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

TIME Environment

Here’s How Much We Spend Powering ‘Always-On’ Inactive Devices

They're consuming plenty of energy while plugged in, even if they're not used actively

Americans spend some $19 billion a year on electricity for devices that are powered on but inactive, according to a new report that aims to help reverse the trend.

Electricity consumed by devices like televisions, computers, printers and game consoles accounts for the majority of the figure, which translates to roughly 50 large power plants’ worth, according to the study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). All of those devices consume energy while plugged in, even if they’re not used actively, and ones like refrigerators, washers and dryers that have electronic controls or displays—even Internet connectivity—are also a factor.

The NRDC recommends that consumers unplug appliances like televisions, computer and game consoles when they’re not being used, as well as choose more energy efficient products when replacing older models or buying newer ones. The report also calls on manufacturers to reduce the amount of energy that their products require in sleep mode, with the report’s author, Pierre Delforge, labeling the reduction of always-on consumption “a low-hanging fruit opportunity to cut climate-warming pollution.”

That reduction could have a significant effect on consumer’s bottom line, the report argues, stating American consumers could knock $8 billion off their collective utility bill if they reduced their electricity use by always-on devices to the consumption level of the 25% most efficient households surveyed. It’d help the environment, too, by preventing some 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

Read the full report here.

TIME public health

Cities like Baltimore Still Suffer From the Toxic Legacy of Lead Contamination

Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.

Before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury at the hands of the police, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of lead poisoning

The Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore has all the markers of the depressed inner city. Unemployment is high, drug abuse is rampant and many houses are vacant and dilapidated. Less apparent—but equally insidious—is the prevalence of lead poisoning.

More than a decade before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of the neurotoxin that contaminated the walls and windows in the dilapidated home where he grew up, according to a report in the Washington Post. Gray reportedly struggled academically, accumulated a criminal record and had trouble focusing—all outcomes associated with the long-term effects of lead poisoning.

Gray was not alone. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans were exposed to lead during their childhood, and, for many, the poisoning has been associated with dramatic problems in their day-to-day lives as adults. And despite the fact that lead was phased out as an additive in gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s, lead poisoning continues to affect children—most of them poor—to this day.

Baltimore, a city where nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, has become ground zero in the fight against lead poisoning. Many Baltimore homes were built in an era when the use of lead paint was common, and economic crisis has left many homes and neighborhoods in disrepair, exposing children to lead in chipping paint.

Lead hasn’t been used in paint since 1978, and regulations require landlords to reduce the risk that their tenants are exposed to the substance. But many landlords opt to use risk reduction methods that contain lead temporarily, but leave tenants vulnerable in the longterm. For instance, a landlord may paint over lead paint with safe paint to meet regulations. That reduces the chance of exposure but doesn’t eliminate it. Furthermore, the regulations in Baltimore don’t address owner-occupied homes. To eliminate risk paint needs to be stripped entirely and windows and doors need to be removed, said Ruth Ann Norton, who heads the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

“If land lords don’t comply with the law, we need to have strong and immediate enforcement,” she said. “But the truth is we have to couple that with investment to actually do the work, to hire young men and women to to replace windows and to remove the lead paint.”

Given that lead was banned in the 1970s, many people are unaware that the toxin is still present in some homes. More than 525,000 children were diagnosed with an elevated level of lead in the 200s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Most people think lead is history, that we passed a ban, therefore it’s not a problem,” said Norton. “Since 1993, we have reduced childhood lead poisoning by 98%, but the job isn’t done.”

For those exposed to lead as children when their brains are still developing, the poisoning can be devastating. The cognitive effects of lead poisoning include diminished intelligence, shortened attention span and increased risk for developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to Mount Sinai’s Dr. Philip Landrigan, who did pioneering research in the 1970s on the health effects of lead. “Unfortunately, it’s permanent,” he said. “The human brain displays very little capacity to repair itself once it’s damaged.”

And it might be difficult to recognize when a child has been exposed. Symptoms aren’t immediately visible, and a lead dust specimen the size of nickel could contaminate a 3,000 square-foot home, Norton said.

The effect of lead poisoning on the brain at an early age can hold back victims for life. Like Gray, many victims of lead poisoning have struggle to find and keep jobs. Some research has even suggested that lead poisoning causes sufferers to lose control of their impulses and behave erratically, which may make it more likely that they’ll commit violent crimes.

“If we’ve poisoned the child the rest of the investment fails, they can’t read, they can’t get to the classroom and they can’t learn,” said Norton “And I don’t want to fill our jails with kids.”

TIME solomon islands

People on the Solomon Islands Have Killed Over 15,000 Dolphins For Their Teeth

Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015
Vasily Fedosenko—Reuters Dolphins in Minsk, Russia, March 8, 2015

The teeth are used by the islanders as a currency

Villagers in the Solomon Islands killed over 15,000 dolphins from 1976 to 2013 for their teeth, which are used as currency or personal ornamentation, according to a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science.

