Category: Environmental Science

Floodwaters to Overtake U.S. Residencies Faster Than Expected

by Saarang Kashyap

Millions of homes across the U.S. are at risk of being submerged due to rising climate change.  A new, nationwide flood modeling tool released Monday paints a picture of the U.S. as a country woefully underprepared for damaging floods, now and in the future.

These are the findings of a comprehensive new analysis by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group that experts say has put together the fullest picture yet of the country’s growing vulnerability to flooding. As stated by USA Today, “The team combined several existing models of rising sea levels and riverine flooding, and simulations of extreme weather events into a single, nationwide flood assessment model that examined risk in all states except Alaska and Hawaii.”

First Street discovered that by 2050, the number of properties at significant risk of flooding is expected to climb even further to 16.2 million. Their model found that about 14.6 million homes and other structures across the country currently face a 1% annual risk of flooding, representing about one out of every 10 such real estate parcels nationwide. But First Street calculated that current maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency list just 8.7 million properties in the floodplain, a 40% undercount compared with what First Street found.

So how do rising water levels affect inland cities like Chicago? 
While FEMA’s maps previously reported that just 0.3 percent of Chicago’s cities were inside the 100-year flood zone, First Street has re-updated this statistic to nearly 13 percent — some 75,000 more than FEMA’s maps show. As mentioned in the  New York Times, “That disparity [between the numbers] reflects a broader trend. In more than two-thirds of states, First Street found that areas with more minority residents also had a greater share of unmapped flood risk than the statewide average.” The trend of heightened flood risks is especially prominent in communities of color, with residents of these communities at a greater risk of respiratory disease (encouraged by mold growth) due to frequent flooding. It is important to acknowledge this situation and recognize that urban flooding is not a one-dimensional problem: it also is closely tied to a lack of environmental justice that needs to change.

Arctic Circle Reaches ‘All-Time High’ Temperatures

by Daanyal Raja

Within the past week, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk recorded their temperature to be 38ºC, (approximately 100ºF). The record still needs to be verified, but this temperature is 18ºC higher than the average maximum daily temperature in that area during June. The town of Verkhoyansk has a population of about 1,300 people and faces extreme temperatures year round. Although hot weather is not a rare occurrence in the town and in the Arctic Circle, temperatures have been unusually high in recent months. Throughout March, April, and May, the Copernicus Climate Change service claimed that the average temperature within the circle was approximately 10ºC above average.

Record high temperatures have also become more frequent throughout the region. The small Russian town of Khatanga broke a temperature record of 25.4ºC in May (78ºF), with parts of Siberia recording 30ºC (86ºF) in early June. Dr. Dann Mitchell, an associate professor in atmospheric science at the University of Bristol told BBC, “Year-on-year temperature records are being broken around the world, but the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth […] We will see more [records being broken] in the near future.”

Arctic warming leads to the thawing of frozen permafrost below ground. As permafrost thaws, methane and carbon dioxide that were previously locked underground are released into the open air. This worries scientists and meteorologists, as these greenhouse gases can cause more warming and lead the arctic climate into a positive feedback cycle that ultimately ends with more permafrost thawing. Increasing temperatures can also cause reflective land ice in the Arctic to melt more rapidly, which would contribute to rising sea levels. Worse yet, wildfires also must be considered. Last year, wildfires scorched parts of the Arctic, and they were more severe due to high temperatures and strong winds. This year, according to Russia’s emergencies minister, wildfires were ten times larger in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region compared to the same time last year.

Zero-Emission Trucks to Dominate Californian Landscape by 2050

by Saarang Kashyap

On Thursday, June 25, California adopted a landmark rule requiring more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035, a move that is expected to improve local air quality, rein in greenhouse gas emissions, and sharply curtail the state’s dependence on oil.

The rule, as stated by Independent, is “the first in the United States, represents a victory for communities that have long suffered from truck emissions — particularly pollution from the diesel trucks that feed the sprawling hubs that serve the state’s booming e-commerce industry. On one freeway in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, near the nation’s largest concentration of Amazon warehouses, a community group recently counted almost 1,200 delivery trucks passing in one hour.”

It’s a bold move that should help curb one of the worst-polluting sectors of the transportation industry. Despite making up only 7 percent of vehicles on the road in California, diesel trucks account for 70 percent of the state’s smog-causing pollution and 80 percent of diesel soot emitted, according to CARB. As mentioned in The Verge, “California’s new rule could have much broader consequences, too, thanks to its role as a standard-bearer for clean air regulations. Fourteen other states have adopted its progressive ZEV program for passenger vehicles, which was launched in the early 1990s and has spurred automakers into developing hybrid and fully electric cars. Last year, in the face of the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era fuel economy standard meant to fight the climate crisis, California developed its own rule that Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda have signed onto.”

