TIME Environment

Greenpeace Activists Take Over Oil Rig Near Norway

NORWAY-ENVIRONMENT-GREENPEACE
Greenpeace International activists from eight countries scale and occupy Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen on May 27, 2014 to protest the company's plans to drill the northernmost well in the Norwegian Arctic at the Apollo Prospect of the Barents Sea, close to the Bear Island nature reserve. Will Rose—Greenpeace/AFP/Getty Images

Protestors from eight different countries are responding to an oil-policy reversal from Norway's government

More than a dozen activists from eight different countries have occupied an oil rig in the Barents Sea, as part of a Greenpeace protest against a Norwegian company that plans to drill there.

The protestors decided to board the Transocean Spitsbergen rig — in arctic waters roughly 190 miles off of Norway — after Norway’s government reversed a decision to block oil drilling in the area, Mashable reports.

Greenpeace is concerned that an oil spill accident would cause tremendous environmental damage to the surrounding area and the nearby Bear Island nature reserve, and “could reach the nesting place of a million seabirds in less than a week,” said Finnish activist Sini Saarela, quoted on the Greenpeace website.

Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment told the Wall Street Journal that drilling does not violate “current policy or regulation.”

[Mashable]

TIME Environment

Why ‘Global Warming’ Is Scarier Than ‘Climate Change’

Climate change versus global warming
"Global warming" may be a more engaging term for activists than "climate change" Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The two terms may seem synonymous, but one generates much more engagement than the other

A quick check of the TIME.com archives reveals that I’ve used the term “global warming” in 545 posts, videos and articles—not counting this one. And the term “climate change”? 852 times. That’s not surprising. While the two terms are largely synonymous—which is why there are 472 posts where I use both—”climate change” has become the preferred term for scientists because it better describes the long-term changes in the planet’s climate, which go well beyond simple temperature increase. Scientists use it, and so have I, but most of the time I simply rotate the two terms for variety’s sake.

But it turns out that global warming and climate change evoke very different reactions in ordinary Americans—and for those trying to motivate the public to act on greenhouse gas emissions, using “global warming” could be more effective. In a new report by the Yale Project on Climate Communications, researchers led by Anthony Leiserowitz surveyed Americans and found that “global warming” is used much more commonly than “climate change,” both in conversation and in Internet searches, and that “global warming” is significantly more engaging than “climate change.” That’s because global warming generated more alarming associations, causing survey respondents to think of disasters like melting ice, coastal flooding and extreme weather, while “climate change” generated more banal associations with generation weather patterns. “Global warming” was also associated with:

  • Greater certainty that the phenomenon was happening
  • Greater understanding that human activities were the primary driver of warming, especially among political independents
  • A greater sense of personal threat, as well as more intense worry about the issue
  • A greater sense that people are being harmed right now by warming, and a greater sense of threat to future generations
  • Greater support for both large and small-scale actions by the U.S. (although “climate change” generates more support for medium-scale efforts, especially among Republicans.)

That last bit is especially important. As the report’s authors note, some environmentalists have come to think “climate change” is a more effective term to use with Republicans, precisely because it doesn’t seem as catastrophic as “global warming.” (If there’s one thing conservative climate skeptics like to argue, it’s that environmentalists are constantly overstating the threat of climate change.) But the Yale report found that Republicans don’t really care which term is used, though “global warming” will sometimes generate stronger negative feelings among conservatives. Not that it much matters—a recent Gallup poll found that 65% of conservatives said they were skeptical of climate change, compared to just 24% of moderates and 9% of liberals.

But the Yale report also found that the term “global warming” actually seemed to reduce engagement with Democrats, independents, liberals and moderates:

African-Americans (+20 percentage points) and Hispanics (+22) are much more likely to rate global warming as a “very bad thing” than climate change. Generation X (+21) and liberals (+19) are much more likely to be certain global warming is happening. African-Americans (+22) and Hispanics (+30) are much more likely to perceive global warming as a personal threat, or that it will harm their own family (+19 and +31, respectively). Hispanics (+28) are much more likely to say global warming is already harming people in the United States right now. And Generation X (+19) is more likely to be willing to join a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming than climate change.

