TIME Environment

Water at 1 in 10 U.S. Beaches Fails to Make the Grade

People crowd the beach at Coney Island on Memorial Day May 26, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
People crowd the beach at Coney Island on Memorial Day May 26, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Eric Thayer—Getty Images

Things are particularly bad in New England, on the Gulf Coast and along the Great Lakes

If you swim at 10 different U.S. beaches, you could end up getting a stomach bug, conjunctivitis or even something more serious from one of them. New research from the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, has concluded that 10% of the country’s coastal and lakefront beaches fail to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s water-safety standards—in other words, they’re ripe with bacteria.

Things are particularly bad in New England, on the Gulf Coast and along the Great Lakes, according to the data.

The major culprit is stormwater runoff, which inevitably ends up in the ocean after picking up garbage, oil and waste products from both humans and animals along the way. Making matters worse are the hundreds of billions of gallons of sewage that go untreated annually, ending up in water and causing 3.5 million Americans to fall ill each year.

Federal law requires all states to test their beach water for bacteria, and respond accordingly when levels are too high. In 2012, nearly 2,000 beaches were closed in New York and New Jersey alone as a result of pollution.

TIME skin care

3 Ways to Exfoliate Without Using Microbeads

Honey dripping off Dripper
Getty Images

Illinois is banning microbeads in facewash. Here's what to use instead

News about Illinois’ ban on facewashes that contain microbeads raise serious environmental concerns that are being heeded by a number of states. But for the vain among us, it begs the question: What to use instead of microbeads if you want that squeaky-clean feeling?

First, it bears a reminder that aggressively scrubbing your face is not a good idea, both because it can cause tiny tears in the surface of your skin—making it prone to infection and inflammation—and also because you don’t want to disrupt the skin’s acid mantle, which is there to keep in moisture and keep out pathogens.

There are thousands of products that claim to safely remove dead skin cells, but sometimes, simple is best. Here are three easy ways to clean your face that won’t break the bank, expose you to harsh ingredients or ruin your face.

Make Your Own, With Honey

Honey has long been a mainstay in DIY natural beauty, and for good reason. Honey is naturally antimicrobial, which makes it an effective cleanser on its own. You can rub a tablespoon between your hands and will find it gets nice and slippery—the consistency of a fancy face wash. It’s also humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture and can help keep your skin dewy—something a lot of harsh exfoliating scrubs cannot claim to do—and it contains gluconic acid, a mild acid that is considered benign by public health experts.

A recent review in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology concluded that: “Honey is particularly suitable as a dressing for wounds and burns … dandruff … In cosmetic formulations, it exerts emollient, humectant, soothing, and hair conditioning effects, regulates pH and prevents pathogen infections.”

Some natural beauty mavens like to mix their honey with baking soda—which is something you want to be careful with because it’s quite alkaline. Your skin’s pH is widely thought to be around 5.5 (though a 2006 study placed it closer to 5), and it has what’s called an acid mantle on it. That’s an important barrier to keep intact, both to protect against infections and to keep in moisture. Try honey on its own, and if you want that scrubby feeling, mix in just a pinch of baking soda.

Use a Konjac Sponge

You could spend upwards of $150 on an electronic face scrubber, or you could drop $11 and get yourself a reusable sponge made, as the name suggests, of fibers from the root of a konjac plant. It comes rock hard, but put it under warm water and it softens into a springy dome that you can use with or without a cleanser to slough off dead skin cells. It’s gentle enough that you can use it daily. Some brands make konjac sponges infused with things like charcoal, which is a natural detoxifier for the skin. You could go that route if you want to, but I prefer the basic one. One konjac sponge will last you six weeks of twice-daily use.

Use A Gentle Peel With Lactic Acid

There are two main ways to get rid of the dead skin cells that dull the look of the surface of your skin. There are manual exfoliants—like scrubs and konjac sponges and face cloths—and there are chemical ones. The latter use acids to dissolve the material that keeps skin cells bound together, making dead cells easier to remove. (There is some evidence that some acids also support cell turnover. Cell turnover slows as we age, which is why these acids are also touted as antiagers.)

