TIME cities

New York City Bans Single-Use Styrofoam Products

New York City Poised To Ban Styrofoam Food Containers
A food cart worker filled a styrofoam take-out container for a customer in New York in 2013. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Ban will go into effect July 1

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office in 2013, but his plan to ban styrofoam is finally coming to fruition.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced Thursday that stores, food service establishments and manufacturers won’t be able to possess, sell or offer single-use styrofoam containers or cups — even “packing peanuts” — beginning July 1. The reason is purely environmental, as Expanded Polystyrene Foam cannot be recycled.

“These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City. We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less,” said de Blasio. “By removing nearly 30,000 tons of expanded polystyrene waste from our landfills, streets and waterways, today’s announcement is a major step towards our goal of a greener, greater New York City.”

The containers are popular not only in restaurants that offer a takeout option but also among the hundreds of food carts and trucks that populate New York’s streets. Such vendors will have to seek out recyclable alternatives, though businesses with less than $500,ooo in annual revenue can apply for exemptions if using alternative containers would cause “undue financial hardship.”

Though New York is the largest city to ban this type of “dirty foam,” other cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have enacted similar measures.

TIME Environment

Study Links Ohio Earthquakes to Fracking

Ohio Oil Fracking
A rig hand works the controls while changing out a drill pipe at a Knox Energy Inc. oil drilling site in Knox County, Ohio, U.S., on Dec. 8, 2014. Ty Wright—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Fracking wells near fault lines induced the quakes

Fracking wells close to fault lines induced a series of earthquakes in Ohio, according to a new study that paints a clearer picture of the link between the controversial drilling practice and earth tremors.

The study, published this week in The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, found that fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, may have built up subterranean pressure and caused slippage in an existing fault that contributed to dozens of mild earthquakes in Poland Township, Ohio, in March. Two of the earthquakes were large enough to be felt, though they did not do any damage. The study was reported by the New York Times.

Wells further away from the fault line were not related to the tremors, according to the study.

“It appears you have to be quite close to the fault for fracking operations to trigger earthquakes,” Michael R. Brudzinski, a seismologist at Miami University in Ohio and the co-author of the study, told the Times. “Having that sort of information helps us to see that this stuff is pretty rare.”

The research adds to growing concern among geologists that fracking can cause or intensify earthquakes. In April, scientists said for the first time that the Ohio earthquakes were linked to the gas extraction process, prompting Ohio to issue strict permit conditions.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources told the Times that existing fracking wells were still in production but further fracking has been banned. New York State banned the drilling technique last week, citing concerns over water and air contamination.

[NYT]

TIME Environment

2014 Was Officially the Hottest Year on Record

Statewide Drought Takes Toll On California's Lake Oroville Water Level
The Enterprise Bridge passes over a section of Lake Oroville that is nearly dry on August 19, 2014 in Oroville, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

And all 10 of the hottest years on record have come after 1998

Scientists have declared 2014 officially the hottest year on record.

The temperature data was released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Association (JMA), one of the four major global temperature record-keepers to do so. The other three are NASA and the NOAA in the U.S., and the Hadley Center in the U.K.

JMA’s preliminary data indicate that 2014’s global average surface temperature was the warmest since 1891, the start of the data. Specifically, it was 0.27°C (0.5°F) greater than that of the period from 1981 to 2010. With 2014 in the lead, the second hottest year on record is now 1998. Both 2013 and 2010 are tied for third, while 2005 is tied for fifth.

All 10 of the hottest years on record have come after 1998, which many scientists attribute to global warming, according to Scientific American.

In 2014, several regions in the world smashed their heat records. California hit record-high temperatures, inducing one of the worst drought’s in history. Australia also hit unprecedented high temperatures in January — and the continent’s so hot this year, too, that people are already frying eggs on sidewalks.

 

TIME Environment

A Study of Belize’s Blue Hole Finds That the Mayans Perished Due to Drought

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The Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Belize Mlenny—Getty Images

Famous underwater cave offers sedimentary evidence

The ancient Mayan civilization, known for its monumental contributions to art, science, astronomy and architecture, was probably wiped off the earth by a 100-year drought.

Although drought has been previously theorized as one of the causes of the Mesoamerican civilization’s decline, a new study of underwater sediments off the coast of Belize lends further credence to that argument. The study was conducted by a team led by André Droxler, an earth scientist at Rice University in Houston, who told Live Science that he analyzed data from multiple places in the former Mayan heartland.

The researchers extracted minerals from Belize’s famous underwater cave known as the Blue Hole and the lagoons that surround it, and on analyzing them found evidence of a drought between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900 — a period that coincides with the Mayan decline.

