'Extinct' San Quintín Kangaroo Rat Still Exists
By Carly Nairn
At dusk, San Diego Natural History Museum mammalogist Scott Tremor set up a few live traps in some abandoned agricultural fields in Baja California, Mexico. With Sula Vanderplank, a botanist and research associate at the museum, and several graduate students in tow, he was there to conduct a broad survey of the flora and fauna in the area. He was also quietly hoping to catch a rarity: the San Quintín kangaroo rat, a small mammal that hadn't been seen alive in over 30 years, considered extinct. "I've always wanted to look for this animal that people told me was extinct," Tremor said. "I never believe that when people say it."
Before dawn the next morning, Tremor checked on the traps and found pay dirt: a San Quintín kangaroo rat munching away on some dried oatmeal. "Without a doubt, it was very large. It was shocking."
The San Quintín kangaroo rat was last seen in 1986 and was listed as endangered by the Mexican government in 1994. It is currently on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List for critically endangered species.
The animal is larger than its kangaroo rat cousins, with large eyes and a tail longer than the length of its body plus a tuft of hair on the end. It is slightly feistier as well. Kangaroo rats are generally seen as gentle and calm creatures, but the ones Tremor and Vanderplank found are able to kick their way out of their hands. "They are very different in the rodent world than what many people would consider a rat," Tremor said.
The species was once seen as an example of modern extinction due to agricultural conversion, according to a news release by the museum on the initial finding. In the past few decades, San Quintín, 118 miles south of Ensenada, has become a major agricultural hub, converting huge areas of native habitat into fields and hot houses for tomatoes and strawberries.
Tremor's Fourth of July find was the first of several individual rats spotted in the area, and the prospects of a growing population are looking up—partly due to the conservation efforts of Terra Peninsular, a nonprofit land trust that owns and manages the Valle Tranquilo Nature Reserve and the Monte Ceniza Natural Reserve in San Quintín Bay, where the first sightings took place. They are deserted spaces, which were heavily impacted by agriculture and subsequently abandoned after salt water leaked into the field irrigation systems. "It's a strange juxtaposition," Vanderplank said. "This rare species is reclaiming historical territory in what is seen as wasteland."
The agricultural fields were abandoned between 20 and 30 years ago, Tremor said, and it takes about 10 years of a field to lay fallow before a species like the San Quintín kangaroo rat will return. The rats thrive in the current conditions. "It looked like a moonscape," Tremor said. "There was not one bit of vegetation left."
The San Quintín kangaroo rat doesn't need it, unlike other small mammals that use shrubbery to hide. The rats need open space, where they create an intricate burrowing system underground and maintain "runways," patches of flattened dirt near the entrances that the rats rarely venture off from.
Tremor, Vanderplank, and Dr. Eric Mellink, a senior researcher at the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada, who is also involved in the conservation of the San Quintín kangaroo rat, are confident that rat numbers are on the rise. They remain concerned, however, about the future of the rat's habitat that isn't under Terra Peninsular's protection. Vanderplank said that rats are now being spotted north of their historical range.
The pending construction of desalination plants will bring crops back to fields that have lay fallow for over a decade; that may be great for the regional Mexican economy, but it would splinter conservation and monitoring efforts.
Tremor is looking toward sustainable populations in other ways. "The goal is to find and conserve more land in the area that is connected, so we don't have a genetic bottleneck," he said. "We are still in the infancy with this animal. There is a lot we have to learn."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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