In 2013 alone, more than 1,600 dolphins were killed by residents in the village of Fanalei. The extracted teeth are valued at 70 cents apiece.

The traditional hunting method involves up to thirty canoes driving dolphins to shore, where they are killed.

Such hunts have been going on sporadically since the early histories of the villages. There was a brief respite in 2010 when the Earth Island Institute paid villagers to stop, but the agreement deteriorated in 2013 and 1,000 dolphins were killed.

While dolphins are not classified as endangered, the resurgence of these dolphin hunts worries scientists and conservation activists because they claim far more dolphin lives than hunts in Japan and elsewhere.

TIME Environment

Watch Oregon’s Lost Lake Disappear Through a Hole in the Ground

It looks like a draining bath tub

Lost Lake in Central Oregon looks a bit like a draining bath tub.

Melted snow fills up the basin with water at the end of winter creating a lake. But at the bottom of the body of water is a giant hole that sucks down the water, much like the drain in a bath tub. The drain, an open lava tube, is one of many throughout the region, according to a report in The Bend Bulletin. The water is likely absorbed by material just below the surface.

[The Bend Bulletin]

TIME China

China Ties Officials’ Promotions to Saving the Environment

People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo
China Daily/Reuters People do morning exercises on a polluted day in Jiaozuo, Henan province, China, on March 16, 2015

No longer is rampant growth the Communist Party's overriding priority

For decades, Chinese officials’ job prospects have depended on one factor above all others: economic growth. The incentive structure seemed to make sense given that China has enjoyed one of the greatest economic expansions in human history. But on May 5, new Chinese regulations added another inducement to the mix: environmental protection. Officials will be held accountable for the air, water and soil in areas under their control. Should they fail an environmental responsibility audit, promotions will be nixed.

It’s no secret that China’s breakneck growth has devastated the country’s environment. Even by the government’s own reckoning — which some consider an underestimation of the problem — only eight of 74 Chinese cities met national standards for clean air last year, according to state newswire Xinhua. Sixty percent of ground water in one official survey was deemed “bad” or “very bad,” reported Xinhua.

Beijing is now talking tough and last year declared a “war against pollution.” A revised environmental law, which took effect on Jan. 1, promises to target polluters and officials who fake environmental data. Last month, construction on a controversial $3.75 billion dam was blocked. During his annual address in March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed “a firm and unrelenting approach to ensure blue skies, clear waters, and sustainable development.”

According to Xinhua, the government guidelines released on May 5 state that “by 2020, China aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% to 45% from the 2005 level, and increase the share of nonfossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15%.”

Earlier this year, a documentary made by former state TV journalist Chai Jing showed how state-owned industries were complicit in degrading China’s environment. The online video racked up more than 200 million views, and the country’s new Environment Minister Chen Jining praised China’s version of Rachel Carson. But a few days later, the video was pulled from the Chinese digital space.

Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist and former journalist, wrote about Chai for this year’s TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. (Ma is also a former TIME 100 honoree.) Reacting to the latest antipollution guidelines, Ma wrote on his microblog: “In the future, officials will feel more pressure to protect the environment. But how to assess the officials’ efforts to protect the environment is still a pivotal issue.”

Indeed, China’s Environment Minister has described the need for the country’s environmental legislation to have “steel teeth,” rather than acting as a “paper tiger.” So will the latest guidelines, which were formulated by China’s Cabinet, be enforced? Even the Xinhua article about the new policies ended with a note of caution, quoting a government-affiliated academic:

“The key for the next step is whether we can seriously implement the guideline,” noted Wang Yi, head of the Institute of Policy and Management under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME energy

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water, Study Says

Marcellus Goliath Transforms Towns to Gas Trade
Ty Wright—Bloomberg/Getty Images Threaded drilling pipes are stacked at a hydraulic fracturing site owned by EQT Corp. located atop the Marcellus shale rock formation in Washington Township, Penn., U.S., on Oct. 31, 2013.

Researchers raise questions about the integrity of drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale

Environmental scientists have detected chemical compounds used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the drinking water of three Pennsylvania households, according to a new study.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University said samples of drinking water contained trace amounts of 2-Butoxyethanol, a compound used in drilling fluid as well as household paint and cosmetics, the New York Times reports. The contaminant was found in such microscopic concentrations that it posed no immediate health risk.

Researchers say the discovery raises questions about the integrity of drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale, a vast subterranean natural gas field in North America, and industry claims that wells sunk thousands of feet below aquifers did not require the same steel and concrete encasements as wells closer to the surface.

[NYT]

TIME Environment

Schwarzenegger: Three Things Weightlifting and California Can Teach Us About How To Save the World

Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty Images Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the 38th Governor of California and is the Chairman of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute & the R20.

The environment shouldn't be a political issue

My background in sports gives me a unique perspective. When I heard the news last week that Governor Jerry Brown, who followed me into the governor’s office, had accelerated California’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases, the weightlifter in me was overjoyed.

