TIME Environment

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon Is Easing Up

An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso
An aerial view of a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the Brazilian city of Novo Progresso, Pará state, on Sept. 22, 2013 © Nacho Doce / Reuters—REUTERS

In fact, it just fell to its second lowest level in 25 years

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has fallen to its second lowest level in 25 years, according to the country’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Teixeira said 4,848 sq km of forest were cut down between August 2013 and July 2014, compared with 5,891 sq km during the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reports.

The drop is a surprise, since environmental groups have been warning of an increase following the adoption of a controversial 2012 bill that eases clearing restrictions for small landowners.

“The major message is O.K., is good: Brazil has been advancing,” says Marco Lentini, coordinator of the Amazon program for WWF’s Brazil branch, while cautioning: “It doesn’t mean that the deforestation issue is over.”

The Amazon rainforest, considered an essential natural defense against global warming, is gradually being razed to make way for cattle grazing, soy plantations and logging. Sixty percent of the forest is found in Brazil, which has pledged to reduce deforestation to 3,900 sq km per year by 2020.

[AP]

TIME

EPA Poised to Announce Proposed Air Pollution Limits

A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant located 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pa.
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant located 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pa. Jeff Swensen—Getty Images

Regulation will be aimed at smog from power plants and factories across the country, a report says

The Environmental Protection Agency is on Wednesday poised to announced federal air-pollution regulation that would limit ground-level smog, according to various media reports.

The regulation will be aimed at smog from power plants and factories across the country, according to a New York Times report, and would be the latest effort by the EPA to place regulations on air pollution.

Meanwhile, the proposal is expected to reignite a spat between businesses and environmental groups, Wall Street Journal reported. Back in 2011, the EPA estimated that the proposed standard — then set at the toughest level the agency had yet considered — could cost $90 billion a year to utilities and other businesses. President Barack Obama delayed issuing it, WSJ reports.

Ozone in the air is an oxidant that can irritate the air ways and cause coughing, a burning sensation, shortness of breath, and other lung diseases. Children, people with lung disease, older adults, and those who are active outdoors are most sensitive to ozone, according to the EPA. Ozone, or smog, is particularly likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in cities.

The EPA will seek public comment on limiting ozone pollution between 65 to 70 parts per billion of ozone in the air, the WSJ reports, citing people familiar with the matter. That line is what an independent scientific advisory panel recommended earlier this year and is also below the current level — set at 75 parts per billion — which was set in 2008 under the then-President George W. Bush administration.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Holidays

Good News! 5 Things to Be Grateful For This Thanksgiving

Triplet panda cubs rest in an incubator at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong province, Aug. 12, 2014. AP

It's been a dismal month, but you can give thanks for these tidbits of good news

This November has been a serious bummer. The midterm elections were a depressing snoozefest. The sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby have made ‘America’s Dad‘ seem more like a creepy uncle. Protests have erupted across the country after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. American aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded by ISIS. We lost Mike Nichols.

With all that bad news, it’s hard to find anything to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. But you better come up with something quick, because sooner or later somebody is going to ask, “so what are you grateful for?” with a schmaltzy smirk. So here are five pieces of good news to celebrate as you make small talk with your aunt’s new weirdo boyfriend.

1) The baby panda triplets in China have stayed alive for 100 days: The “miracle” panda cubs were born in August, and they’ve all survived longer than zookeepers anticipated. Now they’re reportedly healthy enough that visitors can see them. Who to tell: Your niece (but leave out the fact that they’re in China.)

2) The human race has issues, but we landed a probe on a comet this month: On Nov. 13, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander touched down on a comet after a 10-year, 4-billion mile journey. Since comets are made of space’s most primitive materials, scientists hope that the probe will collect valuable information that could help explain the origins of our solar system. Who to tell: Your grandparents who watched the Moon Landing (don’t mention the Virgin Galactic crash.)

3) The Canadians are pretty nice neighbors: After a microphone failure at the Toronto Maple Leaf’s game on Nov. 18 left our national anthem inaudible, Canadian hockey fans filled in to sing the rest of the Star Spangled Banner before the game began. Who to tell: Your neighbor, duh.

