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Earth Policy

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  1. Emissions shrank rapidly during the recession, then bounced back slightly as the economy recovered. But shifting market conditions, pollution regulations, and changing behaviors are also behind the decline. Oil is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. After a steep drop following the 1979 oil crisis, emissions from oil climbed steadily until 2005, when they peaked at 715 million tons of carbon. Since then, these emissions have fallen by 14 percent, or 101 million tons of carbon - the equivalent of taking 77 million cars off the road. (See data.) Oil is mostly used
  2. Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s. It then plateaued between 2007 and 2010 - before falling more than 4 percent over the last two years. Projections for 2013 show a further 1 percent drop. With reactors retiring early and proposed projects being abandoned, U.S. nuclear power's days are numbered. The nuclear industry's troubles began well before the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant sowed public mistrust of
  3. Between 2007 and mid-2008, world grain and soybean prices more than doubled. As food prices climbed everywhere, some exporting countries began to restrict grain shipments in an effort to limit food price inflation at home.Importing countries panicked. Some tried to negotiate long-term grain supply agreements with exporting countries, but in a seller's market, few were successful. Seemingly overnight, importing countries realized that one of their few options was to find land in other countries on which to produce food for themselves. Looking for land abroad is not entirely new. Empires expa
  4. The opening of the San Francisco Bay Area bike share on August 29, 2013, brings the combined fleet of shared bikes in the United States above 18,000, more than a doubling since the start of the year. The United States is now home to 34 modern bike-sharing programs that allow riders to easily make short trips on two wheels without having to own a bicycle. With a number of new programs in the works and planned expansions of existing programs, the U.S. fleet is set to double again by the end of 2014, at which point nearly 37,000 publicly shared bicycles will roll the streets.The largest bike shar
  5. The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012"”an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of use. While PV production has become increasingly concentrated in one country - China - the number of countries installing PV is growing rapidly. In 2006, only a handful of countries could boast solar capacity of 100 megawatts or more. Now 30 countries are on that list, which the International Energy Agency (IEA)
  6. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009
  7. At the time of the Arab oil export embargo in the 1970s, the importing countries were beginning to ask themselves if there were alternatives to oil. In a number of countries, particularly the United States, several in Europe, and Brazil, the idea of growing crops to produce fuel for cars was appealing. The modern biofuels industry was launched. This was the beginning of what would become one of the great tragedies of history. Brazil was able to create a thriving fuel ethanol program based on sugarcane, a tropical plant. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, however, in the United States
  8. In 1938 Walter Lowdermilk, a senior official in the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, traveled abroad to look at lands that had been cultivated for thousands of years, seeking to learn how these older civilizations had coped with soil erosion. He found that some had managed their land well, maintaining its fertility over long stretches of history, and were thriving. Others had failed to do so and left only remnants of their illustrious pasts. In a section of his report entitled "The Hundred Dead Cities," he describes a site in northern Syria, near Aleppo, wher
  9. The world quietly reached a milestone in the evolution of the human diet in 2011. For the first time in modern history, world farmed fish production topped beef production. The gap widened in 2012, with output from fish farming - also called aquaculture - reaching a record 66 million tons, compared with production of beef at 63 million tons. And 2013 may well be the first year that people eat more fish raised on farms than caught in the wild. More than just a crossing of lines, these trends illustrate the latest stage in a historic shift in food production - a shift that at its core is a story
  10. Half the world's pigs - more than 470 million of them - live in China, but even that may not be enough to satisfy the growing Chinese appetite for meat. While meat consumption in the United States has fallen more than 5 percent since peaking in 2007, Chinese meat consumption has leapt 18 percent, from 64 million to 78 million (metric) tons - twice as much as in the United States. Pork is by far China's favorite protein, which helps to explain the late-May announced acquisition of U.S. meat giant Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's leading pork producer, by the Chinese company Shuanghui Internat
  11. When New York City opened registration for its much anticipated public bike-sharing program on April 15, 2013, more than 5,000 people signed up within 30 hours. Eager for access to a fleet of thousands of bicycles, they became Citi Bike members weeks before bikes were expected to be available. Such pent-up demand for more cycling options is on display in cities across the United States - from Buffalo to Boulder, Omaha to Oklahoma City, and Long Beach in New York to Long Beach in California - where shared bicycle programs are taking root. At the start of 2013, the United States was home to 2
  12. Politicians, lobbyists, and tourists alike can ride bicycles along a specially marked lane between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, part of the 115 miles of bicycle lanes and paths that now crisscross Washington, DC. In Copenhagen, commuters can ride to work following a “green wave” of signal lights timed for bikers. Residents in China’s “happiest city,” Hangzhou, can move easily from public transit onto physically separated bike tracks that have been carved out of the vast majority of roadways. A
  13. Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people. China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global
  14. Defying conventional wisdom about the limits of wind power, in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota generated close to one quarter of their electricity from wind farms. Wind power accounted for at least 10 percent of electricity generation in seven other states. Across the United States, wind power continues to strengthen its case as a serious energy source. The United States now has 60,000 megawatts of wind online, enough to meet the electricity needs of more than 14 million homes. A record 13,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity was added to the country’s energy portf
  15. As the earth warms, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and seas are rising. Over the last century, the global average sea level rose by 17 centimeters (7 inches). This century, as waters warm and ice continues to melt, seas are projected to rise nearly 2 meters (6 feet), inundating coastal cities worldwide, such as New York, London, and Cairo. Melting sea ice, ice sheets, and mountain glaciers are a clear sign of our changing climate. In September 2012, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean shrank to a record low extent and volume. The region has warmed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) s
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