TIME China

China Ties Officials’ Promotions to Saving the Environment

People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo
China Daily/Reuters People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo, Henan province, China, on March 16, 2015

No longer is rampant growth the Communist Party's overriding priority

For decades, Chinese officials’ job prospects have depended on one factor above all others: economic growth. The incentive structure seemed to make sense given that China has enjoyed one of the greatest economic expansions in human history. But on May 5, new Chinese regulations added another inducement to the mix: environmental protection. Officials will be held accountable for the air, water and soil in areas under their control. Should they fail an environmental responsibility audit, promotions will be nixed.

It’s no secret that China’s breakneck growth has devastated the country’s environment. Even by the government’s own reckoning — which some consider an underestimation of the problem — only eight of 74 Chinese cities met national standards for clean air last year, according to state newswire Xinhua. Sixty percent of ground water in one official survey was deemed “bad” or “very bad,” reported Xinhua.

Beijing is now talking tough and last year declared a “war against pollution.” A revised environmental law, which took effect on Jan. 1, promises to target polluters and officials who fake environmental data. Last month, construction on a controversial $3.75 billion dam was blocked. During his annual address in March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed “a firm and unrelenting approach to ensure blue skies, clear waters, and sustainable development.”

According to Xinhua, the government guidelines released on May 5 state that “by 2020, China aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% to 45% from the 2005 level, and increase the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15%.”

Earlier this year, a documentary made by former state TV journalist Chai Jing showed how state-owned industries were complicit in degrading China’s environment. The online video racked up more than 200 million views, and the country’s new Environment Minister Chen Jining praised China’s version of Rachel Carson. But a few days later, the video was pulled from the Chinese digital space.

Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist and former journalist, wrote about Chai for this year’s TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. (Ma is also a former TIME 100 honoree.) Reacting to the latest antipollution guidelines, Ma wrote on his microblog: “In the future, officials will feel more pressure to protect the environment. But how to assess the officials’ efforts to protect the environment is still a pivotal issue.”

Indeed, China’s Environment Minister has described the need for the country’s environmental legislation to have “steel teeth,” rather than acting as a “paper tiger.” So will the latest guidelines, which were formulated by China’s Cabinet, be enforced? Even the Xinhua article about the new policies ended with a note of caution, quoting a government-affiliated academic:

“The key for the next step is whether we can seriously implement the guideline,” noted Wang Yi, head of the Institute of Policy and Management under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME

California Fell Far Short of Water-Saving Target

Overall water savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste, state regulators reported Tuesday, saying residents and communities again fell short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s voluntary water savings target.

The State Water Resources Control Board received the update as it considers sweeping mandatory emergency drought regulations to protect water supplies in the parched state.

Brown has argued that the voluntary targets were insufficient and that Californians needed a jolt to take conservation seriously.

A survey of local water departments released at the start of the two-day meeting shows water use fell less than 4 percent in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9 percent since last summer, even though Brown set a voluntary 20 percent target.

The board also has begun tracking enforcement of water rules. Statewide, agencies reported sending at least 8,762 warnings for water waste and issuing 682 penalties.

Most communities reported sending fewer than 20 warnings for violating water rules in March, but a few were aggressive. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power issued 1,364 warnings, while Fresno issued 1,221.

Sacramento, Fresno, Madera, Tulare and the Montecito Water District in Santa Barbara County were the only agencies that reported penalizing more than 20 customers in March, mostly through fines.

Lush lawns and verdant landscapes are first on the chopping block under the rules being considered, which would bar cities from using drinking-quality water on street median grass and encourage homeowners to let lawns go brown to meet local mandatory water reduction targets.

Those conservation targets are among the most contentious provisions of the proposed rules. The board plans to order each city to cut water use by as much as 36 percent compared to 2013, the year before the governor declared a drought emergency.

Some local water departments are blasting the proposal as unrealistic and unfair. They say achieving steep cuts could mean increased water rates, ripped up grass and new restrictions on filling pools and washing cars.

