Conservation & Environment

You’ll Never Believe How Cheap New Solar Power Is

Posted by on Jul 21, 2016 @ 7:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Solar energy has grown 100-fold in this country in the past decade. Globally, solar has doubled seven times since 2000, and Dubai received a bid recently for 800 megawatts of solar at a stunning “US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour” — unsubsidized! For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Solar energy has been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected just a few years ago thanks to aggressive market-based deployment efforts around the globe.

BNEF projects that by 2040, the world will invest an astonishing $3.4 trillion in solar. That’s more than the projected cumulative investment of $2.1 trillion for all fossil fuels — and $1.1 trillion in new nuclear — combined.

The result of these investments and the continued learning by solar (and wind) makes “these two technologies the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s.”

Other countries have had bigger and more reliable deployment programs whereas our erratic policies generally diminish or disappear whenever and wherever conservatives assume control. In the past decade in particular, massive government-led deployment policies in China and Germany have been a major driver of the world’s stunning price drop. The result is that while the United States invented the modern solar photovoltaic cell over a half-century ago, as of 2015, we are fourth in installed capacity worldwide.

Since it’s hard to keep up with the speed-of-light changes, and this is the fuel that will power more and more of the global economy in the near future, here are all the latest charts and facts to understand it.


The Republican platform attacks the environment

Posted by on Jul 20, 2016 @ 11:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Republican Party’s 2016 platform was released at its national convention in Cleveland. It contains sections called “A New Era in Energy” and “Environmental Progress.” Ha. If you want a guide to what Republicans would do with full control of the federal government, you couldn’t get a better one than this 2,400-word part of the platform.

  • Cancel the Clean Power Plan
  • Build the Keystone XL pipeline and more like it
  • Kill federal fracking regulations
  • Oppose any carbon tax
  • Expedite export terminals for liquefied natural gas
  • Abolish the EPA as we know it
  • Stop environmental regulatory agencies from settling lawsuits out of court
  • Forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide
  • Turn federal lands over to states
  • Revoke the ability of the president to designate national monuments
  • Halt funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change

There’s also some random small-bore stuff, like opposition to listing the gray wolf or the lesser prairie chicken as endangered species. There are a ton of right-wing talking points, like declaring the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution.” And there are additional paeans to the virtues of increased fossil fuel extraction.

In one particularly impressive rhetorical backflip, after the platform calls for virtually eliminating all environmental protections, it then says, “The environment is too important to be left to radical environmentalists.” Eesh.



Top science groups tell climate change doubters in Congress to knock it off

Posted by on Jul 19, 2016 @ 1:59 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

More than half of the Republicans in Congress question the science of human-caused climate change, according to the Center for American Progress. The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, has also said he is not “a great believer in man-made climate change.”

In a letter dated June 28, 2016, 31 leading U.S. scientific organizations sent members of Congress a no-nonsense message that human-caused climate change is real, poses risks to society and is backed by overwhelming evidence.

“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver,” the letter states. “This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.”

“For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems,” the updated 2016 letter says. “The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.”

Since 2009, the planet has experienced its two warmest years on record, 2015 and 2014, while atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen relentlessly, passing 400 parts per million.

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The world’s clouds are in different places than they were 30 years ago

Posted by on Jul 19, 2016 @ 7:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In a new study published in Nature on Monday, July 18, 2016 scientists say they have for the first time thoroughly documented one of the most profound planetary changes yet to be caused by a warming climate: The distribution of clouds all across the Earth has shifted, they say.

And moreover, it has shifted in such a way — by expanding subtropical dry zones, located between around 20 and 30 degrees latitude in both hemispheres, and by raising cloud tops — as to make global warming worse.

“As global warming occurs, there’s the expectation that the storm track will shift closer to the pole and the dry areas of the subtropics will expand poleward,” said Joel Norris, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the study’s lead author.

