TIME Environment

How Costa Rica Went 75 Days Using Only Clean Electricity

Costa Rica Hydropower
Getty Images A man overlooks a hydropower facility in Costa Rica.

While governments from countries around the world this week have outlined how they plan to curb their carbon emissions, Costa Rica may seem like it’s showing off. The Central American country’s state utility company announced last week that it went the first 75 days of 2015 without using fossil fuels like coal or oil for electricity. The country expects to rely on renewable energy for more than 95% of the total electricity consumed this year.

It’s good news, but as is often the case with climate policy, the devil is in the details. A number of factors make the accomplishment less significant than it appears at first glance. Fossil fuels have been used to produce only a tiny fraction of Costa Rican electricity for decades—today, renewable energy accounts more than 85% of the total electricity produced—and popular support for climate change measures is strong. More importantly, trumpeting the elimination of fossil fuels for electricity elides the tougher reality that Costa Rica—like nearly every other country in the world—relies heavily on the use of fossil fuels for transportation.

“We don’t want this be a 75-day story, we want this to be a 365-day story,” said Monica Araya, executive director of Nivela, a Costa Rica-based climate change think tank. “We need to have a conversation about how to go beyond hydro, and not just about clean electricity, but clean energy.”

Read More: White House Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions by up to 28%

F0r Costa Rica, the road to eliminating fossil fuels in electricity has been decades long. Even before climate change became a global concern, Costa Rica has long been able to rely on clean energy sources for nearly all of its electricity, thanks to a tropical location well suited for carbon-free hydropower. In fact, the majority of Costa Rica’s electricity has been generated by hydropower in every year since 1989, according to data provided by Nivela.

Energy experts praised the use of renewable resources, but they also warned that hydropower may not be reliable in the future as climate patterns change. Today, other renewable energy sources in Costa Rica—particularly, geothermal and wind power—provide a significant proportion of energy, but hydropower still reigns supreme. Costa Rica needs to prepare for a climate that may not receive as much rain—which would dilute hydropower—by adding solar and wind power capacity.

Much more needs to be done, even beyond the utility sector. “It’s important to be precise—you’re only talking about electricity,” said Carolina Herrera Jáuregui, Latin America Advocate at the National Resources Defense Council. “The majority of the energy of used is through the transportation sector.”

Unlike many of its regional counterparts, nearly 75% of the Costa Rican economy is based on service businesses that rely much more on energy for transportation than for electricity. And transporting people and goods around Costa Rica—especially for the booming tourism industry—generally means traveling in a car or another personal vehicle, which emits more carbon than other means like trains, which are largely absent in the country.

Still, Costa Ricans show widespread support for efforts to curb climate change. Around 80% of the population has heard about climate change and essentially all of those who have heard of climate change believe in it, according to a United Nations report. A wide majority also supports new renewable energy projects, including 87% who support wind power plants and 77% who support geothermal plants. Less than a quarter support the further use of oil.

Popular understanding of climate change may not be surprising in a country known for designating more than a quarter of its area as national park land and for eliminating its army and subsequently investing heavily in education. “These things put us on a pathway that was friendlier to people and eventually friendlier to our natural capital,” said Araya.

In the decades-long battle against climate change, the significance of Costa Rica’s achievement will likely rest in the example they set for other countries as this December’s climate change conference in Paris approaches rapidly. “The movement that you see in Latin America is a very positive thing,” said Araya. “It’s easier in the U.S. and elsewhere to move if you see others moving.”

TIME Environment

Indian Army to Climb Everest to Remove Thousands of Pounds of Trash

This picture taken on May 23, 2010 shows
Namgyal Sherpa—AFP/Getty Images This picture taken on May 23, 2010 shows a Nepalese sherpa collecting garbage, left by climbers, at an altitude of 8,000 meters during the Everest clean-up expedition at Mount Everest.

"Sadly, Mount Everest is now also called the world's highest junkyard"

Mountaineers from the Indian Army will scale Mount Everest later this month to clean up trash left behind by past climbers.

The 34 members of the climbing team plan to collect and carry down more than 8,800 lbs. (4,000 kg) of non-biodegradable garbage and equipment that has been dumped by thousands of people who have made the trip over the years, India Today reports.

