TIME Environment

Obama to Unveil ‘Most Important Step’ Ever to Combat Climate Change

President hails new regulations as "the biggest, most important step" ever taken to combat climate change

The White House plans to unveil regulations on Monday to dramatically curtail greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and eventually revamp the country’s energy industry. The regulations, billed by the President Obama as “the biggest, most important step” ever taken to address climate change, play a key role in the President’s aim to make combatting climate change a priority of his final months in office.

The Environmental Protection Agency rules, finalized versions of 2012 and 2014 proposals, call for a 32% reduction in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels. The White House projects that the rules will drive increased investment in renewable energy, leading to 30% more clean energy generation by 2030 and a dramatic reduction in coal power.

“No matter who you are, where you live or what you care about, climate change is personal and it’s affecting you and your family today,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters Sunday on a conference call.

The rule sets carbon emissions reductions standards for each state to meet based on the current makeup of the state’s energy sources. Under the regulation, each state will be allowed to determine how it meets those standards, whether by targeting specific plants or making changes across the board. The plan also includes an incentive program to provide federal funds for states to develop clean energy.

The plan has already been met with intense criticism from the oil and gas industry, including the promise of legal challenges. Republicans in Congress, as well as state governors, have taken up the mantle of challenging the rule saying that it would harm the economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent letters to governors across the country in March providing the legal arguments to suggest that the federal government lacks the authority to mandate such reductions.

“This proposed regulation would have a negligible effect on global climate but a profoundly negative impact on countless American families already struggling,” McConnell wrote in a March op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader. “The regulation is unfair. It’s probably illegal.”

The White House and environmental advocates have argued that the rule would stimulate the economy and create tens of thousands of jobs. Asked whether the EPA has the legal authority to implement the rule, McCarthy said that the agency had considered the legal issues and the measure is “legally a very strong rule.”

Monday’s news is one of many expected announcements from the White House designed to elevate the issue of climate change in the U.S. The President will highlight the issue in his meeting with Pope Francis this fall and his travel to Alaskan Arctic, and has announced a number of new policies and partnerships. All told, the attention is meant to position the U.S. as a leader in fighting climate change in the lead up to a United Nations conference on climate change in December.

“This rule actually enhances in important ways our ability to achieve the international commitments that we have,” said Brian Deese on a conference call for journalists. “This rule gives us a strong foundation to keep pushing against our international commitment.”

MORE Here’s Where to Buy a House In the U.S. That Will Be Resilient to Climate Change

TIME A Year In Space

See the Space Station Caught in the Light of the Moon

international space station moon
Bill Ingalls/Nasa The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon at roughly five miles per second on Aug. 2, 2015 in Woodford, VA.

Can you spot it?

TIME A Year In Space

These Long Exposure Photos Show the Space Station Streaking Across the Night Sky

NASA images show the International Space Station as it circumnavigates the planet at 4.76 miles per second

TIME Zimbabwe

Cecil the Lion’s Brother Jericho Is Alive, Researcher Says

As Zimbabwe accuses second American of illegally killing a lion

Cecil the lion’s brother Jericho is in fact alive, an Oxford University researcher monitoring the animal confirmed on Sunday, a day after conflicting reports emerged that claimed Jericho had been killed by hunters.

The news came as Zimbabwean officials alleged on Sunday that a second American, Jan Casmir Sieski of Murrysville, Pa., had illegally killed a lion in Zimbabwe several months ago.

Researcher Brent Stapelkamp, who is tracking Jericho the lion with a GPS tag, said the device indicates that he is “alive and well,” CNN reports. Stapelkamp also shared a photo through Oxford University’s Twitter account showing Jericho roaming his park habitat on Sunday morning:

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, which had reported on Saturday that Jericho had been killed, also issued a retraction on Sunday, reporting that it was a different lion that had been killed. “This was a case of mistaken identity, but a lion has in fact been killed,” the group posted on Facebook. “Although we are relieved that it was not Jericho, we are not happy that yet another lion has been killed.”

