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.

TIME Environment

Obama Will Declare Vast Expanse of Pacific Ocean a Marine Sanctuary

Rainbow Over Ocean Waves
Teahupo'o is world famous for its spectacular large waves that create beautiful hallow-breaking barrels. These powerful ocean waves often reach 7 to 10 feet and up to 21 feet. The unique waves are a caused in part by an extremely shallow coral reef. Teahupo'o is a village on the south-west coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, southern Pacific Ocean on July 2013. Keith A. Ellenbogen—AP

The proposal would reportedly double the total area of the world's protected oceans in an ambitious plan to extend the president's environmental agenda over territorial waters

President Barack Obama plans to extend marine sanctuary protections over a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, limiting fishing, drilling and other commercial activities in a nautical area more than twice the size of Texas.

The Washington Post reports that the proposal will dramatically extend the borders of an existing marine sanctuary encompassing a cluster of remote Pacific islands. It will expand the protected area surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to 782,000 square miles, effectively doubling the area of the world’s protected oceans.

The expansion is expected to draw fire from congressional Republicans, who accuse the President of overstepping the bounds of executive authority. “It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings told the Post.

In addition to making the area off limits to commercial fishing and oil drilling, the President will reportedly direct federal agencies to come up with a plan to crack down on illegal fishing.

The proposal is expected to go into effect later this year following an open comment period.

[WP]

TIME Environment

Here’s What We Can Expect From El Niño This Year

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year.

The El Niño weather phenomenon that has previously devastated the Western Pacific and parts of Australia now has a 90% chance of striking again this year according to a recent report by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). This weather anomaly is characterized by an unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean and has caused intense hurricanes and drought in the past. But what can we expect from the phenomenon this summer?

South Asia will likely be hit first with heavy rain and flooding. Drought conditions in Australia and a drop in the fish population off of the west coast of South America will follow. El Niño also damages the agricultural industries in countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean such as Indonesia, and the Philippines. Efforts are currently being made in some of these regions to lessen the impending impact that El Niño will have.

The results of the El Niño events in 1997-1998 were by far the worst in recent history, but unlike thunderstorms and snowstorms forecasters have little ability to predict how intense future El Niño episodes will be. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) it is also near impossible to pinpoint the exact dates that El Niño will begin.

Within the next month more details regarding El Niño and when it will begin will become clearer. In the meantime people around the world will begin to gather resources and prepare themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Environment

There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas

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Geologists have found a vast body of water deep below earth's surface and say it is evidence that oceans came from water inside the planet that seeped to the surface

Geologists have long mused about the origin of earth’s seas. Did water, for example, arrive from somewhere else — like on icy comets that struck the planet? Or did water come from somewhere within?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited about the latter possibility.

Like something out of early 19th century playwright Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth — in which characters stumble across a massive underground basin — a team of geologists led by Steven Jacobsen from Northwestern University have found a vast body of water, three times the size of any ocean, located near earth’s core. It’s possible that water from this enormous reservoir oozed to the surface.

“It’s good evidence earth’s water came from within,” Jacobsen told NewScientist.

Jacobsen and his team used seismometers in their find, studying the speed of seismic waves to determine what lies beneath the surface. The waves slowed down upon reaching a layer of blue rock called ringwoodite, indicating that they were passing through water as well as rock. The depth of the phenomenon — 700 km below the mantle, which is the layer of hot rock underneath the surface — is also the perfect temperature and pressure for water to ooze out of the ringwoodite “almost as if it’s sweating,” Jacobsen says.

The discovery has only revealed ringwoodite beneath the continental U.S. however, so further experiments will need to be conducted to determine where else on the planet it can be found.

[NewScientist]

TIME Environment

A BP Employee Convicted of Deleting Deepwater Texts Gets a New Trial

Kurt Mix
Kurt Mix, left, leaves Federal Court with an unidentified member of his defense team in New Orleans on Dec. 18, 2013. Gerald Herbert—AP

A judge rules that the original verdict was compromised by remarks overheard by the jury forewoman

A U.S. District Judge has thrown out the original verdict, and ordered a new trial, in the case of a BP employee convicted of deleting text messages to obstruct an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Engineer Kurt Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas, was convicted of obstruction of justice for, prosecutors said, deleting text messages between a supervisor and a contractor with the aim of thwarting a grand jury investigation into the disaster. But Judge Stanwood Duval tossed out that verdict, ruling that it had been compromised by remarks the jury forewoman overheard outside the jury room.

Mix denies he was attempting to conceal evidence. He is one of four BP employees charged in connection with the 2010 spill.