Board officials say they expect to start seeing water savings as soon as June and are willing to intervene to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag. Summer is the peak water-guzzling season in California.

The regulations before the board would also ban new California homes and buildings from watering lawns unless they meet new efficiency standards. With public comments, a vote on the rules might not come until Wednesday.

The board has already adopted other water restrictions: Californians cannot water lawns two days after rainfall, wash cars with hoses that don’t shut off or hose down pavement, hotels must offer guests a chance to reuse sheets and towels and restaurants can only serve water upon request.

TIME energy

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water, Study Says

Marcellus Goliath Transforms Towns to Gas Trade
Ty Wright—Bloomberg/Getty Images Threaded drilling pipes are stacked at a hydraulic fracturing site owned by EQT Corp. located atop the Marcellus shale rock formation in Washington Township, Penn., U.S., on Oct. 31, 2013.

Researchers raise questions about the integrity of drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale

Environmental scientists have detected chemical compounds used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the drinking water of three Pennsylvania households, according to a new study.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University said samples of drinking water contained trace amounts of 2-Butoxyethanol, a compound used in drilling fluid as well as household paint and cosmetics, the New York Times reports. The contaminant was found in such microscopic concentrations that it posed no immediate health risk.

Researchers say the discovery raises questions about the integrity of drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale, a vast subterranean natural gas field in North America, and industry claims that wells sunk thousands of feet below aquifers did not require the same steel and concrete encasements as wells closer to the surface.

[NYT]

TIME Environment

Schwarzenegger: Three Things Weightlifting and California Can Teach Us About How To Save the World

Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty Images Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the 38th Governor of California and is the Chairman of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute & the R20.

The environment shouldn't be a political issue

My background in sports gives me a unique perspective. When I heard the news last week that Governor Jerry Brown, who followed me into the governor’s office, had accelerated California’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases, the weightlifter in me was overjoyed.

In the gym, if your goal is to bench press 500 pounds, you set the goal, and then you push toward it. You recognize you will fail along the way, but you keep adding weight to the bar until you reach your goal. At the beginning, the 500 pounds seems impossible, but as you reach milestones—250, 300, 400 pounds—you change your own definition of what is possible. Each benchmark brings you closer to your goal.

In California, I was proud that we set an historic goal to reduce our greenhouse gases by 25% by 2020 and, ultimately, 80% by 2050. I am proud that we are on track to beat our 2020 goal. And I am proud that Governor Brown has added another ambitious milestone—40% by 2030. It brings us closer to our 2050 goal.

Our goal-setting and our progress offer three important lessons for the rest of the country.

When I praise Governor Brown, some people look at me like I’ve lost my mind. I’m a Republican, and he is a Democrat. In our current political climate, we are supposed to be mortal enemies. This is where California can offer the rest of the country our first lesson. Here in California, the environment has never been a political issue, and it shouldn’t be. In the United States, 200,000 people die every year from air pollution-related illnesses. They aren’t dying from breathing Republican air or Democratic air. We all breathe the same air.

No matter what party has occupied the governor’s office in California, we have continued our relentless march to clean up our air. Since Governor Ronald Reagan established the California Environmental Protection Agency, we have stayed on the cutting edge of environmental protection. From the catalytic converter to our tailpipe emission reductions, our regulations have become the nation’s policies. While Washington has been frozen by ideology, we in California have served the people instead of our parties.

Our second lesson is in our commitment to our goals. Oftentimes, in politics, people look for bandaids instead of cures. It’s human nature. Instead of addressing big issues that affect people 10 or 25 or 50 years from now, we prefer to address the things that are affecting people right now.

This is why, during the oil crisis of the late 1970s, as oil prices hit $40 per barrel, the United States enacted policies that made us a global leader in renewable energy. But as soon as the price went back down to $15 per barrel, the United States scrapped those policies and let other countries take the lead in solar, wind, geothermal, and other greener alternatives.

