Report: Climate change could see 200 million move by 2050

Report: Climate change could see 200 million move by 2050

 

The second part of the Groundswell report published Monday examined how the impacts of slow-onset climate change such as water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels could lead to millions of what it describes as “climate migrants” by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development.

Under the most pessimistic scenario, with a high level of emissions and unequal development, the report forecasts up to 216 million people moving within their own countries across the six regions analyzed. Those regions are Latin America; North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; South Asia; and East Asia and the Pacific.

In the most climate-friendly scenario, with a low level of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people being forced to leave their homes.

The findings “reaffirm the potency of climate to induce migration within countries,” said Viviane Wei Chen Clement, a senior climate change specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors.

The report didn’t look at the short-term impacts of climate change, such as the effects of extreme weather events, and did not look at climate migration across borders.

In the worst-case scenario, Sub-Saharan Africa — the most vulnerable region due to desertification, fragile coastlines and the population’s dependence on agriculture — would see the most migrants, with up to 86 million people moving within national borders.

North Africa, however, is predicted to have the largest proportion of climate migrants, with 19 million people moving, equivalent to roughly 9% of its population, due mainly to increased water scarcity in northeastern Tunisia, northwestern Algeria, western and southern Morocco, and the central Atlas foothills, the report said.

In South Asia, Bangladesh is particularly affected by flooding and crop failures, accounting for almost half of the predicted climate migrants, with 19.9 million people, including an increasing number of women, moving by 2050 under the pessimistic scenario.

“This is our humanitarian reality right now and we are concerned this is going to be even worse, where vulnerability is more acute,” said Prof. Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, who wasn’t involved with the report.

Many scientists say the world is no longer on track to the worst-case scenario for emissions. But even under a more moderate scenario, van Aalst said many impacts are now occurring faster than previously expected, “including the extremes we are already experiencing, as well as potential implications for migration and displacement.”

While climate change’s influence on migration is not new, it is often part of a combination of factors pushing people to move, and acts as a threat multiplier. People affected by conflicts and inequality are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as they have limited means to adapt.

“Globally we know that three out of four people that move stay within countries,” said Dr. Kanta Kumari Rigaud, a lead environmental specialist at the World Bank and co-author of the report.

The report also warns that migration hot spots could appear within the next decade and intensify by 2050. Planning is needed both in the areas where people will move to, and in the areas they leave to help those who remain.

Among the actions recommended were achieving “net zero emissions by mid-century to have a chance at limiting global warming to 1.5° degrees Celsius” and investing in development that is “green, resilient, and inclusive, in line with the Paris Agreement.”

Clement and Rigaud warned that the worst-case scenario is still plausible if collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in development isn’t taken soon, especially in the next decade.

It’s not bull, scientists potty train cows to tackle climate change

It’s not bull, scientists potty train cows to tackle climate change

One of the calves entering the ‘MooLoo’ for the experiment - FBN
One of the calves entering the ‘MooLoo’ for the experiment – FBN

 

Potty training cows to use a bovine lavatory could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet, scientists claimed.

Researchers from the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology attempted to potty train 16 calves using a “MooLoo” contraption of their own design.

They successfully trained 11 of them to regularly use a latrine which captures their waste and disposes of it before it turns into nitrous oxide, the third most important greenhouse gas behind methane and carbon dioxide.

Dr Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said: “It’s usually assumed that cattle are not capable of controlling defecation or urination.

“Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot. Why shouldn’t they be able to learn how to use a toilet?”

Cows are notorious for their gassy stomachs and their flatulence is a major source of global methane emissions.

However, the environmental impact of cattle farming goes beyond potent burps, as the amount of land and energy needed to produce both cattle feed and land for grazing creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

Researchers rewarded the cows when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to it even when they were grazing outside - FBN
Researchers rewarded the cows when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to it even when they were grazing outside – FBN

 

It has previously been estimated that cattle agriculture accounts for almost 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But while methane and carbon dioxide are the two most troublesome gases, cows are also indirectly responsible for producing the third most troublesome gas: nitrous oxide.

Faeces and urine produced by cows mix together and turn into ammonia, and when this seeps into the soil, specialist bacteria turn it into nitrous oxide.

To potty train the calves, researchers started off by rewarding them when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to the latrine even when they were grazing outside.

Dr Langbein, said: “You have to try to include the animals in the process and train the animals to follow what they should learn. We guessed it should be possible to train the animals, but to what extent we didn’t know.”

To encourage latrine use, researchers wanted the animals to associate urination outside the latrine with an unpleasant experience.

Dr Langbein explained: “As a punishment, we first used in-ear headphones and we played a very nasty sound whenever they urinated outside. We thought this would punish the animals – not too aversively – but they didn’t care. Ultimately, a splash of water worked well as a gentle deterrent.”

Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children.

Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children - FBN
Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children – FBN

 

They hope that with more training, the success rate can be improved, and they want to transfer their results into real cattle housing and to outdoor systems.

Dr Langbein hopes that “in a few years, all cows will go to a toilet” and published the findings in the journal Current Biology.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to curb the gaseous production of cows, with previous studies focusing on their methane-filled flatulence.

A team of academics from the University of Kiel in Germany strapped methane harnesses to cows to monitor just how much methane they produced on a day-to-day basis; feeding cows seaweed to cut the amount of methane they make; and a tablet to curb methane emissions.

However, no novel methane-control methods have yet to crack the farming industry, and the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle is to cut down on our reliance on them for meat and cattle.

A study published on Monday in the journal Nature Food found animal-based foods produce twice as many greenhouse gases every year as plant-based food.

