Tag Archives: global warming

Yes, This Is a Particularly Horrendous Year for Seasonal Allergies

This allergy season is dreadful, isn’t it? I have sneezed myself silly in the last couple of weeks and, anecdotally at least, here in New York half the people I know are clawing out their eyes and drowning themselves with neti pots. But is it worse than usual this year, or am I just a big baby? I spoke to Sujan Patel,…

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President Trump Deletes Every Old Press Release, But The Internet Never Forgets

Yesterday, journalists discovered that the Trump regime had deleted the president’s infamous press release from 2015 that called for a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States. But it wasn’t just the Muslim ban. Every single press release from before January 1, 2017 has been erased from donaldjtrump.com.…

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This Girl Sued Pennsylvania’s Government for Her Environmental Rights

This story appears in the May issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Before March 28 of this year, something exciting and potentially world-changing (in a good way) was playing out in Pennsylvania. Seven young plaintiffs, including 17-year-old Rekha Dhillon-Richardson, were suing their state, arguing that the government had failed to protect their constitutional rights by refusing to adequately and immediately combat climate change. Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees "the right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment." This groundbreaking case, which requested strict reduction and regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions in order to ensure a habitable planet for young people and future generations, made its way through the legal system until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court's ruling in the state's favor.

Even though they lost, Dhillon-Richardson and her allies made important ethical and legal arguments on the public stage. As many of us adjust to a presidential administration that denies the reality of climate change and scoffs at basic science, I talked to Dhillon-Richardson about what we can learn from this case and its creative pursuit of state-based avenues for progressive action.

VICE: Why did you get involved in this case?
Rekha Dhillon-Richardson: Because I believe that it is absolutely crucial that youth are central players in developing local and national strategies to fight environmental degradation. The fundamental human rights and futures of children and youth are disproportionately threatened by climate destabilization, even though we have had little to do with the production of the problem.

What have you learned being part of this process?
It's taught me how to be a more effective advocate for the things that I believe in and to use whatever avenues necessary to seek change and bring about justice. I have also learned that the court process is extremely slow; it is hard to make quick and significant changes through the courts. Those of us deeply concerned about issues of environmental injustice would be wise to explore multiple strategies to challenge the government.

Pennsylvania's environmental constitutional rights are pretty impressive. What do you think about the fact that we have rights on the books that aren't implemented?
Although Pennsylvania has extensive environmental constitutional protections, it is shameful and shortsighted that they are not being put into practice. I am encouraged by our government's consideration of the right to clean air, water, and natural resources—these are rights that everyone should have. However, it is very disappointing that Pennsylvania is failing to do the work to actually ensure that these rights are upheld. This case made me realize that just because a law is created in theory does not mean that it is applied in reality.

Has the new administration changed how you think about the case and what needs to be done to protect the environment?
The people Trump has chosen for his Cabinet are dangerous and are now in a position of authority. With this new administration that threatens the environmental movement, it is imperative that we continue to take immediate and significant action—protests, public education, youth organizing, and challenges in the court are all part of this resistance.

Are there things young people see about the future that older people don't?
My generation is ready and willing to fight for our human rights and for the rights of our earth. There are amazing kids all around the world who are standing up to environmental degradation and who live with the consequences of the decisions around extractive industries that are made in places like the United States. The natural world that my generation and the future generations will inherit is going to be very different than the one that older people have enjoyed. I think young people have the ability to imagine a better world—to have a vision for the longer term.

Do you think previous generations have let people your age down?
I do think we have been let down. Children across the globe have trusted the adults to make the right decisions—to lead us forward into a cleaner and more just future for everyone. We have been harmed by decisions that were made without our authorization.

What are your plans for the future? Has being part of this case shaped what you want to do later on?
I plan to become an environmental scientist—I start college this fall—and continue my advocacy work for climate justice, with a focus on areas in the world that are disproportionately impacted. Being part of this case has confirmed that young people are needed more than ever. Consequently, I also plan to continue to create platforms for young people to become leaders alongside me.

Weed Might Be the Only Thing Climate Change Won’t Ruin

In my research for this column, I've learned that climate change is going to flood New York City, ruin sushi and coffee, worsen immigration-related problems, and increase the size and quantity of some bugs. But here's some good news for a change: no matter how bad the climate situation gets by 2050, weed is probably going to be just fine.

