Now Is the Time to Act on Climate Change

Climate change has been one of my top priorities since the day I took office in 2007. I said then that if we care about our legacy for succeeding generations, this is the time for decisive global action. I have been pleased to see climate change rise on the political agenda and in the consciousness of people worldwide. But I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed.

Time is running out. The more we delay, the more we will pay. Climate change is accelerating and human activities are the principal cause, as documented in a series of authoritative scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The effects are already widespread, costly and consequential — to agriculture, water resources, human health, and ecosystems on land and in the oceans. Climate change poses sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations.

I have traveled the world to see the impacts for myself, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the low-lying islands of the Pacific threatened by rising seas to the retreating glaciers of Greenland, the Andes and the Alps. I have seen encroaching deserts in Mongolia and the Sahel and endangered rain forests in Brazil. Everywhere I have talked with people on the front lines who are deeply concerned about the threat of climate change to their way of life and their future.

My travels have also introduced me to growing numbers of people — from heads of Government to business leaders — who are prepared to invest political and financial capital in the solutions we need. They understand that climate change is an issue for all people, all businesses, all governments. They recognize that we can avert the risks if we take decisive action now.

Later this month, on September 23, I am convening a Climate Summit at the United Nations in New York. The Summit has two goals: to mobilize political will for a meaningful universal agreement at the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015; and to catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience to the changes that are already happening.

I have invited leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to present their vision, make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs. The Summit will highlight a number of areas where we feel we can achieve the highest impact, as showcased in this pre-Summit series of blog posts by some of the most influential thinkers and actors in the climate arena.

Climate change is not just an issue for the future, it is an urgent issue for today. Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against skeptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for action.

This post is part of a month-long series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with a variety of events being held in September recognizing the threats posed by climate change, foremost among them the UN’s Climate Summit 2014 (to be held Sept. 23, 2014, at UN headquarters in New York). To see all the posts in the series, read here.

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Couple Stranded On Sailboat For Week After Captain’s Bold Move

Bogdan and Elizabeth Makowski planned on a one- to two-day boating trip in the Gulf of Mexico — until everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.

Bogdan wasn’t worried when the sailboat’s motor broke down near Anciote Key, Florida last weekend.

“I don’t care about this because I am a sailor,” he told WTSP.

But that was only the beginning of their problems. Their mast jammed their sail, rendering it useless, according to WFTV. They had no means of calling for help. Good weather meant they weren’t even floating in the right direction. They spent a week stranded at sea with no food and little water — they’d consumed it all on the first day.

Then, a storm rolled in.

“My engine was broken, and I had no wind and now a storm,” Bogdan, 69, told WTSP. “We roped together and slept together like 25 years ago.”

It wasn’t until Labor Day weekend that luck finally struck the Makowskis. A friend had called the local U.S. Coast Guard station on Aug. 26, and crews spotted the couple 10 miles offshore in the early hours of Aug. 30. The boat was beat-up, but the Makowskis looked pretty good, considering their circumstances.

makowski

“They were very relieved to see us, very excited, but they were actually in good shape,” said Ryan O’Hare with the Coast Guard. “They were moving around. They were in good spirits. The only thing they requested is a nice cool bottle of water.”

(h/t New York Daily News)

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Plastic Bags, Nuclear Waste and a Toxic Planet

Last week we saw California move a step closer to banning one-time use plastic bags and the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission legalize above ground storage of nuclear waste. What’s the connection? Every once in a while I think it is useful to turn aside from the deeply rooted, but relatively straightforward problem of climate change, to the growing use of uncontrolled toxic substances in our daily economic life. The toxicity of our environment may well be more difficult to address than the problem of climate change. The use of toxics in the goods we consume is so widespread that when firefighters enter a modern home that is burning, they must wear breathing devices for protection from the toxicity of the fumes that emanate from our burning floors, appliances, and walls. Household toxics are dangerous, but nothing compared to nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is one of the most toxic substances we have ever fabricated, always bringing to mind the late Barry Commoner’s common sense statement that nuclear power was a “hell of a complicated way to boil water.”

