I Know Why the Caged Songbird Goes Extinct
By John R. Platt
The straw-headed bulbul doesn't look like much.
It's less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.
But this Southeast Asian native stands out in one notable way: It sings like an angel.
"It's arguably the most beautiful song of any bird," says Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor Conservation Research Society and an expert on Asian songbirds. "It's amazing," he adds.
The bird's beautiful voice serves a vital ecological purpose: Males use it to attract mates. The better the song, the greater the chance of finding a female and propagating the species.
But the song has also come with a terrible modern cost. Humans have come to value the bulbul's calls so much that they've collected the birds from almost every inch of their habitat. Captured birds, quickly caged, have been shipped to markets throughout Southeast Asia. Due to this overwhelming commercial demand, the species has disappeared from most of its range and is now critically endangered. Only a few pocket populations continue to hang on.
And the straw-headed bulbul is far from alone in this decline. Practically every songbird species in Southeast Asia faces a similar predicament. Many birds face the very real risk of imminent extinction, leaving some forests in the region eerily silent.
Recent research finds that several songbirds have become perilously close to vanishing — if they haven't been lost already.
One Indonesian bird, the Simeulue hill myna, has only just been described as genetically and morphologically unique from other lookalike species. It probably went extinct in the wild in the past two or three years, according to a paper published last spring in the journal Ibis. As the researchers wrote, "On multiple recent excursions to Simeulue, most recently in July 2018, we were unable to find the bird and learned from locals that there had been a great drive to catch the last survivors on the island in response to a wealthy person's bounty on these birds."
The paper calls this an "extinction-in-process" and warns that any remaining birds left in captivity may die without producing offspring. Even if they do manage to breed, the researchers fear they could be hybridized with other similar-in-appearance mynas, obscuring their genetic lineage.
That same phrase, extinction-in-process, has also been used to describe the Barusan shama, which according to a 2019 study published in the journal Forktail has become one of the most threatened of Asian songbirds due to rampant collection. It's now gone from all but one island.
Like the Simeulue hill myna, the Barushan shama's plight went virtually unnoticed for years because many taxonomists have classified it as a subspecies rather than a full species. Newer research finds that it's a species with four subspecies, few of which may now survive.
Not that the species/subspecies disputes matter too much at this point.
"Taxonomic debates about the rank of these forms should not stand in the way of trying to ensure the survival of what is clearly an evolutionarily distinct lineage," says Frank Rheindt, a biologist with National University of Singapore and senior or lead author on both of the papers.
So what happens to these birds once they're taken from the wild?
That's where the story gets even bleaker.
Songbirds are an important element of culture and tradition for many peoples in Southeast Asia. In Java, for example, it's almost assumed that every household will have at least one pet songbird. The more birds, the more prestigious the home.
But wild songbirds in captivity…well, they don't tend to last long.
"We've often called the caged songbird trade like cut flowers," says Shepherd. "The birds look nice. They're often inexpensive. You bring one home. It sits in a cage for a couple of days and it dies just like a cut flower. They're not expected to live."
And because many Asian cities feature massive markets full of birds that have been easily snatched from the wild — usually illegally — any bird that dies is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.
Cages line the Malang bird and animal market on Java in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
Even bird traders don't put much value on their stock, since a new supply of wild-caught birds always seems to be waiting in the wings.
"I've seen some cages where the surviving birds are all sitting on top of dead birds in the cages," Shepherd says. "You can't see the floor of the cage. It's covered with a few layers of dead birds, and then there's some sick and half-dead birds perched on top of them. And they cost the dealers next to nothing. So, you know, even if they sell a few, they think they must be covering their costs or you wouldn't have a business model like that."
Although all of this seems to favor low-cost disposability, some species are captive bred by the thousands, and prices can soar for the right birds.
As with so many other groups of heavily traded species, the rarest birds fetch higher prices from collectors — a "better get them before they're gone" collector's mentality that pushes prices higher, drives further poaching and drives birds even closer to extinction.
The Simeulue hill myna, for instance, might have sold for about $100-$150, "certainly if a foreigner or non-Simeulue person asks," says Rheindt. "This is easily 2-4 monthly incomes for rural people on the island."
The Caged Bird Sings
Along with its rarity, a bird's appearance is clearly a valuable trait to collectors. Some of the birds are strikingly beautiful, like birds of paradise and the Javan white-eye.
A kingfisher, looking a little worse for wear, in the Malang bird and animal market in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
But the quality that typically drives up a bird's market price?
That, of course, would be the song.
