Are California Oil Companies Complying With the Law? Even Regulators Often Don’t Know.

Read the full story at ProPublica.

This oil and gas regulatory agency was given more resources to protect the public and environment. But with its “useless” record-keeping system and lax enforcement practices, it still struggles to hold delinquent companies accountable.

Is country of origin labelling a question of sustainability?

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Europeans want to know more about where their food comes from. Would mandatory country of origin labelling mean consumers make more sustainable food choices?

No, Fast Food Can’t Ignore Mounting Waste and the Plastics Crisis

Read the full story at Triple Pundit.

In the U.K., Burger King has just unveiled its “Burger King for Good” plan. The bright, color-blocked landing page touches on the fast food brand’s response to a range of issues, including animal welfare, responsible sourcing of ingredients, plastics use, diversity and inclusion, community support and healthy food.

One of the more quantified commitments in the company’s plan relates to plastics and builds on company-wide activity. In October, Burger King announced it would begin a trial of reusable sandwich boxes and cups at select restaurants in New York, Portland and Tokyo. The move connected to the corporation’s goal to source all packaging from renewable, recyclable or certified sources by 2025.

Strict environmental laws ‘push’ firms to pollute elsewhere

Read the full story from Ohio State University.

Multinational companies headquartered in countries with tougher environmental policies tend to locate their polluting factories in countries with more lax regulations, a new study finds.

While countries may hope their regulations will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, these results show that these policies can lead to “carbon leakage” to other nations, said Itzhak Ben-David, co-author of the study and professor of finance at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

The study was published online recently in the journal Economic Policy.

Your favorite fishing stream may be at high risk from climate change – here’s how to tell

Stream temperature affects the survival of fish like salmon and trout. Peter Adams/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

by Danielle Hare (University of Connecticut)

Many of the streams that people count on for fishing, water and recreation are getting warmer as global temperatures rise. But they aren’t all heating up in the same way.

If communities can figure out where these streams will warm the most, they can plan for the future. That has been difficult to predict in the past, but a new method involving temperature patterns may make it easier.

People have widely assumed that streams fed by substantial amounts of groundwater are more resistant to climate change than those fed mostly by snowmelt or rain. It turns out that this groundwater buffering effect varies quite a bit. The depth of the groundwater affects the stream temperature response to warming, which in turn affects the habitats of fish and other wildlife and plants.

In a study published March 4 in the journal Nature Communications, my colleagues and I describe a simple, inexpensive method that allows communities to look at the temperature history of a stream compared to local air temperature to gauge the depth of the groundwater feeding into it and, from there, assess its risk as the climate changes.

Why temperature matters

While a few degrees of temperature change may not seem like much, the majority of animals living in streams and rivers cannot regulate their own body temperatures, so they move around in the environment to find suitable habitats. Many have adapted over time to a narrow range of temperatures. For example, when the waters are warm, especially during hot summer months with low water flow, fish like salmon and trout that live in colder waters must seek out colder water or perish. These ecological effects can have cascading consequences – for wildlife, humans and local economies.

Most streams flow all the time. During times without rainfall, water in streams mostly comes from below ground. In fact, groundwater is thought to make up an average of 52% of surface water flow across the United States.

Because groundwater is typically colder than surface water in summer, the groundwater flowing into streams can buffer the overall stream temperature from climate warming. However, deeper groundwater tends to have more stable temperatures than groundwater closer to the surface.

Map from the study
A new technique can classify whether the water flowing into streams is primarily from groundwater and whether that groundwater is from shallow or deep sources. Danielle Hare, CC BY-ND

Previous studies have shown that groundwater temperature is tied to the depth that it travels. Shallow groundwater is more readily influenced by climate variability because it’s close to the land surface. It is also more susceptible to drying, which can reduce, or even disconnect, the shallow groundwater flow from the stream.

Our research builds on these observations. We found that streams with shallow groundwater sources are likely to be warming as much as streams fed mostly by snowmelt and rain, and at similar rates.

Figuring out a stream’s risk

The main method currently used to evaluate if streams are fed by groundwater at large scales cannot differentiate between a stream that relies on shallow groundwater and one fed by deep groundwater. That means that plans for how to manage the effects of climate change are likely not accounting for these important differences. Other studies have also shown that changes to the land, such as from wildfires, snow pack changes and deforestation, influence shallow groundwater temperature more than deep groundwater temperature.