Global food production makes about 17 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and 57 per cent comes from animal-based foods and 29 per cent from plant-based food.

Beef alone accounted for more than four billion tons, and cow milk more than 1.5 billion tons. Cow milk and beef combined make more greenhouse gas emissions than all plant-based food.

California fires are burning at higher elevations than ever, creating new dangers

California fires are burning at higher elevations than ever, creating new dangers

JANESVILLE, CALIF. - AUG. 18, 2021. The setting sun is obscured by burned trees and a pall of smoke from the Dixie Fire near Janesville, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. The wildfire has burned more than 1,100 square miles, destroyed 659 homes and is only about 30 percent contained. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
The setting sun is obscured by burned trees and a pall of smoke from the Dixie fire near Janesville. The blaze is the first wildfire in California history to burn from one side of the Sierra to the other. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

 

Just hours before the Caldor fire threatened to level the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, the massive blaze performed a staggering feat: burning from one side of the Sierra to the other.

It seared through crests and valleys, over foothills and ridges — and also at elevations of 8,000 feet or higher.

Ash and smoke rained down on the Tahoe basin and sent thousands fleeing from its soot-darkened shores as the fire skirted a towering granite ridge many believed would be a buffer from the flames. But the fire kept climbing higher, jumping from tree to tree and spewing wind-whipped embers that landed, in some cases, more than a mile away.

Experts said the fire’s extreme behavior is part of a worrisome trend driven by the state’s warming climate, in which rapid snowmelt and critical dryness are propelling wildfires to ever-higher elevations, scorching terrain that previously was too wet to burn and threatening countless residents.

“What we’re seeing is that these fuels at high elevations that typically weren’t able to carry a fire now are able to carry fire,” said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of climatology at UC Merced and coauthor of a recent study about wildfires at higher elevations. “That’s allowing these fires to effectively reach new heights.”

The study, published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that climate warming over the last few decades has exposed an additional 31,400 square miles of U.S. forests to fires at higher elevations.

It also found that between 1984 and 2017, fires in the Sierra Nevada advanced in elevation by more than 1,400 feet, surpassing some previously dependable moisture barriers.

Of the 15 ecological regions researchers studied, the Sierra Nevada was among three that saw the greatest upslope advances, along with the southern and middle Rockies.

“We do see in the Sierra Nevada that fires have increased in terms of their burned area over the past 40 years,” Abatzoglou said. “What’s novel here is that we’re documenting an additional shift in the elevational bands where those fires are occurring.”

Before the year 2000, it was rare for a forest in the Sierra Nevada to burn above 8,200 feet, Abatzoglou said. In the years since, there has been an eightfold increase in forested burned areas at that elevation. Both the Caldor fire and the Dixie fire — the state’s second-largest wildfire on record — passed that elevation threshold.

One of the most extreme examples, the 2020 Cameron Peak fire in Colorado, blazed at above 12,000 feet elevation and jumped the Continental Divide.

That extreme behavior may partially explain why the Caldor fire was able to jump the granite ridge overlooking the Tahoe basin, Abatzoglou said, noting that parched fuels and hot conditions are providing more “real estate” for fire to progress into higher elevations and reducing physical barriers, such as wetter forests that would resist burning.

It also helps explain how the Caldor and Dixie fires became the first two fires to burn clear through the Sierra.

“Two times in our history, and they’re both happening this month,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Thom Porter said. “We need to be really cognizant that there is fire activity happening in California that we have never seen before.”

Mark Schwartz, a professor emeritus at UC Davis, noted that the Dixie fire expanded rapidly as it crested and came down the east side of the Sierra. It also burned into Lassen Volcanic National Park, where it scaled some elevations of 8,500 feet or higher.

“As fire expands into higher elevations, we run a higher risk of fires going up and over the crest of mountain ranges, then back down the other side,” said Schwartz, who co-wrote a 2015 study about the increasing elevation of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada.

Some of the peaks and ridges near South Lake Tahoe are well over 8,000 feet and sparsely populated with fir trees. But dried vegetation is primed for ignition, enabling some fires to climb higher and send more embers aloft.

“This is dangerous,” Schwartz said, “because controlling wildfire has often relied on containment at lower elevations, letting fires run out of fuels and fire weather at higher elevations.”

There are several factors that could be contributing to this shift, but researchers said the primary cause is the warming trend that is exacerbating the drought and drying out vegetation across the state. The vast majority of high-elevation fires in California are being ignited by lightning — which is more apt to start a fire when it strikes arid vegetation.

“There’s a good relationship between how warm and dry the vegetation is across the broader Sierra, and just how high those fires can carry up into these montane systems,” Abatzoglou said.

Higher elevations generally have snowpacks that last into June. When those melt, they bring an additional burst of water that keeps the vegetation wet. But with warmer temperatures and an ongoing drought, much of that moisture has disappeared.

On April 1, the date when California’s snowpack is typically at its maximum, the California Department of Water Resources recorded only 59% of its average depth. Rain in the Northern and Central Sierra was even lower, at 50% of average, which tied 2021 for the third-driest water year on record.

Mojtaba Sadegh, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Boise State University and another of the fire study’s authors, said the region’s snowpack is entering into a dangerous cycle with higher-elevation fires.

“These high-elevation mountains are water towers for us,” Sadegh said. “Most of our water in the West is coming from that snowpack.”

When a fire burns high-elevation trees, it removes some of the canopy shading the snowpack and opens it to more melting sunlight, he explained. That same process also changes the reflectance of the surface, exposing more dark ground and evaporating more water.

It’s a cycle that can change both the quantity and the quality of water delivered to the state’s reservoirs, he said.

