Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from around the Golden State and the world. In Palm Springs, Calif., I’m Mark Olalde.
Before we jump into our regularly scheduled programming…
Climate change continues to super-charge weather events ranging from wildfires to hurricanes, and we’re in the midst of both this week. Not every storm is the fault of climate change — to be clear — but a growing body of literature shows the events are made worse by factors like increasing ocean temperatures. More on Hurricane Laura next week (and more on fires later in this newsletter), but for now, there’s a developing story out of Louisiana where a chemical fire at a chlorine plant erupted not long after the storm swept through the area. Here’s The Times-Picayune with the story.
For our other lead story this week, an AP investigation found the Trump administration wrote something of a blank check for polluters during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of sites, including oil and gas facilities, were allowed to ignore regulations like those mandating toxic emissions monitoring.
Here’s some other important reporting….
Too hot to handle. The USA Today network’s Climate Collision series continues its exploration of how climate change is already here and already impacting our everyday lives. Debra Utacia Krol reports for The Arizona Republic that temperatures are reaching deadly levels in Phoenix, in Arizona and around the country, and the number of heat-related fatalities is growing. “The death toll rises in a way that would drive dramatic headlines if tied to a single weather event. Hurricane landfalls typically claim far fewer lives,” she writes.
The cost of appropriation. For the Goop-adherents, the yoga practitioners and the Instagramers, white sage has become an oft-burned and “smudged” plant. But the practice, which came from Native American communities, has led to a boom in an illicit poaching market centered in Southern California. Kimon de Greef investigates for Vice.
Oil, we’re going down swinging. In a striking example of fossil fuels’ diminishing power, Exxon Mobil was one of several companies dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The oil supermajor was the world’s largest company only nine years ago, but it was booted to make room for tech companies, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Coal is a dinosaur. As I’ve written before, the American coal industry is on its way out the door. Energy News Network and WyoFile have been exploring what this means for coal-dependent communities around the country in a series called Transition in Coal Country. In the most recent installment, they take us to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, where the idea of a just transition still remains that far out of reach.
When you give your son a fish. The multi-billion-dollar Pebble Mine project has been a battleground for years, as environmental groups and indigenous communities say the proposed 8,400-acre open pit mine would imperil the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Over the weekend, Zack Colman and Alex Guillen of Politico broke the story of President Donald Trump appearing to change his mind on a project he had supported. Then, they reported on Monday that the Army Corps of Engineers called for a series of conditions that are likely to kill the mine. It appears that Trump’s son and donors having a fondness for fishing the area likely tipped the scales.
The burn salve. As wildfires have raged across California in recent weeks, so too has the debate over fire suppression and fuel management. After a century of aggressive firefighting techniques, forests in the West need to return to a more natural burn cycle, while chaparral are likely being over-burned. But questions remain on what’s the proper balance. Perhaps answers exist with Native American tribes who have lived for many years in what is now the Golden State, NPR reports.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AROUND THE WORLD
Brain storms. You don’t have to, like me, spend all day investigating environmental woes to fall victim to the existential dread wrought by climate change. The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and 12 other outlets teamed up on a unique investigation into the mental health implications of increasingly severe storm events around the U.S. and its territories. “More Americans are affected by climate-driven disasters every year, with serious emotional consequences,” they wrote. “Even with FEMA aid, state and local resources aren’t enough.” Three-in-five respondents to a survey they sent out reported at least five types of emotional challenges in the year following a disaster.
There be pirates in these waters. Waving the Cambodian flag, the ship full of millions of dollars of apparently illegally caught threatened fish tried to make berth and offload in Namibia. I was hooked (pun only somewhat intended) from that point in this new Smithsonian Magazine piece about the hunt to catch pirate fishermen (that pun was intended) around the world. Take a read.
Poisoned by oil. Meanwhile, Circle of Blue takes us to Syria, where an already toxic oil industry has turned into a full-fledged environmental disaster amid the war. “Lakes of crude oil rigid as cement pock the landscape. Hundreds of makeshift refineries poke above the weeds, expelling clouds of burnt waste into the air. A putrid, sickly smell hangs overhead,” Elena Bruess writes.
AND ANOTHER THING
Inside the fire line. When one of California’s many wildfires burns tens of thousands of acres, what happens next? Desert Sun photographer Jay Calderon and I sought to answer that question, so we joined the Forest Service for the day (well, we rode in their pickup truck for the day) to observe a Burned Area Emergency Response unit, or BAER team, in action. These teams of scientists head into recently torched landscapes to study impacts to the environment and threats to human safety. Check it out.
Scientists agree that to maintain a livable planet, we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. We’re above that and rising dangerously. Here are the latest numbers:
That’s all for now. Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter at @MarkOlalde. You can also reach me at email@example.com. You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here. And, if you’d like to receive a daily round-up of California news (also for free!), you can sign up for USA Today’s In California newsletter here. We’re doing it! Keep wearing a mask! Cheers.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/27/climate-point-buckle-up-were-entering-age-super-charged-weather/3431720001/