Yale Environment 360

How Online Data Is Putting Endangered Species Around the Globe Even More at Risk

In the arid far-western region of South Africa is a vast flatland covered with white quartzite gravel known as the Knersvlakte—Afrikaans for “Gnashing Plain”—because it sounds like grinding teeth when you walk across it. It’s a good place to watch unpeopled horizons vanish into ripples of heat haze, but to appreciate its real value you must get down on your knees. The Knersvlakte holds about 1,500 species of plants, including 190 species found nowhere else on earth and 155 that are Red-Listed by conservation biologists as threatened with extinction. To protect them, 211,000 acres have been set aside as the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve.

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Obama’s Top Scientist Explains the Climate Challenge Ahead

John Holdren is the longest-serving presidential science adviser in U.S. history. He’s also probably one of the most influential, having advised President Obama on key energy issues for the last eight years. “Mr. Holdren has this president’s ear,” is how The New York Times put it in 2014. 

A physicist by training, Holdren is among the chief architects of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. 

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There's a Growing Ozone Crisis Flying Under the Radar - and It Could Be Disastrous for Life on Earth

For the last four years Jack Fishman, a professor of meteorology at St. Louis University, has guided the planting of five gardens in the Midwest, gardens that have a distinct purpose: to show the impacts of an invisible gas that is damaging and contributing to the premature death of forests, crops, and other plants — and also humans. 

"The idea of the ozone garden is that it is a canary in the coal mine," said Fishman, who recently planted one of the gardens at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. 

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The Microscopic Critters in the Soil Are Essential for Healthy Ecosystems, but Climate Change Is Threatening Their Existence

In 1994, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory moved soil from moist, high-altitude sites to warmer and drier places lower in altitude, and vice versa. In 2011, they returned to the sites and looked again at the soil microbes and found that they had done little to adapt functionally to their new home. That's a bad sign, experts say, for a world convulsed by a changing climate.

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On Thin Ice: Big Northern Lakes Are Being Rapidly Transformed

For more than 25 million years, Lake Baikal has cut an immense arc from southern Siberia to the Mongolian border. The length of Florida and nearly the depth of the Grand Canyon, Baikal is the deepest, largest in volume, and most ancient freshwater lake in the world, holding one-fifth of the planet’s above-ground drinking supply. It’s a Noah’s Ark of biodiversity, home to myriad species found nowhere else on earth. It’s also changing

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Beyond Keystone: Why Climate Movement Must Keep Heat On

The key passage — the forward-looking passage — of President Obama’s speech last week rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline came right at the end, after he rehashed all the arguments about jobs and gas prices that had been litigated endlessly over the last few years.

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Bill McKibben Says the Divestment Movement Is Succeeding - and He May Be Right

Nestled in Vermont’s bucolic Champlain valley, Middlebury College is a seedbed of environmental activism. Middlebury students started 350.org, the environmental organization that is fighting climate change and coordinating the global campaign for fossil-fuel divestment. Bill McKibben, the writer and environmentalist who is spearheading the campaign, has taught there since 2001. Yet Middlebury has declined to sell the oil, gas, and coal company holdings in its $1 billion endowment.

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California Has a Water Crisis That's Even More Serious Than Its Current Epic Drought

The current drought afflicting California is indeed historic, but not because of the low precipitation totals. In fact, in terms of overall precipitation and spring snowpack, the past three years are not record-breakers, according to weather data for the past century. Similarly, paleoclimate studies show that the current drought is not exceptional given the natural variations in precipitation of the past seven centuries. Nor can it be confidently said that the current drought bears the unequivocal imprint of climate change driven by increasing greenhouse gases, since the low precipitation is well within the bounds of natural variability.

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Can Groundwater Banking Solve California's Water Shortages?

Saguaros and palo verde trees flourish in the Sonoran Desert northwest of Phoenix along the road to Hieroglyphic Mountains Recharge, one of the Central Arizona Project’s groundwater banking sites. The shallow ponds, fed at one end by a burbling fountain, may look static, but the water is percolating down through the soil at a rate of about 3 feet a day, replenishing underground aquifers.

