TIME Environment

Jane Fonda: Arctic Drilling Is Obscene

Jane Fonda attends Netflix's "Grace & Frankie" Q&A Screening Event at Pacific Design Center on May 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California.
Jason Kempin—Getty Images Jane Fonda attends Netflix's "Grace & Frankie" Q&A Screening Event at Pacific Design Center on May 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California.

Jane Fonda is an actress, writer, and activist.

The China Syndrome actress on the dangers of Shell drilling for oil

Correction appended, June 10.

In less than 30 days, Royal Dutch Shell wants to begin drilling for oil in the newly ice-free parts of the Alaskan Arctic. The company is ignoring the advice of engineers and scientists around the world who say this type of extreme fossil fuel project can’t go forward if we have any hope of stopping the most catastrophic effects of climate change. From India to Australia, we’re already dealing with droughts, superstorms, and resource scarcity caused by climate change, and if we don’t change our energy system to help protect the Arctic, it will all only get worse. But instead of seeing this as a what it is—a tragedy—Shell is using the melting Arctic as an opportunity for profit.

This is obscene.

In 1979, I was in a movie with Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas called The China Syndrome. In that film, we dramatized how corporate greed can trump safety with potentially tragic results. The scenario seemed all too real for people when three weeks after the premiere, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster struck Pennsylvania. We found we had unwittingly captured a tragic zeitgeist and helped further popularize the anti-nuclear movement in the United States through our story. It felt like maybe the tide was turning towards protection rather than exploitation.

But in the 36 years since The China Syndrome, we’ve seen energy companies ignore safety risks and cut corners for profit again and again, and, sadly, this year is no different. We’ve already seen one oil spill in Santa Barbara County, and President Barack Obama is about to let Shell—which, in 2012, lost control of both of its rigs, crushed its spill response equipment “like a beer can” and hired a contractor, Noble Drilling, that committed eight environmental and maritime felonies—try to drill for oil in one of the most delicate ecosystems on earth.

In The China Syndrome, the nuclear threat lent itself to a thrilling disaster narrative because the mistakes at a nuclear plant could provoke an immediate crisis with catastrophic local results. Arctic drilling is no less of a catastrophe, but it doesn’t cause the same alarm bells to go off at the point of impact. Climate change doesn’t happen all at once. That makes it hard to recognize, and even harder to stop. The Arctic is in danger, and each new drop of fossil fuel that gets extracted and burned puts it closer and closer to disappearing forever.

This will affect us all. Thankfully, people around the world have begun standing up and saying, “Shell NO” to this project and the movement is now over seven million strong.

Right now, in Seattle, for example, Shell is preparing its drill rig the Polar Pioneer for this summer’s drilling. But the people of Seattle, who have shown climate leadership for years, are standing up to Shell and its cronies. Members of a group called the Raging Grannies were arrested Tuesday during a protest at the Polar Pioneer’s terminal. On the waterway in front of the rig, a “Solar Pioneer” powered by clean energy has been hosting speakers, films, and music for activists on land. And last month, an enormous kayak flotilla with thousands of participants swarmed the rig to show Shell this isn’t the type of future Seattle wants. Every minute activists like the Raging Grannies delay the project is another minute President Obama has to reconsider giving the company the green light this summer.

Shell is desperately trying to escape the Seattle spotlight and leave for Alaska. President Obama has been on the defensive since the protests have started. He’s said Shell and its contractors have “learned their lesson” since Shell’s disastrous 2012 attempt to drill, but, unfortunately, the only proof we have that anything will be different this time is Shell’s PR. This year, the company has already failed one Coast Guard inspection, and it’s refusing to make public the court-mandated audits from 2012. The president still has a chance to heed the warnings and stop this disaster before it starts. He should use his authority to do it. Not only is the Arctic at stake, but his legacy as an environmental and progressive leader is at stake as well.

