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

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Anti-Littering Campaign Uses DNA From Trash to Shame People

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year

A Hong Kong environmental group has turned to public shaming to end the city’s litter problem. The Hong Kong Cleanup Initiative used DNA collected from discarded cigarette butts, gum and condoms to create renderings of the faces of people who left their trash, the South China Morning Post reported.

The Face of Litter campaign, which launched on Earth Day, has created 27 facial composites of litterers and splashed them across billboards around the city. The samples came from a six-week challenge in which teams collected more than 4,000 tons of litter from streets. Advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather came up with the idea to shame litterers and enlisted a laboratory to analyze samples. The company says that the DNA samples provide enough information to accurately predict ethnicity as well as eye, hair and skin color.

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year, much of which ends up on the streets and coastlines, according to the initiative.

[Morning Post]

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 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 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 Environment

This Hormone Seems to Be Changing The Sex of Fish in U.S. Rivers

The hormone is used in the raising of cattle, but finds its way to rivers and streams

A chemical compound used to stimulate weight gain in cows may be contaminating aquatic ecosystems in the United States and disrupting the reproductive processes of fish, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Cattle farmers have been using the chemical compound trenbolone acetate (TBA) for decades. The hormone has a potentially toxic byproduct, 17-alpha-trenbolone, but earlier research had seemed to show that the chemical breaks down and becomes harmless when exposed to sunlight. But it turns out that when the chemicals wind up in rivers and streams, they transform back into 17-alpha-trenbolone when it gets dark, according to new Nature Communications study.

“As goes the compound, [so] goes the risk. In the sunlight the compound goes away, therefore the risk has also gone away,” said lead study author Adam Ward, assistant professor at Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “What our study shows is that chemically that’s not true.”

Read More: Rare Cancer Discovered in Pennsylvania Smallmouth Bass

The full extent of the damage that may be caused by the hormone isn’t entirely clear. The hormone 17-alpha-trenbolone leaves cows through their manure and moves into rivers, streams and other bodies of water where it can disturb fish and other water dwellers. The hormone resembles testosterone in its effects, but it’s ten times as strong. It also has been shown to reverse the sex of fish and reduce their rates of reproduction. “We’re releasing this into the environment at levels that are potentially problematic for the ecosystem,” said Ward. “If you’re an amphibian, a fish, a minnow, you spend your whole life being bathed in this sort of low dose of testosterone.”

The implications of the research challenge the way regulators approach risk management in water systems, Ward said. Typical water management programs assess the risk that individual substances pose to the water supply. Managing 17-alpha-trenbolone and all of its related compounds requires considering “potency of mixtures,” Ward said, not just the potency of individual compounds. And trenbolone acetate is far from the only endocrine disruptor affecting aquatic life in lakes and streams across the country, according to research from the U.S. Geological Survey. Vinclozolin, a fungicide, and insecticides like DDT and carbaryl have also led to similar changes.

“The prevailing wisdom on risk management is incomplete,” he said. “We’ve got tens of thousands of compounds that we produce and use in this country every year, but we don’t know what happens to them into the environment in complicated systems.”

TIME Environment

U.S. Government Approves Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plan

Sven Zacek—Getty Images

The company still must receive approval from a number of other regulatory agencies

The federal government has approved Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic from this summer, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced Monday.

The oil and gas giant still must receive approval from other agencies, but a stamp of approval from the federal BOEM removes what was perhaps the plan’s most significant potential stumbling block.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper in a statement. The drilling would be consistent with “high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” she said.

The decision drew immediate condemnation from environmental groups that argued the plan could lead to an oil spill worse than the 2010 spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico while also threatening local wildlife and entrenching American reliance on fossil fuels. In particular, environmental groups pointed to Shell’s troubled 2012 Arctic exploration efforts as evidence that the company isn’t prepared to launch a large-scale drilling operation in the area. The company struggled to deploy spill containment technology during testing, and, later, an inoperational drilling rig nearly ran aground.