Looking at temperature patterns can provide more information about the risks streams might face.

We found that when the temperature of a stream follows the same warming and cooling pattern as the air temperature, with a time lag of about 10-40 days, that stream is likely being fed by shallow groundwater. Deeper groundwater stays cooler in the summer and the stream’s temperature doesn’t fluctuate as much.

Chart of stream water and air temperature
When stream water temperature follows the same warming pattern as local air temperature, but with a lag of about 10 to 40 days, it’s a sign that the stream is fed by shallow groundwater. Danielle Hare, CC BY-ND

We analyzed the water and air temperature at 1,424 sites along streams across the United States and found that approximately 40% of the streams were strongly influenced by groundwater. Of those, we found that half were fed predominantly by shallow groundwater, which was much higher than expected. Comparing this method’s results against field and modeling data in smaller studies has shown its rigor.

Because this method requires only stream and air temperature data, landowners and local communities can gather the data at little cost, or it may already be available. Once that information is known, they can plan for future changes and take steps to protect the water quality in streams that are most likely to provide long-term stability.

Danielle Hare, Hydrogeologist, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Connecticut

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

FDA to set action levels for contaminants in ‘key foods,’ in wake of baby food heavy metals report

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Under pressure to act in the wake of the recent congressional report into heavy metals in baby food, the FDA says it will issue “guidance to identify action levels for contaminants in key foods,” as lawsuits against baby food brands pile up, although it has not provided a likely timetable.

Chemistry Research Leads to Breakthrough in Development of Thermoelectric Devices

Read the full story from the University of Louisville.

A research study led by the University of Kentucky Department of Chemistry has discovered a new way to dramatically boost the performance of electrically conductive polymers. The discovery is considered a significant step forward in the development of organic thermoelectric devices, which can convert waste heat into useful electric energy.

Conductive polymers, which are electrically conductive plastics, have the potential to transform current electronic devices, such as smart watches, by powering the devices based on the user’s body heat. They are also attractive for converting waste heat from coal-fired power plants or heat from a car’s engine into electricity.

Five predictions for corporate renewables

Read the full story at Smart Energy International.

Rob Collier, vice-president of developer relations at renewables’ marketplace LevelTen Energy, outlines key trends to watch. If you want to predict where the renewable energy industry is headed, you simply have to look toward the world’s largest technology companies.

At Yale, new FedEx-supported center to focus on climate change solutions

Read the full story from Yale University.

A $100 million gift from FedEx will help fund a new center at Yale University focused on developing natural solutions for reducing atmospheric carbon. The Center for Natural Carbon Capture will support and accelerate research across academic disciplines, helping to establish a more sustainable and healthier future for our planet.

The center is a key aspect of both Yale’s broader Planetary Solutions Project — a campus-wide effort to develop integrated, powerful solutions to Earth’s climate and biodiversity crises — and the ambitious goal from FedEx to achieve carbon neutral operations globally by 2040.

Growing food and protecting nature don’t have to conflict – here’s how they can work together

Paul and Becky Rogers converted 14 acres of land in Kent County, Mich. to habitat that supports pollinators, songbirds and wildlife. USDA/Flickr, CC BY

by Thomas Hertel (Purdue University)

Growing food in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way – while also producing enough of it – is among the most important challenges facing the U.S. and the world today.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that food security can’t be taken for granted. Putting affordable food on the table requires both innovative producers and well-functioning markets and global supply chains. With disruptions to the system, prices rise, food is scarce – and people go hungry.

But feeding the world’s 7.8 billion people sustainably – including 332 million Americans – presents significant environmental challenges. Farming uses 70% of the world’s fresh water. Fertilizers pollute water with nitrates and phosphates, sparking algal blooms and creating dead zones like the one that forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico.

Clear-cutting land for farms and ranches is the main driver of deforestation. Overall, the planet loses about 48,000 square miles (125,000 square kilometers) of forest each year. Without habitat, wildlife disappears. Farming also produces roughly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

All of these challenges make balancing food production with environmental security a crucial issue for the Biden administration, which is working to address both a hunger crisis and an environmental crisis in the U.S.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on weather patterns, making conditions more challenging for farmers. But scholars and the Biden administration believe agriculture can be part of the solution.

Two different pathways

As an economist studying food systems, I’m keenly aware that trying to provide affordable food and a thriving agricultural sector while also preserving the environment can result in many trade-offs. Consider the different strategies that the U.S. and Northern Europe have pursued: The U.S. prioritizes increased agricultural output, while the EU emphasizes environmental services from farming.

