Do we have too many national monuments? 4 essential reads

Editor’s note: The following is a roundup of archival stories. Under an order from President Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reviewing the status of 27 national monuments that were designated or expanded by presidents as far back as Jan. 1, 1996, using authority under the Antiquities Act. Conservation groups and Native American tribes strongly support creating national monuments to protect sensitive lands and public resources from development or exploitation.…

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How electric vehicles could take a bite out of the oil market

When will cars powered by gas-guzzling internal combustion engines become obsolete? Not as soon as it seems, even with the latest automotive news out of Europe. First, Volvo announced it would begin to phase out the production of cars that run solely on gasoline or diesel by 2019 by only releasing new models that are electric or plug-in hybrids. Then, France and the U.K. declared they would ban sales of…

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Stranded in our own communities: Transit deserts make it hard for people to find jobs and stay healthy

As any commuter who has experienced unreliable service or lives miles away from a bus stop will tell you, sometimes public transit isn’t really a viable option, even in major cities. In our car-loving society, where 85 percent of Americans use a car to get to work, people who cannot access transportation are excluded from their own communities and trapped inside “transit deserts.” This term, which one of us (Junfeng…

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History shows that stacking federal science advisory committees doesn’t work

Scientists are busy people, but every year thousands donate many hours of their time without payment to advise Congress and federal government agencies. They provide input on all kinds of issues, from antibiotic resistance to mapping the world’s oceans in three dimensions. The Trump administration has raised alarms by signaling that it is determined to replace scientific advisers who are not in line with its political philosophy. Environmental Protection Agency…

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Sharkathon 2017 is here: How to watch it like a scientist

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your television, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and National Geographic Wild’s SharkFest are hitting the air with competing daily programming. As director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator of the International Shark Attack File, my advice to viewers is to cast a jaundiced eye on each episode’s title and premise. Remember, TV show titles and preview teases…

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The Georgia peach may be vanishing, but its mythology is alive and well

This is a tough year for the Georgia peach. In February, growers fretted about warm winter temperatures, which prevented some fruit from developing properly. They were more discouraged in March after a late freeze damaged many of the remaining fruit. By May they were predicting an 80 percent crop loss. Now in July they are lamenting one of the worst years in living memory. With relatively few Georgia peaches this…

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Human noise pollution is disrupting parks and wild places

As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places. Protected areas in the United…

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Women still carry most of the world’s water

Imagine going through your day without access to clean, safe water in your home for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing whenever you need it. According to a new report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 2.1 billion people around the world face that challenge every day. And the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls, especially in rural areas. Water, a human right, is…

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Is a healthy environment a human right? Testing the idea in Appalachia

Do we have a fundamental right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and eat safe food? The idea of environmental human rights is receiving growing attention worldwide, driven by our global ecological crisis. But the United States has lagged behind in codifying these rights into laws and in successfully furthering them. While this may seem like an issue for legal scholars, it has very real importance for regions like…

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Environmental defenders being killed in record numbers globally, new research reveals | Environment | The Guardian

Last year was the most perilous ever for people defending their community’s land, natural resources or wildlife, with new research showing that environmental defenders are being killed at the rate of almost four a week across the world. Two hundred environmental activists, wildlife rangers and indigenous leaders trying to protect their land were killed in 2016, according to the watchdog group Global Witness – more than double the number killed…

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The next step in sustainable design: Bringing the weather indoors

A building’s primary purpose may be to keep the weather out, but most do such an effective job of this that they also inadvertently deprive us of contact with two key requirements for our well-being and effectiveness: nature and change. In the 1950s Donald Hebb’s Arousal Theory established that people need a degree of changing sensory stimulation in order to remain fully attentive. And 30 years later, landmark research by…

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One of the biggest icebergs in recorded history just broke loose from Antarctica – The Washington Post

Scientists announced Wednesday that a much anticipated break at the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica has occurred, unleashing a massive iceberg that is more than 2,200 square miles in area and weighs a trillion tons. In other words, the iceberg — one of the largest in recorded history to splinter off the Antarctic ice sheets — is close to the size of Delaware and consists of almost four times…

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Cleaning up toxic sites shouldn’t clear out the neighbors

San Francisco has embarked on a project to transform its industrial southeast waterfront into a bike-friendly destination called the Blue Greenway. When completed, the Blue Greenway will be a 13-mile network of parks, bike lanes and trails along the southeastern edge of the city. Among its many benefits, the project creates green space and waterfront access in the low-income Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. The Blue Greenway is part of a…

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How environmentalists can regroup for the Trump era

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has launched an all-out assault on regulations that protect the environment. In addition to retreating from the Paris climate accord, he wants to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by more than 30 percent and he has issued executive orders instructing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back or bypass clean air and clean water rules. Pruitt has enthusiastically championed these initiatives by seeking…

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Does Scott Pruitt have a solid case for repealing the Clean Water Rule?

