TIME Environment

EPA Proposes New Rules to Cut Climate Change-Causing Methane Emissions

Gina McCarthy - EPA
Alex Wong—Getty Images Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy at a hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in Washington on Jul. 9, 2015.

The announcement is part of a continued White House effort to address climate change

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on proposed Tuesday dramatic cuts to methane gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas industry, part of a broader White House push to address climate change. The regulations, the first ever of their kind, play a key role in the Obama administration’s goal of cutting overall methane emissions by 40 to 45% over the next decade from 2012 levels.

The proposed rule will directly lead to a 20 to 30% reduction in methane emissions from the energy industry, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said on a conference call for journalists. The EPA did not specify how the U.S. plans to make the further methane cuts needed to reach Obama’s 40 to 45% goal.

Methane, the key component of natural gas, is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted by human activity, and pound for pound, has more than 25 times greater an effect on climate change than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. (Over the long term, the differences between the two gases narrow, because CO2 remains in the atmosphere much longer than methane.) Leaks from the oil and natural gas industry make up nearly 30% of methane emissions in the United States, with the rest coming from agriculture and landfills, among other sources.

In recent years, the rapid increase in hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has fed concern over methane emissions. Oil and gas producers emit methane gas as a byproduct in the fracking process, as well as through leaky pikes and other faults in the energy supply chain. A number of recent studies have suggested that the oil and gas industry releases more methane into the environment than previously recognized, four times as much by some accounts. Natural gas gathering and processing facilities leak about 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually, according to a study released Tuesday.

The EPA announcement calls for new standards at fracking wells, natural gas processing sites and other spots subject to leaks.

“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement.

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

The proposed rule drew immediate praise from environmental advocates, though many used the opportunity to express lingering concerns over continued U.S. reliance on fossil fuels. On Monday, a federal agency gave final approval for new oil drilling in the Arctic—another sign that the Obama Administration will continue to support the production of oil and natural gas in the U.S. even as it tries to regulate the industry. (Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced her opposition to Arctic drilling on Monday).

The proposed regulations would only address emissions at new oil and gas wells, which drew criticism from environmental groups as inadequate.

“These rules pave the way for the Administration to move swiftly to curb emissions from existing sources,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in a statement. Controlling methane, however, is not an end in itself and it will not make fracked oil and gas safe. Continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels is a dangerous course for our communities and our climate.”

Unlike the swift condemnation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan earlier this month, industry reaction to the proposed rule has been muted thus far. Still, Harry Weiss, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Group at Ballard Spahr, a major law firm, said the proposed rule would likely prompt complaints from at least some in the industry. “Any regulation has the potential to seem onerous, particularly when the regulated community has to dig into their pockets,” he said.

The White House has announced new initiatives to address climate change at a rapid clip in recent weeks. Most significantly, the EPA announced earlier this month a mandated 32% reduction in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels.

The White House hopes the push on climate change will provide momentum on the issue going into a December United Nations conference on this issue. Climate activists and government officials around the world hope the meeting will lead to the first binding agreement mandating policies to address climate change. Recent announcements from the Obama administration signal that the U.S. intends to play a key role in those discussions, unlike in past conferences on the issue.

“What this proposal shows… is just how serious this administration is about putting real concrete measures in place to reduce emissions of harmful CO2 and methane,” said McCabe.

TIME Research

64 Scientific Studies Retracted By One Publishing Company

The studies were associated with fake emails and fabricated peer reviews.

A company that publishes scientific research has retracted 64 articles from 10 journals after discovering that the peer-review reports—summaries of how the papers were vetted by experts in the field prior to publication—were fabricated.

Springer, which publishes more than 2,200 English-language research journals, issued a statement on the retraction on Tuesday, noting that the problems included fake email addresses.

“After a thorough investigation we have strong reason to believe that the peer-review process on these 64 articles was compromised,” a Springer spokesperson said in a statement.