Starting with the positive, let’s look to California, where sustainability is hardwired into the political culture. While many localities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already banned one-time use plastic bags, this new law would be the first statewide regulation of these packages. The bill phases in the ban, allows stores to charge ten cents for paper or reusable plastic bags, and provides state funding for bag manufacturers to retool to make the heavier-duty reusable bags. According to Californians Against Waste, the environmental group promoting the ban: “In California, 13 billion plastic bags are distributed annually, and only 3% are recycled.”

These bags are an integral component of our throwaway lifestyle, and create major waste management and litter problems throughout the nation. Lightweight plastic bags can be found in the ocean, in trees, and just about everywhere. They are filling up landfills at a rapid rate. We managed to live without them before they were introduced in the 1970s and we’ll probably survive after they are gone; assuming California Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill and California begins yet another national environmental trend.

While we see progress on the coast, we remain mired in toxic waste back in the nation’s capital. The problem is that our broken political process is incapable of dealing with the nuclear waste that is accumulating at the nation’s civilian nuclear power plants. Over three decades and many billions of dollars ago, we enacted the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Taxes have been collected for years on all the nuclear energy generated for civilian use, and a multi-billion dollar underground repository was built at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Once Yucca Mountain’s repository was completed, every Senator ever elected to office in Nevada has opposed opening it. Why? Because the sudden image of half a century’s worth of nuclear waste, all heading to the same spot in Nevada scared the living daylights out of anyone living anywhere near the repository. It was the Not In My Backyard Syndrome (NIMBY) on steroids.

The problem with not opening the waste repository is that for decades, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission assumed that some day the repository would open. As reported by Matthew Wald in the New York Times:

For decades the commission has allowed nuclear plants to operate under what it called its waste confidence rule, which said that although there was no repository, there would most likely be one by the time it was needed, and in the interim, the storage of the highly radioactive waste in spent fuel pools or in dry casks would suffice. But in June 2012, a court ruled that the commission had not done its homework in studying whether the waste could be stored on an interim basis. As a result, the commission froze much of its licensing activity two years ago.

In order to allow plants to be licensed again, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided that nuclear waste could now be stored indefinitely in well-guarded and well-maintained above ground storage facilities. Scientists estimate that some nuclear waste will remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, one of the reasons for below ground storage was the likelihood that the repository would last longer than our current civilization.

Many of my climate change oriented colleagues argue that nuclear power is a realistic and desirable replacement for fossil fuels. But any close look at the technical and political problems of nuclear waste should provide ample reason to look elsewhere for a solution to our energy needs.

As our experience with everything from plastic bags to nuclear waste should indicate, we are much better at developing and utilizing new technologies than in managing their adverse impacts. The massive and growing problem of electronic waste provides another example of this issue. Every year a new smart phone comes out with new features we are all convinced we cannot live without: “How did I ever find a place we were visiting before the invention of GPS?” “How did I ever make a social appointment before text messaging?” The problem is every year or two the old phone is decreed obsolete and ready for the scrap heap. Unfortunately, when we toss the phone in the landfill or burn it in the waste-to-energy plant, we expose our ecosystems to the toxics inside the phone. We could develop a management system to recycle and manage the waste stream. We could also develop personal electronics that are less toxic. In fact we are starting to reduce and better manage our electronic waste, but enormous quantities of toxics have already been released into the environment.

Our economy is filled with a range of substances and products that have been engineered without much thought given to long term environmental impacts. Our houses and fences were once made of wood, a fairly traditional and very biodegradable material that literally grows on trees. Today vinyl and other plastics that last longer and are easier to maintain have replaced wood in homes all over America. Many of our consumer products are far from biodegradable; some include toxics and many are designed for planned obsolescence. These ordinary, mundane products are entering our waste stream and finding their way into fragile, interconnected ecosystems all over the planet. Sometimes the impact is minor, sometimes it is significant, but generally it is unexamined, careless and casual.

