Our Daily Planet: Women4Climate, Species Extinction Package, Mo Flo, Sea Otters and Give That Glacier a Blanket
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Thursday, September 27th, 2018

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Girl Power Needed: Women Are Essential To Climate Solutions

In an essay published in Fortune Magazine by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the chair of C40 Cities, and Anne Finucane, the vice chairman of Bank of America, the authors argue that the world will not solve the climate challenge “without the equal participation, and leadership, of women—as business and political leaders, investors, and contributors to the global economy.”  Women play an important role as investors — they control $11.2 trillion of today’s investable assets. In a recent survey, 65% of women versus 42% of men say that companies’ treatment of the environment, their employees and their communities are important factors in making investment decisions.

Women also must be included in charting the climate solutions because, particularly in less developed countries, women as a group are more likely to be harmed by climate change disasters. Hidalgo and Finucane point out that “90% of the people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women; 65% of those who died during the 2003 heat waves in France were women.”  Consequently, the C40 Cities, a network of 96 great cities committed to taking bold climate action, launched the Women4Climate initiative, which aims to empower 500 young women by the end of 2020.

Why This Matters: To put the controversy around Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court into the climate context, we recall an op/ed in The Washington Post last January, in which John Podesta and former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth argued that a woman’s right to plan her family (in essence a woman’s right to choose) “ranks as one of the 10 most substantive solutions to climate change, according to a recent analysis of peer-reviewed research.”  Likewise, Hidalgo and Finucane ultimately argue that “women leaders should be at the table not only because of their effectiveness at addressing entrenched problems like climate change and sustainable urban infrastructure but because these issues disproportionately affect them.”  In short, when it comes to women and climate change, #Time’sUp.  
Highlights of the Women4Climate Conference Held in February 2018


Photo: NASA

Polluted NC Rivers Spill Into the Ocean

After Hurricane Florence, NASA has been tracking flooding in the Carolinas and the pollution that rivers and streams have been emptying into the ocean via their Landsat 8 satellite. According to the National Weather Service, nearly 8 trillion gallons of rain fell across North Carolina during the hurricane and with the overflow of hog waste ponds and coal ash pools, swollen waterways sent all these pollutants straight into the Atlantic Ocean. You can see from the satellite photo above the dark water that has emptied into Cape Fear. As NASA explained, organic matter (also referred to as “colored dissolved organic matter” or CDOM)—such as leaves, roots, or bark—contain pigments and chemicals (such as tannins) that can color the water when they dissolve. Depending on the amount of dissolved particles, the water in natural-color imagery can appear blue, green, yellow, or brown as the CDOM concentration increases. 

Why This Matters: Rivers and streams normally contain organic matter but when massive amounts of it are washed into waterways due to storms like Florence it can become a pollutant. Too much CDOM reduces water quality and can harm wildlife by changing the pH of the water or its oxygen levels. Dead zones created by this pollution can kill fish and other aquatic animals and can make water unsafe for people as well. 

Go Deeper: In addition to overflowing hog waste pits, coal ash ponds and millions of drowned livestock decaying in flood waters, a wastewater treatment plant has been disabled in North Carolina due to flood waters and untreated wastewater is now being discharged into a tributary that feeds the Waccamaw River.

How To Help: Thousands of people in North Carolina still cannot return home and are stuck in shelters where they’re in need of supplies. To help support local charities working on the ground to help people in need, click here. Or to help the relief efforts being coordinated by our friends at World Central Kitchen, click here



Macron Rejects Trade Deals With Nations Not In Paris Agreement

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, French president Emmanuel Macron stated that France will no longer make trade deals with countries that “do not respect the Paris accord.” While France doesn’t have trade agreements of its own because the European Union negotiates and signs such deals on behalf of its members, the U.S. and the EU opened talks of a trade agreement in 2016, but negotiations ended after President Donald Trump took office. Though Macron didn’t call out the United States directly, after Syria joined the agreement last year we’re the only nation in the world that is not working at the federal level to meet our emissions reduction goals. Mother Jones explains why it’s incorrect to state that America is the only nation not in the Paris Climate Agreement: 

President Obama signed and formally joined the Paris deal in 2016, arguing that Senate’s ratification was not required because Paris was not a formal treaty. As a result, the US will continue to be part of the agreement until November 5, 2020, the first date President Trump can formally withdraw. This just happens to coincide with the day after the next presidential election.

A new report financed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg shows that America will fall short by about one-third of its greenhouse gas emissions targets stipulated in the Paris Climate Accord. So while we’re technically still in the agreement, President Trump’s dismantling of President Obama’s Clean Power Planet means that the federal government is not taking any steps to meet our goals (though U.S. cities and states still are). To that note, yesterday former president Obama took a swipe at Trump’s attitude on the environment by saying that environmental sustainability would only come when leaders adopted new technologies adding, “that takes political and social commitment that right now is not forthcoming.”

