TIME Innovation

Why Recycling Is a Bad Deal for Cities

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Find out why recycling used to be a good deal for cities, but now it’s costing them millions.

By Aaron C. Davis at the Washington Post

2. Setting its sights on the next billion users, Facebook is opening its first office in Africa.

By Kurt Wagner in Re/code

3. We can save $40 billion of National Park land and assets from climate destruction.

By the U.S. Department of the Interior

4. Let’s get rid of religious tax exemptions.

By Mark Oppenheimer in Time

5. Violence is contagious. Tackle it like an infectious disease.

By Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips in Salon

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME India

70 Dead in the Indian State of Gujarat After Heavy Monsoon Flooding

An aerial view shows flood victims standing atop their submerged houses in Amreli
Handout—Reuters An aerial view shows flood victims standing atop their submerged houses in Amreli district of Gujarat, India, in this June 24, 2015 handout provided by the Indian Air Force.

Food relief is being airlifted to the worst-hit areas

Torrential rains lashing the Indian state of Gujarat have so far killed at least 70 people, with thousands more forced to evacuate their homes after major damage to property from widespread flooding.

Around 1,000 people have been airlifted to safety among the more than 10,000 people who have been moved to higher ground, the BBC reports. Several helicopters from the Indian Air Force are also dropping food packages into the worst-affected areas.

A flood alert has also been issued in the disputed region of Kashmir, where hundreds were killed in similar floods last year, when they also hit India’s Northeast, claiming dozens of lives.

Although flooding in several parts of the country is common during India’s monsoon season, the developments in Gujarat come during a series of extreme weather patterns across South Asia. Over 1,000 people have now died in a heat wave sweeping southern Pakistan, not long after another heat wave that killed more than 2,000 across India earlier this month.


This Is the Country With the World’s Most Polluted Air, According to an Authoritative Annual Survey

No, it's not China

The World Bank’s annual report on global environmental indicators, known as the “Little Green Data Book,” was released last week and contained a few surprises, including an unexpected contender for the country with the world’s worst air.

The distinction did not go to the two most populous countries, India and China, both notorious for pollution and whose capital cities in particular take turns atop the global air pollution rankings (depending on whom you ask), but to the United Arab Emirates.

According to recently introduced P.M. 2.5 criteria (measuring miniscule airborne pollutants smaller than 2.5 microns), the Middle Eastern nation comes off worst, with air containing 80 micrograms of pollutants per cubic meter. That’s slightly higher than China’s at 73 micrograms and more than double India’s at 32.

The U.S., meanwhile, clocked in at a mere 13 grams per cubic meter.

Read the full report here.

TIME climate change

California Wildflowers Suffering From California Drought

dead flowers california
Getty Images

And wildflowers aren't the only things getting hurt

Crippling drought in California has reduced the number of native wildflowers in the state’s grassland, potentially foreshadowing how climate change may affect plant life worldwide in the coming decades, according to new research in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The impact of wildflower loss may be minimal at first, but researchers say effects could spread up the food chain, eliminating a key food source of insects and pollinators and subsequently hurting small animals. As the habitat changes, it will become more vulnerable to incursions from invasive species.

Read More: The Weird Effect Climate Change Will Have On Plant Growth

The researchers evaluated nearly 15 years of data on California plant diversity for the study. Although plant diversity may change over time for a number of reasons, scientists were able to rule out a number of other factors as the cause of decline in this case, including problems related to grazing, fires and the prevalence of invasive grasses.

“Fifteen years of warmer and drier winters are creating a direct loss of native wildflowers in some of California’s grasslands,” said lead author Susan Harrison, a professor at the University of California Davis, in a press release. “Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry.”

Indeed, California is not the only place to show the first signs of plant species loss. Species diversity on European mountaintops has declined in recent years as the climate dries, according to the study. And, if climate change continue on the same trajectory, the study suggests we should expect the same elsewhere soon.

TIME Companies

Lego Wants to Replace Plastic Blocks With Sustainable Materials

lego bricks
Bloomberg/Getty Images Lego bricks sit on a table in the cafeteria at the Naver Corp. headquarters in Seongnam, South Korea, on April 28, 2015.