Peer review is an integral part of respected research; journals rely on that process to assess the viability of the results, to weed out unscientific claims, to flag poor study design or to reject unreliable findings. The process for getting a paper published is highly competitive, and retractions appear to be on the rise—about 1,500 papers in multiple journals have been retracted for various reasons since 2012, as the editors of Retraction Watch note.

Last November, BioMed Central, a Springer company, retracted 43 studies for similar reasons, and in the past three years alone. While that’s only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of studies published each year, scientists are worried that the incidence rate of fabrication may be higher.

Springer said as much in its statement, noting, “The peer-review process is one of the cornerstones of quality, integrity and reproducibility in research, and we take our responsibilities as its guardians seriously. We are now reviewing our editorial processes across Springer to guard against this kind of manipulation of the peer review process in future.”

TIME space

See a Newly-Released Image of Saturn’s Moon Dione

Saturn Moon Dione Cassini Farewell
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/EPA A visible light image of Saturn's moon Dione captured with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 11, 2015 and released on Aug. 17, 2015.

Despite the high-resolution images Cassini sent back, Dione remains a mystery to scientists

NASA released this never-before-seen image of Saturn’s moon Dione as the Cassini spacecraft said goodbye to it on August 17. Photos of the final encounter are expected to reach Earth in the next few days.

Cassini was the first spacecraft to enter Saturn’s orbit, and for the last 11 years, it’s been studying the planet and its many satellites including Dione, Titan and Rhea. Cassini will now make a series of close moon flybys until late 2015, at which time it will begin a year-long setup of the mission’s daring finale, NASA said, when it will repeatedly dive through the space between Saturn and its rings.

In the meantime, NASA’s scientists will await the final high-resolution images from Dione to come in, especially those the spacecraft will take of the moon’s north pole. They hope to find out if Dione has geological activity. “Dione has been an enigma, giving hints of active geologic processes, including a transient atmosphere and evidence of ice volcanoes,” says Bonnie Buratti, a Cassini science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But we’ve never found the smoking gun. The fifth flyby of Dione [was] our last chance.”

TIME Environment

‘Drinkable Book’ Promises to Filter Dirty Water

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Richard du Toit—Gallo Images/Getty Images Vaal River, Aerial view, Gauteng Province, Free State Province, South Africa

The pages are used to eliminate bacteria

A new invention promises to make dirty drinking water potable by filtering it through the pages of a book.

The “drinkable book,” which was presented Monday at the American Chemical Society’s 250th national meeting in Boston, consists of pages that are treated with silver or copper and printed with instructions for how to use them: tear out a page, insert it in a filter holder and pour unclean water through it. Any bacteria present will absorb the silver or copper ions, effectively removing 99% of bacteria from the water, according to BBC News.

Dr. Teri Dankovich, who developed the drinkable book, says it is intended for use in developing countries where contaminated water poses major health risks. One page can filter 100 liters, and a whole book could filter one person’s drinking water for four years. The invention has already been tested using artificially contaminated water in the lab and at real sites in Bangladesh, Ghana and South Africa.

The book has yet to be tested in filtering other kinds of microorganisms, like viruses. While Dankovich has so far been making the product by hand with her colleagues, she would like to see commercial production take the invention to a larger scale.

[BBC News]

TIME Natural Disasters

This Technology Could Help Predict Where Wildfires Strike Next

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Getty Images

Scientists say the technology will be in the hands of firefighters next year

The King Fire, one the most devastating forest fires of 2014, began when an arsonist bent on inflicting damage lit a small a swathe of land ablaze. But, as with all forest fires, what transformed the blaze into a disaster of record-breaking proportions was mother nature, not the human who lit the spark. In one afternoon, the fire unexpectedly spread more than 10 miles to the surprise of those fighting it.

Firefighters are familiar with the nearly unpredictable nature of forest fires. But researchers now say they could be better prepared. After years of development, Janice Coen and her colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) say they’re preparing to launch technology that integrates data on weather, topography and other factors to predict how fires spread in a way previously unimaginable.