Droxler also found that in the two centuries leading up to A.D. 1000, there were only one or two tropical cyclones every two decades as opposed to the usual five or six.

“When you have major droughts, you start to get famine and unrest,” he said.

[Live Science]

TIME Australia

Australia Hunts for Killer Great White With a Spear in Its Throat

The victim’s friend says he managed to fire a spear at the shark.

Authorities are searching for a shark that killed a 17-year-old on Monday off Cheynes Beach in Western Australia.

Jay Muscat, 17, died after he was bitten in the leg while spearfishing, the second deadly shark attack in Australia in two weeks, the Associated Press reports. A friend who was spearfishing with him says he managed to fire a spear at the shark.

“The shark turned and came for me, I pushed the speargun down its throat and fired the gun!,” he wrote on Facebook, according to the AFP. “This is something no one should ever have to see.”

A spokesman for the state fisheries department, Carlo Vittiglia, told the AP that the shark is believed to be a great white up to 16-feet long. In recent years, there have been an average of two deadly shark attacks a year in Australia.

[AP]

TIME Environment

Obama Has Taken Alaska’s Bristol Bay Off the Market for Drilling

Pebble Mine in Alaska
Dillingham, Alaska, a fishing community of 2,300 is the largest town and hub of the Bristol Bay region. Anchorage Daily News—MCT via Getty Images

The order indefinitely extends protection that was due to expire in 2017

President Barack Obama on Tuesday listed Alaska’s Bristol Bay as a no-go zone for oil and gas drilling, promising to protect the coastal area’s booming fisheries, as well as preserve a linchpin of Native American heritage.

The bay, home to a $2 billion annual fishing industry, supplies some 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and supports local indigenous communities, the White House said in a press statement. Obama’s order indefinitely extends short-term protection for the area that was granted in 2010 and due to expire in 2017.

The Alaskan region is home to the biggest wild sockeye salmon run in the world, as well as numerous threatened species, including the endangered North Pacific Right Whale.

TIME Environment

This Is How Much Water California Needs to Recover From Its Drought

California Drought NASA
NASA GRACE satellite data reveal the severity of California’s drought on water resources across the state. This map shows the trend in water storage between September 2011 and September 2014. NASA JPL

According to a new analysis on the impact of the three-year drought

California needs about 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from its three-year drought, according to a new NASA analysis, providing the first-ever calculation of this kind.

The figure, equivalent to about 1.5 times the maximum volume of the biggest U.S. reservoir, was determined by using NASA climate satellites to measure the water storage in the region’s river basins, which is one index for measuring drought severity, the agency said in a statement released Tuesday. The data reveals that since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased by 4 trillion gallons of water each year — more water than the state’s 38 million residents use annually.

Scientists said that while recent storms in California have helped the state replenish its water supply, a full recovery will take much longer. “It takes years to get into a drought of this severity,” said Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it.”

TIME energy

New Republican Congress’ First Order of Business: Keystone Pipeline

GOP Congress Agenda
In this Oct. 4, 2012 file photo, large sections of pipe are shown in Sumner, Texas. Republicans are counting on a swift vote in early 2015 on building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast now that Republicans clearly have the numbers in the Senate. Tony Gutierrez—AP

It'll set up a confrontation with President Obama.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the first priority for the new Republican-controlled Senate next year would be to pass a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up an early confrontation with an Obama Administration hesitant to ignite opposition from its green supporters.

“We’ll be starting next year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” said McConnell.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a top Republican on the Energy Committee, said that the bipartisan measure was important as it would “basically set the table” for the new Congress. Both McConnell and Murkowski pledged that the bill would be open for amendments and acknowledged the fear that senators could bring unrelated ones that could sink the bill. Their hope is that most senators would prefer “regular order” instead of tactics that limit rank-and-file members’ influence. Many senators, including some Democrats, grew frustrated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for limiting the amendment process to protect vulnerable members of his party during the midterm cycle.

“When we say it’s open for amendments, it’s open for amendments,” said Murkowski. “Santa Claus is going to be keeping me awake, not worrying about what’s going to come.”

Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline has been a dream for senators from the Great Plains to the Gulf of Mexico. In her failed reelection bid, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu fell one vote short of rallying enough of her fellow Democrats to pass the bill a few weeks ago.

The 1,179-mile pipeline has been blocked for years despite a State Department report concluding that it would not have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions. But study also found that it would create a small number of permanent jobs—around 50—and was published before a dramatic drop in oil and gas prices that could boost environmentalists’ opposition of the pipeline. The Keystone pipeline’s fate could also be taken out of Congress’ hands entirely, depending on a Nebraska court case that could alter its path down the heart of the country.