Yes, there are signs of some trouble ahead for farmers—particularly in Latin America. And yes, there are probably going to be policy fights between farmers and local governments. But climate doesn't look like it will make weed worse or less available. In fact, there are signs that by 2050, the market will actually be flooded with cheap weed thanks to climate change.

Let's set aside legality. Sure, enforcement could potentially surge under a weed-unfriendly presidential administration. But as the The New York Times recently put it, activists now take a kind of manifest destiny approach to legalization. "I'm assuming there'll be full legalization by 2050, otherwise I'm not doing my job right," said Sanho Tree, drug policy researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning DC think tank.

The weather itself won't kill pot plants, since the plant grows pretty much everywhere in the world, so increased average temperatures by 2050, such as the predicted five degree spike in the pot-growing stronghold of California, are scary for pretty much everything except weed farming. "They grow it at 62 degrees north latitude in Finland. They grow it right on the Equator, where I was the other day," said Donald Wirtshafter, legendary cannabis activist, lawyer, and historian. But Wirtshafter told me increased severe weather events may present a bit of a problem for weed farmers. "Wet plants produce moldy plants, especially late in the season," he said. 

Wirtshafter, who spends much of his time on Colombian cannabis plantations, told me the Colombian farmers he knows just dry their buds with mold still on them, producing a horrible, brown product. A recent rash of unusual storms in Colombia may or may not be connected to climate change, but if it is a trend, it doesn't bode well for the quality of Colombian weed, unless farmers take steps to improve conditions. "They're getting amazing quality crops just by putting a plastic cover up," Wirtshafter told me.

Meanwhile, if California sees some sort of drastic increase in precipitation by 2050—and it's possible—farmers would likely have the option to pull up stakes and move. "As more states open up, more reliably dry places like Arizona are going to reach dominance," Wirtshafter predicted.

But perhaps more importantly than any of this is the fact that more sensitive crops like corn and wheat can shrivel up—literally wilt—when temperatures increase. "As these problems become more extreme, we may become more dependent on cannabis because of its adaptability to these harsh conditions," said Wirtshafter.

According to Van Butsic, a UC Berkeley researcher studying agricultural land use in northern California, this is already happening. Farmers he's acquainted with are growing quote-unquote "organic vegetables," alongside their organic vegetables. Once it's legal, Butsic told me, "cannabis can join the mix with other crops," and diversifying your farm's output is just good business. Even if your first love is, say, wine, it might be a good idea to keep some weed plants around. That way you can "withstand fluctuations in markets, or bad years," Butsic told me. By implication, weed might also keep your farm in business if the apocalyptic heat from climate change melts your vegetables.

The weed booms in Colorado and Oregon are well underway. But in an agriculture-heavy area like California, where recreational weed retail won't become legal until January of 2018, it seemed plausible that the invasion of a new, high-value crop like pot might harm food production. Even if some of the pot industry's energy problems will likely be solved when the crop can be grown out in the open, one plant still uses 23 liters of water per day, as opposed to the 13 liters per day a grape vine uses. So yes, it's a thirsty crop. 

According to Butsic, pot may have its environmental issues, but an increase in farming by 2050 isn't likely to rob the region of its resources.

Butsic, who researches ways to count acres of cannabis farms in California, said "there's a maximum of 20,000 acres of [outdoor and greenhouse] weed production right now in California," and meanwhile, there's "about one million acres" of land dedicated to almond orchards. "So even if weed quadrupled and took over some almonds, that would be a tiny percentage of almonds—I just don't think the land use area for weed cultivation will ever be big enough to compete," he said. 

In short, climate could harm food crops, but if that farmland starts getting used for ganja by 2050, don't blame the plant itself.

Besides, the proliferation of pot farming has upsides for everyone. According to David Wrathall, Oregon State University assistant professor of geography and environmental sciences, "One of the main environmental benefits is depriving the Mexican cartels of profits." The cartels, he pointed out, lay waste to huge swaths of forest, just to launder their money, and they also just generally suck. So any negative impact, Wrathall told me, "would be offset by fewer negative environmental consequences [from] illicit production."

My last worry was an oversaturated market. In other words, what if climate change causes the problem we all secretly want: too much cheap weed. That would be great for consumers, but—to be fair—bad for producers.