4) Taylor Swift ‘s 1989 happened: If you hate Taylor, stop reading now (and maybe do some soul searching.) Anyone with ears should admit they’re thankful for 1989. Who to tell: Play Shake It Off for your grandma, play Blank Space for your cousin who just dumped her boyfriend, play the rest of the album for anyone who will listen.

5) We reached a historic climate change agreement with China: Since the U.S. and China make up 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a big deal that the two biggest polluters are committing to cleaning up the planet, especially since China has previously been unwilling to cooperate on this issue. The fact that China is willing to work with the U.S. to curb climate change is great news for the planet. Who to tell: This one’s good news for the whole table.

So cheer up and eat up. The bad news can wait till Black Friday.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 25

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

1. “White people who are sick and tired of racism should work hard to become white allies.” Here’s how.

By Janee Woods in Quartz

2. We can’t afford to ignore the innovative history of developing countries as we face the impact of climate change.

By Calestous Juma at CNN

3. Aeroponics – growing plants in mist without any soil – may be the future of food.

By Bloomberg Businessweek

4. The Obama White House is still struggling to separate policy from politics, and Defense Secretary Hagel is the latest victim.

By David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy

5. Fewer, better standardized tests can boost student achievement.

By Marc Tucker, Linda Darling-Hammond and John Jackson in Education Week

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 24

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

1. A bipartisan plan in North Carolina shrunk prison population and cut costs while the crime rate continued to fall. Can it serve as a model for other states?

By the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments

2. In international development, the massively scaleable transformative idea is usually too good to be true.

By Michael Hobbes in the New Republic

3. Net Neutrality could have a big impact on the future of healthcare, from telemedicine to electronic medical records.

By Darius Tahir in Modern Healthcare

4. Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us from climate change. We need new ideas.

By Ross Koningstein & David Fork in IEEE Spectrum

5. We must understand and counter the major trends fueling the ranks of Islamic radicals.

By Maha Yahya in the National Interest

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 Bill Cosby

Morning Must Reads: November 21

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Obama Unveils Immigration Plan

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday night he is granting temporary legal status and work permits to almost 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the largest single immigration action in modern American history

Behind Bill Cosby’s Silence

The comedian and his wife Camille have largely been reticent about sexual-allegations directed at him. History tells us why this silence is oppressive

Forecasters Warn of Rain in N.Y.

After relentless snowfall blanketed much of western New York this week, officials warned on Thursday that a new danger is now threatening the area — rain

NSA Warns Cyber Attacks Could Cripple U.S. Infrastructure

NSA director Mike Rogers said U.S. adversaries are performing electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they can be in a position to disrupt the industrial control systems that run everything from chemical facilities to water treatment plants

World Heads Toward Warmest Year Ever

October marked the fifth month to break worldwide heat records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Thursday that the average global temperature for October was 58.43ºF (14.74ºC)

U.S. to Up Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine, Says Report

Washington is ready to increase its delivery of nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian government, but will refrain from furnishing Kiev with weapons to use in its fight against pro-Russian forces in the country’s southeast, according to a Reuters report citing unnamed U.S. officials

University of California Approves Steep Tuition Hike

Tuition at University of California schools could rise by as much as 28% by 2019 under a plan approved on Thursday. The vote by the system’s board pitted top state officials, including Governor Jerry Brown, against those who run the UC’s 10 campuses

Michael Brown Sr. Urges Calm Ahead of Grand Jury

The father of Michael Brown, the black teenager shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., this summer, has asked people not to “hurt others” or “destroy property” ahead of a grand jury decision into whether the officer will be indicted in the killing

Suicide Helpline Aims to Help Transgender People

On 2014’s annual day of remembrance for transgender victims of violence, Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline staffed entirely by transgender people, aims to help transgender people struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts

How TIME Reviewed the Work of Mike Nichols

The Oscar-winning director, who died on Wednesday aged 83, first appeared in TIME in 1958 as he was becoming famous as a comedian. But after Hollywood came calling, his movies got rave reviews from our critics — with one or two notable exceptions

Zoolander Will Return, With Penelope Cruz Attached

The Spanish actress will bring her finest Blue Steel to Ben Stiller’s long anticipated sequel to his 2001 supermodel comedy. No word yet on whether Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson will return for the follow-up, which is reportedly set in Europe