These kinds of exfoliants can be natural or synthetic, and can cause irritation in some people. There are tons of different acids in products on the market—well known ones include alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid. Lactic acid appears to improve water barrier properties, which helps the skin retain moisture, while also being an exfoliant. You should not use products containing acids in the morning because they can increase sensitivity to the sun. And always wear SPF on your face, whether you’re using a scrub or not.

TIME Australia

UNESCO Protects the Tasmanian Forest From Australian Logging

AUSTRALIA STYX FOREST GREENPEACE
An area of Tasmania's Styx forest after logging has taken place on Nov. 12, 2003. Hancock—EPA

The U.N. delegation also warned that the Great Barrier Reef would be listed as endangered if it did not start receiving better care

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has voted to protect all Tasmanian forest from logging — striking down the Australian government’s attempt to withdraw 183,000 acres (74,000 hectares) from the U.N. list of cultural and natural wonders.

Canberra claimed that parts of the forest had already been degraded by the timber industry and should therefore be fair game for further logging. However, U.N. delegates in Doha, Qatar, sided with conservationists who claimed that most of the forest was unscathed and that only 8.6% of the 3.5 million acres (1.4 million hectares) had been damaged.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he was disappointed with the decision, believing that the untapped Tasmanian logging would aid his nation’s already floundering timber industry. “The application that we made to remove from the boundaries of the World Heritage listing — areas of degraded forest, areas of plantation timber — we thought was self-evidently sensible,” Abbott said.

The green lobby saw the vote as a sweeping victory for the preservation of the environment and Tasmanian heritage. “This county not only holds magnificent forest, which provides medicine and good spirits for us, it is also the resting place for ancestors,” Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre secretary Ruth Langford told ABC.

The U.N. delegation also informed the Australian government that the Great Barrier Reef, another World Heritage site, would be placed on the endangered list if it did not receive better care.

TIME beauty

Illinois Bans Cosmetics Containing Microbeads

Great Lakes Plastic Pollution
In this July 2013 photo provided by the State University of New York at Fredonia, Sherri Mason, right, a New York environmental scientist who led a research team studying microplastics in the Great Lakes, examines a trawling device used to collect plastic “microbeads” from the water's surface with University of Buffalo student Shayne McKay AP

Those tiny little beads in your exfoliating cleanser? They're killing the marine environment

Illinois has become the first American state to ban cosmetics containing microplastics. The move has been taken in response to growing concern over the marine damage caused by plastic waste, which a report published recently by the U.N. Environment Programme puts at $13 billion or more annually.

Among the products that will be removed from Illinois shelves are several brands of exfoliating face wash. While natural versions of this popular product use the likes of oatmeal or ground kernels as an exfoliant, cheap commercial varieties use nonbiodegradable plastic beads, known as microbeads. One average-sized tube can hold thousands of them.

Because of their size — less than a millimeter across — microbeads are not sifted out from wastewater during the sewage-treatment process, but instead end up being released into large bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, where they cause irreparable harm. One California-based institute found almost 470,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer of the Great Lakes, and most of them (81%) were microbeads. Fish and birds think the beads are food and end up eating them, often with lethal consequences.

New York, Ohio and California are expected to follow Illinois’s lead. According to a report released by New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, 19 tons of microbeads are released into New York wastewater annually. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone meanwhile introduced a proposal in mid-June, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, that would ban the creation and sale of products that contain microbeads nationwide by 2018. “By phasing out the use of plastic microbeads and transitioning to non-synthetic alternatives, we can protect U.S. waters before it’s too late,” Pallone wrote.

In the meantime, consumers wanting to help reduce the impact of this insidious pollutant can download an app called Beat the Microbead, which allows you to check whether or not a product contains the miniscule plastic balls.

TIME Environment

We Need to Ditch Our Filthiest Source of Energy: Coal

A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown
A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine (R) turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown, Massachusetts June 2, 2014. The wind turbine powers the MWRA waste water pumping station at that site and the power plant uses natural gas and oil. Brian Snyder—Reuters

Global warming is a terribly complex problem. It’s really a slew of problems: carbon problems and methane problems, electricity problems and fuel problems, sprawl problems and deforestation problems, supply problems and demand problems. We waste too much power, we eat too much meat, we drive too much, we fly too much, we plug in too many gadgets, and we get way too much of our energy from fossil fuels. The expansion of energy options in the developing world, a godsend for billions of people, will further complicate many of those problems.

