Category: Climate Change

White House waives Jones act 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter Thursday that President Donald Trump has “authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico.” She says Trump is responding to a request from the governor, and it “will go into effect immediately.”
Acting Homeland Security Department Secretary Elaine Duke confirmed the move, saying that the temporary waiver will last for 10 days and covers all products being shipped to Puerto Rico.

“It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms,” Duke said.

A one-two punch by Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in recent weeks, leaving residents with shortages of all supplies. Maria wiped out the power supply, destroyed cell towers and led to massive fuel shortages on the island that relies on diesel for much of its power. 

The Jones Act is a little-known federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports. Republicans and Democrats have pushed Trump to waive the Jones Act, saying it could help get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island more quickly and at less cost.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló had tweeted earlier that he’d petitioned the White House Wednesday night for a temporary waiver, which would allow foreign ships to deliver items to the island.

Iceberg the size of Sacramento breaks off Antarctica

A 103-square-mile chunk of ice has broken off Antarctica, the latest chunk of massive ice to leave the continent. For comparison, the iceberg is approximately the same size as Sacramento, CA, the sixth largest city in California, and the 35th largest city in the country.

The Washington Post reports the iceberg disconnected from Pine Island Glacier, a part of West Antarctica that already loses 45 billion tons of ice annually, contributing to sea level rises.

The break comes two months after a 2,200 square-mile piece of ice detached from Antarctica in July. At nearly the size of Delaware, the iceberg was one of the largest ever recorded. In 2014, a 255-square-mile iceberg also calved from Antarctica.

The iceberg is now “producing a batch of smaller icebergs as it drifts out to sea,” Gizmodo reports.  Pine Island Glacier, the website reported, is the “fastest-melting glacier in Antarctica.”

At the time of the July iceberg, Britsh researchers at Project MIDAS said there wasn’t evidence tying the iceberg to climate change. Yet, warming oceans and temperatures have been widely accepted as causes of other examples of deteriorating ice shelves.

NASA and two Ohio State University scientists studying Pine Island Glacier confirmed the break, the Washington Post reported. OSU’s Seongsu Jeong and Ian Howat published findings, that shows rifts in Pine Island have started to form in the center of the glacier, according to the Post. The Post said the scientists “suspect this is a function of warmer ocean waters reaching the base of the glacier and weakening it.”

Thousands flee Mt. Agung, as volcanic earthquakes are being reported

Residents, tourists and climbers are being told to stay far away from Mount Agung, a large volcano in Bali where hundreds of shallow volcanic earthquakes have been recorded in recent days. The volcano’s last eruption, in 1963, killed more than 1,000 people.
The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation raised the alarm on Friday.

“The disaster mitigation agency said 48,540 people had fled and the number was expected to rise because more than 60,000 people lived in the danger zone,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Agung is the highest point in Bali. An eruption would likely bring deadly threats from a rain of heavy ash, as well as from pyroclastic flares (volcanic stones) and pyroclastic flows (lava).

As the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program reminds us, “A VEI 5 eruption during 1963-64 produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that caused extensive damage and resulted in more than 1,100 deaths.”
The government has imposed a 12 kilometer (7.5 miles) exclusion, or “danger zone” around the volcano, according to the Associated Press. People who live in the area are being warned to prepare masks and other gear that could protect their nose, mouth and eyes.

The GOP Congress killed Obama’s Stream Protection Rule. Now what?

In one of its first acts, the Republican-controlled Congress overturned the Department of the Interior’s recent Stream Protection Rule. Coal companies are thrilled about the change, but some mining communities aren’t quite so sure about it.

The rule was originally designed to address problems with mountaintop removal, a type of mining common in Central Appalachia that has buried over 1,200 miles of rivers and streams. In one of its final environmental moves, the Obama administration expanded the rule to protect streams and other small waterways from the toxic waste created by coal mining.

The rule would have tightened requirements for mining companies through more rigorous permitting, water monitoring and stream restoration requirements. But the mining industry hated it and the GOP Congress wasted little time doing away with it.

Rachel Gleason of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance says the rule was overly broad and could have been used to regulate underground mining, like the kind commonly done in her state. “They expanded it to areas that it should not be expanded to,” Gleason says. “[They] said, ‘It’s a one-size-fits-all for the entire nation.’ That does not work.”

Gleason says her group was worried that the Stream Protection Rule would have restricted the ability of coal companies to mine beneath streams, making it virtually impossible for them to make money mining coal in Pennsylvania.

Erin Savage of the environmental group Appalachian Voices disagrees. “It was a moderate rule,” she says. “It wasn’t some sort of drastic, tree-hugger rule. It was updating an existing rule based on current science. … In laymen’s terms, basically, [mining companies] would need to assure the regulatory agency that they’re not going to ruin water quality downstream.”

Gary Bentley, a former miner in Kentucky who now works as a writer and a mechanic, says he has seen up close how mining affects the environment of surrounding communities.

“Living in the region for 30 years, water contamination has always been a problem,” Bentley says. “We grew up with water contamination issues. Not to discredit the trouble in Flint, Michigan, but when that news came out, I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve lived with these conditions all of my life’ — and it was normal. We didn’t think about it as the life-threatening issue that it was. It’s very common in my hometown to have ‘boil-water advisories’ multiple times in a month, sometimes multiple times in a week.”

Still, Bentley says he is “a little bit torn on the rule, as a person from Appalachia and as a coal miner.”