“Sadly, Mount Everest is now also called the world’s highest junkyard,” said major Ranveer Singh Jamval, the leader of the climb.

“Our aim is to carry forward our prime minister’s dream of cleanliness everywhere,” Jamval added of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made a push to clear the country’s roads and public places of trash.

The trip falls on the 50th anniversary of the successful Everest climb by Indian Army mountaineers.

[India Today]

 

TIME climate change

White House Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions By Up to 28%

Coal plant
Getty Images

The plan is the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050

The White House reaffirmed a commitment to cut carbon emissions by up to 28% by 2025 in a Tuesday submission to the United Nations that promises new regulations on power plants, new fuel economy standards for some vehicles and rules to address methane emissions.

The plan, the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, calls for a dramatic increase in the rate at which the U.S. reduces carbon pollution, from 1.2% per year between 2005 and 2020 to between 2.3% and 2.8% between 2020 and 2025.

“This submission is ambitious and achievable,” said Brian Deese, a senior advisor to the President on climate change, on a conference call. “We know this is good for our economy, good for our health and good for our future.”

The plan, submitted to meet an informal United Nations target date, reaffirms a commitment made by the U.S. in November to cut its carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025. At the time, the U.S. and China—the world’s two largest emitters of carbon—made a bilateral commitment to take the lead on the issue, with China agreeing to stop growth in its carbon emissions by 2030.

The commitments of the U.S. and China, along with those of other countries that have submitted plans to the UN, are intended to make a statement that will encourage other countries ahead of a U.N. conference in December intended to produce a binding international agreement on climate change. Leadership aside, the plans already submitted promise to make a dramatic impact on global carbon emissions. Together the U.S., China, the European Union and Mexico, all of which have submitted plans, represent 58% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The U.S. plan, which relies on actions that don’t need Congressional approval, will likely face pushback from Republicans who have already sought to undermine the effort. U.S. officials said Tuesday that proposals are designed to remain in place for years beyond the Obama administration.

“The undoing of the kind of regulation that we’re putting in place is something that’s very tough to do,” said Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, on a conference call.

The plan drew immediate praise in environmental circles. Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh in a statement that she believes the plan can be “met” and “even exceeded.”

“This important commitment sends a powerful message to the world: Together we can slash dangerous carbon pollution and combat climate change,” she said.

TIME Environment

California Towns Restrict Swimming Pools Because of Drought

A man stands in an empty public swimming pool in Burbank, Los Angeles, California.
Lucy Nicholson—Reuters A man stands in an empty public swimming pool in Burbank, Los Angeles, California.

At least one community banned construction of new swimming pools

Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. Well, maybe just the movie stars now, thanks to the drought.

Pools have been part of California’s lifestyle for decades, but as the state struggles through its fourth year of a worsening drought, communities are putting bans on filling pools or restricting new pool construction.

A handful of cities and water districts statewide have implemented restrictions on swimming pools, ranging from moratoriums on swimming pool construction to restrictions on draining and refilling pools. The California Pool and Spa Association, a trade group, has responded to restrictions with a “Let’s Pool Together” campaign that gives consumers tips…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME India

See the Aftermath of the Deadly Landslide in Kashmir

At least 6 people were killed in a landslide after unseasonal rains lashed India, authorities said Monday. It occurred in a village some 25 miles from Kashmir's capital city of Srinagar.

Read next: At Least 6 Die in Kashmir Landslide

TIME public health

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From Texan Cattle Yards Are Now Airborne, Study Finds

A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas
Tom Pennington—Getty Images A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas

Researchers say the bacteria are capable of "traveling for long distances"

A new study says the DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards has become airborne, creating a new pathway by which such bacteria can potentially spread to humans and hinder treatment of life-threatening infections.

Researchers gathered airborne particulate matter (PM) from around 10 commercial cattle yards within a 200 mile radius of Lubbock, Texas over a period of six-months. They found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria and a “significantly greater” number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes. That’s according to the study to be published in next month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

“To our knowledge, this study is among the first to detect and quantify antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes…associated with airborne PM emitted from beef cattle feed yards,” said the authors, who are researchers in environmental toxicology at Texas Tech University and at a testing lab in Lubbock.

