Migrant farmworkers have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic so that they may continue to tend and harvest the crops that feed America. Yet most of these workers don't enjoy essential benefits and worker protections, such as a minimum wage, overtime pay and access to health insurance — or workplace protocols that would prevent them from contracting the virus itself.

As storm season begins in the southeastern US, scientists are casting a wary eye on the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

RH Saunders Generating Station

Water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are expected to peak well below the record high levels reached in 2017 and 2019.

File photo

New York state’s plastic bag ban took effect on March 1, but like much of society, it is now on “pause” as supermarkets and retailers that remain open grapple with other issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Emerging research indicates the novel coronavirus is deadlier to people with long-term exposure to high air pollution and hits minority communities particularly hard.

Biostatisticians at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health compared death rates from COVID-19 with air quality records in 3,000 counties. They found that in areas with just a small increase in long-term rates of fine particle pollution, 15% more people are likely to be killed by the virus.

Science denial in the United States has for decades fueled resistance to taking action on climate change. As a consequence, the battle to prevent its worst effects may already be lost. That same science denial continues today as the country fights to fend off or delay the worst effects of COVID-19.

President Donald Trump and several Republican governors delayed action and failed to heed the warnings of the nation’s healthcare science advisors, while leaders in other countries, such as South Korea and Germany, have taken more timely and successful actions.

Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks & Recreation

Today, the University at Buffalo will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the annual event calling attention to environmental protection, by announcing its new Climate Action Plan. Meanwhile, a UB professor is releasing an updated audio version of a book he first published seven years ago, about the history and "genius" of the original Earth Day.

Gardening at home during COVID-19

Apr 21, 2020

With so many people isolated at home and the economy so wobbly, for those with the space this is a fine time to start growing some of your own food — and, in fact, seed companies are reporting record sales this spring.

Landscape designer Michael Weishan, the former host of the PBS series "The Victory Garden," says “if you’re a gardener, you’re never that isolated.”

"In the garden, nature goes on; it gets your mind off a lot of other things.”

The United States' recent $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act focused on urgent, short-term economic needs, so Congress did not include climate solutions in the aid package that could be a powerful tool to help with long-term economic recovery.

But as Washington starts to talk infrastructure as a way to put people back to work, a team led by congressional Democrats is aiming to change that.

The illegal trade of protected species is a highly lucrative form of organized crime — with deadly consequences. In addition to threatening ecosystems and inciting violence, wildlife trafficking plays a key role in spreading diseases, including the novel coronavirus that is now sweeping across the world.

Court blocks oil drilling in Peruvian Amazon

Apr 16, 2020

A judge in Peru has blocked a proposed oil drilling project in the Peruvian Amazon that threatened to damage the ecosystem and the health of isolated Indigenous peoples.

The Sierra del Divisor was set aside as a national park in 2016, but the national oil company, Perupetro, planned to exploit the area for oil extraction. An Indigenous coalition went to court to try to block the project, and they recently won the lawsuit. The suit was filed by the Regional Organization of Indigenous People of the East, or ORPIO.

Conservationists in Vietnam recently got some good news: A species feared extinct, the Vietnamese silver-backed mouse-deer, was documented for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Andrew Tilker, the Asian species officer for Global Wildlife Conservation, says local knowledge helped locate the rare and tiny mouse-deer, which is also known as the silver-backed chevrotain.

The intelligent find joy in water. If Confucius is right, we must all be prodigies.

We moved to this mountain village, a three-hour drive from our home in Shanghai, because of the water, because of the air, because the inner-city pollution was quite literally making us sick.

In moving to the countryside, we were swimming against the tide. Rural villages in China are draining, as young people migrate to the city for work. We joined a small trickle headed upstream, closer to the source of water.

A new book chronicles the Koch empire's impact on American society

Apr 14, 2020

For decades now, climate policy has been stymied in the United States by a well-funded campaign of denial that includes elected officials dependent on campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests. And much of this anti-climate regulation effort can be traced back to one powerful man: Charles Koch.

