TIME Environment

The 5 Worst Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

A most wanted list for alien pests in the Sunshine State

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As I write in a cover story in TIME this week, invasive species are a growing threat around the U.S. And there’s no place quite as thoroughly invaded as Florida:

“We are ground zero for the impacts of invasive species,” says Doria Gordon, director of conservation science for the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) . “And our invaders are very good at finding new habitats.”

Often those habitats are in or around the Everglades, that vast “river of grass” that covers much of South Florida. Half of the original Everglades has been developed for farming or housing, and the sprawling wetland has been carved up by more than 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of canals and levees that divert water for South Florida’s 5.8 million people. That mix of suburbs and wilderness makes the Everglades an invasive free-for-all.

But which invasive species pose the biggest threats to the Everglades? Check out the video above

 

TIME Environment

How to Catch a Python, in Five (Sort of) Easy Steps

The inelegant art of hunting an invasive snake

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“Fear is a natural reaction.” That’s what the dangerous-animal expert Jeff Fobb told me stood in the backyard of his house in Homestead, Florida, waiting to tangle with a Burmese python. Fobb was right—even though Burmese pythons don’t really pose a threat to human beings, there’s something about the way a snake slithers, the way the muscles under the sheen of its scales ripple, that seems to strike a bell in the human amgydala. Almost as scary: the fact that there may be tens of thousands of invasive pythons slithering around the state of Florida.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch a python—provided you can find it. Here’s how:

TIME Environment

The Volunteer Army Hunting Florida’s Invasive Pythons

Finding an invasive python in the wild is difficult, which is why you need a volunteer army

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As I write in TIME’s cover story this week, Burmese pythons invaded Florida years ago, and they’ve thrived in the warm tropical climate. There may be tens of thousands of pythons slithering around south Florida, but the truth is that no one really knows. That’s because when they don’t want to be found—which is most of the time—Burmese pythons are all but impossible to locate. At a 2013 state-sponsored hunt, nearly 1,600 participants found and captured just 68 pythons. “For every one snake you’ll find, you can walk by at least 99 without seeing them,” says Michael Dorcas, a snake expert at Davidson College.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just ask experts like Jeff Fobb, a dangerous-animal specialist with Miami Dade County Fire Rescue department. Fobb helps train volunteers for the Python Patrol, an initiative begun by the Nature Conservancy and now run by the state of Florida. Training as many people as possible improves the chances of actually capturing a python when one is found. But it’s not always easy, as this video shows.

To see the full cover story click here: Invasive Species Coming to a Habitat Near You

TIME energy

U.S. Oil Could Rescue Iraq

A satellite image shows smoke rising from the Baiji refinery near Tikrit, Iraq, June 18.
A satellite image shows smoke rising from the Baiji refinery near Tikrit, Iraq, June 18. U.S. Geological Survey/Reuters

If civil war engulfs all of Iraq, oil prices are likely to skyrocket. But U.S. exports could change the game

Even though the conflict in Iraq still rages, with forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) just an hour outside of Baghdad while the Syrian military is reportedly bombing the insurgents, global oil markets have mostly calmed. Prices for Brent crude on June 26 had fallen below $114 a barrel, and have dropped more than 1% since hitting a nine-month high on June 19. The violence in Iraq’s north and west—including fighting around the country’s largest refinery in Baiji—hasn’t yet seriously affected oil production in the Shiite dominated south. Iraq’s Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi even promised in an interview with Bloomberg that the nation’s oil exports—which have averaged more than 2.5 million barrels a day—will actually accelerate next month. “Oil exports will witness a big increase, as recent events didn’t reflect negatively on Iraq’s crude output and exports,” al-Luaibi said. “International oil companies are working normally in Iraq.”

That doesn’t seem to be quite true, though—international oil majors like BP and ExxonMobil have already evacuated some of their foreign workers from Iraq. And if things do get worse, oil markets might not react so calmly. A recent report from the nonprofit Securing America’s Future Energy found that the loss of just a third of Iraq’s oil output could be enough to push global oil prices up as much as $40 per barrel. Even if production from Iraq stays steady, political turmoil in countries like Libya and Nigeria have helped remove some 3.5 million barrels a day of oil production capacity. That doesn’t leave much room for more trouble in Iraq, the world’s third-largest exporter of crude oil. And with Iraq projected to be the biggest single contributor to new oil production over the coming decades—at least before the ISIS insurgency revved up—what happens in the country will matter at the pumps for a very long time.

