TIME endangered species

Save the Polar Bear—Today Especially

One of the planet's most charismatic creatures is being driven into the sea—literally. But there are ways to save the species

It’s International Polar Bear today, so if you live within shouting distance of the Arctic Circle, hug the closest polar bear. (Actually do not do that—an adult male polar bear is nearly half a ton of hungry predator and they are extremely dangerous.) Still, the beasts deserve a little tenderness.

The polar bear is now considered a vulnerable species, under threat from the loss of its sea ice habitat. To draw attention to their plight, Google is now offering glimpses of polar bears in their native environment, via its Street View program. Cameras in Cape Churchill and Wapusk National Park in northern Manitoba captured images of polar bears doing their polar bear thing during an annual gathering in the region in October and November. You can see pictures of polar bears sparring, and a mother nursing her cub, all against the flat white and brown background of the Arctic. The footage was taken with Google’s Street View Trekker—15 cameras mounted on a backpack—from aboard the decidedly off-road vehicles known tundra buggies

“It provides an opportunity to document what it looks like now, the potential to document what it looks like next year, five years from now, 10 years from now,” Krista Wright, executive director of the conservation group Polar Bear International, told the CBC.

Many scientists and conservationists fear that there may be far fewer polar bears in even that single-decade time frame, thanks chiefly to the effects of climate change. Polar bears use sea ice as a platform to reach their prey, chiefly seals, and summer sea ice is melting fast. Despite a rebound from a record low in 2012, the extent of Arctic sea ice is generally trending downwards, often dramatically. As the ice vanishes, polar bears are forced to swim longer and longer distances to reach those hunting platforms, which is taking a toll on the species.

Exactly how vulnerable polar bears are is not clear, partially due to the fact that they live in such a forbidding climate and are themselves not exactly friendly. That makes getting a proper count challenging. (Google is helping with this as well: researchers are using Google Earth satellite images to count polar bears from space.) Still, most experts agree that there are about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears alive, scattered around the Arctic—a perilously small number though some subpopulations have rebounded, in part because of restrictions on hunting. There’s also evidence that polar bears are changing their dietary habits, possibly to adapt to the loss of sea ice, shifting from seals to snow geese, caribou and berries. But polar bear subpopulations are still trending downward in many areas of the Arctic, and if climate change keeps vaporizing sea ice, the pressure on the bears will only increase.

Of course, that’s true of many, many species; in fact, a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change just found that global warming dramatically increases the risk of extinction for amphibians and reptiles. Yet how many other species are so popular that Coca-Cola will change the color of its cans just to draw attention to their plight, as the company did in 2011? Last year a policy paper in Conservation Letters laid out an ambitious plan to save polar bears in the face of global warming, even going so far as to feed starving bears directly—an amazing thought, given the obvious risks. Why go to such great lengths to save the polar bear, and not, say Mexico’s critically endangered pygmy raccoon?

The truth is there’s no perfect reason, but it’s the sort of triage we’ll be doing more and more often in the future as we face down the sixth extinction. (For more on that, check out Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent new book on the subject.) Which brings us back to Google Street View and those candid shots of polar bears in their element. There is something majestic about a polar bear against the backdrop of the Arctic, something wild and worth saving. And the polar bear dearly needs saving.

TIME Food & Drink

How Uncle Sam Is Helping to Feed the Honeybees

Getty Images

A new program at the USDA will pay farmers and ranchers to plant bee-friendly crops. It's about time

When I wrote a cover story last August about the plight of the honeybees, I didn’t think I’d still be talking about it half a year later. Yet this afternoon I went down to Washington to address a meeting of the National Garden Club—and the topic, of course, was honeybees. I wish I’d had better news to offer. Scientists still don’t know exactly why rates of honeybee loss have been so high in recent years, though there has been some promising research identifying new viruses. Beekeepers are still under tremendous economic pressure to keep their hives going in the face of colony collapse disorder (CCD). And the country, as I wrote last year, is still inhospitable to honeybees, lacking the wild spaces and flowers that feed them.