From ordinary plastic bags to extraordinary pools of nuclear waste, we have unleashed a staggering array of poisons into the same ecosystems that feed us and provide us with other biological necessities such as air and water. In some cases, such as nuclear waste, we have heard decades of discussion and debate about risks, costs and benefits. However in most cases, we are either ignorant or barely aware of the impacts and potential risks. In America today many consider it wrong to question the safety of a product. Regulation is somehow unpatriotic and anti-business. Medical technology is keeping us healthier and keeping us alive longer; so what’s the problem? The problem is that the impact of some toxics can be irreversible and the last time I looked, we still only have one planet and we should try to keep it alive. We need to do a better job of reducing our use of dangerous materials and technologies and if we choose to use this stuff, we need to regulate it fully from cradle to grave. Let’s see what we can do to prevent billions of plastic bags from floating in the breeze and even one nuclear waste site from leaking radioactive materials into our water supply.

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China’s Shale Gas Plans Limited By Water Shortages, Report Finds

BEIJING (AP) — More than 60 percent of China’s vast shale gas deposits are in regions with scarce water resources, complicating plans by the energy-hungry country to tap the natural gas, according to a U.S.-based research group.

The World Resources Institute said China has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas trapped in deep shale rock but most of it is in arid areas such as deserts or regions where farming and industry already stress water resources. Commonly known as fracking, shale gas mining requires pumping large quantities of water mixed with chemicals into deep wells to break apart shale rock.

The institute said in a report issued Tuesday that 38 percent of the world’s shale gas deposits are in areas with scarce water. China, Argentina and Algeria have the world’s biggest shale gas deposits.

China is seeking to tap its shale gas deposits to help power a growing economy and move away from polluting coal-fired energy plants. Yet the country is also suffering its worst drought in half a century, with much of China’s agricultural central provinces hit especially hard.

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Orange Wasn’t The Original Color of the Carrot, They Were Modified In The 17th Century!

Orange Wasn’t The Original Color of the Carrot, They Were Modified In The 17th Century!

Your whole life has been a lie.

Carrots were available in the colors white and purple up until Dutch farmers successfully modified them to be orange, to match the ruling of the House of Orange-Nassau and as a tribute to William of Orange.

The orange carrot was bred in the Netherlands town of Hoorn around 1721 and scholars doubt it’s existence prior to the 16th century.

The history and thousands of years of yellow, white and purple carrots were completely demolished and wiped out in a single generation. In the 18th century, this was ruled as an offensive tribute, and forced William of Orange to leave the hague.

Carrots were then called the color of ‘sedition’ and were deemed to provocative. That’s right, the media deemed a helpless vegetable as “too provocative”. No object or human is safe when the world isn’t happy!

(Source)

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These Dog ‘Brothers’ Do A Better Blue Steel Than Zoolander

This doggy duo really knows how to strike a pose.

sweatshirt

German shorthaired pointer dogs Travis, 11, and Gus, 4, aka “The Pointer Brothers,” werk the camera and have generated quite a buzz for it. Their owner, Stephanie McCombie of Vancouver, Canada, created an Instagram account showcasing the pair’s fierce and funny looks. The account now boasts more than 100,000 loyal followers, who enjoy giggling at pictures of the pups modeling anything from ski masks to bow ties.

hat sunglasses pointers

While the dogs are probably unaware they are social media sensations, McCombie says that they genuinely love modeling together.

“They actually get excited when I bring the camera out,” she told The Huffington Post in an email, (though she speculated that this is because there’s the sweet, sweet promise of treats afterwards). “I know a lot of dogs [who] would hate wearing hats or being dressed up, but my guys seem to really enjoy it, they always want to be involved and included in whatever we are doing.”

ski mask dogs

McCombie got both the pups from animal shelters: Travis was rescued after having survived a bear attack, and Gus was adopted a day before he was scheduled to be euthanized.

blanket and pointers

We think this power pair is furrrociously fabulous. Check out some more of their photos below!

pointer dog ears

reading the paper

dapper dogs

pointer dogs stick out tongues

h/t ABC News

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Americans Don’t Walk Much, and I Don’t Blame Them

  south of Atlanta (courtesy of Stephen Lee Davis)

(Today’s article is excerpted and adapted from the 2014 book People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, distributed by Island Press.)

This won’t be breaking news to most readers, but Americans don’t walk very much.  Periodically, National Geographic publishes a 17-nation “Greendex” study on, among many other things, transit use and walking.  In 2012 we Americans came in dead last on both indices, and it wasn’t close. 

