Another Thing That Climate Change Takes From Us: Our Beaches

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Poles without ice. Oceans without oxygenAreas of the planet without people.

These are just some of the effects of a rapidly warming planet.

Add to the list: coasts without beaches.

You might assume this will happen sometime in the distant future, when sea levels rise. But it’s already happening. Climate change is taking beaches away from humans — in a physical way, as rising seas erode them, and in the way humans interact with them, as several governments have closed beaches to visitors to limit further damage.

Just this week, the Thai government announced that it was closing one of its most famous beaches for four months out of the year. Its rationale? To allow nearby coral reefs to recover from the effect of millions of visitors, which range from pollution to physical destruction from boats and human hands. And as the ocean grows warmer, stressed coral ecosystems like these recover more slowly from these intrusions.

Several other Southeast Asian islands have done the same, closing off beaches to allow their marine inhabitants to recover with some peace and quiet.

Thailand's Maya Bay, a white sand beach with turquoise water ringed by mountains. This is one of many beaches being closed thanks to climate change.
Thailand’s Maya Bay. Ah it’s so beautiful. Too bad no one will get to go there. Image Credit: Mike Clegg / Wikimedia Commons

I know: this sucks. And that’s fair — many people think of beaches as a universal public right. But beaches are also bigger than you and your summer plans.

Organisms in, above, and next to the water dwell there, even if you don’t see (or eat) them. Without beaches, most of these animals would lose their homes, risking extinction.

If you live near the ocean, you can thank beaches for keeping your water drinkable and keeping your house where it is. Beaches and sand dune ecosystems are a vital barrier between the powerful seawater and shore-based ecosystems. They also stop salty ocean water from leaching into fresh groundwater.

Protective closures like the ones in Southeast Asia also mean tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, many in developing countries that rely on tourism to survive, as The Outline reports.

Southeast Asia may seem far away, but the problem is global, and happening faster than you might expect. Without human intervention, up to two thirds of beaches in Southern California will disappear from erosion within the next century, a 2017 U.S. Geologic Survey study found.

By 2100, sea levels may rise between 0.2 and 2 meters (0.66 to 6.6 feet), depending on how much the Earth warms. That could swallow the majority of beaches worldwide.

Banning beaches is disappointing for humans. But it might be worth giving up a chill place to sunbathe and sip out of coconuts to save an ecosystem.

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About half of Americans don’t think climate change will affect them — here’s why

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More than half of Americans seem to think that climate change won’t affect them personally, a new poll shows. Only 45 percent think that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, and just 43 percent say they worry a great deal about climate change. But climate change is already affecting us — so why don’t people realize that? The reason has to do with a mixture of politics and psychology.

The poll, conducted by Gallup, shows that many Americans “perceive climate change as a distant problem,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. A lot of people think that we won’t bear the brunt of climate change until 2050 or 2100, and that other parts of the world will be affected,…

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New Climate Report Forthcoming, Despite Trump’s Climate Change Views

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On March 12, the U.S. National Academies, an independent organization that produces a vast number of reports on the world of science, medicine, and engineering, released their review of the draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). The assessment, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), evaluates the ongoing progress of climate change and its impact on the United States.

The National Academies review committee concluded that the new climate report provides an accurate description of climate change and its lasting effects.

The NC4A draft builds on evidence put forward by 2017’s Climate Science Special Report, which stated that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The Washington Post reports that the NCA4 draft makes it clear that coastal environments are being impacted the most. This builds off previous studies that have emphasized the threats such areas face if the 1.5 degree Celsius climate goal isn’t met.

“As the pace of coastal flooding and erosion accelerates, climate impacts along our coasts are exacerbating preexisting social inequities as communities face difficult questions on determining who will pay for current impacts and future adaptation strategies and if, how, or when to relocate vulnerable communities,” the report reads.

Scientists working on NCA4 were initially worried the Trump administration would intervene or prevent this climate report from being released, as it contradicts the president’s stance on climate change — a stance that ultimately led to the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. However, the draft was released as intended.

There’s still more work to be done before the report’s full release later this year. The review committee suggests improving how the report conveys key information in order to appeal to a broader audience, as well as highlighting advances made since the last climate assessment was published.