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How Conservative Texas Took the Lead in U.S. Wind Power

When the King Mountain Wind Ranch was built in 2001 south of Odessa, Texas, it was the largest wind project in the world, with 214 turbines capable of generating 278 megawatts of electricity.

Fourteen years later, the company that constructed King Mountain, RES Americas, has developed a total of 15 wind farms in Texas capable of generating about 2,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 600,000 homes under average wind conditions. The developer has yet another wind farm currently under construction, all because the windswept Texas prairie “provided a great natural resource and Texans were supportive of wind energy,” says Chad Horton, vice president of development for RES Americas.

The steady expansion of RES Americas in Texas mirrors a surge in wind energy production in a state better known for its oil and gas booms, its conservative politics, and its skepticism about human-caused climate change than for its flourishing renewable energy sector. As it turns out, though, Texas now leads the United States in wind power production.

In 2014, wind generated 10.6 percent of Texas electricity, up from 9.9 percent the previous year and 6.2 percent in 2009, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration. Wind energy generation that falls under the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the grid for 24 million Texans, nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014. Currently, Texas has more than 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity installed across the state — equivalent to six Hoover Dams. That figure could jump to 20 gigawatts in a few years with upgrades to the current transmission system, according to Ross Baldick, an engineering professor at University of Texas at Austin.

“I don’t think any state has been quite as fast at blowing past their [wind power] goals as Texas has,” says Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So how has the Lone Star state done it? Strong government incentives, sizeable investments in infrastructure, and innovative policies have played an important role. So has the backing of governors of all political persuasions, from liberal Democrat Ann Richards to conservative Republican Rick Perry. But at heart the profit motive has driven the state’s wind energy boom, with ranchers and landowners seeing gold in the spinning turbines on the Texas plains.

“We rarely talked about the environment,” recalls Michael Osborne, co-founder of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA) and developer of the state’s first wind farm in the early 1990s. “We talked about farmers and ranchers getting rich on windmills.”

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It Took Me Just Minutes to Find What Looked Like Ivory Trinkets for Sale on eBay

Illegal online trafficking in imperiled wildlife is rampant, and attempted controls are few and largely ineffective. Log onto most any international Internet store that deals in wildlife or wildlife parts, and you’ll find a charnel house of endangered and protected species hawked openly or under phony names and in violation of U.S. law and international agreements.

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Could Frustrated Tar Sands Industry Start Shipping Oil Through Arctic?

The Alberta tar sands industry—and the governments that depend on tar sands tax revenues—are facing an increasingly pressing problem: How to get the growing flow of oil sands bitumen to market. And with proposed pipelines to the south, east, and west facing stiff opposition, tar sands interests are now investigating another controversial option—heading north and shipping their product via the Arctic.

To the south, the proposed $10 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta tar sands oil through the heartland of the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, faces the possibility of being killed by the Obama administration later this year. Two pipeline proposals that would ship processed bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Canada’s Pacific Coast have been stalled by aboriginal, municipal, and environmental interests, who fear spills in environmentally sensitive mountain and coastal environments. A third project—Trans Canada’s Energy East Pipeline proposal, which would send Alberta oil to Atlantic Canada—has encountered such strong resistance that the pipeline company last week announced a two-year delay in its plans.

These setbacks have led to the revival of an old idea by oil interests and the governments of Alberta and the Northwest Territories: Sending Canadian oil north through a so-called “Arctic Gateway.” One possible pipeline route would run from Alberta, through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to the port of Churchill along the west coast of Hudson Bay. From there the oil would travel by tanker through the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Another possible route would follow the Mackenzie River Valley to the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean and on to the Pacific.

“Alberta can play a leading role in the opening of the Northwest Passage,” says a 2013 report by Canatec Associates International that was commissioned by the Alberta provincial government and is now attracting renewed attention. “This will be a revolution in global logistics, equal in impact to the opening of the Suez or Panama canals.”

