TIME weather

1934 Dust Bowl Drought Was North America’s Worst in a Millennium

More than 70% of western North America was affected

The 1934 drought that helped kick off the Dust Bowl era was the worst to hit North America for the past 1,000 years, according to a new study.

Scientists from NASA and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reconstructed the history of droughts in the U.S. using modern practices and tree-ring records from the years 1000 to 2005.

They found that the 1934 drought covered more than 70% of western North America and was 30% severer than the next worst, which struck in 1580.

“It was the worst by a large margin, falling pretty far outside the normal range of variability that we see in the record,” said Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the study’s lead author.

Cook says a high-pressure system during the west coast’s winter that kept rains at bay, combined with poor land management practices, led to dust storms in the spring.

The study is due to be published in the Oct. 17 edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

TIME Retail

Whole Foods Will Now Tell You How Organic Their Veggies Are

Produce will be rated based on pesticide, water and soil use, and its impact on human health and farmworkers

The next time you find yourself in Whole Foods’ fresh produce aisles, you’ll find that much of the research you wanted to do on how your food is grown has already been done for you.

Whole Foods began implementing a program Wednesday that rates fresh produce in its grocery aisles based on pesticide, water and soil use, and its impact on human health and farmworkers. The upscale supermarket chain said it is rating fresh produce on a scale from “good” to “better” to “best” with the intention of informing shoppers about the way fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are tended and grown.

In addition, Whole Foods said it was prohibiting some insecticides that can impair neurological development in children. “After three years of research and planning, Responsibly Grown is the result of our collaboration with suppliers, scientists and issue experts to continue our strong commitment to organic, while embracing additional important topics and growing practices in agriculture today,” said Matt Rogers, global produce coordinator at Whole Foods Market.

Farms that participate in the program have to take steps to protect air, soil, water and human health, and only use pesticides registered EPA in order to earn a “good” rating. The “better” and “best” ratings indicate improved performance in those categories.

Whole Foods says the program will encourage farmers to recycle plastics, install solar panels, plant wildflowers to restore natural bee habitats, and more efficiently irrigate their fields, for example. About half the produce sold in Whole Food’s stores will carry the labels, the New York Times reports.

Whole Foods has been struggling to compete with cheaper food sources like Walmart, which recently announced its own organic food program. The company’s stock has dropped more than 30% this year, though its earnings have been stable.

TIME 2014 Election

Paul Ryan Says Humans May Not Cause Climate Change

Paul Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is interviewed by Maria Bartiromo during her "Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York City on Sept. 29, 2014. Richard Drew—AP

"We've had climate change forever"

The jury is still out on whether humans cause climate change, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said at a debate Monday.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Ryan said, in response to a question about whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. “I don’t think science does, either.” His remarks were reported by the Associated Press.

Ryan, who is running for reelection in southern Wisconsin against Democrat Rob Zerban, argued that “we’ve had climate change forever” and that proposals to stem climate change are expensive and will not guarantee results. Zerban said humans are to blame for climate change and need to address the issue.

The exchange was a heated moment in a wide-ranging debate that included foreign affairs and the economy. Ryan is widely expected to hold his seat in the GOP-leaning district.

[AP]

TIME Environment

Northern California Wildfire Destroys 5 Homes

(APPLEGATE, Calif.) — Officials say a wildfire burning along a Northern California interstate has destroyed five homes.

State fire officials released the figure on Thursday after previously reporting one home had been destroyed.

The fire along Interstate 80 about 40 miles northeast of Sacramento has burned through 420 acres. Containment has gone from 10 to 20 percent.

Other homes are under threat and some residents have been evacuated. Two lanes of eastbound I-80 remain closed.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, though fire officials say they are looking into the possibility that human activity was to blame.

TIME Environment

Garlic Is Being Used in the U.K. to Cure Trees of Deadly Diseases

Autumn Colours Begin To Show In The UK
Autumn colors begin to show on trees in Royal Victoria Park in Bath, England, on Oct. 7, 2014 Matt Cardy—Getty Images

The bulbs contain the compound allicin, which can fight bacterial and fungal infections

It might not be great for vampires, but it turns out garlic can be very good for trees.

Trees in the U.K. are being injected with a garlic extract to cure them of deadly diseases, the BBC reports.