“We can’t trust Shell with America’s Arctic,” said Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogan in a statement. The 2012 incidents “demonstrated to the nation that drilling in the Arctic is reckless and irresponsible and that no oil company should develop there.”

Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith said that the company is currently testing to ensure operations meet “the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator.” Further permits should be issued promptly, he said. “The approval of our Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan is an important milestone and signals the confidence regulators have in our plan,” he said in an email. “It’s imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical, and delivered in a timely manner.”

The relationship between environmental groups and the White House has been fraught with disagreement as well as collaboration throughout the Obama presidency. Environmental groups have praised Obama’s aggressive stance on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they have also criticized his support of efforts to allow drilling in new areas like the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Southeastern U.S.

“This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line,” said Erik Grafe, a staff attorney at environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, in a statement. “Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future.”

TIME Environment

How Garbage Spawned a Grizzly Problem at Glacier National Park

Greeting Card from Glacier National Park. ca. 1941, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, Greeting Card from Glacier National Park
Universal Images Group / Getty Images Greeting Card from Glacier National Park. ca. 1941

May 11, 1910: Glacier National Park is established

Glacier National Park, which spans more than a million acres of pristine Montana wilderness, is home to a variety of predators, from cougars to wolves to grizzly bears. Most of the time they pose no danger to hikers, for whom the adage, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” holds more or less true. For more than half a century after the park was founded — on this day, May 11, in 1910 — the park’s native grizzly bear population left its human visitors alone.

That changed in 1967, when two young women, both 19, were mauled to death by grizzlies at separate campsites on the same night. As TIME reported, the emboldened bears weren’t discouraged by noise or the sight of bonfires — and they didn’t stop attacking even when the campers played dead.

At one campsite, five people hid in their sleeping bags while a grizzly “ripped apart packs and bit into bedrolls, and even slashed the shirt from the back of one camper, who lunged in desperation and hit the bear on the nose,” per TIME. When the bear reared up, four of the campers escaped by climbing trees, but one woman couldn’t get out of her sleeping bag in time, and was carried away and killed.

Meanwhile, 20 mi. away, another young woman was dragged screaming into the night after her male companion endured a mauling without moving, and was therefore abandoned in favor of the livelier prey.

The attacks, immortalized in the bestselling book Night of the Grizzlies, were provoked in part by the hordes of park visitors who had left a trail of trash behind over the years, acclimating the grizzlies to their presence and making them associate humans with food, according to a 2010 PBS documentary. The producer of that documentary believes the lessons learned on that grisly night are still relevant today.

“The problem started with people feeding bears and leaving garbage out,” producer Gus Chambers told PBS. “That’s still an issue, and if people don’t learn from this historic event, more people and more bears will die.”

Ten people have been killed by bears in the park’s 105-year history, compared with seven at Yellowstone National Park. The National Park Service points out that more people have died — at Yellowstone, at least — by drowning or from burns sustained when they fell into the park’s thermal pools.

“To put it in perspective, the probability of being killed by a bear in the park (7 incidents) is only slightly higher than the probability of being struck and killed by lightning (5 incidents),” NPS writes on its Yellowstone National Park website.

Still, the night of the grizzlies prompted the park service to clean up its act at Glacier, Yellowstone and other national parks. Biologists, who had long warned of the dangers of the parks’ open dumpsites, advocated for a staggered removal of what had become the bears’ primary food source, according to Slate. When the dumps were instead eliminated in a single stroke, bears fled the parks to find food on privately-owned land, where they were fair game for hunters — who decimated their population. By 1975, when they were given protection under the Endangered Species Act, there were fewer than a thousand grizzlies in the U.S., down from tens of thousands in the early 1800s, per Slate.

Only in recent years have the bears’ numbers edged up again. And while overhauled park policies have made deadly encounters between humans and grizzlies less likely, there is still the risk of a terrifying confrontation when the two apex predators cross paths on a trail.

Read TIME’s original report on the 1967 attacks, here in the archives: Night of Terror

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