behind these decisions.
"One thing young people made really clear is that they see their reduced meat consumption as a political statement," she said.
Their decision was not based on taste or health, but opposition to how the current meat industry operates.
The survey found that 75 percent of the vegan and nearly 50 percent of the vegetarian respondents saw themselves as part of the climate movement. Moreover, young people were in favor of government policies directed at creating a more sustainable food system. More than 70 percent of them thought the German government should encourage people to eat a climate-friendly diet and make sure food is produced in an environmentally friendly way.
"This is a strong statement," Chemnitz said, "and it's a strong call for our government to get active."
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Students are heading back to school and the stores are already stocked with Halloween candy. Fall is on its way, and with it comes SmokyMountains.com Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
This is the ninth year in a row that the tourism site has released its map, which predicts when autumn leaves will be at their most vibrant in each part of the country, as Smithsonian Magazine explains.
"Similar to any meteorological forecast, leaf predictions will never be 100 percent accurate," map founder and statistics expert David Angotti told TimeOut. "However, after publishing our predictive fall foliage map for nearly a decade, we are quite confident in our data sources, process, and algorithm."
The map sources its data from governmental and nongovernmental sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taking into account historical temperature and precipitation data, as well as the timing of previous peaks. This year, peak leaf season will come earliest to parts of the Rocky Mountains and northern Minnesota the week of September 20. Vermont will be at its best from September 20 to October 4, while North Carolina will peak between October 11 to October 25, according to Travel + Leisure. Much of Georgia and Oklahoma won't start peaking until November 1.
For later-peaking states, the website is also releasing an updated map around mid September.
"Our experience combined with a scheduled mid-season update has us especially confident about this year's predictions," Angotti told Travel + Leisure. "Our goal is that this data-based, interactive tool will increase the number of people that are able to enjoy peak fall in 2021."
In addition to telling viewers when leaves will change, Smoky Mountain also explains why. When days start getting shorter, leaves stop producing chlorophyll from photosynthesis, allowing other compounds present in the leaf to take over from the green. Fall leaves get their orange from beta-carotene, their red from anthocyanins and their yellow from flavonols.
Autumn leaves don't last forever, however. The trees have to shed their leaves to prevent them from freezing in winter and damaging the whole tree. They do this by shutting off the veins that carry water and nutrients to and from the leaves. However, when those leaves fall, they continue to nourish the tree through the soil.
"It is not difficult to conclude that while the falling of the leaves protects the trees through winter, it's likely that trees would not survive as well without the rich layer of dead leaves through the warm spring and summer months," the website explained. "In this way, trees' natural cycle provides health and sustainability for itself year after year."
So check the map, throw on a sweater, put a hot cider in a thermos and get out there and observe that natural cycle in all its glory.
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Tidal wetlands are vitally important ecosystems that provide food, host fishery stocks, store carbon and protect coasts from storm surges.
They are also extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. In fact, a study published in Earth's Future recently found that 43 to 48 percent of the tidal wetlands along the coastal U.S. were vulnerable to inundation by 2100. Further, that vulnerability is heavily influenced by where they are located.
"When someone says, 'Hey we have one meter of sea level rise projected for the next 100 years,' that means something very different for each part of the U.S. coast," study lead author James Holmquist of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center told EcoWatch.
Vertical and Lateral Vulnerability
To assess how vulnerable tidal marshes were to sea level rise, the researchers looked at two metrics of vulnerability: vertical and lateral.
Vertical vulnerability refers to a wetland's ability to raise its elevation by accreting, or building up, sediment. A wetland is more vulnerable if the projected rate of sea level rise in its area outpaces its ability to raise itself up.
Lateral vulnerability, on the other hand, refers to a wetland's ability to move inland, which is limited if the adjacent ground is too steep or already in use for farming or development. The researchers calculated lateral vulnerability by looking at the "sliver of land" between where wetlands currently end and where they would need to expand to in order to offset future sea level rise. They then determined whether and how much of that land was available.
To reach their conclusions, the study authors relied on sea level rise projections based on low, medium and high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios through 2100 to determine how they would interact with the two types of vulnerability.
"For most of the U.S.," Holmquist said, "those two things offset each other, but for some places they compound."
In fact, they compounded for 43 to 48 percent of wetlands, predominantly in the Gulf of Mexico and along the mid-Atlantic Coast, specifically Chesapeake Bay.
The study also found regional variations. Wetlands in the South tended to face more vertical vulnerability, while wetlands in the North and along the Pacific Coast faced more lateral vulnerability, in many cases because of development. Homlquist offered the example of his native state of California.
"You look at the marshes there, they're just built around," he said. "You go to the Sacramento Delta, it's all farmland."
These findings emphasize that sea level rise is very much a local problem.
"I think that the strength of this paper is... localizing those forecasts using what we know about the geography of the U.S. coasts," he said.
This is something that is clear to those who work to protect the vulnerable wetlands of the U.S. Gulf Coast, such as Arsum Pathak, who has a Ph.D. in climate science and serves as the adaptation and coastal resilience specialist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF)'s south-central region.
Pathak told EcoWatch that she agreed with the paper's finding that "the vulnerability is higher in the Gulf and especially around Texas and Louisiana."
This is because, in addition to sea level rise, the land beneath the Gulf is sinking, largely due to human activities including groundwater and oil and gas extraction. The one-two punch of sea level rise and subsidence means it's fair to say the region is doubly victimized by the fossil fuel industry.
"There's multiple drivers," she said.
Pathak focuses on how this vulnerability plays out along the Texas Mid-Coast specifically. An assessment she co-wrote for NWF found that as much as 21 percent of the coast could be converted to open water by 2100, including saltwater wetlands in the Guadalupe Delta, the barrier islands of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Boggy NWR. Together, these changes could destroy valuable habitat for whooping cranes, migratory waterfowl, ducks and geese.
To address this, Pathak said, "the best place to start is preserving what we have and restoring what we have started to degrade or we're starting to lose."
This, she argued, would require political will and leadership, as well as funding to protect vulnerable areas. Pathak said it was important to secure that funding by emphasizing the many benefits of wetlands, from habitats for endangered species to human recreation to nature-based solutions to the climate crisis.
"The wetlands are also our first line of defense when it comes to climate change," she said.
State of the Science
Helping determine what wetland protection projects might need funds is something Holmquist thought his research might help with.
"I hope it helps with identifying not just the most vulnerable wetlands today but the most vulnerable wetlands tomorrow," he said.
In general, Holmquist said he hoped his study would improve the "state of the science" and lead to better forecasts for sea level rise. Those forecasts, he argued, should be:
- Localized, in the way the current study emphasized.
- Near-term, moving from the length of a century to the length of a mortgage.
- Process-based rather than the statistical forecasts highlighted in the recent study.
Holmquist is now pursuing this "dream" of creating open-sourced, process-based forecasting models as the manager of the Coastal Carbon Research Coordination Network.
"I'm really trying to push this next generation of coastal wetland elevation and carbon storage forecasting," he said.
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