In today's On the News segment: Minnesota could be setting an important precedent for protecting bees; the climate crisis is no longer a problem for the distant future; solar power advocates say that the future of solar is low-income communities; and more.
Thom Hartmann here -- on the best of the rest of Science and Green News ...
You need to know this. The climate crisis is no longer a problem for the distant future. According to some of the world's leading scientists, we could face a perilous climate shift within just a few decades, rather than some far-off century. Last week, new findings were published in a European Science Journal called Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. That research, led by NASA Climate Scientist James E. Hansen, has provoked an intense debate about how quickly we must act to prevent the worst-case climate scenario. Since at least 2009, countries around the world have been working to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but Dr. Hansen says that figure keeps us on a dangerous path towards destruction. According to Hansen and 18 other scientists, the last time the earth reached temperatures slightly higher than what we're seeing today, large chunks of polar ice disintegrated and see levels rose between 20 and 30 feet. And those aren't the only consequences we should fear. These scientists warn that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current pace, we could soon see fresh water pouring into the oceans, which would disrupt the ocean currents that regulate global temperatures, and set the stage for powerful super storms unlike anything that the modern world has ever seen. And all those effects would strengthen so-called negative feedback loops, which would only speed up the destruction of our planet. Dr. Hansen and his colleagues say that we must do more to prevent further warming, however, some of his fellow scientists have expressed doubt over these recent findings. Some question whether he has skewed his research for political purposes, but they also aren't exactly saying that he's wrong. Whether it's decades or centuries, the data shows that we must act now to leave our planet habitable for future generations. Tomorrow's climate crisis has become today's emergency, and we better respond while we still can.
Congress may be working to protect Monsanto, but General Mills is listening to the American people. According to a recent press release on that company's website, consumers all over the country will soon know more about what's in their favorite cereals. The Minnesota-based food producer will join Campbell's soup and inform consumers when their products contain GMO ingredients. Rather than wait to be forced to label GMOs, that company is putting that information on their packaging voluntarily starting now. Despite the fact that General Mills spent more than a million dollars trying to block a GMO labeling law in California, and despite their lobbying efforts against national laws, that company is finally doing right by consumers by providing this important information on their packaging now. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the group Just Label It, said, "If large companies like General Mills and Campbell's are accepting that this is what consumers want, then so should our political representatives. It is now time to put this debate behind us and realize that the citizens have spoken."
Minnesota is protecting the pollinators. According to a recent article in the Minneapolis Tribune, Minnesota's state Department of Agriculture has linked insecticide to damaged bee hives. And in what's being hailed as the "first test of a landmark environmental law," Minnesota even compensated two beekeepers whose hives were hurt by toxic dust from nearby corn fields. That insecticide is used to coat most corn and soybeans in America to protect the plants from insects in the soil. The chemical is so powerful that it remains with the plant as it grows and makes the entire plant poisonous to insects -- including bees. When a Minnesota farmer used that insecticide on new crops, the two beekeepers immediately experienced a major die-off. Days later, tests on the dead bees showed that they carried high levels of that toxic chemical. Considering that bee hives all around the country are experiencing similar die-offs, Minnesota could be setting an important precedent for protecting bees. Without bees, we wouldn't have many of the fruits and vegetables we rely on for food, and it's great that one state is doing their part to protect the bees.
Australian scientists are raising the alarm about severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, "substantial levels of coral mortality" have been documented after higher-than-average ocean temperatures in that region. Scientists say that it's possible for the reef to recover, but it would require us to speed up the global shift to clean, renewable energy. Burning coal and other fossil fuels is contributing to rising ocean temperatures and acidification, and the coral species can't survive those changes. Larissa Waters, Queensland Green senator, said, "Scientists are clear. We can have coal or the reef." Australia's Independent Climate Council Chief Tim Flannery said, "If we continue to burn fossil fuels and warm the climate, we are likely to lose most corals worldwide in as little as 30 to 40 years. To prevent this tragedy, most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground." For the sake of our species and for the Great Barrier Reef, I hope we're listening.
And finally ... Solar power advocates say that the future of solar is low-income communities. Like many new technologies, solar panels have been too costly for many middle and low-income households to purchase or install. As more people move to solar, the price drops, but, that doesn't help people who don't own homes or who have no access to a lawn or rooftop that could house a solar panel. That's why advocacy groups say that it's time to rethink the solar business model, and open up financing options that make panels affordable to more individuals. By expanding the Investment Tax Credit or allowing low-income communities to share the cost of new panels, we could increase the use of green energy and lower power costs for many Americans. And, as Amit Ronen of George Washington University's Solar Institute pointed out, when you talk about new solar panels, "you are also talking about local jobs." That makes these type of programs a win-win for local communities. If we want to make the switch to cleaner, greener energy, we must explore all of the ways to make that energy affordable for everyone.
And that's the way it is for the week of March 28, 2016. I'm Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.