It can all seem overwhelming. But for the next decade or so, America’s main challenge is relatively simple, because our biggest problem is also our most solvable problem. That problem is coal. It’s our filthiest source of energy, producing one fourth of our emissions and three fourths of our emissions from electricity, despite producing less than 40 percent of our electricity. We need to burn a lot less of it.

This is why President Obama’s new effort to limit carbon emissions at power plants is so important—and, as I wrote last week, so potentially disappointing. Coal provides our best opportunity for major short-term emissions cuts; our coal plants have already slashed generation by 20 percent since 2005, and another 10 percent of the U.S. coal fleet is already scheduled for retirement. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan only envisions a 30 percent overall drop in coal power from 2005 levels by 2030, which would barely move the needle. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did suggest to me that her agency’s proposed regulations will do much more than than her agency’s forecasts imply, but there’s not much in the Clean Power Plan that would suggest a major crackdown on coal.

Instead, the EPA projects that we would still get more than 30 percent of our power from coal in 2030. That would be a catastrophe. Coal plants emit twice as much carbon as natural gas, and infinitely more carbon than wind, solar, nuclear and other zero-emissions sources of power. They are also public health nightmares, fouling our air with mercury, soot, and other toxics, shrouding cities in smog and triggering asthma attacks among children. And the coal we burn in our power plants—unlike the petroleum we burn in our vehicles—can be easily and inexpensively replaced without changing our behaviors or disrupting our economy.

Carbon math can be daunting. We need to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050 to stop the broiling of the planet. We need to make serious headway much sooner than that to have any chance of success. Unfortunately, we’re nowhere close to ending our addiction to oil for transportation. Farm-grown fuels like corn ethanol are an eco-disaster, and cost-effective advanced biofuels are still years away. Electric vehicles are incredibly exciting, but they’re still a tiny slice of the U.S. auto fleet, and their batteries, although getting cheaper, are not yet mainstream cheap. Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards have helped our cars and trucks guzzle less gasoline, just as his energy efficiency standards have helped our light bulbs and appliances slurp less power, but reducing our demand in a growing economy is a slow and gradual process.

But we already have cleaner and cheaper alternatives to coal for electricity. Over the last several years, a fracking revolution has unlocked a glut of inexpensive natural gas, while a clean power revolution has made renewables cost-competitive, producing 90 percent of the new generating capacity in the first quarter of 2014. Even fossil-fuel-friendly Republican states like Oklahoma and Texas are replacing aging coal plants with wind, while Georgia and Idaho are replacing coal with solar—not to save the earth, but to save ratepayers money. As these clean alternatives get much cheaper, it’s getting much costlier for coal to comply with Obama’s tighter EPA rules on pollution from mercury and particulates, while fledgling technologies that could help coal plants capture and store their carbon underground have remained stubbornly expensive. Meanwhile, new EPA rules are coming on coal ash and ozone. Electric utilities facing multi-billion-dollar decisions about installing new pollution control equipment have to be wondering whether coal has a viable long-term future.

Tougher carbon rules would help persuade them the answer is no and accelerate the transition to clean power. We ought to get the coal challenge out of the way, so the market can start to address new challenges, such as cheaper storage that will help renewables produce the non-stop power that coal provides now. It’s true that much of the developing world is even more reliant on coal than we are, but we can help lead the world away from the dirty stuff. And the global situation is not as hopeless as some suggest. For example, China’s notorious coal boom is slowing dramatically; its annual growth in coal consumption has dropped from 18 percent to 3 percent in a decade, and its leaders are now pushing efficiency, solar and wind.

In the long run, we are going to need all kinds of disruptions to solve our climate problems. We’ll need cleaner cars, greener lifestyles, denser cities, carbon taxes. We’ll need technological breakthroughs and more aggressive deployment of the clean technologies we already have. But coal has already been disrupted. Its only remaining advantages are politics—even the Obama administration feels pressure to show it isn’t fighting a war on coal—and inertia. For executives of utilities with coal plants, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo and delay the inevitable day of reckoning. The best thing we can do for the planet is make sure the reckoning happens now.