Zimbabwean officials said Sunday that another U.S. citizen had taken part in an illegal hunt of a lion, only days after it emerged that Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer had killed Cecil, a lion beloved by tourists, on July 1. A landowner, Headman Sibanda, was arrested in relation to the case and is assisting the investigation, authorities said.

[CNN]

TIME astronomy

See an Incredible Photo of Friday Night’s Blue Moon

blue moon statue liberty new york
Eduardo Munoz—Reuters A full moon, known as the Blue Moon, is seen next to the Statue of Liberty in New York on July 31, 2015.

It usually happens just once every couple of years

The second full moon of July rose Friday night, a phenomenon referred to as a “blue moon.”

Though the phrase “once in a blue moon” is meant to describe a rare event, a blue moon is neither rare, or blue. “Blue moon” is actually a term used to describe the second full moon in a single calendar month. Most years only have 12 moons, but this year has 13, which happens every two to three years, according to astronomers. “Blue moons” don’t actually appear blue, but the moon can appear blue after events on earth like wildfires and volcanic eruptions, according to NASA.

TIME enivronment

This App Shows How Climate Change Is Affecting the World Around You

You may live closer to a earthquake zone than you think

You’ve heard about what climate change is doing the arctic and to the sea levels around the world. But sometimes it can be hard to understand what’s happening in your own backyard. A new app called Field Notes shows you just that.

The free app, manufactured by tech mapping company Esri, is part of a broader effort by the company to put data about people, climate and geography at your fingertips.

Take data on the location of TIME’s office in New York City. The app tells me that our office is located in a warm zone and, by 2050, it’s expected to get much warmer. The nearest earthquake zone is 240 miles (386 km) away and the nearest volcano more than 1,100 miles (1,770 km) away. Unsurprisingly, the app tell me, the soil isn’t great for growing crops. You can get the same data, and more, for any location on the globe.

“If you’re interested in engaging and understanding, this gives you a very quick basis to do that,” said Charlie Frye, chief cartographer.

The app, available for both iPhones and Androids, builds on the desktop version of the mapping technology, called the Eco Tapestry Map, which offers an even more in-depth view of world ecosystems. And while it’s fun to get a sense of what’s going on in your backyard, the map also sheds light on the impact of climate change where its effects have been most damaging.

Read More: Why Some California Cities Are Bracing for a Bear Invasion

Take the drought in California, for instance. Esri’s map shows how diverse climates co-exist in the state—from desert areas like Death Valley to temperate rainforests. And, while California is a large state, each climate exists side by side with other drastically different climates, making it difficult for endemic species to move in search of water without leaving their natural habitat.

The project originated from a partnership between Esri and a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who hoped to show how different layers like bioclimate, landforms and land cover combine to form the world’s “ecological tapestry.” Esri, which provides mapping technology for a variety of uses, helped utilize the technology to describe the whole world in quantitative terms.

“One of the things that’s been lacking before this map came out is this sort of common language way of talking about the eco-system at a higher level,” said Sean Breyer, content program manager at Esri.

Esri scientists have directed their work with Field Notes to help consumers understand the world around them, but the company’s environmental work also has implications for governments, academics and policymakers. The White House, for instance, has partnered with the company to provide tools that will allow local communities to prepare for the worst of climate change.

TIME space

Precursors of Life Found on a Comet

Anyone home? Philae's landing site on Comet P67
ESA Anyone home? Philae's landing site on Comet P67

The Philae lander offers new clues to cosmic biology

The universe is the greatest organic chemistry experiment that’s ever been run. There isn’t a hydrocarbon anywhere that wasn’t born in the Big Bang, cooked up in the stars and blasted back into space where it combined and recombined into the stuff of biology. Living things—as far as we know—may exist only on Earth, but the complex, biotic, raw materials are everywhere. Now, a new paper in Science reports findings from the Philae spacecraft—which bounced down on Comet P67 on Nov. 12—adding a new dimension to that growing body of knowledge.