But Wirtshafter told me not to worry about that either. "Eventually, there'll be a flooded market for pot. But that just means we'll use cannabis for other things, like industrial hemp, which is making a huge resurgence in the United States," he said. We all got a big reminder about this the other day when the State of Kentucky had to burn a farmer's hemp due to it having too much THC in it. 

And if climate change causes a famine, according to Wirtshafter, all those bountiful pot harvests could be our salvation. "Hemp was known as a crop for times of drought and famine. People ate a lot of hemp seeds in prior famines," he said, adding, "We may be back to that fairly quickly."

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

Climate Change Is Making Life Even Harder for This Remote Village

Back in November, environmentalist Twitter had a giant collective freakout when a graph showing the amount of sea ice in the Arctic went viral (or at least as viral as a graph about global warming can go). It showed that while sea ice levels were once trending downward, they went off a cliff last winter. The graph has since been updated, and the results are even more horrifying. 

But numbers and colored lines fail to convey a really crucial part of the story: Higher temperatures from climate change are here, are so are their impacts on human civilization. In short, when the ice around the North Pole didn't materialize over the winter, people's lives were torn apart.

All photos by Ken Bower

This past March, photographer Ken Bower was in eastern Greenland visiting his friend, an Inuit hunter named Kunuk, giving Bower the rare chance to witness and document the damage climate change has already done to the way of life in this area of East Greenland, about 68 miles south of the Arctic Circle. 

VICE: Tell me a little about your friend in Greenland.
Ken Bower: Kunuk is native Inuit, and he's 25, in the village of Kulusuk, which has about 250 to 260 people. He and his father have about 20 dogs, and he has to go hunting to feed all of his dogs. It's too expensive to feed 20 dogs solely on dog food. 20 dogs that weight 80 to 90 pounds eat quite a bit. Also they rely on hunting to feed the family as well. Hunting provides about half of their food, and then there's a little store where they can subsidize their daily food.

Hunting seals has had some very bad PR in the past. Can you tell me a little about their hunting practices?
The Inuit subsistence hunting in Greenland is extremely different from commercial seal hunting. The Inuit have relied on seal hunting for thousands of years for food and clothing. They don't take what they want, but rather what they need to get by and nothing more. Today, in the world of overpriced imported goods and food insecurity, the traditional hunts still continue.

What goes on during traditional hunts?
What Kunuk told me about hunting is that everything gets used. They're basically against clubbing. They don't hunt baby seals, because they think it's a waste of resources. That seal would grow up to be a larger seal, and potentially breed and create more seals, so they only hunt the adult seals. They use primarily rifles now because it's a quicker kill. Once they get the seals, they use everything. They use all the meat, and feed the liver, and other parts they can't eat, to the dogs. Sometimes the very large seals, which don't taste so good, they'll use solely for the dogs.

Why keep so many dogs around?
The village has no vehicles, so really the only form of transportation is dogsled. That's the primary means. A few people have snowmobiles, but they're pretty expensive. Most people can't afford it.

How has Kunuk's lifestyle been hit by climate change?
Normally all of these areas are completely locked in with ice, three to five feet thick, but when we go out on a dogsled, it would be a relatively short trip—20 minutes to a half-hour—and then we would hit the edge of the ice. The open water prevented them from going to their other hunting spots, and limited their hunting to one area when I was there. They'd go there and wait for seals to pop their heads up. After they would shoot it, they'd go out in a kayak or small boat to retrieve it.

Wait, do people in this village normally go around carrying a boat with a dogsled?
It was incredibly unusual to use such a large boat and to have it dragged by the dogs. Actually when Kunuk was hooking the dogs up to the front of the boat, he said that he didn't know how they would react, because he never did this before, but the reason he decided to bring that boat was that he just couldn't make it out to the other areas. By boat, with the engine, he'd be able to get to other hunting spots.

In the photos, it looks like the boat is cutting through the ice like Shackleton or something. Was that a challenge?
It was a small 19-20 foot boat with a 75-horsepower engine. He would just drive it right through the ice, which is about a half-inch to about an inch and a half thick, which is still far too thin to walk on.