In the gym, if your goal is to bench press 500 pounds, you set the goal, and then you push toward it. You recognize you will fail along the way, but you keep adding weight to the bar until you reach your goal. At the beginning, the 500 pounds seems impossible, but as you reach milestones—250, 300, 400 pounds—you change your own definition of what is possible. Each benchmark brings you closer to your goal.

In California, I was proud that we set an historic goal to reduce our greenhouse gases by 25% by 2020 and, ultimately, 80% by 2050. I am proud that we are on track to beat our 2020 goal. And I am proud that Governor Brown has added another ambitious milestone—40% by 2030. It brings us closer to our 2050 goal.

Our goal-setting and our progress offer three important lessons for the rest of the country.

When I praise Governor Brown, some people look at me like I’ve lost my mind. I’m a Republican, and he is a Democrat. In our current political climate, we are supposed to be mortal enemies. This is where California can offer the rest of the country our first lesson. Here in California, the environment has never been a political issue, and it shouldn’t be. In the United States, 200,000 people die every year from air pollution-related illnesses. They aren’t dying from breathing Republican air or Democratic air. We all breathe the same air.

No matter what party has occupied the governor’s office in California, we have continued our relentless march to clean up our air. Since Governor Ronald Reagan established the California Environmental Protection Agency, we have stayed on the cutting edge of environmental protection. From the catalytic converter to our tailpipe emission reductions, our regulations have become the nation’s policies. While Washington has been frozen by ideology, we in California have served the people instead of our parties.

Our second lesson is in our commitment to our goals. Oftentimes, in politics, people look for bandaids instead of cures. It’s human nature. Instead of addressing big issues that affect people 10 or 25 or 50 years from now, we prefer to address the things that are affecting people right now.

This is why, during the oil crisis of the late 1970s, as oil prices hit $40 per barrel, the United States enacted policies that made us a global leader in renewable energy. But as soon as the price went back down to $15 per barrel, the United States scrapped those policies and let other countries take the lead in solar, wind, geothermal, and other greener alternatives.

In California, we haven’t wavered. Our consistency extends across every crisis, and it extends across administrations. When I acted to protect our environment, I was continuing the policies of Governor Reagan, Governor Gray Davis, and all the governors who came before me. I was standing on the shoulders of giants.

That consistency has provided California’s third lesson for the rest of the country. When we drafted these laws, some experts said that our economy was going to go straight down the drain. The opposite has happened. Because businesses know what to expect, because they know that our policies won’t change with the next governor, they feel secure here.

Everyone knows that our green economy is going through the roof. We attract more than half of all the green tech venture capital in the United States. Our green tech companies have raised five times as much capital as the second place state. But it isn’t just our green sector. Our economy as a whole is thriving. In fact, we lead the nation in manufacturing, high tech, biotech, agriculture, entertainment, and tourism.

And as we’ve implemented our environmental standards, California’s economy has outpaced national growth. Last year, the United States GDP grew by 2.4%. Meanwhile, our economy in California grew by 3%. This year, California is expected to add 364,000 new payroll positions, good for 2.4% job growth. That beats the nation’s expected 1.8% pace.

We know in California that you don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. In fact, the opposite is true, and we have proven it by being relentlessly committed to our goals.

When there are big announcements like Governor Brown’s decision to accelerate our goals for emission reductions, people always ask me if I miss being governor of the great state of California, if I wish I could sit there in the capitol to protect my legacy on green issues.

It isn’t my legacy—it’s California’s legacy. California has led the nation in environmental protection for decades. During my seven years as governor, I was happy to continue that tradition, and now, I am happy to watch Governor Brown take up the charge. And I hope I’m still around to see a governor finally lift that 500 pounds.

Read next: Starbucks’ Bottled Water Comes From Thirsty California

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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 animals

Elephants, Rhinos and Other Large Plant-Eaters Face Extinction, Study Says

Elephant Rhino
Getty Images Tshukudu Game Reserve, South Africa.

Scientists see a bleak future for large herbivores

The world’s largest plant-eating animals like elephants and rhinoceroses are facing dramatic population losses due to poaching and resource destruction, with 60% of large herbivores threatened by extinction, according to a new study.

Grass-grazing giants like elephants, hippopotamuses and black rhinoceroses only occupy a tiny fraction of their historical ranges, according to the study in Science Advances, and the loss of herbivores over 100kg (220lb) is likely result in “enormous ecological and social costs.”

The loss of large herbivores has been endemic in Africa for years, but the study sheds new light on the widespread loss of large animals due to over hunting for meat—some one billion people rely on wild meat for subsistence.

Hunting and land-use changes have a devastating effect on those species, with habitat loss due to deforestation and meat hunting having a particularly negative effect. The number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62% between 2002 and 2011, and some 100,000 elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012.

Poaching continues to harm large grazers, particularly rhinos. “This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” the study said.

Slowing deforestation and over-hunting, and halting poaching, will be crucial to ensure the large grazers don’t go extinct. “Solving the current crisis associated with poaching for meat and body parts is an essential step, although one that is extremely challenging,” the authors write.

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