Tag Archives: Climate
For the Inuit of Labrador in Canada, climate disaster has already arrived. These indigenous people form an intense bond with their land, hunting for food and fur. “People like to go out on the land to feel good,” says Noah Nochasak in the documentary Lament for the Land. “If they can’t go out on the land, travel a long ways to feel good, they don’t feel like people.”
The Inuit’s lands, though, are warming twice as fast as the global average, imperiling the ice they rely on to travel. In the fall, hunters tend to get stuck in the community, because ice hasn’t fully formed up—and again, in the spring, when things are melting. Climate change is making these ice transition periods even longer.
“During those times historically, there has been some increases in suicide or suicide attempts or ideation in the communities,” says Ashlee Cunsolo, a health geographer who has studied the region. “There is a lot of concern among the mental health practitioners. What does that mean if this time is lengthened from two weeks to eight weeks?”
It’s known as ecological grief—the mourning of ecosystems and species and ways of life that are disappearing as the planet warms. But it isn’t just hitting the Inuit. As our planet plays host to rising seas, more intense storms, and higher temperatures, those conditions will support a growing international mental health crisis.
“Things like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic abuse, all these things tend to go up in the aftermath of a natural disasters,” says psychologist Susan Clayton of the College of Wooster, co-author of an extensive report on climate change and mental health. “As we have more natural disasters, one would expect to also have increases in those kinds of mental health consequences.”
Take Hurricane Katrina. In its aftermath, a sample of survivors found one in six met the criteria for PTSD. Rates of suicide and suicidal thoughts doubled. And especially in refugee situations, those mental health challenges can be intimately tied to physical health, compounding the harm. “When people are moving to places they bring diseases with them that the home population might not be immune to, and on the flip side these people are moving into places where they might not have immunity to the diseases in the new place,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
Even those whose homes aren’t directly threatened by sea level rise or fiercer hurricanes aren’t immune. By the end of the century, the average American will have to endure four to eight times the number of 95+ degree days. Arizonans will get it particularly bad: Their number of 95+ degree days a year will leap from an average of 116 to over 200. And several studies have made a link between higher temperatures and higher rates of suicide.
One particularly data-intensive survey recently published in Nature Climate Change compiled temperatures and suicide statistics on the county level for the US, and municipality level for Mexico. They compared these granular regions not with each other, but with themselves—so the average monthly temperature in Palo Alto in July 2009 versus July 2010. This controlled for differences between locations in factors like poverty rates or gun ownership rates, both of which have been tied to suicide rates.
The uptick in suicide rates the researchers found may be small—a rise of 2 percent in Mexico and .7 percent in the US for every additional degree Celsius in average monthly temperature—and the relationship is far from simple. Rates of suicide fluctuate around the world, and where those suicide rates are highest, the temperature isn’t necessarily the highest. But extrapolated forward, the impact on public health could be devastating. “The fact that our results are so consistent across different socioeconomic strata, across different populations, suggests a common biological response,” says Stanford economist Marshall Burke, lead author of the study.
It’s unclear if scientists will unearth shared mechanisms behind the mental health effects of climate-related trauma. But the experience itself is obviously, intuitively human. When Cunsolo and a colleague published an essay in Nature Climate Change earlier this year on ecological grief, the email response they got was huge, and it was cosmopolitan.
“It wasn’t drought-affected farmers, it wasn’t low-lying island states, it wasn’t people who had been forced to relocate, it was people often living in urban settings would describe this overall sense of despair and anxiety,” says Cunsolo.
The root of our shared problem may be the same, but the manifestations of climate change can be wildly different. “Each region, each place, each culture, is going to experience something very, very different,” says Cunsolo. For the Inuit, it’s about ice. For the Southern US, it’s supercharged hurricanes. As with all health care, prevention is the best medicine. But in the case of climate change, we may be too late.
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In an otherwise dour outlook on the world’s chances of recovering from climate change, the International Energy Agency director named one bright prospect that arrived this year bearing President Trump’s signature.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the world is unlikely to achieve its Paris Agreement obligations without “major, huge technological breakthroughs,” but the 2018 federal budget could spur a breakthrough in carbon capture and sequestration.
“There is one political move recently that I should say, I welcome this strongly,” Birol said, fingering changes to the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon sequestration.
Carbon capture and sequestration was long the object of bipartisan neglect because Democrats didn’t want to extend the life of fossil fuels and Republicans didn’t want t0 admit to anthropogenic climate change. That began to change as the effects of climate change grew more palpable, and the chances dimmed of mitigating it without capturing carbon emissions.