The study observed this change, but a northward shifting of storm tracks was not the only effect. The tops of clouds are also now reaching higher into the atmosphere, Norris explained. “An increase of CO2 leads to cooling of the stratosphere, so it’s cooling down, the troposphere underneath is warming up, and so that means, as the clouds rise up they can rise up higher than they did before,” Norris adds.

Not just one but both of these changes to clouds are “positive feedbacks” to climate change — tending to make warming worse.

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Smokies superintendent taking steps to educate latest generation

Posted by on Jul 18, 2016 @ 11:18 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Smokies superintendent taking steps to educate latest generation

On a recent summer morning a group of middle schoolers joined Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for a short hike along the Porters Creek Trail in the park’s Greenbrier district about six miles east of Gatlinburg.

It was a gentle trail — at least by Smoky Mountains standards — that allowed plenty of opportunity to savor the surroundings. The clear, rushing waters of Porter Creek were close by, and beside the trail there was ample evidence of the families who farmed this narrow valley until the mid-1930s, when the federal government purchased their land for the new park. The outing was part of the Junior Naturalists program hosted by the Smoky Mountain Field School.

As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, parks across the country are making a concerted effort to broaden their base and connect with a new generation of supporters. It’s a mission that fits Cash like a glove.

“I believe there is a whole generation out there waiting to be ushered into the outdoors,” Cash said. “I’m not just talking about the natural beauty of our national parks — I’m talking about how they can become sanctuaries for the soul. This is a leadership moment not just for me, but for the entire park service.”

The Smokies is hosting the Centennial Challenge, a yearlong program that invites participants to hike 100 miles on any of the park’s maintained trails between Jan. 1 and Dec. 6, 2016.

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Monumental decision: All eyes look to Interior Secretary Jewell on divisive Bears Ears issue

Posted by on Jul 18, 2016 @ 7:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Monumental decision: All eyes look to Interior Secretary Jewell on divisive Bears Ears issue

This is big, raw countryside with tumbling landscapes of jutting Navajo sandstone cliffs bleached by grueling heat and sprawling bluffs that rise proud and angry from a sagebrush floor.

There is nothing diminutive in this bold and unforgiving land that is so overwhelmingly expansive and complex one can lose a sense of time and being — wrapped in serene beauty that can suddenly turn harsh.

It is that way with the emotions wrapped up in the possible designation of a Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, Utah people divided like the high desert plains and rising bluffs.

There’s little in between that “space” between getting a new monument or not handing the federal government more control of the land.

Like the wind that gusts across Highway 191 between Bluff and Monticello, people are whipped into a frenzy over a tribal coalition’s request to President Barack Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to create a 1.9 million acre national monument for the Bears Ears region.

A majority of Native American tribal members who live in the Four Corners region claim ancestral and modern-day connections to the land, and they’re tired of the looting, the vandalism, weary of oil and gas development that threatens their landscape, of potash or uranium mining that may alter the land.

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Fire On Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim Blows Up To More Than 11,000 Acres

Posted by on Jul 17, 2016 @ 6:37 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Firefighters on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park contending with gusting winds on Sunday, July 17, 2016 were hoping “existing roads and natural features” would help them gain control over a lightning-sparked wildfire that made a four-and-a-half-mile run the day before.

The winds Saturday pushed the Fuller Fire to the northeast through the Saddle Mountain Wilderness. Additional growth was reported to the south below the rim near Ehrenberg Point, park officials said. Crews conducted a second night of burnout operations along Cape Royal Road to prevent fire growth to the east of the Road along the rim.

Fire bosses estimated the size of the blaze at 11,382 acres, with zero percent contained.

On Sunday the effort was to hold the fire to the east of Cape Royal Road using firing operations when needed. To the north, the fire has moved out of the Wilderness into grasses in the South Canyon Point area of the Kaibab National Forest, a park release said. Crews planned to use existing roads and natural features wherever possible to limit future fire spread in this area. To the west, low and moderate fire behavior would continue to benefit the spruce-fir ecosystem of the North Rim, it added.

