MONEY home improvement

Why 2 Iconic Household Status Symbols Are Disappearing

aerial view of homes with green lawns and pools
Colin Matthieu—Getty Images

The pool and lawn industrial complexes aren't happy.

As you may have heard, California is suffering from an epic drought. Strict new regulations have been put in place just this week to severely limit the water use of households and businesses. Even before these rules were adopted, city crews had begun patrolling neighborhoods to issue warnings—and, when appropriate, fines—to property owners caught wasting water. Starbucks was recently pressured into pulling the plug on its California bottled water operation, while one city (Cupertino) canceled its fireworks show for the Fourth of July because the field where it normally takes place would need 100,000 gallons of water to cope with the crowds.

Two incredibly common household features have been targeted as wasteful as well. One is the front lawn, which has been demonized for decades as especially unnatural, unnecessary, and costly in dry climates such as California’s. As the San Jose Mercury News reported in a story about the anti-lawn trend, “About half of California’s residential water use goes to landscaping, and much of that to watering lawns.” In wealthy communities where large lawns are common, landscaping can account for 70% or more of the household water use.

Throughout the state, rebates are available to help homeowners cover the cost of replacing lawns with more eco-friendly, low-maintenance landscaping. According to the Associated Press, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has experienced a 20-fold increase in rebate applications from homeowners interested in replacing their thirsty turf. In parts of northern California, rebates issued in the first four months of 2015 surpassed the total from all of 2014.

One Los Angeles homeowner explained how he didn’t need all of the $5,000 rebate he received to convert his lawn to drought-friendly lavender, sage, and pampas-style grasses, so he used the leftover funds to go on a cruise. He’ll be saving money each and every month now that he doesn’t have to water the lawn too.

The other common water waster that has been drawing heat is the private household pool, considered much more of an extravagance than a boring, basic lawn. It would seem to be more of an overt water waster too, what with tens of thousands of gallons needed in one shot just to fill the thing up.

It comes as no surprise, then, that many homeowners are giving up on their pools. In San Jose, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, pool removal permits have outnumbered installations by a factor of four. Restrictions in many municipalities that ban homeowners from filling new pools certainly play a role in owners deciding not to install pools in the first place.

Yet the pool industry lobby is arguing that pools aren’t nearly as wasteful as many people think. A new campaign called Let’s Pool Together notes that lawns require far more water than pools. Therefore, as screwy as it might sound, by installing a pool instead of an expanse of grass, a homeowner is actually supposedly saving water.

Environmental experts question the pool lobbyists’ math, noting that neither pools nor lawns help the water conservation effort. As for which wastes more water, Peter Gleick, president of the environment and sustainability research nonprofit Pacific Institute in Oakland, says that it’s basically a wash.

More importantly, the pool-vs-lawn debate misses the point. “These are luxuries, and we’re in a really bad drought,” Gleick explained to the AP. “Everybody needs to step up instead of pointing the finger at the other guy.”

TIME Environment

California Drought Leads City to Cancel Fireworks

The football field where Cupertino residents typically gather to watch the display requires 100,000 gallons of water to prevent damage

California’s drought is putting a damper on one town’s Fourth of July festivities. The city of Cupertino in central California announced this week that its annual fireworks display had been canceled because the field where it’s held requires too much water.

According to the city, it takes 100,000 gallons of water to keep the Cupertino High School football field in good condition after the fireworks display.

In an effort to conserve water, the school’s district denied the city’s request to use the field for the 2015 festivities. Because the city couldn’t find an alternate site, officials had to cancel the fireworks.

The city’s spokesman told NBC News Bay Area that though people are upset about the cancellation, they generally understand.

“People are very disappointed,” Rick Kitson told NBC. “Who doesn’t love fireworks? But overall, I think they get it.”

The state of California is currently experiencing one of its most severe droughts. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of an emergency in January and in April he issued an executive order calling for a 25% reduction in urban water usage.