In California, we haven’t wavered. Our consistency extends across every crisis, and it extends across administrations. When I acted to protect our environment, I was continuing the policies of Governor Reagan, Governor Gray Davis, and all the governors who came before me. I was standing on the shoulders of giants.

That consistency has provided California’s third lesson for the rest of the country. When we drafted these laws, some experts said that our economy was going to go straight down the drain. The opposite has happened. Because businesses know what to expect, because they know that our policies won’t change with the next governor, they feel secure here.

Everyone knows that our green economy is going through the roof. We attract more than half of all the green tech venture capital in the United States. Our green tech companies have raised five times as much capital as the second place state. But it isn’t just our green sector. Our economy as a whole is thriving. In fact, we lead the nation in manufacturing, high tech, biotech, agriculture, entertainment, and tourism.

And as we’ve implemented our environmental standards, California’s economy has outpaced national growth. Last year, the United States GDP grew by 2.4%. Meanwhile, our economy in California grew by 3%. This year, California is expected to add 364,000 new payroll positions, good for 2.4% job growth. That beats the nation’s expected 1.8% pace.

We know in California that you don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. In fact, the opposite is true, and we have proven it by being relentlessly committed to our goals.

When there are big announcements like Governor Brown’s decision to accelerate our goals for emission reductions, people always ask me if I miss being governor of the great state of California, if I wish I could sit there in the capitol to protect my legacy on green issues.

It isn’t my legacy—it’s California’s legacy. California has led the nation in environmental protection for decades. During my seven years as governor, I was happy to continue that tradition, and now, I am happy to watch Governor Brown take up the charge. And I hope I’m still around to see a governor finally lift that 500 pounds.

Read next: Starbucks’ Bottled Water Comes From Thirsty California

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TIME animals

Elephants, Rhinos and Other Large Plant-Eaters Face Extinction, Study Says

Elephant Rhino
Getty Images Tshukudu Game Reserve, South Africa.

Scientists see a bleak future for large herbivores

The world’s largest plant-eating animals like elephants and rhinoceroses are facing dramatic population losses due to poaching and resource destruction, with 60% of large herbivores threatened by extinction, according to a new study.

Grass-grazing giants like elephants, hippopotamuses and black rhinoceroses only occupy a tiny fraction of their historical ranges, according to the study in Science Advances, and the loss of herbivores over 100kg (220lb) is likely result in “enormous ecological and social costs.”

The loss of large herbivores has been endemic in Africa for years, but the study sheds new light on the widespread loss of large animals due to over hunting for meat—some one billion people rely on wild meat for subsistence.

Hunting and land-use changes have a devastating effect on those species, with habitat loss due to deforestation and meat hunting having a particularly negative effect. The number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62% between 2002 and 2011, and some 100,000 elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012.

Poaching continues to harm large grazers, particularly rhinos. “This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” the study said.

Slowing deforestation and over-hunting, and halting poaching, will be crucial to ensure the large grazers don’t go extinct. “Solving the current crisis associated with poaching for meat and body parts is an essential step, although one that is extremely challenging,” the authors write.

TIME Environment

Magnitude-3.9 Quake Shakes Buildings Across Los Angeles

The Los Angeles city skyline stands in front of the snow covered San Gabriel Mountains after a snowstorm hit the region
Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images The Los Angeles city skyline stands in front of the snow covered San Gabriel Mountains after a snowstorm hit the region on December 31, 2014.

Centered just north of Inglewood and Culver City

(LOS ANGELES) — A small earthquake has rattled the greater Los Angeles area, shaking buildings and waking residents. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 3.9 hit at 4:07 a.m. Sunday. It was centered a mile northwest of the View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, just north of the cities of Inglewood and Culver City.

It was the second earthquake in less than a month along the Newport-Inglewood fault. A magnitude-3.5 quake hit the same area on April 12.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said early Sunday that it briefly went into “earthquake mode.” The alert was lifted after its helicopters surveyed more than 470 square miles in the area and all 106 fire stations conducted safety checks.