“We are balancing the need to protect resources where appropriate while still allowing the fire to spread naturally where it is safe to do so, said Rick Miller, deputy incident commander. “To the north and south that means limiting fire growth, while to the west it will continue to back slowly through the fire-adapted ecosystem.”



Congressman Proposes Massive Giveaway of Taxpayer-Owned Energy Resources to the State of Utah

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 @ 10:26 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A controversial legislative proposal released July 14, 2016 by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) would transfer all federally-owned energy and mineral resources in southern Utah to state control, paving the way for massive new uranium, coal, and oil extraction across the area’s national forests, redrock canyons, and other public lands.

The bill, known as the Public Lands Initiative, seeks to achieve this unprecedented transfer of federal energy and minerals by simultaneously designating new wilderness areas in southern Utah, which has been a longstanding goal of conservation advocates in Utah.
Conservationists in the state, however, immediately rejected the bill as a nonstarter.

Bishop’s bill “opens protected areas to energy development and furthers the State of Utah’s efforts to seize public land.” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It is a terrible, terrible bill for Utah wilderness.”

In addition to granting the State of Utah unilateral control over federal energy and minerals across southern Utah, Bishop’s bill would open Recapture Canyon – an area rich in Native American sacred sites – to motorized vehicles, fulfilling an objective of anti-government activists who staged an armed takeover of the area in 2014.

Congressman Bishop, who is the head of an influential anti-parks caucus in the U.S. Congress has clearly stated that he does not support a Bears Ears national monument. He is also a vocal opponent of the Antiquities Act; anyone who supports the law, he said recently, should “die.”

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More Than Just Parks | Grand Teton

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 @ 6:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Jim and Will Pattiz are media professionals who have a passion for our national parks. Their More than Just Parks plan is to create short films for each of the 59 US National Parks to give people a completely unique viewing experience. They hope that this will encourage folks to get out there and have a one-of-a-kind experience of their own in our national parks. It is also their hope that these videos can help build a greater awareness for all of the breathtaking natural wonders protected by our national parks system.

MTJP | Grand Teton is the culmination of nearly a month spent filming in the spectacular Jackson Hole Valley and the foothills of the Teton Mountain Range. Encompassing nearly 500 square miles, Grand Teton National Park boasts an awe-inspiring array of pristine wilderness, glacial lakes, winding rivers, diverse wildlife, and the magnificent Teton Range.


This year’s GOP platform pushes federal land transfers

Posted by on Jul 14, 2016 @ 3:39 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

This year’s GOP platform pushes federal land transfers

The Republican Party is drafting its 2016 platform, which represents a hard swerve to the right on social issues. But other parts of its stance have long been consistent – most notably, its push for transferring federal lands to state control.

Party platforms are not binding, but they do demonstrate party priorities – what the base thinks are the most important issues and beliefs. And they’re important in steering politicians. Political scientist Gerald Pomper determined decades ago that lawmakers usually do cast votes that accord with platform positions, and that in presidential election years, about two-thirds of platform promises get fulfilled in some form during the following four years.

This year’s platform, which will be finalized at the upcoming GOP convention, includes a demand that the government “immediately pass universal legislation providing the timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states.”

While the GOP’s public-lands platform isn’t anything new, it’s one more indication of a growing schism between two fundamentally different views of how federal lands should be handled. The Democrats’ 2016 platform contains this language:

“As a nation, we need policies and investments that will keep America’s public lands public, strengthen protections for our natural and cultural resources, increase access to parks and public lands for all Americans, protect species and wildlife, and harness the immense economic and social potential of our public lands and waters.”

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Shenandoah: The hemlock’s last stand

Posted by on Jul 13, 2016 @ 7:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Shenandoah is haunted by ghosts.

Just 15 years ago, the eastern hemlock tree, the mighty Redwood of the East, was a scenic highlight of Virginia’s Skyline Drive, creating the shady groves that put Shenandoah National Park on the conservation map.