The company plans to spend $1 billion and hire 100 specialists to find an alternative

The Lego Group wants to replace the plastic in their products with a “sustainable material” by 2030, the company announced.

The world’s largest toy company will invest $1 billion in their new LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark, which will be devoted to finding and implementing new sustainable alternatives for their current building materials. Lego plans on hiring 100 specialists for the center.

Legos have been made with a strong plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene since 1963. The company uses more than 6,000 tons of plastic annually to manufacture its products, according to NBC News. There is no official definition of a sustainable material.

Changing the raw material could have a large effect on Lego’s carbon footprint, especially considering that only 10% of the carbon emissions from Lego products come from its factories. The other 90% is produced from the extraction and refinement of raw materials, as well as distribution from factories to toy stores.

The company has already taken steps to lower its carbon footprint, including a reduction of packaging size and an investment in an offshore wind farm.

TIME India

Japan’s Softbank to Invest $20 Billion in Solar-Energy Projects in India

Son, founder and chief executive officer of Japan's SoftBank Corp., Arora, president of SoftBank Corp. and Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, shake hands before the start of a news conference in New Delhi
Adnan Abidi—Reuters From right: Masayoshi Son, right, founder and CEO of SoftBank; Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises; and Nikesh Arora, president of SoftBank, shake hands before the start of a news conference in New Delhi on June 22, 2015

"Twice the sunshine, half the cost"

The Japanese telecoms giant Softbank has announced plans to invest around $20 billion in solar-energy-power projects in India, joining forces with the country’s Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn as the Indian government targets a massive expansion in the country’s solar output from some 3 gigawatts today to 100 gigawatts by 2022.

Announcing Softbank’s plans, the company’s chief executive Masayoshi Son said, “India can become probably the largest country for solar energy,” Reuters reports.

“India has two times the sunshine of Japan. The cost of construction of the solar park is half of Japan. Twice the sunshine, half the cost, that means four times the efficiency,” Son said. The Softbank venture is aiming at generating least 20 gigawatts of energy — a goal which, if realized, will be a significant boost to Modi’s plans to develop India’s renewable energy infrastructure.

India is one of the world’s largest carbon polluters; coal dominates the country’s energy mix, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Since coming to power last year, Modi, who was behind the country’s first solar incentives during his time as the chief minister of the western Indian stage of Gujarat, has driven green energy up the national energy agenda with ambitious targets for solar and for wind power. Speaking to TIME earlier this year, he reiterated this desire, saying: “There is going to be a heavy focus on using energy that is environment friendly.”

India’s big push toward clean energy generation comes ahead of the Paris climate summit that is scheduled later this year, during which leaders from around the world converge under one roof for climate-change negotiations aimed at thrashing out a successor to the Kyoto protocol to keep global temperatures in check.

TIME public health

Climate Change Could Erase 50 Years of Health Advances, Report Says

Smoke stacks climate change
Getty Images

'We are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity'

Climate change may have a bigger impact on our health than we think. According to new research by an international team of researchers published in the journal The Lancet, climate change poses a potentially “catastrophic risk” to public health due to increased risk of the spread of disease, food insecurity and air pollution, among many other things.

“When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than purely as an environmental, economic, or technological challenge, it becomes clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity,” wrote Lancet editor Richard Horton and Lancet Asia editor Helena Hui Wang in a comment also published with the study. “Health puts a human face on what can sometimes seem to be a distant threat.”

Some of the health risks posed by climate change are more obvious, according to the report; extreme weather events like hurricanes, blizzards and tornadoes kill and injure people, and they’re expected to get more frequent. A greater number of people will also be exposed to more frequently occurring heat waves, the report notes.
But there are many secondary consequences to climate change that affect human health in unexpected ways, the study says. Air pollution can cause allergies and asthma, drought could lead to a decline in agriculture and subsequent food shortages and a loss of ecosystems could push pests into contact with humans and increase the number of vector-borne diseases, the authors write.