So a bipartisan group of senators led by by Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) worked to strengthen a carbon capture tax credit that already existed in U.S. law. The old credit offered a $ 10 per ton credit for CO2 used for enhanced oil recovery and $ 20 for other permanent forms of sequestration.
The oil and gas industry backed efforts to boost the credit because drillers can pump CO2 into wells to force out oil and gas, then seal the wells, leaving the CO2 underground and benefiting from the tax credit.
The Senators’ effort was incorporated in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which passed in the early morning of Feb. 9 after a nine-hour government shutdown and was signed by Trump later that day. The new law scales the tax credit as high as $ 35 for enhanced oil recovery and $ 50 for other forms of sequestration.
CCS is crucial to climate efforts, Birol said, because fossil fuels are not going away. Even though renewables have become cheaper and are being deployed at increasing rates, the percentage of energy that comes from fossil fuels is about the same as it was 30 years ago, he said–81 percent.
“There is one technology that can bring this fact together with the climate cause, and that is CCS,” Birol said. Investment into carbon capture has so far languished, representing only 0.1 percent of clean-energy investments.
“This is the reason I think this new tax credit in the U.S. may be the driver for it.”
Now that activist investors have convinced most major corporations to disclose climate-related risks, they have begun to press them for mitigation, and some investors report seeing results.
“We’re beginning to see real signs that we’re entering transition,” said Adam Matthews, the director of ethics and engagement for the Church of England Pension Board and co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative.
“I think it’s something you’ve got to be careful about calling, but at the same time I think that there are signs out there that the engagement is beginning to show impacts. You’re seeing companies that are moving totally out of coal, you’re seeing other companies saying they intend to make no further investments in this, you’re seeing the likes of Shell and Total breaking ranks with their sector and taking certain ambitions to reduce all of their emissions.”
Matthews has noticed the change just in the last six or seven months, he said in a webinar Tuesday hosted by Climate Action, and so has Catherine Howarth of ShareAction UK, a charity that promotes responsible investment.
“It started very much as disclosures,” Howarth said. “We as shareholders want stronger disclosures from you as a company about how you’re considering, for example, climate-related risk. And we’re moving now to resolutions that are a bit more directive and based on investors really claiming a sense of agency over handling how they manage climate risk in their portfolios.”
Howarth cited recent successes with Rio Tinto, a mining company that faced a shareholder revolt over its participation in coal lobbying efforts in Australia, and Royal Dutch Shell, where shareholders pressed the company to establish, publish and meet emissions targets that align the company with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“We really need to be comfortable that you’ve understood the climate risk,” Howarth said, characterizing the message delivered by shareholders, “which is a risk for our entire portfolio, not just for you as an individual stock, and we need to see action now.”
Raquel Loreto is a zombie hunter, and a good one. But traipsing through dried leaves in a hot forest in Sanda, at the southern end of Japan, she needed a guide. Just a few months before, she’d been on the internet and come across the work of artist Shigeo Ootak, whose fantastical images depict humans with curious protrusions erupting from their heads. She got in touch, and he invited her to Japan for a hike to find his inspiration.
Ootak knew precisely where to look: six feet off the ground. And there in a sparse forest, that’s where they found it: the zombie ant, an entrancing species with two long hooks coming out of its back. By now you may have heard its famous tale. A parasitic fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps, invades an ant’s body, growing through its tissues and soaking up nutrients. Then it somehow orders its host to march out of the nest and up a tree above the colony’s trails. The fungus commands the ant to bite onto the vein of a leaf, then kills the thing and grows as a stalk out of the back of its head, turning it into a showerhead raining spores onto victims down below.
That’s how it all goes down in South American forests, where Loreto had already spent plenty of time. But the zombie she found on her hike in Japan was different. First of all, the fungus had driven it higher up a tree. And two, it hadn’t bitten onto a leaf, but had wrapped itself around a twig, hanging upside down.
See, in the tropics, leaves stay on trees all year—but in Japan, they wither and fall. Same goes for zombie ants in the southern United States. By ordering the ant to lock onto a twig, the fungus helps ensure it can stay perched long enough to mature and rain death on more ants. In a study out today in the journal Evolution, Loreto and her colleagues show that divergence between leaf-biting and twig-biting seems to have been a consequence of ancient climate change. So who knows, modern climate change may also do interesting things to the evolution of the parasite.
