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Major environmental stories of March 2014

The science journal Environmental Research Letters published a report stating that famous landmarks such at the Tower of London, the Statue of Liberty, and the Sydney Opera House, will be lost to rising seas caused by global warming. The researchers conducted a study to determine how many of the 720 world heritage sites would be affected as ice sheets melt and warming oceans expand. With just 3°C of warming, over 1/5 of the sites will be swallowed up by seas over the next 2000 years. Some places, like Venice, are already being affected by rising sea levels.

On March 7, a report was released, Leading from the Middle: How Illinois Communities Unleashed Renewable Energy. The World Wildlife Fund, the Illinois Sierra Club, The George Washington University Solar Institute, and other organizations contributed to the report which says that Illinois is using more renewable energy sources than any other state. So far, 91 communities provide 100% renewable energy to their citizens. That means 1.7 million people -- out of a population of not quite 13 million -- get their power from wind, solar, or other green energy sources. Illinois is one of six states that allow community choice aggregation (CCA), which means communities can use their bulk purchasing power to get bids from energy companies. Bid requests can stipulate the mix of energy sources -- or even mandate that only renewable sources may be used.

President Obama used his executive authority to expand the California Coastal National Monument (CCNM) to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on the Mendocino Coast. It is the first land-based addition to the CCNM and permanently protects over 1660 acres of beach, bluffs, and the Garcia River estuary. It is also home to rare and endangered species like the coho salmon, steelhead, the Point Arena mountain beaver, and the Behren's silverspot butterfly.

Unseasonably warm weather increased the air pollution in Paris, producing a record-setting smog in the middle of March. Over the weekend, the city offered free public transportation and bike sharing to encourage people to not use their cars. The smog persisted, so on March 17, Paris and 22 surrounding areas banned cars and motorcycles with even registration numbers from the road. Electric vehicles, hybrids, and cars carrying more than three people were exempted. The ban lasted only a day. The Minister of Ecology Philippe Martin noted that 90% of Parisians followed the rules, and said the ban was lifted because of changing weather patterns.

Three EU member countries, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Sweden have already met their renewable energy goals for 2020. Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable sources, putting it ahead of all the other countries in the EU. Only Norway, which isn't an EU member, gets a higher percentage of its energy from renwables. Twenty of the 28 countries in the European Union are more than halfway towards their 2020 goals. By contrast, Malta, Luxembourg, and U.K. are behind. The European Union countries, on average, get 14.1% of their energy from renewable sources. The EU has a stated goal of their members getting 20% of their energy, on average, from renewables by 2020.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a campaign to help people understand the dangers of climate change. They published a 28-page report called What We Know. It emphasizes three items: 1) 97% of climate experts have concluded that climate change is real and that humans caused it; 2) climate change may have unpredictable and abrupt impacts; and 3) the sooner we respond, the less severe the consequences will be.

The Obama administration announced an initiative to provide private companies and local governments easier access to public climate data. Said initiative is a clearinghouse website for climate data that opened on March 19. It will provide people with localized climate data. There will also be computer simulations that will demonstrate the consequences of rising seas and other scenarios. High-tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Intel will provide tools to help communities deal with extreme events like droughts or floods.

Four years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil and gas disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lifted the ban that had forbidden BP from engaging in any contracts with the federal government, thus allowing BP to bid on leases for gas and oil development on public lands and waters, including the Gulf. BP already holds over 600 lease blocks -- and there are dozens of other companies working in the Gulf. Not long after the ban was lifted, NOAA scientists reported that crude oil was linked to heart defects and other deformities in the larvae of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

On March 22, a ship collided with a barge carrying roughly 4,000 barrels of bunker fuel oil in Galveston Bay, Texas, causing an oil spill. As a result, 200,000 pounds of oiled sand and debris stretched along 22 miles of Texas coast shoreline. The Houston Ship Channel was closed for three days. Areas around the spill provide crucial stopover points for migratory birds, including the extremely rare whooping crane. Other affected birds include ducks, herrings, herons, pelicans, plovers, sanderlings, willets, and loons. Marine life has also been affected, leading some fishermen and bait shop owners to sue. A federal judge ordered the seizure of the cargo ship, ordering it to remain in the area as a Coast Guard investigation determines who was at fault for the collision.

On March 31, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, which is part of a larger report called the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) that has been coming out in stages. The first stage had concerned the science of climate change and this second stage, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, describes the impacts of climate change.

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