TIME Environment

Poll: One in Four ‘Solidly Skeptical’ of Global Warming

A polar bear scans the surrounding area for seals from the top of a large piece of glacial ice in Liefdefjorden, Svalbard in 2011.
A polar bear scans the surrounding area for seals from the top of a large piece of glacial ice in Liefdefjorden, Svalbard in 2011. Rebecca Jackrel—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

A new Gallup poll that coincides with Earth Day finds the number of Americans with mixed opinions about global warming has declined from 49 percent in 2001 to 36 percent today, but many have joined the ranks of the skeptics

Americans are becoming more divided in their opinion on impact of global warming and humanity’s role in the phenomenon, as the number of global warming skeptics has roughly doubled over the past 10 years to encompass one in four of the population.

The portion of Americans with mixed opinions about global warming has declined from 49 percent in 2001 to 36 percent today, according to a Gallup poll released on Earth Day Tuesday. Over the same period the number of people who are concerned about global warming and see mankind as its cause has held fairly steady at 39 percent, while the number of people who say they’re “solidly skeptical” of global warming has rocketed from 12 percent in 2001 to 25 percent today.

Women are significantly more likely than men to be concerned about the impact of global warming and humanity’s role in causing it. The age group 30 to 49 is most likely to be concerned about the phenomenon, while younger people aged 18 to 29 are less divided on the issue, least likely to be skeptical and most likely to have mixed views on the matter.

Education is not a good predictor of whether or not a person is concerned about global warming, with about 30% having some college and 30% no college in both groups. Education is a good predictor of whether one falls into the “mixed middle” on global warming, however: nearly half of that group has no more than a high school diploma and less than 25% finished college.

TIME Environment

Portraits of the Planet for Earth Day

Looking at the Icebergs, Near Franklin Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica in 2006.
Looking at the Icebergs, Near Franklin Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica in 2006. Camille Seaman

Google+ and TIME teamed up to find beautiful pictures of our planet. Selections made by TIME's photo editors are featured on the massive NASDAQ billboard in Times Square on Earth Day.

The NASDAQ billboard in Times Square features Google+ users' earth day photos selected by TIME's photo editors.
The NASDAQ billboard in Times Square features Google+ users’ earth day photos selected by TIME’s photo editors. Wesley Houser / Google

Mars is nice and Jupiter has a big red spot, but there’s no more gorgeous planet in the known galaxy than Earth. On a day when we tend focus on the threats to the Earth—which are many—we should also take time to celebrate the varied beauty found throughout our home. Google+ collected photos from around the world tagged with #MyBeautifulEarth, and TIME editors culled through the images to find the very best. The pictures that appear below are visual reminders of the Earth’s diversity, from fathomless oceans to glowing volcanoes to alpine glaciers. The only constants are color—and overwhelming beauty. This planet is a never-ending feast for the eyes, which is one more reason why we should try to take care of it, on Earth Day and every day.

TIME Environment

Cowboys And Indians Descend on Washington To Protest Pipeline

A coalition of ranchers, farmers and native tribes are staging protests against the Keystone XL pipeline on the National Mall this week with teepees, horses and a sacred fire that will burn for days

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., will look like a scene out of an Old Western this week, as the Cowboy and Indian Alliance holds a multi-day protest against the Keystone XL pipeline complete with teepees, horses and religious ceremonies.

The confederation of ranchers, farmers and members of Native American tribes kicks off the week of protest and civil disobedience Tuesday, Earth Day, with a horse ride on the Mall and the erection of a ceremonial teepee soundtracked by live music from the Indigo Girls.

The week’s activities will include religious rituals and a water ceremony “that will highlight the threat Keystone XL poses to water sources, especially the Ogallala Aquifer, along the pipeline route,” according to organizers. Events through the week are expected to draw about 200 participants, with a much larger group of 5,000 expected for a larger march on Saturday, Politico reports. Organizers said acts of civil disobedience and arrests will be part of the spectacle but wouldn’t offer details.

Protestors will not be sleeping in teepees on the Mall overnight because they did not receive the proper permits.