Come back in time with me 47 million years to an unrecognizable Germany. It’s much hotter and wetter. As such, evergreen forests grow not only up through Europe, but all the way up to the arctic circle. One day, a zombie ant wanders up a tree and bites onto the vein of a leaf, which conveniently enough gets fossilized. Time goes on. The climate cools, and Germany’s wet forests turn temperate.
Almost a decade ago, Penn State entomologist David Hughes looked at that fossil leaf and noticed the tell-tale bite marks of a zombie ant. “Given the fossil evidence in Germany, we know leaf biting occurred then,” say Hughes, a coauthor on the paper. “We suspect that it was also present in North America, and as those populations responded to climate change and the cooling temperature, we see a shift from biting leaves to dying on twigs.”
As vegetation changed from evergreen to deciduous, the fungus found itself in a pickle. But evolution loves a pickle. Ophio adapted independently in Japan and North America to order the ant to seek out twigs, which provided a more reliable, longer-term perch. The fungus grows much slower.
Loreto and Hughes know this thanks to the work of Kim Fleming, a citizen scientist who discovered zombie ant graveyards on her property in South Carolina. She’s been collecting meticulous data for the researchers, scouring the forest for the zombies and marking them with colored tape. “I made a map for myself so I wouldn’t get lost and leave some out,” says Fleming. (For her efforts, she’s now got a species of her very own: Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae.)
What Fleming helped discover is that while in the tropics the fungus reaches full maturity in one or two months, in temperate climes like hers, the fungus sets up its zombie ant on a twig in June, but doesn’t reach maturity until the next year. In fact, the fungi may actually freeze over the winter. If it were attached to a leaf, it’d tumble to the ground in the fall.
“So it’s almost as if they’ve decided that nothing is going to happen this year, I’m just going to have to sit around because I don’t have time to mature and get spores out,” says Hughes. Plus, the ants hibernate in the winter anyway. Even if the fungus shot spores, there’d be no ants to infect—they’ll all chilling underground in their nest.
Opting for twigs does come with a downside, though: It’s really tough to get good purchase. Until, that is, the fungus initiates a second behavior, ordering the ant to wrap its limbs around the twig, sometimes crossing the legs on the other side of the twig for extra strength. “The hyphae of the fungus growing out of the legs works as glue on the twig as well,” says Loreto. “Sometimes they would even slide down the twig, but they wouldn’t fall.”
It’s hard to imagine how a fungus with no brain could figure this all out, but that’s the power of evolution. And it goes further: In June in temperate climes, the forest is still full of both twigs and leaves, yet the fungus directs zombie ants to lock onto twigs exclusively. And in the Amazon, where it’s lush all year round, they only ever lock onto leaves. “How in the name of … whoever … does the fungus inside the body know what the difference between the leaf and the twig is?” Hughes asks. It always has both options, yet only ever “chooses” one—the best strategy for its particular surroundings.
And so a parasitic manipulation that already defied human credulity grows ever more incredible, far beyond any work of zombie fiction. Your move, Hollywood.
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Travel with me to the year 2100. Despite our best efforts, climate change continues to threaten humanity. Drought, superstorms, flooded coastal cities. Desperate to stop the warming, scientists deploy planes to spray sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, where it converts into a sulfate aerosol, which reflects sunlight. Thus the planet cools because, yes, chemtrails.
It’s called solar geoengineering, and while it’s not happening yet, it’s a real strategy that scientists are exploring to head off climate disaster. The upside is obvious. But so too are the potential perils—not just for humanity, but for the whole natural world.
A study out today in Nature Ecology & Evolution models what might happen if humans were to geoengineer the planet and then suddenly stop. The sudden spike in global temperature would send ecosystems into chaos, killing off species in droves. Not that we shouldn’t tackle climate change. It’s just that among the many theoretical problems with geoengineering, we can now add its potential to rip ecosystems to shreds.
The models in this study presented a scenario in which geoengineers add 5 million tons of sulfur dioxide to the stratosphere, every year, for 50 years. (A half century because it’s long enough to run a good climate simulation, but not too long that it’s computationally unwieldy. The group is planning another study that will look at 100 years of geoengineering.) Then, in this hypothetical scenario, the sulfur seeding just stops altogether—think if someone hacks or physically attacks the system.