But it’s not so easy to predict the future of energy and oil. Case in point: the fracking revolution in the U.S., which has unlocked vast amounts of previously inaccessible crude, and which few experts saw coming. Between 2008 and 2013, U.S. oil production increased by 2.4 million barrels a day, to more than 7.4 million. And the growth hasn’t stopped—production hit 8.3 million barrels a day in April. Most of the new global oil production brought online over the past few years has come from the U.S. While the U.S. doesn’t export raw crude—aside from a few small exceptions, U.S. oil exports have been banned since 1975—more oil at home means fewer imports, which in turns leaves more oil on the global market for everyone else. Take away the fracking revolution, and global oil markets wouldn’t have been able to so easily shrug off the violence in Iraq.

In the years to come, the U.S. could play an even bigger role. As the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported earlier this week, the Obama Administration has begun taking steps towards allowing U.S. crude exports. If that wording sounds confusing, well, it is. What seems to be happening is that the U.S. Commerce Department will allow a pair of oil companies to begin exporting what is known as ultra-light condensate to international markets, with only minimal refining. (The U.S. has long allowed exports of refined oil products.) That doesn’t mean U.S. oil companies can begin exporting all the crude they want; in fact, both Commerce and the White House, reflecting the political sensitivities around allowing domestic exports at a time when gasoline costs an average of $3.68 a gallon, have insisted that there has been “no change in policy on crude oil exports.”

But with domestic oil production approaching the capacity of U.S. refineries—and the oil industry putting all its considerable pressure on the government—it seems likely that U.S. oil will eventually be sold abroad. What effect that will have domestically is uncertain. A recent report by Goldman Sachs found that the ban on exports was a net economic positive for the U.S., at least until domestic refineries could no longer handle growing production of oil. But it seems clear that lifting or at least modifying the ban would likely lead to more production, as oil companies wouldn’t have to worry about their product being landlocked in the U.S. A report by the research firm IHS found that lifting the ban would lead to more than $700 billion in additional investment in oil extraction between 2016 and 2030, and would increase oil production by an average of 1.2 million barrels a day. And given that global crude demand is expected to rise by about that much over the next several years, that oil could be very useful indeed—especially if today’s fighting in Iraq is only the beginning.

TIME

Is This America’s Smartest City?

A community in Austin tracks every watt of energy it uses—so the rest of us can live more efficiently

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Dan McAtee and Laura Spoor’s utility bill last year came to $631. That’s not bad considering the average annual electric bill in Austin, the Texas capital, is more than $1,000, largely because air-conditioning may be the only thing locals love more than barbecue. But it’s even more impressive once you realize the bill actually came to negative $631. The solar panels on their roof mean McAtee and Spoor produce more electricity than they consume. “We got the biggest system we could get,” says McAtee, pointing to the array of panels laid atop their one-story home like domino tiles. “Now we’ve got what you might call overgeneration.”

But while the solar panels stand out–such arrays are rare in Texas–what really sets McAtee and Spoor’s home apart can’t be seen at all. Smart circuits are tracking their electricity use on a minute-by-minute and appliance-by-appliance basis, providing a running record of how power flows through their home. On his computer, McAtee opens a website that shows in near real time the rise and fall of their electricity use over the months. When Spoor opens the refrigerator to get a pitcher of lemonade, the readings spike for a moment, reflecting the extra watts consumed as the appliance compensates for the rush of warmer air. “You can literally see when a lightbulb is turned on,” says McAtee, 73, who spent years as an engineer at IBM before his retirement.

These insights come courtesy of Pecan Street Inc., a research group running the most extensive energy-tracking study in U.S. history (backed in part by the Department of Energy). Its ground zero is Mueller, a planned green community in Austin where hundreds of households have signed up to have their electricity use monitored on a granular level. Researchers track when and why Mueller’s residents consume power and how fast-growing new technologies–like solar panels, connected appliances and electric cars–are affecting the grid. (Thanks in part to an incentive program, Mueller has more electric vehicles per capita than any other U.S. neighborhood.)

That kind of data is unprecedented in the electricity industry, whose essentials have remained largely unchanged since 1882, when Thomas Edison opened America’s first commercial power plant. The Pecan Street team is already using it to upend long-held theories about electricity use and test provocative new distribution methods, which could make our power cleaner and cheaper. With U.S. demand for electricity projected to rise at least 30% over the next 30 years, the methods it pioneers may be our best shot at avoiding a future full of brownouts, blackouts and sky-high energy bills. “Mueller is the community of the near future,” says Suzanne Russo, chief operating officer at Pecan Street. “But everything we’re learning is going to be applicable to every community in America.”

