Making Way for Wildlife
I was mesmerized by the trail cam footage that popped up in my internet searches, often shared by state agencies on social media. One wild creature after another plodded, scuttled, trotted or galloped over bridges and through tunnels designed to let them cross highways safely. In Florida, for example, an underpass meant for endangered panthers was borrowed by many other species, including alligators. One structure in Utah was particularly interesting; despite how spare it was, a practical Noah’s Ark of species used it, from moose to ground squirrels.
So I called the transportation departments, wildlife agencies and advocates behind some of the projects, as well as the scientists studying them. One thing that struck me was how, although officials stressed that these structures were built to keep humans safe, they were critically important for animals — especially with climate change making it more urgent than ever for them to be able to move in search of new habitat.
Another was that, following decades of advocacy and in spite of the intense political division in the United States, the popularity of wildlife crossings is growing in both red and blue states, among Republicans and Democrats alike.
Have a look the article I did with my colleague Claire O’Neill, a visual editor on the Times Climate Team, who helped curate the best wildlife crossing videos.
Quotable: “This issue has been building for decades and it was like pulling teeth,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “And now everyone who works on these issues seems to get it.”
What’s next: Look to Washington. A bipartisan Senate version of the transportation bill being hammered out in Congress includes $350 million for wildlife crossings and corridors.
Biden suspends drilling leases in Arctic Refuge
The Biden administration this week suspended oil drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, blocking, at least for now, drilling in one of the largest tracts of undeveloped wilderness in the United States.
The move, which reverses a signature achievement of the Trump presidency, serves as a high-profile way for the president to solidify his environmental credentials after coming under fire from activists angered by his recent support for some fossil fuel projects.
Imagining life after highways
Highways tore through cities across America in the 1950s and ’60s, destroying dense downtown neighborhoods, dividing communities and increasing car dependence for decades to come.
Now, as those mega-roads reach the end of their working lives, many cities are asking a question that could reshape urban life again: Should we rebuild highways or remove some of them?
Why it matters: If rebuilding cities is done right, highway removal projects could make life better for local residents as well as the planet. That’s because denser, less car-centric neighborhoods are crucially important to reducing greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.
The tricky part: Taking down highways is easier than rebuilding the neighborhoods they destroyed. Many lower-income, Black and minority communities, which were targeted by highway construction, fear removal could invite gentrification and more displacement.
Who are America’s big methane emitters? You might be surprised.
As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets and becoming some of the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
These smaller companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better,” said one industry analyst. “And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
Here’s where the U.S. needs wind and solar power
The United States is aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms. Check out these maps, which show where wind and solar are now and where more capacity is needed.
A district court in The Hague instructed the British-Dutch multinational Shell to sharply reduce the emissions produced by its chief product, oil and gas, worldwide. It was the first time a court had ruled against a private company in a climate case, and it buoyed campaigners who have turned to the courts in recent years to force governments and private firms to take faster action on global warming. The company has said it would appeal, a process that could take years to wend its way through the Dutch court system.
Then, a court in Melbourne told the government that, in considering whether to approve an enormous coal mine expansion, it needs to consider the future health and well-being of Australia’s children. The court did not strike down the mine expansion, as the complainants, eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun, had sought. But the verdict included lengthy expositions of climate science and put the government on notice: It was responsible to protect future generations.
Also important this week:
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A science base that does the job, and looks great, too
A satellite ground station is typically not a photogenic place, with a smattering of antennas and a utilitarian building or two. But it’s a different story when the station is on a plateau in the high Arctic, less than a thousand miles from the North Pole, and has 100 antennas, each cocooned in a protective dome that seems to pop out of the snow.
Anna Filipova, a freelance photojournalist, documented this station, known as SvalSat, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. We hope you’ll agree that her photographs are remarkable.
My role was to explain what a satellite ground station does, and I jumped at the opportunity. One thing I’ve learned in writing about scientific research is that it doesn’t happen by magic. It takes a lot of work, much of it behind the scenes, to gather the necessary data.
SvalSat is one of those unsung players. Its 100 antennas are in near-constant operation, taking advantage of the high-latitude location to communicate with, and download images and other data from, hundreds of polar-orbiting satellites. Many of these spacecraft play important roles in the study of climate change, and SvalSat plays a critical role in bringing that information to scientists, and to the world.
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