Here’s What Was Discussed in The First National Climate Task Force Meeting


Image of National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy
Via The White House on Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | February 18, 2021

National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy virtually convened the first National Climate Task Force meeting on Thursday, February 11th. 

21 agencies and offices were present, including Vice-President Harris who greeted Task Force members as the meeting began. The task force convened to discuss implementing Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach to address climate change, achieving environmental justice and creating union-backed jobs.

McCarthy said the administration would focus on addressing methane emissions early on and will use Biden’s executive authority to roll out climate-related orders. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and international climate envoy John Kerry have joined McCarthy in stating support for establishing a carbon tax, a move that could be achieved through executive action. 

Because this meeting was the first of its kind, task force members focused on the role of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the National Climate Task Force Charter, early actions, and near-term priorities. The task force also announced $280 million in grant opportunities for the Energy and Transportation Department and created a new working group to address challenges like creating new affordable energy storage and developing sustainable fuel for aircraft and ships. 

The Biden administration hopes to announce aggressive new goals for reducing the United States’ global emissions on April 22

Climate Driven Increase In Bat Species Richness Likely Connected To COVID-19


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | February 9th, 2021

In a new study, researchers have published a link between climate driven shifts in bat populations, and the emergence of COVID-19.

Researchers mapped the global range of bat populations, as well as changes in global vegetation within the past 100 years to determine how changes in global bat species richness were driven by climate change. There were many regions across the globe that experienced local increases in bat populations, such as parts of Brazil and eastern Africa, however a major hotspot was the Yunnan province in southern China.  Over the 100 year time span, around 40 bat species flocked to the province, which is a significant concern as it is known that the number of coronaviruses in a region is closely linked to local bat species richness.  Researchers point out that the Yunnan province is also the likely place of origin for both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. 

Bats are studied because they are known to carry the largest amount of zoonotic diseases out of all mammals, and both the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks have been attributed to bat populations.  Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that are transferred to humans by animals when both populations begin to interact. As human’s develop and expand into animal habitats these interactions become more common, especially as climate change drives the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes.  In a separate study, it was shown that over 60% of emerging infectious diseases, like COVID-19, are linked to animal to human transmission.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency May Be Linked To The Decline Of Multiple Animal Species


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | February 2nd, 2021

Scientists are concerned that a Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) deficiency is contributing to the decline of wildlife populations across multiple ecosystems in the northern hemisphere.

In 2016, scientists hypothesized that the decline of animal populations across multiple ecosystems may be linked to thiamine deficiency since the declines are occurring faster than expected, and thiamine deficiencies have been measured around the world. Thiamine deficiency has been known to negatively influence fish populations since 1995, and bird populations have been shown to be similarly affected.  Scientists in the 2016 study highlighted a staggering decline in animal populations such as the global decline of seabird populations by 70% from 1950 to 2010, and the decline of marine vertebrates by 50% from 1970 to 2012.

Unfortunately, it seems that humans are likely to blame as climate change is thought to have made thiamine less available to animals higher up on the trophic level. The current hypothesis is that warming oceans have negatively influenced the populations of both microorganisms and smaller fish that either produce or are rich in the vitamin making them less available to animals higher up on the food chain. Not only is less thiamine likely to reach the top of the trophic level, more thiaminase, the enzyme used to consume thiamine, is likely being transferred from the populations of fish or microorganisms that take over from older populations. Thiaminase is a concern because when predators eat prey high in thiaminase, they can experience similar thiamine deficiencies as the enzyme breaks down thiamine in their bodies.

Thiamine is an essential nutrient for life as it is responsible for cellular energy production and cellular development.  Our supply of the vitamin comes from our diet and deficiencies in thiamine can result in weight loss, muscle weakness, and wasting.  For many animals, deficiency results in sublethal effects, however, these sublethal effects can be just as devastating as lethal effects on the population, especially since they are easily missed over long periods of time.

Our unknowing changes to the environment have severe consequences for global ecosystems that we still don’t fully understand.  While we work to gain a better understanding of how our decisions influence global populations, an emphasis must be placed on what implications future development and technology may have on already stressed ecosystems.