“I may not have the most popular perspective amongst people in these communities, but it’s not that they’re not concerned with the protection of their environment,” Bentley says. “You’re talking to a group of people in a region that have never been offered an alternative to this industry. They’ve relied on a single economy for over 150 years.”

Bentley says he tries to explain to people in these communities that the rule would not actually have affected the industry.

“The rule really only affected new permits,” he says. “Current mining operations weren’t going to be held to those same standards [and] with the decline of the industry, I really don’t see any new surface permits being issued or being requested at this time.” Plus, he adds, “We were already losing these jobs back in 2008. So, when you start to talk about the market change in the industry, their ideas begin to change.”

This is one reason why Bentley isn’t crazy about the idea that there is some sort of “war on coal.”

“To say there’s a war on coal, especially from a governmental standpoint, is ridiculous,” he says. “It’s just a change in markets. Natural gas is cheaper for energy. Actually, solar is now a cheaper form of energy.”

What Bentley would really like to see is legislation that helps the communities and the states affected by the dramatic drop in coal production. He wants Congress to pass the Reclaim Act, a bipartisan bill to accelerate $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

“Under the plan, $200 million would be distributed to participating states over a period of five years,” Bentley says. “We already have support from numerous senators in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia. As a Kentuckian, I’m working alongside other Kentuckians to encourage support from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. The bill has been presented since February of 2016, and he has set it aside numerous times for well over a year now.”

This article is based on interviews that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

Scientists replacing actual honey bees with drone bees

In our food chain, honeybees are tasked with a vital function: pollination.
In North America alone, honeybees’ role in pollination enables the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops, including apples, blueberries, melons and broccoli.
One student wanted more people to understand the significance of bees to human life — so she created what’s essentially a “bee drone” to be a functional teaching tool that couples technology and design.

Plan Bee is a personal robotic bee (controlled by a smart device) designed to mimic how bees pollinate flowers and crops. Similar to how bees transfer pollen from one flower to another, the drone sucks in pollen from a plant and expels it onto other flowers to enable cross-pollination.

Industrial design major Anna Haldewang first developed the idea for Plan Bee in a product design class, after a professor challenged her to create a self-sustainable object that stimulates the growth of plants.
“You need sun, water, soil and cross-pollination for that to happen,” said Haldewang, 24, a senior at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.
Pollination made her think about bees, and in researching, Haldewang was struck by honeybees’ struggles: “I had no idea about the danger to honeybee colonies and that bees were disappearing,” she said. It prompted her to create an educational product that both addressed her class assignment and would help to spread awareness about a bee’s role in the food system.

Her plan for the device, at first, is for it to be an educational tool. “I would love to see people use it in their backyards and even create custom gardens with it,” she said. “With an actual bee, its so small you don’t notice it and how it’s pollinating flowers. With the drone you can see how the process works.

But is it viable? Its application in backyards as a teaching tool has potential, said Ermoli. And the drone could serve an even bigger purpose. “It could conceivably be used in large-scale farming, even in hydroponic farming.”

The ‘Waste Shark’ Is Here To Sink It’s Teeth Into Ocean Garbage

The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has just launched a new type of water drone that is capable of autonomously patrolling the city’s port and cleaning up waste and debris as it goes.

Rotterdam is one of the most important port locations in Europe, situated at the mouth of several of the continent’s largest rivers. The most important of these is the Rhein, which allows ships to transport cargo to and from some of the most industrialized regions of Europe. Because of the enormous volume of ships moving through Rotterdam, the city’s port is having a difficult time dealing with waterborne waste, which is where its new “Waste Shark” drone comes in.

Designed by RanMarine Technology through Dutch port accelerator PortXL, the Waste Shark is large drone with an underwater “mouth” capable of gobbling up 500 kilograms of waste (around 1120 pounds) before needing to deposit it elsewhere for processing.

In addition to collecting waste, Waste Shark also sends back valuable data to port authorities, including information on the quality of the water, the weather, and the depth of the harbor. According to RanMarine, the drone is capable of learning about its environment over time, becoming smart and more efficient at creating routes the longer it is in the water.

Can drones clean up our planet?

Keeping the Port of Rotterdam clean is certainly difficult and will likely require more than a single drone to deal with, but keeping the oceans them themselves clean is exponentially more challenging for a number of reasons, particularly the sheer amount of space that must be covered.

All rivers eventually make their way to the ocean, which means that any waste found in those rivers is ultimately deposited somewhere at sea. Due to water currents and wind patterns, much of this trash accumulates in certain parts of the ocean, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive stretch of waterborne waste that is estimated to cover an area of hundreds of thousands or even millions of square miles.

“Humans are very good at forgetting where waste truly ends up,” said Richard Hardiman, chief executive of RanMarine. “It if it’s not going into some landfill somewhere then odds are it has ended up in a storm-water drain, river or outlet and then off into the ocean never to be seen again; by humans that is. The impact of plastic soup and these huge plastic islands out in the Pacific ocean and elsewhere cannot be underestimated.”

Hardiman noted that waste is more than an ecological problem: It’s also a problem for businesses.

“I am not sure that the idea [for Waste Shark] was born out of being ecologically minded,” Hardiman said. “It was more of a case of seeing how harbors and marine waste management currently deal with the problem and seeing that there had to be a more effective and efficient way of solving it. The end result, of course, is a greener planet but to make it sustainable as an idea it needs to parallel good business.”

RanMarine hopes that the success of Waste Shark will prove that drones can be a viable solution for dealing with water waste, allowing thousands more like it to be created and deployed across the globe.