“There’s a tremendous interest and demand for updated information and also examples of how various communities are approaching climate issues,” Daniel Cayan, a professor at the University of California at San Diego and a member of the review committee, told The Washington Post. “So, I believe that there’s a community of consumers that really are depending on the National Climate Assessment, and I would be very surprised if it does not continue and it is not sustained.”

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Suing Big Oil for Climate Change

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Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming after oil companies, claiming they were “knowingly killing people all over the world” by playing a part in triggering and exacerbating global warming. Schwarzenegger made the announcement on March 11 during a live recording of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, revealing he was currently in talks with several private law firms to aid with the lawsuit.

“The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill,” Schwarzenegger said on the podcast. He compares the oil companies role in global warming to the tobacco industry hiding the fact that smoking can severely harm people’s health.

And because people should be made aware of how much their lifestyle contributes to harming the environment, he believes any product that was produced, or processed, using fossil fuels (hint: that’s nearly everything we buy) should have a label on it. After all, we’ve done the same with cigarettes, following the signing of the the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009.

“Because to me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco,” Schwarzenegger continued. “Every gas station [should have a warning label], every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

The former governor went as far as to say that ignoring the impacts of extracting and profiting from fossil fuels was comparable to first degree murder: “If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder; I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies,” he said.

Schwarzenegger didn’t specify which oil companies he intends to sue, but he isn’t the first politician to take aim at those believed to be responsible for global warming. In January, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed his own lawsuit would target fossil fuel companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, stating they each “intentionally misled the public to protect their profits.”

Mayor de Blasio and Comptroller Scott M. Stringer are also planning to divest the city’s pension funds from fossil fuel reserve owners. In 5 years’ time, nearly $ 5 billion dollars could be divested from the city’s $ 189 billion pension funds.

In December, Reuters predicted a series of lawsuits against oil companies. Legal action over climate change damages is underpinned by a growing body of research linking individual oil corporations with specific degrees of global warming. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), published in the journal Climatic Change, found that the carbon emissions linked to the 50 biggest private oil companies, including BP, Chevron and Shell, were responsible for 16 percent of the global temperature rise between 1800 ans 2010.

“We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and director of climate science with UCS, in a press release. “What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the Earth to warm and the seas to rise.”

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SUV Sales Rise Worldwide, Despite Their Effect on Climate

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Most drivers only need a sedan to navigate the sometimes pothole-ridden, but relatively flat, big city roads. But for many consumers, larger vehicles that could nail an off-road test drive seem to remain a must. And despite the fact that these often-massive sports utility vehicles (SUVs) not only cost more, but also pollute more, SUV sales continue to climb.

According to the latest data from an automotive research firm Jato Dynamics, the global demand for SUVs hit a new record in 2017, totaling 34 percent of global car sales for the year. The vehicles were particularly popular in North America, Europe, and China, despite the fact that all three regions struggle with severe air pollution — a problem that more fuel-guzzling SUVs is unlikely to solve.

“Everyone is jumping on SUVs,” said Matthew Weiss, JATO Dynamics’ president for North America, The New York Times reported.

The New “Family Car”

Since the 1970s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to reduce air pollution by requiring automakers to improve vehicles’ fuel efficiency. However, for off-road vehicles and SUVs, pollution restrictions have remained lax.

SUVs are a middle-class favorite in the U.S., thanks to a marketing operation that successfully bypassed increasingly strict environmental rules. In order to penetrate consumer markets, U.S. automakers pitched SUVs as the new “family vehicle”. The rebranding was so effective that, to date, it still speaks to consumers more than modern electric or hybrid cars do.

Companies like Volkswagen continue to expand their SUV offerings — the German automaker, which currently offers only four off-road models, plans to increase those options to 20 SUV options within the next two years.

China’s Pollution Paradox

The juxtaposition between a global need to address pollution problems and consumers’ love for bigger, less fuel-efficient SUVs takes center stage in China. The pollution crisis choking Beijing and Shanghai  prompted the Chinese government to drop coal in favor of solar and other clean energy sources. As the United States increasingly embraces a pro-fossil fuels agenda, China continues to champion global climate action.