On June 27, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule rescinding the Obama administration’s “Clean Water Rule.” This regulation is designed to clarify which streams, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act. EPA developed the Clean Water Rule in an attempt to resolve uncertainty created by a fractured 2006 Supreme Court decision, Rapanos v. United States. The Rapanos ruling…

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If we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now, would we stop climate change?

Earth’s climate is changing rapidly. We know this from billions of observations, documented in thousands of journal papers and texts and summarized every few years by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The primary cause of that change is the release of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas. One of the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change is to limit the increase…

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Ocean life: 5 essential reads

If you’re spending this holiday weekend at the beach or headed there later this summer, take a moment to consider how many amazing life forms inhabit the oceans. From microscopic plankton to apex predators like great white sharks, the marine world teems with bizarre and often beautiful life forms. Here we offer looks at a few of them. My, what big teeth you have Readers who grew up with the…

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Is energy ‘dominance’ the right goal for US policy?

In recent weeks, a new energy buzzword has taken flight from Washington, D.C., making stops in Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Utah and more: “American energy dominance.” Taking a cue from a 2016 speech by then-candidate Donald Trump, top federal officials including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have begun to trumpet the notion of energy “dominance.” Although no Cabinet official has offered a precise definition, it’s a…

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Urban nature: What kinds of plants and wildlife flourish in cities?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of all living things on Earth, but people often have very specific ideas of what it means. If you run an online search for images of biodiversity, you are likely to find lots of photos of tropical rainforests and coral reefs. Those ecosystems are invaluable, but biodiversity also exists in many other places. More than half of the people on Earth live in cities, and…

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Energy wonks have a meltdown over the US going 100 percent renewable. Why?

Science is messy, but it doesn’t have to be dirty. On June 19, a group of respected energy researchers released a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that critiqued a widely cited study on how to power the U.S. using only renewable energy sources. This new paper, authored by former NOAA researcher Christopher Clack and a small army of academics, said that the initial…

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Government action isn’t enough for climate change. The private sector can cut billions of tons of carbon

With President Trump’s announcement to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, many other countries around the world – and cities and states within the U.S. – are stepping up their commitments to address climate change. But one thing is clear: Even if all the remaining participating nations do their part, governments alone can’t substantially reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. We’ve studied the role of the…

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Even ugly animals can win hearts and dollars to save them from extinction

The Earth is home to millions of species, but you wouldn’t know it from the media’s obsession with only a few dozen animals like tigers and gorillas. This narrow focus makes the most of popular fascination with large and cute creatures. Conservationists take advantage of these nonhuman celebrities to raise awareness about important issues and to seek donations to help save endangered animals. Given the multi-billion-dollar funding shortfall for nature…

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Once at the vanguard of national policy, California plays defense under Trump

Xavier Becerra, California’s combative attorney general, has become the Golden State’s face of resistance to the Trump administration’s domestic initiatives, the blunt voice rejecting the president’s attempts to roll back the progressive immigration and environmental policies so central to California’s sense of itself. At a June 16 press conference, for example, Becerra pushed back against stricter immigration enforcement, saying his office would review conditions at immigrant detention facilities in conjunction…

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Silent partners: Are earthworms creating pathways for invasive plants?

Small but mighty, earthworms transform the soil of any ecosystem they inhabit. In farm fields, we appreciate the way they recycle nutrients and aerate soil. But in forests, earthworms’ services can be less welcome. Glaciers removed native earthworms from northeastern North America and the Great Lakes region 12,000 years ago, so the forests that now stand in these regions developed largely without earthworms. Native earthworms have only slowly returned north.…

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Climate change is shrinking the Colorado River

The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead on the Arizona/Nevada border and Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah border, were brim full in the year 2000. Four short years later, they had lost enough water to supply California its legally apportioned share of Colorado River water for more than five years. Now, 17 years later, they still have not recovered. This ongoing, unprecedented event threatens water supplies to Los Angeles, San…

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Cities can jump-start climate progress by plugging in their vehicles

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement reaffirmed what was already clear: The federal government is no longer leading American efforts to shrink our carbon footprint. But many state and local governments – along with businesses and consumers – aim to help fill this policy void. At least a dozen governors have joined the United States Climate Alliance, committing their states to achieve emissions reductions consistent with…

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When politicians cherry-pick data and disregard facts, what should we academics do?

When politicians distort science, academics and scientists tend to watch in shock from the sidelines rather than speak out. But in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need to step into the breach and inject scientific literacy into the political discourse. Nowhere is this obligation more vivid than the debate over climate change. Contrary to the consensus of scientific agencies worldwide, the president has called climate change…

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