Our children and grandchildren don’t have to live in a world of oil spills and climate disasters. There is another road, one that leads us away from fossil fuel extraction and into the new world of clean energy. With this road comes hope, climate justice, and clean jobs. This road is no pipe dream. We can see clean energy already working in countries including Norway, Austria, and the Netherlands. In Germany, 25% of the country’s energy comes from renewables, and its energy transition has created about 400,000 jobs in a decade.

That’s the future we want and need. This is what’s at stake. This is why I’m going to Vancouver to stand alongside First Nation activists, parents and grandparents to keep up the momentum to prevent Arctic drilling. It’s not too late for the president to cancel Shell’s Arctic drilling program now.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the location of Three Mile Island. It’s in Pennsylvania.

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 weather

U.S. Sees Wettest May on Record

Flooding Texas bridgeport
Max Faulkner—Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images Flood waters surround the Bridgeport Building Center in Bridgeport, Texas, June 1, 2015.

The contiguous U.S. saw record precipitation totals for the month of May

This May was the wettest on record for the contiguous United States, according to federal weather data.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports 4.36 inches of rain fell on the contiguous U.S. this May, 1.45 inches above average and the most rain the administration has recorded for the month of May in 121 years.

The total precipitation that fell in the spring was 9.33 inches, making it the 11th wettest spring on record for the contiguous U.S.

Severe weather events and heavy rainfall across the U.S. have contributed to the uptick in precipitation. Fifteen states had totals well above average, including Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado which each suffered severe flooding. However, seven states along the East Coast had lower than average levels of precipitation.

About 24.6% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought according to a June Drought Monitor report, an improvement across the board though many states in the West, Northwest, Southeast and Northeast have seen drought conditions worsen.

So far, 2015 has brought a number of record-setting months weather-wise. January through March 2015 was the warmest first three months of the year on record across the globe. In the contiguous U.S., this January to May has been the 17th warmest in the 121 years that the NOAA has tracked temperatures.

TIME India

Greenpeace Activist Denied Entry to India

INDIA-GREENPEACE-BAN
MANJUNATH KIRAN—AFP/Getty Images Activists of GreenPeace rappell down the office building where they are headquartered to unfurl banners 'democracy' and 'freespeech' in Bangalore on May 15, 2015.

Aaron Gray-Block was reportedly put on a flight to Kuala Lumpur without further explanation

Greenpeace International’s crisis response campaigner Aaron Gray-Block was denied entry into India on Saturday after his name figured in the Home Ministry’s “blacklist,” the Press Trust of India reports.

Gray was reportedly put on a flight to Kuala Lumpur without further explanation.

“Our colleague has a valid business visa, and yet he was prevented from entering India with no reason given,” Divya Raghunandan, program director of Greenpeace India, told PTI. “We are forced to wonder if all international staff of Greenpeace will now be prevented from entering the country?”

In January, Greenpeace India activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight bound for London where she was supposed to address British parliamentarians and discuss alleged human rights violations in India by a British fuel company.

The latest move is set to intensify the tussle between the Indian government and Greenpeace India, which has had some of its bank accounts frozen after a leaked Intelligence Bureau report claimed that Greenpeace India was a threat to national interests and economic development. The Delhi High Court has since allowed the group to operate two of its domestic bank accounts.

[PTI]

TIME Environment

Two Tundra Wildfires Burn in Alaska

Alaska Wildfire
Matt Snyder—Alaska Division of Forestry/AP Smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska on June 7, 2015.

The fires are located about 50 miles from the town of Bethel

Alaskan fire crews are fighting two tundra fires sparked by lightning in the southwest of the state, which has experienced a warm winter with little snow, according to AP.

By Monday the fires had covered 63 square miles of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the AP report said, but weekend rain helped quell the spread. The fires are burning in a biologically diverse area, home to nesting waterfowl and a variety of plant species.

