TIME Environment

The World’s Most Endangered Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises

Slow and steady may win the race, but on World Turtle Day, these animals are struggling to survive

Is there anything more harmless than a turtle? (Unless, I suppose, you’re a nice, leafy vegetable.) Turtles and tortoises—the main difference is that turtles dwell at least partially in water, while tortoises live exclusively on land—are slow-moving, peaceful animals whose main form of protection from the outside world is a hard shell. Not for nothing do we have the fable of the slow and steady tortoise winning the race. Turtles have existed in some form for more than 220 million years, outlasting their early contemporaries the dinosaurs. Long-lived turtles and tortoises are symbols of perseverance in the natural world.

Unfortunately, the rules of the race are changing. Turtles and tortoises are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half their more than 300 species threatened with extinction. Only primates—human beings expected—are at greater risk of being wiped off the planet. The threats are many. The animals are collected by traders, eaten in the wild and in fine restaurants, used as pets or for traditional medicine, and sometimes simply killed. The very adaptations that once made them so successful—their long adult life span and delayed sexual maturity—has made them vulnerable as the world around them changed, mostly thanks to human beings. Climate change threatens them as well—a recent study found that as the water warms, more and more sea turtle hatchlings are being born male, which could eventually make it impossible for the species to reproduce successfully.

A 2011 report from the Turtle Conservation Coalition makes it clear: we need to act now if we’re to save the turtles and the tortoises:

We are facing a turtle survival crisis unprecedented in its severity and risk. Humans are the problem, and must therefore also be the solution. Without concerted conservation action, many of the world’s turtles and tortoises will become extinct within the next few decades. It is now up to us to prevent the loss of these remarkable, unique jewels of evolution.

As we mark World Turtle Day on May 23, spare a thought for these armored but endangered creatures.

TIME Environment

Top 10 New Species for 2014

The best of the best when it comes to new life

It may seem a bit early to declare the top 10 new species of 2014—after all, the year is less than half over. But keep in mind that scientists discover an average of 40 new species a day, so there have already been plenty of freshly uncovered life to choose from. This year the list is being released by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s International Institute for Species Exploration—and the timing isn’t coincidental. Tomorrow is the 307th anniversary of the birth of the Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, who laid down the groundwork for classifying life.

And as the list shows, life is diverse. The collection includes a dragon tree, a skeleton shrimp, a gecko and a microbe that likes to hang out in the clean rooms where spacecraft are assembled. But there is still far more life to be discovered—scientists estimate that there are 10 million species remaining to be named and classified, five times the number we already know about. We’d better hurry though—while we discover about 15,000 new species a year, we may be losing up to 100,000 annually to extinction.

TIME Environment

China’s Food Safety Problems Go Deeper Than Pet Treats

Pet food retailers in the U.S. are pulling Chinese-made dog and cat treats from their shelves out of contamination fears

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PETCO became the first national pet food store to halt the sale of Chinese-made treats this week, due to concerns over contamination—but it won’t be the last.

Already the rival retailer PetSmart has announced that it will follow suit in taking Chinese pet treats off its store shelves. Over 1,000 dog deaths have been linked to problems with the imported jerky treats, but this problem goes back years. The Food and Drug Administration has been investigating thousands of reports of pet illnesses linked to jerky treats going back to 2007, most of which involve Chinese products, though there’s been a spike since last October.

It’s still not clear exactly how the treats may be contaminated, or exactly how the products may be hurting the dogs and other pets that eat them. But this is hardly the first time that tainted Chinese-made food products have made the news. There was a massive pet food recall in 2007 that implicated Chinese producers, and there were worried that those ingredients could have made it into the human food supply. There have also been concerns about lead paint on Chinese-made toys exported to the U.S.

But any worries about contamination in Chinese exports pales compared to the danger that homegrown Chinese food poses to the country’s own citizens. Food safety scandals are rampant, and by some estimates as much as one fifth of the country’s soil is contaminated. Chinese who can afford it buy imported food whenever possible—and those who can’t just hope they’re lucky. Tainted pet food may get the headlines in the U.S., but food safety is far worse—for animals and people—in China itself.

TIME Environment

California Approves Expansion of Toxic Dump

Residents of nearby Kettleman Hills say the hazardous waste has led to birth defects

Updated 7:47 p.m. ET

California officials said Wednesday the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste dump will be allowed to grow by 50%, much to the irritation of a nearby community where residents say the dump has caused birth defects.

