Spring is here very early. That’s not good.

“Warmer winters have meant fewer opportunities to revel in the snow, go sledding and skiing, or venture onto the ice. But beyond making certain activities less feasible, warmer winters are also set to have devastating environmental impacts.
Plants and animals could have their growth and hibernation patterns thrown off, for example. According to Theresa Crimmins, director of the National Phenology Network and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, plants’ pollination schedules could become misaligned if they’re emerging sooner than they normally would and the insects that pollinate them aren’t yet ready to do so. Plants that sprout earlier in the year could also have a tougher time surviving if an unexpected cold front or frost comes back and kills off the initial buds.

Pests like mosquitoes could become more prevalent, too, says Crimmins, and potentially contribute to more diseases, since colder winters tend to depress their population.

A shift in winter could have major impacts on water supply as well, leading to a much smaller snowpack than people in the American West and Southwest currently rely on. Frozen snow that slowly melts over time is a major source of water for these parts of the country, and that resource could be severely reduced if there isn’t much snow to work with. During warmer winters, there’s typically less snow and more rain, which leads to smaller snowpacks and potentially huge dips in water as less snowmelt flows into rivers.

“Water supply affects pretty much everything, not just our drinking water: water for agriculture, water for hydropower, water for municipal uses, water for environmental concerns. It’s really comprehensive,” says Cara McCarthy, a program manager at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Water from these snowpacks can also help make sure the ground doesn’t become too dry, a factor that contributes to more frequent and more severe wildfires. The National Interagency Fire Center’s forecast through June has projected that parts of the Midwest and Southwest face a higher risk of wildfires this year due to the limited snowfall they received and a higher potential for drought.”

https://www.vox.com/policy/24098936/climate-change-snowpack-el-nino-spring-winter

Bats have a unique superpower. Climate change is turning it into a liability.

“Compared to other mammals, bats have a lot of surface area, and that means they tend to lose water more easily through evaporation across their skin”

“bats are at risk of drying out and dying from dehydration.”

“Temperatures above roughly 105°F can cause heat stress or even death among many species, especially if the animals nest in trees outside, where they’re exposed to the ambient temperatures. Heat waves in Australia, for example, have caused dozens of mass die-offs of flying foxes, big fruit-eating bats that use their noses and large eyes instead of echolocation to find food.”

“Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of bats each year in North America alone, and globally they are known to harm more than 30 bat species. Typically, the bats — most of which are migratory species — die from colliding with turbine blades, though it’s not clear why these animals are drawn to them.

Making these threats more troubling is the simple fact that bat populations don’t recover quickly after die-offs, whether or not they’re climate-related. It goes back to their flight-enabled physiologies: Unlike birds, which drop their eggs off at a nest, bats have to fly while pregnant, which isn’t easy. That’s why most bats only have one pup per year”

“they face a wide range of threats beyond climate change, including a disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in North America.”

“By eating agricultural pests, such as moths and beetles, bats also provide up to $53 billion in economic value each year in the US alone. They eat pests that bother us, too, including mosquitos. And of course, bats pollinate agave plants as they slurp up their nectar, which give us, among other things, tequila.”

https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/24048465/bats-endangered-climate-change

It’s Official: 2023 Was the Hottest Year on Record

“The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reports that 2023 was the hottest year in the instrumental temperature record. That’s in part because global temperatures were boosted by the El Niño phenomenon in which the eastern Pacific Ocean surface temperature periodically surges higher.”

“”Not only is 2023 the warmest year on record, it is also the first year with all days over 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years,” noted Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, in a press release.”

“The satellite temperature series run by climatologists Roy Spencer and John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) also basically concurs, reporting that 2023 is the hottest year in its 45-year record.”

“The C3S report observed that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations reached the highest levels ever recorded, 419 parts per million for carbon dioxide and 1902 parts per billion for methane. UAH’s Christy cautiously concedes that the “background climate-trend is about +0.1 °C per decade and could represent the warming effect of the extra greenhouse gases that are being added to the atmosphere as human development progresses.””

https://reason.com/2024/01/09/its-official-2023-was-the-hottest-year-on-record/

The Florida Barrier Reef’s Last Stand

“unseasonably hot water arrived this summer, meaning those coral colonies had to endure months of extreme water temperatures. A buoy off Florida recorded 101-degree water temperatures this July. When corals are stressed by hot or cold water, they lose their color—a result of expelling algae that provides corals with most of their energy—and eventually die.”

“If the reefs collapsed completely, it would be disastrous for the Florida Keys. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the reefs in Southeast Florida are valued at $8.5 billion and sustain 70,000 full- and part-time jobs. The barrier reef also protects the Keys from hurricanes and major storms by soaking up wave action.”

https://reason.com/2023/12/19/the-florida-barrier-reefs-last-stand/

How to detox coal country

“Everywhere coal is mined — however it’s mined — something is left behind. At surface mines, where huge machinery strips away the top layers of the earth, the coal is separated from the surrounding rock and what remains are piles of refuse. Known as tailings or slag (or, more colloquially, culm or gob), the loose rubble is saturated with toxins and heavy metals. With each rain, more and more of the contaminants leach into the soil and nearby waterways.
In underground mines, removing the coal leaves other minerals exposed. This is especially problematic in places like southeastern Ohio, where there’s a lot of what Natalie Kruse Daniels, professor and director of the environmental studies program at Ohio University, calls “sulfur coal.”

“Primarily what we find is pyrite — something that most people recognize as ‘fool’s gold,’” she says. “As it’s exposed to oxygen and water, that sulfide weathers and it produces acid and a lot of iron.”

