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Reducing food waste could save the global economy $300 billion a year

February 27, 2015 Comments off

Reducing food waste could save the global economy $300 billion a year
Source: Waste & Resources Action Programme and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Reducing consumer food waste could save between US$120 and 300 billion per year by 2030 according to a new report by WRAP (The Waste & Resources Action Programme) and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. To achieve this would require a 20-50% reduction in consumer food waste.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, while the value of global consumer food waste is more than US$400 billion per year. As the global middle class expands over the course of the decade, the cost could rise to US$600 billion, according to new research conducted by WRAP for the Global Commission.

Their report, Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste, also identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption.

Options for Improving Conservation Programs: Insights from Auction Theory and Economic Experiments

February 25, 2015 Comments off

Options for Improving Conservation Programs: Insights from Auction Theory and Economic Experiments
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

USDA spends over $5 billion per year on conservation programs, mostly on voluntary programs that pay farmers and landowners to provide environmental services. This report studies the use of auctions in conservation programs to determine if auction design can reduce Government expenditures or encourage landowners to provide greater environmental services.

Implications of the Circumpolar Genetic Structure of Polar Bears for Their Conservation in a Rapidly Warming Arctic

February 25, 2015 Comments off

Implications of the Circumpolar Genetic Structure of Polar Bears for Their Conservation in a Rapidly Warming Arctic
Source: PLoS ONE

We provide an expansive analysis of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) circumpolar genetic variation during the last two decades of decline in their sea-ice habitat. We sought to evaluate whether their genetic diversity and structure have changed over this period of habitat decline, how their current genetic patterns compare with past patterns, and how genetic demography changed with ancient fluctuations in climate. Characterizing their circumpolar genetic structure using microsatellite data, we defined four clusters that largely correspond to current ecological and oceanographic factors: Eastern Polar Basin, Western Polar Basin, Canadian Archipelago and Southern Canada. We document evidence for recent (ca. last 1–3 generations) directional gene flow from Southern Canada and the Eastern Polar Basin towards the Canadian Archipelago, an area hypothesized to be a future refugium for polar bears as climate-induced habitat decline continues. Our data provide empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis. The direction of current gene flow differs from earlier patterns of gene flow in the Holocene. From analyses of mitochondrial DNA, the Canadian Archipelago cluster and the Barents Sea subpopulation within the Eastern Polar Basin cluster did not show signals of population expansion, suggesting these areas may have served also as past interglacial refugia. Mismatch analyses of mitochondrial DNA data from polar and the paraphyletic brown bear (U. arctos) uncovered offset signals in timing of population expansion between the two species, that are attributed to differential demographic responses to past climate cycling. Mitogenomic structure of polar bears was shallow and developed recently, in contrast to the multiple clades of brown bears. We found no genetic signatures of recent hybridization between the species in our large, circumpolar sample, suggesting that recently observed hybrids represent localized events. Documenting changes in subpopulation connectivity will allow polar nations to proactively adjust conservation actions to continuing decline in sea-ice habitat.

See: Polar Bears Shifting to Areas with More Sea Ice — Genetic Study Reveals (USGS)

CRS — Water Quality Issues in the 114th Congress: An Overview (January 21, 2015)

February 24, 2015 Comments off

Water Quality Issues in the 114th Congress: An Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Congressional Research Service)

Much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that Congress established in 1972 in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. However, long-standing problems persist, and new problems have emerged. Water quality problems are diverse, ranging from pollution runoff from farms and ranches, city streets, and other diffuse or “nonpoint” sources, to toxic substances discharged from factories and sewage treatment plants.

There is little agreement among stakeholders about what solutions are needed, whether legislation is required to address the nation’s remaining water pollution problems, or whether regulatory authorities should be reduced. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend the CWA have stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to change the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on enacting narrow bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs, but not comprehensive proposals.