In particular, only 34 percent of Americans reported walking to destinations (jobs, shopping, school, and so forth) “often” or “all of the time.”  Spaniards and Germans walk about twice as much.  The rates for Britain and even notoriously cold and dark Sweden were substantially higher than those for the US.  Speaking of cold, even the Canadians walk more than we do.  We are also dead last in bicycling.

According to census data, the share of workers who commute to work by walking in the US is a measly 6.5 percent; bicycling adds another 1.3 percent.  A slim majority of Americans drive alone to work, which also isn’t exactly breaking news.  (Transit comes in second at 26.5 percent.)  Yet research out of Portland State University on “commute well-being” finds that bicycle commuters enjoy their trips to work the most, and those who drive alone enjoy their commute the least.

Inconvenient and dangerous

I suppose there are a number of reasons why we don’t walk very much, particularly compared to residents of other countries.  But surely a big one is that, for most Americans in most places, walking – that most basic and human method of movement, and the one most important to our health – is all but impossible.  Maybe not literally impossible, but inconvenient at best, and tragically dangerous way too often.  Except for traditional downtowns, few American communities even have things to walk to within safe and easy walking distance. 

Walking is downright dangerous along many suburban commercial roads.  Indeed, it should come as no surprise that sprawling, Sun Belt metro regions built completely around the automobile are statistically the nation’s most unsafe places to walk.  A report released by the nonprofit National Complete Streets Coalition earlier this year analyzed traffic fatality data over a ten-year period; the report found that the country’s top four “most dangerous” metro regions for pedestrians are all in the state of Florida.  Rounding out the top ten are regions in Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama and Arizona.  (The National Complete Streets Coalition is a program of Smart Growth America; I am a board member of SGA but had no connection with the report.)

Here are the ten most unsafe metro areas in which to walk, according to the report:

  1. Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
  2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
  3. Jacksonville, FL
  4. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
  5. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
  6. Birmingham-Hoover, AL
  7. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
  8. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
  9. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
  10. Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC

The organization also reports that more than 47,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States from 2003 through 2012, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month.  On top of that, more than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, a number equivalent to a car or truck striking a pedestrian every 8 minutes.

The effect of roadway design

While pedestrian deaths are usually labeled as accidents by local authorities, the Complete Streets Coalition believes many are, in fact, attributable to poor roadway design that fails to safely accommodate walkers.  Because walking is proven to be good for our health, lowering obesity rates, many people in these unsafe areas are forced to choose between an unhealthy lifestyle and an unsafe one.  Children, older adults, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in pedestrian fatalities.

For example, consider Woodbridge, Virginia, about 25 miles south of downtown Washington, DC.  The Google Earth satellite image below shows a section of the area’s main drag, the US Route 1 corridor.

  the Route 1 corridor in Woodbridge, VA (image via Google Earth)

Home to the Potomac Mills discount mega-mall and not far from the Quantico Marine Corps base, Woodbridge is a diverse “census-designated place and magisterial district” whose population is 42 percent white, 28 percent black, and 32 percent Hispanic.  It consisted mostly of farms and light industrial complexes until the 1980s, when it began to attract more suburban development.  What you see in the satellite view are, among other things, several auto dealerships and automobile service facilities, some single-family homes, some apartments, a trailer park, and a self-storage facility.  All seem sort of plopped down by happenstance.

What you don’t see are any but the crudest accommodations for walking.  No sidewalks, no crosswalks other than at long-distance intervals; this part of Woodbridge is a place for being either indoors or in a motor vehicle.  (There’s not much transit, either.)  If you were, say, an employee at the Pep Boys auto parts store on the west side of Route 1, your spouse had dropped you off and kept the car for the day, and you wanted to grab a sandwich for lunch at Wendy’s right across the street, you’d have to walk nearly a mile, round trip, to cross the road with the benefit of a traffic signal.  You would lose at least half your lunch hour getting there and back.  Even then, half your trip would have no sidewalk.

  the view on the road (image via Google Earth)

What many people with limited time would understandably do in that situation, instead, is attempt to cross the road using the shortest and most direct route between Pep Boys and Wendy’s, despite intermittent traffic, and hope their instincts, quickness and powers of observation would enable them to do so without getting hit.  Some people do exactly that, without consequence.