[Politico]

 

TIME commentary

The Big Bang Did NOT Occur 50 Years Ago

The Big Bang: Just to be clear, this did not happen in 1964
The Big Bang: Just to be clear, this did not happen in 1964 LAGUNA DESIGN; Getty Images/Brand X

Human beings are a very small part of a very big universe. Figuring some of that universe out is to our credit—but let's not overstate the things we've accomplished.

If you’re over 50, you probably remember the Big Bang—indeed, it would be hard to forget it. One moment you’re part of an infinitely tiny, infinitely dense point that contains the entirety of the universe, and the next moment you’re accelerating outward faster than the speed of light, expanding along with space-time itself. That’s a remember-when day if ever there was one.

You might argue that the Big Bang occurred a bit earlier than 50 years ago—13.8 billion years earlier, in fact—and most people might agree with you. What actually happened 50 years ago was that Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs made measurements of the cosmic background radiation that provided the first solid evidence of the Big Bang’s existence. Still, that didn’t stop Bell Labs itself from noting the event with a recent e-mail blast inviting recipients to “Celebrate the 50th Anniv. of the Big Bang.” In light of a just-released AP poll showing that a stunning 51% of Americans say they are “not at all confident” or “not too confident” that the Big Bang even occurred, the last thing we need is more confusion on the point.

OK, it’s not entirely fair to pick on Bell Labs. The mere fact that whoever composed the message felt a need to abbreviate the word “anniversary” reflects how hard it is to get anyone to open an e-mail message today unless the subject line is short and semaphores excitement. Still the e-mail does, even indirectly, speak to a certain anthropocentrism in the way we think about science and the entire enterprise of discovery. It’s not the event or the phenomenon itself that counts, it’s the fact that we—a clever if sublimely narcissistic species—at last stumbled onto it.

Geneticists have been guilty of this for a while now, talking about having “discovered” the genes for this or that trait, even though the genes were there all the time and the only things that changed was that we finally looked for them. Some researchers are self-correcting—preferring to talk about “pinpointing” or “identifying” genes—but others still opt for the Christopher Columbus phrasing, if only because it makes their work sound more dramatic.

Columbus himself came in for similar revisionist thinking since, like the genes, the New World was there all along. And of course, if anyone did any discovering, it was the indigenous people who had lived there for thousands of years before the Europeans even hoisted anchor and ventured out.

Explorers have always gotten the hyperbole treatment. Ever since the mid-20th century we’ve been talking about the “conquest of space,” despite the fact that with the exception of nine trips to our nearby Moon, we’ve never gotten out of low Earth orbit. Calling that the conquest of space is a little like paddling around in Boston Harbor and saying you’ve conquered the oceans.

We do something similar with heroic accounts of “taming the continent,” something of an overstatement given that multiple centuries worth of droughts, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, dust bowls, forest fires and more have shown that the continent has retained its feral ability to bite back. We even overstate our talent for causing wholesale destruction—something you’d think we wouldn’t want to boast about. Environmentalists themselves have long warned that there’s a misplaced egotism in feel-good slogans about “saving the Earth.” The Earth will be perfectly fine, thank you very much. It’s survived multiple glaciations, asteroid hits and more in its long life and it will surely survive us, even if we temporarily toxify the place so much that the very species that created the mess—us—can’t live here anymore.

In the case of the Big Bang, it’s understandable to play up, even inadvertently, a graspable time frame like 50 years ago as opposed to a far less fathomable 13.8 billion. My colleague Michael Lemonick once playfully considered opening a story in TIME with the line, “Twelve million years ago last week a supernova exploded.” The then-science editor prudently nixed the idea—too great a risk of real misinformation leaking into the popular conversation. But the idea did speak to the way we all wrestle with the tininess of the time scales on which we live our lives compared to the vastness of the cosmic clock.

Human beings are undeniably an ingenious species. The things we’ve built, created and sussed out are genuinely remarkable. But they’re pinholes in the curtain compared to all there is to know. There’s no harm in being proud that we’re allowing some light in—just not too proud.