“Over the last four years we have treated 60 trees suffering badly with bleeding canker of horse chestnut. All of the trees were cured,” said Jonathan Cocking, an arboreal specialist involved with the development and deployment of the treatment.

“This result has been broadly backed up by 350 trees we have treated all over the country, where we have had a 95% success rate,” Cocking told the BBC.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has antibacterial properties and can fight fungal infections too.

The injection device, which is being deployed in forests in the English Midlands, is made up of a pressurized chamber with eight tubes that inject the allicin solution directly into a tree’s sap system. The needles are positioned to ensure the even spread of allicin all around the tree.

According to the BBC, scaling up this method of treatment is costly and impractical. However, it can be used to save trees of historic or sentimental value.

[BBC]

TIME Environment

Good News, Southern California: The Smog Is Going Away

Snow covered San Gabriel Mountains rise behind the downtown Los Angeles skyline on Dec. 27, 2012.
Snow covered San Gabriel Mountains rise behind the downtown Los Angeles skyline on Dec. 27, 2012. Nick Ut—AP

A new study says that cancer-causing pollutants have dropped more than 50%

Southern California’s air quality is getting better, according to a study released Thursday. Cancer-causing pollutants have dropped over 50% on average since 2005, the last time the South Coast Air Quality Management District checked air quality extensively.

Efforts to reduce emissions from diesel trucks and other vehicles can account for a great deal of the drop. California residents may have noticed the positive effects of such endeavors in the sky: smog rarely browns out the mountains in the region now.

Though the air is getting healthier overall, small pockets in the region still contain many toxic pollutants, including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and areas near freeways. And the risks for cancer because of pollutants in the air are still some of the highest in the nation, according to the Associated Press.

[AP]

TIME Economy

Why Everyone Who Lives in Alaska Is Getting $1,884 Today

North slope oil rush Alaska
The North slope oil rush in Alaska, circa 1969 Ralph Crane&—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

That's enough to buy a trip to somewhere warmer

If polar bears and Snow Dogs weren’t enough to make you want to move to Alaska, consider this: You can get paid thousands of dollars a year just for living there.

Today, Oct. 2, almost every permanent resident of Alaska — even babies — will get paid $1,884 as a dividend from the state’s Alaska Permanent Fund, a government fund that invests proceeds generated from the state’s oil reserves to ensure future wealth for the state.

When the first dividend checks were issued to residents in 1980, TIME predicted that the windfall would be long-lasting:

Nor is there any end in sight to the flow of dividends from the oil fund, which by the end of this year is expected to total more than $1 billion. Oil price increases could also continue to swell the fund. While most Americans complain bitterly every time OPEC members raise prices, Alaskans have reason to applaud. With the price of domestic oil now decontrolled, Alaskan crude can rise to the world level; thus the state’s royalties will grow with each foreign price hike.

Today the Alaska Permanent Fund is valued above $50 billion, and the dividend paid to residents this week will total $1.1 billion.

And for the individual who’s squirreled away his dividend payment each year since the program launched in 1980? He’s made a cool $37,000 just for being loyal to the state.

Read more about the origins of the Alaska Permanent Fund in TIME’s archives: Alaska Bonanza

TIME Environment

See How a Siberian Lake Has Almost Disappeared

The Aral Sea has shrunk to a fraction of its original size

Aral Sea
NASA; Gif by Joseph C. Lin for TIME

New photos from NASA show that a lake in Siberia has almost disappeared since 2000, thanks to a Soviet water diversion program from the 1960s.

The Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan, was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Now it’s now a fraction of the size it was in 1960, according to the photographs. Even since 2000, the lake has shrunk dramatically, and seems poised to disappear altogether.

The lake was fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers before the Soviet Union diverted them in the 1960s in order to irrigate the arid deserts in Kazhakstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Since then, the lake has almost completely dried up, which spells disaster for communities that depend on it, and the water has become too salty and polluted to support native fish populations.

Check out the dramatic change between the Aral Sea in 2000 and the Aral Sea today.

TIME human behavior

The One Equation That Explains All of Humanity’s Problems

Relax, it's not nearly this complicated
Relax, it's not nearly this complicated niarchos Getty Images

There's you, there's me and there's everyone else on the planet. How many of those people do you care about?