“With the King Fire, the operational tools didn’t really capture when the fire spread rapidly,” said Janice Coen, project scientist at NCAR. “The fire was creating its own winds and those were what was driving fire growth. Those are the types of things we can capture with this new model.”

Wildfires in the United States cost an estimated $3.5 billion dollars each year and have destroyed countless homes and communities over the past decade. This year alone a wildfire in Alaska has burned more than 5 million acres. But despite millions in funding, accurately predicting wildfire growth has remained difficult.

Read More: How Climate Change Is Making Wildfires Worse

Coen, who has an academic background in atmospheric science, said that early in her research she noticed fire patterns that resembled severe storms. Those patterns had largely escaped the attention of engineers and forest researchers, said Coen. Currently, weather forecasters pass data on anticipated weather to land agencies and scientists observing a fire. Those agencies then try to interpret how predicted weather patterns will affect a fire. The new model integrates those two steps — the weather, and the fire’s own internal patterns — and accounts for interactions between the weather patterns, the land, and the blaze itself.

The NCAR research team has received funding from NASA and has partnered with Colorado firefighters to launch the technology in 2016. Most of the tough science questions have been answered, Coen says. Now, they’re focusing on making the data accessible for firefighters on the ground.

Researchers hope that when wildfire season hits next summer, Colorado firefighters will be able to look at tablets with automatically updating data on fire growth. Once the data is in the hands of fire responders, they will be able to determine how and where a fire will grow or even predict where to allocate resources in advance of a fire.

“This is a really disruptive technology,” said Coen. “People will say it’s a perfect storm of events, it never could have been predicted: the fuel, the terrain, the weather. What I found over 20 years of working on this is that the vast majority of the distinguishing characteristics of each event can be captured with the model.”

TIME Environment

This Graphic Shows How Plastic Balls Are Saving L.A. From Drought

Why reservoirs across the city have thousands of 'shade balls' floating on the surface

The city of Los Angeles has dumped millions of small black balls into the city’s reservoirs in an effort to protect the city’s water supply.

The “shade balls” are intended to maintain good water quality and protect against evaporation. It’s one solution to the state of California’s record-breaking drought, and could save the city millions in both water and costs. “As the drought continues, it has never been more important to focus on innovative ways to maintain the highest quality drinking water for our 4 million residents, Los Angeles City Council Mitchell Englander said in a statement.

But how do they work? Take a look at the graphic below and find out:

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TIME space

This New Space Instrument Just Discovered a ‘Baby Jupiter’

Newly discovered planet resides in a solar system that may be similar to Earth's

A new tool for space exploration has spotted a Jupiter-like exoplanet only 100 light years away from Earth. The planet, which scientists have dubbed 51 Eri b, was seen by the Gemini Planet Imager, an instrument that finds planets by analyzing the glow they emit.

The GPI is similar to the more famous Kepler space telescope, which has discovered thousands of planets in far-flung solar systems. While the Kepler uses the shadow that planets throw on stars to discover them, GPI looks at the planets themselves and is therefore able to detect planets that are much farther away from stars.

The new Jupiter-like planet has mass about twice as big as our Jupiter, and orbits its sun at a similar distance as Saturn. The Washington Post dubbed the planet a “baby Jupiter.” The planet’s similarities to our Jupiter, as well as a pair of nearby dust belts similar to those found near Earth, indicate that 51 Eri b’s solar system may in many ways be similar to a younger version of Earth’s solar system.

[Washington Post]

TIME climate change

How Humans Used Up a Year of Natural Resources In Under 9 Months

landfill bulldozer
Getty Images

This week's 'Earth Overshoot Day' marked the date our consumption outgrew our natural resources

We’re not even nine months into 2015, but by Wednesday humans had consumed an entire year’s worth of natural resources since Jan. 1, according to the Global Footprint Network.