Now 95% of them are dead, rotting on the forest floor or still standing above the canopy as gray ghosts, with a few scattered survivors living on borrowed time as their attackers literally suck the life out of them. Some of these trees were up to 500 years old.

When President Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry, needed a place to escape Washington during the Great Depression, they picked a spot in a hemlock grove along the trout-filled headwaters of the Rapidan River. Workers building the President’s cabin were explicitly ordered to incorporate an old hemlock rather than chop it down.

“Where you found hemlocks, you found particularly beautiful areas with unique ecosystems, shaded streams with brook trout and specific songbirds that needed that habitat.”

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The Appalachian Ranger District Will Hold a Public Meeting to Discuss The “Twelve Mile” Project

Posted by on Jul 12, 2016 @ 5:52 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The Appalachian Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest will hold a public meeting on July 14 from 2-5 p.m. at the North Carolina Arboretum to learn the public interests and issues related to a developing proposal for the “Twelve Mile” project.

The proposed area for the project is the southwestern most part of the Appalachian Ranger District adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Interstate 40. This is the Long Arm Mountain and Hurricane Mountain area in Haywood County, NC.

The purpose of the project is to implement Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) direction and the Management Area objectives within the planning area boundary.

Additional focus areas for the project may include:

  1. Creating a range of habitat conditions appropriate for an Elk population expanding from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  2. Providing a sustainable output of timber products to support local economies.
  3. Emphasizing ecological restoration.
  4. Enhancing recreational opportunities. Other opportunities may be identified through the collaborative planning effort.

The intent of this initial meeting is to bring together potential partners that could provide additional expertise, data, and support to the Forest Service to develop a successful project that incorporates a variety of values and public perspectives.This group will work together with the public in defining the purpose and need of this project, the project area boundary, assessment needs, and data requirements.

The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC. For additional information, please contact Project Lead Jason Herron at or call the Appalachian Ranger District at 828-689-9694.


The Otherworldly Beauty of Badlands National Park

Posted by on Jul 10, 2016 @ 3:00 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The land is big and mostly flat. There are endless fields of corn, wheat and soybeans. Colors of green and gold paint the earth for miles.

But as you travel west, the farmland gives way to wild grasses. It grows tall here under a huge blue sky. Farther on, however, the grass becomes much shorter. A strong dry wind blows continuously from the west.

Suddenly, the land is torn and rocky, dry and dusty. The green is gone. Now you are surrounded by light reds and browns. Purple and gold hues can be seen as well. All around are broken, disorganized forms. There are sharp walls of rocks, and hills and valleys of all sizes and shapes.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, this whole area was grassland. Then forces of nature destroyed the grass in some parts. Water and ice cut into the surface of the Earth, splitting open some of its oldest rocks. Nature beat at the rocks, wearing them away.

The result is one of the strangest sights, a place of otherworldly beauty. Welcome to Badlands National Park in the state of South Dakota.

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Historic Victory: 4 Teenagers Win in Massachusetts Climate Change Lawsuit

Posted by on Jul 9, 2016 @ 10:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found in favor of four youth plaintiffs in a critical climate change case.

In 2012, hundreds of youth petitioned the DEP asking the agency to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and adopt rules reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, but that petition was denied. As a result of DEP’s reluctance to comply with the GWSA, youth filed this case arguing that the DEP failed to promulgate the regulations required by Section 3(d) of the GWSA establishing declining annual levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The court found that the DEP was not complying with its legal obligation to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and ordered the agency to “promulgate regulations that address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released … and set limits that decline on an annual basis.”

“This is an historic victory for young generations advocating for changes to be made by government. The global climate change crisis is a threat to the well being of humanity, and to my generation, that has been ignored for too long,” youth plaintiff Shamus Miller, age 17, said.

“Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has recognized the scope and urgency of that threat and acknowledges the need for immediate action to help slow the progression of climate change. There is much more to be done both nationally and internationally but this victory is a step in the right direction and I hope that future efforts have similar success.”

