How New Zealand Parrots Outperform Politicians: The Climate Change Stories We’re Reading

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Kea in its natural habitat, calculating probabilities
Kea in its natural habitat, calculating probabilitiesCredit: Peter Nordbaek Hansen / Shutterstock
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Probability: Zero

So it turns out that the kea – an endangered high-altitude parrot that lives in New Zealand – can calculate probabilities to make decisions that are the most beneficial. This ability was supposedly confined to chimps and humans. But frankly, if we were efficient about it, we would face hard decisions before it’s too late. Apropos of which, as the seas threaten Miamians and local authorities brace for the day that’s already arrived, the Trump administration in Washington is not only clinging to denial – it’s apparently falsifying hard data, to the point of claiming that “increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial.” The probability of that being right, from our perspective, is zero.

Time to stop waffling

Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not beneficial – not to us, at any rate. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels correlate at a lag to mean temperatures, and among the predicted casualties of higher average temperatures, we can expect to add – hold onto your waffle irons – maple syrup manufacturers, CNBC reported on Saturday. And this is why? Maple trees best produce the sap that is processed into syrup when they undergo freezing and thawing cycles. In New York – a key maple syrup-producing state (who knew?) – the winter of 2019-2020 was too warm for that to happen. In fact, throughout the northern hemisphere, maple-tapping season has been significantly shortening, as Forbes reported.

Miami ‘most vulnerable major coastal city’

Apropos Miami – a new report from nonpartisan think tank Resources For the Future looks at Florida not in 100 years but in 20, and calls it “the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world,” as reported in Scientific American. Part of the problem will be storm surges if indeed “100-year floods” start occurring every few years, as climate change scientists warn. As for “most vulnerable,” it isn’t a competition: just ask Indonesia or Bangladesh. That said, Resources For the Future estimates that “Miami has over $400 billion in assets put at risk by coastal flooding and storms – the largest amount of any major coastal city in the world.”

Life’s a beach

Speaking of coasts, half of the world’s sandy beaches could disappear by 2100 under current trends of climate change, sea level rise and the anticipation of increasingly ferocious storms, according to a paper published in Nature Climate Change. Climate change-plagued Australia would be the worst affected with nearly 12,000 kilometers (7,450 miles) at risk, the authors project. For its part, Israel already augments many Mediterranean beaches artificially after discovering that certain coastal constructions have impeded the natural drift of sand. We live and learn.

Warm, warmer, very very hot

We also learn that the incidence of extremely hot days in much of India was 25 percent higher in the years 1976 through 2018, compared with 1951-1975, according to a report in Scientific Reports. The team also noticed a decline in soil humidity, which in turn reduces evaporation that would contribute to cooling. The effect of heat spikes and lower ground moisture is dampened in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where around 40 percent of India’s population lives, because of vast irrigation, fed in part by snow and glacier melt. A separate study calculates that 11 percent of India’s agriculture is watered by this melt, which is endangered by global warming: Even if global warming is held at 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will still lose a third of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya, warns a report in The Conversation. Kea-inspired evaluation of probabilities and choices is in order since, according to the London School of Economics, 129 million farmers in the Indus and Ganges substantially depend on snow and glacier melt for their livelihoods.

Hi! I can help sequester carbonCredit: Michael Dwyer/AP

La plume de ma whale

Finally, to end on a happy note: we are not alone in this fight! Our unsuspected ally is “fecal plumes,” or poo-namis from whales, according to the Good News Network. You can imagine, without needing detail, that an animal the size of two semitrailers in a row produces prodigious amounts of waste. So? So, according to Ralph Chiami at the International Monetary Fund, of all places – and publishing in Finance & Development, of all venues – whales sequester carbon. How? First of all, their fat hoards carbon, and when they die that carbon sinks with their corpses to the seafloor and stays there. But more to the point: Their poo and pee feeds vast clouds of phytoplankton that pull carbon from the air by photosynthesis. Whales good. More whales more good.

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