But on that last bit, at least, there’s some good news. This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $3 million program to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers in the Midwest interested in helping out honeybees by planting bee-friendly forage in and around their plots. That includes reseeding pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants that are good for bees—and for livestock as well. Ranchers will also be able to draw on the money to build fences and make other changes that allow them to move their livestock from pasture to pasture, to prevent the vegetation from getting worn down. The idea is to turn the farms back into a buffet for honeybees.

The states covered will be Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and both North and South Dakota, chosen because 65% of the country’s estimated 30,000 commercial beekeepers store their hives there for at least part of the year. (Commercial beekeepers are an itinerant lot, moving their colonies from state to state as they chase pollination contracts.) Commodity crop farmers will be able to use the money to plant bee forage along the borders of their fields—vital, given that the spread of monocultures and soybeans offer very little nutrition for bees on their own. Such higher quality food will help honeybees battle the toxic mix of pesticides and parasites that have been wearing down their populations, as the USDA’s David Epstein told the AP:

You can think of it in terms of yourself. If you are studying for exams in college, and you’re not eating properly and you’re existing on coffee, then you make yourself more susceptible to disease and you get sick.

A $3 million outlay by itself won’t be enough to stop the onslaught of colony collapse disorder. But like the growth in rooftop and backyard beekeeping—even in crowded cities like Los Angeles and New York—it will help.

(MORE: Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?)

TIME Nuclear

Japan Mulls Nuclear Revival Not Even 3 Years After Fukushima

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is proposing re-opening Japan's nuclear plants less than three years after they were shuttered in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, causing outrage from some citizens afraid nuclear power will never be safe

If there was one thing that seemed certain in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in 2011—the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl—it was that nuclear power in Japan and the rest of the world was in major trouble.

Japan, which before Fukushima had generated 30% of its electricity from nuclear, eventually took all of its 50 commercial reactors offline to pass new safety tests. Japanese citizens took to the streets against the nuclear industry in rare shows of public protest, and then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced a commitment to end nuclear power in Japan by 2040. Other countries took note, too. In the wake of Fukushima, Germany began closing nuclear plants out of safety concerns, with a plan to denuclearize the country completely by 2022.

But nearly three years after Fukushima, the impact of the meltdown seems smaller than ever, even in the country that was ground zero for the accident. Today Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a new Basic Energy Plan that states Japan will push to restart the dozens of reactors closed after the disaster, and potentially even build new ones in the future. And beyond outliers like Germany—where denuclearization is still proceeding—nuclear power is still expanding in much of the world, as Joshua Keating points out in Slate:

A World Energy Council report released in 2012 showed that 558 reactors were in some state of development around the world, up from 547 at the time of the disaster. Major nuclear expansions in China (which lifted a post-Fukushima nuclear moratorium in 2012) and India, along with smaller emerging markets like the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Poland, and Bangladesh, are driving most of the growth.

The developing world is driving the growth in nuclear—unsurprising, since the need for new electric capacity is greatest there—but in the U.S. new nuclear plants are being built for the first time in decades, while the conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron has pushed for new nukes in the U.K.

(MORE: Nuclear Fusion Just Got a Little Closer to Becoming a Reality)

In Japan, the nuclear reversal boils down to politics and the economy. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan was less connected to the country’s sprawling nuclear industry, and the mounting street protests in the wake of Fukushima made it all but impossible for Kan not to move against nuclear power. Shinzo Abe, who became prime minister at the end of 2012, is a member of the more conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has long had close ties with Japan’s nuclear industry. It didn’t help that organized political opposition to nuclear power in Japan largely fizzled out. Antinuclear candidates failed to unseat a pro-nuclear incumbent in a vital gubernatorial race in Tokyo earlier this month.

The shuttering of nuclear plants also forced Japan to increase imports of oil and natural gas to make up for the shortfall, which helped lead to a $204 billion trade deficit between March 2011 and the end of 2013. Electricity generation costs went up by more than 50%. CO2 emissions in Japan’s electricity industry have increased by 100 million metric tons as zero-carbon nuclear was displaced by fossil fuels. “If we had indicated ‘zero nuclear’ without any basis, one could not call it a responsible energy policy,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister for trade and industry.