Why This Matters: This is the first time that the U.S. has been called out in a major way at the United Nations. It also highlights just how shortsighted withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement was and that it has the potential to have economic ramifications for American industries. 


Gray Wolf   Photo: PBS
Congress Moving to End Protections for Wolves and Grizzly Bears

Yesterday, in reaction to a court decision handed down on Monday in which a judge in Montana restored protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee passed a bill that would weaken the Endangered Species Act and another one that would lift protections across the USA for the gray wolf.   Democrats on the Committee called the bills a “wildlife extinction package.” 

The court decision in Montana put on hold grizzly hunts that had been planned in Wyoming and Idaho, but the Judge said that his decision is not about “the ethics of hunting, and it is not about solving human or livestock-grizzly conflicts.”  Rather he determined that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not follow the statute in removing certain populations of the grizzly bear from the endangered species list because they did not consider whether that would impact other protected grizzly populations.

Why This Matters:  The Republican-controlled Congress has not been able to pass significant changes to the Endangered Species Act thus far.  The Trump Administration’s efforts to use executive actions to loosen protections for endangered species have also been rebuffed in court. Environmental groups have been successful in holding the line on the ESA. But these court decisions could galvanize Congress to act soon to change the law to make it harder to list species and easier to de-list them, and mandating fewer actions to recover species.  If the Republicans believe they will not retain control of the House of Representatives in the midterms, the ESA might well be top of their list of bills to pass before they adjourn this year. 


Sea Otters Bounce Back But So Do White Sharks 

It’s #SeaOtterAwarenessWeek and we’ll take any opportunity to give a s/o to our favorite marine mammals. Sea otters are not only adorable but they’re really important for the kelp forests that they call home as they eat urchins that destroy kelp and keep the ecosystem in balance. In the early part of the 20th century they were nearly hunted to extinction but through government protection, and most notably the Marine Mammal Protection Act, their numbers were able to grow to a nearly steady population. 

Many of the environmental protections that allowed otters to flourish have also helped great white sharks as well, who were also endangered from over-fishing. Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. Part of that dip is due to sharks biting sea otters as the two animals come into more frequent contact with one another. As the San Luis Obispo Tribune explained, instead of preying on the otters, sharks are taking investigative bites, scientists say, meaning the predators mean to bite a pinniped (like a seal) and instead get a dry mouthful of fur. The shark continues on its way, and the compromised otter is left with a deadly wound, sometimes with a shark tooth embedded in its side as well. Every year since the mid-2000s, about 450 sea otters have been found stranded, sick, dead or injured, with nearly half having been bitten by a shark according to Mike Harris, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department Fish and Wildlife. While scientists don’t know for sure why bites are becoming more frequent they can hypothesize that it’s due to the distribution of pinnipeds along the coast as well as higher proportion of sharks reaching adulthood thanks to restrictions on gillnet fishing. Those sharks may be having difficulty transitioning from eating fish in their youth to eating mammals as adults.

Why This Matters: Ultimately this story shows the importance of legislation to protect endangered animals as both shark and otter populations are increasing. However, since human involvement decimated both otter and shark populations to begin with, their rebounding is happening in a way that’s unbalanced. Some solutions to help otters thrive include expanding otter territory into estuaries where sharks don’t swim, which would take a state and community effort to implement. 

Go Deeper: Make your Thursday feel more like Friday by watching this video of adorable otter behavior. 


 Climate Change

  Space Blankets Shield a Grotto from the Changing Climate, Rhone Glacier, Switzerland
Photo:  Simon Norfolk and Klaus Thyman
One Cool Thing: Rhone Glacier Melting Is Slowed By Blanket

Residents who live near the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland each spring wrap thermal blankets around parts of the glacier and the ice grotto carved inside, and leave the blankets on all summer to shield the glacier from the sun.  USA Today reported that Rhone glaciologist David Volken said that the blankets are beneficial and they “have reduced the melting by 50% to 70%.”  The Rhone Glacier stands 12,000 feet high and has shrunk considerably in the past 150 years.  The thermal blanket covers the area closest to the ice grotto, which is a popular tourist attraction.  Other glaciers also get the blanket treatment, but scientists and residents know this method will never be able to save the glaciers or to counteract the negative consequences of climate change.  By 2100, scientists estimate that the Rhone Glacier and others like it will be essentially gone

Inside the Ice Grotto of the Rhone Glacier
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