Despite accounting for 43 percent of global electric vehicle (EV) production, China’s appetite for SUVs is increasing. According to the research firm McKinsey, in the last four years SUVs were responsible for 66 percent of the overall growth in China’s car sales.

One one hand, that could be because bigger vehicles are considered a status symbol, particularly among young people, but SUVs could also accommodate China’s growing family size after the government dropped its one-child policy.

A sustained growth in diesel-powered SUV sales, particularly as the vehicles’ electric counterparts struggle to take off, could significantly hamper China’s deliberate environmental conscientiousness.

Transportation accounts for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Industry trends like this one — in which SUVs continue to trump EV — have the power to tip the already precarious environmental scales towards increasing urban pollution, rather than decreasing it.

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Blame air currents for the East Coast’s warm spell, and also climate change

The US East Coast has been unusually hot this week, breaking temperature records from Boston to Washington, DC. But what’s causing this sudden warm spell?

The answer has to do with the air currents in the atmosphere, according to Mark Chenard, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center in College Mark, Maryland. Most of the time, winds in the atmosphere flow from west to east; this is called “zonal flow” and it’s responsible for our everyday weather. But every once in a while, the winds start flowing north to south, creating a pattern called “amplified flow.”

“Cold air from north comes down south, and warm air from the south goes north,” he says. So, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico is floating upward toward those of us in the…

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Environmental Activists Are Suing Governments Over Climate Change — and Winning

On Wednesday, the High Court in London ruled the UK government’s current stance on air pollution is “unlawful.” The ruling came about because the government has failed to impose new policies on 45 local authority areas with illegal levels of air pollution. According to the Royal College of Physicians, air pollution contributes to nearly 40,000 deaths in the UK each year.

This is the third court case the UK government has lost to ClientEarth, an organization of environmental activist lawyers. As reported by The Guardian, the new ruling will require clean air policies to be overseen by the courts rather than ministers and local officials.

“The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work, and sincere promises are not enough and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved,” said Justice Garnham, the judge who heard the case. ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop explained in a statement that the initial air pollution issue was meant to be solved 8 years ago, but the government’s failure to implement any solutions has allowed the problem to go unchecked.

While it would be difficult to predict whether the court case will improve the UK’s air pollution problem, it may stand a better chance being monitored by the courts — which have taken note of the government’s past failures to rectify the issue.

The UK isn’t the only country embroiled in lawsuits related to environmental issues, but ClientEarth’s third win in the country could serve as a warning to other nations. If anything, it demonstrates that legal action can successfully promote change; a precedent that could be particularly influential for groups that have, or are considering, perusing legal action against governments over climate change.

As Reuters reported in December, a number of high-profile climate change cases are expected to take place in the United States this year. Similar lawsuits in Germany and Norway could also make headlines. Whether the lawsuits involve governments or fossil fuel companies, each case is aimed at those perceived of either knowingly causing — or failing to take action against the progression of — climate change.

Back in December, eight northeastern states moved to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit sought to require the EPA to enforce new restrictions on Midwestern states generating air pollution, which the east coast states claimed was, essentially, blowing over to its cities.

In January, the state of New York, led by Mayor Bill de Blasio, sued multiple fossil fuel companies for their contributions to climate change through knowingly burning harmful fossil fuels and “intentionally mis[leading] the public to protect their profits.”

At the time, ClientEarth’s Sophie Marjanac told Reuters that there was a trend toward litigation around climate change and that “the lack of political action in the United States may increase that trend.”

One thing is clear: citizens have taken notice that those in charge aren’t doing everything in their power to curb climate change. Those that are simply aren’t making changes fast enough: if recent studies are any indication, we’re running out of time for our actions to make a difference.

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Climate Change is Causing Bats to Migrate Earlier in the Year

We’ve reported in the past on how climate change is impacting wildlife around the world: from causing the Australian rat to go extinct, to forcing other species to adapt to survive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we can now add bats to the list of those affected by the ever-changing climate, as they’re creatures that tend to travel to warmer areas when temperatures begin to drop.

When they travel, bats usually do so in a swarm consisting of millions. When Mexican free-tailed bats bats migrate from Mexico to the Bracken Cave in San Antonio, Texas, the size of the swarm is so large it can be tracked using weather radar.

