TIME climate change

The White House Wants To Increase Your Access To Solar Power

solar panels
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A new government plan hopes to make it a lot easier to cut your energy costs

On July 7, the White House unveiled a solar energy plan that it said would help cut energy costs for low and middle-income Americans while also fighting climate change. The plan will help finance solar improvements at American homes and expand solar power in federally subsidized housing, the White House said.

“We know that our economy is strongest when every American has the tools to participate and get ahead,” said Brian Deese, the president’s senior climate change advisor, on a conference call. “As we look at driving innovation towards a clean energy economy, we need to work to expand opportunity for more families to reap the benefits of using cleaner sources of energy.”

As part of the announcement, the White House said it would aim to install 300 megawatts of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing. The administration has already surpassed a goal of installing 100 megawatts of solar and other renewable energy sources in federal housing. The federal government says it will also make it easier for homeowners to take out loans of up to $25,000 for solar power installations.

Read More: Here’s The Most Lucrative Way to Fight Climate Change

The White House also says the program will create jobs. The solar industry added jobs ten times faster than rest of the economy last year, according to the White House, and Obama recently announced a program to train 75,000 veterans to work in the solar energy industry.

Solar power generation has expanded rapidly since the beginning of the Obama presidency, while costs have plummeted. The U.S. increased its solar energy output every three weeks in 2014 by an amount equivalent to all of 2008, according to Deese, and the cost of solar electricity has been sliced in half since 2010.

Congressman Elijah Cummings, a supporter of the plan, said the solar energy expansion would benefit Americans like his constituents by providing cost savings. “I cannot tell you the number of calls I get from constituents who have to make choices about which bills they will pay each month,” he said on a conference call for journalists. “By giving people in struggling communities more money in their pockets each month, we’re helping them to secure their household finances so they can move from struggle to success.”

TIME climate change

Here’s The Most Lucrative Way to Fight Climate Change

Smoke stacks climate change
Getty Images

A new report outlines how to grow the economy and stymie climate change at the same time

Economists, politicians and scientists have long debated how (and whether) climate change can be addressed without slowing the world economy. Now, a group of key business, finance and government leaders say they’ve identified a set of opportunities that are good for business and help the fight against climate change.

In a new report released by the Global Commission on the Economy and the Climate, leaders call for at least $1 trillion in annual investment in clean energy, a tripling of funding for research and development of low-carbon technology and development of “climate-smart” infrastructure, among other initiatives. In total, the recommendations could account for 96% of the necessary reductions in carbon emissions to stem “dangerous climate change,” the report says.

“Sustained growth and climate action must be achieved together,” said former Mexico President Felipe Calderón, a report signatory, on a conference call for journalists. “We as a global community need to come together and do more.”

Many of the report’s recommendations center around low-carbon initiatives. For instance, the signatories argue that improving urban infrastructure like public transit, waste management and building efficiency can significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve business. If implemented in cities across the globe, such efforts would reduce annual energy costs by $1.58 trillion in 2030 and $5.85 trillion in 2050, according to the report.

MORE: Nobel Laureates Issue A Call To Action On Climate Change

The report also calls for increased investment in the research and development of clean energy technology. The suggested investment, $1 trillion annually, may sound steep, but it would drive down the use of fossil fuels and help expand access to electricity to millions, the authors argue. Other recommendations include improving energy standards, halting deforestation and reducing emissions in the transportation sector.

The release of the report comes in the months leading up to what climate change activists hope will be a landmark conference in Paris this December. Many countries—including top emitters like China and the U.S.—have already committed to significantly reducing their carbon footprint. In the new report, signatories praised those efforts but said they should be seen as “floors rather than ceilings” when it comes to cutting emissions.

“This report shows there is significant room for stronger action that is in countries’ economic self-interest,” said Michael Jacobs, who directed the report, in a press release. “It is therefore vital that the Paris climate agreement sets in motion a regular process for strengthening national commitments.”

TIME space

Scientists Shoot Down Claim That Alien Life May Be on Comet

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is seen in an image made by the Rosetta space probe
ESA/Reuters The Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is seen in an image taken by the Rosetta space probe on June 13, 2015.

The findings did not hold up to scientific scrutiny

Scientists have picked holes in a widely-reported presentation by researchers claiming microbial life may exist on the comet now home to the Philae lander.

The claim originated in a presentation before the Royal Astronomical Society, in which researchers said the makeup of the comet, 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, suggested the presence of living organisms. The scientists argued that data from Rosetta, the European Space Agency probe orbiting the comet, showed the capacity for micro-organisms to eke out life beneath the comet’s black crust.