Co-author Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and “could be traveling for long distances.”

His colleague, molecular biologist Greg Mayer, told the paper that some of the study’s findings “made me not want to breathe.”

Because antibodies are poorly absorbed by cows they are released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will undergo natural selection and genes that have acquired natural immunities will survive.

The genes that have gone airborne are contained in dried fecal matter that has become dust and gets picked up by winds as they whip through the stockyards.

The Texas Tribune reported that representatives from the Texas cattle industry (estimated to control around 14 million beef cows) criticized the study, saying it portrayed the airborne bacteria as overly hazardous to human health.

But the mass of PM2.5 particles (the kind that can be inhaled into lungs) released into the atmosphere is eye opening, with the study estimating the total amount released by cattle yards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas exceeds 46,000 lbs.(21,000 kg) per day.

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA is already known to be transferable to humans if ingested via water or meat.


TIME climate change

Antarctica May Have Just Set a Record for Its Hottest Day Ever

Antarctica
Getty Images Emperor penguins on an ice edge in Antarctica.

The continent appears to have hit 63.5 F for the first time thanks to global warming

You may want to consider balmy Antarctica for your next Spring Break. Weather bloggers at Weather Underground report that the continent likely hit a record-breaking high of 63.5 F (17.5 C) on Tuesday.

Antarctica has been heating up in recent years, thanks to global warming. The region’s temperature has risen an average of about 5 F (2.8 C) in the last half century, according to the British Antarctic Survey. Studies have also documented melting ice along Antarctica’s coasts.

Tuesday’s record is all the more impressive considering that it was set just one day after Antarctica had reached a new high of 63.3 F (17.4 C) on Monday. Prior to those two record-setting days, the hottest the continent had ever gotten was 62.8 F (17.1 C) on April 24, 1961.

But the record is not yet official. The reading was logged on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, which may not be considered part of the continent in weather record keeping. The World Meteorological Organization is expected to examine whether the area was indeed in Antarctica or whether it is technically located in Argentina.

Read Next: The Antarctic’s Floating Ice Shelves Are Melting At an Alarming Rate

[Weather Underground]

TIME energy

Oil Council: Shale Won’t Last, Arctic Drilling Needed Now

Arctic Oil Drilling
Al Grillo—AP In this 2007 file photo, an oil transit pipeline runs across the tundra to flow station at the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska's North Slope.

A new study from the Energy Department advisory council says the U.S. should begin Arctic drilling

(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. should immediately begin a push to exploit its enormous trove of oil in the Arctic waters off of Alaska, or risk a renewed reliance on imported oil in the future, an Energy Department advisory council says in a study to be released Friday.

The U.S. has drastically cut imports and transformed itself into the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas by tapping huge reserves in shale rock formations. But the government predicts that the shale boom won’t last much beyond the next decade.

In order for the U.S. to keep domestic production high and imports low, oil companies should start probing the Artic now because it takes 10 to 30 years of preparation and drilling to bring oil to market, according to a draft of the study’s executive summary obtained by the Associated Press.

“To remain globally competitive and to be positioned to provide global leadership and influence in the Arctic, the U.S. should facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now,” the study’s authors wrote.

The study, produced by the National Petroleum Council at the request of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, comes at a time when many argue the world needs less oil, not more. U.S. oil storage facilities are filling up, the price of oil has collapsed from over $100 a barrel to around $50, and prices are expected to stay relatively low for years to come. At the same time, scientists say the world needs to drastically reduce the amount of fossil fuels it is burning in order to avoid catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate.

The push to make the Arctic waters off of Alaska more accessible to drillers comes just as Royal Dutch Shell is poised to restart its troubled drilling program there. The company has little to show after spending years and more than $5 billion preparing for work, waiting for regulatory approval, and early-stage drilling. After assuring regulators it was prepared for the harsh conditions, one of its drill ships ran aground in heavy seas near Kodiak Island in 2012. Its drilling contractor, Noble Drilling, was convicted of violating environmental and safety rules.

