TIME Environment

The Problem with U.S. Wildlife Protection Efforts

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'It’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live'

Since the Wilderness Act took effect in 1964, the United States government has protected more than 100 million acres of land for the purpose of conservation. About 8% of the continental U.S. is under protection, including natural treasures like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

But while these efforts have preserved some of the country’s most unique scenery, other areas that may be even richer in animal and plant biodiversity aren’t being protected, finds a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The U.S. has protected many areas, but it has yet to protect many of the most biologically important parts of the country,” says lead study author Clinton Jenkins, a visiting professor at the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil.

Map biodiversity endangered species
Courtesy of Clinton Jenkins, Institute for Ecological Research

Jenkins and his team analyzed thousands of species of animals and trees to identify areas with the richest endemic biological diversity. Some of those regions, like the Everglades, are already protected, but many others are not. The areas most in need of protection are the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and mountains on the California Coast, the study concluded.

“This is the most important scientific report of at least the last decade on the distribution of America’s parks and biodiversity, with implications for future policy on conservation and land use,” said study editor E.O. Wilson, Harvard University professor emeritus, in a statement.

Read More: Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

Some of these regions might have been overlooked because of conservation policy that stretches back decades, says Jenkins. Land protection in the mid-twentieth century often focused on protecting “big beautiful landscapes, strange ecosystems and odd places,” rather than unique wildlife, Jenkins says. Conservationists also often found it difficult to enact protections on lands that could easily be used for other purposes like development or agriculture, even if they were rich in biodiversity. “There’s not as much competition for using that land,” Jenkins says.

Another factor in conservation policy has been the type of species facing extinction. Many conservation efforts have highlighted endangered mammals and birds while ignoring smaller and less visible reptiles and amphibians. The Southeastern U.S., for instance, is home to a wide variety of salamanders and fish, but has a lower percentage of its land protected than elsewhere in the country.

Jenkins says he hopes that conservation priorities will shift to include neglected regions and species, in part due to research like his. “If the U.S. doesn’t do something, they’re at risk of disappearing,” says Jenkins. “It’s not going to happen over night, but it’s up to us to make sure these species have a place to live.”

TIME Environment

California Governor Defends Water Restrictions That Largely Spare Farms

California Drought Reveals Uneven Water Usage
Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images Aerial view overlooking landscaping on April 4, 2015 in Ramona, Calif.

"I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax"

Governor Jerry Brown defended his state’s new mandatory water restrictions on Sunday as critics claim they largely spare some farms that consume much of California’s water.

The state’s farms account for 80% of its water consumption but only 2% of its economy, according to the think tank Public Policy Institute of California. But Brown asserted in an ABC News interview taking water away from farmers could create a number of problems, including displacing hundreds of thousands of people and cutting off a region that provides a significant fraction of the country’s food supply.

“They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he said. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America and a significant part of the world.”

At the end of the interview, the Democratic governor reiterated a broad warning after four years of drought. “I can tell you from California, climate change is not a hoax,” he said. “We’re dealing with it, and it’s damn serious.”

[ABC News]

Read next: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

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TIME Environment

California’s Water Crisis By the Numbers

California Drought Rice Harvest
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Rice harvested by Mike DeWitt is loaded into trucks near Davis, Calif., Oct. 10, 2014. DeWitt is among the Sacramento Valley farmers who planted 25 percent less rice than normal because of water cutbacks.

Almost two-thirds of water is used for agriculture — but Gov. Jerry Brown's measures apply mainly to urban areas

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday imposed historic water controls on the drought-stricken state. But who will the burden of conserving water fall upon? Here, nine numbers that explain the new measures:

25%
The amount by which cities and towns across the state must reduce water use under Brown’s new regulations. That would total about 487.5 billion gallons of water over the next nine months.

50 million square feet
The area of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by “drought tolerant landscaping,” in partnership with local governments. The plan will also require university campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to make “significant cuts” in water use, Brown said.

38 billion gallons
The amount of water used every day throughout California according to 2010 estimates, more than any other state in the country.

16.6%
The average share of water consumption in the U.S. that goes toward domestic purposes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, such as washing dishes or drinking water.

80-100 gallons
The amount of water the average American goes through a day, much of it in the bathroom, according to the USGS. Showers use on average two to two-and-a-half gallons per minute. A full tub holds an estimated 36 gallons. Washing your hands and face take a gallon, while toilet flushes in older models use three gallons. (Newer ones use closer to one and a half.) Washers also go through a significant amount of water: about 25 gallons a load in newer models.

70 gallons
The amount of water used by San Francisco Bay Area residents after Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%. Some in Southern California continued to use some 300 gallons a day on amenities such as lawns and swimming pools.

$10,000
The possible daily fine for those of California’s 400 local water agencies who fail to meet the governor’s 25% target.

61%
The average share of the nation’s water that is used for agricultural purposes, including irrigation and livestock (Another 17.4% goes to thermoelectric power plants). In California that share is about 80%.

76,400
Number of California farms and ranches, which produced $21 billion in agricultural exports in 2013, according to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, including $7.6 billion in milk and $5.8 billion in almonds. More than 400 different crops and commodities are grown in the state, accounting for 14.7% total U.S. agricultural exports. The measures announced by Governor Brown on Wednesday do not apply to the agriculture industry.

 

TIME Environment

3 Maps That Explain Why California Is Restricting Water

California Drought
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Houseboats float in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake near Oroville, Calif., Oct. 30, 2014. Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1, 2015, ordered sweeping and unprecedented measures to save water in California.

Extreme drought combined with higher temperatures and very little snow

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory water use restrictions Wednesday for the first time in the state’s history, ordering towns and cities to cut water use by 25%, which will affect everything from farms to golf courses to residents’ front lawns.

The state has been experiencing drought-like conditions since 2011 but in the last few months, things have gotten even worse. Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range has hit all-time lows for this time of year while temperatures remain above average, making an already dire situation worse. Below are three maps showing just how dire things have gotten throughout the state.

MORE: California’s Water Crisis by the Numbers

1. Extreme Drought Conditions

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 99.85% of California experienced drought conditions as of March 31, affecting 37 million people; 40% of the state is currently considered to be in an “exceptional drought.”

 

California drought
California drought key

 

 

2. Snowpack at all time-lows

Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range at this time of year would normally begin melting and become part of the state’s overall water supply. But snowpack is at roughly 5% of its April average, which can be seen in these maps by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One researcher with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service told the USA Today that snowpack statewide is “the worst in a century.”

Snowpack 2011
Snowpack 2015

 

3. Temperatures above average

On top of all that, temperatures have been higher than normal in the first three months of the year, accelerating persistent drought conditions and leading to increased evaporation of the water sources that remain. Some places in the state over the last few months have experienced temperatures more than 10 degrees above normal, according to the NOAA Regional Climate Centers.

 

California average temperature

 

TIME weather

This Amazing NASA Video Shows Every Rainstorm on Earth for 10 Days

Take a worldwide tour of global precipitation

NASA has released a stunning visualization of every rainstorm, snow storm, hurricane and everything else that occurred on Earth from August 4 – 14, 2014. The time lapse video was made possible by data from NASA’s one-year-old Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which scientists are using to understand the Earth’s freshwater resources and natural disasters.

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

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

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