When the USSR collapsed, the communal farming systems that helped feed the union's citizens collapsed with it. Farmers abandoned 110 million acres of farmland and headed into the cities in search of work.
New research by European scientists has revealed the staggering climate benefits of that sweeping change in land use. According to the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, wild vegetation growing on former USSR farming lands has sucked up approximately 50 million tons of carbon every year since 1990.
"Everything like this makes a difference," says Jonathan Sanderman, a soil chemist at CSIRO Land and Water in Australia. "Ten per cent is quite a bit considering most nations are only committed to 5 per cent reduction targets. So by doing absolutely nothing -- by having depressed their economy -- they've achieved quite a bit."
If you are a warm-water-loving fish looking for a Great Lake in which to swim, Lake Superior is traditionally not your best option. It's the northernmost of the five lakes, stretching far into Ontario, and it's especially deep and often covered with ice. Its frigid waters have traditionally been too cold for balmy swimmers like the walleye.
But, hey, it's a fast-changing world -- Lake Superior included.
The Daily Climate reports that water temperatures in the lake have risen by about 5 degrees F since the 1970s; ice cover has fallen by a half during the same period. And that's bringing the walleye within reach of the lake's anglers.
The coal sector is in its death throes, thanks to cheaper alternatives and a growing distaste for what is the worst of the global-warming fuels. The latest casualties: two coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania that will pump their last energy into the grid, and cough their last pollution in to the air, this weekend.
Officials with FirstEnergy Generation told state lawmakers on Thursday that their 370-megawatt plant in Washington County and its monster, 1,710-megawatt facility in Greene County will shutter next week, with little to no hope of them being sold or reopened.
"Those plants are losing money today and will lose money in the future. Our plans are not to run those units again," said James Lash, FirstEnergy's president, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Lash painted a grim future for coal-fired power plants, saying electricity is priced too low in a market where demand for power has dropped and the capital investment needed to meet environmental regulations is too high. Electricity prices have dropped 10 percent from summer to fall, while the cost of natural gas -- which also is used as a fuel for power generation -- remains at historic low levels because of the abundance of gas from supplies such as the Marcellus shale reserves, Lash said.
New Yorkers can eat all the organics that they want -- but that won't be enough to protect them from the Big Apple's stubborn pesticide problem.
Despite living in a dense city with only tiny patches of agriculture (much of it organic, local, and ad-hoc), New York City residents have higher exposure levels than most Americans to two toxic classes of pesticide, according to a new study.
And the poisons are not just hitchhiking in on the produce.
Frackers often treat their wastewater a little bit like sewage, passing it through water treatment plants and then flushing it into streams and rivers. It may be an improvement on pumping the stuff back into the ground, which can trigger earthquakes, but new research reveals that this can be a dangerously shitty approach to managing frack water.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, entails injecting water and chemicals into the ground to break up underground rocks and release oil and gas. When that water burbles back to the surface, however, it comes back laced with traces of metals, isotopes, and other pollutants that normally sit harmlessly deep beneath the soil.
Duke University researchers studied a fracker's wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania and found it removed more than 90 percent of the radioactive radium from the wastewater. But that's not nearly enough: The researchers report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that the radioisotopes that are slipping through the cracks in the treatment system are accumulating in alarming levels in Blacklick Creek, where the wastewater is dumped.
Yosemite's granite cliffs and valleys were carved during the Ice Age as glaciers expanded. Now these vestigial masses of ice are mostly retreating -- and fast. The park employs a full-time glaciologist, Greg Stock, who recently returned from a trek to Lyell Glacier, which is the park's largest. He told the L.A. Timesthat it had shrunk visibly since he made the same back-country hike last year:
Quebec isn't entirely sure about this whole fracking thing. Amid reports from across the continent of groundwater pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and other environmental side effects of hydraulic fracturing, the Canadian province has placed a moratorium on the practice beneath the St. Lawrence River.
That doesn't sit well with Lone Pine Resources, a Delaware-based company that has long eyed the gas and oil that's locked up in the Utica shale beneath the grand waterway. The company claims it spent millions to get the appropriate permits to drill, and now that the fossil fuels seem out of reach, it says Canadians need to pony up more than $250 million in compensation.
The company last month submitted a claim [PDF] to an international arbitration system seeking damages because of "Quebec’s arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation" of its "valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River." The claim is based on Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows private companies to sue governments when laws hurt their expected profits.
But Monsanto -- that profitable agro-corporation that wields ever-increasing power over the world's food supply -- is taking a smarter approach. As the effects of climate change devastate crops the world over, Monsanto has announced it is buying the Climate Corporation for $930 million. From the press release:
“Farmers around the world are challenged to make key decisions for their farms in the face of increasingly volatile weather, as well as a proliferation of information sources,” said David Friedberg, chief executive officer for The Climate Corporation. “Our team understands that the ability to turn data into actionable insight and farm management recommendations is vitally important for agriculture around the world and can greatly benefit farmers, regardless of farm size or their preferred farming methods. Monsanto shares this important vision for our business and we look forward to creating even greater experiences for our farmer customers.”
Climate Corporation underwrites weather insurance for farmers, basically in real time, using some of the most sophisticated data tools available to determine the risks posed by future weather conditions and events.
If you build a new home in Tesla Motors' hometown, your electrician is going to need to wire it up for an electric vehicle charger.
The Palo Alto, Calif., City Council recently endorsed a building-code change that would require builders to include wiring in new homes that can easily be connected to a charger. The council also directed city staff to figure out how to make it easier and cheaper to obtain permits for new EV chargers.