Far-fetched as these alternatives seem to be during this time of low oil prices, the Arctic Gateway concept has nevertheless been getting a surprising amount of government attention, if only because no one seems to be able to get a tar sands pipeline built elsewhere. A spokesman for Alberta Energy Minister Frank Oberle said the province “is actively pursuing the Arctic Gateway idea.” Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod said recently that an Arctic-bound oil pipeline along the Mackenzie Valley would be vital to helping the territories tap into an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil and 92 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The search for new routes to send oil sands bitumen to market is critical for the Alberta tar sands oil industry, which is planning to triple production from 1.5 million barrels a day currently to 4.5 million barrels a day by 2030. And the Alberta and Canadian governments also are counting on the steady growth of tar sands production to boost tax revenues.

The recent collapse in oil prices has left the Alberta government, in particular, facing severe budget shortfalls. A leading Canadian bank has estimated that Alberta could lose $7 billion in revenue in 2015 if oil sells at $70 a barrel—significantly higher than current prices. In March, Alberta did the unthinkable by raising income taxes and user and license fees across the board, as well as making spending cuts to almost every government service. Even with that, the province faces a staggering $5 billion budgetary shortfall for the coming year.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government, which could lose $5 billion or more in oil revenue in 2015, has taken the unusual step of delaying its annual budget plan until the fallout from oil’s collapse can be better assessed.

“If the Arctic Gateway proposal succeeds, it would be reasonable to assume that oil sands production would expand significantly from current levels,” said Victoria Herrmann, a Gates Cambridge Scholar who is associated with the Center for Circumpolar Security Studies at the Washington D.C-based Arctic Institute. “Currently, the pipeline capacity to transport the level of crude oil Alberta wants to produce to refineries is non-existent. If Canada wants to fulfill its planned expansion [of the tar sands] it will need the infrastructure to transport the petroleum to the global energy market. Without some means of getting the bitumen out of Alberta, oil sands production stands to face a serious decline.”

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How Falling Oil Prices Could Help Stop the Keystone XL Expansion

At 3 p.m. on a Friday last January, two days before the 2014 Super Bowl, the State Department released a favorable assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts. Though citizens had submitted nearly two million comments during consideration of the report, the timing suggested officials hoped most people would be focused on football.

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Deadly Black Lung Makes a Comeback Among Coal Miners

In August, when former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited West Virginia to campaign for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Moore Capito, the Democrat in the race was quick to remind voters what Romney had said a decade earlier about the coal industry.

“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people,” Romney had said in 2003, standing outside a Massachusetts coal-fired power plant that was facing new environmental controls. The Democratic candidate’s campaign jumped on this, criticizing Capito for aligning herself with “someone who believes coal ‘kills people’” — a deeply unpopular sentiment in a state where coal has long been king.

The irony, of course, is that coal does kill people, most notably the workers who toil to mine it, and whose union — the United Mine Workers — would eventually endorse the Democrat in the West Virginia Senate contest.

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Fate of Passenger Pigeon 100 Years Ago Looms as a Somber Warning

This September 1 is the 100th anniversary of a landmark event in the history of biodiversity. On that day in 1914, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, Martha – the last surviving passenger pigeon – died at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is extraordinary to know with virtual certainty the day and hour when a species ceases to be a living entity. And it was a stunning development because less than half a century earlier, the passenger pigeon had been the most abundant bird in North America, if not the world. 

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Obama’s New Emission Rules: Will They Survive Challenges?

The Obama Administratin's recent announcement that it plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants evoked cries of protest and warnings of economic doom from the political right, and praise from the center and the left. As the controversy over the proposed rules continues to unfold, two important questions loom: What is the likelihood that these new regulations will actually be put into effect, and how big an impact would they have on the fight to slow climate change?