Charles Koch built the company he inherited from his father, Fred, into a financial powerhouse based on oil and gas. Koch Industries earned Charles, and his late brother David Koch, a massive fortune — as much as $100 billion.

'Dueling dinos' set off a long legal battle and a scientific debate

Apr 9, 2020

It’s been more than 200 years since the first dinosaur fossils were scientifically described. Since then, those prehistoric giants have captivated people of all ages, inspiring statues, theme parks and, of course, a film franchise. But a fossil discovery in Montana may upend the way we discover dinosaur bones and who can own them to begin with.

The story starts back in 2006, with a fossil find on a ranch in Montana. Dinosaur bones that are potentially 66 million years old were embedded in rock — horns and bones completely intact.

Connecting with nature in the time of COVID-19

Apr 8, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world are doing their part to prevent the spread of the disease by staying at home and practicing social distancing. If we can’t go to the gym, the theater or out to eat, we can still go outside — or at least out our front or back door. And with spring in the air — this may just be the perfect time to do it.

As Earth experiences its sixth mass extinction and species disappear before our eyes, the United Nations and the Center for Biological Diversity have both released plans that address the extinction crisis and the closely-related problem of climate change.

In Australia, wildfires have burned through massive forests of mountain and alpine ash — some of the tallest trees in the world. These trees aren’t naturally equipped to deal with frequent fires and are struggling to grow back on their own. But humans are helping to give them a shot at recovery.

China announces a new ban on single-use plastics

Mar 19, 2020

China produces the most single-use plastic of any country in the world and the largest landfill in China is full — 25 years ahead of schedule. Plastic waste is finding its way into China’s waterways, to the outrage of many Chinese citizens.

The Chinese government seems to be taking the problem seriously.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

The international agency that regulates water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River could find itself the target of lawsuits if some upstate New York congressional representatives have their way.

International Joint Commission

An annual rite of spring has begun. The International Joint Commission has announced that preparations are underway for the removal of the Lake Erie ice boom.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

The recently released "count the cost" survey of 379 households in New York found that the average loss per home from the flooding along Lake Ontario's shoreline in 2017 and 2019 is $95,000. And the authors of the survey say it's not just those at the top who are suffering. Half of the households who participated in the survey earn less than $125,000 and 70% of those who responded say they do not have the resources to protect against another year of flooding.

Mike Desmond / WBFO News

A new state law barring plastic shopping bags went into effect Sunday. Many shoppers said they liked the plastic bags because they have many different second lives.

The United Nations (UN) does not formally recognize climate change refugees, but that position is beginning to shift, following a case brought to the UN by an asylum seeker from Kiribati, an island in the South Pacific. 

Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand, claiming that his island home was flooding due to sea level rise and he could no longer live there. New Zealand denied his request, and the UN agreed with that decision because, they said, Teitiota was not in imminent danger.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

The start of the shipping season on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River will be delayed by at least 12 days. It’s due to the efforts to try and deal with the possibility of flooding along the lakeshore.

EPA inches toward PFAS drinking water regulation

Feb 25, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the next step toward setting drinking water limits for two PFAS chemicals — PFOA and PFOS. Environmentalists say the step is small and they want to see quicker, bolder action.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants 70% of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. That's got state agencies looking at ways to speed up permitting for wind and solar projects, worrying opponents of larger developments.

Chris Caya / WBFO News

On March 1, grocery stores and other retail outlets will no longer be providing shoppers with single-use plastic bags, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is making a last-minute push to get the word out on the plastic bag ban.

U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information that results in the discovery of the person who shot and killed a bald eagle in Cattaraugus County late last November.

WBFO file photo

The state’s ban on most single use plastic bags takes effect March 1. Over the holiday weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s environmental agency released regulations on how to carry out the new law, but the new rules have left both environmentalists and the plastics industry fuming.