And while warming is the primary driver of the change, both the 2015 and 2021 studies noted that a century of fire suppression in California has allowed an accumulation of vegetation to build up in forests, particularly in lower and middle elevations. When fire does arrive, it has more fuel to carry flames up and potentially over the tops of ridges and mountains.

It’s something firefighters have observed as they battle the state’s increasingly unpredictable blazes, said Robert Foxworthy, a Cal Fire spokesman. Foxworthy said there’s been a “huge deficit” in the snowpack this year, along with massively desiccated vegetation.

The dried-out fuel conditions “are leading to these longer-duration fires, and burning at the higher elevations that we haven’t seen years in the past,” he said.

And while not every fire will soar to such altitudes, exceedingly high fires often are challenging to fight. Many high-elevation fires are in remote areas, and some of the small towns in those areas offer little infrastructure and few roads for access or evacuation. Firefighters are having to hike farther and higher, often with only the supplies they can carry.

“Very rarely do we have [8,000-] or 9,000-foot elevation and have it be nice and flat,” Foxworthy said. “It’s usually pretty rugged, steep terrain, so obviously that’s going to cause some challenges because that ground is harder to work in.”

And it’s not only firefighters who are affected by the shift toward more higher-elevation fires. The blazes are also dangerous for the people who live below them; the fires can remove trees that help anchor against avalanches, researchers said.

Experts are increasingly concerned about the implications of these elevation advances, particularly as officials warn that this year’s fire season — and those to come — could bring even more extreme behavior.

Schwartz, of UC Davis, said letting fires run uphill has been a sensible approach in the past and has helped protect people and houses at lower elevations. But it is becoming a less secure measure as the state gets hotter and drier, increasing the risk of fire “over-topping” the mountains.

“We may expect to see more of this sort of fire behavior in the future,” Schwartz said, “and it dramatically expands the workload of containing a remote wildfire, which is already difficult enough.”

Schumer vows Dems will deliver aggressive climate provisions

Schumer vows Dems will deliver aggressive climate provisions

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed Monday to hold the line and deliver sweeping climate change action in Democrats’ party-line social spending bill — though he offered no concrete plans for winning over centrists who’ve expressed reservations.

Flanked by a half-dozen climate hawks during a sweltering afternoon press conference, Schumer said his caucus was doing “everything” it could to meet or exceed President Joe Biden’s goal of curbing U.S. emissions 50 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

“The bottom line for all of us is: We can’t let this moment pass us by,” Schumer said at the event, hosted by the environmental groups League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power. “The Senate will act in a way that’s commensurate with the magnitude of the climate crisis.”

Left unsaid is how the Democrats would allay the concerns of moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who’ve chafed at the overall price tag of the $3.5 trillion package, and the contents of climate change provisions specifically, in Manchin’s case. Nonetheless, Schumer’s comments amount to significant leadership buy-in as green activists and Democrats push corporate America to back their climate efforts in the reconciliation package.

Manchin on Sunday appeared cool to a centerpiece of Democratic plans to address climate change, a national clean electricity proram that would pay utilities for steadily expanding their portfolio of clean electricity while penalizing those that fail to do so.

“It makes no sense to me at all to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions,” he said on CNN.

Schumer has previously argued to his Democratic colleagues that the electricity program, formally dubbed the Clean Electricity Payment Program, and a series of clean energy tax credits would be responsible for more than 40 percent of the total emissions reductions envisioned under the Democratic plan.

Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears

Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears

MULESHOE, Texas (AP) — Tim Black‘s cell phone dings, signaling the time to reverse sprinklers spitting water across a pie-shaped section of grass that will provide pasture for his cattle.

It’s important not to waste a drop. His family’s future depends on it.

For decades, the Texas Panhandle was green with cotton, corn and wheat. Wells drew a thousand gallons (3,785 liters) a minute from the seemingly bottomless Ogallala aquifer, allowing farmers to thrive despite frequent dry spells and summer heat.

But now farmers face a difficult reckoning. Groundwater that sustained livelihoods for generations is disappearing, which has created another problem across the southern plains: When there isn’t enough rain or groundwater to germinate crops, soil can blow away — just as it did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

“We wasted the hell out of the water,” says Black, recalling how farmers irrigated when he was a kid — as if it would last forever. Water flooded furrows or sprayed in high arcs before farmers adopted more efficient center-pivot systems that gave the Southwest its polka-dot landscape.

His grandfather could reach water with a post-hole digger. Now, Black is lucky to draw 50 gallons (189 liters) a minute from high-pressure wells, some almost 400 feet (122 meters) deep. He buys bottled water for his family because the well water is salty.

ENDANGERED AQUIFERS

The problem isn’t unique to the Ogallala. Aquifers from California’s Central Valley farm country to India and China are being depleted. But the 174,000-square-mile (450,658-square-kilometer) Ogallala — one of the world’s largest — is vital to farmers and ranchers in parts of eight plains states from South Dakota southward.

The region produces almost one-third of U.S. commodity crops and livestock protein, which affects other agricultural industries, small businesses, land values and community tax bases, says Amy Kremen, project manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project that supports water management.

But because water doesn’t recharge easily in most areas, if it runs out, it could be gone for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Though groundwater in Texas can recharge to a degree, by percolating through playa lakes, many have been plowed over and no longer function.

And in Texas, along with parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma, water is disappearing more rapidly than elsewhere in the aquifer, also called the High Plains. Less-frequent rain linked to climate change means groundwater often is the only option for farmers, forcing tough choices.

Some are growing crops that require less water or investing in more efficient irrigation systems. Others, like Black, also are replacing cash crops with livestock and pastureland.

