Category: Environmental Science

Protecting Peat Bogs Can Avert Global Warming Effects

by Anshul Dash

According to European researchers, preserving and restoring peat bogs is crucial in combatting climate change.

These researchers recently conducted a study of the peat bogs at the molecular level. They discovered that wetlands contain carbon in the form of vegetation that is decaying. This vegetation has been building up over centuries, which is why there are large amounts of carbon in these wetlands. Peat bogs can help to achieve climate change goals set out by the Paris Agreement. One of those goals was to limit industrial warming to 2º C. Without guaranteed protection of these bogs, however, reaching these goals will be extremely difficult.

There are peat bogs all over the world. Although peat bogs make up just 3 percent of the Earth’s landmass, their inner layers have twice as much carbon as the biggest forests. The carbon is intact and wet in moisturized bogs, but it starts to oxidize when these bogs are dry. As a result, carbon dioxide is formed and released, aggravating the effects of global warming. Scientists have stated that current estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from peat bogs match that of global air travel emissions. This emission process can also be accelerated due to fires, thus playing a huge risk to global warming.

Dry peat bogs can be restored through the addition of water, which moisturizes the bogs. The decaying vegetation will then be saturated, preventing the carbon from oxidizing. This can also prevent the bogs from catching on fire since they’re damp from the water. Scientists have predicted that most counter-climate change pathways, such as agriculture and forests, store more carbon than the amount released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, thus slowing the effects and process of global warming. Scientists also calculate that protecting wet peat bogs and moisturizing 60 percent of the dry ones will help with this process.

There have been many conservational efforts to protect peat bogs because of their role in climate change. If left to degrade and dry up, peat bogs can work against our favor and accelerate the effects of climate change. However, through simple acts such as adding water to these bogs and protecting them, climate change can be mitigated to a huge extent.


Antarctic Melting Will Threaten the Lives of Millions in the Near Future

by Kaushal Kumar

During the world’s current battle against climate change, we always hear the impacts that global warming is having on the Arctic. We hear the concerns of environmental scientists on the melting of large amounts of ice in the North and the ramifications that come with it like rising oceans and the release of gas that has been trapped within the ice for centuries, but a recent study shows that global warming may also create “practically irreversible” melting in the Antarctic as well.

According to this report, climate change has and will continue to impact the speed at which the ice at the South Pole will melt. Experts claim, however, that not all warming will lead to the loss of ice, but actually, a small amount of warming will lead to an increase in the amount of ice in the South. This is caused because the increased temperature will speed up the evaporation of seawater, adding more moisture to the air. This extra moisture will create more snowfall in the Antarctic and this increase in snowfall will actually overpower the impact that the small amount of warming has on the speed that the ice melts. 

However, this does not hold up for many more than a small amount of temperature gain. Scientists believe that any more than a rise in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius will have major impacts on the rate that the ice in the Antarctic will melt. With a change of only 2 degrees, they expect sea levels to rise by 2 meters, which the globe is on track to hit by 2100. Even worse heating of 6-9 degrees Celsius could cause ocean levels to rise by as much as 40 meters just from the melting of the ice sheets in the Antarctic alone.

While 2 meters may not seem like much, the impacts that this will have on human life are immense. Today, an estimated two-thirds of the entire human population lives at least 100km from a coast. More than 600 million people live on land that is below 30 feet above sea level and two-thirds of the world’s largest cities (populations over 5 million) are also in these regions. A rise of only 7 feet could displace tens of millions of people, and cause trillions of dollars in damage. With the rate of the warming of the globe only rising, scientists are unsure if we will beat the clock or be forced to adapt to the quickly rising oceans.


Take Down the Climate Crisis Countdown Clock

by Anna Subbanna

Recently, Union Square’s midnight countdown clock has been changed to a climate crisis countdown clock. Sprawled across the facade of the building facing the square, are large numbers constantly reminding the people walking by that there are only seven years left to save the planet from climate change. However, during a time of mass anxiety due to the pandemic, rising unemployment, and political struggles, is it wise to add a sense of impending doom to that? 