TIME Environment

Even Advanced Biofuels May Not Be So Green

Corn waste used for biofuels
New research shows that next-generation biofuels made from corn waste aren't so green Photographer's Choice via Getty Images

Environmentalists have long worried about biofuels like corn ethanol. But a new study shows that even advanced biofuels, which use waste from crops like corn to make fuel, may hurt the climate

Back in 2008, TIME published a controversial cover story with a simple line: The Clean Energy Myth. TIME’s Michael Grunwald made a damning case against the ethanol industry, arguing that the massive subsidies for biofuels intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting demand for oil actually had the opposite environmental effect:

“The basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple, given that researchers have ignored it until now: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.”

The years since have seen rounds of opposing studies on the environmental effects of bioenergy, even as the amount of biofuel produced has continued to rise. The U.S. is expected to use almost 5 billion bushels of corn to produce over 13 billion gallons of ethanol this year, thanks chiefly to government mandates. But research has also linked the use of crops like corn and soybeans as fuel to the rise in global food prices in recent years. (In 2013, four of every ten bushels of corn producing in the U.S. went to ethanol, almost as much as was used to feed livestock.) And improving gas mileage and rising production of domestic oil—thanks to the recent shale boom—have undercut the argument that biofuels are needed for energy independence.

Still, biofuel advocates have always pointed to the development of second-generation biofuels that will get around some of those environmental drawbacks by using the waste products of crops like corn or by tapping non-food plants like switchgrass or wood chips. Though those next-generation cellulosic fuels have proven difficult to develop on a commercial scale—it’s been chemically challenging to tap the energy locked in cellulose—there has been some progress recently, with major cellulosic ethanol plants from companies like DuPont and Abengoa Bioenergy.

But now it turns out that even next-generation biofuels may be worse for the climate than the fossil fuel-based sources they’re meant to replace. A new federally-funded study published in Nature Climate Change has found that biofuels made from corn waste release 7% more greenhouse gases over the short term than gasoline. That’s because by using corn waste like stalks and cobs as a fuel source, farmers aren’t letting the plant residue remain in their fields, when over time it would enrich the soil with carbon. The carbon gained by swapping out gasoline with next-generation ethanol made from corn waste doesn’t make up for the additional carbon lost by the soil. While next-generation biofuels are better for the climate over the long term, the study concludes they’re not green enough to meet federal standards for subsidies, which require cellulosic ethanol to produce at least 60% less carbon than gasoline. And without those subsidies—which amount to $1 per gallon—the nascent advanced biofuel industry could be smothered in the crib.

That should be extremely worrying to the biofuel industry, which has been counting on the growth of advanced biofuels as subsidies for corn ethanol are phased out. The Renewable Fuels Association—an ethanol trade group—was quick to criticize the Nature Climate Change study, noting that earlier research concluded that corn residue could be removed for fuel without reducing the amount of carbon in soil. And Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson Liz Purchia said in a statement that the study “does not provide useful information to the life-cycle greenhouse gas emission from corn stover ethanol.” University of Nebraska Professor Adam Liska, who led the Nature Climate Change study, noted that using some of the corn residue to produce electricity—where it could help replace far dirtier coal—could make next-generation biofuels greener. So could the adoption of other cellulosic sources, or even algae. But most of the next-generation biofuel plants that are close to completion will be using corn residue as an early fuel source.

The reality is that the biofuel industry is in trouble. For the first time ever, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explicitly warned about the environmental risks of uncontrolled biofuel development in its most recent report on global warming. Given the political power of the farmers who directly benefit from ethanol subsidies—and the paucity of other immediate options to reduce the climate impact of transportation—biofuels aren’t going away. But the industry has a long way to go before it can prove that biofuels—even next-generation options—aren’t a clean energy myth.

TIME Environment

Pipeline Delay Delights And Dismays Interest Groups

President Obama's decision to extend a review of the divisive Keystone XL pipeline frustrates energy and labor groups, but is welcomed by environmentalists. Final approval or rejection of the pipeline may not occur until after November's midterm elections

Environmental groups and energy and labor organizations sparred over the Obama’s administration decision Friday to extend its review of the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that has increasingly become a political hot potato.

Energy interests, who say the pipeline will create thousands of new jobs and help spur America’s recent energy boom by connecting Canadian crude oil reserves with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, criticized the delay on a final decision.