Oakland Raiders Win First Game Since 2013

The Raiders used a 17-play touchdown drive and a late defensive stop to pull off the shocking upset, 24-20. It was their first victory since a 28-23 triumph at Houston on Nov. 17 of last season

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A today, Friday, November 21, at 1 p.m., with TIME Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer, who wrote this week’s story on America’s New Anchor, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision. His other stories can be found here.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

Get TIME’s The Brief e-mail every morning in your inbox

TIME Environment

Global Temperatures Are the Hottest on Record for a Fifth Month This Year

Record Hot
An Indian commuter splashes water from a pipe onto his face to get respite from the heat at the railway station in Allahabad, India, on June 7, 2014 file photo Rajesh Kumar—AP

That's despite the U.S. experiencing a bit of a deep freeze

The world is heading for the warmest year on record with October the fifth month to break worldwide heat records.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday that the average global temperature for October was 58.43ºF (14.74ºC).

“It is becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record,” said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “The remaining question is: How much?”

This year, the world’s temperature is averaging 58.62ºF, (14.78ºC), already beating other hot years 2010 and 1998.

Arndt says man-made global warming is to blame. The burning of coal, oil and gas causes heat to be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. The world’s oceans absorb this heat and because of their size, are slow to cool down. Over the past six months the world’s ocean temperatures have been their warmest on record.

Scientists say the year-on-year, decade-on-decade rise in global temperatures is proof that climate change is real and not slowing down.

“[This] is climate change, and we are seeing it in spades,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist for Texas Tech, told the Associated Press.

The freezing temperatures and snowstorms in the U.S. won’t have an affect on the heat records as the area experiencing the cold spell is just 1.5% of the entire globe.

In 2014, October, September, August, June and May all set global heat records.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

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

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

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 Research

Your State Bird Could Be Gone By 2080

birds
Getty Images

If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat

WSF logo

By 2080, the skies over North America could be much emptier. A new report from the National Audubon Society, compiled from data collected over 30 years of bird counts and surveys, shows that more than half of North America’s most iconic birds are in serious danger. Of the 588 bird species surveyed, 314 are at risk for losing significant amounts of their habitat to a changing climate.

“Birds are a good barometer of the overall health and wellbeing of the natural systems we depend on for food, water, and clear air,” Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham wrote in an email. “If half the birds are at risk, the natural systems we depend upon are at risk too.”

Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, cautions that it can be hard to tie any one specific effect on bird populations directly to climate change—other factors like human development, pollution, and invasive species play big roles. However, both Rosenberg and Langham point to clear examples of climate change affecting the avian landscape. Many birds are shifting their ranges farther north; some migratory species are arriving in the northern areas and the endpoints of their spring migrations earlier and earlier. Higher tides and storm surges are wreaking havoc on the nesting grounds of birds like the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the albatross. And foraging birds that live in Arctic sea ice environments are in decline.

“Some land birds, like the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, are finding that the availability of food supplies no longer matches their migration cycles,” Langham says. “And some seabirds, like Atlantic Puffins, are starting to run out of food as ocean temperatures change, causing adults and young to starve.”

If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat, especially those birds that live in marshes and beaches, low-lying islands and snowy mountaintops. Tropical forests could dry out, spoiling the wintering spots for migratory birds. Drought and fire could devastate the habitats of prairie birds like the sage grouse. Even tiny differences in temperature can have big impacts. The gray jay, for example, hoards perishable food to get it through the winter, relying on freezing temperatures to keep it from spoiling, but a warmer climate will short-circuit its natural refrigerator.

“Every bird species has a ‘tolerance zone’ for climate conditions,” Langham says. “If the climate gets too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, birds will be forced to leave their homes—but many will have nowhere else to go.”

These climate trends are set to impact birds big and small. By 2080, Audubon’s model predicts the summer range for bald eagles will shrink to 26 percent of the current extent. New areas could open up for them as areas get warmer, but it isn’t certain that food and nesting areas will be available to them in the new spots. Allen’s hummingbird could lose up to 90 percent of its summer range. The spotted owl, already a poster child for endangered birds, is expected to lose 98 percent of its wintering grounds. 10 states could lose their state birds—Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole, Vermont’s Hermit Thrush and the Mountain Bluebird (claimed by both Idaho and Nevada) are all among the imperiled.