CRS — Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (February 9, 2015)

February 23, 2015 Comments off

Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Over the past few decades there has been heightened concern about the plight of honey bees as well as other bee species. Given the importance of honey bees and other bee species to food production, many have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades. Although honey bee colony losses due to bee pests, parasites, pathogens, and disease are not uncommon, there is the perception that bee health has been declining more rapidly than in prior years, both in the United States and globally. This situation gained increased attention in 2006 as some commercial beekeepers began reporting sharp declines in their honey bee colonies. Because of the severity and unusual circumstances of these colony declines, scientists named this phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD). Since then, honey bee colonies have continued to dwindle each year, for reasons not solely attributable to CCD. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that CCD may not be the only or even the major cause of bee colony losses in recent years. In the United States, USDA estimates of overwinter colony losses from all causes have averaged nearly 30% annually since 2006.

The precise reasons for honey bee losses are not yet known. USDA and most scientists working on the subject seem to agree that no research conclusively points to one single cause for the large number of honey bee deaths. This general conclusion was reconfirmed in a 2013 joint report by USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Reasons cited for bee declines include a wide range of possible factors thought to be negatively affecting pollinator species. However, one issue widely noted is the role that pesticides—in particular, neonicotinoid pesticides—might play in overall bee health. Pesticides are the focus of this report. Pesticides are among many identified factors known to affect bee health, including pests and diseases, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and other environmental stressors, and beekeeping management issues, as well as the possibility that bees are being negatively affected by cumulative, multiple exposures and/or the interactive effects of several of these factors.

Increase in mercury in Pacific yellowfin tuna

February 20, 2015 Comments off

Increase in mercury in Pacific yellowfin tuna
Source: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to levels that threaten human and environmental health. Models and empirical data suggest that humans are responsible for a great deal of the mercury actively cycling in the environment at present. Thus, one might predict that the concentration of mercury in fish should have increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. Evidence in support of this hypothesis has been hard to find, however, and some studies have suggested that analyses of fish show no change in mercury concentration. By compiling and re-analyzing published reports on yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) caught near Hawaii (USA) over the past half century, the authors found that the concentration of mercury in these fish currently is increasing at a rate of at least 3.8% per year. This rate of increase is consistent with a model of anthropogenic forcing on the mercury cycle in the North Pacific Ocean and suggests that fish mercury concentrations are keeping pace with current loading increases to the ocean. Future increases in mercury in yellowfin tuna and other fishes can be avoided by reductions in atmospheric mercury emissions from point sources. Environ Toxicol Chem 2015;9999:1–4. © 2015 SETAC

SIGAR — Final Assessment: What We Have Learned From Our Inspections of Incinerators and Use of Burn Pits in Afghanistan

February 19, 2015 Comments off

Final Assessment: What We Have Learned From Our Inspections of Incinerators and Use of Burn Pits in Afghanistan
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

This report presents SIGAR’s final assessment of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of incinera – tors and open-air burn pits to dispose of solid waste in Afghanistan. The facts and concluding observations contained in this report are based on inspections conducted by SIGAR between October 2012 and June 2014 at Camp Leatherneck, Forward Operating Base Salerno, Forward Operating Base Sha – rana, and Shindand Airbase. By addressing at a systemic level the common problems identified in this report, DOD could improve management of solid waste disposal in future contingency operations.

This report highlights the ways in which incinerator operations in Afghanistan were not conducted in a manner that resulted in the most efficient use of U.S. taxpayer funds. Unfortunately, in many instances DOD officials did not take sufficient steps to ensure the proper management of contracts for the construction of the incinerators to address the problems identified during our inspections of particular incinerator facilities. Given the fact that DOD has been aware for many years of the significant health risks associated with open-air burn pits, it is indefensible that U.S. military personnel, who are already at risk of serious injury and death when fighting the enemy, were put at further risk from the potentially harmful emissions from the use of open-air burn pits.

Because SIGAR’s prior inspection reports on incinerators contained numerous recommenda- tions to improve the planning and management of incinerator facilities, this report contains no new recommendations. We provided a draft of this report to U.S. Central Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and U.S. Forces–Afghanistan (USFOR-A) for review and comment. USACE and USFOR-A provided us with written comments, which are reproduced in appendices IV and V, respectively. Technical comments were incorporated into this report, as appropriate.

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