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New Desalination Technologies Spur Growth in Recyling Water

A ferry plows along San Francisco Bay, trailing a tail of churned up salt, sand, and sludge and further fouling the already murky liquid that John Webley intends to turn into drinking water. But Webley, CEO of a Bay Area start-up working on a new, energy-skimping desalination system, isn’t perturbed.

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Interview: San Francisco's Quest To Recycle All Trash by 2020

San Francisco, the first urban area in the nation to mandate recycling and composting and begin outlawing items like Styrofoam food containers, aims to completely eliminate the trash it sends to landfills by 2020. For the past two decades, Jack Macy has helped steer the city toward that goal. 

Macy, the senior Commercial Zero Waste coordinator for the city and county Department of the Environment, spearheaded most of San Francisco’s groundbreaking waste-reduction legislation, including requiring construction debris recycling (2006), banning plastic checkout bags in retail and grocery stores (2007, expanded in 2012), and making businesses and residents separate recyclables and food waste from their trash (2009). The city now recycles or composts 80 percent of its garbage, more than double the national average. And the firsts continue — in March, San Francisco passed a new law phasing out sales of disposable water bottles on city property. 

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Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source

It’s not difficult to imagine what wind energy looks like — by this point we have all seen the towering turbines dotting the landscape. The same goes for solar power and the panels that are spreading across rooftops worldwide. But there is another form of renewable energy, available in huge quantities, that doesn’t really call to mind anything at all: What does wave power technology look like?

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New Satellite Will Help Scientists Gauge Global Rainfall as the Earth Warms

Climate scientists trying to figure out how fast the world is warming have a hard task on their hands. But, says meteorologist Brian Soden at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, rainfall presents an even tougher nut to crack. "You can be driving down the highway and at one stoplight you’re in sunshine and at the next you’re at a downpour," he sighs. "Temperature isn’t like that."

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WATCH: Wind Turbine Blimps Can Power Remote Locations

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"569968","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","style":"float: right;","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]A Massachusetts company will soon deploy a portable wind energy system using a conventional turbine blade inside a cylindrical blimp that floats about 1,000 feet above the ground, drawing on the stronger winds at that altitude. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), developed by Altaeros, is designed to be used in off-the-grid locations where importing diesel fuel or other energy is expensive. The company recently announced a $1.3 million demonstration project in Alaska that will supply power to about a dozen homes. Altaeros says it is also working on deals to install projects in remote locations in Canada and Australia. The BAT, made of industrial fabric, sends power back via high-strength tethers that hold it to the ground. Altaeros is one of several companies developing wind turbines that hover above the earth or fly, including Makani, which has invented a turbine that looks like a flying wing. Makani was acquired last year by Google X.

New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions

Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.

But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.

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Is Weird Winter Weather Related to Climate Change?

This winter’s weather has been weird across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Record storms in Europe; record drought in California; record heat in parts of the Arctic, including Alaska and parts of Scandinavia; but record freezes too, as polar air blew south over Canada and the U.S., causing near-record ice cover on the Great Lakes, sending the mercury as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius in Minnesota, and bringing sharp chills to Texas.

Everyone is blaming the jet stream, which drives most weather in mid-latitudes. That would be a significant development. For what happens to the jet stream in the coming decades looks likely to be the key link between the abstractions of climate change and real weather we all experience. So, is our recent strange weather a sign of things to come? Are we, as British opposition leader Ed Milliband put it this month while surveying a flooded nation, "sleepwalking to a climate crisis"?

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As Fracking Booms, Growing Concerns About Waste Water

An hour south of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania’s Washington County, millions of gallons of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing wells are stored in large impoundment ponds and so-called "closed container" tanks. The wastewater is then piped to treatment plants, where it is cleaned up and discharged into streams; trucked to Ohio and pumped deep down injection wells; or reused in other fracking operations.

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Amid Elephant Slaughter, Ivory Trade in U.S. Continues

On a cool, bright day last November, hundreds of journalists, environmentalists, and politicians gathered on the outskirts of Denver to watch U.S. officials drop almost six tons of contraband elephant ivory into a mobile-home-sized rock crusher. The rumbling machine soon reduced the raw tusks and tourist carvings into piles of pebbles and clouds of sour-tasting dust.