Environmental advocates say the Arctic ecosystem is too fragile to risk a spill, and cleanup would be difficult or perhaps even impossible because of weather and ice.

“If there’s a worse place to look for oil, I don’t know what it is,” says Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There aren’t any proven effective ways of cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic.”

But global demand for oil, which affects prices of gasoline, diesel and other fuels everywhere, is expected to rise steadily in the coming decades — even as alternative energy use blossoms — because hundreds of millions of people are rising from poverty in developing regions and buying more cars, shipping more goods, and flying in airplanes more often.

In order to meet that demand and keep prices from soaring, new sources of oil must be developed, the council argues. The Arctic is among the biggest such sources in the world and in the U.S.

The Arctic holds about a quarter of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and gas deposits, geologists estimate. While the Russian Arctic has the biggest share of oil and gas together, the U.S. and Russia are thought to have about the same amount of crude oil — 35 billion barrels. That’s about 5 years’ worth of U.S. consumption and 15 years of U.S. imports.

The council’s study acknowledges a host of special challenges to drilling in the Arctic, including the sensitive environment, the need to respect the customs and traditions of indigenous peoples living there, harsh weather and sea ice.

But the council, which is made up of energy company executives, government officials, analysis firms and nonprofit organizations, says the technology and techniques needed to operate in the region are available now, and the industry can safely operate there. The report contends the industry has developed improved equipment and procedures to prevent a spill and clean up quickly if one occurs.

The council makes a number of suggestions designed to make U.S. Arctic development more feasible. They include holding regular sales of drilling rights, extending the amount of time drillers are allowed to work each year, and doing more scientific studies of the wildlife in the region to ensure it is disturbed as little as possible.

“It’s important to have good information to make these decisions,” says Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Global Energy Policy. “We need to make sure we’re doing this in the right way.”

TIME health

Watch a GMO Advocate Claim a Weed Killer Is Safe to Drink but Then Refuse to Drink It

'I'm not stupid'

Correction appended: March 27, 2015.

In an interview with the French television station Canal Plus, an advocate for genetically modified foods said Roundup, a weedkiller that is manufactured by chemical giant Monsanto, is safe for human consumption but refused to drink the herbicide when offered a glass by an interviewer.

Patrick Moore says he leads a campaign in support of “golden rice,” a genetically modified grain that contains high amounts of vitamin A. In the interview, which Moore says he believed would focus on “golden rice,” he says the active ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate, is not causing cancer rates in Argentina to increase.

“You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” he said.

But when the reporter told him that they had prepared a glass and invited Moore to drink it, he refused, saying “I’m not stupid.”

“So, it’s dangerous?” the interviewer asked.

“It’s not dangerous to humans,” Moore replied.

He insisted that people “try to commit suicide” by drinking Roundup but “fail regularly.” Moore then walked out of the interview.

Last Friday, the World Health Organization’s cancer-research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified the widely used herbicide as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Correction: The original version of this story identified Moore as a paid lobbyist for Monsanto. In a statement published Friday, Monsanto said Moore “is not and never has been a paid lobbyist for Monsanto.”

Read next: What Experts Got Wrong About Viagra

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

Americans Don’t Care That Much About the Environment, Poll Shows

Rain drops on green leaf
Getty Images

Americans concerns near record lows

Americans care less about environmental issues now than they have in the past—and they’re no more worried about global warming than they were decades ago, a new poll shows.

The Gallup survey released on Wednesday shows Americans were more concerned about the environment in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but interested dropped off in the early 2000s. Since then it’s remained close to historic lows. And when it comes to global warming specifically, Americans are no more worried now than they were in 1989.

In the recent survey, which questioned 1,025 U.S. adults in early March, Americans reported feeling the most concerned about drinking polluted water and least worried about global warming. In 1989, 35% of the men and women surveyed said they cared a great deal about climate change, but only 32% said the same thing in 2015. Even when it came to polluted water, just 55% of Americans reported caring a great deal, down from 65% in 1990.

Gallup notes that the state of the economy could play a roll in how concerned Americans are about the environment. Americans tend to give environmental concerns a higher priority when the economy is doing well, Gallup says.

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