If you live in the Western United States, we don’t need to tell you about what the last week has been like.
From Montana down to the Mexican border, stretching as east as Nebraska, the recent heat wave is unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time, if not ever.
- Sacramento hit a record of 110F
- Salt Lake hit a record of 107F
- Palm Springs hit a record of 123F
- Billings Montana hit a record of 108F
- Las Vegas was one degree shy of its record at 116F
The big culprit here was a Heat Dome that formed over the Southwest. It was one of the biggest, most expansive, stronger such domes ever recorded. Essentially what happens is a ton of high pressure air spirals up top, and this pushes warm air down and traps it. This is then compounded by a record drought we are in, which means the ground does not have moisture to evaporate and help cool. Here is a link to get a deeper breakdown on the Heat Dome.
Global warming is all too real and this is sadly just a taste of what’s to come.
Let’s Throw in a Record Drought as Well
As if this wasn’t bad enough, we are in a drought that many scientists believe is the worst we’ve been in for nearly 1,200 years!
Yeah, you read that correctly.
The Hoover Dam Reservoir sits at just 37% full, the worst ever seen. California Hydropower is 70% lower than the 10 year rolling average. Droughts cause all sorts of problems. One of them being drying up hydropower energy, which accounts for 52% of our renewable energy in the US and 7% of our total energy altogether.
They are also causing havoc for farmers and ranchers. In California wells are drying up for local communities. And with hotter and drier conditions come wildfires. California is seeing wildfires one month earlier than last year, and last year was a record breaking year by a crazy order of magnitude.
Many climate scientists are saying “I told you so”, but more shockingly, they can’t believe the worst case scenarios of their climate models are coming to fruition much sooner than they had expected.
Throw Me a Bone
Ok we don’t want to be all doom and gloomy. There is something positive to take away from this.
A recent study was done that found hot weather is the most effective for getting people to talk about global warming and acknowledging climate change. So if this study has legs, then at least we are getting a dose of some effective talking points right now.
This goes to show that many people only care about issues when it directly impacts them in a material way, such as extreme discomfort from record high temperatures.
But seriously. Between last years wildfires, the Texas Freeze in February, and now this record heat wave, if anyone in your life is still questioning the crisis of climate change or sense of urgency to do everything we can to combat it, please just let them hang out outside in the sun in the Southwest US right now and ask them how they feel about it.
A LITTLE KNOWN LIZARD SHEDDING LIGHT ON QUESTIONABLE PRACTICES FROM ZOOS
Oh, zoos. A few of you seem to get it, but the majority kill the reputation for the whole bunch.
It seems for every positive report of a major Zoo doing something pro-conservation there are two reports that bring zoo practices back in jeopardy. One of those latter reports was just published last week in Nature Conservation by Vincent Nijman.
He traced back the origins of dozens of earless monitor lizards and found that all but one was linked back to illegal, commercial trade of these extremely protected species being trafficked from the wild.
Earholes & Loopholes
The earless monitor lizard is a relatively unknown species to the common person, but is big time amongst traders. In the last few decades it has become a very sought after exotic pet, due to its manageable size, unique appearance and charismatic personality.
The species is only found in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is originally endemic to the island of Borneo. They are now heavily protected because of dwindling numbers, well, sort of protected.
From 2013 to 2016, over 200 of these critters ended up with collectors and zoos, and today there are a total of 70 in zoos in Europe and the US.
So, how did they get there?
While every single zoo said they got it from a permitted source on grounds of protecting the species and saving an animal otherwise in peril, Nijman dug in and found a lot of loopholes to call that in question.
For one, it seems these lizards pass hands very fast initially. i.e, they go from commercial trade to unaccredited zoo to accredited zoo 1 and then to accredited zoo 2 in a short time span. That way, by the time they get to accredited zoo 2, that facility can rightfully claim they got it from another accredited zoo and there are many steps to trace it back to commercial trade.
Other times, they are trafficked from the wild and then forced to breed, and then the offspring is classified as “bred in captivity”, often in another country such as Japan, which does not have the same restrictions as a previously wild lizard.
Another loophole – the species is referred to by different names in different countries and languages. So quite literally commercial traders simply use the alternate name that is internationally known but not protected in that location. It’s absurd this is a viable loophole but Nijman seems to have found cases where this was used.
Legal vs. Ethical
The larger challenge here seems to be around legal vs. ethical guidelines.
In nearly all of these cases, none of the zoos currently holding earless monitor lizards acquired it illegally due to some of the loopholes explained above. So for them, they did nothing wrong, broke no laws, and abided by the rules set out in moving this species.
In a critique of Nijman’s study, one zoo official in Europe said: “He makes a broad statement that says zoos have a higher obligation than compliance with the law,” [But legal compliance] “is the way we combat trafficking,” and Nijman “is not showing that anyone has not complied with the law.”
However, critics say that zoos should dig deeper. They should take it on themselves to look into the supply chain of a highly endangered species before taking it in and putting that work in. That this is the ethical thing to do.