And more are returning land to its literal roots — by planting native grasses that green with the slightest rain and grow dense roots that hold soil in place.

“There’s a reason Mother Nature selected those plants to be in those areas,” says Nick Bamert, whose father started a Muleshoe-based seed company specializing in native grasses 70 years ago. “The natives … will persist because they’ve seen the coldest winters and the hottest dry summers.”

Black, who once grew mostly corn, plants such grass on corners of his fields, as pasture for his growing herd of cattle and as a cover crop between rows of wheat and annual grass.

The transition to cattle, he hopes, will allow his oldest son, Tyler, to stay on the land Black’s grandparents began plowing 100 years ago. His younger son, Trent, “could see the writing on the wall” and is a data analyst near Dallas.

“You want your kids to come back, but damn, there’s better ways to make a living than what we’re doing,” says Black, maneuvering his pickup through a pasture. “It’s just too hard here with no water.”

LOSING FARMLAND

Dry grass crackles underfoot as Jude Smith reaches an overlook at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, established during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl to preserve native prairie and three spring-fed lakes.

It’s mid-May and everything looks dead because there’s been almost no rain for a year. The lakes — where the Ogallala should bubble up and tens of thousands of migrating Sandhill cranes gather in good years — are dry, too, save for muddy streaks darkening the lakebed. The water disappeared as nearby farmers struggled to pump enough groundwater to grow cotton.

Rain might not raise the water table much, says Smith, a biologist who manages the refuge. But the native prairie comes alive with even a trickle.

While nonnative grass dies during droughts, native grass goes dormant and the roots — up to 15 feet (5 meters) deep — hold soil.

Rain came this summer — about 16 inches (41 centimeters) so far — often in torrents. The refuge’s lakes refilled from runoff and springs started running again, Smith says. Meanwhile, the native grasslands “look like Ireland.”

The welcome rain hasn’t allayed long-term worries about groundwater and droughts, says Black, the Muleshoe landowner. It came too late to help germinate spring crops, and farmers continued to irrigate.

The Texas Panhandle almost certainly will continue to be locked into extended periods of drought that have persisted across the Southwest for 20 years, says meteorologist Brad Rippey with the USDA.

“People that have been farming out there for a couple decades are concerned,” he says, adding that drought could return this fall.

Already it billows off plowed fields during dry spells, including along the Texas-New Mexico border, where rippling piles of it — some 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) high — can clog fields, ditches and roadways. It blows off rooftops like snow, says Smith, who this spring found big mounds formed in his yard overnight.

Farmers have called him to ask if the wildlife refuge could buy their land, which it’s not authorized to do.

“Everybody knows that … the water’s going away,” he says, driving past abandoned farmhouses, tree stands that mark long-gone homesteads and rusted irrigation equipment. “Farmers do the best they can with what they’ve got, but I don’t know how many more years we can do this.”

There is reason for concern, experts say.

More than half the currently irrigated land in portions of western Texas, eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle could be lost by the end of the century — with 80% of those losses by 2060, according to a study published last year.

But areas throughout the aquifer also are vulnerable. The central part could lose up to 40% of irrigated area by 2100, with more than half the losses in the next 40 years.

Those losses might be slowed as farmers adapt to lower water levels, researchers say. But the projections underscore the need for planning and incentives in vulnerable areas.

NEW DUST BOWL ZONE

The USDA has identified a “Dust Bowl Zone” that covers parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas vulnerable to severe wind erosion and where grasslands conservation is a priority.

Already, reestablishing native vegetation in the sandy soil over the Ogallala has proven difficult where irrigation ceased on former Kansas farmland. The same is true on land outside the Ogallala previously irrigated by rivers, including in Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley, where agricultural land dried out before native grasses could be established.

With less rainfall, farmers likely will need to use some remaining groundwater to reestablish native grasses to avoid Dust Bowl conditions, says study co-author Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University.

“In an ideal world, there would be some forethought and incentives available” to help farmers make the transition “before there’s not enough water there,” Schipanski says.

Chris Grotegrut already has planted 75% of his family’s 11,000 acres (4,452 hectares) in native grasses; he uses it to graze cattle and sheep and plants wheat directly into native grass pastures.

The rest of the land, about an hour southwest of Amarillo, eventually will be planted in native grasses, too, says Grotegut, who’s seen water levels rise — though not enough to return to full irrigation of his land.

Most farmers aren’t transitioning fast enough as the water table drops “from the Panhandle damn near to the Oklahoma line,” he says. “Maybe they’re using the latest and greatest of equipment and technology in the field, but (that) will not totally offset the change that’s coming to them,”

HELP FOR FARMERS

Many farmers will need incentives and help to transition to grasslands.

The federal crop insurance and conservation programs often work at cross purposes: Farmers sometimes plant crops even if they’re likely to fail, because they’re covered by insurance. And cultivating land often is more profitable than taking government payments to preserve or restore grasslands.

From 2016 through mid-2021, fewer than 328,000 acres (132,737 hectares) were enrolled in the USDA’s Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program in Dust Bowl Zone counties, according to USDA data. Enrollment for 2021 ended last month, but the USDA has not released the most recent totals.

Although grasslands also can be enrolled in other programs, there was a big push this summer to enroll more in the CRP grasslands program, which allows grazing and was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, says Zach Ducheneaux, head of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

In Texas, fewer than 32,000 acres (12,950 hectares) were enrolled in Dust Bowl counties over the past five years, and 60% of the Dust Bowl counties had no land enrolled.

So the agency sharply increased payments this summer, to a minimum $15 per acre — higher in priority counties — after they were reduced by the Trump administration, Ducheneaux says.