Despite the potential for devastating health consequences, the researchers also argue that climate change presents the opportunity to structure what they call “more resilient health systems.” The need to stem global warming may inspire a switch to clean energy, and the benefits of clean energy—including a reduction of air pollution—will extend beyond stemming global warming, they write. Switching to clean energy, investing in medical research and changing cities to support healthy lifestyles are among the key recommendations in the report; after all, riding a bike not only saves gas, but also improves your health.

“We can save countless lives, reduce the spread of disease and ensure a secure food supply even as we continue expanding clean energy,” said Kim Knowlton, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a press release. (Knowlton is not affiliated with the report.) “Our children and future generations are counting on us.”


TIME climate change

Here’s How Much Money Climate Action Could Save Us

Inside The American Electric Power Co. Coal-Fired Power Plant
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Obama administration sees cost savings, health benefits from aggressive climate policies

If the United States doesn’t mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution will worsen, labor hours will decrease, and crop prices will be higher, a new report from the EPA warns.

The comprehensive survey estimates the potential economic damage from global warming, tallying up billions of dollars that could be saved through aggressive climate policies.

By surveying six sectors — health, infrastructure, electricity, water resources, agriculture and forestry, and ecosystems — the EPA report found that global warming’s associated extreme temperatures and increased incidence of natural disasters could lead to a variety of unforeseen consequences. In the health sector, the EPA estimated that more than 69,000 lives could be at risk by 2100 due to worsening air quality and extreme temperatures. Plus, more than 1.2 billion labor hours could be lost in the same period due to extreme temperatures.

The report also forecasted that mitigation efforts taken now could prevent the loss of more than a third of the U.S. oyster and scallop supplies and more than a quarter of the clam supply by 2100. The damage to resulting from water shortages could range as high as $180 billion.

The EPA report comes at a time when House Republicans are preparing to vote this week to weaken or kill the Obama administration’s limits on power plant emissions, The Hill reports.

TIME weather

Earth Just Had Its Warmest Spring on Record

People gather in in Central Park as temperatures in Manhattan hit 90 degrees F (32C) for the first time in 2015, in New York City on June 11, 2015.
Kena Betancur—AFP/Getty Images People gather in in Central Park as temperatures in Manhattan hit 90 degrees F (32C) for the first time in 2015, in New York City on June 11, 2015.

It was officially the warmest May ever, too

This year is shaping up to be a hot one—literally.

This past May was officially the warmest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a new report. What’s more, researchers say Earth experienced the warmed spring and first five months of the year on record, too. Land and sea temperatures across the globe were higher than the agency has ever recorded in more than 130 years.

Last month was 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the average worldwide of 58.6 degrees, the agency said. And the spring averaged 1.53 degrees above the the typical temperature. In the U.S., May turned out to be the country’s wettest month on record.

TIME faith

Meet the Muslim Mystic Pope Francis Cited in His Encyclical

He lived in the ninth century

Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change cited many of the usual sources: the Bible, his predecessors in the Vatican and his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi. It also cites ninth century mystical Muslim poet Ali-al-Khawas.

In the sixth chapter of the nearly 200-page papal letter, Francis writes that humanity can “discover God in all things.”

“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face,” the pope writes.

In a footnote to that quote, he credits al-Khawas for the concept of nature’s “mystical meaning,” noting how the poet stressed “the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.”

He then directly quotes the poet: “The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.”

Alexander Knysh, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, said that the idea Pope Francis is drawing on in this passage has been influential in literature, including Western figures such as English Romantic poet William Blake.

“According to (the idea), God actively and constantly reminds his servants about his immanent presence not just by means of various phenomena but also by various sounds and noises—rustling of leaves, thunder, rainfall,” Knysh says.

It’s unusual for a pope to cite a Sufi poet, but those who have known Francis since his days in the slums of Argentina say that shows his personal touch on the encyclical.

“He’s trying to foster ecumenical and interfaith dialogue about shared spirituality,” Father Augusto Zampini, an Argentinian priest and theological advisor to the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, tells TIME.

“He’s inviting all human beings to transcend, to go out of themselves and therefore to improve the relationship that we have with our people, with the Earth, with God.”

Read Next: Pope Francis Urges Climate-Change Action in Encyclical

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