Officials approved expansion of the site by 5 million cubic yards, or about 50%. The dump is situated off Interstate 5 between Sacramento and Los Angeles near the small community of Kettleman City. Critics of the site say at least 11 birth defects in children from the community are the result of toxic waste from the dump but officials from the state and the company that operates the facility say there’s no evidence to support that link.

Kettleman Hills is one of just two dumps in California to accept hazardous waste and the largest in the West.

In a statement to TIME, Russ Edmonson, spokesperson for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, disputed the claim that the dump expansion would lead to health problems.

“Our permit conditions are the most stringent possible,” he said. “They include enhanced air monitoring to verify compliance with the law, improved on-site controls to manage any spill that might occur, rigorous reporting requirements that focus the facility on preventing any releases of hazardous waste, public outreach requirements that mandate the facility meet yearly with the community to discuss compliance and other issues of community concern, and compliance with the California’s stringent 2017 truck emission standards which will require that any truck bringing in hazardous waste meet that standard three years before it becomes effective for the rest of the state.”

Edmonson added that unannounced inspections of the site will be increased from once per year to quarterly.

TIME Environment

San Diego County Looks Like Mars After Fire

The aftermath of the wildfire at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego County, Calif., on on May 15, 2014.
The aftermath of the wildfire at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego County, Calif., on on May 15, 2014. DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

Wildfires have transformed San Diego countryside into an otherworldly landscape

Fires ravaged San Diego County last week, charring more than 26,000 acres of drought-parched brush and dozens of homes and buildings in the process. A combination of unseasonable triple-digit temperatures, extremely low humidity and hot winds blowing in from the desert stoked the blazes, kicking off what promises to be a historically destructive wildfire season.

Botany Bay, relatively level ground on the surface of Mars between Cape York and Solander Point, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance orbiter on July 7, 2013.
Botany Bay, relatively level ground on the surface of Mars between Cape York and Solander Point, taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter on July 7, 2013. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

“We get extreme fire behavior every 10 years and the drought doesn’t help. This is very odd for the month of May to have these types of fires,” Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova told TIME on Saturday.

The fires left the countryside looking like the barren wastes of a pock-marked planet. Here, satellite imagery taken after the Camp Pendleton fire shows an otherworldly scene more like the surface of Mars than California.

 

 

 

TIME Video Games

Xbox One and PS4 Draw Huge Amounts of Power Even When You’re Not Using Them

Both the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One use up to three times as much electricity annually as the previous generation of gaming consoles, a new report from the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warns.

According to the report, the Xbox One uses an average of 300kWh annually (an estimated $65 in NYC; $33 in Texas) and the PlayStation 4 uses 181kWh ($39 in NYC; $20 in Texas). The relatively green Nintendo Wii U console, meanwhile, sips just 37kWh per year ($8 in NYC; $4 in Texas). Electricity estimates are based off of February 1, 2014 data pulled from Wolfram Alpha.

One of the biggest culprits here is the devices’ standby modes – times the consoles are drawing power even when you’re not using them. The Xbox One devotes 44% of its total annual energy consumption to waiting for always-on voice commands. The PlayStation 4 uses 32% of its total in standby, providing power to its USB ports even when no peripheral is connected. The report also criticizes the PS4 and Xbox One for using between 30 and 45 times as much electricity to stream a movie than an Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV device would.

You don’t have to put up with energy vampires in your home to enjoy video gaming, however. The NRDC recommends going into each console’s system settings to make sure the automatic power-down feature is enabled after an hour of inactivity. You should also connect your video game systems and home entertainment center to a reliable surge protector with its own dedicated off switch. Flipping that master switch will stop your electronics from drawing power in standby mode – a good idea for when you leave home or simply go to bed.

You can read the full NRDC video game console report on the organization’s website (PDF). For other ideas to help keep your electric bills low, check out these gadgets that help you save energy.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Environment

Climate Change Could Sink Statue of Liberty, Report Warns

The Statue of Liberty is enveloped in fog on May 1, 2014.
The Statue of Liberty is enveloped in fog on May 1, 2014. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Ellis Island, Jamestown and other U.S. landmarks' long-term future are at risk because of the consequences of climate change, a new report says

Treasured American landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island could succumb to the consequences of climate change, according to a new report.

The report published Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists said rising sea levels, wildfires and flooding threaten the longterm survival of many U.S. landmarks, including the Everglades, Cape Canaveral and California’s César Chávez National Monument. It’s just the latest in a string of recent reports raising alarm about the imminent and in some cases immediate impacts of climate change.