But the pipeline has drawn harsh criticism for its likely environmental impact, with many arguing that it will greatly accelerate the energy-intensive extraction of oil reserves from Alberta’s tar sands and thus contribute heavily to carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s decision Friday indefinitely extends the time executive agencies can review the approximately 2.5 million submitted comments and consider a Nebraska court case surrounding Keystone XL. The final approval or rejection of the pipeline may not occur until after November’s midterm elections.

The Natural Resources Defense Council approved of the extension on a deadline: “The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible,” the NRDC said in a statement. “It is already clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the climate test and will damage our climate, our lands and our waters.”

But proponents of Keystone XL said the Obama administration’s punt was politically motivated, as making a final decision before the midterm elections could hurt Democrats. “It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job creating policy at the White House,” said Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. “Strong majorities in the House and the Senate have publicly called for Keystone XL’s approval.”

Democrats stand to suffer no matter what Obama ends up deciding. Approving the pipeline could stifle campaign contributions by environmental groups to Democratic lawmakers, while rejecting the pipeline could hurt Democrats in states whose economies rest on oil and gas production, and threaten support from labor groups who back the construction of the pipeline.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America also voiced its opposition to the latest delay. LIUNA’s president Terry O’Sullivan called it “another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security.”

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, one of the most fervent opponents of the pipeline, gave mixed reviews of the Obama administration’s delay, saying that putting off the decision means slowing the emissions-intensive and dirty extraction of oil in Canada, but bemoaning the President’s hesitation to take a strong stand on climate issues.

“We actually need President Obama providing climate leadership. If he’d just follow the science and reject the stupid pipeline he’d finally send a much-needed signal to the rest of the planet that he’s getting serious,” McKibben said.

TIME exploration

The Reason We Can’t Find MH 370 Is That We’re Basically Blind

Search For Missing Flight MH370 Shifts To Underwater Mission
Good luck finding anything with that. Bluefin-21 is craned over the side of Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 on April 14, 2014. Handout—Getty Images

We can see countless millions of miles into the blackness of space, but a 3-mile depth in the ocean is testing the very limits of our technology because most of it just doesn’t work underwater

Men have played golf on the moon. Images transmitted from the surface of Mars have become utterly commonplace. The Hubble Space Telescope can see 10 billion to 15 billion light-years into the universe.

But a mere three miles under the sea? That’s a true twilight zone.

As the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 demonstrates, at that depth — minuscule compared with the vastness of space — everything is a virtual unknown. A high-tech unmanned underwater submarine, Bluefin-21, has been dispatched four times to look for wreckage from the jet, but the crushing water pressure and impenetrability of this void mean that only its most recent pair of missions were completed. Scrutinizing dust and rock particles on the Red Planet, tens of millions of miles away, is a breeze. Understanding what’s on the seafloor of our own planet is not.

About 95% of deep ocean floor remains unmapped, but that’s almost certainly where the most sought after aircraft in history is going to be found. “Our knowledge of the detailed ocean floor is very, very sparse,” Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, tells TIME.

The reason for our ignorance is simple. Virtually all modern communications technology — be it light, radio, X-rays, wi-fi — is a form of electromagnetic radiation, which seawater just loves to suck up. “The only thing that does travel [underwater] is sound,” says van Sebille, “and that’s why we have to use sonar.”

Sound is formed by mechanical waves and so can penetrate denser mediums like liquids: but at a 3-mile (5 km) depth, even sonar starts to have problems establishing basic parameters. The waters in which the search for MH 370 is happening, for example, were thought to be between 13,800 and 14,400 ft. (4,200 and 4,400 m) deep, because that’s what it said on the charts that had been drawn up over time by passing ships with sonar capabilities. It turns out those seas are at least 14,800 ft. (4,500 m) deep. We only know that now because that’s the depth at which Bluefin-21 will automatically resurface — as it did on its maiden foray — when onboard sensors tell it that it’s way, way out of its operating depth. The problems with Bluefin-21, van Sebille says, show us that “even our best maps are really not good here.”

