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California Water Woes, Fiji Fright, and Sustainable Kisses
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

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A satellite view of Mammoth Lakes on February 8, 2018 (left) and March 24, 2018 (right). Photo: Teodros Hailye/Planet Labs

California's Water Woes Not Over

California receives most of its precipitation during the winter months, making the state's snowpack an important natural source of water storage. In a typical year (or what used to be typical), the state’s snowpack stores 15 million acre-feet of water, more than all the water used by California cities in 2010. Last year after an El Niño year the state received enough rainfall to lift it out of its 5-year drought but California's water problems are far from over. 

According to KQED, The fifth most productive March on record for snow wasn't enough to make up for disappointing precipitation throughout the key months of December, January and February. Heading into the April measurement of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, water content stood at more than 40 percent below normal. It's just 57 percent of the long-term average. Though last year's rainfall filled the state's largest reservoirs and that "carryover" should help avoid a drought emergency this summer, it means that Californians will have to count more heavily on next year's rainy reason.

Why This Matters: New research conducted by the LA Times tells the story of a snowpack on life support. "If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, by the end of this century, the Sierra snowpack in a typical April will be 64% smaller than it was at the end of the 20th century. In simple terms: We're going to lose a lot of snow to climate change. Equally worrisome, California's water infrastructure is not resilient enough to make up for the loss." Water consciousness and conservation (like the measures Cape Town has undertaken) are going to have to be in California's future. 


 Climate Change

Photo: Fiji Village Online
Fiji's Frightening New Era of Extreme Weather

As much as we have been battered by extreme weather this winter, we are hardly alone.  Tropical Cyclone Josie hit the island nation of Fiji hard on Easter Sunday, killing 4 and stranding another 1000 people.  The country's prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, who has been a leader on climate change and on global ocean conservation now argues based on their experience that climate change is causing extreme weather events to become more severe.

Last November, he chaired the global climate summit in Bonn, Germany.  On Tuesday he warned of the "frightening new era" and hoped to deliver the message to the world about confronting the global warming crisis.  It is a "fight for our very survival," he said, and that "we are now at an almost constant level of threat." He called on developed countries to take actions needed to limit the global temperature increase, as agreed under the Paris climate accord. "It is the only way to prevent a catastrophe for the whole world and especially for vulnerable nations such as our own," he said.

Why This Matters:  A recent report completed by the World Bank and Fiji officials indicated annual losses from extreme weather events could total 6.5 percent of the economy by 2050.   Moreover, adapting to climate change will cost Fiji 9.3 billion Fijian dollars over ten years, almost as much as the nation's yearly GDP.  But Fiji is hardly alone -- island nations throughout the Pacific are already facing an existential threat from climate change.  Al Jazeera reports that rising sea levels have swallowed up five of the Solomon Islands since the mid-20th century. For Kiribati, a small island nation made up of coral atolls, rising waters pose a threat so dire that in 2014 the government purchased a 20-square-kilometer piece of land in Fiji, to be used to resettle climate refugees. Fiji itself has recorded a six-millimeter sea level increase each year since 1993. And it's just the beginning. 

To Go Deeper 
on Fiji's Climate Struggle:  You can watch this video produced by the government to launch a global education campaign.     

Fiji in the Aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Josie   Video: The Telegraph


Research Backs Up MLK's Teachings on Segregation 

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech in Memphis, TN before he was assassinated. While Dr. King died before the modern environmental movement, his protest against poor housing conditions in Chicago in 1966 and his strike in 1968 against unfavorable sanitation conditions in Memphis, helped plant the seeds for what is now our nation’s environmental justice movement.

As Kendra Pierre-Louis of the New York Times wrote, "a growing body of research around pollution and health shows that his belief about segregation hurting everyone extends to the environment as well. Many American cities that are more racially divided have higher levels of pollution than less segregated cities. As a result, both whites and minorities who live in less integrated communities are exposed to higher levels of pollution than those who live in more integrated areas."

Researchers have devoted more attention to the connection between segregation and exposure to pollution. Their work has shown that residents of a city like Memphis, are exposed to more pollution than those living in a city like Tampa, FL, which is less racially divided.