Good news! If you’re like most Americans, you don’t have much reason to worry about the dangerous state of the world. Take Ebola. Do you have it? No, you don’t, and neither does anyone in your family. As for Ukraine, it’s not your neighborhood, right? Ditto ISIS.

Reasonable people might argue that a position like this lacks a certain, well, perspective, and reasonable people would be right. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a position way too many of us adopt all the same, even if we don’t admit it. If it’s not happening here, it’s not happening at all—and we get to move on to other things.

I was put freshly in mind of this yesterday, after I wrote a story on the newest—and arguably least honest—argument being used by the dwindling community of climate deniers, and then posted the link to the piece on Twitter. Yes, yes, I know. If you can’t stand the tweet heat stay out of the Twitter kitchen. But all the same, I was surprised by one response:

Just out of curiosity, how has ‘climate change’ personally affected you? Has it brought you harm?

And right there, in 140 characters or less, was the problem—the all-politics-is-local, not-in-my-backyard, no-man-is-an-island-except-me heart of the matter. It is the sample group of one—or, as scientists express it, n=1—the least statistically reliable, most flawed of all sample groups. The best thing you can call conclusions drawn from such a source is anecdotal. The worst is flat out selfish.

No, climate change has not yet affected me personally—or at least not in a way that’s scientifically provable. Sure, I was in New York for Superstorm Sandy and endured the breakdown of services that followed. But was that a result of climate change? Scientists aren’t sure. The run of above-normal, heat wave summers in the city are likelier linked to global warming, and those have been miserable. But my experience is not really the point, is it?

What about the island nations that are all-but certain to be under water in another few generations? What about the endless droughts in the southwest and the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap and the dying plants and animals whose climates are changing faster than they can adapt—which in turn disrupts economies all over the world? What about the cluster of studies just published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society firmly linking the 2013-2014 heat wave in Australia—which saw temperatures hit 111ºF (44ºC)—to climate change?

Not one of those things has affected me personally. My cozy n=1 redoubt has not been touched. As for the n=millions? Not on my watch, babe.

That kind of thinking is causing all kinds of problems. N=1 are the politicians acting against the public interest so they can please a febrile faction of their base and ensure themselves another term. N=1 is the parent refusing to vaccinate a child because, hey, no polio around here; it’s the open-carry zealots who shrug off Sandy Hook but would wake up fast if 20 babies in their own town were shot; it’s refusing to think about Social Security as long as your own check still clears, and as for the Millennials who come along later? Well, you’ll be dead by then so who cares?

N=1 is a fundamental denial of the larger reality that n=humanity. That includes your children, and it includes a whole lot of other people’s children, too—children who may be strangers to you but are the first reason those other parents get out of bed in the morning.

Human beings are innately selfish creatures; our very survival demands that we tend to our immediate needs before anyone else’s—which is why you put on your own face mask first when the plane depressurizes. But the other reason you do that is so you can help other people. N=all of the passengers in all of the seats around yours—and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re all flying in the same plane together.

TIME States

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Grocers Lobby To Make California First State To Ban Plastic Bags
A single-use plastic bag floats along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. California grocers, who could realize $1 billion in new revenue from selling paper bags for a dime each, teamed up with environmentalists on a new push to make California the first state to ban plastic shopping bags. The retail and environmental lobbies, which backed many of 13 failed California bills since 2007 to curb or ban single-use plastic shopping bags, lost the face off against manufacturers of both plastic and paper bags who oppose restrictions on the sacks. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ban will go into effect in 2015 for some businesses and 2016 for others

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes the state the first in the country to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban will go into effect in July 2015, prohibiting large grocery stores from using the material that often ends up as litter in the state’s waterways. Smaller businesses, like liquor and convenience stores, will need to follow suit in 2016. More than 100 municipalities in the state already have similar laws, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new law will allow the stores nixing plastic bags to charge 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag instead. The law also provides funds to plastic-bag manufacturers, an attempt to soften the blow as lawmakers push the shift toward producing reusable bags.

San Francisco became the first major American city to ban plastic bags in 2007, but the statewide ban may be a more powerful precedent as advocates in other states look to follow suit. The law’s enactment Tuesday marked an end to a long battle between lobbyists for the plastic bag industry and those worried about the bags’ effect on the environment.

California State Senator Kevin de Leόn, a co-author of the bill, called the new law “a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

“We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining—and growing—California jobs,” he said.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser