Emissions in NYC, plastic-eating bacteria, more accurate forecasts: 3 big stories you might have missed

North Vietnam

Mountains of North Vietnam. (© Hoang Giang Hai/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Big buildings hurt the climate. New York City hopes to change that

New York City’s government approved legislation last week that caps emissions for many buildings, including Trump Tower.

The story: The goal of this cap is to reduce emissions in New York City by 40 percent by 2030, William Neuman reported for The New York Times last week. The emissions cap will increase costs for real-estate owners, which will trickle down to renters. Because of this, there are exemptions for affordable housing, such as rent-regulated apartments, and for houses of worship — but even they will need to undergo energy-cutting measures, such as installing better insulation.

The big picture: According to a recent study, 67 percent of the city’s overall emissions were from buildings — largely from the energy required to heat, cool and light them. “I haven’t seen a city that has tackled climate change head-on in a way like this, setting specific targets for buildings and providing a path forward for how they can comply through innovative policy tools,” said John Mandyck, the chief executive of the Urban Green Council.

Read the story here.

  1. The race to save the planet from plastic

A newly discovered — and new to the planet — organism has an appetite for plastic.

The story: A bacteria developed between 2010 and 2015 in a bottle-recycling plant in Japan has the ability to convert polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most prevalent plastics globally, into energy, Umair Irfan reported for Vox last week. Scientists are studying and manipulating the bacteria to try to get it to consume other types of plastic — and to eat them faster.

The big picture: Ninety-one percent of plastic is not recycled, and plastic production is expected to triple in the next 30 years. This new bacteria could help alleviate part of the plastic pollution crisis by cleaning up landfills and recycling plants — and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in nature.

Read the story here.


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  1. As oceans rapidly warm because of climate change, an urgent need to improve hurricane forecasts

Climate change is contributing to record-breaking storms worldwide — as a result, we’re going to need better forecasts.

The story: Climate change is rapidly warming the top layer of the ocean (where hurricanes get most of their energy), Paul Douglas reported for The Washington Post last week. But the heat isn’t absorbed uniformly: Some parts of the ocean absorb more heat than others, making those areas more volatile and more likely to contribute to intense storms. As carbon emissions continue warming the oceans, weather forecasts will need to use more accurate and timely upper-ocean temperature data in order to predict catastrophic storms.

The big picture: The world’s oceans are absorbing 93 percent of the warming from greenhouse gas emissions — and they’re doing it much faster than scientists originally thought. Near real-time data will enable meteorologists to know what parts of the ocean are the warmest and consequently issue more accurate forecasts, protecting the millions of people worldwide that live in hurricane-prone cities.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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