And some zoo officials agree with this position. “Zoos and aquariums, as part of their due diligence, have a responsibility to avoid supporting illegal export of animals,” says Danny de Man, the deputy executive director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the accrediting body for European zoos. “I welcome this paper, because I think this publication will help us look at our policies and procedures and, if need be, fine-tune them.”
Our stance: zoos absolutely are capable of doing a lot of good. They can serve as a valuable bridge for a species near collapse if they plan from the start to successfully reintroduce that species back into the wild. A great example of this the California Condor, which was saved by captive breeding in the 1980s.
However to restrict their live species to these specific cases, zoos would be much smaller and have far fewer live attractions. If they replaced this with a new wave of virtual and augmented experiences that still offer that immersive, wild experience and limit live specimens to those truly in need and are very restrictive on their access to the public so they are putting conservation first and entertainment second, there is a way to modernize zoos that allow them to succeed financially and serve conservation ethically.
The problem – as long as there are many zoos not willing to go that route and drawing consumers in with the most exotic of species such as the earless monitor lizard, the ones trying to do it correctly will struggle to compete. So we need a larger industry wide change and we likely need regulations to assist in getting us there.
UNRAVELING MISINFORMATION BETWEEN ENERGY PRICES AND PROGRESSIVE ENERGY POLICY
You’re likely aware that in the last 4-8 weeks, gasoline prices have soared as have the home energy bills for many Americans.
There are plenty of factors here that we plan on outlining for you, however, none of them are related to any link to Biden’s clean energy and climate policy despite a ton of misinformation out there and inflammatory social media posts. These price hikes have as much to do with Biden’s Energy and Policy as Jewish Space Lasers have to do with US Wildfires.
In fact, moving faster into renewable energy with battery holdings would likely mitigate such scenarios from happening in the future. So let’s briefly dig in.
Low Down on Prices
Let’s first recognize that prices are up.
Gasoline per gallon is sitting today at $3.07 vs. $2.17 for the annual average of 2020.
Natural-Gas Futures are at $3.21 per million thermal units, which is a 96% increase from a year ago and the highest price heading into the summer since 2017 (prices always much higher in winter).
On gasoline prices, they have long been rising long term and fluctuating short term, as evidenced by this annual chart dating back to 1990.
The main cause of this is the pandemic. During the pandemic, natural-gas and oil demand plummeted. As people went into quarantine, cars came off the road, air travel disappeared, big energy office buildings went unused….energy demand went down in a big way.
As a result, natural gas and oil suppliers cut off their supply. At one point, oil futures went below $0 as you will see here:
Many experts urged these fossil fuel companies to keep supply coming to prep for the rebound, but they had short-term shareholder demands to focus more on profitability than long term supply.
Now with the pandemic winding down, people are traveling at record rates and we just had one of the harshest heat waves EVER that shoots up energy use for cooling. Energy providers are scrambling to catch up and ramp up supply, and as a result, prices are up!
Keystone XL & How Renewables Can Help
Those in the anti-renewable energy and climate denial camp, which we like here at Animalia to call its own idiodic movement rather than painting it as “right-wing” since it’s time we acknowledge there are plenty of conservative folks who recognize and want to fight the climate crisis, just with different tools perhaps than those on the left, are using for example Biden’s shutdown of the Keystone XL Pipeline in January as an example of what is causing this price hike.
That’s about as accurate as stating Jewish Space Lasers caused many US Wildfires last year. The Keystone Pipeline was far from operational, and so it has absolutely zero impact on short term supplies. It would however impact long term supply.
So how about them renewables? And how might they mitigate challenges of such steep changes in supply and demand like we’ve seen with the pandemic?
For one, they don’t have as high of a variable cost of operation and extraction as fossil fuels. Wind, solar, and hydro are much more automated once they are set up, meaning they don’t need to be “turned on and off” in the way fossil fuel does. (Of course per our earlier story, things like record breaking droughts can impede hyrdo)
The key of course is the declining costs and increasing efficiency of batteries. The Achilles Heal of renewables is the lack of control, and the “off-hours’ when the sun is not out or the wind is not blowing. They can produce more than we need in peak hours and far less than we need in off-hours. Battery storage solves for this.
We also hope that we continue to see a mix of private and public investment in renewables, vs. the primarily private only nature of fossil fuels, so that we can balance needs for things like profits and long-term supply / safe keeping.
Finally, we’ve said it many times before here and we’ll say it again, nuclear has to be part of the solution. Renewables + Nuclear can get us off of fossil fuels, but renewables can’t do it alone.
NEW STUDY SHOWS LINK BETWEEN LAND MANAGEMENT & MARINE ECOSYSTEMS
We are learning more and more every year about how what we do on land impacts life in the ocean.
We know how this works when it comes to plastics and pollution and global warming causing the ice caps to melt leading to rising coastlines and ocean temperatures.
What might not be so obvious is how something like livestock can greatly impact and even wipe out entire marine ecosystems.
