TIME beauty

Illinois Bans Cosmetics Containing Microbeads

Great Lakes Plastic Pollution
In this July 2013 photo provided by the State University of New York at Fredonia, Sherri Mason, right, a New York environmental scientist who led a research team studying microplastics in the Great Lakes, examines a trawling device used to collect plastic “microbeads” from the water's surface with University of Buffalo student Shayne McKay AP

Those tiny little beads in your exfoliating cleanser? They're killing the marine environment

Illinois has become the first American state to ban cosmetics containing microplastics. The move has been taken in response to growing concern over the marine damage caused by plastic waste, which a report published recently by the U.N. Environment Programme puts at $13 billion or more annually.

Among the products that will be removed from Illinois shelves are several brands of exfoliating face wash. While natural versions of this popular product use the likes of oatmeal or ground kernels as an exfoliant, cheap commercial varieties use nonbiodegradable plastic beads, known as microbeads. One average-sized tube can hold thousands of them.

Because of their size — less than a millimeter across — microbeads are not sifted out from wastewater during the sewage-treatment process, but instead end up being released into large bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, where they cause irreparable harm. One California-based institute found almost 470,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer of the Great Lakes, and most of them (81%) were microbeads. Fish and birds think the beads are food and end up eating them, often with lethal consequences.

New York, Ohio and California are expected to follow Illinois’s lead. According to a report released by New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, 19 tons of microbeads are released into New York wastewater annually. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone meanwhile introduced a proposal in mid-June, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, that would ban the creation and sale of products that contain microbeads nationwide by 2018. “By phasing out the use of plastic microbeads and transitioning to non-synthetic alternatives, we can protect U.S. waters before it’s too late,” Pallone wrote.

In the meantime, consumers wanting to help reduce the impact of this insidious pollutant can download an app called Beat the Microbead, which allows you to check whether or not a product contains the miniscule plastic balls.

TIME Environment

We Need to Ditch Our Filthiest Source of Energy: Coal

A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown
A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wind turbine (R) turns beside a 2002 megawatt fossil fuel power plant in Charlestown, Massachusetts June 2, 2014. The wind turbine powers the MWRA waste water pumping station at that site and the power plant uses natural gas and oil. Brian Snyder—Reuters

Global warming is a terribly complex problem. It’s really a slew of problems: carbon problems and methane problems, electricity problems and fuel problems, sprawl problems and deforestation problems, supply problems and demand problems. We waste too much power, we eat too much meat, we drive too much, we fly too much, we plug in too many gadgets, and we get way too much of our energy from fossil fuels. The expansion of energy options in the developing world, a godsend for billions of people, will further complicate many of those problems.

It can all seem overwhelming. But for the next decade or so, America’s main challenge is relatively simple, because our biggest problem is also our most solvable problem. That problem is coal. It’s our filthiest source of energy, producing one fourth of our emissions and three fourths of our emissions from electricity, despite producing less than 40 percent of our electricity. We need to burn a lot less of it.

This is why President Obama’s new effort to limit carbon emissions at power plants is so important—and, as I wrote last week, so potentially disappointing. Coal provides our best opportunity for major short-term emissions cuts; our coal plants have already slashed generation by 20 percent since 2005, and another 10 percent of the U.S. coal fleet is already scheduled for retirement. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan only envisions a 30 percent overall drop in coal power from 2005 levels by 2030, which would barely move the needle. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did suggest to me that her agency’s proposed regulations will do much more than than her agency’s forecasts imply, but there’s not much in the Clean Power Plan that would suggest a major crackdown on coal.

Instead, the EPA projects that we would still get more than 30 percent of our power from coal in 2030. That would be a catastrophe. Coal plants emit twice as much carbon as natural gas, and infinitely more carbon than wind, solar, nuclear and other zero-emissions sources of power. They are also public health nightmares, fouling our air with mercury, soot, and other toxics, shrouding cities in smog and triggering asthma attacks among children. And the coal we burn in our power plants—unlike the petroleum we burn in our vehicles—can be easily and inexpensively replaced without changing our behaviors or disrupting our economy.