“For decades, while the automobile has grown cleaner and more efficient, the other half of our transportation system has barely moved the needle on clean air,” Mary Nichols, the head of CARB, said in a statement. “Diesel vehicles are the workhorses of the economy, and we need them to be part of the solution to persistent pockets of dirty air in some of our most disadvantaged communities.” In order to improve our current climate change crisis, we need other states to accept California’s progressive ideas with regards to transportation to mitigate pollution as best as possible.

Major Food Companies Nestle and PepsiCo Continue to Heavily Contribute to Plastic Pollution

by Nakul, Sudhit

Recently, many reports have come out describing the ways in which global food and drink companies like PepsiCo, Nestle and Coca-Cola have contributed to climate change. They were found dumping and burning half a million tonnes of plastic in countries like China, India, Mexico, and Nigeria every year. This occurs at a very high rate as these countries lack adequate frameworks to handle such amounts of waste. 

According to The Burning Question report, the waste relates to about 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the same as about 2 million cars in the UK. Furthermore, another report done by TearFund, concluded that between half and one million people die every year in developing countries due to waste related diseases.

Naturally, these major companies that heavily contributed to plastic pollution faced heavy backlash from the general public. Expert Richard Gower of Tearfund (which published The Burning Question report) stated that governments around the world ought to “press companies to pull hard on all levers to stop plastic pollution — reducing their plastic footprint and investing in schemes to collect and recycle their plastic.” Gower also urged the public to apply “similar pressure” on violating companies by demanding immediate change. Several other non-profit organizations also protested the unjust actions of companies such as Nestle and PepsiCo through unique, effective methods – for example, Canadian non-profit organization Youth Climate Strike Canada held an online strike this past Saturday, where it raised awareness of this pollution issue mainly through social media platforms and likewise successfully encouraged others to raise awareness.

Overall, the flippant, environmentally dismissive actions performed by these several big-name companies is definitely alarming. The fact that these organizations have continually polluted the Earth without restriction is definitely a major issue that heavily contributes to the current climate crisis. By conducting investigative research such as Tearfund to inform the public of the hazards posed by such massive pollution along with raising awareness of the many issues regarding climate change, we, as citizens, can take important steps towards gradually mitigating the current climate crisis.

Changing Climate in the Arctic Causes Spider Boom

by Saarang Kashyap

As the Arctic grows increasingly warm due to climate change, different species reach extinction while others multiply as a now warmer habitat becomes suitable for their survival. Many species of spiders, prominently the wolf spider, have become increasingly abundant as longer summers, wildfires, and ever-earlier snowmelt take over the polar landscape.

It was previously reported that plants bloomed earlier in the season while some animals moved into more mountainous regions due to a warmer climate. A team of researchers led by Toke Høye from the Arctic Research Centre and Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University has now shown that changes are also occurring in the reproduction of invertebrates.

Wolf spiders feed on small organisms such as springtails in the soil. The Independent states that “The spiders were caught in small pitfall traps set up in different vegetation types. The researchers counted the number of eggs in the individual spider’s egg sacs and compared this information with the time of the season that the animal was caught. By looking at the distribution of the number of eggs in the egg sacs throughout the season, the researchers said it became clear that in some summers the spiders produced two egg sacs – a recognized phenomenon in warmer latitudes, but not one which has previously been observed in the Arctic.”

If there are more spiders — or insects — in the future Arctic, it can have an influence on food chains on land. “We can only speculate about how the ecosystems change, but we can now ascertain that changes in the reproduction of species are an important factor to include when we try to understand how Arctic ecosystems react to the rising temperatures on the planet,” Dr Høye said. ScienceDaily mentions that scientists now predict an earlier occurrence of snow disappearance to a greater proportion of spiders that can produce a second clutch of offspring. Only time can tell if new species like the wolf spider will spring up and inhabit a rapidly changing Arctic.

Amazon Renames NHL Stadium “Climate Pledge Arena” to Remind that Urgent Climate Action is Necessary

by Nakul

The National Hockey League (NHL) is set to welcome a new expansion team for the 2021-2022 season, based in Seattle, Washington. While the team is yet to be named, its stadium’s name has recently been decided; previously, the stadium was known as the ‘KeyArena’, but this changed when technology and e-commerce giant Amazon ⁠— whose headquarters lie in Seattle ⁠— acquired the naming rights for the stadium. The company, in accordance with its green initiative announced last year, has decided to name the stadium the ‘Climate Pledge Arena’.

Why did Amazon name a billion-dollar arena after climate change?