Why This Matters: “In more segregated cities, communities of color and the poor might be less able to have civic engagement power and influence land-use decision making,” said Dr. Rachel Morello-Frosch of UC Berkeley. She added, they have less ability to resist” when decisions are made about polluting activities. This ensures that people are stuck in environments that are making them sick. Dr. King may have foreshadowed this in his 1963 speech in Detroit. “Segregation is a cancer in the body politic,” he said, “which must be removed before our democratic health can be realized.”

Go Deeper: Check out the memorial ceremony held in NYC's Washington Square Park where Reverend Al Sharpton spoke to honor Dr. King's legacy. 



Japan's "Scientific" Whaling Photo:  Alliance/DPA/Kyodo
Whales and Dolphins In the Crosshairs

Japanese whaling ships returned to port this week from their annual so-called "scientific" hunts in the Southern Ocean, having killed 333 minke whales in the name of science.  The Japan Times reports that there were no clashes with protesters during the hunt.  In years past, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had tailed the whalers and interfered with their hunts, which was the subject of the popular TV series Whale Wars.  Japan exploits a loophole in the treaty managing global whale populations that allows whales to be killed for scientific research, but in fact, the Japanese sell the meat from these whales as a specialty food product.  

The U.S. opposes Japan's whaling.  But, but, but Congress is working to pass new laws to loosen domestic protections for whales and dolphins There are two bills -- the Streamlining Environmental Approvals, or SEA, Act and Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy, or SECURE, Act, and according to the Los Angeles Times, they could be approved by the House of Representatives any time. Both proposals target core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which regulates seismic blasts used to locate oil and gas. The noise can disorient and damage the hearing of whales and dolphins so badly that they lose their ability to navigate and reproduce.  Seismic testing could be expanded greatly to the entire U.S. ocean territory under a Trump Administration proposal to dramatically increase oil and gas drilling in the ocean.

However, there is some good whale news to report, courtesy of The New Yorker.  A collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is yielding new understanding about the migration patterns of whales along the east coast of the U.S.  Scientists are hoping that using a new set of acoustic buoys, they can pick up whales that are singing while they transit the coast from the Chesapeake Bay to the tip of Long Island and alert ships passing nearby.  This would help cut down on ship strikes in this region, which are a real problem, especially for the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Why This Matters:  Most whale species have not recovered from being hunted nearly to extinction.  Some species are on the brink of extinction. Japan's scientific whaling thwarts the will of the international community to end commercial hunts by purporting to kill whales in the name of science.  But the 
U.S. is no better if Congress weakens our domestic laws that protect marine mammals from harmful seismic surveys in the ocean.  We need more science like that being done in the mid-Atlantic region to protect whales and boats from colliding with each other in an increasingly busy ocean.

Graphic: Paul Duginsky, LA Times


Prince William on a trip to China in 2015 where he criticized ivory trade.  Photo: BBC News

UK Enacts Toughest Ivory Ban Yet

The United Kingdom is expected to pass the strictest ban on ivory sales in the world, making all sales of items of any age illegal, with violators facing up to 5 years in prison.  The BBC reports that proposed law was announced on Tuesday by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who claimed that the tougher restrictions demonstrate Britain’s belief that “the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past." He added, “Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.” The law will have very limited exceptions for antique items that contain less than 10 percent ivory by volume, certain older musical instruments, and the rarest and most important items of their type, including portrait miniatures painted on slivers of ivory.

Why This Matters:  The U.K.'s announcement is great news for elephants.  Approximately 20,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks.  Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade, and they could be mostly extinct by the end of the next decade. An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts, so now only 400,000 remain. This law is tougher than the U.S. and China's bansIt would be great if the U.S. were to follow suit, but we're not holding our breath, especially given the Trump Administration's new policy allowing the importation of elephant trophies by U.S. hunters.  



Watch how Hershey kisses get made via Today

Sweet News! 

As Bloomberg reported, Hershey Co. is spending $500 million in the hopes of producing its iconic chocolate Kisses from more sustainable cocoa.

Through its  Cocoa for Good program, the company will invest the funds through 2030 to support four key areas: nourishing children, empowering youth, building prosperous communities and preserving natural ecosystems. The initiative’s goals include eliminating child labor and increasing shade-grown cocoa, which can be productive for as much as 15 years longer than plants grown in full sun.

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