If a pedestrian does get hit by a motor vehicle, though, under Virginia law the pedestrian is at fault.  In this place, cars come first in the eyes of the law, and anyone who fails to respect that axiom takes chances in more ways than one.

I mention all this because it’s more or less what actually happens on this stretch of Route 1.  Indeed, in late 2012 two men were hit by motor vehicles while trying to cross the road in separate incidents near the section of Route 1 that I marked.  Both pedestrians were evacuated to the hospital, and both were charged by police with “interfering with traffic.”  The drivers were not charged.

A tragic case

A working single mother in suburban Atlanta named Raquel Nelson wasn’t so lucky.  In April of 2010, Nelson was charged and convicted of homicide after losing her four-year-old son while trying to cross a busy road after getting off a bus.  My friend David Goldberg, who works for the national nonprofit Transportation for America (also a program of SGA), described the facts in a Washington Post opinion article:

“After a long bus trip with her three young children in April 2010, Raquel Nelson did what other bus passengers did that day, and had done so many days before:  She attempted to cross the road from the bus stop, which is directly opposite her apartment complex, rather than walk a third of a mile to a traffic light, cross five lanes and walk a third of a mile back, lugging tired children and groceries.

“The family walked without incident to the three-foot median in the road. As they waited on the median for a break in traffic, Nelson’s son A.J. followed other adults who crossed ahead of them. He was hit by a motorist who fled and later admitted to having been drinking and taking painkillers. The driver spent six months in jail and is serving the remainder of his five-year sentence on probation. Nelson was sentenced last week to 12 months’ probation, fines and community service.”

Wow.  I haven’t studied the details of Georgia law or all of the facts, but Nelson’s conviction is stunning.   Whatever her legal culpability, I find it shocking that Cobb County (northwest of Atlanta) officials chose to exercise their discretion to prosecute her for homicide.  Goldberg continues:

“Nelson was found guilty of killing her son by crossing the road in the ‘wrong’ place. But what about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land-use regulators who placed a bus stop across from apartments but made no provision whatsoever for a safe crossing? Those who ignored the fact that pedestrians always take the shortest possible route but somehow expected them to walk six-tenths of a mile out of their way to cross the street? Those who designed this road — which they allowed to be flanked by apartments and houses — for speeds of 50 mph and more? And those who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work or carrying groceries despite having no access to a car? Are they not culpable?”

(Nelson was granted a retrial and, after further legal proceedings, prosecutors dropped the charge of homicide in 2013.  She agreed to pay a $200 fine for jaywalking. )

What’s the remedy?

For someone who cares about safe and healthy communities, what’s the remedy?  Jeff Speck’s excellent 2012 book Walkable City provides terrific answers for some places, but they work best in downtowns and established cities.  His “ten steps of walkability” to create urban environments that are more conducive to foot travel include such contextually effective measures as placing more housing downtown, restricting free parking, and running transit through dense urban corridors.  If we do these things in downtown Boise or Houston or Greensboro or even Bakersfield, it is likely that we will, indeed, make the city more walkable.

  walking to the bus stop in Cobb County, GA (courtesy of Stephen Lee Davis)

But what the heck can putting a price on downtown parking do for people like Nelson in residential Cobb County or anyone in Woodbridge?  Can we have a walkable city where we don’t have a city in the first place?  What if the location is just a “census-designated place” with a bunch of uncoordinated and unplanned properties that somehow ended up near each other along a high-speed road?  The stretch of Route 1 in Woodbridge, in particular, is not remotely ready for more urban measures.  The tragedy is that it’s “urbanized” enough to have some foot traffic, but not urban enough to protect it.

I suppose one answer is that, as the economy allows new businesses and homes to be built in and around the bad stuff, we can gradually make the newer land uses better and more “walk-ready” over time, so that the place can function better for pedestrians when the good stuff reaches critical mass. Meaningful transformation might take a while, though, because many of these places are not the kind of prosperous communities where change is likely to occur rapidly and with the degree of investment necessary to do it right.

Back to Orlando, the region found most dangerous in the country, local officials told New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez in 2011 that “the data is [sic] somewhat skewed by the number of tourists who visit the state, which inflates traffic.”  Nevertheless, Alvarez reported that local officials were taking the matter seriously, building sidewalks, installing audible pedestrian signals, increasing traffic calming, modifying bus stops, creating overpasses, and improving lighting.