But the findings did not hold up to scientific scrutiny. For example, the researchers suggested that the comet’s deep black crust suggests that it may be partly made of hydrocarbons—the basic molecules of life. That’s a possible explanation, but many black surfaces, like a lava field for instance, don’t necessarily suggest life.

Researchers also cited “viral particles” as evidence of life on the comet. It is indeed possible to detect both entire viruses and mere molecular bits of them with the aid of either electron microscopy or RNA analysis. But Rosetta, which is equipped with none of the necessary hardware and never comes within several kilometers of the comet, is not in any way capable of doing that work.

None of this says that asteroids and comets aren’t good places to look for life—or at least the precursors. Meteors have already been found to carry amino acids and other building blocks of life. If the chemicals are sealed inside the matrix of the rock in the presence of water, which is entirely plausible, and kept warm by radioactive elements, which could also be on board, there’s no telling what can be cooked up.

But, for now at least, the presentation remains unconvincing to the majority of the scientific community.

“No scientist active in any of the Rosetta instrument science teams assumes the presence of living micro-organisms beneath the cometary surface crust,” Uwe Meierhenrich, a professor at the Université Nice Sophia Antipolis told the Guardian by email.

—Additional reporting by Jeffrey Kluger.

TIME weather

Yes, the U.S. Really Did Have a Damp Start to Summer

Large areas saw up to six times the average rainfall in past 30 days

Early summer typically marks the start of the dry season across much of the United States. But that’s far from the case across vast swaths of the country this year, a new map from the National Weather Service shows.

us weather precipitation
Courtesy of the National Weather ServiceAreas in red experienced considerably less precipitation in the last 30 days than average. Blue and purple regions experienced up to six times the average. Red regions received a small fraction of the typical rainfall.

The map compares data collected over the past 30 days from local weather centers with local averages from the same days collected over the past 30 years. Purple and blue regions received at least 1.5 times the average rainfall in the last 30 days — and the map shows large parts of the Northeast and Southwest much wetter than average.

But other regions received very little rain, like drought-stricken California and Washington, which sweated through a heatwave in late June. Very few regions received an average level of rainfall.

Dan Petersen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, described the trend as “unusual.” “It’s just been striking—instead of just being part of a season, we’ve had multiple seasons of this trend,” he said.

 

TIME toxins

How Fireworks Pollution Could Be Hurting Your Health

Levels of tiny pollutants are 42% higher on the holiday than on a typical day, one study says

Fireworks on the Fourth of July dramatically increase air pollution, boosting exposure to potentially dangerous pollutants for millions of onlookers, according to a recent study in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“When people think of air pollution, they think of other kinds of things—smoke stacks, automobile exhaust pipes, construction sites,” says study author Dian J. Seidel, senior scientist for climate measurements at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “I don’t think most people think of fireworks.”

The level of particulate matter, or small pollutants like dust, dirt and soot present in the air, increased by 42% on average across the U.S. on the Fourth of July, according to the study. Air conditions are at their worst between 9 and to 10 p.m. on the day of the holiday. The researchers, who looked at data from 315 sites across the country, found that ten of the sites met a threshold deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when sustained for a prolonged period of time.

Extended exposure to particulate matter can lead to coughing, wheezing and even lead to an early death for people with pre-existing conditions like heart or lung disease, according to the EPA.

Not all fireworks are created equal, and a number of factors—including weather patterns, location of the fireworks and the size and number of shows—may determine levels of firework pollution, according to Seidel. One site in Ogden, UT, saw nearly a five-fold increase in particulate matter on the Fourth compared to an average day.

The researchers also found that many of the most-polluted sites coincide with the country’s most populous metropolitan areas. Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle, for example, all experienced levels of particulate matter that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold.

Avoiding firework pollution can be difficult, if not impossible, health experts say. People in the immediate vicinity of fireworks will experience the most pollution. From there, the particles will disperse throughout the area, hardly leaving any place untouched. People sitting downwind from the fireworks will receive the brunt of pollution, says Joel Schwartz, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard University. Indeed, the EPA advises children and the elderly, along with people with heart disease, asthma and other lung diseases, to consider watching upwind from fireworks. But given how long particles linger, it may be difficult to avoid firework pollution altogether if you live in the vicinity of a fireworks show.

“Particles tend to stay suspended in the air for days,” says Schwartz. “They’re going to drift whichever way the winds goes, so it’s not just going to be the people sitting in the park watching the fireworks.”

But while the increase in pollution due to fireworks may sound frightening, most public health experts say those levels would need to be sustained for much longer before widespread health problems emerge. The EPA’s rules “discount” particulate matter from fireworks when evaluating dangerous pollution levels, according to a statement from an agency spokesperson. “It’s one day,” says Schwartz. “Your risk went up a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a major public health issue.”