(MORE: Amid Economic and Safety Concerns, Nuclear Advocates Pin Their Hopes on New Designs)

Of course, the Japanese government was unclear about the details about any kind of nuclear revival, and with the majority of the Japanese public still opposed to nuclear power, any plans to restart plans could be undermined by local opposition. It doesn’t help that the ruined Fukushima Daiichi plant is still a total mess. This week a damaged power cable at the plant shut down a vital cooling system at Reactor No. 4, in what was only the latest of an endless series of mishaps at the cleanup.

But the long-term health impacts of the meltdown and subsequent radiation release seem limited. In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a team of Japanese researchers found that the mean annual radiation dose from the Fukushima event after 2011 was comparable to the background radiation that the average Japanese citizen might experience over the course of a year, and any increases in cancer rates from the meltdown may be so small at to be undetectable. That conclusion fits with earlier studies that suggest steps taken by the Japanese government to limit radiation exposure—including evacuations and food restrictions—from Fukushima seem to have been successful. On April 1, 300 people will finally be allowed to return home to a district near the plant, though that’s jut a tiny fraction of the 138,000 people from the area still living in temporary accommodations.

Nuclear power still has major obstacles to overcome, including high costs and lingering safety concerns. (The failure at Fukushima was due as much to the old, poorly built plant and corporate incompetence as it was to the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant.) But as the climate scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira and others wrote last year have written, nuclear power will need to be an option in a carbon constrained world:

While there will be no single technological silver bullet, the time has come for those who take the threat of global warming seriously to embrace the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems as one among several technologies that will be essential to any credible effort to develop an energy system that does not rely on using the atmosphere as a waste dump.

(MORE: Nuclear Energy Is Largely Safe. But Can It Be Cheap?)

TIME Water

California Is Finally Set to Get Rain, But It Won’t Quench the Drought

Parts of California could receive more rain this week than they've gotten cumulatively over the past eight months. But the state needs much more

How extreme is the drought in California? Right now the federal government says that every square mile of California is in some state of drought—and 14.62% of the state, concentrated in central California’s agricultural heartland, is in the most extreme state of exceptional drought. Rainfall in some of the most populated parts of the state have been all but nonexistent—since July 1, San Francisco has experienced just 5.85 inches of rain, about 35% of what’s normal, and Los Angeles has received just 1.2 inches of rain, less than 10% of the average over the same period of time. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada basin—the water bank for much of California—is less than half below average. By every count, California is in the grip of a truly historic drought that will cost the state and the country billions of dollars.

But there’s no better signal of how severe this year’s drought is than the fact that even a heavy rainstorm will barely make a dent in the big dry. The National Weather Service (NWS) projects that this week a pair of Pacific storms are expected to bring as much as 2 in. of rain to the coast, and several feet of snow to the Sierra Nevadas. The second state in particular is expected drench virtually all of California for 24 hours, as Jim Bagnall, a meteorologist with the NWS, told the Associated Press:

We’re not calling it a drought-buster, but it definitely will make a difference. With these few storms, we could see about an inch total in the valley. So this could obviously have some significant impact.

Still, despite the fact that Los Angeles could receive more rain this week than it has in nearly eight months cumulatively, the drought will be far from over. Even with the storm, much of California will still be below average for precipitation this month. Since February tends to be the wettest month for California, that means that the state still has a larger and larger rainfall deficit to make up if this drought is to ever end. The good news is that chances of an El Niño event this summer—which could bring heavier rainfall—are rising. But at this point it might take divine intervention to irrigate the Golden State.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Bust California’s Drought

TIME weather

Watch the Great Lakes Freeze Over

Beautiful time lapse imagery shows Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes freeze over during this year's brutally cold winter

You can measure a winter in many ways: temperature records, snow cover, even travel delays. But to truly see how frigid this winter has been—at least for the eastern half of the U.S.—you need to go way up. Satellite imagery shows that an incredible 88% of the Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie—are now frozen over. That’s the largest ice cover the Great Lakes have experienced since 1994, and it means that there is an astounding 82,940 sq. miles (214,814 sq. km) of ice covering the biggest collection of fresh water in the world.

How unusual is this? Since 1973, the average maximum ice cover extent for the Great Lakes has been just 50%, and in those four decades, the ice extent has surpassed 80% just five times. (In 2002, just 9.5% of the Great Lakes froze over during the winter, the lowest extent on record, while the greatest extent was 94.7% in 1979.) And no lake is as iced over as Superior, where the extent is 95.3%.