To determine the precise day, known as Earth Overshoot Day, researchers estimate the number of biologically productive acres across the globe. This land absorbs damaging actions human take against the environment, such as the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The researchers then calculate the amount of land humans would need to make up for all those damaging actions. Earth Overshoot Day is the day when human demand on Earth exceeds the planet’s ability to absorb it.

This year Earth Overshoot Day occurred six days earlier than last year. The Global Footprint Network says that overall, humans would require 1.6 planet earths to support our lifestyle.

“We look at all the resource demands of humanity that compete for space, like food, fiber, timber, et cetera, then we look at how much area is needed to provide those services and how much productive surface is available,” Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network told National Geographic.

Carbon emissions, a key driver of climate change, represent the largest contributor to the human ecological footprint. While global carbon emissions continue to grow, humans continue to destroy the forests and other natural resources that absorb carbon. Efforts to halt climate change have primarily focused on stemming carbon emissions, as will a landmark United Nations conference on the topic late this year.

Global Footprint Network researchers incorporate many factors in their estimates, but the group acknowledges that an exact date would be difficult to calculate with precision.

“Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an approximation rather than an exact date,” the group says on its website. “Still, the data shows that humanity’s demand on nature is at an unsustainable level — one year is no longer enough to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on the planet.”

TIME China

Study Finds Pollution in China Causes 1.6 Million Deaths a Year

china pollution
Damir Sagolj—Reuters A woman holds a child as travelers wait for the highway from Beijing to China's Hebei Province to reopen after it was closed due to low visibility, on a heavily polluted morning on Aug. 3, 2015.

That's about 4,400 people per day

Air pollution in China is responsible for the deaths of about 1.6 million people every year, or about 4,400 per day, according to a new study.

Researchers from Berkeley Earth, a non-profit climate research organization, published an online study Thursday that finds that pollution causes about 17% of deaths in China. Researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing four months of data taken at 1,500 locations across China, South Korea, and Taiwan.

The most deadly pollutant, according to the study which is set to be published in the peer reviewed journal PLOS One, comes in the form of tiny particles derived from places like electric power plants and fossil fuels used in homes and factories for heating. These particles can enter the lungs and bloodstream and cause illnesses ranging from asthma to heart disease.

According to the study, “92% of the population of China experienced [more than] 120 hours of unhealthy air” over the four month period as defined by the American Environmental Protection Agency “and 38% experienced average concentrations that were unhealthy.”

The study follows others that have determined between 1.2 and 2 million people die due to pollution in China every year.

TIME Malaria

Creating a DEET-free Mosquito Repellant That Actually Works

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Getty Images

A new patch promises to make us invisible to mosquitos.

Enjoying time outside might just get a lot better. A mosquito repellant technology is in the works that could make us practically invisible to mosquitos. No more will products that don’t fully work, or the effective, yet very toxic DEET be the only options for us to defend against mosquitos.

With a growing presence of research, the dangers of mosquitoes are being more realized. As the New York Times cites, “According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes remain the deadliest animal on the planet, carrying diseases like West Nile, chikungunya, and malaria that kill more than a million people a year.”

The need for a real solution to the perennial problem of those winged vessels of disease is consistently relevant. But mosquitoes do have a positive impact on the ecosystem like providing food for animals so inclined to consume them. So while we can’t just do away with them, we can—and need to—look for a way to live with them.

That’s where Kite comes in. Kite is “an international team that assembled to develop a new system for transforming mosquito-fighting innovations into disease-defeating products and applications.”

The advances at the Kite facility boast promising results to help us live in bite-free harmony. With an Indiegogo campaign that drew in over $500,000 with 11,254 contributors in just one month, the demand and anticipation is apparent.

The New York Times writes that when using a Kite patch, “no mosquitoes landed anywhere near it,” citing, “the new compound works by confusing a mosquito’s senses, hindering its ability to target us based on the carbon dioxide we exhale, and confounding its capacity to locate us up close.”

While its creators remain tight-lipped about its ingredients, it is reportedly “made of fragrances and other compounds that don’t require E.P.A. approval. A second version is awaiting regulatory approval for 2017.”

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