A recently released report on the 2018 grounding of a Russian ship in the Canadian Arctic points out the many dangers of a coming shipping boom in an increasingly ice-free Arctic, including the lack of reliable navigational charts and crews inexperienced in polar waters.
House Republicans on Wednesday will launch a caucus aimed at educating its members about climate change.
The effort, spearheaded by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), won’t endorse particular policies but instead will give members information and new strategies for how to talk about the issue and possibly even change some minds on climate change.
Chicago’s newly created Building Decarbonization Working Group will work to devise an equitable path for reducing building emissions to meet the city’s climate goals, which include an aim to power all buildings with renewable energy by 2035.
The working group, announced last week, will establish a comprehensive framework for guiding the city’s equitable implementation of a building decarbonization strategy. The 55 individuals on the working group hail from private businesses, nonprofits, organizations and community groups. ”The equity lens is really important to us for this project: really understanding the opportunity to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to ensure that we are taking care and prioritizing the health of people in the buildings,” said Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer Angela Tovar.
The city partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Elevate Energy to research 12 other North American cities’ decarbonization policies and best practices, which the partners presented to the working group to guide their decision-making. The working group likely will put forth its recommendations for implementing a decarbonization strategy by this fall, Tovar said.
The Earth’s surface is splotched with 117 million lakes. Some are scarcely more than ponds, while others are so big they can be seen from space. At 395 miles long, 49 miles wide and just over 1 mile deep, Lake Baikal in Siberia is one of the world’s largest and it’s home to 2,500 species, including the Baikal seal – Earth’s only species of freshwater seal.
Lakes and rivers occupy just 1% of the Earth’s surface but are incredible hotspots for biodiversity, sheltering 10% of all species globally. Particularly in older and deeper lakes, life has had millions of years to evolve and adapt to the peculiarities of that habitat, giving rise to unique forms. But since 1970, numbers of freshwater vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, have declined by a staggering 83% through the extraction of lake water, pollution, invasive species and disease. Now, climate change threatens to drive even deeper losses.
Lake heatwaves – when surface water temperatures rise above their average for longer than five days – are a relatively new phenomenon. But by the end of this century, heatwaves could last between three and 12 times longer and become 0.3°C to 1.7°C hotter. In some places, particularly near the equator, lakes may enter a permanent heatwave state. Smaller lakes may shrink or disappear entirely, along with the wildlife they contain, while deeper lakes will face less intense but longer heatwaves.
In a new study, researchers examined 393 lakes worldwide between 1981 and 2017 and found their temperatures rose by 0.39°C every decade, while dissolved oxygen fell by 5% at the surface and 19% in the depths. It’s in these cooler, deeper parts of lakes where trout, burbot and salmon usually thrive thanks to sufficient oxygen, especially in the summer. Largely due to warming air temperatures, 68% of the lakes in the study had lost this important niche to rising temperatures and falling oxygen levels.
So what do these changes mean for the other forms of life that call lakes home?
How lake life will change
Most organisms that live in lakes can only thrive in water with just the right temperature and concentration of nutrients and oxygen. Warmer lakes hold less oxygen and lose more water through evaporation, forcing species to live in saltier and less oxygenated habitats.
Things won’t be easy for species which live above the water for most of their lives either. Dragonflies are a common sight flitting among the reeds on the lake side. They lay their eggs in the shallows, but as lakes are lowered or dry out during more frequent and severe heatwaves, this protection is lost. Those larvae which survive are likely to emerge early, when food and habitat may be lacking.
Climate change will shift the types of organisms we find in lakes. Cold water fish, such as trout and salmon, need cooler temperatures and higher oxygen concentrations than warm water species such as largemouth bass and white perch. One cold-loving species, Arctic char, could vanish from 73% of its Swedish range by 2100 just as a result of warming. Meanwhile, rising temperatures could mean parasites that infect fish grow faster and larger. In one study, parasitic worms infecting stickleback fish grew four times faster in water at 20°C compared to 15°C.
Heatwaves could accelerate the spread and size of pathogens in fish, with huge consequences for the aquaculture industry and wild populations. Human diseases, transmitted by freshwater organisms, may also increase. Naegleria fowleri is a lake parasite that flourishes in warmer temperatures. Known as the brain-eating amoeba, this microbe can cause fatal meningoencephalitis if it enters the body through the nose. Prolonged periods when lake waters remain warmer than average could see this parasite expand into more temperate waters.
Since warmer surface waters hold more nutrients, climate change could cause an explosion in the number of microscopic algae that live in lakes. These microorganisms are the base of the food web and the foundation of life in these habitats. But this isn’t the good news it seems. When nutrients are abundant, huge quantities of these algae can form a thick green (or sometimes red) blanket on the lake surface. These algal blooms not only look unsightly, they often produce harmful toxins.
