TIME National Security

Obama Calls Climate Change a National Security Threat

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.

Obama says the global change in climate will pose a direct threat to our military

President Obama is once again arguing that climate change is a threat to national security.

In a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Obama noted the problems created by extreme weather, which scientists believe can be exacerbated by climate change. Members of the Coast Guard are often among the first responders during natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us,” Obama told the class of 2015. “Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long term.”

During the speech in Connecticut, Obama said that an increase in natural disasters will lead to more humanitarian crises that pose direct threats to a nation’s stability. “More extreme storms will mean more humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving help,” he said. “Our forces will have to be ready.”

The speech echoed statements presented in the White House National Security Strategy, which said extreme weather, rising tides and temperature shifts fights over scarce resources and diminishing coast lines that will have a stark impact on the global economy.

According to a White House report released Wednesday, the Department of Defense is currently examining the impact climate change can have on U.S. military bases. The Pentagon is also considering how much strain extreme weather places on the Coast Guard.

Wednesday’s speech is the latest Obama administration push to focus the nation’s attention on the threats of climate change. Obama has often said climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s future generations. It was a sentiment he stressed during an Earth Day trip to the Florida Everglades where he said, “This is not a problem for another generation. It has serious implications for the way we live right now.”

Facing a skeptical Congress, Obama has relied on executive action in efforts to curb the effects of changing temperatures and rising seas. The U.S. has also pledged to a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

“Some warming is now inevitable,” Obama said Wednesday. “But there comes a point when the worst effects will be irreversible. And time is running out. And we all know what needs to happen. It’s no secret.”

TIME Environment

Huge Oil Slick Lines California Coast After Pipeline Spill

California Oil Spill
Kenneth Song—AP An oil slick washes up on the shore Tuesday, May 19, 2015, near Goleta, Calif.

Tuesday's pipeline break created an oil slick stretching about 4 miles of beach and about 50 yards into the ocean

(GOLETA, Calif.) — A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the Pacific Ocean for several hours before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long across a scenic stretch of central California coastline, officials said.

Initial estimates put the spill at about 21,000 gallons Tuesday, but that figure would likely change after a Wednesday morning flyover gave a better sense of the spill’s scope, U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Williams said.

The spill was about 20 miles northwest of the pricey seaside real estate of Santa Barbara, and the Coast Guard said overnight winds were likely to push it 2 to 4 miles closer.

Authorities responding to reports of a foul smell near Refugio State Beach around noon found a half-mile slick already formed in the ocean, Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. They traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that spilled into a culvert running under the U.S. 101 freeway and into a storm drain that empties into the ocean.

The pipeline was shut off about three hours later but by then the slick stretched four miles and 50 yards into the water.

The 24-inch pipeline is owned by Plains All American Pipeline, which said it shut down the flow of oil and the culvert carrying the oil to the ocean was blocked.

“Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact,” the company said in a statement.

The Coast Guard, county emergency officials and state parks officials were cleaning up the spill. Boats from the nonprofit collective Clean Seas also were providing help but were having trouble because so much of the oil was so close to the shore, Williams said. About 850 gallons of oil have been recovered from the water, Williams said.

The accident occurred on the same stretch of coastline as a 1969 spill that at the time was the largest ever in U.S. waters and is credited for giving rise to the American environmental movement. Several hundred thousand gallons spilled from a blowout on an oil platform and thousands of sea birds were killed along with many marine mammals.

The stretch of coastline is home to offshore oil rigs and small amounts of tar and seepage regularly show up on beaches.

The spill is largest in years and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center said to have it occur in “a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch.” The group expressed special worry for the many species of whale that migrate through the area.

It was unclear how long the cleanup would take and whether Refugio and other areas would be reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend.

TIME energy

How The Transportation Sector Is Moving Away from Petroleum

More than 8% of fuel used by the transportation sector came from non-petroleum sources in 2014

Transportation Fuel Sources
Courtesy of U.S. Energy Information Administration

The transportation sector is moving away from oil slowly but surely. Driven by growth in the use of biofuels and natural gas, non-petroleum energy now makes up the highest percentage of total fuel consumption for transport since 1954, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In total, 8.5% of fuel used by the transportation sector came from non-petroleum sources in 2014. Biomass from corn-based ethanol—still supported by generous government subsidies—represented the largest non-petroleum energy source and was used primarily to fuel cars and other light vehicles. Use of natural gas to operate pipelines followed close behind. The report also shows smaller but still significant increases in the use of electricity, biodiesel and natural gas in vehicles.