The other issue affecting visibility is the sheer volume of junk in the ocean. About 5.25 trillion particles of plastic trash presently billow around the planet, say experts, weighing half a million tons. There are five huge garbage patches in the world’s seas, where the swirling of currents makes the mostly plastic debris accumulate. The largest of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre measuring an estimated 270,000 to 5.8 million sq. mi. (700,000 to 15 million sq km). This refuse gets ingested by plankton, fish, birds and larger marine mammals, imperiling our entire ecosystem.

Flotsam debris has already impeded the hunt for MH 370. Hundreds of suspicious items spotted by satellite have sent aircraft and ships on hugely costly detours to investigate what turned out to be trash. (On Friday an air-and-surface search continued, with 12 aircraft and 11 ships scouring an area of some 20,000 sq. mi. [52,000 sq km] about 1,200 miles [2,000 km] northwest of Perth.) Officials are saying that such efforts are becoming futile.

For all we know, Bluefin-21 could also be confused by the sheer volume of garbage down there. According to a study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute published last June, based on 8,000 hours of underwater video, an unbelievable quantity of waste is strewn across the ocean floor. A third of the debris is thought to be plastic — bags, bottles, pellets, crates — but there is a vast amount of metal trash as well, including many of the 10,000 shipping containers estimated to be lost each year.

“I was surprised that we saw so much trash in deeper water,” said Kyra Schlining, lead author on the study. “We don’t usually think of our daily activities as affecting life two miles deep in the ocean.”

That’s because we can’t see it. It’s tempting to say that MH 370 might as well have vanished into space — only if it had, we’d have found it by now.

TIME Environment

The Docu Series Years of Living Dangerously Tries to Close the Climate Gap

Years of Living Dangerously
Showtime presents "Years of Living Dangerously," a groundbreaking documentary event series which provides first-hand reports on those affected by—and seeking solutions to—climate change. The Years Project—Showtime

The world is on fire in the new series on Showtime. But the project will only make a difference if it can convince climate skeptics

There’s a fascinating moment during the first episode of Showtime’s new climate change documentary, Years of Living Dangerously. The actor Don Cheadle, in one of three concurrent segments in the premiere, had visited the impoverished Texas town of Plainview, which was hit hard by a recent drought—one the show links in part to climate change. But Plainview is a conservative and religious town, and virtually no one Cheadle speaks to thinks that global warming is real, let alone that it has anything to do with the drought. That’s not surprising—there is a huge and growing partisan difference on climate change, with a recent Gallup poll showing a 38 point difference between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

Afterwards Cheadle sat down with the Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe and her husband Andrew Farley. Hayhoe obviously believes in climate change—she’s authored dozens of peer-reviewed papers on the subject—but unusually, she’s also an evangelical Christian, as is Farley. He’s also a confirmed Republican, but he tells Cheadle that while his wife has convinced him that climate change is real, the politics still get in the way. And then Cheadle says this:

I guess that’s really what it is is that if you accept climate change, then I have to vote for Obama…. Or if I say it’s not real then I can stay with my political affiliation and I can stay with the church and everything is all good because really what most people want to do is I think avoid conflict.

As Andrew Revkin points out over at Dot Earth, Cheadle has essentially stumbled onto what’s known as cultural cognition theory, the product of work by the Yale Law School Professor Dan Kahan. Ezra Klein on his new site Vox has a great explanation of cultural cognition theory, but what it essentially means is that we all belong to tribes that might be defined by our political or cultural leanings, and that we’ll do almost anything to avoid conflict with those tribes—even “subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values,” as Kahan puts it. Cheadle is right—when it comes to climate change, identity trumps facts.

That fact helps explain the enormous scale of the challenge that Years of Living Dangerously faces. A documentary series that will air on Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern for the next nine weeks—opposite Mad Men, which just seems unfair—Years uses celebrities like Cheadle and reporters like Tom Friedman to tell the story of how climate change is impacting the world today. And that story is heavy on disaster, as the trailer shows:

I had a chance to watch the first episode on Wednesday night in New York at the Ford Foundation, which helped finance the series. For the most part it’s a strong work of documentary journalism, with richly shot and compelling stories. The premiere features Cheadle in Texas, Friedman in Syria—where drought has helped drive the civil war—and Harrison Ford journeying to the rapidly deforesting jungles of Indonesia.