A good song can earn a bird owner a big payday. Entire competitions have sprung up that offer cash prizes for the birds with the best songs — up to $50,000, according to some reports. On Java these events are known as Kicau-mania ("kicau" is Indonesian for "chirping").
The bird doesn't get much for his work. Perhaps some food and a chance to sing again.
But it can take a lot of human effort to inspire them to sing for their suppers.
"People will keep the male birds in captivity for a long time," says Shepherd. "Some birds don't want to sing in captivity and take a long time before they adjust to the point where they'll start to sing. Then they'll train the bird. They'll keep it near other males so it sings more frequently, because they naturally compete with their songs."
This forced companionship changes the very nature of the song.
"Some birds pick up notes and sounds from other species," Shepherd says. "Some of the species that are disappearing, they're just training birds. They're not even the ones used in competition. They just keep them beside other the species that compete so they have a more complex and unique song in the competition."
After that, it's a bit like a dog show.
"Everybody takes their bird in a cage and there are songbird judges. They walk around and listen to the song and there's big cash prizes for the bird with the best." (Most recently, these competitions have moved online due to COVID-19.)
Through all of this, the gift nature gave these animals to help propagate their species — song — ends up driving them toward extinction.
This makes the trade similar to trophy hunting, which values the biggest animals or those with the most beautiful features. "The strongest bird in the wild, the one with the greatest song, would be the one that would pass on his genes," Shepherd says. "Those are the ones being removed from the wild. So, you know, only inferior birds are left behind."
Unlike trophy hunting, however, where an elephant's tusks can theoretically trade hands in perpetuity, a bird's song is ephemeral — sung once, then lost to time.
Shepherd says the Asian songbird crisis went virtually ignored for many years. Relatively few scientists studied it, and funding for conservation remained scarce. That's been a costly delay.
"One of the interesting and sad things is that lot of the species that I worked on in the early Nineties, the ones I tried to raise the alarm on, are now gone or almost gone," he says. "And then the ones I was working on that were extremely common at the time are now the next wave that's disappearing."
Fortunately, that's started to change. For one thing, scientific research about the trade and affected species continues to pick up. One of the most worrying studies came out last August and found that Java now has more songbirds in cages than in its forests. The study found that one species, the Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla), now has fewer than 50 birds remaining in the wild, while 1.1 million live on the island in captivity.
Meanwhile governments, NGOs and other researchers have also stepping up their game. Conservation experts came together in 2015 to hold an event called the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit. Two years later they formed the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group, which had its first official meeting in 2019. And over the past five years governments have started to take action, including seizing several large shipments of poached birds, although the trade remains mostly illegal and unsustainable.
Local groups have helped, too, which brings us back to the Simeulue hill myna and Barusan shama. A Simeulue-based organization called Ecosystemimpact set out to help the two birds at the beginning of 2020. Although their efforts were hampered by the COVID pandemic, they're still trying to acquire any captive birds they can find to keep them out of the trade. If they do rescue any Simeulue hill mynas — such as four juvenile birds that reportedly recently turned up for sale on Facebook — they'll need a permit from the government to breed them.
Even then, saving them from extinction won't be easy.
"Hill myna are notoriously hard to breed, requiring large, tall aviaries with good vantage points over forested areas," says program manager Tom Amey. "It's not out of the question that hill myna will breed within our aviaries, but given their specific requirements, we feel it is unlikely." They're working on raising funding for new aviaries designed specifically for hill mynas.
They also hope to educate the community, to turn its love of captive birds into one that also supports wild populations.
"There is a distinct lack of bird song on Simeulue, especially within close to medium proximity of [human] habitation," says Amey. "Our ambition is to bring the beautiful sounds of songbirds back to Simeulue's forests and culture. Songbirds have played an important role in Simeulue culture and many members of the community wish to see them return."
As with everything in the past year, progress to protect Asian songbirds has slowed down of late. "Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has been a huge, but legitimate, distraction from the global fight against extinction, and very little attention has been paid to such issues in the last few months," says Rheindt.
Once the pandemic recedes, Shepherd suggests that tourism may play an important role in keeping birds alive, uncaged and in their natural habitats.
"There's a very big birdwatching community," he says, "and I think working with the community and with the birdwatching tour guides to raise awareness of the benefits of having songbirds around is important. The birdwatching industry's worth millions. I think we need to raise awareness of the fact that you can lose your birds, but also awareness of the facts that having birds around is good for the environment, it's good for your mental health, it's good for all kinds of things — but it's good for the economy."
Until those messages resonate more than the ka-ching of a cash register, however, Asian songbirds will remain in crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
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