The citizens that truly care about environmentalism are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint including putting pressure on their local legislature to pass environmental protection laws. Around 67% of adults believe that their government is not doing enough to protect them from climate change and 63% of Americans are ready to deal with the cost of implementing stricter policies (Funk, Pew Research Center). To curb climate change is to reduce carbon emissions, chemical effluent, and waste production. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions (Riley, The Guardian). In fact, just twenty of those companies produce one-third of the world’s emissions (Taylor, The Guardian). It is the responsibility of businesses to reduce carbon emissions enough to stop the dire consequences of climate change. Moreover, other damaging practices such as oil spills and improper toxic waste burials cannot be stopped by everyday people. Putting up a countdown in Union Square for hundreds of New Yorkers to see and thousands of Americans to read about is not appropriate when looking at those responsible. Americans know that protecting the environment is increasingly important, now it is up to the companies and legislators to act. 

How do we hold companies responsible? 

Most companies will not change their environmental policies on a whim, they need to be told to do so by the government. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but the most efficient ways will be monetary consequences (The Sanders Institute). For example, increasing penalties on pollution will force companies to be more responsible for their production and transportation methods. If an oil company does have a major spill, like Deepwater Horizon’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they need to be held fully accountable for the direct impact and indirect impact of their mistake.  They should pay for the cleanup of the oil and restoration of habitats impacted by it. Harsh and decisive legal action is the only way to stop climate change, not a countdown clock in the middle of a busy city.


Hundreds of Protestors Break into German Mine in their fight Against Coal

by Saarang Kashyap

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters entered a mine in western Germany on Saturday to protest the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels.

Environmentalists object to the German government’s decision to allow the mining and burning of coal in the country until 2038, a deadline the activists say is too late to effectively tackle climate change. As stated by The Independent, “ The Garzweiler mine and nearby power plants have been a focus of protests for several years. Environmentalists say they are among the biggest sources of harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.”

The big problem with moving away from coal is the lack of alternative economic opportunities. Although tens of thousands of mining jobs have been cut since the 1990s, most available employment in the region is still tied to coal. Mainstream German parties still support the industry, and as in other parts of Europe, the impact of green policies on traditional or left-behind communities has become a convenient agenda for populists and far-right politicians to latch on to.

Brown coal, or lignite, is the most polluting fuel in the world, and it still powers 14 % of Germany’s energy, which is a higher reliance than any other EU country. Additionally, the environmental impact of Germany’s reliance on coal is gruesome. Germany’s lignite mines have destroyed 175,000 hectares of the country’s landscape. Soil is considered dead since nothing grows in it afterward. Once the mine shuts and the pumps regulating the water levels are turned off, the ground becomes waterlogged.For Wiebke Witt, a brown coal expert for the NGO Klima Allianz Deutschland, Germany’s 2038 closure timeline fails to honor the 2015 Paris climate agreement on ending coal energy production.“When the end date for coal was negotiated, talks revolved around the amount of energy produced from coal and not for instance the impact it continues to have on the climate,” Witt says. This situation highlights an important statement: we must consider climate change as a significant factor during the conception of new rules and regulations, so people may be both positively economically and environmentally impacted.


Disaster Strikes at SoCal Gender Reveal Party

by Nakul

During Labor Day weekend, one Southern California family attempted to create at an eye-catching, noticeable gender reveal display – they ended up drawing quite a bit of attention for their efforts – but for all the wrong reasons.

The family’s reveal display, which consisted of a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device”, ignited four-foot-tall grass at El Dorado Ranch Park. The family attempted to extinguish the fire by using water bottles, but as expected, this attempt to put out the rapidly spreading fire was more hopeful than practical. The San Bernardino National Forest Service revealed that the fire has consumed over 20,000 acres since September 5th. The fire significantly injured over 13 firefighters, and unfortunately, on September 25, the first and only fatality as of now occurred – Charles Edward Morton, a firefighter battling the El Dorado fire, died while actively operating to suppress the fire. 

While the fire is over 83% contained now, the immense damage has already been done. The fire destroyed numerous residential structures and other buildings, injured many and resulted in the aforementioned fatality, and destroyed thousands of acres of land. As CNN reported, as of September 7: “Because of the El Dorado Fire, the communities of Oak Glen, Yucaipa Ridge, Mountain Home Village, and Forest Falls have been ordered to evacuate. 

As for the family that caused the fire – according to authorities – have been cooperative, according to investigator Bennet Milloy. Milloy also added that we need to be cautious as over 80% of fires are caused by humans. He also discussed the consequences of this perilous event for the family that caused it, explaining that criminal charges were being considered, but whether the relevant individuals would be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony would be determined once the fire is fully extinguished. However, the family could be held accountable for the cost required to fight the fire, as well as the colossal costs of covering the damages of the fire itself.