If Friedman’s segment suffers from the sheer horror of Syria—it can be difficult to focus on the diffuse threat of climate change when there’s an ongoing civil war that has killed over 150,000 people—Ford (and his producers) ably demonstrates the massive environmental and social damage left by deforestation in the world’s fourth-most populous country. The scene when Ford helicopters across a rainforest that suddenly turns to stumps and char will stay with viewers.

While there are always nits to pick—Friedman doesn’t mention the role that overpopulation has played in stressing Syria—I was impressed by the relatively measured way the series took on the tricky science of attributing disasters to global warming, at least in the first episode.

But Years isn’t just a work of TV journalism, a super-sized series of 60 Minutes-like pieces about climate change. As James Cameron, the series’ executive producer, told Reuters, the aim is to convince people that global warming is an existential threat that demands major action:

The devastation to the planet that we’ll be experiencing in the next century is really, I think, pretty unfathomable for most people, and I think that what the series can do is to bring it home and make it real, make it real in people terms.

For a large chunk of the U.S.—most of the Democratic party—that message has already hit home. But as long as the partisan gap on climate keeps growing, the kind of broad national action that would make a difference will never happen. I suspect that’s why the series’ producers send Cheadle to Plainview in the first episode, immediately addressing—in a respectful way—the cultural roots of climate skepticism. But can Years shake that skepticism?

In a New York Times column, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute argue that the terrifying imagery of the series will actually turn people off:

A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus are right that a large body of research has shown that catastrophic imagery can actually backfire, almost as if audience remembers respond to the horror by sticking their fingers in their ears. (Full disclosure: I’ve participated in a few panels at Breakthrough Institute conferences in the past.) You can see that when Cheadle asks people in Plainview about the drought, and they respond, essentially, that such catastrophes are natural. That’s cultural cognition again—in Plainview, it’s far more socially disruptive to say that the drought could be connected to rising carbon emissions than it is to say that the disaster is simply an act of God. Perversely, as the destruction ramps up—wait until the series gets to Hurricane Sandy—those responses only seem to harden.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue that a messaging strategy based primarily around solutions would have better luck dislodging that skepticism. It looks like Years will address responses to global warming in episodes to come—some of the future segments include Jessica Alba on how corporations are cutting carbon emissions and Olivia Munn on Jay Inslee, Washington state’s climate warrior of a governor. But every indication is that disaster will be the dominant note in the series.

I can’t blame Years’ producers for that—scenes of biblical floods and collapsing glaciers make for far more compelling TV than wonky discussions about the pros and cons of nuclear power. And we do live in a dangerous world—thanks to the intersection of population growth, an increasingly interconnected global economy and yes, warming. I hope that as Years unfolds, it finds time to report on the need to adapt to those dangers. We need to do what we can to slow the pace of global warming, but we also need to build a more resilient society, one that can absorb the superstorms and megadroughts of the future, bending without breaking.

The reality is that no one really knows how to close the partisan gap on climate change—and if Kahan’s cultural cognition theory is correct, it might just be impossible. By pitching some of its segments directly at the sort of people who feel that accepting climate change means abandoning some of their core beliefs, Years is at least taking that challenge seriously. And when this series is over, that effort may be more lasting than all the imagery of storms and wildfires and chaos that will fill the screen for the next nine weeks.

TIME fracking

Geologists: Fracking Likely Cause of Ohio Earthquakes

Gas Drilling Earthquakes
A brine injection well owned by Northstar Disposal Services LLC is seen in Youngstown, Ohio, Jan. 4, 2011. Amy Sancetta—AP

Tremors under the state’s Appalachian Mountains last month were likely the result of hydraulic fracturing—the gas extraction process referred to as “fracking”—geologists have said for the first time, leading Ohio to issue strict permit conditions on Friday

Geologists have for the first time linked earthquakes deep under Ohio’s Appalachian Mountains to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue strict permit conditions Friday on the gas extraction process.

