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Vehicles Now America’s Biggest CO2 Source But EPA Is Tearing Up Regulations

Transport overtook power generation for climate-warming emissions in 2017 as the Trump administration is reversing curbs on auto industry pollution

Some of the most common avatars of climate change — hulking power stations and billowing smokestacks — may need a slight update. For the first time in more than 40 years, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US isn’t electricity production but transport — cars, trucks, planes, trains, and shipping.

photo of trafficPhoto by Jim Sheaffer In 2016, US transportation carbon emissions increased nearly 2 percent on the previous year, making transportation the most polluting sector in the country.

Emissions data has placed transport as the new king of climate-warming pollution at a time when the Trump administration is reviewing or tearing up regulations that would set tougher emissions standards for car and truck companies. Republicans in Congress are also pushing new fuel economy rules they say will lower costs for American drivers but could also weaken emissions standards.

Opponents of the administration fret this agenda will imperil public health and hinder the effort to address climate change.

“This Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t seem to have met an air regulation that it likes,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board and a former EPA assistant administrator. “I’ve not seen any evidence that this administration knows anything about the auto industry, they just seem to be against anything the Obama administration did.

“Vehicle emissions are going up, so clearly not enough is being done on that front. The Trump administration is halting further progress at a critical point when we really need to get a grip on this problem.”

The 1970 Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon, set standards for a cocktail of different pollutants emitted from new vehicles. New cars and trucks, which account for more than 80 percent of transport emissions, now have to meet fuel efficiency standards and display this information to consumers. This approach has helped cleanse previously smog-laden American cities and tamp down greenhouse gas emissions.

But in 2016, about 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions were emitted from transportation, up nearly 2 percent on the previous year, according to the Energy Information Administration. This increase means that transport has overtaken power generation as the most polluting sector in the country, and it’s likely to stay that way.

Cheap gasoline prices have led to a recent uptick in vehicle emissions, despite the fuel standards, at the same time that coal is being rapidly displaced by …more

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Tiny Bubbles Wrapped in Feathers

The delicate work of raising and releasing orphaned baby hummingbirds

They flash in front of flowers and feeders for seconds, wings a blur, and then whiz away. Next they’re back — but before you can gasp at the beauty, they’re off again.

A glittering fragment of a rainbow; a flamingo comet; a living gem: All of these metaphors struggle to describe the evanescent magic of hummingbirds.

photo of hummingbird nestPhoto by ChaMick Thompson A mother hummingbird can leave the nest mroe than 100 times a day to find food for her nestlings. Too often, people "rescue" baby hummingbirds prematurely when the mother is off finding food.

But what they are doing when we don’t see them is more wondrous yet — as I discovered several years ago. Working with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Brenda Sherburn, one summer I was privileged to help to feed, raise, and release orphaned baby hummingbirds.

Too often, people “rescue” baby hummers prematurely, Sherburn told me. It’s rare to find a hummingbird nest, but if you do, back off, leave the babies alone, and, using binoculars to watch from a safe distance, observe the nest without looking away for at least twenty minutes. “So few people can just sit still and watch anything that long,” said Sherburn. But if you so much as blink, you could miss the mother’s return. A mother hummingbird leaves the nest from 10 to 110 times a day to find food for her nestlings.

To survive, a hummingbird must consume the greatest amount of food per body weight of any vertebrate animal. A single bird may drink its own weight in a single visit to your feeder — and seconds later come back for more. That’s because a hummer breathes 250 times a minute. The resting heartbeat is 500 beats per minute, and the heart can rev to 1,500 a minute in flight. A film I watched claimed that a person as active as a hummingbird would need to consume 155,000 calories a day — and the body temperature would rise to 700°F and ignite!

An adult hummer visits an average of 1,500 flowers in a day. If the nectar were converted to a human equivalent, that would be fifteen gallons a day. But few people realize that insects are equally essential. Each hummingbird needs to catch and eat six to seven hundred bugs a day. (So spraying insecticide in your yard is like hiring a hummingbird exterminator.)

The food requirements mentioned above are for a single hummingbird. A mother caring …more

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For the Love of Parks

It’s time for Congress to step up and help preserve our public lands

Staring out the window of my boyfriend’s Suzuki, I try not to think about the problems ahead. It’s almost New Years Eve and we both should be excited right now, on our way to celebrate under the stars at Big Bend National Park. This annual tradition, and even this arduous road trip, is normally a happy affair. But today NPR news is droning on in the background, reminding us that our beloved park is in shambles.

photo of glbig bendPhoto by Dave Hensley Funding our public lands (like Big Bend National Park, pictured) shouldn’t be a political issue.

I fear that this annual desert pilgrimage of ours isn’t meant to last, because it’s certainly not on track to. Our National Park System is drowning in a maintenance backlog mounting over $12 billion. Of that $12 billion, Big Bend faces $91 million in necessary repair and restoration.