(MORE: Window on Infinity: Winter Pictures from Icy Space

The unusually large extent of ice is due to a logical factor: it’s been really, really cold around the Great Lakes. In the Midwest this January, temperatures averaged 5 to 10 F (3 to 6 C) below the 20th century average. But the endless snowfall around the Great Lakes region—Chicago, which borders Lake Michigan, experienced its third-snowiest January on record, and Detroit had its snowiest month ever—played a role as well, insulating the ice cover when temperatures would rise. If you’re wondering why Lake Ontario has such a smaller amount of its surface covered in ice, that’s because the lake is unusually deep, which gives it a tremendous heat storage capacity.

But numbers can only tell you so much. TIME editor Jonathan Woods has stitched together imagery provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab and taken from NASA’s TERRA and AQUA satellites, using data gathered by the MODIS system (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer). The time lapse imagery shows a truly stunning Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes from September—when all five were open—to now, when ice covers the vast majority of the lakes. You’ll notice how early the freeze began, with ice reported in the bays and harbors of the Great Lakes as early as the end of November, as opposed to the usual time of mid-December. From that early build—due to cold temperatures in the fall and early winter in the Great Lakes—the ice just continued to grow.

For all that, 2014 could well be an aberration. Satellite data shows a generally downward trend in Great Lakes ice cover from 1972 to the present, thanks largely to the general increase in winter temperatures over the same time period. The winter of 2014 will go down in the record books—and there’s no clearer evidence of that than the image of the Great Lakes, sheathed in ice. But we may not see too many repeat performances in a warmer future.

(MORE: The Not So Sustainable Sochi Winter Olympics)

TIME Disasters

Oklahoma Shakes—Is Fracking to Blame?

Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas
Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas. Travis Heying—Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images

A normally calm state is hit by a wave of minor earthquakes—causing some to point the finger at fracking. But wastewater disposal wells likely play a bigger role

It’s been a shaky week in Oklahoma. The Sooner State has experienced more than 150 earthquakes over the past week, far more than the Okies usually get. And while the vast majority of the quakes were fairly minor, one, on Feb. 16 measured 3.8 on the Richter scale, followed by a number of aftershocks. There’s been little damage reported, but the quakes jolted folks in a part of the country who aren’t accustomed to the Earth moving under their feet. “[It] felt like bombs going off,” central Oklahoma resident Nancy York told ABC News affiliate KOCO-TV. “It’s just a huge noise and then it’s like a reverb from that boom that just shakes the entire house.”

Something is clearly going on in Okalahoma—and has been for a while now. Residents have experienced more than 200 quakes with a magnitude of at least 3.0 since the beginning of 2009, and more than 2,600 tremors altogether during 2013. (A 3.0 magnitude quake is considered the threshold at which most people can feel shaking.) According to a recent analysis by EnergyWire, Oklahoma is now the second most seismically active state in the continental U.S., after California.

So what’s happened? Suspicion has turned to the energy sector. Oklahoma is the center of the country’s hydrocarbon industry, with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells dotting the state. Some of those wells have been drilled with the use of hydrofracking, in which explosives are used to generate cracks in a layer of shale rock thousands of feet below the surface. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid—most of which is water—are then pumped underground to keep the cracks open, allowing oil and natural gas that had been trapped in the shale rock to flow back to the surface. Surely it’s not too difficult to think that a process meant to break up the ground could end up triggering an earthquake.

(MORE: Your City Might Not Be Ready for the Next Big Quake)

But while a few studies have linked the act of fracking to minor earthquakes, there’s no definitive proof yet that fracking by itself can cause noticeable quakes. What’s more likely at fault are wastewater disposal wells. When an oil or gas well has been drilled, millions of gallons of wastewater—tainted with hydrocarbons and any number of other unhealthy contaminants—flow back up to the surface. That wastewater needs to be contained, so companies drill new wells, and inject the liquid underground at extremely high pressures. It’s entirely possible that the high water pressure used in these injection wells—and there are more than 10,000 of them in Oklahoma—may nudge previously dormant faults out of their locked position. A study published in Science last year linked unusual earthquakes in Ohio to the presence of nearby disposal wells, and other research in Oklahoma has raised similar concerns.