TIME technology

Park Your Drones, Say National Parks

Drone Restrictions
A drone is flown during a demonstration, in Brigham City, Utah, Feb. 13, 2014. The National Park Service is moving to ban drones from National Parks. Rick Bowmer—AP

Drones spoil national parks and they should be banned, the National Park Service says

Calling unmanned drones a dangerous harassment, the National Park Service is moving to ban them from 84 million acres of public lands and waterways across the country. A policy memorandum signed Friday instructs the National Park Service’s 401 park superintendents to prohibit the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft in their park.

Jonathan Jarvis, the park service’s director, said that drones can disturb birds’ nesting patterns, distract climbers, disturb hikers and harass visitors to locations from Yosemite to Mount Rushmore, the Associated Press reports.

“Imagine you’re a big wall climber in Yosemite working on a four-day climb up El Capitan, and you’re hanging off a bulb ready to make a (difficult) move, and an unmanned aircraft flies up beside you and is hovering a few feet from your head with its GoPro camera running,” Jarvis said. “Think about what that does to your experience and your safety.”

Officials in Utah’s Zion National Park already banned drones after noticing unmanned aircraft harassing youngster bighorn sheep, causing them to become separated from their herd. Other incidents in parks around the country have also led to drones being banned.

Many drone operators say unmanned aircraft flights can be made with respect for other park users and wildlife. Jarvis says he wants to regulate drones before their use becomes even more widespread, as unmanned aircraft get cheaper and more high-tech.

[AP]

TIME Environment

The White House Wants to Save the Bees

Exchange Busy Beekeeper
Beekeeper Alan Clingenpeel shows the inside of a bee hive in his apiary at his home on May 23, 2014 in Pearcy, Ark. Mara Kuhn—AP

New initiative will combat the decline in pollinators

The White House created a new task force Friday to study and combat the recent precipitous decline in the number of bees in the United States.

The Pollinator Health Task Force will also undertake efforts to increase public awareness of the issue and boost conservation partnerships between the public and private sectors. “Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” President Barack Obama wrote in a presidential memorandum.

The President’s announcement comes in response to a problem with grave implications for farmers and consumers. At least 90 commercial crops harvested in North America rely on honey bees including nuts, fruits, and vegetables, according to a White House fact sheet. Pollinators also have a profound economic impact: They contribute more than $24 billion dollars to the U.S. economy.

The plan announced on Friday, which includes measures to research the issue and develop pollinator habitats, marks the latest step in the White House’s attempt to address the the decline. The President requested $50 million to combat the program in his 2015 budget proposal.

TIME Environment

Summer Solstice: The Start of Summer

If you burn easily, then this might not be your favorite day of the year.

Summer solstice is the annual time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and the daylight seems never-ending in the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s also a time for celebration for many cultures across the world.

The word solstice comes from the latin word solstitium or sol (the sun) plus the word stit or -stes (standing), which basically means the sun is standing still. This feels like an accurate description, as during the summer solstice, we get 16 hours of day light.

For more insight into this annual event, check out the video above.

TIME Environment

National Geographic Has to Radically Redraw Parts of Its Atlas Because of Arctic Ice Loss

Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape
Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape. De Agostini — Getty Images

'Drastic' changes need to be made to the new National Geographic Atlas of the World to reflect the effects of climate change

The Arctic ice sheet has shrunk so much that National Geographic is having to make what it calls “drastic” changes to its atlas.

Geographers say the disappearing ice is “one of the most striking” changes in the history of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, which will release its 10th edition in September.

The phenomenon was described by National Geographic geographer Juan José Valdés as “the biggest visible change other than the breakup of the USSR.”

Valdés and cartographer Rosemary Wardley used data from NASA’s 30-year study of layered ice to show the drastic changes caused by global warming and emphasize the vulnerability of Arctic ice to climate change.

National Geographic explains that as the ice thins through melting, sunlight is able to penetrate remaining ice more easily and warm up the ocean underneath, which in turn makes the ice melt even faster. Small ponds of melted water — which absorb sunlight — also collect on the surface of the ice and further contribute to the reduction.

Valdés thinks that the atlas could help people see the effects of global warming in a tangible way. “Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn’t really hit home,” he said.

[NatGeo]

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