Phillip Stepanian and Charlotte Wainwright, two meteorologists from Rathamsted Research in the United Kingdom, recently studied this bat migration by analyzing years of weather radar data. Their research, now published in the journal Global Change Biology, reveals that these bats have been migrating to Texas much earlier than they did decades prior.

Bats leaving Bracken Cave in Texas to feast on nearby insects. Image Credit: Phillip Stepanian
Bats leaving Bracken Cave in Texas to feast on nearby insects. Image Credit: Phillip Stepanian/Rothamsted Research

“We found that the bats are migrating to Texas roughly two weeks earlier than they were 22 years ago. They now arrive, on average, in mid March rather than late March,” says Wainwright.

Additionally, as of 2017, roughly 3.5 percent of the bat population is staying through the winter. Speaking with InsideClimateNews, Stepanian posited that climate change is causing spring to begin sooner, in turn prompting insects to move to Texas sooner and giving the bats something to eat without having to migrate.

“To us, that sort of says winter conditions are becoming more tolerable and, rather than just going farther south, the bats are saying: We’re going to just hang out in Texas,” continued Stepanian.

The disrupted cycle is expected to have an impact on the natural pest control service bats offer, via their massive consumption of insects, in other parts of the country. This could cause local crops to fail due to the number of remaining insects in the area, which in term could lead to increased pesticides use and potentially more bee deaths.

Even worse, a change in bat migration patterns could change their ability to reproduce. Female bats typically produce one child at a time, and rely on the the corn-earworm moth to feed them. If climate change alters the moth’s life cycle, bats will have to find another source of food.

The Mexican free-tailed bat also isn’t alone. Bat migration changes have been reported in other species and other places, including Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat in the UK, female Indiana bats across the Eastern United States, and multiple species in Amazonian Brazil.

“Our initial goal was just to show that the [bat] populations could be monitored remotely without disturbing the colony,” said Stepanian. “We weren’t expecting to see anything particularly noteworthy. The results were surprising.”

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Another Victim of Climate Change: Ubiquitous Canola Oil

Canola and Climate

Canola oil is a common ingredient in prepackaged foods. You may even have a container of it in your cabinet right now. However, if a troubling climate change-induced trend continues, you may pay a much higher price the time you purchase the kitchen staple.

Global Warming Scenarios
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Heat waves can completely devastate canola crops — the canola seed pods literally disintegrate when exposed to long periods of heat. The seed crop then either falls to the ground on its own or is delivered from its weakened pod by a storm or wind.

In the wild, weakened seedpod walls after intense heat make sense as a survival tactic. The growing process is accelerated in the hopes that the seeds will be released before the heat kills the plant. However, seed crops are useless to farmers once they hit the ground.

“Farmers of canola worldwide lose about 15 to 20 percent on average of their yield because of this shatter phenomenon,” Lars Østergaard, a biologist at the John Innes Centre, told NPR. “I spoke with a farmer in Kent who lost more than 70 percent of his crop one year because he harvested on a day after a strong storm had come in.”

Battling the Elements

To get to the bottom of this issue, Østergaard and other researchers from the John Innes Centre decided to conduct an experiment, the results of which have been published in Molecular Plant.

The researchers grew canola and three other types of plants in isolated chambers at 17 degrees Celsius, 22 degrees Celsius, and 27 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit, 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively). Next, they monitored the plants for signs of the Indehiscence (IND) gene, which they knew instructed the plants to open their seedpods.

The researchers discovered that the plant’s access to this gene increased along with the temperature. The hotter it got, the easier it was for the plant’s cells to carry out the gene’s instructions.

Now that the researchers know why heat affects canola plants the way that it does, they might be able to use that information to control the effect of heat on the IND gene, thereby controlling the plant’s reaction to it.

“If people are trying to breed crops for not shattering in heat waves, then they have a target gene to work with,” Johanna Schmitt, a plant biologist at the University of California, Davis, who did not work on the study, told NPR.

The researchers involved in the study believe other food crops might respond similarly to temperature changes. If they’re right, we’ll need to find ways to ensure other plants aren’t rendered unusable by rising temperatures, and taking a closer look at their genes just might be the best way to do that.

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