I’ve always known that our parks needed help, but I’ve been shocked to learn the scope of suffering at Big Bend National Park. Like so many other parks, our facilities are deteriorating. Campgrounds, visitor centers, staff housing, roads, and plumbing are old to say the least. Not only that, within the park is preserved thousands of years of both human and natural history that must be protected. On a daily basis, our Park Service fights noise, air and water pollution, visitor overcrowding, nonnative species, vandalism, traffic, and the ravages of time. I can’t help but notice how exhausted our rangers seem, even on a brisk December morning.

This story is familiar across the nation. Our parks can’t afford to fix the big problems that are growing in cost every day. The National Park Services receives only 60 cents for every dollar needed just keep its maintenance backlog from growing. And though tourism in Big Bend supports more than 500 Texas jobs and the need for more personnel is growing, our current administration plans to cut NPS full-time employment by almost 1,300 individuals. Why are we abandoning our most sacred spaces in their greatest time of need?

Growing up in Texas, Big Bend National Park served as my second home, a place where I went to explore, reset myself, and put into perspective all the challenges of growing up. I couldn’t imagine putting a dollar sign on solace like this, but unfortunately our Congress has. Less than 1/14th of 1 percent of our entire federal budget goes towards the National Park Service. What’s more, President …more

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When Big Apple Comes to Town

How a small community in the Italian Alps put out a clarion call for a pesticide-free future

For hundreds of years, the people of Mals — a tiny village in the South Tyrol province of northern Italy — had cherished their traditional foodways and kept their local agriculture organic. Yet the town is located high up in the Alps, and the conventional apple producers, heavily dependent on pesticides, were steadily overtaking the valley below. Aided by climate change, Big Apple crept further up the region’s increasingly warmer valleys and mountainsides, its toxic sprays drifting with the valley’s ever-present winds and falling on the farms and fields of Mals — endangering the town’s health, biodiversity, organic certifications, and thriving tourism economy. The advancing threats gradually motivated a diverse cast of characters to take action in a display of direct democracy that has inspired a movement now coursing its way through Europe, the United States, and beyond. 

photo of applesPhoto by Rob MacEwen In Mals, Italy a group of citizen-turned-activists took on Big Apple to preserve their town's traditional foodways and keep their agriculture pesticide-free. 

Soon a group of citizens-turned-activists was born and they named themselves Hollawint, an exclamation of warning in Tirolean dialect. Composed predominantly but not exclusively of women, Hollawint nonetheless became the face of the women of Mals. For Beatrice Raas, owner of the local hair salon, women offered something different from the movement for a pesticide-free Mals: “I believe when one is a mother, then she simply has a completely different feel for what life is, and she is then really responsible for one’s own children. She simply wants to guarantee a great, healthy future for her kids and from that simply arises a motherly sensibility.”

June was a reminder that time was of the essence. With every passing summer, more apple orchards were creeping into Mals. The infrastructure for sprinkler systems was almost in place, with supporters promising that it would bring possibilities for farmers to plant crops that would earn them significantly more money than hay, grains, and vegetables.

The rapid advance lured Margit Gasser to the newly formed group. A kindergarten teacher, she had married Peter Gasser, the town veterinarian, and moved to Mals where they began to raise a family. Her hometown of Schlanders, a little farther down in the valley, had already been taken over by orchards. “Twenty years ago when I came to Mals I could never have imagined that this monoculture would arrive here, too.” 

The childhood she recalls before Big Apple came to her town is as idyllic as a …more

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Barry Myers, Trump’s Nominee for NOAA Administrator, Raises Red Flags

Critics point to potential conflicts of interest and lack of scientific training

This fall President Donald Trump nominated Barry Myers, the CEO of private weather forecasting company AccuWeather, for the position of Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Following President Trump’s long line of controversial appointments, some see Myers as a breath of fresh air. Others aren’t so sure. While Myers is a business-savvy leader who arguably has the credentials to head an organization of this magnitude, his past involvement in efforts to curb NOAA initiatives in the interest of private enterprise, not to mention his lack of scientific training, suggest he may not be the best man for the job.

photo weather mapPhoto by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Barry Myers has been nominated for NASA administrator. Several former NASA administrators have spoken out about his possible conflicts of interest and lack of scientific training.

Most of the controversy surrounding Myers stems from a bill he supported in 2005. Initially proposed by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), the goal of The National Weather Service Duties Act was to limit public access to National Weather Service (NWS) data, which would effectively reduce competition between NWS — an initiative of NOAA — and for-profit forecasting companies like AccuWeather. AccuWeather and similar companies use the information provided by the NWS and sell it back to the public, despite the fact that the data provided by the NWS research is already publically funded through taxpayer dollars.