Heatwaves are increasing the frequency of harmful algal blooms and causing mass mortality events where thousands of animals die in a few days. Algal blooms block out the light and suffocate fish, either by crashing oxygen levels or clogging up their gills. A 100 metre-wide, 15cm-deep algal bloom in Loch Leven in Scotland in 1992 killed 1,000 brown trout over 24 hours.
Unlike those living elsewhere, most lake animals cannot simply move to another habitat once their lake becomes uninhabitable. But even migratory species will suffer. In August 2004, 15,000 flamingos died on a lake in Tanzania after consuming toxins produced by algal blooms.
As heatwaves proliferate and oxygen levels decline, mass fish die-offs are predicted to double from the 2040s in lakes in the northern hemisphere and increase fourfold in the southern hemisphere from the 2080s onwards. Without immediate action to curb emissions and slow climate change, many of the world’s lakes are on course for a sweltering, breathless and lifeless future.
An increasing awareness and concern about the environment, changes in government policy, America’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement and a robust demand for carbon offsets all point toward an appetite for a different type of agricultural crop—carbon.
“There has been an increasing amount of discussion on how to create a way for farmers to earn credits for the climate-friendly practices they have implemented or will implement on their operations,” said Joe Outlaw, Ph.D., co-director of the Agriculture and Food Policy Center at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and economist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Bryan-College Station. “One of these ways is through carbon farming that would allow for the capture or sequestration of soil organic carbon, making it possible for the sale of carbon credits to corporations so they may offset their greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, many questions on the efficacy of carbon farming and its worth to the farmer are as yet unanswered. Will there be incentives to attract a sufficient number of farmers for it to work? How much trouble will it be to implement and monitor these carbon capture methods? Will some farmers benefit more than others? Will farmers be credited for the actions they have already taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Despite the devastating impact the emerald ashborer beetle has had on forests in the eastern and midwestern parts of the U.S., climate change will have a much larger and widespread impact on these landscapes through the end of the century, according to researchers.
Climate change is upending people’s lives around the world, but when droughts, floods or sea level rise force them to leave their countries, people often find closed borders and little assistance.
Part of the problem is that today’s laws, regulations and international agreements about migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees offer few, if any, special protection to those forced to leave because of climate conditions.
National laws focus primarily on violence and conflict as drivers of forced migration and rarely consider environmental stress. In fact, no nation’s immigration system currently has environmental criteria for admission. International agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact for Refugees mention the impacts of natural disasters and environmental degradation, but they are not legally binding.
Often, the environmental stressors associated with climate change are only one factor pushing people to migrate. For example, many migrants from Guatemala trying to enter the U.S. have struggled under severe droughts or storms, but many also fear crime and violence if they move to cities in their homeland to find work. Others are seeking opportunities that they and their children don’t have.
As experts in migrationand climaterisk, we have been studying how climate change is displacing people within their own countries and often pushing them to cross borders. Here are some of the key challenges the Biden administration faces and reasons this effort can’t wait.
How many climate migrants are there?
No one knows exactly how many climate migrants exist now or how many people will become climate migrants in the future, but current estimates are high.
In the coming years, the rapid pace of climate change combined with a global population nearing 8 billion people is likely to create unprecedented stress around the world. Recent studies show that dry spells and drought are already associated with increased migration.
The U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention establishes the obligations and responsibilities its member nations have to refugees. It defines refugees as people who are forced to flee their homelands because of fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
In contrast, international law does not clearly define migrants or climate migrants. Thus, all migrants are subject to the immigration laws of their destination countries. Since these immigration laws also lack environmental criteria for accepting migrants, climate migrants often have nowhere to go.
Changing views of climate migration
While climate migrants are not legally considered refugees, many are highly vulnerable.
Lacking resources, climate migrants are likely to be poorer than most other international migrants. This may put them at a disadvantage as more countries’ policies scrutinize the economic prospects of immigrants before permitting them entry.
Yet climate migrants do not fit cleanly into categories of those who migrate voluntarily and those who are displaced by factors beyond their control.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission rejected Teitiota’s appeal in 2020, but it also warned that governments could be in violation of U.N. agreements if they send people back to situations where climate change has created life-threatening risks.
Rethinking the role of disasters
Climate change and other environmental stresses have increasingly become drivers of displacement, but in ways that do not fit neatly within the bright dichotomy that law and policy use to distinguish between refugees and other people on the move.
We believe it’s time for countries worldwide to rethink the role of disasters and climate change in migration, recognize the rights of those displaced by environmental causes and reform international and national laws and policies, which are out of date with what’s known today about climate change and displacement. Nations may be reluctant to offer what may seem like a new portal for migrants, but evidence suggests those numbers will only rise, and countries need to be prepared.
Analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) finds that, not only it is possible to support coal workers in the shift to a low-carbon economy, but these comprehensive policies are affordable.
UCS and UWUA estimated the number of coal miners and coal-fired power plant workers at risk of losing jobs before reaching age 65 as the coal industry declines, and identified the number of US counties at risk due to their direct link to coal.
Comprehensive support for these workers would include five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance.
In total, the analysis finds these supports would cost roughly between $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years—a fraction of the trillions of dollars of needed investments in the energy system in coming decades as we shift to a low-carbon economy.
As the energy mix changes—rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets—we must plan thoughtfully and offer support to the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.
Three key ingredients are needed for a hurricane to form: warm sea surface water that’s at least about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.5 C), a thick layer of moisture extending from the sea surface to roughly 20,000 feet and minimal vertical wind shear so the thunderstorm can grow vertically without interruption.
These prime conditions are often found in the tropical waters off the west coast of Africa.
Hurricanes can also form in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, but the ones that start close to Africa have thousands of miles of warm water ahead that they can draw energy from as they travel. That energy can help them grow into powerful hurricanes.
Wind currents set most tropical storms on a course westward from Africa toward the Caribbean, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Some drift northward into the midlatitudes, where the prevailing winds shift from west to east and cause them to curve back out into the Atlantic.
Others encounter cooler ocean temperatures that rob them of fuel, or high wind shear that breaks them apart. That’s why tropical cyclones rarely hit northern states or Europe, though it does happen.
Time of season also influences hurricane paths
Early in the season, in June and July, sea surface temperatures are still warming and atmospheric wind shear slowly decreases across the open Atlantic. Most early-season hurricanes develop in a small area of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico where prime conditions begin early.
They typically form close to land, so coastal residents don’t have much time to prepare, but these storms also don’t have ideal conditions to gain strength. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Central America, are more likely to see hurricane strikes early in the season, as the trade winds favor an east-to-west motion.
As surface waters gain heat over the summer, hurricane frequency and severity begin to increase, especially into the peak hurricane months of August through October.
Toward the end of the season, trade winds begin to shift from west to east, ocean temperatures start to fall, and cold fronts can help divert storms away from the western Gulf and push them toward the Florida Panhandle.
Shape of the seafloor matters for destructiveness
The shape of the seafloor can also play a role in how destructive hurricanes become.
Hurricane strength is currently measured solely on a storm’s maximum sustained wind speeds. But hurricanes also displace ocean water, creating a surge of high water that their winds push toward shore ahead of the storm.
This storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane, accounting for about 49% of all direct fatalities between 1963 and 2012. Hurricane Katrina (2005) is a prime example: An estimated 1,500 people lost their lives when Katrina hit New Orleans, many of them in the storm surge flooding.
If the continental shelf where the hurricane hits is shallow and slopes gently, it generally produces a greater storm surge than a steeper shelf.
As a result, a major hurricane hitting the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast – which has a very wide and shallow continental shelf – may produce a 20-foot storm surge. However, the same hurricane might produce only a 10-foot storm surge along the Atlantic coastline, where the continental shelf drops off very quickly.
It found that New Orleans had about a 40% chance each year of a tropical storm strike. The chances rose for Miami and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, both at 48%. San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has seen some devastating storms in recent years, was at 42%.
Hurricanes, which have sustained wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour, were also more frequent in the three U.S. locations. Miami and Cape Hatteras were found to have a 16% chance of a direct hit by a hurricane in any given year, and New Orleans’ chance was estimated at 12%.
Each of these locations is vulnerable to a hurricane because of its location, but also its shape. North Carolina and Florida “stick out like a sore thumb” and are often grazed by hurricanes that curve up the east coast of the U.S.
Climate change changes the risk
As sea surface temperatures rise with the warming of the planet, more areas outside of these usual hurricane regions may see more tropical storms.
During the first six years of that period, 1972-77, the Atlantic averaged four direct hits per year. Of those, 75% were in the usual hurricane-prone areas, such as the Southern United States, the Caribbean and Central America. Six storms made landfall elsewhere, including New England, Canada and the Azores.
By 2014-19, the Atlantic averaged 7.6 direct hits per year. While the U.S. took the majority of those hits, Europe has been showing a steady increase in cyclones making landfall. Major hurricanes – those with sustained wind speeds of 111 miles per hour and above – are also more common than they were in the 1970s and ‘80s (view chart).
While southern coastal locations of the United States may be the most vulnerable to tropical cyclone impacts, it is important to understand that a devastating cyclone can hit anywhere along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The National Hurricane Center is forecasting another busy season in 2021, though it is not expected to be as extreme as 2020’s record 30 named storms. Even if an area hasn’t experienced a hurricane in several years, residents are advised to prepare for the season as if their area will take a hit – just in case.