TIME Environment

Private-Island Owners Fret About Climate Change

Necker Island
Getty Images Necker Island

"We have 11 islands here and we'd like to keep it that way," David Copperfield says

No man is an island when it comes to climate change — even if he owns one.

Famed illusionist David Copperfield is among the few handfuls of A-list celebrities and billionaire businessmen who own private islands around the world. But he’s also part of an even more exclusive club: Island owners who say they are concerned about climate change and are making efforts to address its impacts.

“It’s something I’m extremely concerned about,” Copperfield, who owns Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay, a private island resort off Great Exuma in the Bahamas, told NBC News. “We have 11 islands here and we’d like to keep it that way…”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME History

The Christian Roots of Modern Environmentalism

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Time Life Pictures—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Presbyterianism inspired Teddy Roosevelt's conservationist zeal

Like only a handful of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt lives in our memory and popular culture. He is the bespectacled face gazing from Mount Rushmore, the namesake for the teddy bear, and the advice-giving Rough Rider, played by Robin Williams in the movie Night at the Museum. We remember him, too, as the trust buster who broke up monopolies, the avid outdoorsman and conservationist who preserved parks, forests, and wildlife, and the politician who crusaded for a “fair deal,” a just and equitable society that works for everyone.

Yet Roosevelt’s colorful life and accomplishments distract us from an essential part of him: the profoundly moralistic worldview that fired his progressive zeal. Some recent biographers go so far as to overlook this element of his character completely, but Roosevelt’s friends and colleagues recognized in him, in the words of one friend, “the greatest preacher of righteousness in modern times. Deeply religious beneath the surface, he made right living seem the natural thing, and there was no man beyond the reach of his preaching and example.” As Senator Henry Cabot Lodge mused, “The blood of some ancestral Scotch Covenanter or of some Dutch Reformed preacher facing the tyranny of Philip of Spain was in his veins, and with his large opportunities and his vast audiences he was always ready to appeal for justice and righteousness.”

Lodge astutely singled out the Calvinist traditions in Roosevelt’s ancestry: the Dutch Reformed Church on his father’s side and the Scottish Presbyterian Church (whose Covenanters fought the tyranny of England’s Charles I) on his mother’s, not to mention his own upbringing in New York’s Madison Square Presbyterian Church. How significant Roosevelt’s religious origins were really struck home to me when I realized how many national leaders of the Progressive Era shared them. I had been looking at the denominational origins of major American environmentalists and already knew how dominant people raised Presbyterian, often with ministers in the family, were during its rise. Still, when I turned to progressivism I was unprepared for the extent to which Presbyterians ran the show. Non-Presbyterian presidents held office a mere eight-and-a-half years between 1885 and 1921. Of those born in the church, —Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—two, Cleveland and Wilson, were sons of ministers. Only two Presidents before Cleveland were raised Presbyterian, and none after Wilson has been.

I wondered what all this Presbyterianism could mean for progressivism, a movement that included people of all faiths, and what this religious strain in politics meant for crusades that these days might be typically colored strictly “red” or “blue.”

Progressives grew up in an era in which big money corrupted politics, large corporations dominated the economy, and environmental crises threatened the natural world – forces that might rouse the ire of those on the “blue” side of the spectrum today. But the situation was a call to arms for those who were steeped in the Calvinist demand for a righteous society, a kind of moralizing that might be more considered on the “red” side of the current spectrum.

At this time in history, though, it was the progressives who were the evangelicals out to spread righteousness in the nation. Censorious Presbyterians attacked greed and avarice with a special vengeance, as the sins that prompted Eve to reach for the forbidden fruit and exile us all from the Garden.

I realized how easily Presbyterian evangelical righteousness translated from church pulpits to political podiums. This church imbued Roosevelt and his fellow progressive leaders with the moral courage to take on the concentrated wealth that corrupted American democracy and dominated the economy. When in 1901 Roosevelt found himself with “such a bully pulpit,” in his famous phrase, no wonder that he impressed people as a preacher of righteousness.

This same moral courage was necessary to drive American environmentalism. Calvinist churches fostered a particularly strong interest in nature and natural history; John Calvin himself regarded nature as a place where God drew nearest and communicated himself and he spoke of the natural world as the theater of his glory. To many Calvinists, nature study had an aura of sanctity as a moral occupation for men, women, and children alike. God, they said, gave natural resources to humans to use for the common good, but not sinfully to waste or turn to greedy or selfish purposes.

Under Harrison, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Wilson, national government made dramatic strides in conservation. They expanded National Parks from one to two dozen, organized the Park Service, created millions of acres of National Forests, established the Forest Service, and named and promulgated conservation. They had essential assistance from their Secretaries of Interior (parks) and Agriculture (forests), who during the heyday of conservation between 1889 and 1946 were Presbyterians in three years out of four. For Wilson, a Southerner little interested in conservation, Interior Secretary Franklin Lane was prime instigator of major parks expansion and organization.