That link was recently unearthed by paleontologist Susan Kidwell from the University of Chicago
A Lost Marine Ecosystem in Southern California
Kidwell and her team were shocked when they found artifacts from an ocean ecosystem off the coast of Los Angeles that once flourished with scallops, barnacles, and brachiopods (ancient creatures also called lamp shells) disappeared at a surprising time.
These species thrived on the rocky floor off the coast, and she expected they had been extinguished over hundreds of years of fluctuating sea levels.
What she found however was that they were alive and thriving as recently as 150 years ago, and then completely disappeared before the urbanization of LA in the late 1800s and early 1900s would have contributed to their demise.
The culprit? Livestock. The only major change to Southern California’s ecosystem between 1750 and the late 1800s was the arrival of livestock.
Livestock as we know now today, greatly impact soil via their grazing, causing soil to compact. In a semi-arid climate like So Cal, when the heavy rains do come this compacted soil runs off into the ocean as sediment at a much higher rate.
This in turn essentially buried this ecosystem in mud, killing off these species that relied on the rocky coastal floor.
What This Link Means
We are not sharing it to shame cows or cattle or even livestock owners, although we would like to see that industry shrunk a great deal for a number of other reasons namely their enormous greenhouse gas emissions.
Rather, it’s critical that we understand all the ways our land management, land use, and activity impacts something as critical as the ocean and marine life.
It’s a bit cliche to say “these are all so interconnected”, but they really are. We should account for these impacts when making decisions such as land concessions for ranching, and one day, hopefully those industries have to account for the true costs of doing their business, which should include short and long term impacts to coastal ecosystems.
“You have to connect the hinterland of a coastal system with the marine ecosystem,” he says. Similarly, Kidwell believes these two cases illustrate how far the human imprint on a landscape can spread. “This demonstrates the ability of land use to impact not only local lakes and lagoons but the open continental shelf,” she says.
Let’s keep the information flowing and keep asking questions.
Some Dope Upcycled Jackets and Totes
Here is a company making some upcycled jackets and totes called Arc’Teryx
Now, they still sell original source products with synthetic, petroleum derived fabrics. But at least they are putting real effort into upcycling, and hopefully as soon as non-petroleum derived fibers are ready at scale from folks like Kintra, they will make the switch over.
Most of all, they aren’t actively engaged in greenwashing like North Face.
Drone Army Vs. Ocean Plastic Pollution
Our world’s dirtiest confession is no secret: We have a massive plastic problem. Our oceans are no exception to this problem, and some may even argue that the problem is worse there than on our lands, given the high volume and direct impact plastic pollution has on marine life and its ecosystems. Many animals such as seabirds, turtles, fish, whales, rays and others often find themselves tangled in ocean plastic waste, which can often be fatal if left untangled. Some animals, like turtles, will even mistake certain plastics for food, ingest it and suffer severe health issues resultantly. And those are just the BIG plastics. Our oceans also contain microplastics, or tiny little pieces of fragmented plastic less than 5mm in length. They enter natural ecosystems from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes, and make their way up the food chain (yes, eventually ending up in human bodies). It’s estimated that there are 14 million tons of microplastic on the ocean floor alone.
The Mighty Impact of Microplastics
And unfortunately none of that data even begins to scratch the surface. As many as 91 million metric tons of litter entered the oceans between 1990 and 2015, as much as 87% of which was plastic, according to research. An estimated 5.25 trillion particles of litter are currently floating in the oceans today. Recent funding and focus has been primarily allocated towards banning single use plastics, however many conservationists point out that there has already been a lot of damage done that needs addressing, too.
So, what is being done to solve this plastic problem? The answer is similar to that of many other world issues…. robots, of course! While around 80% of ocean plastic pollution projects are focused on monitoring only, the remaining 20% are aimed at the actual clean up. Still, the number of methods has increased exponentially recently, with 73% of all methods having been developed in the past four years alone. So you can say there has been a huge tech boom in the ocean clean-up sphere, which is great, although we do have to note that the plastic problem was reasonably understood by the late 1980’s, and we are just now seeing action (better late than never?).
Ok, so now for the whole robot/drone part. With new funding and much needed focus on the plastic pollution problem, the robot army is resultantly rising. Various robots have been developed recently, all with the purpose of clearing plastic from our oceans. Note: this mainly tackles the large plastics, and not microplastics.
Among these inventions is the sea garbage bin, which is a giant plastic-collecting barrier, and a marine drone that floats and collects garbage through a wide opening that mimics the mouth of a whale shark.
Another litter clearer is the BeachBot, a garbage collecting rover (designed after the Mars rover), that collects small trash like cigarette butts, single use utensils or plastic caps from beaches.
While these robots sound great (and kind of adorable?), many can’t help but wonder how much of a dent these will truly make in the insane mass of plastic in our oceans. Plastic production and waste accumulates faster than the inventions to reduce it. By some calculations, it would take about a century to remove 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using only clean-up devices.
We have a feeling this is just the beginning of robot solutions like this being implemented to assist with environmental issues. And while we look forward to seeing further developments, we also simultaneously continue to stress that the world also needs some serious behavior changes from a preventative standpoint if we ever want a chance of actually tackling the plastic.