In fact, even Seidel says she’s planning to watch the fireworks this year. “Yes, I will be watching,” she told TIME, “from a safe distance and upwind.”

Read next: Somebody Flew a Drone Into a Fireworks Display and This Is What Happened

TIME California

Cheerleaders Would Get Minimum Wage Under California Legislation

Some say cheerleaders are effectively paid less than minimum wage

New legislation in California would protect cheerleaders for professional sports teams from receiving low pay that some in the industry say amounts to less than minimum wage. The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, passed the California State Senate Monday and awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.

Cheerleaders are often not considered team employees and are paid only for the time they perform on game days, not the hours spent rehearsing and appearing in promotional materials, proponents of the bill said. The legislation would require that California teams pay cheerleaders at least minimum wage for all the hours they work and offer them overtime pay and sick leave.

Read More: Pay Cheerleaders What They’re Worth

“Everyone who works hard to provide a great game day experience deserves the same basic level of dignity and respect on the job, starting with simply being paid for their work,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored California’s legislation, said in a statement.

Sharon Vinick, a lawyer who helped former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders sue their onetime employer, praised the bill in an interview with the Associated Press, but said that not paying professional cheerleaders was already illegal under existing state law.

TIME HIV/AIDS

Cuba Eliminates HIV Transmission from Mother to Child

A newborn baby rests beside his mother Dailyn Fleite at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba
Alexandre Meneghini—Reuters A new born baby rests beside his mother at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba, on June 19, 2015.

Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013

Cuba is the first country to eliminate the transfer of HIV and Syphilis from mother to child, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday. Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013, a low enough number to meet the WHO standard.

“This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, in a statement.

The achievement is at least in part the result of a five-year program by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization to eliminate prenatal transmission of HIV in the region. The program has included testing for pregnant women and treatment for women who test positive. Effective treatment of HIV in pregnant women can reduce the risk of passing the disease to a child to just 1%, down from as high as 45% otherwise.

Around 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant every year. And while the number of mother to child transmissions has declined dramatically in recent years, from about 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 2013, WHO officials hope to see the number drop below 40,000.

TIME White House

Now You Can Take Photos at the White House

A four-decades-old ban is overturned

Visitors on public tours to the White House can now take photos and post to social media, First Lady Michelle Obama said Wednesday.

In a video posted to her Instagram account, she is shown tearing apart a White House sign saying “no photos or social media allowed.”

“Visitors are now able to take photos and keep those memories for a lifetime!” Obama wrote in her post. The White House is also encouraging visitors to share photos on social media with the hashtag #WhiteHouseTour.

The announcement overturns a four-decade ban on visitors taking photos on public tours. Video cameras, flash photography and live-streaming remain banned. The new policy doesn’t change restrictions on access for press photographers, which have long caused tensions between the Obama Administration and photographers at news organizations.

TIME Fast Food

This Is America’s Favorite Fast Food Chain

It's not McDonald's

Chick-fil-A may generate a lot of political controversy, but when it comes to customer satisfaction the restaurant can’t be beat. The chain earned a higher satisfaction score than any other fast food restaurant, according to a new report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Overall, customer satisfaction at fast food restaurants declined in 2015, according to report. The report explained the change as a result of customers thinking more about food quality than price as the U.S. moves further away from the recent economic recession. As part because of this trend, the more upscale Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread followed close behind Chick-fil-A in the rankings.

“As the economy improves, consumers with more disposable income—but squeezed for time—want higher-quality ingredients, freshness, and better service at a reasonable price,” the report says. “They also are willing to pay a bit more.”

Many old school fast food restaurants—Burger King, Taco Bell and Jack in the Box—rank near the bottom of the list. But the last-place spot is reserved for McDonald’s, which has performed notoriously poorly in recent years.

TIME Television

Watch Jon Hamm Explain Why Adults Like Minions

It's probably not the explanation you would expect

Minions, the small yellow creatures from the Despicable Me film series, have captured the attention of children everywhere with minion toys flooding toy stores. Now, actor Jon Hamm, a voice in the upcoming Minions movie, explains why they’re also appealing to adults — and it’s probably not the reason you would expect.

“I think these guys, these little minions are scientifically designed to be appealing to children, and not only children but adults,” the Mad Men star told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Tuesday. “I think the reason they’re appealing to adults is because they look like capsules, they look like pills.”

“You know what movie I want to see?” Stewart replied humorously. “That Xanax movie.”

Check out the rest of the interview below.

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