Roosevelt was the unexcelled exemplar of this passion for nature and moralism about its use. As a boy, he created a zoo in his home and learned taxidermy to preserve specimens. At Harvard, he originally intended to study natural history. After he chose a career in politics, he was an unusually knowledgeable ornithologist and published books on natural history, hunting, and his wilderness adventures. Aptly, as vice president, Roosevelt was climbing Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks when he learned William McKinley had died and he was now president.

Roosevelt believed government must protect nature and natural resources against the rapacious forces of self-interested avarice. “Conservation is a great moral issue,” he asserted. “I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few.” As president, he added five National Parks, created the first 18 National Monuments, quadrupled the acreage of National Forests, established the first 51 bird refuges and four game refuges, oversaw the first irrigation projects and several major dams, and made the new term “conservation” the cornerstone of his political agenda.

After he died in 1919, Roosevelt inspired many to carry on with his work. One was the fervent progressive Harold Ickes, who said of the moment he learned of Roosevelt’s death, “something went out of my life that has never been replaced.” Unsurprisingly, Ickes was a Presbyterian who once intended to go into the ministry. One friend even called him “furiously righteous.” Among his many acts as Secretary of Interior in the administration of Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin, he desegregated the National Parks and added the first four parks intended to remain as undeveloped wilderness: Everglades, Olympic, Kings Canyon, and Isle Royale. His career was a fitting capstone to the great era of progressive Presbyterianism.

Mark Stoll is an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He is the author most recently of Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism.

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

How Draining Global Groundwater Supplies Could Harm the Food Supply

wheat stalks grain
Getty Images

Correction appended, July 1, 2015

The lack of rain caused by the California drought has left farmers desperate for water. With nowhere else to look, many have turned to ground water buried deep beneath the Earth’s surface. But this isn’t the first time American farmers have turned to groundwater. Indeed, more than 40% of irrigated agriculture in the U.S. relies on groundwater.

Now, a new study in the journal PNAS shows how reliance on a finite supply of groundwater for agriculture threatens global food security. More than 18% of the U.S. supply of so-called cereal grains like corn, rice and wheat depends on a limited supply of groundwater found deep below the earth in aquifers, researchers found.

“Eventually these groundwater resources will no longer be able to produce food,” said study author Megan Konar, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “If there are cereal shortages, that has direct consequences for people’s ability to consume enough calories.”

Trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater are hidden beneath the Earth’s surface, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. The supply is still finite even if that number sounds immense, Konar says. Unlike lakes and rivers, which can quickly replenish with new rainfall, aquifers collect water over centuries and millennia. Even if groundwater didn’t disappear entirely, continuing to exploit aquifers could ultimately make tapping groundwater for irrigation too costly for farmers.

For the study, researchers evaluated data on virtual groundwater use to determine which areas rely most on overextended groundwater aquifers. Virtual groundwater refers to the transfer of water via products, agricultural and otherwise, rather than direct water use. The study included the Central Valley Aquifer in California, the High Plains Aquifer in the central U.S. and the Mississippi Embayment Aquifer in the area surrounding the Mississippi River.

Within the U.S., the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and New Orleans topped the list of cities most reliant on groundwater aquifers. The implications of the study extend globally. Around 10% of cereal grains in Japan, Taiwan and Panama come from U.S. sources that rely on groundwater aquifers.

Still, policymakers could institute reforms to wean the agricultural sector’s reliance on groundwater and treat the water as reserves for when times get tough, like the current California drought. Crops that require high volumes of water—such as rice and corn—could be grown in areas with more rainfall, for instance, Konar says. The agricultural sector could also grow different crops that rely on less water altogether.

Despite these potential solutions, Konar says policymakers still need to weigh the costs of changing food production patterns. “It’s a tradeoff between future food security and current agricultural production,” she said.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Megan Konar. She is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Blocks Key Obama Environmental Rule

The EPA rule regulates mercury emissions from power plants

The Supreme Court ruled Monday against a key Obama policy aimed at limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. The decision is a blow for environmentalists and a dent in President Obama’s legacy on the environment.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the rule violated a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires regulations to be “appropriate and necessary.”

Trade groups representing the energy industry argued that a cost-benefit analysis was needed to determine whether the regulation was necessary. In their estimation, Obama’s rule cost nearly $10 billion annually for a mere $6 million in benefits. The EPA contested those numbers, but also emphasized the health benefits of the regulation. The rule could have halted up to 11,000 premature deaths each year, according to the EPA.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by the Court’s four other conservative justices, and Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent.

“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” said Scalia from the bench on Monday. “No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good.”