Comets have always been a good place to go looking for the origins of life in the universe. They are considered the most pristine artifacts of the early solar system—condensing out of the cosmic cloud that formed the sun and the planets, but remaining in the deep freeze of deep space for most of their very long lives, meaning that their chemistry has not changed much over time.

Ground-based telescopes have detected more than 20 species of organic molecules in the coronae—or glowing heads—of comets. Samples of meteorites that have landed on Earth have also shown them to have organic compounds including amino acids. But meteorites are agglomerations of rock that have been altered many times over the eons—not to mention that have been superheated during their plunge through Earth’s atmosphere—meaning that their molecular cargo has been altered and perhaps even contaminated by earth’s biology. Comets have been largely untouched.

The Science paper—one of several from Philae’s various research teams released this week—reports findings from the Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) instrument, which was designed both to sniff the immediate environment of the comet for ambient organics and to drill into the surface to collect and analyze samples. The first half of the experiment went well, but the second half almost came to ruin.

Multiple sniff readings were taken as Philae flew by and approached the comet. According to the plan, once the lander touched down on the comet, an upward-pointing rocket exhaust was supposed to ignite, pressing Philae down onto the surface, and a pair of downward pointing harpoons were supposed to fire, anchoring it in place. Neither system worked.

Instead, Philae landed, bounced, and settled back down in an untargeted area with too little sunlight to keep its solar power system running consistently, making the drilling impossible. Fortuitously, however, the impact did cause small clumps of surface material to be drawn into Philae’s pair of .8 in. (2 cm) sample-intake pipes. The temperature inside the pipes was 54° to 59° F (12° to 15° C)—which was plenty warm enough to allow COSAC to do its work.

The instrument detected 16 separate organic compounds of various complexity and with various possible biological uses—four of which had never been seen in a comet before. In earthly organisms, those same molecules play roles in the formation of sugars, amino acids, peptides and nucleotides. Given the right opportunity, they could do the same elsewhere in the cosmos. “The complexity of cometary nucleus chemistry,” the authors of the paper wrote, “impl[ies] that early solar system chemistry fosters the formation of prebiotic material in noticeable concentrations.”

The mission planners hope for more from Philae in the coming months—but whether the little lander can deliver is another matter. The shadowy region in which Philae landed has not brightened up in any lasting way, though a passing slash of sunlight did allow it to stir to life briefly in June. In mid-August, however, P67 will arrive at its closest approach to the sun, and the shadows will surely lift, at least temporarily. If Philae opens its eyes again, it will do so at a very scientifically opportune moment because it is during a comet’s brush with the solar fires that it lights up and becomes most chemically active.

But even if Philae speaks no more, it will have already done its job. It made an improbable journey, landed in an improbable place and has sent home at least some of the scientific knowledge it was built to collect. No matter what it does next, it is destined to remain not just a visitor to a comet, but a permanent part of it.

TIME energy

The Renewable Energy Source That’s About to Boom Again

generator Hoover Dam hydropower electricity
Bloomberg—Getty Images Turbines spin inside hydroelectric generators at the Hoover Dam in Boulder City, Nevada on March 24, 2014.

'Whether we like it or not, over the next 20 years roughly the world will double its hydropower capacity'

Ten years ago hydropower might have been taken for dead in the United States. Environmentalists didn’t want hydropower dams because of the destruction they wreaked on nearby ecosystems. Energy companies had lost interest because hydropower wouldn’t produce enough energy to make the investment worthwhile. Indeed, in every decade since the 1970s, the U.S. has added less hydropower capacity than the decade prior.

But now energy experts say that new ways of thinking about hydropower has placed the energy source on the verge of a resurgence in the U.S. Hydropower production is anticipated to grow by more than 5% in 2016 alone, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“There has been more interest in the last few years. There are a lot of projects being considered,” said Rocío Uria-Martinez, an energy researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “Hydropower is, or it can be, a very viable complement for the other renewables.” The U.S. has some 80,000 dams, and only 2,000 are being used to harness electricity, according to Uria-Martinez. Adaptations to existing dams could drive a 15 to 20% increase in total hydropower capacity in the U.S. At the same time, adapting dams saves the cost of building new ones from the ground up.