Carbon math can be daunting. We need to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050 to stop the broiling of the planet. We need to make serious headway much sooner than that to have any chance of success. Unfortunately, we’re nowhere close to ending our addiction to oil for transportation. Farm-grown fuels like corn ethanol are an eco-disaster, and cost-effective advanced biofuels are still years away. Electric vehicles are incredibly exciting, but they’re still a tiny slice of the U.S. auto fleet, and their batteries, although getting cheaper, are not yet mainstream cheap. Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards have helped our cars and trucks guzzle less gasoline, just as his energy efficiency standards have helped our light bulbs and appliances slurp less power, but reducing our demand in a growing economy is a slow and gradual process.

But we already have cleaner and cheaper alternatives to coal for electricity. Over the last several years, a fracking revolution has unlocked a glut of inexpensive natural gas, while a clean power revolution has made renewables cost-competitive, producing 90 percent of the new generating capacity in the first quarter of 2014. Even fossil-fuel-friendly Republican states like Oklahoma and Texas are replacing aging coal plants with wind, while Georgia and Idaho are replacing coal with solar—not to save the earth, but to save ratepayers money. As these clean alternatives get much cheaper, it’s getting much costlier for coal to comply with Obama’s tighter EPA rules on pollution from mercury and particulates, while fledgling technologies that could help coal plants capture and store their carbon underground have remained stubbornly expensive. Meanwhile, new EPA rules are coming on coal ash and ozone. Electric utilities facing multi-billion-dollar decisions about installing new pollution control equipment have to be wondering whether coal has a viable long-term future.

Tougher carbon rules would help persuade them the answer is no and accelerate the transition to clean power. We ought to get the coal challenge out of the way, so the market can start to address new challenges, such as cheaper storage that will help renewables produce the non-stop power that coal provides now. It’s true that much of the developing world is even more reliant on coal than we are, but we can help lead the world away from the dirty stuff. And the global situation is not as hopeless as some suggest. For example, China’s notorious coal boom is slowing dramatically; its annual growth in coal consumption has dropped from 18 percent to 3 percent in a decade, and its leaders are now pushing efficiency, solar and wind.

In the long run, we are going to need all kinds of disruptions to solve our climate problems. We’ll need cleaner cars, greener lifestyles, denser cities, carbon taxes. We’ll need technological breakthroughs and more aggressive deployment of the clean technologies we already have. But coal has already been disrupted. Its only remaining advantages are politics—even the Obama administration feels pressure to show it isn’t fighting a war on coal—and inertia. For executives of utilities with coal plants, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo and delay the inevitable day of reckoning. The best thing we can do for the planet is make sure the reckoning happens now.

TIME technology

Park Your Drones, Say National Parks

Drone Restrictions
A drone is flown during a demonstration, in Brigham City, Utah, Feb. 13, 2014. The National Park Service is moving to ban drones from National Parks. Rick Bowmer—AP

Drones spoil national parks and they should be banned, the National Park Service says

Calling unmanned drones a dangerous harassment, the National Park Service is moving to ban them from 84 million acres of public lands and waterways across the country. A policy memorandum signed Friday instructs the National Park Service’s 401 park superintendents to prohibit the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft in their park.

Jonathan Jarvis, the park service’s director, said that drones can disturb birds’ nesting patterns, distract climbers, disturb hikers and harass visitors to locations from Yosemite to Mount Rushmore, the Associated Press reports.

“Imagine you’re a big wall climber in Yosemite working on a four-day climb up El Capitan, and you’re hanging off a bulb ready to make a (difficult) move, and an unmanned aircraft flies up beside you and is hovering a few feet from your head with its GoPro camera running,” Jarvis said. “Think about what that does to your experience and your safety.”

Officials in Utah’s Zion National Park already banned drones after noticing unmanned aircraft harassing youngster bighorn sheep, causing them to become separated from their herd. Other incidents in parks around the country have also led to drones being banned.

Many drone operators say unmanned aircraft flights can be made with respect for other park users and wildlife. Jarvis says he wants to regulate drones before their use becomes even more widespread, as unmanned aircraft get cheaper and more high-tech.

[AP]

TIME Environment

The White House Wants to Save the Bees

Exchange Busy Beekeeper
Beekeeper Alan Clingenpeel shows the inside of a bee hive in his apiary at his home on May 23, 2014 in Pearcy, Ark. Mara Kuhn—AP

New initiative will combat the decline in pollinators

The White House created a new task force Friday to study and combat the recent precipitous decline in the number of bees in the United States.