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Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project

Posted by on Jul 7, 2016 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The fortress of steel and concrete towering above the pine forest here is a first-of-its-kind power plant that was supposed to prove that “clean coal” was not an oxymoron — that it was possible to produce electricity from coal in a way that emits far less pollution, and to turn a profit while doing so.

The plant was supposed to be a model for future power plants to help slow the dangerous effects of global warming. The project was hailed as a way to bring thousands of jobs to Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, and to extend a lifeline to the dying coal industry.

The sense of hope is fading fast, however. The Kemper coal plant is more than two years behind schedule and more than $4 billion over its initial budget, $2.4 billion, and it is still not operational.

The plant and its owner, Southern Company, are the focus of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, and ratepayers, alleging fraud, are suing the company. Members of Congress have described the project as more boondoggle than boon. The mismanagement is particularly egregious, they say, given the urgent need to rein in the largest source of dangerous emissions around the world: coal plants.

The importance of this technology grows, as well, after President Obama said last week that the United States would join Canada and Mexico in pledging to reach a shared goal of generating 50 percent of North America’s electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2025, up from 37 percent today, with a power mix that includes wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear energy and coal or gas power paired with carbon capture technology.

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Tenacious, mysterious and maybe endangered — a wolverine roams the West

Posted by on Jul 5, 2016 @ 10:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Four days before Christmas in 2008, a blur of brown fur scrambled along the snowy Continental Divide in Wyoming. The terrain and the conditions were brutal, food scarce. The bait a biologist placed in a wooden trap proved irresistible.

As soon as the creature crawled in, a signal alerted researchers miles away. They rode a snowmobile deep into the mountains, near Togwotee Pass, at an elevation of 9,380 feet. The temperature was 10 degrees.

Once there, the researchers confirmed the catch, summoned a veterinarian and sedated the animal with a dart. The vet made an incision in its abdomen and implanted an electronic transmitter.

Over time, that transmitter would help tell the story of a singularly tenacious representative of one of the West’s most elusive animals: the wolverine. Yet it also would demonstrate the limits of technology in solving the mysteries of the wild.

While biologists and bureaucrats debated whether to protect wolverines under federal law, arguing over climate change and its effect on a species believed to number fewer than 300 in the contiguous United States, the animal captured near Togwotee Pass would blaze an audacious and ultimately untraceable trail. Along the way, it made a cameo appearance in a court case that may help shape the fate of its species.

“If you had to put your finger on the one most interesting wolverine during our whole study,” said Bob Inman, the wildlife biologist who led the research project, “that was it.”

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A Magical Mycology Tapestry

Posted by on Jul 5, 2016 @ 7:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A Magical Mycology Tapestry

Mushrooms weave a network of ecology, medicine, food, and farming.

Encountering a mushroom in the forest provides a glimpse to a web that is largely unseen, underground. The mushroom is a fruiting body that emerges from a network of branching mycelium, a cellular structure interwoven in soil. This mass thrives by connecting to other organisms, especially the roots of trees and plants.

The Appalachian mountains boast a wide diversity of fungi, the collective term for mushroom and mycelium. Fungi reach their highest diversity in the southern part of the mountain range, according to the Highlander Biological Center, and scientists estimate that only 2,300 of as many as 20,000 species have been identified there.

Often, a mushroom patch represents a single organism. The subterranean net of mycelium can be large and long-lived, and “the mushrooms are just ephemeral, passing creatures,” says Dr. John Walker, a mycology professor at Appalachian State University. Walker studies fungi and their ecological relationship to roots.

Nearly 90 percent of plants form a special relationship to fungi in natural areas. One type of fungi, called mycorrhizae, attach to plant roots, providing food and water to the plants and receiving sugars in return. This symbiosis connects an ecosystem’s extensive root and mycelium networks, and it can actually affect plant ecology in a habitat, such as a rhododendron thicket.

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