To get why Pecan Street and Mueller are so special, it’s important to understand how data-poor the electricity business has been for most of its existence. Until just a few years ago, power utilities had two basic functions: to make sure they could meet the highest level of demand at any given moment–in Texas, that’s usually an afternoon in the late summer, when people start blasting their AC as soon as they arrive home from work–and to estimate how much electricity people use every month, a.k.a. the kilowatt-hours that show up on a utility bill. Beyond that, they had little incentive to maximize efficiency. They made money according to how much power they sold, not how much they saved. That made for a grid that was inherently less stable; during blackouts, utilities often didn’t know which consumers had lost power until they called to complain.

That began to change about five years ago as progressive utilities–aided by billions of dollars in stimulus funding from the new Obama Administration–started to install smart meters, two-way devices that can track electricity use at least once an hour. Today there are more than 40 million in use, part of a larger national effort to make the U.S. electrical grid better able to prevent events like the Northeast blackout of 2003, in which more than 50 million people temporarily lost power.

The Pecan Street devices are even smarter than smart meters, recording data from different appliances essentially in real time. At any given moment, the Pecan Street engineers–who work in partnership with the University of Texas and local utility Austin Energy–know exactly how much electricity their subjects are using and how that use changes in response to the time of day, weather patterns, even fluctuations in power price. (They don’t know who is using the power, though; all household data is anonymous.) “It’s by far the most aggressive [data-collection] project that I know of,” said Ernest Moniz, U.S. Energy Secretary, during a visit to Pecan Street in February.

Already, the numbers have challenged some conventional wisdom about solar power, which is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. For years, experts assumed that panels should face south in order to catch the most total sunlight and produce the most power. But Pecan Street found that it’s better for the grid if they face west. That way, they’re catching the most sunlight and generating the most electricity at the very moment in late afternoon when power usage is highest and utilities often bring polluting, expensive “peaker” plants online to prevent brownouts. Since those costs get passed on to consumers, more solar panels–used more effectively–should mean lower bills for everyone.

Pecan Street has dismissed longstanding objections to electric cars as well. As more drivers buy them, utilities have expressed concern that they will all start charging at the same time (after work, in tandem with AC use), creating a massive strain on the grid. But that hasn’t been the case in Mueller, where most people have opted for overnight, off-peak charging–especially if their utility makes it cheaper to do so. Pecan Street engineers are even testing a system that would enable electric cars to store excess solar power during the day and use it at night to power your home for free. “It really shows the value of having a smart home,” says Jim Robertson, another participant in the Mueller project.

Of course, the rest of America may never realize Mueller’s vision for the future. Solar power won’t work as well in cold, cloudy states like Alaska, for example. And not every consumer will be as open to micro-monitoring or surge pricing as the ones who live in Mueller, even if it will ultimately save them money. “Pecan Street is an innovative project,” says Jerry Jackson, director of the Smart Grid Research Consortium. “But right now I don’t think there’s a broad scope of consumers who are that interested in this technology.”

Yet in a world that’s becoming ever more dependent on a clean, steady supply of electricity–consider life without your iPhone or laptop–everyone has a stake in building a more efficient grid. And the status quo won’t change unless there are metrics to prove that it should.

In that vein, Pecan Street is expanding its study to other cities, including San Diego and Boulder, Colo. In May, the White House introduced an initiative to make energy data much more widely available–two months after Pecan Street made its own database freely available online. “It’s our chance to build the utility of the future,” says Kara Mertz, who is managing the Boulder Pecan Street project.

All of which means we may soon be living in a world where everyone likes their energy bills as much as Mueller’s McAtee. “Saving the environment is good,” he says. “But financially viable–that’s good too.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Don’t Blame Fat: Sources for Further Reading on the Healthy-Diet Debate

More to read about the changing American diet

The debate over saturated fat—and fat in general—is of interest to anyone looking to eat a healthier diet, as the tremendous response to TIME’s recent cover story has underscored. For readers interested in diving more deeply into the topic, here are some sources for more information.