It’s not yet clear exactly how disposal wells might be causing or contributing to these unusual “swarms” of earthquakes. It’s possible there’s something more natural at work. Austin Holland, Oklahoma’s state seismologist, has raised the possibility that historically high water levels at Oklahoma’s Lake Arcadia may be playing a role, perhaps by placing additional stress on dormant faults. In any case, though, Oklahoma is not alone—other normally calm states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas have experienced unusually heavy seismic activity in areas near oil and gas drilling and disposal wells. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced on Feb. 17 that he would appoint a committee to study what role oil and gas activity might be playing in a recent spate of minor quakes in the state. Given that oil and natural gas production is on the rise in the U.S.—and that there are more than 30,000 deep injection wells throughout the country—that’s a question that needs an answer.

(MORE: How Earthquakes Heal Themselves — and Why That’s Important)

TIME Water

California’s Farmers Need Water. Is Desalination the Answer?

California drought farms
California's farms have been hard hit by the drought Ken James—Bloomberg/Getty Images

As Obama visits drought-stricken California, new ways to create fresh water are getting a second look

President Obama will get to see California’s disastrous drought first hand today on a visit to the farming city of Fresno. It won’t be a pretty sight. While the conditions are arid across the state, with 91.6% of California in severe to exceptional drought, agricultural areas are suffering the worst.

The state’s Central Valley has long been the fruit and vegetable basket of the country, growing nearly half of U.S. produce. But farms in the valley exist only thanks to irrigation—the Central Valley alone takes up one-sixth of the irrigated land in the nation. And thanks to the drought, there’s been little rain, and irrigation has been virtually cut off. California officials have already said that they won’t be able to offer any water to farmers through the state’s canals, and the expectation is that federal reservoirs won’t be of any help either, leaving farmers to their own dwindling supplies of groundwater. The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that the drought could translate to a loss of $11 billion in annual state revenue from agriculture.

Obama will try to offer some help in his visit to Fresno, announcing that the federal government will make available up to $100 million in aid for California farmers who’ve lost livestock to the drought, as well as $15 million in aid to help farmers and ranchers implement water conservation policies. But while efficiency and conservation can go a long way to stretching dwindling supplies of water, the reality is that California is an arid state that consumes water—80% of which goes to agriculture—as if it were a wetland. If it wants to continue as the nation’s number one farming state—producing a record $44.7 billion in agriculture receipts last year—it’s going to need more water. And if scientists are right that the current drought is the worst California has faced in 500 years, and that the state could be on the brink of a prolonged dry period accentuated by climate change, that water is going to have to come from new sources.

(MORE: Hundred Years of Dry: How California’s Drought Could Get Much, Much Worse)

As it happens, California sits next to the biggest source of water in the world: the Pacific Ocean. The problem, of course, is that seawater is far too salty to drink or use for irrigation. Desalination plants can get around that, using large amounts of electricity to force seawater through a membrane filter, which removes the salt and other impurities, producing fresh water. There are already half a dozen desalination plants in California, and around 300 in the U.S., but the technology has been held back by cost and by environmental concerns. A $1 billion desalination plant capable of producing 50 million gallons of water a day is being built in the California town of Carlsbad, but San Diego will be buying water from the facility for about $2,000 per acre-foot, twice as much as the city generally pays for imported water, while producing enough water for 112,000 households. Desalination can have a major carbon footprint—the Carlsbad plant will use about 5,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to produce an acre-foot of water. And because desalination plants in general needs about 2 gallons of seawater to produce a gallon of fresh water, there’s a lot of highly salty brine left over, which has to be disposed of in the ocean, where it can pose a threat to marine life.

Still, while efficiency and conservation will always be lower cost and lower impacts solutions to any water crisis, it’s hard not to see desalination playing a bigger and bigger role in California’s efforts to deal with lingering drought. The process of desalination is improving—the Carlsbad plant uses reverse osmosis technology, which is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than older methods —and it has the advantage of being completely drought-proof. In a world where water is more valuable and more valued, desalination can begin to make more sense.