But don’t count nature out of the game just yet. “A big ‘wild card’ is the ability of the birds themselves to adapt in ways we can’t predict,” Rosenberg told us. “For example, some Laysan Albatrosses have begun to nest in suburban yards and rooftops in Hawaii, as their usual nesting areas become more threatened.”

Rosenberg is also concerned about how humanity’s response to climate change will affect birds. In many areas, he says, sea walls are being built to protect coastal areas without taking into account how they will affect the ecosystem around them. The flow of water, nourishment of marches, and shaping of seaside habitats could all be negatively impacted by hastily built walls. And the rush to create alternative sources of energy has to be done in a smart way, he says. “Paving over fragile desert ecosystems for solar-panel fields, or placing wind farms in critical migration corridors and bottlenecks, or destroying natural habitats around the world to plant biofuels such as corn for ethanol, are NOT smart alternatives” to fossil fuels, Rosenberg says. “We will just be creating new environmental problems in an attempt to solve another.”

Langham urges bird lovers concerned about climate change to speak up.

“We can’t afford to sit quietly on the sidelines while a well-funded oil lobby gets a small number of people to intimidate the rest of us,” he says. “Decide what you want to say to your child or grandchild in 20 years. The day will come when that generation asks: What did you do to leave a better world when the science was clear? I think about my answer a lot and it motivates me to act boldly.”

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME climate change

China Shows It’s Ready to Grow Up on Climate Change

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing.
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference at the Great Hall of People on Nov. 12, 2014 in Beijing. Feng Li—Getty Images

China lives up to its responsibilities on global warming

The U.S. diplomats wandering around the Copenhagen airport in the aftermath of the 2009 U.N. climate summit looked like the walking dead. With reason—those talks, billed as the most important climate negotiations ever, were pure torture for almost everyone involved, just barely saved from total collapse by the last-minute creation of the relatively weak Copenhagen Protocol. And while there was plenty of blame to go around, including for the U.S., much of it was directed at China, which consistently blocked negotiations throughout the summit and almost managed to torpedo the protocol. No wonder the American negotiators looked so exhausted—they’d just spent a fortnight grappling with a country that seemed firmly opposed to doing anything about global warming.

But China, it seems, has changed. The climate deal worked out between Washington and Beijing on Wednesday—you can see the details in this post by Emily Rauhala— won’t come close to saving the planet on its own. No, the deal isn’t binding, but few international agreements really are.

While together China and the U.S. account for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, this marks the first time that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters sat down and agreed together to limits on future greenhouse gas emissions, however voluntary. And more importantly, it marks what seems to be a very different approach by Beijing on international climate diplomacy—and perhaps on diplomacy more generally.

As Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations notes, the fact that Beijing chose to work together with the U.S.—usually an antagonist on climate and other issues—may be more meaningful than the emission targets themselves:

China has typically gone out of its way to assert its independence in anything climate-related. That approach would usually have led it to announce major goals like these in a clearly unilateral context – even if they were developed in tandem with the United States. Rolling them out together with the United States says that China is increasingly comfortable being seen to act as part of an international effort.

Environmentalists hope that the announcement from Beijing will inject a little momentum into flagging global climate negotiations, which begin shortly in Lima and are meant to culminate with a real global deal in Paris at the end of 2015. Perhaps. But while it might seem as if a problem like global warming can only be solved with a global deal that covers every country, the reality is that just a handful of countries account for nearly all greenhouse gas emissions—China and the U.S. first among them. What they do—alone or in concert—is what will ultimately matter.

There is no shortage of skeptics picking apart the U.S.-China deal—David Stout has a good roundup of them here. Any time governments make promises about action they won’t carry out for more than 15 years—long after today’s leaders are out of office—there’s reason to be skeptical. Climate diplomacy is like dieting: tomorrow is always a lot easier than today.

However, the very fact that China is publicly willing, in concert with the U.S., to dedicate itself to emissions targets that will be challenging is a sign that there is political will in Beijing to move on climate change, as well as political confidence that technological means will be there to do so without cramping the country’s all-important economic growth. It’s a sign, as Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, that China understands that “with great power comes at least some responsibility.”

That fact, more than the specifics of emissions cuts or timeframes, is what really made the China-U.S. climate deal historic.

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