Coal power plants emit about half of all the mercury that enters the environment in the U.S. each year. The toxin can cause a variety of ailments, and even death, when it contaminates the food supply.

TIME Government

National Park Service Aims to Stop Sales of Confederate Flags

Confederate flag
Daniel Cooper&—Getty Images

The request was voluntary

Please seems to be the word of the day from the National Park Service, which is asking but not requiring that its associated retailers join a growing effort to stop the sale of Confederate flags and related products in the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre.

According to the Washington Post, spokeswoman Kathy Kupper wrote in an email Wednesday that “The National Park Service is asking its cooperating associations, concessions, and partners to voluntarily withdraw sales in their stores of Confederate flags and other items, such as stickers, that depict the Confederate flag as a stand-alone feature.”

The request comes after major U.S. retailers—including Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and eBay—pledged this week to stop selling Confederate flag-themed merchandise. A number of small and large retailers have pulled Confederate-related products from their offerings in response to mounting pressure after pictures of the man charged in the killings of nine black people emerged, showing him posing with the flag.

If successful, the request could have wide-reaching effects. The National Park Service is entrusted with the care of more than 400 parks across the nation, and its response to the Post noted more than 70 of them—including cemeteries, homes and other sites—”have resources that are related to the history of the Civil War.”

[Washington Post]


Here’s How Much Money Americans Are Losing From Trashed Food

Woman Collects Refundable Bottles In Brooklyn
Robert Nickelsberg—Getty Images

The wasted cash annoys nearly 80% of those surveyed

Americans may be more environmentally conscious and health food-oriented these days, but that isn’t preventing each person from trashing $640 worth of food, on average, each year, according to a USA Today report.

The newspaper cites data from the American Chemistry Council that show 76% of us dump leftovers almost every month, despite the popularity of leftovers for meals — apparently over half of us use them for new meals, such as lunch. The American Chemistry Council tabulated its results by surveying 1,000 people.

According to the publication:

The wasted money bugs 79%, and 45% are bothered because other people don’t have enough to eat, but just 15% say they’re bothered by the impact on the environment.

“For years we’ve been told to finish your plate, there are hungry people,” said Steve Russell, the vice president of plastics at ACC, in an interview with USA Today. “I just don’t think we’ve done a good enough job yet talking about the environmental impacts of food waste.”

TIME Environment

Lake Mead Reservoir Hits Record Low

Prompting concerns about a possible water shortage

Lake Mead, the Arizona-Nevada reservoir that stores water for some western U.S. states and Mexico, reached a record low on Tuesday, falling below the level that could trigger a water supply shortage.

If the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the lake won’t rise above 1,075 ft. by January—it just hit 1,074.99—then it will announce a shortage in August, The Arizona Republic reports. Water managers are optimistic that won’t happen thanks to an unexpectedly wet spring, but the record low suggests water users are taking more from the Colorado River than it can really provide.

“This is the check-engine light,” Drew Beckwith, water-policy manager with the Western Resource Advocates, told the paper. “It really does [make critical] the fact that we have to start changing.”

[The Arizona Republic]



TIME Environment

Americans Throw Away $640 Worth of Food Each Year

Environmental impacts of food waste aren't a great concern, a new survey shows

Americans toss $640 worth of food each year, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Though more than half of Americans say they reuse leftovers for new meals, 76% of the 1,000 adults surveyed say they throw away leftovers at least once a month; 53% say they do so once a week, the American Chemistry Council found.

All that wasted food makes Americans unhappy, but for different reasons. An overwhelming majority (79%) say they’re bothered by the wasted money spent on thrown-out food, 45% say they’re bothered because other people in the world are hungry and 15% say they’re concerned about the environment. The EPA says food waste makes up 20% of landfill content and releases the greenhouse gas methane as it rots.

“For years we’ve been told to finish your plate, there are hungry people,” Steve Russell, vice president of plastics at ACC, told USA Today. “I just don’t think we’ve done a good enough job yet talking about the environmental impacts of food waste.”

TIME energy

California Oil Spill Forces Exxon Mobil to Halt Drilling

The company had submitted an emergency request to Santa Barbara County to truck its oil to refineries, which was rejected

Exxon Mobil stopped drilling at three offshore platforms in California last week in the wake of a pipeline’s closure after a big oil spill, the company said Tuesday.


A spokesman said the company had submitted an emergency request to Santa Barbara County to temporarily transport oil via truck, the Associated Press reports, but the County decided the situation didn’t constitute an emergency, leaving Exxon Mobil will little choice but to halt operations. Investigators looking into the cause of last month’s spill—of up to 101,000 gallons of crude onto the coastline—recently found a section of the pipe was extremely corroded.

Before last week, Exxon Mobil had been producing a third of the oil it typically produces from three oil rigs. The oil was stored in an onshore facility that has now reached capacity.