TIME Research

Babies Who Are Breast-Fed Are Better Protected Against Pollution, Study Finds

Human milk counters impact of airborne pollutants

In a newborn infant’s initial four months, exposure to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles can cause negative effects on motor and mental development, but a new study reported on in Science Daily says those effects are countered in babies who are breast-fed by their mothers.

Researchers in Spain began monitoring rural, pregnant women in 2006 and analyzed samples from 638 women and their infants at 15 months. They discovered that babies who are breast-fed did not suffer from the potentially harmful developmental impact of PM2.5 (pollution particle matter) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME India

Greenpeace India Employees to Work for Free Following Delhi’s NGO Crackdown

Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, gestures as he addresses the media during a news conference in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2015
Adnan Abidi—Reuters Samit Aich, executive director of Greenpeace India, gestures as he addresses the media during a news conference in New Delhi, India, May 21, 2015

"The government has made it impossible for us to operate, but our employees are willing to work without pay"

Weeks after Greenpeace India said that it might have to shut down owing to regulatory action to block its bank accounts, the environmental group’s employees have pledged to work for free to keep the organization going.

“The government has made it impossible for us to operate, but our employees are willing to work without pay for one month because they see that the larger commitment has always been to fight against injustice,” Greenpeace India head Samit Aich said on Thursday.

In a letter to Aich, more than 200 Greenpeace India employees said they would support the organization by continuing to “work for at least a month, without pay, starting June 1.”

Citing irregularities in the accounting of foreign aid, India’s Home Ministry took the action against the local arm of the international environmental group as part of a wider crackdown on nongovernmental organizations, Reuters reports.

Separate from the action against Greenpeace India, Indian officials have also placed the Ford Foundation on a security watch list, thus increasing scrutiny of its activities in the South Asian nation.

Among those who have spoken out against the Indian government’s moves targeting nongovernmental groups is the U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Verma, who in a speech in New Delhi earlier this month expressed concern about the regulatory steps against such organizations.

“I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India,” he said.

“Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs.”

TIME Environment

Biologists Eyeing Extent of Damage After California Oil Spill

It could be weeks before the beach near Santa Barbara is cleaned up

Two days after a ruptured oil pipeline spewed crude into the waters off of California — tainting 9 miles of ocean teeming with coastal creatures — environmentalists are scrambling to assess how mucked up the ecosystem is.

This much is clear: It could be weeks before the beach near Santa Barbara is cleaned up, and even years before the damage to the water and wildlife is realized, scientists say.

But there is some relief that this spill, at 105,000 gallons, is on a smaller scale when compared to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the previous 1969 spill off Santa Barbara

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

TIME Environment

Here’s What a Massive 5-Year Study of Ocean Life Reveals

tara ocean expedition plankton
Courtesy of Sacha Bollet/Fonds Tara The Tara ship at sea.

Scientists don't know how climate change may affect life in the ocean

In 2009, the research schooner Tara set sail on a three-year journey. The crew would be facing rough waters and the threat of pirates in the name of studying plankton—microscopic organisms that can serve as a proxy for the overall health of an ocean ecosystem. Now, five studies in the journal Science offer a new take on the state of the oceans, the largest ecosystem in the world, and one that’s under enormous strain.

“We provide the most complete description yet of the organisms together with their genetic repertoires,” said Chris Bowler, a scientific coordinator on the expedition, on a call with the media. “Thanks to the treasure in Tara‘s holds, life in the ocean is a little less murky than it was before.”

Plankton diversity was higher than anticipated. Differences in ocean temperature—as opposed to geography or some other environmental factor—seem to chiefly determine which kind of plankton survives, according to the study. Because plankton play an essential role in sustaining life on Earth by propping up the bottom of the food chain, rising temperatures could have grave implications for other sea life, in part because scientists don’t yet know how plankton overall will respond as ocean temperatures increase with global warming. In addition to their role as the primary food source for many fish and whales, plankton also provide half the oxygen produced on the planet each year through photosynthesis.