Over the past 70 years, the U.S. has increased crop production with ever more sophisticated seed technologies and highly mechanized farming methods that employ far fewer workers. These new technologies have contributed to farm productivity growth which has, in turn, allowed U.S. farm output to rise without significant growth in the aggregate economic index of agricultural input use.

This approach contrasts sharply with Northern Europe’s strategy, which emphasizes using less land and other inputs in order to protect the environment. Nonetheless, by achieving a comparable rate of agricultural productivity growth (output growth minus the growth rate inputs), Northern Europe has been able to maintain its level of total farm output over the past three decades.

Boosting prices versus benefiting nature

The U.S. also has a long history of setting aside agricultural land that dates back nearly a century. In response to low prices in the 1920s, farmers had flooded the market with grain, pork and other products, desperately seeking to boost revenues but only pushing prices down further.

Under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the U.S. government paid farmers to reduce their output and limited the supply of land under cultivation to boost farm prices. This strategy is still in use today.

In 1985 the U.S. launched a new program that created real incentives to protect environmentally sensitive land. Farmers who enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program “rent” environmentally valuable tracts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 10-15 years. Withdrawing these acres from production provides food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife, reduces erosion and improves water quality.

But this is a voluntary program, so enrollment ebbs and flows in tandem with crop prices. For example, when corn, soy and wheat prices fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enrollment grew. Then with the commodity price boom of 2007, farmers could make more money from cultivating the land. Protected acreage dropped more than 40% through 2019, erasing many of the environmental benefits that had been achieved.

Enrollment in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program dropped by almost 13 million acres from 2007 to 2016. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Rental rates for agricultural land in the U.S. vary widely, with the most productive lands bringing the highest rent. Current rental rates under the Conservation Reserve Program 2021 range from US$243 per acre in Cuming, Nebraska to just $6 in Sutton, Texas.

The EU also began setting aside farmland to curb overproduction in 1988. Now, however, their program focuses heavily on environmental quality. Policy reforms in 2013 required farmers to allocate 5% of their land to protected ecological focus areas. The goal is to generate long-term environmental benefits by prioritizing nature.

This program supports both production and conservation. Within this mix of natural and cultivated lands, wild pollinators benefit both native plants and crops. Birds, insects and small predators offer natural bio-control of pests. In this way, “rewilded” tracts foster biodiversity while also improving crop yields.

A rewilded area in Germany, near Dresden. Thomas Hertel, Author provided

Who will feed the world?

What would happen if the U.S., a major exporter of agricultural products, followed the EU model and permanently withdrew land from production to improve environmental quality? Would such action make food unaffordable for the world’s poorest consumers?

In a study that I conducted in 2020 with colleagues at Purdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we set up a computer model to find out. We wanted to chart what might happen to food prices across the globe through 2050 if the U.S. and other rich economies followed Northern European conservation strategies. Our analysis focused on the world’s most food-insecure region, sub-Saharan Africa.

We discovered that altering food production in this way would raise food prices in that region by about 6%. However, this upward price trend could be reversed by investing in local agriculture and new technologies to increase productivity in Africa. In short, our research suggested that conserving the environment in the U.S. doesn’t have to cause food insecurity in other countries.

Implications for US farm policy

Many experts on hunger and agriculture agree that to feed a growing global population, world food output must increase substantially in the next several decades. At the same time, it’s clear that agriculture’s environmental impacts need to shrink in order to protect the natural environment.

In my view, meeting these twin goals will require renewed government investments in research and dissemination of new technologies. Reversing a two-decade decline in science funding will be key. Agriculture is now a knowledge-driven industry, fueled by new technologies and improved management practices. Publicly funded research laid the foundations for these advances.

To reap environmental gains, I believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture will need to revamp and stabilize the Conservation Reserve Program, so that it is economically viable and enrollment does not fluctuate with market conditions. The Trump administration reduced incentives and rental payment rates, which drove down enrollments. The Biden administration has already taken a modest step forward by extending the yearly sign-up for the program indefinitely.

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As I see it, following Northern Europe’s model by permanently protecting ecologically rich areas, while simultaneously investing in knowledge-driven agricultural productivity, will enable the U.S. to better preserve wildlife and its natural environment for future generations, while maintaining an affordable food supply.

Thomas Hertel, Professor of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.