TIME China

Could China, the World’s Biggest Carbon Emitter, Ever Go Green?

Steam Train Provides Link Between China's Past And Present
Kevin Frayer—Getty Images Coal to be used by coal powered steam engines is seen backdropped by a coal fired power plant on March 27, 2015 at a station near the town of Shixi , Sichuan Province, in Southern China

Beijing is making big pledges but faces serious implementation challenges

Its cities are cloaked in smog, the water is polluted and the economy is hugely reliant on coal, the dirtiest form of energy. But now, China is trying to change its reputation as the world’s worst polluter.

A recent study conducted by the London School of Economics says that, if all goes as planned, China may start reducing its C02 emissions by 2025 — five years sooner than the year pledged by President Xi Jinping.

Climate-change reformers say that in order to reduce such emissions, coal is the first thing that has to go. Many Western countries are struggling to meet this goal. Five G-7 nations have actually increased their coal use in the past five years, while countries like Australia hope to continue building their economy off of the fossil fuel.

It’s not going to be easy for China either. In the past year, the country has reduced coal use by 2.9%. But, according to a report by the Guardian, it still produced 3.87 billion tons of coal during the same period. A recent Greenpeace report states that China builds the equivalent of a coal plant a week.

The country’s rapid economic growth is largely to blame for its reliance on dirty energy. “The energy-use increase is actually pretty much following the GDP curve,” Professor Aleksandra B. Djurišić, who studies solar cell energy at Hong Kong University, tells TIME. “The regulations on the environment are not up to the level of developed countries.”

Djurišić thinks history will repeat itself. Like China, the U.S. relied heavily on coal to fuel its economy as it developed in the 19th century, fouling its environment as it did so. Environmental regulations only began to tighten much later, around the 1970s. “[In China,] you are looking at the situation that Europe or the U.S. was in 50 or 60 years ago,” Djurišić says.

Fergus Green, a policy analyst who helped pen the LSE report, is optimistic that the nature of the economy and Chinese GDP growth is poised to change, “shifting investments away from heavy industrial, factories and steel plants and toward more investment in services and higher value added manufacturing.” The government also plans to move away from coal and toward new forms of energy like hydroelectricity, wind and solar, Green said.

Beijing has certainly set some ambitious goals for itself. The central government’s 12th Five-Year plan, published in 2011, listed sustainable growth as one of the country’s top priorities. It has started creating incentives for companies to invest in renewable energy and has been investing heavily in the solar industry, driving the price of solar panels down globally. It’s also told local leaders that along with regional GDP growth, they will be judged on their ability to promote sustainable growth.

Li Shuo, a senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace, commends China for pledging to reduce carbon emissions. “The new momentum created by China’s coal decline, the major U.S.-China joint climate statement last year, and the latest G-7 declaration should all help secure the delivery of [an agreement at December’s Paris Climate talks],” he wrote in an email to TIME.

The government has come under criticism for not moving quickly enough, however, and for continuing to make economic growth too much of a priority. “They have to do something because the air quality is a disaster, but how quickly that is going to go, I’m really not very optimistic,” Djurišić says.

Some reports say that air quality has improved, at least in Beijing, in recent years. But the country’s population continues to criticize the state of the environment. Last year a documentary called Under the Dome gave a searing portrayal of pollution in the country. After it received hundreds of millions of views, the Chinese government blocked it from being viewed online.

The central government should also expect significant implementation challenges. Coal reduction doesn’t mean coal elimination — the economy still relies heavily on the fossil fuel. With many provinces to control, the central government will also have a tough time convincing local leaders that it makes economic sense for them to invest into more expensive renewable energy. “It costs less to pollute than to obey the rules,” Shuo said.

Some hope that the market will start slowly shifting in a greener direction on its own, as Chinese citizens become increasingly frustrated with the environmental degradation of the country. “Everyone’s living in a soup of air pollution and water you can’t drink,” Sean Kidney, the president of the Climate Bonds Initiative, says. Kidney’s organization encourages companies to seek out investments for green projects, then pay investors back incrementally through a “green” bond agreement once the project is implemented.

He thinks that China is poised to become one of the biggest issuers of “green” bonds in the next five years. “There are about $150 billion worth of domestic bonds that we would call green in terms of how the proceeds are used,” Kidney says.

The case shouldn’t be overstated, however: green bonds are a mere drop in the ocean of China’s bond market, which is the world’s third largest, according to Goldman Sachs, and worth a staggering $4.24 trillion.

The LSE’s Green suggests that the government continues creating market and local incentives to meet its long-term goals. It could also tax coal more heavily, he opines. But all of these changes will take time, especially in a country as vast as China. “China’s not an economy where the President pushes a button and everything turns around,” Kidney says. “It’s a supertanker … a tough supertanker to shift.”

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