Whatever the approach, it matters:  a lot of places in America are like Cobb County and Woodbridge.  And, if we don’t start exercising more, including by walking, the prospects for our collective health are daunting.  The single most alarming public health trend in the United States today is the dramatic rise in overweight and obesity, bringing serious risks of heart disease, diabetes and other consequences leading to life impairment and premature death.

  Who should yield to whom? (image by and courtesy of Dhiru Thadani)

While these health challenges are complex, with many factors at play, our country’s sedentary lifestyle is an important one.  In a massive study of half a million residents of Salt Lake County, researchers at the University of Utah found that an average-sized man weighed 10 pounds less if he lived in a walkable neighborhood – “those that are more densely populated, designed to be more friendly to pedestrians and have a range of destinations for pedestrians” – versus a less walkable one.  A woman of average size weighed six pounds less.  Other research has found that men and women age 50–71 who take a brisk walk nearly every day have a 27 percent reduced death rate compared to non-exercisers.

I have some hope for places like Orlando and even suburban Atlanta.  As sprawling as they are, there is enough critical mass of residences and businesses to build upon, at least over time.  Bus stops and businesses can be much better coordinated with crosswalks at reasonable intervals, for example, and measures such as those cited for Orlando can be put into place. 

But I have a hard time seeing a near-term healthy solution for the Woodbridges of the country.  In the meantime, I don’t blame people outside of downtowns and larger, more conscientious cities who choose to get around on wheels rather than their feet.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Huffington Post and in other national media.  Kaid’s latest book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, is available from booksellers nationwide.

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Australia To Scrap Plan For Dumping Near Great Barrier Reef

SYDNEY, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Australia will abandon plans to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredged sand into the Great Barrier Reef area in its effort to create the world’s biggest coal port, the Australian Financial Review reported on Tuesday.

The fragile reef, which stretches 2,300 km (1,430 miles) along Australia’s east coast, and sprawls over an area half the size of Texas, was the centerpiece of a campaign by green groups and tour operators opposing the plan.

They feared that dumping soil 25 km (15 miles) from the reef would harm delicate corals and seagrasses and potentially double ship traffic through the area.

The Abbot Point port is being expanded to accommodate $16 billion worth of coal projects planned in the inland Galilee Basin by two Indian firms, Adani Enterprises and GVK , and Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart.

On Tuesday, the paper said North Queensland Bulk Ports, Adani Group and GVK would re-submit a proposal as early as this week to Environment Minister Greg Hunt offering alternative dumping sites on land.

The change is designed to defuse controversy over potential damage to the reef and avoid a court case launched by the North Queensland Conservation Council, it added.

“If the reports are true, the cheapest, most destructive option for expanding Abbot Point may have been taken off the table,” said Adam Walters, head of research for environmental group Greenpeace.

A spokesman for Hunt declined to confirm the newspaper’s report, saying no new proposals had been received yet.

“There was no option available at the time of the decision,” Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Tuesday. “There may well be one opening up. It’s up to the proponents to submit it. We haven’t seen any documentation.”

A spokesman for Adani said the company was open to viable alternatives to the dredging plan.

“We are committed to ensuring the best options are in place to ensure this project is achieved, together with the best possible environmental outcomes,” he said.

In January, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority granted a permit for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump the dredged material in the park, to deepen Abbot Point for two terminals planned by Adani and GVK-Hancock.

Adani and GVK have long-term plans to ship a total of 120 million tonnes of coal through the port each year.

Last June, UNESCO’s world heritage panel deferred until next year a decision on whether to designate the 300,000-sq-km reef as a site in danger.

The reef has the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong and large green turtle, the World Heritage list says.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is concerned over the proposed coastal developments, and has asked Australia for an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by next February 1. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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9 Breathtaking 360-Degree Views Of Hawaii, Thanks To Google’s Trekker

So your pockets aren’t burning with the thousands of dollars it takes to visit Hawaii? No sweat. The Hawaii Visitor’s and Conventions Bureau (HVCB) has you covered.