It is essential for as humans, as Milloy explained, to be aware of our surroundings and act in a responsible, wise manner. Doing so is only beneficial towards upholding the safety of ourselves as well as others, and in this case, preserving the beauty and conditions of our beloved Earth.


Tech Industry Plays Growing Role in Fight Against Climate Change

by Anshul Dash

The tech industry has played a significant role in the fight against climate change through many actions, such as following zero-carbon footprints and pushing for use of data to encourage efficiency of energy.

The tech industry has a huge influence on most people. It currently dominates areas in politics, the economy, and culture. Because of this, the industry’s role in climate change could have huge, positive impacts. Big tech giants such as Amazon and Shopify have recently invested $2 billion and 5$ billion, respectively, into environmental companies such as CarbonCure Technologies, which stores CO2 in concrete, and Pachama, which uses artificial intelligence to save and preserve forests. Through these investments, tech giants are earning credibility for contributing to the fight against climate change.

However, big tech companies are receiving criticism from the public regarding their own carbon footprints, which are very high numbers. Tech giants are also receiving backlash for partnering with major oil and gas companies, which contributes to the overall carbon footprint through the extraction of fossil fuels. Based on the criticism, many of these companies are reforming their policies. For example, Microsoft partnered up with oil company BP to reduce its oil/gas emission. Google proclaimed that it aims to run all of its data centers on carbon-free power by 2030. 

Out of the fight against climate change, an association called the Digital Climate Alliance was formed. The Alliance aims to include digital solutions as a part of climate policy. The Alliance, led by Johnson Controls and Intel, will try to negotiate with Congress to add a digital title into their developing climate policy. According to the organizers of the group, at least one oil company is likely to join. 

One way that the tech industry is planning to become environmentally friendly is to shift web searches and data centers to places where electricity is wasted. It also plans to further assess emissions up close by studying specific fossil fuels and buildings. Digitizing data can have a hugely positive effect on cutting carbon emissions.

California Wildfires Claim the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Migrating Birds

by Kaushal Kumar

Last week park rangers in Albuquerque, New Mexico were startled to find hundreds of dead swallows scattered around their forests and parks. These birds were meant to be migrating from the Western United States to the tropics as a part of their biannual migration to remain in warm weather. This year, however, they didn’t make it. John Hayes explained how unusual the large amounts of deaths were when he said, ““Birds that are migrating are often stressed and exhausted. But that results in a few birds here and there dying; you don’t see thousands of them dropping dead.”

Ornithologists, scientists who focus on the study of birds, consider this mass die-off as a byproduct of the ongoing wildfires in California. They suspect that the birds were forced to divert their path to avoid the fires and thick smoke that is impacting much of Central and Southern California and pass through New Mexico. However, due to ongoing weather conditions in New Mexico, including an extreme cold front and an ongoing drought, the birds may have starved due to a lack of insects. 

The birds found in New Mexico are just the tip of the iceberg, with many other locations, including California, Colorado, and numerous Mexican States also reporting similar cases of large numbers of dead birds.  Scientists expect that the total number of deaths may be in the hundreds of thousands and that the bird population will only continue to suffer as the smoke from the wildfires begins to reach the East Coast. The effect that smoke has on birds has been closely studied and the exposure to smoke can impact a bird’s ability to reproduce and makes them more susceptible to developing respiratory illnesses.

The unsettling deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds are just another reminder of our constant battle against climate change. As the weather becomes more extreme and natural disasters like the historic wildfires in California and droughts in New Mexico become more common it is inevitable that the wildlife that depends on the climate to survive will suffer. Continued human action that speeds up climate change will continue to have an impact on not the future of people, but also the future of all living things on the planet.

The Climate Crisis You Haven’t Heard Of— The Melting of Himalayan Ice Sheets

by Saarang Kashyap

Everyone knows what’s happening in the North and South pole: the ice caps are melting. Ask a little more and they might tell you that this phenomenon is due to runaway climate change. They may also mention that at some point in the following decades, sea levels will rise and low-lying places like Florida and Venice will disappear. However, not many know about the Hindu Kush Himalayan Ice Sheet, better known as the Third Pole, and how this third of the huge ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain is diminishing rapidly.  

According to a landmark report, the melting of this ice sheet will have serious consequences for almost 2 billion people. Even if carbon emissions are dramatically and rapidly cut and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5C, 36% of the glaciers along in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have been gone by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds, the report found. As stated in the TheGuardian, The glaciers are a critical water store for the 250 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, and 1.65 billion people rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China, and other nations.