How's the village coping?
The direct impacts are on his dogs—and other peoples' in the village. Because it was so difficult this winter, and in previous winters, [other people in the village have] gotten rid of their dogs completely, and abandoned this tradition of using the dogs to go hunting for good. And my friend Kunuk told me that at the end of this winter, it's been so difficult for his dogs that he might have to get rid of probably seven or eight of them.

What else happens when they can't sled across the ice?
It prevents them from going to the other five villages in the area. Kunuk's uncle is in one of the other villages. And they can't see him until the summer, when they can reach him fully by boat. They're essentially separated throughout the winter. 

Other than getting to other villages and hunting, is there any other use for a dogsled?Kunuk's father was going to go on a one-week expedition with tourists, but they had to cancel because they couldn't bring them by dogsled to where they needed to go. They were limited to such a small area, you could see it in an afternoon. That's had a huge impact—preventing tourists from going there for dogsledding. Dogsledding has been such a tradition in this village and the others in Greenland that it's really sad to see this fade away.

What happens to the dogs now?
He'll try his best to give them away, but since everybody's trying to get rid of their dogs, because they can't feed them, they'll either starve or he'll unfortunately have to put them down himself.

Check out more of Ken Bower's photos and videos on Instagram.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

What Caused an Entire Yukon River to Vanish Almost Overnight?

Last summer, a team of geologists set out on an expedition to study Slims River in the Yukon, but when they got there, the once majestic river was nowhere to be seen. The scientists attribute the missing river to a retreating glacier, which caused a dramatic shift in the direction of water flow. It’s yet another…

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Two Thirds of the Great Barrier Reef Is Now Officially Bleached

For the second time in 12 months, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced a severe coral bleaching event. A recent investigation shows that two-thirds of the reef is now a sickly white hue, and it’s not immediately clear if the iconic ecosystem will ever bounce back to its former glory.

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Hundreds of Icebergs Are Disrupting Shipping Lanes In the Atlantic

The U.S. agency in charge of monitoring icebergs has warned shipping companies that an unusual amount of icebergs for this time of year are drifting into North Atlantic shipping lanes, disrupting a complex international system that affects numerous facets of life. Experts aren’t certain that climate change is to blame…

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I Travelled to the Arctic to Plunge a Probe Into the Melting Permafrost

At Chandalar Shelf in Alaska, a site about 200 kilometres (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, I kneeled on the damp, muddy ground, and plunged in a small serrated shovel. It easily penetrated the loamy top layer before I heard it thunk and scrape against the cold, frozen ground beneath—permafrost.

This permanently frozen ground, together with the layers of soil above it, stores vast amounts of carbon from organic material that's accumulated over millennia. Organic material decomposes slowly in the Arctic's cold, wet conditions. If it thaws, microbes in the soil break it down, emitting methane and carbon dioxide, and quickly releasing carbon that was stashed there over thousands of years.

"The permafrost is definitely getting warmer," said Alexander Kholodov from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as he looked at the temperature readout from a probe buried in the ground. He was one of the lead researchers who I accompanied on this expedition.

While Kholodov recorded properties of the soil, I took soil samples and measured the depth of the permafrost. Nearby, Mike Loranty from Colgate University sat hunched over a small plot of earth. He was clipping off shrubs and grasses, sorting them into paper bags to identify what kinds of vegetation were growing and to estimate their relative abundance. We were compiling an inventory of all the components in the ecosystem to understand how the plants and the soil affect the thermal properties of the underlying permafrost.

Thawing permafrost is already wreaking havoc with Alaskan roads and buildings, but the potential for massive amounts of carbon to be released and contribute to a warming climate is a global concern.

Researchers lay out a vegetation plot in the spruce forests around Fairbanks, Alaska. Image: Sarah Hewitt

The Alaskan landscape isn't uniform, so the way it's thawing isn't either. Since vegetation influences the temperature and rate of thaw, Loranty, Kholodov, and the rest of their team are trying to sort out how the variety of trees, shrubs, grasses, lichens, and mosses impact permafrost temperature in ecosystems across Alaska. It's part of a five-year project that spans from Alaska to Siberia and the data will help to predict how climate change will differentially influence the Arctic.

I always wondered how scientists study permafrost in an area as large and diverse as the north, so I joined this team of researchers for three weeks. We travelled over 800 kilometres (roughly 500 miles) from Fairbanks, up the Dalton Highway through mountain passes, to the open tundra at the end of the road at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

Read the full article on Motherboard.