The ivory represented most of the U.S. government stockpile, and it had been seized from smugglers, tourists, and illegal sellers over the previous 25 years. Its dramatic destruction was designed to send the message that the U.S. was taking the lead in fighting the scourge of poaching, which now kills an estimated 35,000 of Africa’s elephants annually, about one-tenth the remaining population.

The "ivory crush" capped a year of strong rhetoric from U.S. government and conservation nonprofits that had framed the illegal killing of elephants as a threat to national security – ivory profits, the message has been, fund terror groups. The burgeoning demand for ivory in Asia was blamed for the upsurge in poaching, with China cited as the largest market, followed, most experts said, by Thailand and Vietnam.

Yet amid all the media coverage, little attention has been paid to the U.S.’s own trade in legal and illegal ivory, which experts say, trails only the very largest Asian markets. It’s legal to sell African elephant ivory imported before 1989 and Asian elephant ivory removed from the wild before 1976 within the U.S., and illegal sales regularly occur under cover of the legal market – a ton of illegal ivory was seized in a single raid on New York stores in 2011. Ivory in the U.S. is largely unmonitored, and the laws regulating it are antiquated, confusing, and shot through with loopholes. In addition, the agencies tasked with enforcing these laws are underfunded and chronically short-staffed.

If 2013 was a year of talking about ivory trafficking, conservationists hope that 2014 will be a year of action. This week, the Obama administration announced that it will change regulations in the coming months to ban interstate sales of all ivory except certified antiques; limit elephant trophy imports to two per hunter; cut off commercial imports of antique ivory; and increase certification requirements for the remaining trade.

While conservation groups are applauding these planned moves, they note that Congress needs to pass additional laws to increase penalties for violations and approve additional funding needed for enforcement. The U.S., conservationists say, still has a lot of work to do.

Edward Grace, deputy assistant director for law enforcement at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, calls the U.S. "a large consumer of ivory." Although recent ivory seizures in Asia dwarf those made in the U.S., he says, "you can go into New York City, you can go into Washington D.C., you can go into San Francisco, and there’s ivory for sale.

"The price of [raw, uncarved] ivory ten years ago was less than $1,000 a pound," but it now sells for "almost $1,500 a pound," says Grace, which indicates steady or increasing demand.

In 1989 the U.S. enacted the African Elephant Conservation Act, which placed a moratorium on the import of most African elephant ivory. Under the terms of the act, ivory imported into the U.S. before 1989 – called ‘pre-ban’ ivory – is legal to own, use and sell. Ivory imported after the law went into effect is generally not legally saleable, unless it’s a worked antique item that is at least a hundred years old, in which case its sale is allowed under a so-called "antiques exemption."

According to figures recently sourced from government agencies by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), more than 7,500 ivory carvings and 1,746 elephant trophies (with two tusks apiece) were legally imported into the U.S. between 2009 and 2012. Thousands more ivory pieces, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of loose tusks were legally imported during the same period. IFAW found that ivory valued at more than $1 million was available for sale via online auctions in a single month in 2013.

The fact that pre-ban and antique ivory is legally sold, generally without certification, presents a serious problem for law enforcement. Even with high-tech tools, there’s often no way to tell pre-ban from post-ban ivory, or a real antique from a new piece of ivory that’s been distressed or discolored to look like an antique. Authorities can find it impossible to tell African elephant ivory from Asian elephant ivory, which is regulated under different laws, or from any number of other ivory-like substances: mammoth ivory, hippo teeth, walrus teeth, warthog tusks, and so on. Many times the only means of identifying specific types of ivory is via expensive, destructive lab tests, says Grace.

As a law enforcement agent going into a store, he says, "if you ask how old the ivory is, the first thing you’re going to get is it’s either a hundred years old or it’s pre-ban – and a lot of times that’s based on nothing.