While experts anticipate dramatic growth in hydropower in the coming years, don’t expect to see another Hoover Dam anytime soon. “Building large dams is almost out of the question in the U.S. and in Europe because of environmental constraints,” said Uria-Martinez. Energy policymakers have focused instead on developing sustainable hydropower dams, which are typically on a small scale. In some communities this means installing hydropower capabilities to existing dams that have never produced electricity.

In some areas, increasing dam efficiency has meant eliminating dams that harm the environment and replacing them with more sustainable ones. The Penobscot River in Maine, for instance, had several dams over hundreds of miles of river, many of which were operated inefficiently. Seven conservation groups teamed up and employed scientists to consider how to increase energy production and, at the same time, eliminate some dams. In the end, the group ended up dismantling two dams while achieving the same energy output with the remaining ones.

“We got the river to produce exactly the same amount of hydropower as before but with 1,000 km of connected river,” said Giulio Boccaletti, who runs the water program at the Nature Conservancy. He argues that similar results can be reached in other places around the world.

“Whether we like it or not, over the next 20 years, roughly, the world will double its hydropower capacity,” he said. “How do you intervene in a world where saying no to that development is simply not an option? I think there’s appetite for a more sustainable outcome.”

In the early stages of electricity production in the U.S., hydropower played an important role. Communities first used free-flowing water to harness electricity in the late 19th century. In need of electricity, communities across the country built dams to harness the power of free-flowing water during the first half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, heightened environmental consciousness piqued American interest in conservation, and hydropower quickly fell out of favor. The timing worked well as few good sites for hydropower dams remained.

TIME animals

Petition to Extradite Cecil the Lion’s Killer Signed By 100,000

Petition to White House urges Obama administration to send Walter Palmer to Zimbabwe to face justice

A petition to the White House calling for the American dentist who killed Zimbabwe’s beloved lion Cecil has attracted over 100,000 signatures in just one day.

The petition urges Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to extradite U.S. citizen Walter Palmer to Zimbabwe for him to “face justice” for illegally killing the country’s “national icon.”

According to Whitehouse.gov, any petition that reaches over 100,000 signatures within 30 days requires a response from the government. The Cecil petition had 137,648 signatures at the time of publication.

Palmer, a dentist from the Minnesota area, has become a figure of global outrage when it was revealed he killed a beloved, 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe. Palmer has since apologized and said he will cooperate with authorities, and said he did not know the hunt was illegal.

“To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he wrote in an apology letter to his dental patients. “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.”

TIME Research

Watch NASA Crash a Perfectly Good Plane In the Name of Science

The organization's Langley facility is developing next-generation search-and-rescue technology

On Wednesday, researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia raised a Cessna 172 aircraft 100 feet in the air, suspended by cables, and then dropped it right down into an enormous pile of dirt. It smashed into the ground nose-first, flipping onto its back and delivering tremendous force to the pair of crash-test dummies within. The scientists, by all accounts, were happy.

“This will provide very good data collection for us,” said Lisa Mazzuca, NASA’s Search and Rescue mission manager. “This is exactly what we wanted. The nose hit the ground first.”

The goal, according to NASA’s team, is to improve aviation emergency response times:

Wednesday’s test, the second of three being conducted at Langley, is part of a push to bolster the reliability of emergency locator transmitters. The systems automatically alert rescue personnel in the event of an airplane crash.

But the systems, called ELTs for short, are often so damaged in crashes they fail to transmit as designed. That means it’s harder for rescue teams to reach a crash site quickly.

The first test was conducted on July 1, with the plane crashing into concrete rather than soil. Researchers hope the series of experiments will improve systems designed to help emergency responders locate downed planes by keeping those systems functional after a crash.

[NASA]

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