—Gary Taubes’s 2008 book Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, as well as his 2002 New York Times Magazine cover story “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie” and his new project, the Nutrition Science Initiative

—Dr. Robert Lustig’s 2012 book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Diabetes and the Gary Taubes feature about sugar, “Is Sugar Toxic,” from 2011

—Jonny Bowden and Dr. Stephen Sinatra’s 2012 book The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease—and the Statin-Free Plan That Will

—Dr. William Davis’s 2011 book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health

—Journalist Nina Teicholz’s 2014 book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

—The 2014 documentary Fed Up, from executive producers Laurie David and Katie Couric, which we wrote about here

—Michael Moss’s 2013 book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

—Former FDA commissioner Dr. David A. Kessler’s book The End of Overating, from 2010

TIME magazine’s 1961 cover on Ancel Keys, the architect of the anti-fat fight movement; our famous 1984 cover on the danger of cholesterol; a 2002 cover on what makes us fat; a 2006 cover about fat-free fat, and a 2006 cover exonerating eggs

 

TIME Environment

Crimson on White: Hunting the Polar Bear

The images of a polar-bear hunt will be hard to view, but life in Canada's impoverished Inuit communities is just as hard

Ed Ou spent four months in 2013 photographing Inuit communities in Nunavut, the northernmost territory of Canada. Here, many are cut off from the rest of the country — and food and supplies are brought in at an extremely high cost by land and sea. Because of this, the Inuit often depend on hunting for food. Environmental groups regularly criticize them for hunting species claimed to have dwindling populations such as narwhal, belugas, seals and polar bears. In the U.S., Washington has pushed for a global ban on the commercial trade of polar-bear fur, meat and body parts. But the Canadian government opposes this on behalf of the Inuit.

Editor’s note: Given the isolation of the communities in the north of Canada, Ou helped offset the high costs of embedding himself with the Inuit community and contributed money for gas, groceries, heating, Internet and other expenses.


Ed Ou’s pictures are hard to look at. A polar bear emerges from the water, drenched in blood, turning its white fur crimson. Then the dead bear sprawled on the rocks, legs spread and jaw open, as if it were simply caught by surprise, even while the hunters begin the process of butchering the carcass. Finally the bear’s pelt, cleansed of blood, drying in a bathtub.

Polar bears have become the living symbols of climate change, with reason — as the planet warms, the sea ice that the bears use as hunting platforms is melting, putting the animals at risk. The idea of hunting and killing an animal that is listed as an endangered species, one that’s already under pressure from climate change, seems wrong on its face, like crimson blood on white fur.

But look closer at those pictures. Ou, a Canadian, traveled to the Inuit homeland of Nunavut in the far north not to document a polar-bear hunt, but to explore a part of his own country that had always seemed foreign. In remote towns like Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, Ou found a culture grappling with extreme poverty, substance abuse and a legacy of mistreatment from the Canadian government, which for decades all but stole Inuit children from their parents, sending them to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own culture. The last residential schools were only shut down in 1996, but the effects are still being felt among the Canadian Inuit whom Ou went to document, compounded by the extreme isolation of the Arctic and the painful transition from a traditional subsistence-hunting culture to a sedentary way of life. “Trauma has been passed down from one generation to the next,” says Ou. “Alcoholism is high, drug abuse is high, suicide rates are high. It’s a very traumatized place.”

In his photos, Ou shows Inuit like Kelly Amaujaq Fraser, a young woman who was sexually abused as a young girl, and whose father killed himself when she was just a teenager. Ou shows a near-empty refrigerator, the product of a place where unemployment is in the double digits, and where a simple carton of milk can cost more than $10. Given those bleak conditions, it’s not surprising that the Inuit would hunt polar bears, as their ancestors did before them — albeit not with high-powered rifles. A single polar-bear pelt can fetch more than $10,000 on the open market, and the meat can feed dozens of hungry people. As distasteful as the sight of a butchered polar bear might be to outsiders, to the Inuit, it’s a matter of survival — and of culture. “They feel their ability to hunt is one of their last sources of subsistence,” says Ou. “Before you judge them, you have to understand the socioeconomic factors driving this.”

That doesn’t mean it’s right to allow polar-bear hunts to continue. It’s unclear just how many polar bears are left, and the continued effects of climate change will almost certainly drive the species closer to extinction if nothing is done to save them. But it doesn’t seem that the burden should fall on the Inuit, who’ve already paid such a high price. “They ask, ‘Why do we have to pay the highest price for global warming when we contribute the least?’” says Ou. Justice is something else that’s endangered in the Arctic.


Ed Ou is a photographer with Reportage by Getty Images

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