Climate change and fluctuating oil prices has made moving away from petroleum when possible a priority for governments and corporations alike. But it’s still uncertain which fuel will be the best and greenest replacement, according to Christopher R. Knittel, an MIT professor of energy economics . Ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen and electricity are all possibilities.

“We don’t know where we’ll be 50 years from now,” said Knittel. “There are four potential replacement for petroleum, and, ultimately, we don’t what’s going to win out.”

While the overall trend away from petroleum is encouraging—petroleum accounts for over a third of global greenhouse gases—the newfound reliance on biomass might be seen as a double-edged sword. Using ethanol, which is currently mixed with petroleum and represents around 10% of the gas sold for most cars in the U.S., provides only “marginal benefit” over petroleum in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Knittel. Using electricity in the transport is generally better and cleaner, but the technology is still in its early stages. Where it does exist, as in Tesla cars, it’s often expensive and impractical for large-scale use.

TIME nature

This Black Bear Spent a Week Roaming a Louisiana Neighborhood

A Louisiana black bear, a protected sub-species of the black bear, is seen from its perch in a water oak tree in a neighborhood of New Orleans on May 17, 2015.
Gerald Herbert—AP A Louisiana black bear, a protected sub-species of the black bear, is seen from its perch in a water oak tree in a neighborhood of New Orleans on May 17, 2015.

The bear was too frightened to leave the neighborhood

(MARKSVILLE, La.)—A young black bear has been a backyard spectacle in a central Louisiana neighborhood where he has spent the past week up one tree or another as he searches for a new home.

The bear is among three to five that have wandered into populated parts of Louisiana in the past 10 days, said wildlife biologist Maria Davidson, head of the large carnivore program for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

It’s on the outskirts of Marksville. Another has been spotted in Jonesville, about 35 miles north-northeast of Marksville, since Thursday or Friday, Davidson said.

It’s the season when mother bears chase off yearling cubs so they won’t be attacked by any big males that come calling. Females often wind up within visiting distance of mama, but males aren’t allowed to.

“It’s somewhat nature’s way of preventing inbreeding,” Davidson said.

The males, about 1½ years old and 125 to 150 pounds, go on cross-country jaunts.

This one showed up in Marksville about May 10, Davidson said Sunday evening.

“That’s my little grandchild,” joked Patsy Trevillion. “I’ve been watching that bear since Wednesday.”

That’s when she spotted him about 20 to 25 feet up the big water oak between her yard and that of next-door neighbor Dennis Carmouche.

Carmouche said he got home from work that day and saw the bear in the tree.

“I was shocked, amazed — ‘What’s a bear doing in my yard?'” he recounted.

Trevillion was outside. “I hollered at her,” he said.

Trevillion called a game warden she knows. She said he told her, “Tell everybody to back up and maybe he will leave.”

But the bear hung around, apparently too frightened to leave.

“They’re still young enough that when they sense danger, their first instinct is to go up a tree,” Davidson said. “They know they’re safe up a tree, even though it happens to be right in the middle of a neighborhood.”

After a couple of days, state biologists set a trap in Carmouche’s yard. The bear went in, chowed down on the bait, and trundled back out without stepping on the trigger plate and closing the trap.

He’s also made a nest of branches in the tree, she said.

On Sunday, Trevillion said, biologist Ken Moreau made the trap a bit trickier, putting doughnuts under the trigger plate. He also put cat food or tuna into a tube like an 8-ounce water bottle, which he was attaching to the end wall to make the bear work to get at it.

Bear-watching isn’t unmitigated joy for Carmouche. “I’ve got a little 7-year-old girl. We can’t let her go outside by herself. My wife has got a little daycare at home. We’ve got to keep the kids in,” he said.

The bear is comfortable going in and out of the trap, and sooner or later he will step on the trigger plate, Davidson said.