“You can almost trace the history of the United States through these sites,” said Adam Markham, director of climate impacts at UCS and a co-author of the report. “The imminent risks to these sites and the artifacts they contain threaten to pull apart the quilt that tells the story of the nation’s heritage and history.”

The report lists 30 sites which are at risk. It urges the U.S. to take steps to protect at-risk monuments, noting that some protective measures have already been put in place at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, among other landmarks. And the report also urges people to work in order to minimize the risks that can still be minimized by reducing carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

The report predicts that Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in the Americas, will probably be submerged by the end of the century, and Markham raised the alarm for other monuments: “Fort Monroe in Virginia, which played a crucial role in the fall of slavery, will become an island unto itself within 70 years,” he said.

TIME Environment

How I Almost Got to Decide the Next XPRIZE

XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis
XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis takes the stage at Visioneering Donald Norris for XPRIZE

Some of the smartest and most influential people gathered in outside L.A. this weekend to brainstorm the next great innovation contest

Pro-tip: if you’re trying to pitch a winning concept for an XPRIZE contest, get NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan on your team. I’m pretty sure Kiernan’s presence — and his smooth, TV-honed baritone on stage — was the main reason why the idea designed by Pat, myself and TIME’s Siobhan O’Connor made it to the finals here at XPRIZE Visioneering. We didn’t win — in what I would describe as grand larceny, we lost out to a contest focused around developing forbidden sources of energy. But for three journalists with pretty much zero experience in the digital innovation field, I’d say we did pretty well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was in sunny Palos Verdes in southern California for XPRIZE Visioneering. It’s a now annual summit that brings together some of the smartest and most influential people in the world — and a few journalists like myself — to brainstorm what could become the next multi-million dollar XPRIZE concept. XPRIZE was founded in 1995 by the engineer, entrepreneur and relentlessly positive futurist Peter Diamandis, to incubate prize-driven contests meant to inspire innovation. The first XPRIZE is still the most famous — the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately-financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles (100 km) into space twice within two weeks.

It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which completed their flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. Private space travel was a dream before Diamandis established the XPRIZE — today, the industry is worth more than $2 billion, as entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his SpaceX company successfully put satellites in orbit without NASA’s help. “It used to be only governments and big companies that could play on a scale like this,” Diamandis has told me before. “But times have changed and accelerated in the direction where agents of change are small entrepreneurs who are enabled by new technologies to do extraordinary things.”

As you might be able to tell from the buzzwords, XPRIZE is extremely Silicon Valley. The contests the foundation has formulated unleash digitally-empowered entrepreneurs on some of the very problems where the government has failed, like ocean health and oil spills. Diamandis himself isn’t shy about the scale of his ambitions. “This is where we imagine the future and create the future,” he told the audience at the opening of the Visioneering conference. “We’re living in a world where you can solve ideas and not just complain about them.” It’s a vision where doing good also means doing well, where an intractable problem like child poverty isn’t a failure of global will, but a market failure. Those who can innovate successful solutions won’t just help the world, they’ll be helping themselves — starting with the multi-million dollar checks that come with an XPRIZE win.

But such contests actually aren’t new. Before centralized government and corporate R&D boomed in the post-WWII era, one of the best ways to encourage innovation was through a prize contest. Some group or person — the government or an individual tycoon — would set out a challenge with a cash reward. The British government did this back in 1714 with the Longitude Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could develop a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude. The prize was won not by a navigator or ship’s captain — the class of experts who had been trying and failing to discover a solution — but by a clock maker named John Harrison. The 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927 in order to win a contest established by a hotelier named Raymond Orteig. (It was the Orteig Prize that directly inspired the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel.) Lindbergh took home the $25,o00 winnings — and everlasting global fame — but more importantly, the prize kicked off global air travel, seeding an industry of vastly greater value. “Within 18 months of the contest, air passenger traffic had gone up 30 times,” says Chris Frangione, the vice president of prize development at XPRIZE. “This is why prizes are so powerful — they leverage resources.”

The point of the Visioneering conference was to brainstorm the next contest. No one thought small. Bill Gross, the CEO of Idealab, urged the audience to try to solve Beijing’s killer air pollution problem. Shaifali Puri, the executive director for global innovation at Nike, told us to aim for a “moon shot for girls,” to find a way to ensure that tens of millions of girls around the world received the education and protection they needed to flourish. Ratan Tata, one of India’s richest men, said we should focus on the malnutrition and housing woes that still hold back the developing world. “It’s not just tech and it’s not just start-up companies,” he said. “It’s making a difference for disadvantaged people.”

