This Week on Earth: January 10-17


By Jamie Leventhal

President Obama and Climate Change: State of the Union 2016

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama addressed the nation about his progress and future plans in America's clean energy programs in his final State of the Union on Tuesday.


Obama started off by noting how 2014 was the hottest year on record and challenged his opponents to dispute the signs of climate change against the "military, most of America's business leaders, they majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world."


The president urged the government to relocate funds that have been used as subsidies for traditional, dirty energy in favor of cleaner sources and a 21st century transportation system.


"Why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?" Obama said.


Although he didn't specifically talk about any plans, Obama pointed out how this shift to clean energy would affect communities that rely on fossil fuels, and he aims to bolster their transition.


In just seven years, Obama's administration has made the "single biggest investment in clean energy in [the nation's] history," leading to wind power in Texas and Iowa that's cheaper than some conventional fossil fuel sources and big advances in the solar power industry. Obama discussed how solar power is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars per year on their energy bills and employs more Americans than the coal industry—with significantly higher pay rates than average.


Obama also reported how his administration has cut foreign oil imports by almost 60 percent and reduced carbon pollution more than any other country on earth. These statements are misleading, because a decrease in foreign oil imports doesn't mean America is using less oil; it has just shifted towards using domestic supplies. In fact, America’s carbon dioxide emissions increased during his presidency for a period of time after the economy started to recover.


Additionally, his statement about our global leadership in climate reduction is only half correct. While America has cut carbon pollution by 523 metric tons between 2003 and 2012, the percentage reduction in carbon emissions is significantly higher in European countries like France and the UK.


Although Obama focused more on issues like ISIL and refugees in his speech, he did a significantly better job raising awareness about climate change than his republican counterparts. Neither Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union, nor any of the Republican presidential candidates on Thursday's debate brought up climate change or clean energy.



Goodbye Great White


After just three days in a Japanese aquarium, the world's only captive Great White shark unexpectedly died without an apparent cause.


The shark was originally captured along Japan's coastline and shipped off on Tuesday to "The Sea of Dangerous Sharks" exhibit in the Okinhawa Churami Aquarium. By Friday, the shark was dead.


Scientists have multiple theories why great white sharks aren't able to live in captivity, but after decades of trying unsuccessfully to keep these creatures in aquariums they are no closer to a solution. These sharks are a logistic nightmare for aquariums; they require very large solitary tanks, live food, and a great deal of patience to deal with their large size and aggressive attitudes. Captured great whites either die in the aquarium or are eventually released back into the ocean.


Scientists are still determining why this great white died so suddenly.


Hidden Discovery in Alaskan Ice: Warmer Temperatures Help Lost Ships Emerge


Global climate change is still a huge problem, but this week historians received an unexpected surprise from melting ice caps.


Scientists discovered the wreckage of two 19th-century whaling ships off the coast of Alaska that had been previously surrounded by ice. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that these ships, along with 31 others, were destroyed in 1871 when they were trapped by unusual ice formations in September. According to the NOAA, over 1200 whalers were stranded on the ice until they were eventually rescued by seven other ships about 80 miles south in open water.


Although no one died, this incident is regarded as one of the major causes of the fall of commercial whaling in the United States. Scientists were able to use this new visibility along with sonar and sensing technology to detect the "magnetic signature" of the two ships, giving them definitive proof of the wreck's location.


As exciting for historians as this is, it’s just another reminder that global climate change is melting century’s worth of ice at an alarming pace.


Is the Newest BP Oil Disaster Happening in California?

aliso canyon edit

Over the past few months, California has been letting out the world's biggest fart with major environmental impacts.


Methane has been pouring out of a ruptured gas pipe 8,000 feet underground in Porter Ranch since October. As this greenhouse gas is pumped up into the atmosphere, it adds the estimated equivalent of seven million cars to the road every day, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Methane is extremely harmful to the environment because it traps significantly higher levels of heat than carbon dioxide, greatly adding to the greenhouse effect.


California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as more than 4,500 families have been relocated due to nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and vomiting. It is possible that this leak will take several months to repair, and there is no immediate end in sight.

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