“There’s lots of vegetation,” Fish and Wildlife Service fire ecologist Lisa Saperstein said. “And where you have vegetation, it’s fuel.”

Tundra fires are sometimes allowed to burn out on their own if they don’t threaten infrastructure. In this case, fire information spokesman Tim Mowry said, crews weren’t sent to fight one of the fires until it grew to almost 20 square miles in size. As of Monday, the fires remained about 50 miles away from the town of Bethel, AP reported.

Saperstein said that tundra fires are rarer than forest fires in southwest Alaska, but do still occur.

Areas with less snow have less moisture in the ground, putting them at greater risk of fire. A 2013 report by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service states that Alaska may see a growth in tundra fires in the coming century due to climate change.

TIME coca-cola

The Iconic Coca-Cola Bottle Is Getting a Surprising Update

Coca-Cola Buys North American Bottling Operations Of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. For $12.3 Billion
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Coca-Cola can and bottle images appear on the side of a trailer outside the Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. bottling facility in Niles, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.

It's pretty sweet

Coca-Cola has come up with a new bottle: one made entirely of plant material—including sugarcane.

It’s called the “PlantBottle.” Coke debuted it as the World Expo in Milan, Italy, a food-tech conference.

Coke said in a statement that the PlantBottle represents a “more responsible plant-based alternative to packaging traditionally made from fossil fuels and other nonrenewable materials.” The company will use the container across its beverage brands: soft drinks, water, juice, and tea.

PlantBottle is “the globe’s first fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable materials,” said Nancy Quan, Coke’s global research and development officer, in the statement.

The bottles are still plastic, but made from plants including sugarcane and byproducts of processing sugarcane, rather than petroleum products, which leave a much larger environmental footprint. It was developed in partnership with Virent, a processor of biofuels and biochemicals.

Coke made something of a splash in 2009, when it announced that its containers would be made up of 30% plant material. It has sold 35 million of those bottles since then. Coke says those bottles have kept a total of 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from being released into the atmosphere.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Coke plans widespread distribution of the bottles by 2020.

TIME Environment

Why It Might Actually Pay To Be an Organic Farmer

organic farming
Getty Images

Organic farmers earn 22% to 35% more than their non-organic counterparts

Growing organic food can be significantly more profitable than traditional farming, netting organic farmers 22% to 35% more than their conventional counterparts, according to new research published in the journal PNAS.

In the meta-analysis of more than 120 studies on the economics of organic farming, Washington State University professor of entomology David Crower and his co-author found that organic farming typically yields 10 to 18% less than conventional farming. That lower output may be why some farmers doubt the benefits of going organic, but economic measures besides crop yield seem to play an important role. The premium prices customers pay for organic products more than make up for the lower yield; while only a 5 to 7% premium is required to break even, organic products typically have a 29 to 32% premium, the analysis found. Going organic requires farmers to spend 5 to 7% more on labor, but besides labor, costs are largely the same.

“Public perception is that if you’re doing organic, maybe you’re sacrificing financial sustainability, but we show that’s really not the case,” says Crowder. “If you’re getting a 30% margin on your competitors, that would be the envy of almost any business.”

Crowder says that organic farming provides a host of environmental benefits, including improved soil quality, along with benefits for biodiversity and ecology.

The process of becoming an organic farmer isn’t necessarily quick and easy. Land must be pesticide free for three years; during that time, farmers can’t yet market their product as organic. But in spite of the drawbacks, Crowder says the huge and growing demand for organic food is unmatched by the current supply: only about 1% of farming currently utilizes organic methods.

“We’re definitely not saying 100% should be organic,” Crowder says. “But there’s a really high demand for organic that isn’t being met right now.”

MONEY home improvement

Why 2 Iconic Household Status Symbols Are Disappearing

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

The pool and lawn industrial complexes aren't happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Environment

California Drought Leads City to Cancel Fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Research

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

Human milk counters impact of airborne pollutants

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

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

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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