Upon first glance, one would have naturally expected Amazon to name the stadium after itself, a conventional, intelligible promotional action. However, many were surprised to hear the news of what the corporation actually named the stadium. Following continued criticism and demand by employees for Amazon to adopt a more eco-friendly means of production, Jeff Bezos and co. announced, in September of 2019, their decision to invest $2 billion in a plan involving the use of advanced technologies in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the company has the ambitious goal of becoming completely carbon neutral by 2040. Bezos himself announced in February his own fund to combat climate change, the ‘Bezos Earth Fund’, which he put $10 billion of his personal wealth into. As for the stadium itself, it is undergoing renovation evaluated at around $900 million to better fit its eco-friendly name. Bezos announced on Instagram this past Thursday that the stadium will be “the first net-zero carbon certified arena in the world, [will] generate zero waste from operations and events, and [will] use reclaimed rainwater in the ice system to create the greenest ice in the NHL”. These unprecedented operations undoubtedly sound gratifying. Hopefully, Amazon’s steps to alter its energy use and promote the issue of climate change will inspire others to take similar actions.

Aside from hockey, the stadium, with a seating capacity of 18,000, will also serve as the home court of WNBA team Seattle Storm.

The fact that one of the world’s largest companies is acknowledging climate change as a harrowing issue and is taking steps to actually combat the phenomenon is great news for activists, but more importantly, the environment. Although Amazon has been involved in controversy regarding its excessive use of non-renewable resources, ultimately, it is important to acknowledge the changes the company is making.

Amazon Rainforest on Green Trajectory after Receiving Unlikely Support from Factory Investors

by Ritvik Dutta

The Amazon Rainforest is home to about 10 million different species and comprises 2.124 million square miles of dense rainforest. Making up approximately 30% of South America’s landmass, the Amazon is a diverse ecosystem that produces roughly 20% of the world’s oxygen and has earned the esteemed nickname, “The Lungs of the Earth.” Unfortunately, however, all of the aforementioned statistics are slated to decrease due to the ever-increasing commercial damage to the essential rainforest. Due to the lack of effort made by the Brazilian government to regulate the deforestation that was taking place, the rainforest has started to receive activism from unlikely sources.

Recently, many Brazilian companies have been met with major backlash from their investors who claim that the companies are not taking any further action to reduce the ongoing devastating destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. This ravaging eradication of the world’s largest rainforest has been recently brought to mass attention due to the large surge of wildfires that started in January of 2019 and are still currently ongoing. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) in 2019, it was determined that between July 2018 and July 2019, 3800 square miles of rainforest were removed, the highest amount of rainforest destroyed in a span of 12 months since 2008. This statistic is directly influenced by the incumbency of Brazilian President Jair Boslonaro, who was elected into office in October 2018. During his regime, he has continually rejected foreign aid meant to reduce the rate of deforestation. Even today, he continues to avoid the diplomatic pressure exerted by foreign powers, which stem from late 2019.

Back in September 2019, a board of 230 investors came together to urge the Brazilian government and companies to take action on the forest fires. Of those 230, Storebrand, AP7, KLP, DNB Asset Management, Robeco, Nordea Asset Management, and LGIM were recently interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In these interviews, the heads of the companies came to an agreement that they would push divestment of Brazilian companies if they do not start to make progress. More specifically, LGIM is pushing Brazilian meatpacking companies like JBS for “robust climate targets and land-use policies, with inaction potentially leading to voting sanctions and targeted divestments,” said Yasmine Svan, senior sustainability analyst at LGIM, in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

In the end, the investors’ efforts seem to be working. Some Brazillian companies like JBS have already released statements in which they promise to eliminate any current processes that threaten the further deforestation of the Amazon from their supply chain. However, the efforts of these investors are heavily constrained under the might of the Brazilian government, which looks to hold on to the Amazon Rainforest as a reservoir for natural resources.

Fossil Fuel Use Bounces Back Rapidly Following Ease of Lockdown Restrictions in Several Nations

by Nakul

As several countries gradually continue to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, they have eased numerous lockdown restrictions, both on civilians and companies. In order to compensate for the massive economic losses suffered during the lockdown period, many sectors are being pushed to combat these losses currently. One such sector is the energy industry: with fossil fuels taking a big hit, many companies have been permitted to sidestep guidelines in order to abate losses. However, the rate at which fossil fuels are being burned is surprising many scientists. 

As SBS News explains, “in April, fossil fuel combustion was roughly 17 percent lower than they were in 2019, as governments ordered people to stay home, employees stopped driving to work, factories idled, and airlines grounded their flights… by mid-June, as countries eased their lockdowns, emissions had ticked up to just 5 percent below the 2019 average.” In many countries, current carbon emissions have already matched the amount before the beginning of the pandemic.

However, there is some good news for climate change activists: experts estimate that 2020 emission levels will be 4-7 percent lower than that of 2019. This would be a historic period — as scientists Rob Jackson puts it — “A 5 percent change in global emissions is enormous, we haven’t seen a drop like that since at least World War II.” 