That’s what is happening below the ground at the Truetown Discharge. The mine was abandoned and sealed in 1964 with the coal gone and sulfide minerals like pyrite left behind. It filled up, either with rainwater, groundwater, captured surface water, or a combination. In 1984, mounting pressure forced open the seal and the acid brew burst forth, carrying 6,000 pounds of iron oxide — basically, rust — out into Sunday Creek every day.

“The best estimate we have on this is that it will continue discharging for at least 600 to 800 years,” says Michelle Shively MacIver. She began working with Rural Action as the Sunday Creek Watershed Coordinator more than a decade ago. Today, she’s the director of project development at True Pigments.

The iron oxide is heavy, MacIver explains, and at Sunday Creek it precipitates out of the water fairly quickly, building up in thick, rough-looking scales along the creek bed and the shore. “The biggest problem the iron poses is it covers the entire bottom, and it just suffocates a healthy aquatic system,” she says.”

“The iron build-up is only half the problem. The other byproduct inside the mine is sulfuric acid, which lowers the water’s pH too much for almost anything beyond some algae to thrive.”

“Acid mine drainage can also worsen flooding, as build-up narrows streams and creeks and reduces their capacity for floodwater.”

https://www.vox.com/climate/2023/12/11/23992695/cop28-climate-refuge-how-to-detox-coal-country-appalachia-mining

3 wins and 3 losses at the biggest climate conference ever

“The COP28 agreement for the first time secured language to end the use of fossil fuels, though it’s weak. The agreement calls for “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” It also calls for “Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.”
The accord doesn’t establish a specific timeline, benchmarks, or investment goals, however. Fossil fuel-exporting countries and some developing countries pushed back against such language. Most countries have set goals of zeroing out their greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, but many are counting on technology fixes like carbon capture to balance out their fossil fuel consumption.”

https://www.vox.com/climate/24000157/cop28-climate-conference-uae-dubai-winners-losers-fossil-fuels-methane

The ridiculously stupid reason the US is letting animals spiral toward oblivion

“Part of the problem, environmental groups say, is that the FWS is failing to work through a backlog of species that are in desperate need of protection. “Under the ESA, decisions about protection for species are supposed to take two years, but on average, it has taken the Fish and Wildlife Service 12 years,” wrote researchers, including Greenwald, in a 2016 study. “Such lengthy wait times are certain to result in loss of further species.” (A more recent assessment indicates that wait times between 2010 and 2020 were shorter, likely because the FWS received fewer petitions to list species during that time.)
The Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of these delays. Gary Frazer, the agency’s assistant director for ecological services, which administers the act, blames them on funding and staff shortages. The process to formally declare a species endangered, which requires an extensive review, is expensive.

This is something that everyone seems to agree on: The FWS needs a lot more money from Congress to do its job. “Currently, the Service only receives around 50% of the funding required to properly implement the Act,” as more than 120 environmental groups wrote in a letter to Congress in March 2023, urging the government to ramp up spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. (That may sound like a lot, but it’s a tiny, nearly imperceivable fraction of what the US spends on, say, national defense, or fails to recoup in fossil fuel subsidies.)

“[The ESA] isn’t broken, it’s starving,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO and president of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. (She’s stepping down from her role at Defenders next year.) “It can do its job if it’s supported,” said Clark, who formerly led the FWS. “But it’s not.”

Here’s what’s strange: Even though the FWS acknowledges there is a resource shortage, the agency doesn’t ask Congress for more money outside of relatively modest budget increases, according to Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. What’s more, the FWS actually asks Congress to restrict the amount it can spend to list species as threatened or endangered. According to Frazer, that’s because the agency receives an enormous number of petitions. If it were to address all of them, he said, it would have to pull resources away from other important activities under the act.

(When asked why the FWS wouldn’t just request more money overall for the ESA, a spokesperson for the agency said that “federal funding decisions are complex” and pointed me to the agency’s recent budget justification. Hartl suspects the FWS doesn’t ask for more funding because Frazer is highly risk averse and doesn’t want to come under scrutiny for putting forward a more substantial budget request. There are also pro-industry ESA critics who say the law is already too restrictive, even in its underfunded state.)

Limited funding has forced officials and environmental advocates to prioritize efforts to save species in the most critical conditions — the ones that are about to blink out. And that leads to another criticism of the ESA: The law is reactive, helping species only when they’re on the edge of extinction. It fails to address more fundamental problems that are driving wildlife declines in the first place.

In search of a more proactive approach, some policymakers have been trying to pass another environmental law, known as Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). The act, as it was envisioned a few years ago, would funnel roughly $1.4 billion to states and Indigenous tribes to restore ailing animals, even before they’re listed as endangered. But it has run into similar problems as the ESA — namely, policymakers can’t figure out how to pay for it. Now the RAWA, at least as it was originally drafted, seems all but dead.”

https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/2023/12/18/23989030/endangered-species-act-explained-environment-biodiversity-extinction

Greens erupt as fossil fuel ‘phaseout’ is dropped from proposed climate deal

“The prospect of a deal to end fossil fuels faded on Monday in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, when organizers of the U.N. climate summit released a draft proposal that merely suggested reducing them instead.”

“The draft “really doesn’t meet the expectations of this COP in terms of the urgently needed transition to clean sources of energy and the phaseout of fossil fuels,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said during a fractious, closed-door meeting late Monday night and early Tuesday, which POLITICO listened to via an unsanctioned feed.

But representatives of other countries, including a bloc that includes China and India, said they would not accept any language proposing either a “phaseout” or “phase-down” of specific energy sources.”

https://www.politico.com/news/2023/12/11/fossil-fuel-phaseout-dropped-cop28-00131066