In Bailey County, where Black lives and no land was enrolled in the grasslands program, payments went from $4 to $20 per acre.

But Black, who took a couple hundred acres (81 hectares) of native grasslands out of a federal conservation program last year to provide pasture for his cattle, says the higher payments won’t convince him to enroll. “I can make more money without it” and won’t be bound by any government restrictions, he says.

Bamert, from the seed company, says some farmers are planting native grasses on their own, rather than through government programs.

But the transition to grasslands and conservation also is hindered by an agricultural banking system that makes it difficult to obtain loans for anything other than conventional farming and equipment, as well as the need to pay off that equipment.

“If you give a producer a choice and flexibility, they’re going to engage in soil health practices,” says USDA’s Ducheneaux, who is advocating for change. “They’re not going to continue to stay stuck in that commodity cycle.”

Among farmers, ranchers and even municipalities, “there seems to be a real connecting of the dots … about water and soil stewardship,” and it’s driving cross-state conversations about solutions, says Kremen, from the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project.

But farmers need programs that allow them to earn a living while they make the transition to grasslands over perhaps 15 years, she says.

“There’s a hunger for action that wasn’t there even five years ago,” because of the severity of the water loss, Kremen says. “What’s at stake is the vitality of communities that depend on this water and towns drying up and blowing away.”

Read more of AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

How Midwesterners are handling constant flooding caused by climate change

How Midwesterners are handling constant flooding caused by climate change

Ben Adler, Senior Climate Editor                 September 12, 2021

Colin Moulder-McComb might seem an unlikely climate change refugee. The middle-aged video game developer is a middle-class Midwesterner, not an impoverished resident of a small island nation threatened by sea-level rise. But the resident of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., an affluent, inner-ring suburb of Detroit where he lives with his wife and two kids, says global warming is destroying his family’s quality of life.

In 2016, heavy rains caused their basement to fill with 36 inches of water. “We thought it was a one-and-done, so we refurnished the basement,” he recalled. After all, they had been living in southeast Michigan for years, and the massive rainfall that caused the flood wasn’t a regular occurrence — or, at least, not yet.

The basement in Colin McComb's home in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., as he first looked down the stairs after it flooded on June 26. (Colin Moulder-McComb)
Colin McComb’s first look down the stairs to his basement in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., after it flooded on June 26. (Colin Moulder-McComb)

 

He was wrong. This June, Moulder-McComb got 42 inches of water in his basement after the sewer backed up again, under pressure from more than 6 inches of rain. And then it flooded again, around 8 inches, in July. “My wife had her old band memorabilia down there; we had financial records down there,” Moulder-McComb recalled. “Basically everything got trashed. We are estimating around $40,000 of damage.”

When New York City basements flooded, to deadly effect, from Hurricane Ida earlier this month, the news made national headlines. But the underlying causes in the Big Apple — increasingly heavy rains, aging public and private infrastructure and a combined sewer and stormwater system — are just as prevalent, if not more so, in many poorer parts of the Northeast and Midwest.

It’s not just the financial or sentimental value of what’s lost, but the unpleasant hassle of dealing with the damage that has McComb’s family considering giving up on their home. Pulling out soaked couches, books, electronics and children’s toys, drilling holes to prevent mold and bleaching and sanitizing what was left has forced McComb to take two weeks off work.

Worst of all is the reason the basement flooded in the first place: The local sewer system backed up. “The second flood was actually the worst, because I actually found human feces in my basement,” said Moulder-McComb.

This problem is not unique to Moulder-McComb’s house. His entire neighborhood has been deluged. “Everybody got it. The streets were just lined with [belongings from] people’s basements,” said Moulder-McComb. “Everybody’s got PTSD now.” The engines of many of his neighbors’ cars were flooded, rendering them inoperable.

Water floods Hanover Street in Dearborn Heights, Mich., leaving residents unable to leave their homes after heavy rains in July.
Water floods Hanover Street in Dearborn Heights, Mich., leaving residents unable to leave their homes after heavy rains in July. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

 

“This summer alone, we’ve had three major flooding events,” said Christy McGillivray, a neighbor of Moulder-McComb’s who works for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. “I was driving my daughter, and we were actually caught on a freeway in a flash flood. It’s a climate issue that’s hitting very close to home personally.”

While the climate in the Midwest has always been relatively wet, the frequency and severity of downpours has gotten notably worse in recent decades, due to climate change. Warmer temperatures have led to more evaporation and precipitation. Between 1951 and 2017, the Great Lakes region’s average temperature increased 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, its annual rainfall has risen 17% and it has 35% more heavy rain events, according to a study by Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments, a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The flooding is worst in the areas with the oldest and most underfunded infrastructure. And that’s what has Moulder-McComb searching for somewhere with newer public water infrastructure.

In the context of greater Detroit, Moulder-McComb is actually one of the luckier people, in that he can afford to keep his house well-maintained, and to move if he must. Areas with decaying public infrastructure, or private homes with leaky roofs, disproportionately include lower-income neighborhoods in the inner city.

Detroit residents on June 28 observe a stretch of I-94 that is still under several feet of water following heavy weekend rains which flooded parts of Metro Detroit. (Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Detroit residents on June 28 observe a stretch of I-94 under several feet of water after heavy rains that flooded parts of Metro Detroit. (Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Between 2012 and 2020, 43 percent of homes in Detroit suffered flooding from rain, according to a recent survey of residents. Conditions like deteriorating roofs and cracks in basement walls made flooding more likely, and African American neighborhoods were more likely to flood than white areas.