Though the bill didn’t pass, Matthew Holliday, founder and owner of Firsthand Weather, a weather forecasting company, says that his main concern about a Myers confirmation is his support for it. Had it passed, the bill “would have essentially banned the NWS from having services that competed with private sector weather companies,” Holliday said. “This would have completely changed the landscape of the weather industry, because the general public would have no longer been able to benefit from free NWS forecasts and would have had to rely solely on forecasts produced by larger private sector companies that would have likely charged a monthly fee to access those forecasts.”

This concern is echoed by the National Weather Service Employees Organization. In a letter to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the organization expressed concern that Myers “will be able to order the National Weather Service to do precisely what his company was unable to accomplish through legislation.”

The legislation might have even been a detriment to competition within the private weather industry, which could have further served to …more

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Norway Leads the Way on Electric Cars

Nearly a third of all new cars sold in the country this year will be plug-in models and experts expect that share to skyrocket

While tourists explore Oslo’s history in the grounds of the centuries-old Akershus fortress, below their feet is a harbinger of the city’s future.

Here in the catacombs sit scores of Teslas, Nissan Leafs and BMW i3s, plugged into the charging points of the world’s largest public garage for electric cars.

electric car in OsloPhoto by Dion Hinchcliffe A tiny all-electric car on Karl in Oslo. Norway’s lead on electric cars has been driven by the government backing them with a wide range of generous incentives and perks, as a way of meeting its climate change ambitions.

Walter Mulling is on his first visit to the garage, and is excited about the prospect of parking and charging his electric VW Golf for free. “We are in the future,” he says.

Norway is the undisputed world leader on electric cars, run almost exclusively off the nation’s copious hydropower resource. Nearly a third of all new cars sold in the country this year will be a plug-in model – either fully electric or a hybrid – and experts expect that share to rise to as much as 40 percent next year.

The capital is a glimpse of what’s in store for the UK, where electric vehicles are nearing just 2 percent of new car sales but registrations are growing at a fast pace, up 38 percent this year so far. In Oslo, the streets are filled with silent, gliding cars, from large ones such as the Tesla X to smaller models such as the Renault Zoe. For the drivers of these cars, the motivation is simple – they just make financial sense.

Norway’s lead on electric cars has been driven by the government backing them with a wide range of generous incentives and perks, as a way of meeting its climate change ambitions. Buyers do not pay import tax and VAT on plug-in cars, shaving thousands of pounds off the upfront cost. Running costs are lower because electricity is cheaper than petrol and diesel, while road tax is reduced – and will drop to zero next year.

Electric car owners do not pay the mosaic of road tolls, ferry fees and city emissions charges that other Norwegians face. Moreover, they can park for free and bypass traffic by driving in some bus lanes.

“For my type of driving this is perfect,” says Vibeke Krohn, a pension fund executive. She uses a Mercedes B250e, which replaced …more

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Toward A Plastic-Free Future

Simply recycling just doesn’t cut it; we need a major lifestyle shift. Here are some options

We have a whole world of plastic that needs to be replaced with other biodegradable materials. We have come to rely on this indestructible modern material for every single facet of daily life. The food you ate today was probably sold in plastic packaging, the vehicle you transport yourself in has plastic components (be that a car, bus, bike, train, plane, boat, kayak…) the computer you are reading this article on, even the charger and the wall socket protector …just look around. 

Bioplastic bottlesPhoto by DalinYebo The anti-plastics movement is now evolving from simply recycling. From bioplastics, to wood pulp, to hemp - alternatives to plastics that can help us reduce our plastic footprint are cropping up every day.

It wasn’t always this way. We have seen an explosion in the last 65 years. From 1950 to 2013, plastic production went from 1.7 million tons to 300 million tons a year. Then consider that all the plastic that has been produced since its inception is still here.  It has not biodegraded, it has not been absorbed by the earth. It is, on the contrary, leaching toxic chemicals and causing destruction to the ecosystem on an unprecedented scale, choking and poisoning our ecological balance.

The dangers are visible, obvious and urgent – and paradoxically, microscopic, out of sight and not of great concern to the mainstream.

As a culture, we have been duped into thinking that recycling is enough of a step in the right direction. Certainly, any plastic we can keep out of the landfills and oceans is great, for whatever time that item is reused or recycled. But it simply postpones the plastic’s destructive path and does not mitigate the damage. It’s estimated only 25 percent of plastic is recycled anyway. The United States has one of the lowest overall recycling rates of any developed nation.

Worse, it keeps us consuming the stuff because we believe if we are recycling, it’s OK.

It is not OK. According to The Davos Report by the World Economic Forum the oceans will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish by 2050.  Seventy seven percent of manmade waste that enters the ocean stays at the bottom. The waste enters the oceans via streams, rivers, drainage and all manner of marine vessels and fishing activities. Looking at the water’s surface, you’d never know you’re looking at a garbage patch. It’s the microscopic plastic particles, small as a grain of salt, which …more

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