In partnership with Google Maps — the first of its kind — HVCB loaded staff members of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources with Google Trekkers, a backpack equipped with a 360-degree camera that records street-level images on foot. The staffers then walked a bunch of the state’s most natural and iconic tourist spots.

Google opened up applications last year for various organizations to borrow a Trekker and “help map the world.” Hawaii was the first volunteer chosen, and these are the amazing results.

From a particularly voggy view of Waikiki Beach to the beautiful Round Top Forest Reserve in the Koolau Mountains, here are our favorites:

1. Nuuanu Pali Lookout, Honolulu:

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2. Makapuu Lighthouse, Honolulu:

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3. Sunset Beach, Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa:

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4. Manoa Falls Trail, Honolulu:

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5. Keaiwa Heiau State Park/Aiea Loop Trail, Aiea Heights Drive, Aiea:

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6. Round Top Forest Reserve and Lookout, Honolulu:

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7. Waialae Beach, Kahala Avenue, Honolulu:

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8. Heeia State Park, Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe:

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9. Byodo-In Temple, Kahekili Highway, Kaneohe:

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Texas Lawmaker Backs Lifting Oil Export Ban, Putting Him At Odds With Fellow Republicans

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) – A senior U.S. Congressman from Texas has come out in full support of the United States lifting the 40-year old ban on crude oil exports, putting him at odds with fellow House Republicans wary of weighing in on the controversial issue.

Rep. Joe Barton, who until now has maintained a relatively neutral public stance on a topic that has divided Republican members of the House energy and commerce committee, told Reuters in a statement that the time was right for the United States to overhaul its long-standing restrictions on exporting crude oil.

“The shale revolution has changed the energy landscape in our country. It is time to change our laws to match this new reality,” said Barton, who represents Texas’ sixth Congressional district just southwest of Dallas, several hundred miles from the burgeoning oil patches of the Eagle Ford and Permian.

“I’m in favor of overturning the ban on crude oil exports.”

Barton chairs the energy task force of the Republican Study Committee, which will continue to debate the ban and issue position papers.

It is the most definitive statement that the former chairman of the House energy committee has made outside of private meetings on the subject, said Sean Brown, Barton’s press secretary.

Barton is “happy to discuss the issue” with House colleagues and some in the business community who may disagree, Brown said.

The outspoken lawmaker, in office since 1985, joins other powerful politicians including Senate energy and natural resources committee chair Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and ranking member Lisa Murkowski from Alaska in backing definitive action on exports. They want to move beyond the incremental measures that are already allowing a growing trickle of shale oil to find new markets, such as South Korea and the Netherlands.

Although several research reports have found that exporting the glut of shale oil would ultimately lower U.S. and global fuel prices, rather than raise them, U.S. public opinion remains divided on the issue.

Meanwhile some environmentalists are beginning to rally against overseas sales because they fear it will encourage even more fracking.

ON THE FENCE

Barton’s previous public comments on the issue were more careful.

“I can debate either side of that,” he said at an event in February.

Barton said there was a strong economic argument to lift the export ban, but such a decision might roil environmentalists, provoking another political fight in a divided Congress.

Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who succeeded Barton as the energy committee chair, has not yet taken a position on the ban.

“The committee is still studying the issue. We will continue to conduct analysis the remainder of the year and into next Congress,” committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said.

With mid-term elections looming, some lawmakers want to avoid discussing crude exports altogether as it may raise fears among voters that a policy change would drive up gasoline prices.

Some lawmakers in Texas and on the east coast are at odds with others because oil refiners in their districts have benefited from the crude oil ban and oppose a policy change.

In March, four U.S. oil refiners including Alon USA Energy and PBF Energy formed anti-export group Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy, or CRUDE, a lobby with the goal of preventing a hasty reversal of the ban.

Barton’s statement is significant because some prominent Republicans have not taken a firm stance on the issue yet, said Kevin Book, an analyst with Clear View Energy Partners.

“The reason he probably hasn’t been more vocal is because the rank and file is terrified,” he said.

But Barton has little to lose by backing crude exports, according to Book, since his district is home mainly to oil producers.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; edited by Jonathan Leff and Jessica Resnick-Ault and Tomasz Janowski)

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