There are also ways of living with regular flooding, including elevating electronic and mechanical appliances several feet off the basement floor. “As a homeowner, you have to stop thinking, ‘I will fix this by building back like it was originally,’” said Richard Rood, a professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan. “You have to stop thinking of the flood as a one-off event.” Instead, Rood said, a homeowner must ask, “ What if I am in a chronic state of flood? Rather than just fixing the problem at hand, what are the things I can do more systematically to anticipate and leave me better prepared?”

Cities and towns, Rood said, can also better prepare for heavy rains by adopting new building codes that require flood-resilient designs and increasing spaces like parks that can absorb rainwater.

For individuals and families, there may be no perfect solutions to the crises caused by climate change. Asked why he isn’t looking to just leave southeast Michigan altogether, Moulder-McComb pointed out that anywhere he might go will contend with some form of climate change-induced extreme weather.

Residents in Grosse Pointe, Mich., try to clear out the damage on July 10, weeks after the first flooding.
Residents in Grosse Pointe, Mich., try to clear out the damage on July 10, weeks after the first flooding. (Aimee Fluitt)

 

“Global warming is screwing up everywhere,” Moulder-McComb observed. “I come from Utah and lived in California before that, and I’m watching the aridification of those areas,” he said, referring to the droughts, heat waves and ensuing wildfires that have plagued the West in recent years.

At least, he notes, Michigan will have one advantage in the gathering climate apocalypse: plenty of water.

Hurricane Ida aftermath will worsen supply chain bottlenecks and lead to even more shortages and price hikes, experts warn

Hurricane Ida aftermath will worsen supply chain bottlenecks and lead to even more shortages and price hikes, experts warn

hurricane ida damage
A bent stop sign in a storm damaged neighborhood after Hurricane Ida on September 4, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Sean Rayford/Getty Images 
  • Hurricane Ida’s damage will pile on to an already overwhelmed supply chain.
  • The storm temporarily shut down several ports. Recovery efforts will also strain the trucking industry.
  • The storm will impact the availability of products from oil to food, electronics, toys and furniture.

The aftermath of Hurricane Ida will only pile onto the multitude of supply chain issues.

The storm wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast and East Coast last month, killing at least 40 people and causing tornadoes and historic flooding. Current estimates place the damage from Ida at over $95 billion.

The fallout is far from over. From increased shipping delays and shortages to pushing prices even higher, Insider spoke with five supply chain experts that broke down the impact the hurricane will have on the ongoing supply chain crisis.

“Every additional hit is amplified,” Gad Allon, Director of University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, told Insider. “All supply chains are so strained that Ida could have a bigger long term impact than Hurricane Katrina.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a boom in demand has overwhelmed the supply chain. Transportation has struggled to keep up as rising demand met COVID-19 shutdowns, causing shortages of shipping containers and price hikes. Judah Levine, the Head of Research at Freightos, told Insider shipping prices between Asia and the US have hit a new record, jumping 500% from this time last year.

Hurricane Ida caused damage at several US ports

Hurricane Ida forced the Port of New Orleans to close for several days. While the port was since able to reopen, others, including Port of South Louisiana and Port Fourchon sustained damage.

Chris Tomas, the Lead Intelligence Analyst at BSI, told Insider port delays could impact grain and oil shipments, though the ports are only responsible for a fraction of US imports. But the damage and temporary closures in Louisiana come at the same time as key ports in Southern California are facing record backlogs.

Hurricane Ida has had the most significant impact on US oil production

The storm’s 150 miles-per-hour winds in the Gulf of Mexico cut most offshore oil and gas production for over a week, while also damaging onshore support facilities and causing some of the oil to leak into the Gulf. Reuters reported that the oil losses ranked among the worst in 16 years. Today, the aftermath of the storm has kept about 12% of US oil production at a standstill, The New York Times reported.

The disruption in oil flow will have a reverberating impact on many US industries, Douglas Kent, the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), told Insider.

“Constraints on one raw material compound themselves across the industry,” Kent said, pointing to companies like paint and specialty coatings giant PPG Industries. Earlier this week, the company warned raw materials costs would rise due to Hurricane Ida.

Shipping concerns are minor compared to the impact on ground transportation

Trucking companies will be responsible for bringing in new supplies to areas recovering from the storm.

“The trucking industry already has two major issues: long port delays, as well as a labor shortage,” Allon said. “Now we’re triple-straining the systems by requiring them to go into areas that will be difficult to access, where they will be bogged down.”

Kent warned the supply chain issues will continue to felt by customers, both through a lack of supply of imported items like electronics, toys, and furniture, as well as price hikes.

“When we see these massive increases in transportation costs, it’s clear somebody will have to pay for it,” Kent said. “One more disruption could send it [the global supply chain] into complete chaos.”

Experts have warned that the supply chain crisis will continue into 2023.

Forget plans to lower emissions by 2050 – this is deadly procrastination

Forget plans to lower emissions by 2050 – this is deadly procrastination

<span>Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

 

The world has by and large adopted “net zero by 2050” as its de facto climate goal, but two fatal flaws hide in plain sight within those 16 characters. One is “net zero.” The other is “by 2050”.

These two flaws provide cover for big oil and politicians who wish to preserve the status quo. Together they comprise a deadly prescription for inaction and catastrophically high levels of irreversible climate and ecological breakdown.

First, consider “by 2050”. This deadline feels comfortably far away, encouraging further climate procrastination. Who feels urgency over a deadline in 2050? This is convenient for the world’s elected leaders, who typically have term limits of between three and five years, less so for anyone who needs a livable planet.

