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Environment

02 Mar 2017
In the late 1980s, a Japanese scientist named Koji Minoura stumbled upon a medieval poem that described a tsunami so large it had swept away a castle and killed 1,000 people. Intrigued, Minoura and his team began looking for paleontological evidence of the tsunami beneath rice paddies—and discovered not one, but three massive earthquake-triggered waves that had wracked the Sendai coast over the past 3,000 years. In a 2001 paper, Minoura concluded that the possibility of another tsunami was significant. But Tokyo Electric Power was slow to respond to the science, leaving the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant unprepared for the 15-meter wave that inundated it in 2011. The wave resulted in a $188 billion natural disaster. More than 15,000 people died. For the past several decades, paleo-hydrologist Victor Baker of the University of Arizona has been using techniques similar to Minoura’s to study the flood history of the Colorado…
26 Feb 2017
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(Reuters)—U.S. President Donald Trump's administration will begin rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations in an "aggressive way" as soon as next week, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Saturday—adding he understood why some Americans want to see his agency eliminated completely. "I think there are some regulations that in the near-term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way. And I think maybe next week you may be hearing about some of those," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action summit in Washington, D.C. Pruitt added the EPA's focus on combating climate change under former President Barack Obama had cost jobs and prevented economic growth, leading many Americans to want to see the EPA eliminated completely. "I think its justified," he said. "I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able…
21 Jan 2017
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On a cold January day, Jane Garrison stood in front of Ralph’s in the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center. Her goal: to get shoppers in the busy plaza to sign the petition to save Oswit Canyon, a popular hiking area nearby in south Palm Springs. The rain started drizzling—but Garrison didn’t give up. Signature by signature, she rallied support to protect the alluvial fan canyon from the grip of developers. Garrison is a member of the Save Oswit Canyon Coalition, a group of some 2,000 Palm Springs residents who are backing the initiative. She volunteered her time to stand out in the rain as part of an effort to collect 5,000 signatures. The citizens’ initiative to protect Oswit Canyon was filled with the city of Palm Springs on Nov. 14. “My husband and I have enjoyed hiking in Oswit Canyon and the Lykken Trail for several years,” Garrison said. “I…
12 Jan 2017
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If you conduct an online search of news stories with the keywords “Trump” and “climate change,” the results might give you reason to bury your head in the (tar) sand during the next four years: “How the Trump Administration Could Gut NASA’s Climate Change Research,” read one Newsweek headline. “What Does Trump Think About Climate Change? He Doesn’t Know Either,” announced The Atlantic. And: “Without action on climate change, say goodbye to polar bears” — a Washington Post tearjerker. According to reports like these, Trump is preparing for everything from a witch hunt against our government’s foremost climate scientists to de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the world of academia—where facts don’t bow to the short attention spans that dominate in the media—do California’s most level-headed researchers and earth-science experts respond to Trump’s ascension with similarly grabby quips? Are they as terrified by the nominations of former Texas Gov.…
12 Dec 2016
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One week after the presidential election, on a summery November day, I phoned Denver-based climate activist Jeremy Nichols. Nichols has pressured the government to keep its fossil-fuel reserves in the ground, with some success: In January, the Obama administration put a moratorium on federal coal leasing, something unimaginable during the heady drilling years of Bush and Cheney. I called to ask what Nichols expected from the next president. He remarked on the unseasonably warm weather, then lamented, “I’m going to yearn for the George W. Bush days.” Environmentalists have good reason to worry about President-elect Donald J. Trump. In 2012, Trump tweeted that climate change was a “concept” ginned up by the Chinese. Now, he’s appointed a prominent critic of climate science and policy to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition. On his new website, Trump promises to grease the permitting skids for fossil fuel production, end the “war on…
17 Nov 2016
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Impose a Price on Carbon This could occur in several ways. The revenue-neutral carbon fee has a great backbone of advocacy support. It would charge fossil fuel producers at the first point of sale, and the revenue would be distributed among the public. Prices of goods and services dependent on fossil fuels would go up, while people who buy less of those products and therefore contribute less to climate change would come out ahead. The revenue-neutral system’s one flaw, according to some, is that it doesn’t provide government with a new source of revenue for funding social systems that promote renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and other climate-focused measures. A cap-and-trade system, on the other hand, would fund public agencies while creating incentive for industries to pollute less. Republicans, however, tend to oppose cap and trade because it acts much like a tax on businesses that they argue will depress the…
17 Nov 2016
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The highest mountains in the West run north-to-south through the Mediterranean latitudes and just 150 miles from the Pacific Ocean—a remarkable stroke of geologic luck that has made California one of the richest ecological and agricultural regions on the continent. These mountains accumulate deep snow in the winter, which in turn feeds cold rivers that flow through the hot, dry months. But the unique conditions that California’s native fish, its farms and its cities depend on are acutely threatened by climate change. In 2015, virtually no snow fell in the Sierra Nevada. Droughts occur naturally, but research indicates the current drought in the American West has been made worse by climate change—and that future droughts will be exacerbated by the warming planet. A 2015 paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters calculated that climate change has made California’s current drought as much as 27 percent worse than it would…
17 Nov 2016
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If President-elect Donald Trump actually believes all the warnings he issued during the election about the threats of immigration, he should be talking about ways to slow global warming as well. Rising sea levels, caused by the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, will probably displace tens of millions of people in the decades ahead, and many may come to North America as refugees. Climate change will cause a suite of other problems for future generations to tackle—and it’s arguably the most pressing issue of our time. A year ago in December, world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss strategies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists at every corner of the globe confirm that humans are facing a crisis. However, climate change is being basically ignored by American politicians and lawmakers. It was not discussed in depth at all during this past election cycle’s televised presidential debates—and…
14 Sep 2016
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In the Black River south of Carlsbad, N.M., rare Texas hornshell mussels are trying to multiply. It’s a bizarre and complicated process: Male mussels spit sperm into the river, where the females catch it. After brooding fertilized eggs for about a month, they chuck the larvae into the water. There, the would-be mussels hope to be eaten by certain kinds of fish—attaching to their gills and forming parasitic cysts. Then they develop into juveniles before cutting loose from the fish and wriggling to the river bottom, where they can live for up to 20 years. Texas hornshells are native to the Pecos and Rio Grande basins of southern New Mexico and Texas, where they help maintain water quality by filtering out sediment and other particulates. They’re the only surviving species of New Mexico’s eight native mussels, and the stretch of river near Carlsbad is one of their last strongholds. Their…
08 Sep 2016
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On warm fall days on the California coast, it’s not uncommon to see the iconic monarch butterfly flitting through the sky. In some places, so many butterflies are present that it makes an impressive display. “The air is filled with orange,” says Samantha Marcum, the monarch butterfly coordinator for the Pacific Southwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Marcum, who also works on the Western Monarch and Milkweed Habitat Suitability Model Project, is based near the Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, one of the groves where thousands of monarchs come each winter to escape chilly Western winters. On windy, cooler days, the monarchs can be seen up in the Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees, clinging to the branches with thread-like legs, stained-glass wings winking in the daylight. In 1997, an estimated 70,000 monarchs came to the grove. At the last count in 2015, that number was down…