"It’s not like you walk into a store and find someone selling cocaine, which is illegal on its face."

Pending implementation of measures proposed by the Obama administration this week, there currently is no requirement for an item of pre-ban ivory to be officially certified or documented, and its sale does not need to be recorded. Antique ivory must be certified under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) if it’s to be imported or exported from the U.S,. but its mere possession does not require that.

In addition, a 1997 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling weakened the 1989 African Elephant Conservation Act by shifting the burden of proof on to the government in ivory cases: To successfully prosecute someone under that law, the government now has to show that he or she knew they were in possession of or selling African elephant ivory imported after 1989 and also knew this was illegal.

"The illegal ivory is hidden a lot of times in plain sight, with dealers claiming it’s legal ivory," says Grace. He notes that cases against sellers of illegal ivory usually have had to be built through expensive, time-consuming undercover investigations. "We’ve got to work into these groups so [they] will tell us. ‘Oh, we know this ivory’s not a hundred years old’."

The proposed regulatory changes will place the onus on ivory sellers to provide documents to prove an object’s origins and age, which, say agents, should significantly ease enforcement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has about 200 agents across the U.S., and a single ivory or rhino horn investigation can occupy up to 30 agents and take 18 months. Grace notes the overstretched agency has the same number of agents as it did in the late 1970s, even though "many more species have been added to the Endangered Species Act," which the service is charged with enforcing. Federal officials have not clarified how they plan to increase staff levels in light of the newly announced enforcement strategy.

A handful of states including New York, Illinois, and California have passed state ivory laws, and others, like Hawaii, may do so soon. These can assist law enforcement — New York, for example, requires ivory dealers to have a permit, which discourages some illegal traders. But the patchwork of state and federal laws tends to confuse consumers and can further complicate enforcement.

The simplest situation in which to prosecute ivory traffickers has been when they bring illegal ivory across U.S. borders, according to Grace. Transporting illegally taken (poached) or illegally sold ivory across national or state borders is a violation of wildlife and smuggling laws, which carry heavy penalties. But many ports of entry don’t have trained wildlife inspectors, and much cargo — for example, ship-borne containers — is not inspected at all.

Although ivory sale restrictions enacted by relatively simple regulatory changes and state legislatures could be an important tool to slow the illegal trade, there are important legislative actions that only Congress can take, says Ginette Hemley of the World Wildlife Fund-US, particularly with respect to increasing the penalties for ivory trafficking.

"We want to see wildlife crimes treated as serious crimes," she says, "which means invoking other statutes for example which apply to narcotics trafficking and money laundering and serious fraud.

"We want to see a broader suite of actions that really puts teeth into the system."

Many conservationists are concerned that any restrictions on ivory sales and imports might be weakened in the future in the face of opposition from antique auction houses that sell high-value goods containing ivory and from sport hunting organizations.

Washington-based sources who did not want to be named told me that restrictions on the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies and tusks were unpopular among members of Congress, some of whom are enthusiastic sport hunters themselves. "No one [in Congress] will talk to us about ivory if we mention restrictions on sport-hunted trophies," says one policy advocate for a large nonprofit organization.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s official position is that controlled hunting does not represent a threat to African elephant populations, although it does acknowledge that some sport-hunted ivory has been illegally sold on the black market. And the figures obtained by IFAW indicate that more elephants are legally killed by U.S. hunters than are poached in some African countries.

Beth Allgood, IFAW’s campaigns manager, emphasized that new regulations and laws regarding ivory need to be as simple and easy to enforce as possible. "Whatever gets done through whatever process, it just can’t be complicated," she says.

The U.S. "has a major problem at home" says Elizabeth Bennett, vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, "but historically, the U.S has led the way in terms of species conservation for the whole world through its Endangered Species Act and its contributions to CITES.

"From that point of view alone, even if it’s not the single biggest market [for ivory], it could really set an example by addressing it."