TIME Environment

Starbucks is Selling California Spring Water For $1.95 a Bottle Amid a Historic Drought

California's Central Valley Heavily Impacted By Severe Drought
Justin Sullivan — Getty Images Well water is pumped from the ground on April 24, 2015 in Tulare, California.

A bottled-water company owned by the coffee giant is drawing on precious springs in the bone-dry state

A Starbucks owned bottled-water company in California is continuing to sell locally sourced spring water, as the Golden State battles one of the worst droughts in recent memory, according to a report in Mother Jones.

Starbucks acquired Ethos Water, an enterprise that gives a nickel of every $1.95 bottle sold to water charity projects around the world, in 2005. Ethos has reportedly raised around $12.3 million for water charity projects to date.

However, the company partially relies on water from private springs in central California’s Placer County and also operates a factory further south in Merced, where it uses local water sources at its production facility. Both areas are in territories that are experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions, according to federal authorities.

The Merced Sun-Star reports that locals are increasingly irritated that the company is continuing to tap the area’s scarce water resources amid the blistering dry spell.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Mother Jones that Ethos water came from “a private spring source that is not used for municipal water for any communities.” However, the magazine also spoke to a geologist with the state’s Department of Water Resources, who said that local communities downstream could still be adversely affected “if you capture and pull it out before it ever makes it.”

Read more at Mother Jones.

TIME Environment

Flying Is Sometimes Greener Than Driving

The energy used per person can be lower on a plane than in a car

Next time you feel guilty about booking a flight when you could have driven, cut yourself some slack: in many cases, flying may be the more environmentally sustainable choice.

New research by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute suggests that the energy expended per person is often higher when driving than when flying the same distance—more than two times higher on average, the Washington Post reports. This calculation depends on the energy efficiency of the vehicles involved, as well as on the fact that passenger planes are often crowded, dividing the necessary fuel among many people. On the other hand, drivers are often alone.

It’s important to note that most of the time, drivers are only traveling short distances, while flyers are traveling long ones—so the overall impact of drivers vs. flyers isn’t a clean comparison.

[Washington Post]

TIME Research

Air Pollution May Make Your Brain Age Faster, Study Says

Air pollution can also increase your risk of a stroke

Long-term exposure to air pollution may cause your brain to age more quickly and put you at higher risk for a stroke, a new study suggests.

Exposure to higher levels of air pollution may be linked to lower total cerebral brain volume, according to a study published in the May issue of Stroke, which analyzed health data from nearly 1,000 men and women over 60 who did not have dementia and had not had a stroke.

Total cerebral brain volume naturally decreases as humans age, resulting in declines in ability to learn new things and retrieve information, but the researchers found that air pollution exposure may be linked to premature brain aging and higher risks for certain brain strokes.

The findings add new knowledge to the impact of air pollution on the structure of the brain, a link that has remained largely unclear in research.

Specifically, a 2 microgram per square meter increase in PM2.5 (particulate matter in the air that is less than 2.5 micrometers wide) was associated with a 0.32% lower total cerebral brain volume, the study said. To put that in context, brain volume decreases at about 0.5% per year after age 40, and PM2.5 levels can vary widely across the world. For example, the PM2.5 in Beijing is about 175 micrograms per square meter, while the PM2.5 in New York City is about 30 micrograms per square meter.

TIME Environment

California Governor Proposes Fines Up to $10,000 for Water Wasters

The new fines would mark a dramatic increase from the current maximum fine of $500 per day

Californians who waste water could face fines of up to $10,000 under a new proposal from Governor Jerry Brown as the state works to combat a four-year drought.

The regulation would rely on local authorities to collect the penalties, which would be a dramatic increase from the $500 per day that water-wasting can currently incur. The move is Brown’s latest response to a drought that has left California in a state of emergency.

“These measures will strengthen the ability of local officials to build new water projects and ensure that water is not wasted,” he said in a statement. “As this drought stretches on, we’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to help communities save more water.”

On Tuesday, Brown said he would ask state agencies to cut back on bureaucratic red tape slowing projects aimed at increasing the state’s water supply.

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