To do that, we needed ideas, and we slotted ourselves into different tracks for brainstorm sessions. I took the future of cities on the first day, where New York University’s Paul Romer, who told us that “cities are where the action is.” We were broken into groups and asked to devise, bit by bit, a new contest that could produce an innovation that would improve life in cities, for the poor and for the rich. Once we’d completed that task — a process that used a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboard space — we pitched our ideas to the larger group, and voted on which one would move to the next stage. I should have known that my group’s idea — loosely centered around finding a way to provide infinite water to urban households — might be in trouble when we began debating whether to play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” during the pitch. (Our title: “What a Watterful World.” I know.) We did not advance.

But that experience was useful for the next day’s session, on disaster prediction and response. The seismologist Lucy Jones — whom Los Angeles residents know as the “Earthquake Lady” for her ubiquity on TV every time a temblor strikes Southern California — told us the unsettling fact that the next big quake that strikes the San Andreas Fault could essentially cut off water to L.A. for months. We were broken into groups again, and tasked with designing a contest that would help cities prepare and bounce back from the next big natural disaster.

I roped in Siobhan, who had come to Visioneering as my guest, and NY1’s Kiernan, who had also come as a guest and who had only landed in L.A. that morning. None of us were disaster experts, unless you can count living through Superstorm Sandy in New York City. But between the three of us — though sleep-deprived and inexperienced — we managed to come up with a pretty decent idea. We’d called it Web in a Box: to win our proposed contest, a team would have to design a piece of technology capable of providing backup internet service on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis in the event of a sustained blackout following a disaster. Our rationale was that the Internet is now the most important communication hub we have, as vital a resource in the aftermath of disaster as food and water — and not just because you can’t tweet about a disaster if you can’t get online.

We honed our pitch and made it through the initial stages, where the entire Visioneering conference is brought together to vote on different ideas. We were even one of the five pitches that went up against each other in the finals on Saturday night—but no fault of Pat’s, we eventually went down in defeat, as the entire conference cast their votes in what felt a bit like a high school election contested by very rich and powerful people. The winner was a contest that offered $20 million to anyone who could prove an effective, entirely new form of energy. Ambitious, but I still say we were robbed. (We also came out behind a contest that offered prize money to develop a water cleaning system capable of filtering out the microscopic amounts of prescription drugs that are now found in our drinking water. This pitch memorably featured the actress Patricia Arquette asking the audience if they’d taken Viagra that day.)

The winning Visioneering idea won’t automatically become the subject of the next contest, but it will get automatic consideration by the foundation’s board as they decide the subject of the next XPRIZE. The winners also received a trophy created by a 3D printer, which might be the most XPRIZE thing that happened all weekend. We live in a strange age where we seem beset by enormous problems that seem to have no realistic solution: climate change, global inequality, the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a society, we seem helpless in the face of those ills, gridlocked before looming catastrophe. Sometimes it’s hard to share Diamandis’s relentless optimism. And yet, he’s not wrong: the spread of information technology and education has made it possible as never before for anyone to put forward their solutions — and to be heard. “There is no problem that can’t be solved,” Diamandis said at the close of the conference. “We are heading towards an extraordinary world.” That’s a prize we can all share.

TIME Environment

Obama Admin Allows Ivory Ban Exemption for Musicians

Musicians will be allowed to bring instruments made with ivory, as long as they can prove that the items were bought before 1976, when the elephants were put on the endangered species list

Musical instruments, museum items and “certain other items not intended for sale” that are made of African elephant ivory will be allowed to move internationally, but not sold, the Obama administration announced Thursday.

The allowance is an exemption on an existing ban that went into effect earlier this year, prohibiting the trade of material made from the endangered animal’s tusk.

Director of Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe stressed the importance of strictly enforcing the trade ban and working to curb the “poaching crisis facing African elephants today,” but added in a statement that, “We have listened to the very real concerns expressed by the regulated community and have made common-sense adjustments.”

When the trade ban was announced in February, many musicians complained that their careers relied on older instruments that contained ivory, and that using these instruments did not contribute to the plight of elephant survival.

Fish and Wildlife Service revisited the policy and decided to permit musicians to travel with their instruments, as long as they can prove that the items were bought before 1976, when the elephants were put on the list of animals facing possible extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In accordance with the ban, they will not be able to sell these instruments.

The U.S. is the second-largest market for legal and illegal ivory products, after China. This ban is a key aspect of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking and poaching.

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