When he does, he’ll get a standard workup: blood and DNA samples, ear tag, and microchip. She also plans to fit him with a GPS collar that will take a location every three hours. “It will give us a really good idea how a dispersing animal can pick and choose his way through a fragmented landscape,” she said.

Trevillion said she watches the bear for hours at a time. When she’s inside, her pit bull’s barking alerts her as the bear climbs up or down, or someone comes into the yard.

“If and when he does leave, I’m sure going to miss him, Trevillion said.

___

AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed from New Orleans.

TIME Environment

‘Paddle in Seattle’ Protesters Rally Against Arctic Oil Exploration

Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for the "Paddle in Seattle" protest on May 16, 2015, in Seattle.
Martha Bellisle—AP Activists who oppose Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean prepare their kayaks for the "Paddle in Seattle" protest on May 16, 2015, in Seattle.

Shell plans to begin drilling in the Arctic this summer

Hundreds of kayakers gathered in the waters of Seattle’s Elliott Bay on Saturday to protest Shell’s plans to begin Arctic drilling this summer.

The group that planned the event, called the “Paddle in Seattle,” said Saturday’s demonstration began a three-day “massive peaceful resistance,” the Associated Press reports. Protesters of all ages, on land and in the water, carried signs with phrases like “Climate Justice” and ”Shell No, Seattle Draws The Line.” On Monday, the group plans to block access to the oil giant’s rig parked in the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 and delay preparations for drilling.

Environmental activists argue that Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic pose a threat to local wildlife and will contribute to dependence on fossil fuels. They also cite the company’s failed attempt to drill in 2012 as evidence that Shell would not be able to respond adequately to a large-scale oil spill.

Shell received permission from the federal government to begin oil drilling in the Arctic last week, but the company still faces hurdles from other government agencies. For one, the mayor of Seattle tried to block the company from docking its rig in the city’s port.

[AP]

TIME Innovation

Fighting Climate Change Will Take Economic Innovation, Too

manhattan-skycrapers
Getty Images

The local community is key to a successful outcome

If any of us want to make a dent in the adverse effects of climate change in our lifetimes, we’ll need all hands on deck. That, in fact, is one of the core tenants of the contemporary environmental justice movement.

Proponents of environmental justice point toward crises looming on the horizon: President Obama is urging new and quick action in reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases; California is strategizing a way past its crippling drought; and urban megacities are searching for new models of development that use less resources and generate less waste.

But the project of ensuring a secure future for our planet can’t rely on the innovation of science alone. We need economic innovators, too. That was the message from Peggy Shepard, executive director at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York-based advocacy organization, at a recent event at The Museum of the City of New York, co-presented by the Museum and New America NYC.

Shepard was joined in discussion by Ashley White, a young graduate of the Green City Force Corps; Bomee Jung, Deputy Director of the New York City Office of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.; and Donnel Baird, founder of BlocPower, all of whom confronted head on common assumptions that sustainable development is more expensive and makes little economic sense. On the contrary, a healthy environment requires — and helps reinforce — a healthy economy.

Shepard, who co-founded WE ACT almost 25 years ago, first got turned on to the intersection between environment and economy as the Democratic district leader in her West Harlem neighborhood, where various utility mismanagement struggles came across her radar. Long-neglected and releasing noxious emissions into a residential neighborhood already plagued by poor levels of air quality, the North River Sewage Treatment Plant was a particular problem in Shepard’s district. Another was the absence of an efficient and functional bus depot in northern Manhattan.

The green benefits for the community in advocating for a more environmentally compliant treatment facility and an alternative fuel-operated bus depot were obvious. But WE ACT managed to achieve those benefits while simultaneously creating new jobs and ensuring more long-term government accountability in maintaining both facilities. In both cases, the community was key to a successful outcome, Shepard said. WE ACT’s wins were directly born out of using “models of community organizing and public policy [that allow] residents [to] integrate in and directly influence policy.”

WE ACT’s community-centered approach has caught on in addressing all types of environmental and economic issues — affordable housing development, urban gardening and food distribution, and alternative energy, to name a few.