Scientists take great pride in the precision of their language, sometimes to the point of jargon-filled incomprehensibility. But language matters in politics, too. Just look at the difference between estate tax and death tax, two terms that refer to the same legal act—taxing wealth left over after a citizen dies—and yet connote two entirely different things. The difference between global warming and climate change isn’t that large yet, but environmentalists who want to nudge as much of the public as possible towards action should be careful which one they use.

TIME Environment

Your Ant Farm Is Smarter Than Google

Ants carry leaves to their nest
As a collective, ants are efficient and surprisingly intelligent Moment Select via Getty Images

Ant colonies are surprisingly efficient at forming intelligent networks that can rapidly spread information, according to a new study

Ants may have the largest brains of any insect, but that doesn’t mean a single ant on its own is all that smart. As individual ants leave their nest in search of food, they walk in what appear to be random paths, hoping to come across something to eat. The behavior of hundreds of scout ants circling their nests on a hunt for sustenance can be chaotic as it looks, like drunks stumbling about the house in search of their keys. The ants will search for food until they’re exhausted, then return to the nest to briefly eat and rest before heading back out again.

But as a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes clear, something amazing happens when an individual ant finds a food source. The ant will take a bit of the food back to the nest, leaving a trail of pheromones behind them to mark the path. A wave of ants will then attempt to follow the path back to the food source, but because pheromones evaporate quickly, their behavior will still look chaotic as they attempt to home in on the food.

Over time, though, the ants will organize their search, optimizing the best and shortest path between the food and the nest. As more ants follow the optimal path back and forth, they leave more and more pheromones, which in turn attracts more and more ants, creating a self-reinforcing efficiency effect. The chaotic, seemingly random foraging of individual ants is replaced with organized precision. Working as one, the ants create the sort of distribution networks a traffic engineer could only dream of.

“While the single ant is certainly not smart, the collective acts in a way that I’m tempted to call intelligent,” said study co-author Jurgen Kurths of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Reseaerch, in a statement. “The ants collectively form a highly efficient complex network.”

That’s not all the study found. The researchers also discovered that individual ants differ in their ability to find food. Over time older ants gather more experience about the environment surrounding their nests, which makes it easier for them to forage effectively, even though their age means they tire faster than young ants. The young ants are more like interns—their lack of experience means they can’t contribute much to foraging, but they are effectively learning on the job. (No word on whether they get course credit.)

Even though individual ants can get smarter over time as they learn more about their surrounding environment, the real ant intelligence is in the collective. Just how advanced are their search capabilities? Good enough to rival our best technology, at least. Google’s search engine forages for information on the Web in much the same way an ant colony looks for food. Google’s webcrawlers scour the Internet, bringing data about individual pages back to Google’s servers, where that information is indexed, sharpening the company’s picture of the ever-evolving Internet as it is—just as ants learn more and more about their environment over time. Google’s search algorithms use hundreds of signals to find the most efficient and accurate answer to any search query—just as the ant colony quickly organizes itself to find the most efficient path to a food source once it has been discovered by scouts.

But Kurths believes that ants are actually much more efficient at organizing data than a collective of human beings using the Internet could ever be, as he told the Independent:

I’d go so far as to say that the learning strategy involved in that, is more accurate and complex than a Google search. These insects are, without doubt, more efficient than Google in processing information about their surroundings.

Which doesn’t mean you should ask the closest ant colony, rather than Google, when you want to find out what time the Super Bowl is on. But in a digitally connected world where the network is quickly becoming smarter and more efficient than any individual, ants are apparently ahead of the game.

TIME Environment

‘Time Is Running Out’ To Stop Rising CO2 Levels, Says UN

April was the first time the monthly average of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million, a threshold that the U.N. says has "symbolic and scientific significance"

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high last month, according to the UN’s weather agency, highlighting the need to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Monday that the monthly average CO2 concentration in the northern hemisphere surpassed 400 parts per million in April. CO2 levels have topped 400 before, but this is the first time the monthly average passed the threshold, which the UN says has “symbolic and scientific significance.”

“This should serve as yet another wakeup call about the constantly rising levels of greenhouse gases which are driving climate change,” WMO chief Michel Jarraud said in a statement. “Time is running out.”

CO2 is most responsible for the warming effect on the climate and its concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing steadily over the past decade.

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

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.

 

 

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser