Tag Archives: drought

Heat, Dust & Death: What The Drought Could Bring This Summer

California could be in for a devastating summer.

Heatwaves are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration, and, as temperatures rise, climate change activists are concerned that inaction could lead to more deaths in the summer. 

Its severe intensity puts the drought in the top tier historically, surpassing the 2016 drought considered the worst in California’s history. 

“Ultimately, there’s just less water available on the landscape, which means that the soils become drier and the vegetation becomes drier. It means that plants require more water, but there is less water in rivers, lakes, and streams available to humans, the environment, and agriculture. This means that there is less capacity of the atmosphere to buffer against extreme heatwaves,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“This will be an *exceptionally dangerous* heatwave from a public health perspective, especially since this is a part of the country where structures are not designed to shed heat and where air conditioning is rare. Infrastructure/power disruption is also possible,” tweeted Swain, as an extreme heatwave unfolded along the West Coast of North America, centered on the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada.

(From left to right: Dr. Daniel Swain, Climate Scientist, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment; Aradhna Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) climate change is speeding up. Wildfires are bigger, heat waves more frequent, and seas are warmer.

At a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on June 18th, experts pointed at data tracking the impact of climate change on the U.S. and worldwide, and warned that the best way to address the climate crisis is with scientific models as well as with policies focused on equity. 

In the current decade, almost 12,000 premature deaths are recorded annually in the contiguous United States, though experts suggest this is an undercount. Almost all of the deaths are preventable.

Heat and higher temperatures kill, and the poor and disadvantaged are at a higher risk. Low-income families cannot afford to move after a natural disaster; they generally live in asphalt or concrete jungles and lack green space, making them vulnerable to the dangers of heat.

“Redlining has made a big impact on the climate and temperature of certain areas. These are the areas where people who are poor and marginalized live. There are fewer trees, less airflow and the structure of those urban environments is such that they tend to be hotter, “ said  Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Professor, Center for Health and the Global Environment, University of Washington, and co-author of a new report on the impact of rising heat on mortality

Climate models show that climate change deals a tougher hand to low-income and minority ethnic groups, added Aradhna E. Tripati, Associate Professor, UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. As fires rage in the town of Paradise for example, “some people may move as they have multiple homes but that is not everybody,” said Tripati. Groups with insufficient resources have more difficulty dealing with the effects of climate change. 

“Any injustices that exist will interact with other inequities in ways that will be particularly devastating for low-income communities and communities of color,” said Tripati, citing the disproportionate impact on marginalized groups by hurricanes like Maria and Katrina or the Paradise wildfires in California.

She believes that ethnic minorities who historically are more adept at dealing with scant resources and have developed workarounds should be invited to participate in making climate change decisions and environmental protection policies.  

Effective solutions come naturally to people who come from hot areas, said Tripathi. 

“Actions we can take to reduce our core body temperatures must be taken. Self-dowsing i.e. wetting your skin and turning on the fan are highly effective”, said Dr. Kristie L. Ebi. When heatwave early warning systems alert people to prepare for such events, “Make sure to look in on your neighbors to ensure they are hydrated and their environment has good air circulation.” 

Additionally, said Ebi, mortality is impacted not just by the temperature but our development choices – for example, green roofs and environments with good air circulation work when temperatures are high. Air conditioning causes urban heat islands. Anything we can do to reduce these islands will help people keep their core body temperatures down during heatwaves.

Judicious and equitable choices in planning cities and our living environment are critical to managing the heat that is coming, concluded Dr. Ebi.


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.
Image credit: Daniel Swain

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.


 

Forest Fires Aren’t the Problem, Climate Change Is

At the Front Door: Climate Change & Forest Fires –  a column on climate change in our lives

On a Wednesday morning just a few weeks ago, Bay Area residents woke up to a scene out of a dystopian movie. The sun hung low and red in a sky that looked like it too was on fire. Ash fell from the sky as evidence of the unimaginable destruction which spanned all the way from Los Angeles across the border north to Oregon. Air quality was so bad that authorities called for people to stay indoors. News headlines and radio hosts discussed the damage caused by forest fires, but what they really should have been discussing was climate change. 

For decades we have heard about the negative impacts of climate change on our planet. And in 2018, the total devastation of Paradise, California drove home that forest fires were no longer confined  to places where people just went on vacation. This was different. This was right outside our windows. For the first time ever, I knew people who had been evacuated to shelters and could do nothing but wait to learn if they had homes to go back to. For many of us, the last few weeks have been an unwelcome and long-overdue wakeup call. Climate change isn’t something that is happening elsewhere. It is happening here, right now, threatening our homes and filling our lungs with smoke.  

The link between Climate change and worsening forest fires in California and across the West is incontrovertible. While forest management is important it cannot  be blamed for the recent catastrophic nature of these fires. It is climate change that causes summers to grow hotter with less precipitation and an increased risk of drought. Not only is climate change making most of California drier, it is causing it to be drier for longer periods of time. This year’s hot and dry spring was no exception, which is why there was plenty of dry vegetation scorched by record-hot temperatures, just waiting to ignite. And ignite it did. In late August a thunderstorm passed over northern California. The dry air caused the rain to evaporate leaving only lightning to reach the ground. These lightning strikes started hundreds of fires, many in hard-to-reach places. 

Scientists note that the impacts of human-caused climate change means that we are looking at “a longer fire season with conditions friendlier to fire” resulting in larger, more frequent, more intense, and more destructive fires. This forecast has certainly held true over the last two decades, as the worst ten fires in the State’s history have all occurred since 2000. The last decade has been even worse, continuously smashing previous records for destruction. An analysis conducted by the LA Times found that “wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years  — and there’s little sign things will improve.” And 2020 is certainly living up to this prediction. 