Pathways for achieving net zero by 2050 – meaning that in 2050 any carbon emissions would be balanced by CO2 withdrawn through natural means, like forests, and through hypothetical carbon-trapping technology – are designed to give roughly even odds for keeping global heating below 1.5C. But it’s now apparent that even the current 1.1C of global heating is not a “safe” level. Climate catastrophes are arriving with a frequency and ferocity that have shocked climate scientists. The fact that climate models failed to predict the intensity of the summer’s heatwaves and flooding suggests that severe impacts will come sooner than previously thought. Madagascar is on the brink of the first climate famine, and developments such as multi-regional crop losses and climate warfare even before reaching 1.5C should no longer be ruled out.

Meanwhile, “net zero” is a phrase that represents magical thinking rooted in our society’s technology fetish. Just presuppose enough hypothetical carbon capture and you can pencil out a plan for meeting any climate goal, even while allowing the fossil fuel industry to keep growing. While there may be useful negative-emissions strategies such as reforestation and conservation agriculture, their carbon capture potential is small compared with cumulative fossil fuel carbon emissions, and their effects may not be permanent. Policymakers are betting the future of life on Earth that someone will invent some kind of whiz-bang tech to draw down CO2 at a massive scale.

The world’s largest direct air capture facility opened this month in Iceland; if it works, it will capture one ten-millionth of humanity’s current emissions, and due to its expense it is not yet scalable. It is the deepest of moral failures to casually saddle today’s young people with a critical task that may prove unfeasible by orders of magnitude – and expecting them to somehow accomplish this amid worsening heatwaves, fires, storms and floods that will pummel financial, insurance, infrastructure, water, food, health and political systems.

It should tell us all we need to know about “net zero by 2050” that it is supported by fossil fuel executives, and that climate uber-villain Rupert Murdoch has embraced it through his News Corp Australia mouthpiece.

So where does this leave us? Stabilizing the rapidly escalating destruction of the Earth will require directly scaling back and ultimately ending fossil fuels. To lower the odds of civilizational collapse, society must shift into emergency mode.

It will be easy to tell when society has begun this shift: leaders will begin to take actions that actually inflict pain on big oil, such as ending fossil fuel subsidies and placing a moratorium on all new oil and gas infrastructure.

Then rapid emissions descent could begin. I believe the global zero-emissions goal should be set no later than 2035; high-emitting nations have a moral obligation to go faster, and to provide transition assistance to low-emitting nations. Crucially, any zero goal must be paired with a commitment to annual reductions leading steadily to this goal year by year, and binding plans across all levels of government to achieve those annual targets. If this sounds extreme, bear in mind that climate breakdown has still only barely begun and that the damage will be irreversible.

Negative emissions strategies must also be left out of climate planning – in other words, forget the “net” in “net zero”. Otherwise they will continue to provide the distraction and delay sought by the fossil fuel industry. It would be beyond foolish to gamble our planet on technologies that may never exist at scale.

Due to the decades of inaction dishonestly engineered by fossil fuel executives, the speed and scale now required is staggering. There is no longer any incremental way out. It’s time to grow up and let go of the fantasy that we can get out of this without big changes that affect our lives. Policy steps that seem radical today – for example, proposals to nationalize the fossil fuel industry and ration oil and gas supplies – will seem less radical with each new climate disaster. Climate emergency mode will require personal sacrifice, especially from the high-emitting rich. But civilizational collapse would be unimaginably worse.

As a climate scientist, I am terrified by what I see coming. I want world leaders to stop hiding behind magical thinking and feel the same terror. Then they would finally end fossil fuels.

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story.

‘Large waves’ of Afghanistan’s heroin supply to hit Britain’s streets

‘Large waves’ of Afghanistan’s heroin supply to hit Britain’s streets

An Afghan opium farmer stands next to his poppy field in the remote village of Baqwa in Farah - John Moore/Getty Images
An Afghan opium farmer stands next to his poppy field in the remote village of Baqwa in Farah – John Moore/Getty Images

 

Heroin supply on to the streets of Britain from Afghanistan is set to increase after the fall of the country to the Taliban, a senior policing leader has warned.

Donna Jones, the lead for serious and organized crime for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said police chiefs were concerned the loss of UK and US forces’ checks on exports would pave the way for more heroin trafficking into the UK.

Afghanistan accounts for 82 per cent of global opium cultivation, according to the National Crime Agency, with most heroin that reaches the UK trafficked through the western Balkans.

“Having checks over airport borders and shipping containers has given us an element of control,” said Ms Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire.

“With an unstable government, with the Taliban in those key roles, do we believe that these organized crime issues could be overlooked or even possibly supported by the Taliban in Afghanistan? I’d say probably yes.”

The opium trade is a major source of income for a large proportion of the Afghan population as it is far more profitable than wheat or other crops.

For about a year before the Taliban were overthrown by the US-led coalition 20 years ago, they had declared opium production as un-Islamic and led a successful campaign eradicating almost all production in areas it controlled.

However, in the past 20 years, the drug trade has become a significant source of income for the Taliban insurgency against the US.

“It is highly unlikely the Taliban will prioritize a ban on opium production at a time when they are badly in need of funds. This is the cognitive dissonance that will be going on in the minds of their leadership: ideology versus necessity,” said a police source.

Ms Jones said the initial impact was expected to be limited. “I don’t think the increase is hitting the person on the street yet, but I think it will do over the next six to 12 months and I think it will do in quite large waves,” she said.

“As a commissioner who has responsibility for making sure that we are tackling drug-related harm, I am very concerned about the effect of heroin on the streets of Britain over the next year and beyond.”

The number of drug-related deaths are at their highest on record, at 4,561 in 2020 in England and Wales, with heroin and morphine accounting for more than a third.