The Pollinator Health Task Force will also undertake efforts to increase public awareness of the issue and boost conservation partnerships between the public and private sectors. “Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels,” President Barack Obama wrote in a presidential memorandum.

The President’s announcement comes in response to a problem with grave implications for farmers and consumers. At least 90 commercial crops harvested in North America rely on honey bees including nuts, fruits, and vegetables, according to a White House fact sheet. Pollinators also have a profound economic impact: They contribute more than $24 billion dollars to the U.S. economy.

The plan announced on Friday, which includes measures to research the issue and develop pollinator habitats, marks the latest step in the White House’s attempt to address the the decline. The President requested $50 million to combat the program in his 2015 budget proposal.

TIME Environment

Summer Solstice: The Start of Summer

If you burn easily, then this might not be your favorite day of the year.

+ READ ARTICLE

Summer solstice is the annual time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and the daylight seems never-ending in the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s also a time for celebration for many cultures across the world.

The word solstice comes from the latin word solstitium or sol (the sun) plus the word stit or -stes (standing), which basically means the sun is standing still. This feels like an accurate description, as during the summer solstice, we get 16 hours of day light.

For more insight into this annual event, check out the video above.

TIME Environment

National Geographic Has to Radically Redraw Parts of Its Atlas Because of Arctic Ice Loss

Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape
Polar bear (ursus maritimus) in arctic landscape. De Agostini — Getty Images

'Drastic' changes need to be made to the new National Geographic Atlas of the World to reflect the effects of climate change

The Arctic ice sheet has shrunk so much that National Geographic is having to make what it calls “drastic” changes to its atlas.

Geographers say the disappearing ice is “one of the most striking” changes in the history of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, which will release its 10th edition in September.

The phenomenon was described by National Geographic geographer Juan José Valdés as “the biggest visible change other than the breakup of the USSR.”

Valdés and cartographer Rosemary Wardley used data from NASA’s 30-year study of layered ice to show the drastic changes caused by global warming and emphasize the vulnerability of Arctic ice to climate change.

National Geographic explains that as the ice thins through melting, sunlight is able to penetrate remaining ice more easily and warm up the ocean underneath, which in turn makes the ice melt even faster. Small ponds of melted water — which absorb sunlight — also collect on the surface of the ice and further contribute to the reduction.

Valdés thinks that the atlas could help people see the effects of global warming in a tangible way. “Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn’t really hit home,” he said.

[NatGeo]

TIME Environment

Crimson on White: Hunting the Polar Bear

The images of a polar-bear hunt will be hard to view, but life in Canada's impoverished Inuit communities is just as hard

Ed Ou spent four months in 2013 photographing Inuit communities in Nunavut, the northernmost territory of Canada. Here, many are cut off from the rest of the country — and food and supplies are brought in at an extremely high cost by land and sea. Because of this, the Inuit often depend on hunting for food. Environmental groups regularly criticize them for hunting species claimed to have dwindling populations such as narwhal, belugas, seals and polar bears. In the U.S., Washington has pushed for a global ban on the commercial trade of polar-bear fur, meat and body parts. But the Canadian government opposes this on behalf of the Inuit.

Editor’s note: Given the isolation of the communities in the north of Canada, Ou helped offset the high costs of embedding himself with the Inuit community and contributed money for gas, groceries, heating, Internet and other expenses.


Ed Ou’s pictures are hard to look at. A polar bear emerges from the water, drenched in blood, turning its white fur crimson. Then the dead bear sprawled on the rocks, legs spread and jaw open, as if it were simply caught by surprise, even while the hunters begin the process of butchering the carcass. Finally the bear’s pelt, cleansed of blood, drying in a bathtub.

Polar bears have become the living symbols of climate change, with reason — as the planet warms, the sea ice that the bears use as hunting platforms is melting, putting the animals at risk. The idea of hunting and killing an animal that is listed as an endangered species, one that’s already under pressure from climate change, seems wrong on its face, like crimson blood on white fur.