“Desalination needs to be judged fairly against the other alternatives,” says Avshalom Felber, the CEO of IDE Technologies, an Israeli company that is helping to construct the Carlsbad plant.

(MORE: Can GM Crops Bust the Drought?)

If desalination could be powered by renewable energy, some of those environmental concerns would melt away. And that’s what a startup called WaterFX is trying to do in the parched Central Valley. While farmers in the valley generally depend on irrigated water brought in from hundreds of miles away, the land itself isn’t short of groundwater. But most of that water is far too salty for use in farming. WaterFX’s technology uses a solar thermal trough—curved mirrors that concentrate the power of the sun—to evaporate salty water. The condensate that’s later collected and cooled becomes freshwater, leaving salt and other impurities behind. “Solar stills are an old technology, but this has a new twist that makes it very efficient and very cost effective,” says Aaron Mandell, the CEO of WaterFX.

Because it uses solar power, WaterFX’s desalination has virtually no carbon footprint, and the company says that it has a 93% recovery rate, much higher than conventional desalination. But its biggest advantage might be its modularity—Water FX’s solar stills can be set up locally, allowing farms to recycle their own runoff, rather than having freshwater pumped in from afar. That saves energy and money. “You can create a closed loop where the water is reused over and over again,” says Mandell.

Right now the company is working on a pilot with the Panoche Water District in the Central Valley, producing almost 500 gallons of clean water a day. WaterFX has plans to expand to a commercial plant with a 2 million gallon capacity. Of course, the technology would have to be scaled up massively to even make a dent in California’s irrigation needs, given that the state sends billions and billions of gallons of water to farms each year. But if California really is on the edge of a great dry, every drop will help.

(MORE: Why the Drought Won’t Be Getting Better Anytime Soon — and Why This One Won’t Be the Last)

TIME Agriculture

Five Questions with DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman

DuPont has long been known as a chemical company, but Kullman is shifting the 211-year-old corporation towards innovation and agriculture

There’s never a bad time to be named CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but when Ellen Kullman took over the 211-year-old DuPont at the beginning of 2009, things could have been better. The global economy was tanking, sales were dropping and the future was hazy. Fast forward five years later, though, and DuPont is surging. Kullman has transitioned the company away from some of its traditional fields—including the performance chemicals business, best known for its nonstick frying pans and paints—and towards higher growth sectors in high-tech agriculture and nutrition. That shift has worked so far—last month DuPont announced that its fourth-quarter profits had doubled on the back of brisk sales of high-tech seeds and pesticides. I spoke recently with Kullman about the changes at one of America’s iconic companies, the global demographic shifts driving them and the big business of feeding the world’s 7 billion-plus people

TIME: You have been spinning off some business, investing in new ones. How do you see the company changing and what is driving those changes?

Kullman: I started right in the midst of the global financial crisis, so volumes were falling, and the world was not a very secure place. That gave me an opportunity to reflect on the portfolio, to reflect on how science was making a difference for us, how we were connecting to the market. We evolved to a strategy that is focused on science, and ag and nutrition, extending our advanced materials area and then really bringing to life areas like industrial biosciences that I was engaged in over a decade ago.

(MORE: Industrial Farming Slows Climate Change?)

The more I travel around the globe, the more I’m convinced that this strategy is going to lead to higher growth, higher value, greater shareholder value, because of the amount of change that is going on in the world today. We started in sustainability 20 years ago. That’s three CEOs ago. Basically then it was all about footprint reduction. You think about it now with the stressors on the world, sustainability is really important for the future of civilization, if you think about the climate, if you think about food and energy. And we think science can play a huge role in solving some of these problems, in a way that creates shareholder value. We’re much more energy efficient today than we were a decade ago, and we saved billions of dollars by not spending it on energy. But more importantly we can help airframe manufacturers lighten their vehicles or planes, and get higher efficiency out of the energy they’re using. We can help farmers utilize water much more efficiently, like through our AquaMax product, to increase yields in water stressed conditions

TIME: When it comes to ag and science and technology, and especially when it comes to biotech, you see different levels of public acceptance in different countries. How do you deal with the concern people might have for the impacts of bioscience agriculture, which is so basic to human life?