Viruses also play a role determining what species of ocean life survive in a given spot. Research identified more than 5,000 types of viruses in the upper ocean, only 39 of which had been known previously. Many of the viruses have spread around the ocean, meaning you’re likely to find a surprising diversity of viral life almost anywhere you look in the ocean.

“The most abundant and widespread viral populations in the oceans have yet to be characterized, but now we have an idea of what viruses are important targets for future investigations,” says Jennifer Brum, a researcher at the University of Arizona.

An editorial accompanying the issue draws further attention to climate change and its unknown impact on the ocean ecosystem. Oceans play an important role in protecting the ecosystem from global warming by absorbing the excess heat released due to greenhouse gas, according to the editorial. In the short term, oceans have yet to shown significant damage, but researchers fear that we may not know the true effects.

“Take a moment to thank the ocean for supplying half of your oxygen,” writes Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt in the editorial. “It is time to start valuing the ocean and stop using it as a dump for waste heat, CO2, sewage, pollutants, and other trash.”

Scientists once considered much of the vast oceans to be largely barren of life—seawater, and little less. The research from Tara underscores just how untrue that is—everywhere we look in the watery world, there is life of some kind. And the five studies released this week are just the beginning of what promises to be a trove of new research. Scientists on the expedition analyzed only 579 of 35,000 collected samples for this issue of Science.

TIME

The BP Oil Spill Killed a Lot of Dolphins

Lung and adrenal lesions were found on dead dolphins

The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 had a deadly effect on at least one ocean dweller: bottlenose dolphins.

A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday said lung and adrenal lesions found on dead bottlenose dolphins that were stranded along the Gulf coast from June 2010 through December 2012 are consistent with the effects of exposure to petroleum products after an oil spill.

The report supports earlier studies that suggested a link between the oil spill that gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over the course of 87 days and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

BP recently settled claims with oil services provider Halliburton and contract driller Transocean related to the spill.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Environment

California Governor Declares State of Emergency After Santa Barbara Oil Spill

As many as 105,000 gallons of crude might have spilled

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on Wednesday as cleanup teams sought to limit the environmental impact from a ruptured underground pipeline that might have spilled as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil.

More than 20,000 gallons are estimated to have spilled into the ocean, seeping through the ground into a culvert and flowing into the ocean near Refugio State Beach, the Los Angeles Times reports. Oil slicks across a combined nine miles have stretched along the coastline.

The owner of the pipeline that ruptured Tuesday afternoon is Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which last saw results for an inspection in 2012. The line, which can pump as many as 6.3 million gallons a day, averages a flow rate of some 50,400 gallons per hour.

“We’re sorry this accident has happened and we’re sorry for the inconvenience to the community,” said Darren Palmer, district manager for Plains All American, told reporters.

There’s no estimate yet on the harm to local natural life, but officials estimate it will take at least three days—likely many more—to clean up the spill before the damage can be assessed.

TIME Environment

Louisiana Black Bear Is No Longer Endangered

In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.
Gerald Herbert—AP In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.

The bear is the original inspiration for the "Teddy Bear"

The Louisiana black bear is set to be removed from the endangered species list, the U.S. Department of Interior announced.

The bear, which was the original inspiration for the “Teddy Bear,” has been the focus of conservation efforts for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that because of that conservation push, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the Louisiana black bear no longer be listed as endangered.

“Across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, we have worked together with our partners to protect and restore habitat, reintroduce populations and reduce the threats to the bear,” Jewell said in a press release.

“Today’s recovery of the bear is yet another success story of the Endangered Species Act.”

TIME Environment

See a Massive Oil Slick in the Pacific Ocean After Spill

21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the Santa Barbara County coast on Tuesday after an underground pipeline ruptured. The oil slick spread to at least 9 miles long by Wednesday afternoon

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