With her work with Green City Force Corps, White acknowledged the constructive power of the community in the huge gains her organization has made. They have planted urban farms in otherwise unused lots which have yielded 3.6 tons of new of produce by and for residents of Red Hook, Brooklyn, a lower-resourced neighborhood often considered a “food desert.”

In many of the same communities, Jung’s work has transformed amassed assets – the resources accrued by developers through market-race contracts along with the government and tax incentives they receive for committing to new ownership and new building within the city — directly into policy solutions by adjusting city planning regulations for building contracts to include provisions for affordable housing developments that adhere to higher environmental standards. At BlocPower, Baird is leading the effort to invest in public-private partnerships and employ solar and energy efficiency technology to slash both energy consumption and cost.

Taken together, these four pioneers are just a few of the cohort of entrepreneurs working to prove that—through the right combined forces of local empowerment, public and government investment, and private sector support—we can be greener, healthier, and more productive while becoming more economically viable.

To be sure, there’s still work to be done. Shepard observed that government still hasn’t become effectively responsive to community needs. If our environmental footprint is going to get any better, Shepard noted, residents and neighborhood stakeholders have to be put at “the center of efforts for change so they become informed and empowered enough to take their own actions.” Just think: if more residents and fewer bureaucrats were invited to testify in front of city planning commissions and participate in green task forces, how much more consensus and momentum could be generated?

If urban green innovators like Shepard, White, Baird, and Jung are any indication, the environmental-economic future looks bright, but that doesn’t mean they they’re resting comfortably on the laurels of their breakthroughs. To the contrary, they’re always thinking about the next big benchmark for progress. In a society where dollars gained and lost are the go-to arbiters of risk and success, there are still too few companies that see their business impacts outside of environmental terms, and vice versa. But if we see environmental justice as connected to — and often the same as — economic justice, they both win.

As Shepard put it, environmental activism isn’t just about “stopping the bad stuff,” but about cultivating a system that creates the new — new technology, new partnerships, and (sooner than we think) new ways of thinking about the world we all want to live in.

Tyler S. Bugg is the New America NYC associate for New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Environment

Stronger El Niño Could Bring Drought Relief to California

A sign referencing the drought is posted on the side of the road on April 24, 2015 in Firebaugh, California.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A sign referencing the drought is posted on the side of the road on April 24, 2015 in Firebaugh, California.

Wetter season for the Golden State "on the table," NOAA official says

The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to be stronger and last longer in the Northern Hemisphere than originally anticipated, U.S. weather forecasters said Thursday — raising the possibility that it could bring much-needed rain to drought-stricken California.

The cyclical weather event has an 80% chance of continuing in the Northern Hemisphere through the end of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). El Niño usually lasts several years, beginning with warming in the Pacific Ocean and affecting weather patterns across the globe.

“We’ve seen continued evolution toward a stronger event,” NOAA official Mike Halpert told TIME. “Last month we were calling it weak, now we’re calling it borderline weak to moderate.”

The new prediction make it likelier that El Niño could provide California some relief from its devastating, years-long drought. Five out of six times there’s been a strong El Niño, Northern California has been wetter than average. But forecasters hesitated to say for certain whether it would last long enough to make a difference. “While that’s certainly on the table as a possible outcome we just don’t have enough confidence,” Halpert said.

Australian authorities predicted a “substantial” El Niño event earlier this week. But while a strong El Niño has the potential to improve drought conditions in the U.S. the opposite is true in Australia. Authorities worry that unusual weather patterns caused by the phenomenon would exacerbate the country’s own severe drought with below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures.

“Stronger El Niños interrupt tropical rainfalls. That rain fall shifts and Indonesia and Austrailia become drier than average,” explained Halpert. “They’re not looking forward to El Niño shutting the tap off.”

 

TIME Courts

Duke Energy to Pay $102 Million in Fines for Illegal Polluting

In this April 25, 2014 photo, Bryant Gobble, left, hugs his wife, Sherry Gobble, right, as they look from their yard across an ash pond full of dead trees toward Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station in Dukeville, N.C.
Chuck Burton—AP In this April 25, 2014 photo, Bryant Gobble, left, hugs his wife, Sherry Gobble, right, as they look from their yard across an ash pond full of dead trees toward Duke Energy's Buck Steam Station in Dukeville, N.C.