“You’d get rapid warming because the aerosols have a lifetime of a year or two, and they would fall out pretty quickly,” says study co-author Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University. “And then you’d get all this extra sunlight and you’d quickly go back up to what the climate might have been without the geoengineering.” We’re talking a rise in land surface temperatures of almost a degree per decade. “Even if you do it over five years, you’re still going to get this rapid warming,” he says.
Now, species haven’t survived on Earth for 3.5 billion years by being wilting flowers; if the climate changes slowly, species can adapt to withstand extra heat or cold. But suddenly blast the planet with a massive amount of solar energy that quickly, and you’re liable to catch a species off-guard.
And it’s not just temperatures they’d have to adapt to. Dramatic shifts in precipitation would force species to quickly move to new climes or face destruction. Species like amphibians, which are sensitive to temperature and precipitation changes, would have a tough go of it. And of course, not all species have the option of fleeing. Populations of trees and clams and corals would be pretty much kaput.
Even if a species is particularly resistant to these changes, the downfall of a keystone species could bring its whole ecosystem crashing down. Take coral, for instance. “If you lose the corals, you lose the species that live within those corals and you lose the species that rely on those species for food,” says John Fleming, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute who wasn’t involved in the study. “And so it really is an up-the-chain process.”
Knowing these risks, it might seem implausible that humans would just suddenly stop geoengineering efforts once they’ve started. Why not just keep pumping sulfur dioxide into the air ad infinitum to keep the planet on life support? Robock explains that the scenario they used isn’t definitive—it’s just a possible option. And there’s a possibility that we might not willingly stop geoengineering.
Say the world came together and decided that solar geoengineering is our only hope for survival. Planes start flying over the equator, spraying millions of tons of gas. The planet cools—but alas, this doesn’t affect everyone equally. Some nations might find themselves the beneficiaries of extra precipitation, while others descend into drought.
In that situation, a massive country like China or India suffering ill effects could blame the geoengineers and demand they stop. “There is the potential for clubs of countries to wield a lot of power to make a global geoengineering deployment work more for their interests than for less powerful countries,” says lead author Chris Trisos of the University of Maryland.
Or maybe the Earth itself plays a wildcard. Volcanoes spew their own sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere all the time; get a big enough eruption and you can send the climate into disarray. That happened in 1815 with the eruption of Mount Tambora, which led to the Year Without a Summer. Or Laki in 1783, which caused famine in India and China because it weakened vital monsoons.
“If there was a series of volcanic eruptions that produce a cooling effect, then that might be the reason why people say, ‘Well, actually, we better stop doing the solar engineering,’” says University of East Anglia environmental scientist Phil Williamson, who was not an author of the paper but who penned a companion analysis of it. “And then you get the rebound effect as a result of that.”
To be fair, science’s exploration of solar geoengineering is still in its early days. Hell, the technology to do it doesn’t even exist yet. It may well be that scientists find that deploying aerosols is just too risky. Maybe a better idea is 2CO2 sequestration. Or marine cloud brightening, as another way to bounce light back into space.
But now is the time to start considering the ethical and regulatory pitfalls of pursuing such a strategy. Late last year, Congressman Jerry McNerney introduced a bill that would require the National Academies of Science to produce two reports—one that looks at research avenues and another that looks at oversight. “I hope that we can sooner rather than later figure out what the potential benefits and risks are of doing this geoengineering so society will know whether it’s even a possibility,” says Robock. “If not, if it’s too dangerous, then it’ll put a lot more pressure on us to do mitigation soon rather than later.”
“The ultimate fear with geoengineering is that we’re trying to alter a system that’s much too complex for us to truly predict,” says Fleming. “So doing that can put us in a worse situation than we’re in already.”
In the meantime, here’s an idea: Let’s dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The whole of life on Earth would certainly appreciate it.
Exactly a week after the March for Science brought thousands in to the streets in Washington, D.C. and other cities, the scene is repeating itself again with the Climate March demonstrations taking place around the country.
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, predicts global climate deal will be fully ratified by the end of the year after 31 nations officially sign up in New York The post The Paris Climate Agreement Is Now One Step Closer to Reality appeared first on WIRED.
Almost all U.S. publicly traded companies face risk either from climate change itself or from the changes needed to fend it off, experts agreed Monday at the S&P Global offices in New York—but few companies have warned their investors.
In a rare note of dissent from a prominent scientist, Paul Ehrlich is denouncing Pope Francis’s call to action on climate change, stating that the pope’s rhetoric will be as “ineffective as ignoring the problem altogether” unless the world’s billion Catholics embrace population control.