California is once again struggling through its worst fire season ever, and the August Complex Fire officially became the state’s largest fire since records have been kept (1932). And the fire season has just barely started.

This is, of course, made even worse by the fact that people are often choosing to live near the forests, meaning it is increasingly likely for humans to intentionally and unintentionally start forest fires. The most consequential example this year being the El Dorado Fire outside of Los Angeles, which was started by a pyrotechnic device used as part of a gender reveal. So  far the fire has burned 22,000 acres and ten structures, caused the evacuation of over 20,000 people, and resulted in the death of one fire fighter.  

The real question is, “When will we stop acting like each progressively-worse fire season is an abnormality and acknowledge that worse is the new normal?” 

The climate we were accustomed to is not coming back, and the worst is yet to come.  It is inevitable. We can continue to applaud firefighters and first responders, but a more profound show of gratitude would be to acknowledge and address the root of the problem: climate change, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

California Governor Newsom succinctly summed up the situation during a press conference: “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” It makes  one wonder if the recent fires will alter the Governor’s previously permissive stance on permitting new oil and gas wells.

Combatting the causes of climate change is no longer a luxury. It is a priority, not just for our politicians and legislators but for us too. The most recent report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, noted that effectively tackling climate change would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to all aspects of society.” 

If we want to adapt, and to do so equitably, we need to act now. We have to start making fundamental and uncomfortable changes in how we live – and demand that others arounds us do the same. 


Erin Zimmerman is trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image credits: markus spiske, Unsplash

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SJ Teen Pioneers Globally Lauded Biodiversity Project

Young people are integral towards the fight for a sustainable future. From social media to student platforms, teenagers have used their collective voice to pioneer a new wave of eco-friendly advocacy and innovation. To learn more about Gen Z’s unique position within the environmental movement, I had a chat with Almaden valley teen, Adarsh Ambati. A junior at Archbishop Mitty High School, Adarsh was the only U.S. finalist for the global Gothenburg Sustainability Youth Award and the International Action For Nature Organization’s Eco-Hero. After the devastating California wildfires, Adarsh learned more about the disaster’s impact on endangered species — most notably, California’s amphibian biodiversity.

IC: What prompted you to work in the sphere of environmental sustainability?

AA: The Californian drought was instrumental in developing my awareness of climate change. I found that changes in migratory patterns, habitat shifts, disruptions in food-web, the prevalence of pathogens, parasites and diseases, wildfires, and floods, are directly or indirectly a result of climate change. This interdependence of the climate on even niche areas of ecosystems developed in me an interest in understanding ecology and biodiversity, which propelled me into the world of environmental sustainability.

IC: Why amphibians? How do you learn about the pathogens impacting endangered species in the first place?

AA: Because of the California Drought, I grew up not only verbally hearing about the importance of water but practically witnessing the devastating effects of water shortage – lush green lawns turning brown, the creek in front of my home drying up silencing the croaking of the frogs, deers moving on, and ravaging wildfires.  As a 6th grader, I used to accompany my brother to BioCurious, our community lab. Seminars and workshops regarding climate change at the lab provided me with a lens for understanding the environmental effect of climate change on organisms and their ecosystems, which spurred my interest in environmental sustainability. After further research in the field, I discovered the Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis fungus that is endangering hundreds of frog species around the world. After reading more about this crisis in the novel, The Sixth Extinction, I promised to do my part in helping maintain the Earth’s biodiversity. With the help of mentors from my local community lab, BioCurious, I embarked on this Amphibian Biodiversity Protection Project.

IC: Why do you think it’s important for young people to use their platform to advocate for sustainability and the protection of biodiversity?

AA: The environment encompasses all that we need to sustain life on the planet. Today, massive problems ranging from water shortage to raging wildfires, which are triggered by climate change, threaten the environment and, indirectly, all life as we know it. While legislation and grassroots activism are 100% necessary to curbing and reversing man-made problems, innovative solutions are also crucial to solving such issues. So, I would implore all young innovators today to pursue environmental projects as the destruction of the environment will affect our generation the most. If we as youth choose to ignore the problem, it will only magnify until it can no longer be solved. By setting our minds to developing innovative solutions that help the environment without drastically changing one’s life, we can little by little overcome such worldwide issues. As these issues pertaining to the environment affect youth the most, it is imperative that we start to create projects aimed to help, protect, or sustain our planet immediately.

IC: What’s the future of this project? Do you plan on further developing or refining your in-field technique?

AA: After further testing with the fungal protein, I hope to expand into the next phase of the project – manufacturing the physical lateral flow strips using Ribosome Display. These test strips would allow researchers the unique ability to test in-field and be able to better protect the amphibians. So far, I have proved that a protein can be biologically engineered to build an in-field diagnostic for this fungal pathogen. My next goal will be to manufacture and continue to test this project.

IC: Do you have any advice for other teenagers trying to initiate sustainability projects of their own?

AA: For any youth trying to initiate sustainability projects of their own, my advice would be to be aware of the environment, think critically for innovative problem solving, and most importantly be open to taking criticism. In our world, there exist many problems ranging from massive losses of biodiversity to the seemingly insurmountable problem of climate change. We have to be aware of these problems so that we can solve them. Next, we need to think critically across various scientific disciplines to create the best solution for the problem at hand. For example, for my amphibian project, I had to combine my passions for environmental sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics to develop the most optimal solution. The next step is arguably the most important. Being able to accept criticism is one of the hardest to develop yet the most valuable quality an innovator can have for their projects. Through these three steps of identifying a solution, critical problem solving, and accepting constructive criticism, your sustainability projects will be increasingly successful.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. Follow Kanchan on Instagram at @kanchan_naik_