[WDSU]

TIME energy

The (Slow) Greening of America

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Getty Images

A new poll reveals that the U.S. is reluctant to recognize and address climate change

Americans who don’t believe in global warming should visit my Miami Beach neighborhood at high tide, when Biscayne Bay surges through our storm drains and swamps our streets. In May, the New York Times ran a photo of sunny-day flooding outside my local Walgreens, above an article headlined, “Miami Finds Itself Ankle-Deep in Climate Change Debate.” Really, the debate should be over. Scientists have already documented 5 in. to 8 in. of sea-level rise around South Florida over the past 50 years. This kind of phenomenon has encouraged President Obama to start emphasizing that climate change is not a someday thing. “This is not some distant problem of the future,” he said recently. “This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now.”

That’s true. But as a new global survey conducted by TIME about attitudes toward energy and conservation illustrates, many Americans don’t believe it. This sets them apart from the people Time surveyed in five other countries. Only 40% of Americans “strongly agreed” that the earth is getting warmer, even though the earth is, in fact, getting warmer; 71% of Indians strongly agreed. Globally, 57% of the 3,505 people surveyed strongly agreed that the polar ice caps are melting because of global warming, including the 39% of Americans who strongly agreed. On almost every question, Americans were the least likely to back the scientific consensus on climate–and among the least likely to support doing anything about it. One out of three Americans wanted their politicians to fight global warming, compared with 3 out of 4 Brazilians.

This may seem odd because, as Obama’s new National Climate Assessment makes clear, the U.S. is already feeling the effects of global warming. The first 13 years of the 21st century were among the 14 hottest on record. California is enduring a historic drought. Wildfires are getting worse throughout the West. And while it’s premature to blame climate change for any particular storm–that stock phrase seemed to appear in every story about Superstorm Sandy–our weird weather trends are consistent with expectations for a warmer world.

Meanwhile, there’s mounting evidence of the viability of clean energy, with wind power often cheaper than coal, solar costs plunging over 80% in five years, energy-efficient lightbulbs taking off and every major automaker offering electric vehicles in the U.S.

But compared with citizens of Germany, South Korea, India, Turkey and Brazil, Americans were among the least likely to turn off the lights when leaving a room or power down their computer at night and by far the least likely to walk or take public transit instead of driving. Americans were also more opposed to carbon taxes, carbon limits and even bike lanes than the rest of the world. They were less concerned than the global average about polluted air, higher sea levels and almost every other problem the pollsters asked about except higher gas prices. (While Americans are somewhat more likely than citizens of other nations to believe that the U.S. could do more to fight global warming, they are by far the least likely to think the U.S. should accept “most of the burden” for reducing emissions.)

Why are we so unenlightened? green issues often take a backseat in tough economic times, but most of the world is enduring much tougher times than we are. Our relative apathy in part reflects our polarized politics. The Republican Party’s rejection of climate science during the Obama era has helped fuel denial among members of its base. In any case, addressing problems like climate change–requiring some perceived short-term sacrifice to avert long-term problems–is not exactly our national comparative advantage.

So Obama’s here-and-now arguments are understandable. But if global warming is our most important problem, it’s not our most imminent one. The real pain–from climate refugees to agricultural depressions–lies in the future. Even low-lying Miami Beach is not Kiribati, the Pacific island nation that’s on the verge of disappearing. We’ve got bigger headaches than the monthly flooding in the nearby Whole Foods parking lot.

If climate action depends on getting Americans outraged about what they can see now, we’re in trouble. There’s not much to see yet. The puddles at Walgreens are not gripping evidence of the need to limit emissions, although the danger of Miami Beach becoming Kiribati in this century ought to be. And while our expressed concern for future generations does not match the rest of the world’s, it does exist. That’s fortunate. Global warming has the potential to singe us, but it could roast our kids and grandkids. If we do nothing until the pain becomes unbearable, we’ll be way too late.

FOR MORE POLL FINDINGS, GO TO time.com/newenergy

TIME Environment

Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners in Toxic Water Case

Court says too much time has passed in North Carolina case for legal action against electronics company CTS Corp

The Supreme Court ruled against homeowners from North Carolina attempting to a sue an electronics company that contaminated their drinking water decades ago.

The court ruled that the state’s statute of repose, which states that a plaintiff loses the right to seek property damages 10 years after contamination occurred, should stand. The ruling is a setback for property owners in similar positions.

The case on Monday involved property owners living where CTS Corp. made electronics in 1987. The residents did not realize their water was contaminated with chemicals until 2009, the Associated Press reports. The chemicals in the water can cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancers.

Homeowners argued that under federal environment laws, their case was still valid despite the statute of repose. The Supreme Court did not agree.