Since the 1970s, about 15% of the ice in the HKH region has disappeared as temperatures have risen. But the HKH range is 3,500km long and the impact of warming is variable. Some glaciers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are stable and a few are even gaining ice, most probably due to increased cloud cover that shields the sun in addition to changing winds that bring more snow. But even these glaciers will start crumbling with future warming.

Political tensions between neighboring nations such as India and Pakistan could add to the difficulties. “There are rocky times ahead for the region. Because many of the disasters and sudden changes will play out across country borders, conflict among the region’s countries could easily flare up,” said Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of Icimod.

The report also highlights how vulnerable many mountain people are, with one-third living on less than $1.90 a day and far away from help if a climate disaster strikes. We can support the native people who rely on the Himalayan Ice Sheet by educating ourselves on how we, in our own communities, can mitigate climate change.

University of Utah Researchers Discover that Evergreens –Yes, Evergreen Trees– Can Monitor Air Pollution

by Arun

This past week, two researchers on the campus of the University of Utah (Peter Lippert and Grant Rea-Downing) who were conducting a project involving measuring magnetism of particulate matter on the needles of evergreen trees discovered that the magnetism they measured had a distinct correlation to the air quality in the area. The discovery reveals a new wave of thought processes for scientists and government officials in determining air quality and uncovers the possibility of a shift from standard air quality monitors dispersed through cities.

The findings come in wake of what has been some of the most deadly forest fires spread across the nation, concentrated on the west coast. The forest fires that mainly originated in California have now spread to 11 U.S. states, with no end in view. Air quality has severely deteriorated in the surrounding regions, with homes and loved ones being lost. With the increased focus on air quality given the recent events, these researching scientists offer a unique way of determining air quality in local regions that do not have air quality monitors.

How does it work?

As demonstrated by the scientists, the actual science behind their findings is actually less complicated than initially seems. Particulate matter, which is generally dispersed through the air (which comes as a result of natural dust, burning of fossil fuels), eventually settles on surrounding objects, namely trees. Some of these particles contain iron, which can be detected by magnetometers. From reading the magnetometer, the researchers were able to determine the amount of particulate matter present on the trees, which can offer air quality readings.

Their process works for any given tree, actually, though they chose to work with evergreens because of their abundant presence in the university’s campus, as well as for the large surface area on the needles and leaves of the evergreen tree.

The scientists are the first to admit that although they are not the first to “explore the magnetism of pine needles to monitor air quality,” they are the first to “study winter inversions in the basins of the American West.”

With their findings, the scientist carried out further research in hopes of making air quality monitors accessible to a broader audience. Trees are everywhere in the world’s landscape, and with their further research that aims to perfect and offer more insights through their measures, they aim to achieve their goal of “democratiz[ing] [their] ability to monitor air pollution across the valley… it allows us to do more with less.” Their findings are promising, and as they carry out follow-up segments of their research, the potential advancements of measuring air quality and offering it to all is an exciting thought.

Trump Blames Forest Management, Not Climate Change, for California Forest Fires

by Daanyal Raja

Within the past month, West Coast states have been dealing with one of the most dangerous wildfire seasons ever. An overwhelming majority of climate and environmental scientists attribute these fires to rising temperatures and warmer weather across the West Coast, making wildfires more common and damaging. However, President Trump, a fervent denier of man-made climate change and global warming, blames the issue on forest management.

President Trump recently visited California, one of the states that were greatly impacted by the fires, toured some of the wildfire damage, and sat down with local and state officials to discuss the matter. During one meeting, California National Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot told Trump, “We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate, and what it means to our forests” before warning “If we ignore that science, and sort of put our head in the sand, and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed protecting Californians.” Trump responded to this by claiming that the climate “would start getting cooler,” to which Crowfoot replied, “I wish science agreed with you.” 

Trump has been more than vocal about his beliefs regarding forest management and the wildfires in the past. At one of his rallies in Pennsylvania, he said “I see again the forest fires are starting […] They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up,” claiming that some trees and leaves can instantaneously combust. He also said, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make [California] pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” he added. This hasn’t been the first time Trump has blamed the predominantly Democratic state and threatened to withhold money from them; he did the same in 2018 and 2019 as wildfires ravaged the state. 

However, Trump’s threats have yet to be implemented in any way. In fact, last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a new “shared stewardship” that combines forces from the U.S. Forest Service and California to work towards managing forests to reduce fire risk. Newsom also said “Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California.”