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Despite substantial Chinese movement on Antarctic Conservation, Southern Ocean progress remains stalled

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The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has again failed to agree to protect key areas in the Ross Sea and in East Antarctica at its annual meeting in Hobart.

However, a statement of support by China for a revised Ross Sea Proposal– which has in past years actively blocked this proposal, and a statement of commitment by Russia for inter-sessional discussion of the proposal, has given hope to a process that has thus far been clouded by inaction, uncertainty and active blocking.

The partners of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) highlighting CCAMLR’s fifth failure to reach consensus on this issue over a four-year period, called into question its overall ability to deliver on conservation commitments, specifically its capacity to deliver the large-scale network of marine protected areas (MPAs) it had committed to create by 2012.

Two proposals for MPAs in the Ross Sea and East Antarctic coastal region were once again on the table during this week’s meeting, but the required final consensus by CCAMLR’s 24 member nations and the EU was actively blocked. In the case of the Ross Sea, a last-minute expanded proposal negotiated by the proponent countries United States and New Zealand secured China’s support. In the case of East Antarctica, both China and Russia blocked its adoption.

The proposed designations would provide needed long-term protection of many species, including penguins, seals and whales and their critical habitats.  In addition, the MPAs would enable scientific research to occur in this near-pristine wilderness, protecting some of the only Southern polar areas left on earth to study marine ecosystems that have remained relatively untouched by human interference.

“China’s endorsement of the expanded Ross Sea proposal is a positive development and we are encouraged that Russia expressed interest in working on this in the coming year. Ultimately, however, the late-breaking nature of the proposal and lack of substantive work early in the meeting resulted in a replay of the previous four meetings, with no consensus reached, no Southern Ocean protections and no relief for the rich ecosystem and millions of animals that call these waters home,” said Andrea Kavanagh, Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts global penguin conservation program.

“What is most disturbing about this year’s failure is the systematic disintegration of CCAMLR’s ability to deliver on its mandate for marine protection. CCAMLR not only struck out again in efforts to create MPAs, but also failed to take necessary measures to improve oversight of fisheries and obtain data critical for effectively managing those fisheries in an era of climate change. At the same time, we are heartened that China is willing to work on protection of the Ross Sea. We hope that China’s new position ensures its future support for the protection of East Antarctica as well, so that in 2016 we see the adoption of both MPA proposals,” said Mark Epstein, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC).

“The continued stalemate at CCAMLR raises questions about the commitments of countries to use every tool at their disposal to build resilience to climate change impacts. Such a disappointing outcome in a year when the international community agreed at the UN – by consensus – to work on a new agreement to protect high seas biodiversity is inexcusable,” added Maritza Schafer, Global Campaign Leader, Oceans, Greenpeace International.

“It is appalling that while the majority of CCAMLR members are more than ready to create significant marine protected areas in Antarctic waters, China and Russia have blocked efforts to negotiate a successful outcome. We commend the efforts of the proponent countries, and others such as Argentina, Chile, Japan, Norway, South Korea, and Ukraine, who spoke out in favor of the MPAs and the promotion of solid Antarctic marine protection in Antarctica, as well as China’s support for the Ross Sea Proposal, and we hope they continue to demand the urgent protection required for Southern Ocean ecosystems,” added Jill Hepp, Project Director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.

This year’s CCAMLR meeting began only a few weeks after the hugely successful Our Ocean conference in Chile. In stark contrast to the inaction of the two-week CCAMLR meeting, Our Ocean generated global excitement with the announcement of a number of new, very large MPAs around the world.  The new MPAs represent an additional 2,473,000 square kilometres of highly protected marine areas, including huge areas around New Zealand’s Kermadec Islands, and around Chile’s Desventuradas (Unfortunate) and Easter Islands. Earlier this week, Palau’s President established one of the world’s largest protected areas of ocean in the Pacific island nation’s waters.

CCAMLR immediately precedes the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) taking place in Paris, France in early December 2015. Climate change is already having an impact on the Antarctic environment, particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula region, one of the fastest warming areas on earth.

Marine protected areas can confer significant benefits in the context of climate change and ocean acidification. They can increase species abundance and diversity and therefore ecosystem resilience to climate change and ocean acidification by reducing stress from human activities.  They also provide reference areas where the effects of climate change and ocean acidification can be researched and differentiated from the effects of natural variability and human activities.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance partners will spend the coming year seeking clarification on the points of consideration submitted by blocking countries so that when we attend CCAMLR in 2016 we all delegations prepared to meet CCAMLR’s conservation mandate and make good on commitments for large-scale marine protection. The AOA has identified approximately 40% of the Southern Ocean that warrants lasting protection.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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