It's the nation's largest electricity company

(GREENVILLE, N.C.)—Duke Energy has pleaded guilty in federal court to environmental crimes and has agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

The company’s plea to nine misdemeanor counts involving violations of the Clean Water Act was part of a negotiated settlement with federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors say the nation’s largest electricity company engaged in unlawful dumping at coal-fired power plants in Eden, Moncure, Asheville, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

The investigation into Duke began last February after a pipe collapsed under a coal ash dump at the Eden plant, coating 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. However, prosecutors said that Duke’s illegal dumping had been going back for years, to at least 2010.

Duke has said in statements and court filings that the costs of the settlement will be borne by its shareholders, not passed on to its electricity customers.

Environmental groups hailed the charges as vindication for their years of efforts to get regulators to hold Duke accountable for the pollution leaking from 32 coal ash dumps at 14 power plants scattered across the state. The ash, which is the waste left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains such toxic heavy metals as arsenic, selenium, chromium and mercury.

The Associated Press reported last year that environmental groups tried three times in 2013 to sue Duke under the Clean Water Act to force the company to clean up its leaky coal ash dumps. The groups said they were forced to sue after North Carolina regulators failed to act on evidence conservationists gathered of ongoing groundwater contamination at Duke’s dumps.

But each time, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the act to take enforcement action in state court.

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who worked at Duke for 29 years, then proposed what environmentalists derided as a “sweetheart deal” under which the Charlotte-based company worth more than $50 billion would have paid fines of just $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater leeching from two of its plants. That agreement, which included no requirement that Duke immediately stop or clean up the pollution, was pulled amid intense criticism after the Dan River spill.

TIME animals

More Than 40% of Bee Hives Died in Past Year, Survey Says

Some states saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey

(WASHINGTON) — More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer, according to a federal survey.

Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” said study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”

But it’s not quite as dire as it sounds. That’s because after a colony dies, beekeepers then split their surviving colonies, start new ones, and the numbers go back up again, said Delaplane and study co-author Dennis van Engelsdorp of the University of Maryland.

What shocked the entomologists is that is the first time they’ve noticed bees dying more in the summer than the winter, said vanEngelsdorp said. The survey found beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their colonies this summer. That’s up from 19.8 percent the previous summer.

Seeing massive colony losses in summer is like seeing “a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter,” vanEngelsdorp said. “You just don’t expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer.”

Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin all saw more than 60 percent of their hives die since April 2014, according to the survey.

“Most of the major commercial beekeepers get a dark panicked look in their eyes when they discuss these losses and what it means to their businesses,” said Pennsylvania State University entomology professor Diana Cox-Foster. She wasn’t part of the study, but praised it.

Delaplane and vanEngelsdorp said a combination of mites, poor nutrition and pesticides are to blame for the bee deaths. USDA bee scientist Jeff Pettis said last summer’s large die-off included unusual queen loss and seemed worse in colonies that moved more.

Dick Rogers, chief beekeeper for pesticide-maker Bayer, said the loss figure is “not unusual at all” and said the survey shows an end result of more colonies now than before: 2.74 million hives in 2015, up from 2.64 million in 2014.

That doesn’t mean bee health is improving or stable, vanEngelsdorp said. After they lose colonies, beekeepers are splitting their surviving hives to recover their losses, pushing the bees to their limits, Delaplane said.

TIME Environment

Cost to Enter Yellowstone National Park Going Up

Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July 2011
Anick Jesdanun—AP Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July 2011

The bump should boost the park's revenue by about $3 million annually

(YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo.) — Beginning June 1, it will cost more to visit Yellowstone National Park.

The National Park Service announced Monday that the entrance fee to the first national park will increase to $30 per vehicle. The current fee is $25. The pass is good for seven days.

In addition, the pass will no longer cover the entrance fees for both Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming.

If people want to visit both within seven days, they must buy a new $50 pass, which saves them $10 but is double the current charge.

The higher fees will boost the park’s revenue by about $3 million a year.

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk says that will help fund various park projects.

Yellowstone last raised its entrance fee in 2006.

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