The warning over heroin imports coincides with a national alert by Public Health England over a surge in overdoses that have accounted for at least 16 deaths in less than two weeks in southern England.

Three of deaths – linked to heroin adulterated with the synthetic opioid isotonitazene – had been in Hampshire, said Ms Jones. Isotonitazene is said to be 500 times stronger than morphine.

Jason Harwin, deputy chief constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drugs, said: “Heroin causes significant harm and misery in our communities and police continue to work hard to target those who import and sell it. We are monitoring and reviewing intelligence in relation to heroin being imported from overseas.”

Tree planting efforts aren’t replacing burned U.S. forests — not even close

Tree planting efforts aren’t replacing burned U.S. forests — not even close

As fires devastate U.S. forests, researchers work to grow super-resilient saplings

 

DEER LAKE MESA, N.M. (Reuters) – Experimental pine seedlings poke from the rocky New Mexico earth, the only living evergreens on a hillside torched by one of the U.S. West’s drought-driven wildfires.

These climate-smart sprouts about 30 miles (48 km) east of Taos are part of a push to increase the dramatically lagging replanting of U.S. forests after fires.

To condition trees for life in the Southwest, now suffering its worst drought in 500 years, biologist Owen Burney takes the scraggly seedlings to the point of death and back several times by starving them of water in the nursery.

Burney wishes he had funding to mass produce the seedlings and expand his tree nursery, the largest in the U.S. Southwest. With wildfires growing to monstrous proportions https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-WILDFIRES/EXTREMES/qzjvqmmravx, the nursery’s output of 300,000 seedlings a year does not come close to replacing torched trees.

“People get excited about reforestation, and they talk about it, but talk is cheap without action,” says Burney, who heads New Mexico State University’s forestry research center in Mora. “That’s what we’re trying to create, the action of an effective reforestation pipeline.”

Reforestation supporters say planting trees helps fight climate change, protects watersheds and creates jobs — arguments that help generate both global enthusiasm and U.S. bipartisan support https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/trillion-trees. Lawmakers are seeking extra federal funding for such efforts. Some public-private partnerships committed to growing trees have been launched.

Still, evidence suggests replanting campaigns cannot keep up with blazes.

Even with efforts in New Mexico, California https://www.americanforests.org/our-work/restoring-californias-forests and Oregon https://www.orparksforever.org/homepage-box/wildfire-tree-replanting, there is not enough seed collection or nursery capacity https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=88825ecd8e4a40f9aefdb24147b821e9, according to nearly two dozen land managers, biologists and conservationists Reuters spoke to since June.

Federal replanting remains underfunded and poorly coordinated with the private sector. State, tribal and private landholders struggle to find sufficient seedlings, they said.

Wildfire is a natural part of a forest’s lifecycle, but climate-fueled fires https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wildfires-climatechange-idUKKCN26C30W are so ferocious they incinerate entire stands together with seeds that start regrowth.

That destruction also poses problems for the 180 million Americans who rely on national forests to filter drinking water https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-west-faces-little-known-effect-raging-wildfires-contaminated-water-2021-07-01 and the 2.5 million employed in forest industry jobs.

SYSTEM OVERWHELMED

Most U.S. wildfires burn on U.S. Forest Service land. The agency replants around 6% of its land that needs replanting after wildfires.

“Our systems just haven’t kept up,” said David Lytle, the service’s director of forest and rangeland management and vegetation ecology. “The change to these larger, more severe wildfires has dramatically ramped up our reforestation needs.”

Tree-planting fervor peaked in 2020 when the World Economic Forum launched its One Trillion Trees initiative, or 1t.org, to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees globally. Former President Donald Trump backed the plan. U.S. corporations and foundations pledged 50 billion trees.

Yet visit any Western national forest outside the Pacific Northwest, which still has timber harvests that require trees to be replanted, and there are no major planting efforts, says Collin Haffey of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

“It seems to be an afterthought of forest management,” said Haffey, the group’s conservation coordinator in New Mexico.

According to Lytle, the problem is not tactics or expertise, but funding. The U.S. Forest Service spends over half its budget fighting and preventing fires. Last year, Congress granted it $7.4 billion in discretionary appropriations. Meanwhile, the amount available for post-fire replanting has not grown since the 1980s. The agency says it does not have enough money or resources to fully reforest burn areas.

To boost replanting, lawmakers have included legislation — called the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act — within the infrastructure bill Congress is considering. It would help the service plant 1.2 billion trees on 4.1 million acres of national forests hit by fire, pests and disease over the next 10 years by removing a $30 million annual funding cap to roughly quadruple spending.

With limited public money, Wes Swaffar of 1t.org tries to channel private funds into replanting. That can mean teaming companies seeking zero net carbon emissions with projects that sequester carbon.

“I’m so frustrated by the fact that I have to do this job in the first place,” Swaffar said. “I have to play this interconnector role between the public and private sectors, because neither one is able to do it by themselves.”

A small success story is growing 85 miles (137 km) southwest of Burney’s test site. With some money from the public-private Rio Grande Water Fund, around 4,000 acres of burned-out forest near Los Alamos are being replanted to mimic “tree islands” left after moderate fires. Developed by the TNC, the project has 400 moisture-rich sites, some at higher, cooler elevations to help seedlings survive future, higher temperatures.

“If we’re trying to do anything related to climate change, carbon sequestration, then trees need to be in the ground,” said Burney, who is seeking $40 million to create a New Mexico reforestation center and help lift state annual seedling output to 5 million.

(Reporting by Adria Malcolm at Deer Lake Mesa, New Mexico, Andrea Januta in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)