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Senate Approves $19.1 Billion in Disaster Funding After Years of Climate-Fueled Disasters

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Senate Approves $19.1 Billion in Disaster Funding After Years of Climate-Fueled Disasters
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

Update, May 31: Another Republican Congressman has foiled a third attempt by House Democrats to pass a $19.1 billion disaster package Thursday, Reuters reported. The Senate finally passed the long-delayed bill last week before lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess. The House has tried and failed three times since then to pass the bill by unanimous consent before Congress people return in early June, at which point it is expected to pass easily. The House did manage to pass a temporary extension of the national flood insurance program, which was set to expire Friday.

The Congressman who blocked Thursday's passage was freshman Tennessee Representative John Rose, who objected to approving such a large expenditure without a full vote, The Washington Post reported. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the objections of Rose and two other Republicans for holding up aid long-awaited by the survivors of various climate-change related disasters that have beset the U.S. in recent years.


"We were sent to Congress to solve problems, not to make them worse," New York Democratic Representative and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said, as The Washington Post reported. "Yet House Republicans have again delayed desperately needed relief for American families and communities — even as tornadoes and storms continue to hit the Midwest. It is beyond comprehension that anyone would think 15 minutes of fame is worth making disaster victims, like those in flood-battered Tennessee, wait even longer for the help they need."

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.


The bill passed the Senate 85 to 8 Thursday, just after a tornado warning sounded in the Capitol building, The New York Times reported. It also included $900 million to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, something Trump had initially objected to.

"It's a good deal," Republican Alabama Senator and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard C. Shelby told reporters, as The New York Times reported. "This disaster issue has played on for months and months."

House leaders say they will try to pass the bill Friday using unanimous consent. Though if anyone objects, they will have to wait until representatives return from the Memorial Day recess in early June.

The bill is intended to meet the needs of Americans who have suffered the impacts of extreme weather events largely influenced by climate change. Global warming made some of the precipitation-heavy storms responsible for record Midwest flooding more likely, sparked the hot, dry conditions behind California's deadly 2018 wildfires, and played a role in the intensity and rainfall of Hurricanes Michael and Maria respectively.

Congress has not passed a disaster relief bill since February 2018, before Hurricanes Michael and Florence, California's 2018 wildfires and record Midwest flooding this year. Such bills usually pass quickly with bipartisan support, but this time there were difficulties, as Trump initially opposed more funding for Puerto Rico and then requested money for the influx of asylum seekers at the U.S.'s southern border.

"Each time the president messes in, things get messed up," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, as Reuters reported. "So I suggested this morning that we just do disaster aid and no border, and that's what we're doing ... We got all we wanted for Puerto Rico."

While negotiations continued, some food aid to Puerto Rico had expired in March, The New York Times said. The new bill includes more nutrition assistance for the island, Reuters reported.

CNN gave a run-down of the bill's contents:

A summary of the bill written by the office of Sen. Pat Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations committee, said the deal included more than $3 billion to "repair damaged infrastructure" and to "reduce the risk" of floods and hurricanes in the future, about $3 billion to "rebuild our military bases and coast guard facilities," $3 billion to support farmers, $2.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants to "rebuild and mitigate future disaster," $605 million for food benefits to Puerto Rico and an additional $304 million in aid to Puerto Rico.

The Senate said it would tackle funding for the humanitarian situation at the border after the recess.

"Some of this money is badly needed, and there's no dispute about that," Leahy said, according to Reuters.

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

A large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of southeast Mauritius on Aug. 6, 2020. AFP via Getty Images

The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

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