John Kerry Says Current Goals Under the Paris Climate Agreement Are Insufficient to Limit Earth’s Temperature


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Nicole Welle | February 1, 2021

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, said Sunday that the goals outlined under the Paris Climate Accord will not be enough to limit the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Kerry said that the goal of reaching a 1.5°C limitation on global warming is appropriate, but the promises countries have made to reach that goal are insufficient to achieve it. However, he added that there is still time to take more aggressive action to fight climate change if governments are willing to do so. Kerry has expressed personal approval of implementing a carbon tax to help combat the climate crisis, and President Joe Biden is likely to consider that move after saying that he would support it during the 2020 presidential campaign, according to a CNN article.

President Biden recently announced that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and has set a goal for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate experts have said that this aggressive goal is achievable. However, while Biden has already signed multiple executive orders aimed at combatting climate change, he may face pushback from congress as he pursues further climate legislation.

Biden will also have to incorporate climate change into his administration’s foreign policy if he hopes to address the issue on a global scale. That would mean introducing it into trade policies, foreign aid programs and bilateral discussions, a shift that would become Kerry’s responsibility as the new envoy for climate change, according to a New York Times article.

President Biden Signs Orders to Address the Climate Crisis on His First Day in Office


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Nicole Welle | January 21, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. followed through on his promise to begin reversing Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks on his first day in office yesterday by singing multiple executive orders and recommitting the United States to the Paris climate agreement.

In his inaugural address, Biden stressed the importance of rebuilding alliances and trust with other countries, and he hopes that rejoining the Paris agreement will help to move the country closer to that goal. Biden also used his first day to sign executive orders to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, reverse the Trump administration’s rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards, place a temporary moratorium on oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and re-establish a working group tasked with evaluating the social cost of greenhouse gases, according to a New York Times article.

Biden has placed tackling climate issues at the top of his list of priorities along with combating racial inequality, improving the country’s pandemic response and restoring the economy. Environmentalists are celebrating the president’s urgency in addressing these issues, but analysts and Biden himself have stressed that his executive orders alone will not be enough to adequately address the climate crisis. Biden set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and congress will need to pass new environmental legislation soon to make reaching that goal possible. However, aggressive climate policies aimed at cutting the country’s emissions could face opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats in congress.

Biden’s executive orders reversing some of the Trump administration’s harmful environmental rollbacks will set the country on a positive path towards addressing the harmful effects of climate change. However, it could take years to undo the rest of Trump’s actions and replace his rollbacks with new environmental regulations. Some Republicans and powerful business groups will likely oppose the process, so any future legislation will likely require some level of bipartisan support.

Iowa’s Drought Is Likely to Stretch into Planting Season


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Thomas Robinson | January 19th, 2021

Iowa is currently experiencing drought conditions in the western portions of the state that climate officials say could last into the spring planting season.

In a recent meeting with regional climate and natural resources officials, Dennis Todey, the director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub, emphasized that Iowa is entering the new year with dry soil and that it is unlikely soil conditions will change quickly.  Since more rainfall is needed to address Iowa’s dry soil there is an increased chance Iowa will continue to be dry into the spring.  2020 was the 36th driest year out of 149 years on the record, leaving around 61% of the state at some level of drought.

Iowa’s drought conditions can likely be attributed to La Niña conditions which usually indicate a greater chance for colder temperatures and average or slightly above average precipitation. La Niña weather patterns develop as colder sea surface temperatures occur in the Pacific around the equator as part of the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  These ocean conditions can result in warmer winter temperatures for the southeast U.S, and colder winter temperatures for the north west.

Percent of Global Population Experiencing Drought Could Double By The End of The Century


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Thomas Robinson | January 12th, 2020

Scientists have projected that by the end of the 21st century,, the percent of the global population at risk for extreme drought will double compared to current conditions.

In a recent study, researchers at Michigan State University have simulated hydrological conditions expected by the end of the 21st century, and their findings suggest that the number of people at risk for severe drought could increase from 3% between 1976 and 2005, to 8%.  The southern hemisphere, which already faces severe water shortages, such as in South Africa, is expected to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Unfortunately, the United States is also expected to have increased risks of drought because terrestrial water storage (TWS) will likely decrease in the coming years.

Terrestrial water storage is a measure of water stored in rivers, soils, and other reservoirs that plays an important role in how available water is as a resource. The researchers used recent modelling advancements to include TWS in global hydrological, and land surface models to better analyze how changes to TWS can influence drought conditions across the globe. 

