The Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels

Gonzalez, Carmen G., “The Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels” (July 21, 2016). UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Vol. 20, 2016. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2813002

Abstract:  Analyses of the viability of biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels have often adopted a technocratic approach that focuses on environmental consequences, but places less emphasis on the impact that biofuels may have on vulnerable populations. This Article fills the gap in the existing literature by evaluating biofuels through the lens of environmental justice – including climate justice and food justice. The Article examines the impact of biofuels on the global food system and on the planet’s most food-insecure populations. It concludes that the laws and policies promoting the cultivation of biofuels have contributed to global malnourishment by raising food prices and accelerating the large-scale acquisition of arable lands in poor countries that deprive local communities of the land and water necessary to grow food (a phenomenon known as land-grabbing). Ironically, the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of many biofuels exceed those of the fossil fuels they replace. Instead of mitigating climate change, the promotion of biofuels threatens to intensify an industrial model of agricultural production that degrades local ecosystems, exacerbates climate change, and intensifies food insecurity. The Article concludes by discussing governance strategies to foster a more equitable and sustainable approach to bioenergy that respects, protects, and fulfills the human right to food.

Climate change in your county: Plan with this new tool

Via NOAA.

Residents, communities and businesses now have easy access to climate projections, through a few easy keystrokes, for every county in the contiguous United States.

NOAA’s newly updated Climate Explorer offers downloadable maps, graphs, and data tables of observed and projected temperature, precipitation and climate-related variables dating back to 1950 and out to 2100.

Built to accompany the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, the Climate Explorer helps community leaders, business owners, municipal planners, and utility and resource managers understand how environmental conditions may change over the next several decades.

Climate Explorer projections are based on two global climate model scenarios that describe how the abundance of heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere may change through 2100. The tool provides projections for parameters such as changes in the number of days over 95 degrees F, number of days with heavy rain, and heating and cooling degree days.

“The Climate Explorer is designed to help users visualize how climate conditions may change over the coming decades,” said David Herring, communication and education program manager at NOAA’s Climate Program Office. “Projections of how much and how fast change is happening is crucial to help communities prepare and become more resilient.”

Additional enhancements to the Climate Resilience Toolkit include:

  • Redesigned interface that is simpler and works better on mobile devices;
  • New “Reports” section with state and municipal climate vulnerability assessments, adaptation plans and scientific reports; and
  • Revised “Steps to Resilience” guide and spreadsheet, which communities and businesses can use to confront climate vulnerabilities and implement a plan to build resilience.

“We updated the Climate Explorer in response to requests from communities and businesses across the nation for downscaled climate projections to help them manage their climate-related risks and opportunities,” said Fred Lipschultz, the toolkit’s climate projections team leader based at the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit and Climate Explorer are managed by NOAA’s Climate Program Office and hosted by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The tool was built by NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Reclamation, Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, with guidance by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

 

Weathered Oil From Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill May Threaten Fish Embryos and Larvae Development

Read the full story from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have found that ultraviolet light is changing the structure of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil components into something more toxic, further threatening numerous commercially and ecologically important fishes. The DWH oil spill, in which more than three million barrels of crude oil got released in 2010 into the northern Gulf of Mexico, is the worst oil disaster in US history, contaminating the spawning habitats for many fishes.

“Ours is the first experiment evaluating the effects of DWH oil on the genetic responses of mahi-mahi embryos and larvae,” said Daniel Schlenk, a professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, who led the study published in Environmental Science and Technology.  “It is also the first experiment of this nature on a lifestage and species that was likely exposed to the oil.  We found that the weathering of oil had more significant changes in gene expression related to critical functions in the embryos and larvae than the un-weathered oil. Our results predict that there are multiple targets of oil for toxicity to this species at the embryonic life stage.”

Religiosity diminishes conservative opposition to environmentally friendly consumer decisions

Read the full story at Phys.org.

Some people have perceived that the combination of religion and political conservatism exacerbates environmental concerns in the United States. But researchers from Rice University and Baruch College have found evidence that religious identification and belief in a god dampen the otherwise strong negative effect that political conservatism typically has on whether people make purchasing decisions with concern for the environment in mind.

At first glance, the researchers’ data show that political liberals are 8 percentage points more likely to say they identify as pro-environment consumers when compared with political conservatives. However, a closer look across levels of religiosity shows that this political gap is larger among the nonreligious (a difference of 12 percentage points between extreme political conservatives and extreme political liberals) and smaller among the very religious (a difference of 3 percentage points). The researchers said this suggests that religion can mute political differences when someone is being identified as a pro-environment consumer.

Estimating the carbon footprint of crime

Read the full story at Phys.org.

Policy makers currently examine the economic and social impacts of crime, but the environmental impacts have not, to date, been included. A new study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, estimates the carbon footprint of crime. The study was conducted by a UK-based research team led by an engineering doctorate student, Helen Skudder, in the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey.

Longest study of Great Lakes region birds finds populations holding steady

Read the full story from the National Forest Service.

A new USDA Forest Service report documenting an unprecedented effort to inventory birds in the western Great Lakes region and analyze changes in bird populations over the past quarter of a century found that across a trio of national forests, most birds are doing well in terms of both species diversity and population.

Climate tipping points: What do they mean for society?

Read the full story at Phys.org.

The phrase “tipping point” passed its own tipping point and caught fire after author Malcolm Gladwell’s so-named 2000 book. It’s now frequently used in discussions about climate change, but what are “climate tipping points”? And what do they mean for society and the economy?

Scientists at Rutgers University and Harvard University tackle the terminology and outline a strategy for investigating the consequences of climate tipping points in a study published online today in the journal Earth’s Future.