While the effects of the pandemic on energy use may have provided us with an opportunity to improve our methods of energy consumption overall, ultimately, this seems unlikely on a global stage. Worldwide, economies have been hit hard, and a rapid financial revival is imperative for almost all nations — the easiest way to achieve this would be through permitting non-renewable, less green techniques that would undoubtedly provide immediate economic benefits, but would also negatively impact the climate in the long run. While many cities have taken steps to implement eco-friendly modes of energy use and transportation — like Paris and Milan, who have introduced more bike lanes — these are just small steps that may be outweighed by the bigger picture. As Professor David Victor states, “Many governments are scrambling to recover economically and not paying as much attention to the environment.”

Thus, the seemingly reduced threat of the virus in many nations has led to an ease of numerous restrictions, allowing for the swift return of many non-renewable sources of energy. While this may pose a benefit upon first glance, the dire economic states of many nations will need to be addressed, therefore permitting increased fossil fuel use.

New Jersey Becomes First State to Require Schools to Include Climate Change in their Curriculum

by Daanyal Raja

New Jersey has become the first state to require schools to incorporate climate change into their curricula. The state’s Board of Education adopted new guidelines which requires climate change to be taught throughout all K-12 schools. The initiative to integrate climate change into student learning was led by the state’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, who met with over 130 educators within the past year. First Lady Murphy strongly advocated for this change because New Jersey has become a state at the forefront of climate change. “In New Jersey, we have already begun to experience the effects of climate change, from our disappearing shorelines, to harmful algal blooms in our lakes, super storms producing torrential rain, and summers that are blazing hot,” the First Lady told The Planetary Press. “Decades of short-sighted decision-making has fueled this crisis and now we must do all we can to help our children solve it. This generation of students will feel the effects of climate change more than any other, and it is critical that every student is provided an opportunity to study and understand the climate crisis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary lens.”

The new guidelines will be implemented into the school curriculum by September 2021. They will be taught to over 1.4 million students and vary across seven different subject areas: Social Studies, Technology, Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages, 21st Century Life and Careers, Science, and Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

When asked about New Jersey’s recent curriculum changes, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, “I am incredibly proud that [they are] the first state in the nation to fully integrate climate education in their K-12 curricula.” Gore then stated that the leaders of tomorrow should be educated on climate change in order to equip them with needed knowledge that can be used to combat it and implement solutions. In this venture, New Jersey joins a small group of countries that have had mandated environmental education in place for several years. Tracey Ritchie, Director of Education at Earth Day Network, reports that India, Kenya, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Tanzania, China, and Finland all have courses about the issue in their classrooms.

European Union Contradicts Original Climate Plan, Significantly Weakens Restrictions on Aviation

by Nakul

The COVID-19 pandemic has single-handedly enervated countless global industries, with overall consumption levels drastically decreasing. One specific sector negatively impacted by the outbreak of the virus is the aircraft industry, with a total projected loss of over $310 billion dollars. To address these economic losses, the  International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged the EU to ease its limits on carbon emissions, specifically regarding the 2016-adopted approach known as Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia). Removing baselines and completely adjusting the already weak Corsia in order to permit increased gas emissions to benefit aircraft companies will undoubtedly allow for greater pollution. In fact, a study done by German institute Öko-Institut revealed that airlines could remain free to pollute without restriction for the next three to six years, and that the EU’s decision  could significantly reduce airline obligations, by about 25-75% – just by 2035. Additionally, these lenient emission guidelines could save airlines as much as $15 billion on important climate protection costs, such as carbon credits. The primary justification provided by IATA for the reduction of restrictions is predictable: the COVID-19 pandemic. In early April, the organization stated that the limitations of Corsia were “an inappropriate economic burden on the [aviation] sector” due to the losses suffered by the industry following significant decreases in global traveling. Aviation expert Jo Dardenne agreed “that the aviation sector is clearly using the COVID-19 crisis” to its advantage. 

Public response to the EU’s decision was largely negative. Gilles Dufrasne of Carbon Watch explained, “This could be the final blow for Corsia. It was always a ridiculously weak system, but now it is becoming essentially meaningless. Airlines are just let off the hook one more time.” French MEP Pascal Canfin agreed, exclaiming that “the EU should be leading on emission regulation, not watering down the ambition.” In a letter to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), numerous non-profit organizations such as WWF and the Climate Neutral Group supported the preservation of Corsia’s guidelines, explaining, “It is important to ensure that the COVID-19 crisis is not a catalyst for ad hoc changes that would hinder a sustainable global recovery. CORSIA is an important mechanism for carbon markets around the world.”

Outside Europe, the United States and the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission have supported the EU’s decision.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has negatively impacted most major industries, with the aircraft sector potentially being hit the hardest. However, is reducing climate protection restrictions the answer?