The ruling is a blow for U.S. Marines families involved in a separate case in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It’s estimated that up to 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated groundwater over several decades in Camp Lejeune. The Associated Press says the U.S. government is relying on the same law to avoid liability for the contamination.

[AP]

 

TIME Environment

Carbon Regs Will Help Your Health More Than the Planet’s

EPA coal pollution
Carbon dioxide is the chief target of EPA regulations, but they'll also help curb conventional pollutants Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Public health—through cleaner air—will benefit more from EPA carbon rules than climate change, and that's O.K.

When the White House rolled out the proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on power-plant carbon emissions on June 2—regs that will reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels—President Barack Obama attended a conference call with a number of public health groups, including the American Lung Association. Obama talked about the importance of treating carbon as a pollutant, of investments in energy efficiency that would cause electricity bills to shrink, of the momentum behind the move to a low-carbon economy.

But he spent much of his time talking about the health benefits that would come as the regulations cracked down on coal plant pollution:

“I got a letter from Dian Coleman, who is a mother of four. Her three kids have asthma. [...] She keeps her home free of dust that can trigger asthma attacks. Cigarettes aren’t allowed across the threshold of her home. But despite all that, she can’t control the pollution that contributes potentially to her kids’ illnesses, as well as threatening the planet. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing something on behalf of Dian, and doing it in a way that allows us also to grow the economy and get at the forefront of our clean energy future.”

Carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant—at least, not in the sense that breathing it in damages health. (If it were, trees would be a lot more dangerous.) CO2 does cause climate change, which in turn can directly threat health by increasing ozone levels, intensifying heat waves and floods and even worsening allergies, all of which the White House detailed in a new report out today. But Obama and his officials have been talking up a different sort of public health benefit that will come with the regulations: the reduction of dangerous, conventional pollutants like nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and simple soot. “Our role in this initiative is to protect public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told me in an interview last week. “It’s key in this rule that when we lower carbon, we reduce traditional pollutants.”

The EPA says that the regulations will reduce those conventional pollutants by more than 25% over the lifetime of the rules as a co-benefit. That in turn will avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and nearly 500,000 missed work or school days. That might just be the beginning—the more we learn about air pollution, the more dangerous it seems even at lower levels. A new study from the University of Rochester found that exposure to air pollution at a young age caused changes in the brains of mice, including an enlargement in the parts of the brain that is seen in humans with autism and schizophrenia. And air pollution is still a major problem in the U.S.—a recent report from the American Lung Association found that nearly 5 in 10 Americans live in places where the air can be dangerous to breathe.

There’s an added political value to the White House’s focus on the public health benefits of carbon regulations. Note the huge partisan gap on the issue in recent polls: climate change, unfortunately, remains an area where there is deep political division. But air quality and public health is something that Americans can get together on, at least somewhat, without the conversation turning into a debate over temperature trends and IPCC assessments. That could help these regulations, which are supported by a strong majority of Americans, overcome kneejerk Republican opposition. “You don’t need to have a debate over climate change,” says Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana and a member of the White House task force on climate change. “Who doesn’t want to breathe clean air?”

As I wrote last week, the EPA regulations by themselves will have only a small impact on total U.S. carbon emissions, and a negligible one globally. The hope is that these rules are just the beginning, that they will help prompt other countries to push their own carbon-cutting efforts further, and encourage businesses to find even better ways to accelerate the clean energy revolution. But countless Americans will breathe easier—literally—thanks in part to these rules. That’s reason enough to celebrate.

TIME China

A Mining Accident in Southwest China Has Killed 22 Workers

The tragedy is only the latest in a slew of mining catastrophes to have hit the world's biggest coal producer

An accident at a coal mine in southwest China on Tuesday evening killed 22 workers and left two injured. The tragedy at the Yanshitai Coal Mine in Wansheng District, located near the city of Chongqing, is one of a slew of mining catastrophes that have been plaguing the coal-rich country recently. In January, two miners were killed in northern Shanxi province, while 14 workers were killed during a gas explosion at a coal mine in the southwestern province of Yunnan in April.

The Chongqing Municipal Administration of Coal Mine Safety told the state-owned Xinhua news agency that 28 miners were working in a shaft at 5:40 p.m., when a “gas incident” occurred. Six escaped and survived, and the bodies of the 22 fatalities have been recovered.

China’s mines produce the most coal in the world, but maintain the highest fatality rates because of lax safety precautions. News of the accident came on the same day that China, which has the highest levels of pollution partially due to the burning of carbon-releasing coal, vowed to lower carbon emissions.

[Xinhua]

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