TIME Environment

Seattle Nonprofit Group Advocates for Composting of Human Remains

The process requires no toxic embalming

People may soon have a new option for how they want to be laid to rest, if one Seattle-area nonprofit gets its way.

The Urban Death Project, a nonprofit group founded in 2011 by architect Katrina Spade, proposes human composting as an alternative to human burial, which requires overcrowded, unsustainable cemeteries, Reuter reports. UDP’s plan is to build a large concrete composting facility in Seattle for human remains, peppered with places of reflection for visitors. Following a ceremony, bodies would be laid in the composting structure, and several weeks later, the remains would be enough to plant a tree or a bed of flowers.

“The idea is to fold the dead back into the city,” she told Reuters. “The options we currently have for our bodies are lacking, both from an environmental standpoint, but also, and perhaps more importantly, from a meaning standpoint.”

Composting bodies would also require no embalming, since decomposition is the goal.

But the idea hasn’t gotten off the ground—or into the ground—quite yet. In addition to getting a funeral home license, Urban Death Project faces zoning challenges that regulate composting. And recycling human remains isn’t an accepted mode of body disposal yet. For the project to work, Washington state law, which requires corpses to be buried, cremated, donated to science or transferred from the state, would have to change, Reuters reports.

“There will be some regulatory work to do, but I’m confident,” Spade told Reuters. “People want this option.”

[Reuters]

TIME climate change

The Unexpected Animal Group Dying from Climate Change

tree-frog
Getty Images

It's affecting more than mammals

WSF logo small

The canary in the coal mine of climate change may actually be something a little less feathery and a lot more slimy: Amphibians. Many of these creatures have already been in decline due to disease, and climate changes appear to be accelerating the problem.

Jason Rohr, a University of South Florida biologist, says that some amphibians are already being forced to shift the timing of their breeding in response to climate change. Salamanders in the Appalachian mountains are shrinking. As climate trends continue, Rohr says we can expect to see amphibians further altering their behavior, moving to new grounds, and expect more overall declines in species.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: What Will The Humans Do About Climate Change?

In the Western U.S., climate change is adding to the problems of amphibians already threatened by introduced predators. Starting in the late 1800s, wildlife officials have been stocking previously fish-free ponds and lakes across the western U.S with predatory trout. For a time, native frogs and salamanders were able to retreat to shallower ponds and waterways, but now a warming climate threatens to dry up these shelters—which are vital for both amphibian breeding and the survival of young tadpoles. To mitigate the damage, a group of researchers writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment recently recommended making use of hydrological models to evaluate the way climate change will affect amphibian habitats, and selectively removing fish from ponds.

“Amphibians in the West’s high-mountain areas find themselves in a vise, caught between climate-induced habitat loss and predation from introduced fish,” University of Washington researcher Maureen Ryan, a coauthor on the paper, said in a statement.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: How Climate Change Is Already Dooming Some Mammals

The problem is even more dire in South America and Latin America. Frogs in the genus Atelopus have been decimated—71 out of about 113 species have gone extinct. Many of these extinctions are thought to be driven by interactions between climatic conditions and other factors, primarily the deadly chytrid fungus. Some scientists have argued that the the frogs’ tropical mountain habitats have been made more welcoming to the fungus by climate change, which has promoted the formation of clouds that lower daytime temperatures and raise nighttime temperatures, removing the extreme temperatures that may have previously kept the fungus in check.

“Disease is the bullet killing frogs, but climate change is pulling the trigger,” J. Alan Pounds, a scientist at Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, told National Geographic.

Not all scientists are convinced that the spread of chytrid fungus is hastened by climate change—one 2008 study in particular suggested there was little link between the two, and some researchers have argued that the periodic warming cycle known as El Nino is more to blame for high-profile frog extinctions, like that of the golden toad.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: Your State Bird Could Be Extinct By 2080

But some of Rohr’s experiments looking directly at how frogs fight the fungus suggest that the temperature fluctuations linked to climate change shouldn’t be counted out just yet. In 2012, Rohr and colleagues found that the chytrid fungus thrives and kills more frogs in cooler environments—but that when frogs are suddenly switched from one temperature-controlled environment to the other, they fare even worse than frogs kept in a consistently hot or consistently cooler incubator. Frog extinctions are more complex than any one cause can explain.

As the climate changes in the future, the unique biology of amphibians may also make them less able to adapt to drier, hotter conditions than other groups of animals. “I think they are potentially at greater risk from desiccation than many organisms without permeable skin,” Rohr says. “Additionally, they are the most threatened vertebrate taxon on the planet, and thus they are already experiencing extremely high threats. Climate change could worsen this scenario.”

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

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