Kullman: I’m believe that countries and people make choices for themselves about what science they accept or don’t accept. And it should be fact based, so they understand [the science] and make those decisions. We as a company need to be relevant whether they choose to utilize the technology or not. I believe in the science. When you think about GMOs, I spend a lot of time on them, and I understand them. But I understand that my telling people on faith may not carry the day. They need to see it, understand it, [and we need to] arm them with facts, educate them, and let them make their choices.

We have a large business in agriculture in non-GMO seed in Europe [where GMO technology is less accepted]. We’ll be relevant there, regardless of the technology choices they make. We’ll ensure that they have the right studies and tests done to help that.

TIME: How do you deal with the differing regulation on this issue around the world, on biotech and on things like biofuel, where policy has a big impact on how the business grows?

Kullman: We are operating in an increasingly regulated world. We would certainly love to see a more harmonized regulatory environment around the world, to see that getting something approved in India is the same as getting it approved in America or China. That’s just more efficient. But I do think that we do have to participate in the process from a regulatory standpoint. We workwith different governments around the world to share information and to inform them, so when they consider laws and regulations, they do so from a standpoint of data and information that helps them make the right decision.

(MORE: Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?)
TIME: Within agriculture, you mentioned this enormous demand coming from parts of the developing world, and this yield gap, between what farms can do in Iowa versus farms in places like eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa. Is the aim eventually that farming in those parts of the world will come to resemble farming in America, or will there still be regional differences?

Kullman: Food is phenomenally local, and there are cultural differences that you have to comprehend. We need a common language, because people talk about this area in so many different ways. In the fall I was in an area in northeast China, above North Korea, part of the corn belt there. You drive along a road and you’re seeing an area that looks damn close to what you might find in the rolling hills [of Iowa], and then you find out the corn is all hand sown and hand harvested. That each farmer owns or gets the ability to farm a certain number of mous—about a tenth of an acre. And you go sit with a farmer or a family and you talk about farming, and they’re doing pretty well under their historic methodology in farming that is very labor intensive. But they know that has to change, and they know they need to mechanize. And that is very different there than what you’d find in India, or in Tanzania. It will always be different, but there’s a big gap that can be crossed from a productivity standpoint in agriculture that shouldn’t be lost on us. And I think it creates huge economic opportunity in places like sub-Saharan Africa, as farmers go from subsistence farming to farming with an income.

TIME: You mentioned sustainability as a big part of what you do. That word has a lot of different meaning for a lot of different people. When you say sustainability, what does it mean? Is it just efficiency or does it go beyond that?

Kullman: Sustainable means selecting for a long time, so [what you produce] can withstand the rigors of the world, while allowing the environment to continue to be plentiful and grow. I think that whole area is evolving greatly, and as the regulatory environment changes, people become concerned about how the future looks, and the part that each of us plays. There’s real opportunity. Think about cellulosic biofuels. First generation biofuels are in use, but what’s really sustainable are second or third generation biofuels that utilize plant waste and things like that. This is an area that is not just something to do to create real value for our customers and for our company going forward. We don’t have all the answers but I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.

(MORE: Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?)

TIME endangered species

Prince Charles and Prince William Condemn Wildlife Trafficking

Royals urge world to join fight against illegal trade in endangered wildlife

Every day, nearly 100 elephants in Africa meet a bloody end at the hands of poachers. The number of African elephants has fallen by 76% since 1980. They aren’t alone: poachers have thinned the once vast herds of black rhinos in Africa, leaving just 5,000 alive in the wild. These animals are being hunted to death.

But that’s only where poaching starts. Wildlife trafficking has become a global criminal enterprise, worth up to $10 billion a year and fed by the growing demand in Asia for ivory products. Money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to gangs of insurgents like al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-backed Somali terrorist group responsible for last year’s devastating attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. Wildlife trafficking is no longer just a niche problem for conservationists. It’s something that threatens us all.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see world leaders beginning to get serious about the issue. Later this week British Prime Minister David Cameron will be hosting the highest-level conference ever on the illegal wildlife trade. In advance of the meeting, Prince Charles and Prince William took the time to record a video message urging the world to support organizations fighting to end wildlife trafficking:

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