Growing Insects: Farmers Can Help to Bring Back Pollinators

For the last few years, Richard Rant has agreed to let researchers introduce strips of wildflowers among the blueberry plants on his family’s farm in West Olive, Michigan. It’s part of an experiment to see if the wildflowers can encourage pollinating insects and, in a small way, begin to reverse the worldwide decline in beneficial insects. It’s also a pioneering effort in the nascent movement to persuade farmers to grow insects almost as if they were a crop.

That movement is being driven by news that is disturbingly bad even by gloomy environmental standards. Insects pollinate 75 percent of the crops used directly for human food worldwide. They contribute $210 billion in agricultural earnings. But honeybees are now so scarce, according to a new study from the University of Reading, that Europe is 13.6 million colonies short of the number needed to pollinate crops there. Nor can farmers count on natural pollinators as a backup system. A 2011 study sampled four North American bumblebee species and found that they have declined by as much 96 percent over the past century. In China, the loss of wild bees has forced farmers to hand-pollinate apple blossoms using paint brushes.

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Can Microgrids Bring Low-Carbon Power to Tens of Millions of People?

Bharath Kumar was furious that the lights went out an hour early. His candy-making operation in the village of Tamkuha, in northern India, had been plunged into darkness at mid-batch, forcing him to use a weak, battery-powered lantern to manage his boiling pots. 

"If I knew that the power would be shut off an hour earlier, I would not have mixed the sugar in the flour," he fumed. "This is not the first time. I will keep a record of when the power is switched off every night and show this when they come for collections." 

People everywhere complain about the power company, but Kumar’s power company has an unusual challenge. Husk Power provides light bulbs and a small amount of electricity to about 200,000 people in 300 tiny farming villages across the state of Bihar that have never been touched by the electric grid. Each village has a generator powered by burning and gasifying rice husks, a byproduct of farming that is otherwise wasted. 

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Shipping Crude Oil by Rail: New Front in Tar Sands Wars

On New Year's Eve 2009, a train with 104 tank cars of light crude oil traveled 1,123 miles from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to a terminal in Stroud, Oklahoma, and opened a new front in the war over development of Canada's tar sands. 

It didn't seem that way at the time. EOG Resources, the company that owned the oil, simply needed a way to get its crude out of North Dakota, where production since the advent of oil fracking there nearly a decade earlier had far exceeded the capacity of available pipelines and trucks. The 2009 shipment is now considered a bellwether event, marking the first significant movement of U.S. crude oil by rail in many decades. Less than four years later, railroads have shipped as much as 600,000 barrels a day from the Bakken and are transporting crude not just from North Dakota but from oil-fracking sites in Montana, Texas, Utah, Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, and southern Canada. Across North America, trains are now moving nearly a million barrels of crude a day, and that number will continue to grow rapidly. 

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A Surprising Country Is Hoping Renewable Energy Can Revive its Struggling Economy

Amid clouds of steam spewing from magma-heated pockets beneath Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula, a start-up company is tapping volcanic forces to transform the climate change agent carbon dioxide from a problem into a solution. 

Using geothermal electricity and flue gas from the Svartsengi power plant nearby, Carbon Recycling International (CRI) fuses waste CO2, with hydrogen split from water to create "renewable methanol." The Reykjavik-based clean-tech venture recently began exporting the product to the Netherlands, where it is blended into gasoline. Its name, conjuring images of a comic book superhero, is Vulcanol. While others elsewhere are working on similar efforts to make green fuel from repurposed CO2, only CRI has been able to do it commercially, thanks to Iceland’s abundant supply of low-cost, earth-generated power. 

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Why Offshore Wind Energy May Take Off on the East Coast

In June, after years of offshore wind power projects being thwarted in the United States, the first offshore wind turbine began spinning off the U.S. coast. The turbine was not a multi-megawatt, 400-foot behemoth off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Texas — all places where projects had long been proposed. Rather, the turbine was installed in Castine Harbor, Maine, rising only 60 feet in the air and featuring a 20-kilowatt capacity — enough to power only a few homes. 

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