Iowa has suffered from drought conditions over the past two decades, and climate projections suggest that extreme weather, like the Derecho, will become more commonplace.  Extreme weather poses a threat to Iowa’s crops and residents, and in the face of concerning projections, steps should be taken to help mitigate the effects climate change has on Iowans.

What Democratic Control of the Senate will Mean for Climate Change


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Nicole Welle | January 7, 2021

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the final two senate seats after the Georgia runoffs ended yesterday, narrowly securing democrats a senate majority for the first time in six years.

Now that the GOP has lost majority control of the Senate, President-elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to pass climate change legislation once he takes office. Biden’s included a $2 trillion plan in his climate action pledge, and he hopes to use the funding to accelerate the clean energy transition and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. His ambitious plan would also set targets similar to those already in place in countries like China and the European Union and will likely include tax incentives for clean energy, according to a CNBC article.

If the Senate had remained under republican control, republican senators would have blocked most of Biden’s climate legislation. But even now that democrats hold a majority and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s will have the tie-breaking vote when necessary, passing bold climate legislation could still be a challenge. Some environmentalists worry that enough democrats might prefer more modest bipartisan legislation that new policies will not meet climate activists’ demands or align with other countries’ progressive actions. However, Biden has said that he is dedicated to working with Republican lawmakers to rally bipartisan support of bold climate legislation, and he plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement and reverse many of Trump’s environmental rollbacks as soon as he takes office.

Democrats maintained a majority in the House of Representatives after the 2020 elections, and Joe Biden will take office on January 20th despite efforts by Donald Trump and his supporters to challenge the election results.

Controversial Aviation Greenhouse Gas Emission Rule Finalized by the EPA


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Thomas Robinson | December 29th, 2020

The EPA has finalized a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard for aviation that was made public in July, the first standard for the country.

The new GHG standard works to regulate U.S aviation emissions into compliance with similar standards made by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  The new standards have not been projected to reduce emissions, and the EPA believes that any changes made by manufacturers were likely to happen regardless of the implementation of new standards.

Unfortunately, critics argue that the new rule will fail to effectively address climate change and represents a continuation of the “do-nothing” status quo.  Toxic contaminants and particulate matter are not addressed in the new rule, both of which can result in negative health outcomes for communities close to airports.  In October, the EPA was charged by 11 states to strengthen the finalized rule which has been described as “entirely insufficient.”

Approximately 2% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted by the aviation industry.  While significant advances have been made recently in alternative fuels and fuel efficiency, the U.S has observed growth in the aviation sector which will only increase GHG emissions.

2020 Could Top 2016 as the Hottest Year on Record


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Nicole Welle | December 28, 2020

The past year brought intense wildfires, an increase in localized heat waves and one of the hottest Novembers on record, so it comes as no surprise that 2020 could be the hottest year ever recorded.

An intense, warming El Niño event occurred four years ago and contributed to the intense heat that caused 2016 to go down as the hottest year on record. This year, a cooling La Niña event should have led to lower global temperatures, but it did not seem to have much of an impact. The first 11 months of 2020 were only 0.2 degrees cooler than 2016, and climate experts have said there is a 55% chance 2020 will beat the record by the end of the year, according to the Associated Press.

Whether 2020 beats the record is less important than what the global temperature trend has revealed over the last decade. 2020 will mark the end of the hottest five-year period since recording began in 1880, a disturbing statistic that climate scientists say will continue into the future. Greenhouse gas concentrations are still rising in the atmosphere. This will cause global temperatures to continue to rise and lead to more years with increasingly intense hurricanes, more wildfires, less sea ice and longer heat waves, according to an NPR article.

Governments and corporations will have to make major changes in prioritizing environmental action if there is any hope of reducing future climate-driven disasters like these. Climate-driven disasters can cause billions of dollars of damage, and they take a heavy toll on human health and life, often disproportionately affecting poor communities and exacerbating inequality. Governments around the world are taking steps to reduce emissions and Joe Biden has promised to aid in the effort to reduce global emissions once he takes office. However, climate scientists say that these extreme events will continue to increase in intensity, so it is important that governments and communities prepare for them as much as possible.