But look closer at those pictures. Ou, a Canadian, traveled to the Inuit homeland of Nunavut in the far north not to document a polar-bear hunt, but to explore a part of his own country that had always seemed foreign. In remote towns like Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, Ou found a culture grappling with extreme poverty, substance abuse and a legacy of mistreatment from the Canadian government, which for decades all but stole Inuit children from their parents, sending them to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own culture. The last residential schools were only shut down in 1996, but the effects are still being felt among the Canadian Inuit whom Ou went to document, compounded by the extreme isolation of the Arctic and the painful transition from a traditional subsistence-hunting culture to a sedentary way of life. “Trauma has been passed down from one generation to the next,” says Ou. “Alcoholism is high, drug abuse is high, suicide rates are high. It’s a very traumatized place.”

In his photos, Ou shows Inuit like Kelly Amaujaq Fraser, a young woman who was sexually abused as a young girl, and whose father killed himself when she was just a teenager. Ou shows a near-empty refrigerator, the product of a place where unemployment is in the double digits, and where a simple carton of milk can cost more than $10. Given those bleak conditions, it’s not surprising that the Inuit would hunt polar bears, as their ancestors did before them — albeit not with high-powered rifles. A single polar-bear pelt can fetch more than $10,000 on the open market, and the meat can feed dozens of hungry people. As distasteful as the sight of a butchered polar bear might be to outsiders, to the Inuit, it’s a matter of survival — and of culture. “They feel their ability to hunt is one of their last sources of subsistence,” says Ou. “Before you judge them, you have to understand the socioeconomic factors driving this.”

That doesn’t mean it’s right to allow polar-bear hunts to continue. It’s unclear just how many polar bears are left, and the continued effects of climate change will almost certainly drive the species closer to extinction if nothing is done to save them. But it doesn’t seem that the burden should fall on the Inuit, who’ve already paid such a high price. “They ask, ‘Why do we have to pay the highest price for global warming when we contribute the least?’” says Ou. Justice is something else that’s endangered in the Arctic.


Ed Ou is a photographer with Reportage by Getty Images

TIME Environment

Invasive Beetle Poised to Spread Into New Hampshire

Emerald ash borers strip nutrients and kill ash trees within a year

New Hampshire residents fear an ash-tree beetle infestation may spread throughout the state after forest officials found a swarm of the highly destructive invasive bugs in Salem, Mass., not far from the state border.

New Hampshire entomologist Piera Siegert says the infestation will likely spread north soon, although the beetles have not yet been spotted within her state, the Associated Press reports. Towns that could soon be infected include Hudson, Kingston, Londonderry, Hampstead, Pelham, Salem, Derry, Windham, Plaistow, Sandown, Danville, Atkinson and Newton.

The beetles, known as emerald ash borers, have already ravaged ash trees throughout Massachusetts — stripping nutrients and killing specimens within a year. Siegert warns that if the beetles are indeed found in New Hampshire, there will be an official quarantine on transferring firewood and ash-wood products.

[AP]

TIME Environment

Leonardo DiCaprio Pledges to Help Save World’s Oceans

The Hollywood star pledged $7 million towards the establishment of marine reserves at a State Department event

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Foggy Bottom got a little taste of Hollywood Tuesday, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared at a State Department event to pledge $7 million to ocean conservation.

The Wolf of Wall Street star unveiled the pledge at the State Department’s “Our Ocean” conference, saying the sum would go toward “meaningful” ocean conservation projects over the next two years, funding organizations and communities that are establishing marine reserves.

DiCaprio spoke on the same day it emerged President Obama would significantly expand marine sanctuary protections in the Pacific Ocean. While the actor applauded the Obama administration’s work on marine conservation, he said more needed to be done by the world’s governments to protect the fragile ocean environment.

“It’s the Wild West on the high seas,” DiCaprio said. “These last remaining underwater bio gems are being destroyed because there isn’t proper enforcement or sufficient cooperation among governments to protect them.”

DiCaprio, a diving enthusiast, described the environmental devastation that he had witnessed firsthand over the past 20 years in his dives in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The “endless underwater utopia,” he said, is now filled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones. During a diving trip to Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, he witnessed illegal fishing vessels invade the waters of one of the world’s few shark sanctuaries.

“We’re plundering the ocean and its vital resources, and just because we can’t see the devastation from dry land doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous,” he said. “It needs to stop.”

DiCaprio has been a longtime ocean conservation advocate. Earlier this year, he gave a $3 million grant to Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization, through his Leonardo DiCaprio foundation.

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