Here's your weekly roundup of environmental news from around the web, from fuel economy standards to deforestation, desertification and mining. One shiny bright spot: Portugal shows us how it's DONE in reducing a country's carbon footprint.

The Sahara Desert expands, devouring African savannah ecosystems

University of Maryland scientists recently conducted a study that found the Sahara Desert has expanded in size by 10 percent since 1920, citing a combination of natural climate cycles and human-caused climate change. The creeping land of sand is continually breaking into the ecological demilitarized zone known as the Sahel, which is the semi-arid belt separating the Sahara and the more fertile savannah lands down south.

This nefarious African desertification is just one more climatic hardship affecting the continent, as summers become more scorching and rainy seasons provide less precipitation each year. So many areas of Africa live and die by their agricultural yield, which is heavily reliant upon water availability. Read more from the National Science Foundation

Brazil reduces penalties for previous illegal deforestation

Rich Carey/Bigstock

First, some fast facts about deforestation: 18.7 million acres of forest are cleared around the world annually, (World Wildlife Fund) which makes the fact that about half of Earth’s tropical rainforests have been decimated quite unsurprising (Food and Agriculture Organization.) This is a real bummer, and the news only gets worse: the WWF reports that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Forests, much like the global oceans, are carbon sinks that release CO2 into the atmosphere as they are harmed.

A few years ago, the FAO reported that deforestation rates were slowing down. However, in some concerning news, Brazil, which is home to most of the Amazon rainforst, has just approved softening the punishments for agents of arboreal decimation. Read more at LiveScience

Can a country be powered solely by renewable energies? Portugal says YES.

While the US is certainly stumbling on the environmental front, (Thanks Trump), Portugal is on the other side of the ocean breaking records on reducing their carbon footprint. Get it Portugal.

In March, the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association reported the country had produced renewable power to match over 100% of the demand of mainland Portugal. Hydro power made up 55 percent of the energy produced, while wind power made up about 42 percent, according to NPR. That said, Portugal still uses fossil fuels for various economic reasons. Read more at NPR

US Fuel Economy vs The World

With President Trump and Director of the EPA Scott Pruitt co-conspiring to roll back Obama-era automotive industry fuel economy guidelines, it's good to know how we currently compare with the rest of the world, and what we stand to lose.

When comparing the United States' average fuel economy standards to the rest of the world, the US is like the second-born child whom younger siblings look up to because the eldest has moved out of the house and become a functional adult. To translate the metaphor, what I mean is that our overall fuel economy as a country pales in comparison to Japan, the European Union, and China, but some countries, like Mexico and Canada, still use our standards as an example. If the US rolls back these guidelines, it will be as if the relatable older sibling started a chain smoking habit; Suddenly, those younger siblings start to think cigarettes are pretty cool. Read more at NYT

The fight to mine the Grand Canyon for Uranium commences

The public lands around the Grand Canyon are currently protected from prospective miners, but this may soon change if the American Exploration and Mining Association and National Mining Association have their way with the Supreme Court. Their grounds for challenging the ban on mining in the area? NMA spokesperson Luke Popovich says that uranium mining doesn’t harm the land!

On the other hand, the Guardian reports that scientists have not reached a conclusion on whether this mining has the possibility to harm tributaries, and local flora and fauna.

As mining interest groups typically prioritize environmental protection over all else, (especially company profit), rest assured conservationists should have nothing to worry about. Read more from The Guardian


Top Image Photo Credit: Sahara Desert. DmitryP/Bigstock.



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