Researchers found that five small tremors last month near Youngstown, Ohio were likely the result of the injection of sand and water that occurs during the hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — process, the Associated Press reports. Fracking involves injecting rocks with pressurized water or other liquids in an effort to extract gas which can be turned into usable fuel.

Because the geology of each shale formation is different, the discovery in Ohio may not apply everywhere across the country. However, other instances of fracking causing small earthquakes have been recorded elsewhere, including in Oklahoma, England and British Columbia, Canada.

Ohio’s new permit conditions require natural gas companies to install sensitive seismic-monitoring equipment at drilling sites near known faults or seismic activity. If an earth tremor of greater than 1.0 magnitude is linked to fracking, operations will be halted.

“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” James Zehringer, director of Ohio’s natural resources department, said.

[AP]

MORE: The Fuss Over Fracking: The Dilemma of a New Gas Boom

TIME Environment

Wal-Mart Could Make Organic Food Cheap—and Eventually, Plentiful

Customers enter a Wal-Mart store on Feb. 20, 2014 in San Lorenzo, Calif.
Customers enter a Wal-Mart store on Feb. 20, 2014 in San Lorenzo, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The retail giant says it will sell some organic products at 25% below what its competitors cost. That's good for the organic market

If you still think organic food is something for hippies and vegans—and best of all, hippie vegans, though that might be redundant—it’s time to update your cultural stereotypes. This morning Wal-Mart announced that it would begin carrying products from the Wild Oats organic line—and that it would offer the goods at prices that are at least 25% cheaper than their organic competitors. Wal-Mart, the Bentonville behemoth that became the biggest retailer in the world by ruthlessly lowering prices, wants to make organic food cheap. And that could make the organic food market go supernova. “If we can make the price premium disappear, we think it will grow much, much faster,” Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Wal-Mart U.S., told reporters.

Organic has already been growing rapidly. Though the category still accounted for just 4% of total U.S. food sales at the beginning of 2012, organic sales rose to 10.2% that year, or $29 billion. A decade earlier, organic sales were just $8 billion. And this rapid growth is occurring even as sales at traditional supermarkets have been slumping. A wide swath of customers are switching to organic food when they can, and chances are even more would make the move if they could afford it: internal research at Wal-Mart found that 91% of its customers would buy “affordable” organic products if they were available. Over at Fortune magazine—another Time Inc. title—the editors are hailing the organic star Whole Foods on the cover of their latest edition:

The Austin-based chain is one of the country’s most successful retailers — its revenue has doubled and profits have tripled since 2007 — defying dismal grocery industry trends by offering consumers a mix of organics, truly delicious prepared foods, and an expanding array of staples under its 365 house brand. Now, having conquered affluent suburbs and trendy urban areas, Whole Foods is out to win over the rest of America.

In the short term, Wal-Mart’s move—which for now will be confined to staples like olive oil and tomato paste—could actually raise prices for some organic foods. That’s because the demand for organics has been outpacing the supply —this year there’s been a shortage of organic milk in many places, and organic egg production has dropped even as demand has increased because the price of the organic feed needed for the hens that lay the eggs has skyrocketed. (The example of milk is instructive: sales of whole organic milk nationwide increased 17% from January through October 2011, compared with the same period in 2010—even as sales of conventional milk over those months fell by 2%.) Under U.S. Agricultural Department rules, it also takes at least three years for farmers to switch from conventional crops to organic ones, so there will likely be a lag.

Still Wal-Mart’s unique, um, talent for getting suppliers to do what it wants will likely ensure that organic supply will rise to meet that growing demand over time, at prices that are less than what consumers have been accustomed to paying. The cognitive dissonance is inevitable—for the hardest-core of organic shoppers, the ones who long ago turned away from conventional groceries because of health and environmental fears, Wal-Mart is up there with Monsanto as a symbol of all that is is evil in the food world. But Wal-Mart has actually been selling organic products for years with a lot of success. And just as the company’s adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy—while not without problems—has helped push those technologies towards the mainstream, Wal-Mart’s embrace of cheap organic could have a major impact on the American diet and farming. Scale is a hell of a thing.

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