It's another warm, dry, sunny day here in San Francisco. Highs might hit 70 degrees. Temperatures are in the 80s in Los Angeles, with a high of 90 in Fullerton. It's Jan. 5.
Has the weather been weird where you are, too? Too hot? Too wet? Not wet enough? Our family was eagerly anticipating a holiday trip to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada. No one was more excited than my son, Sebastian, who was all set to buckle on his first pair of skis. Only problem: Nothing to ski on except man-made snow thinly spread over what the locals half seriously refer to as "Sierra cement." Not ideal conditions for a three-year-old just learning to find his ski legs.
Turns out we would have had about as much luck finding snow on the Fourth of July. This has been the fourth-driest July-December in the northern Sierra Nevada since 1923. We're not ready to start panicking just yet, but there's a lot more at stake than Sebastian's first ski lesson. California relies on the Sierra snowpack for two-thirds of its water supply.
You could argue that this record dry spell in Northern California is a fluke. It's still early in the season, so I certainly wouldn't hold it up as proof of global climate disruption. What's harder to dismiss, though, is the pattern of extreme weather—and disasters—that's emerging around the planet.
Globally, the summer of 2011 was the third hottest on record. In the U.S., it was our second hottest summer ever. The ratio of record-high-temperature days to record-low-temperature days across the U.S. was 2.8 to 1. From 2000 to 2009, that ratio was about 2 to 1. From the 1950s through the 1970s, it was closer to even, but from the 1980s on, each decade has had an ever-greater proportion of record hot days.
Unfortunately, extreme weather has grave consequences. Last year the world experienced an unprecedented number of weather-related disasters. Texas suffered a devastating drought that killed as many as half a million trees and reduced the state's cattle herd by 12 percent—more than at any time since the Great Depression. On the other side of the planet, the failure of the seasonal rains in East Africa led to tragic drought and famine that took the lives of an estimated 30,000 children under the age of five. Meanwhile, Thailand, Australia, Colombia and Brazil all experienced floods that were either the deadliest or the most costly natural disasters in their histories.
The U.S. had major floods, too, but most of our weather-related natural disasters involved tornadoes and other storms. Iowa was just one of the Midwestern states that had heightened tornado activity, including a series of twisters in May that destroyed two-thirds of Joplin, MO, and killed 161 people.
Still, even though Iowa got off relatively lightly in terms of extreme weather last year, it suffered an influx of extreme candidates during its Republican caucus this month. Not a single candidate there was ready to talk seriously about climate disruption, carbon pollution or the importance of moving beyond fossil fuels. They are impervious to data. Most of them won't even admit that global warming is an established truth—including the governor of the state that just experienced not just its own hottest summer, but the hottest summer of any state ever.
That's almost as weird (and at least as scary) as the weather.
Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Villarreal
As West coast wildfires color the skies dystopian red and orange and an aggressive hurricane season batters the U.S. Gulf coast, college students are demanding their schools take bold action to address the climate crisis.
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The National Hurricane Center has run out of names for tropical storms this year and has now moved on to the Greek alphabet during an extremely active hurricane season. Late Monday night, Tropical Storm Beta became the ninth named storm to make landfall. That's the first time so many named storms have made landfall since 1916, when Woodrow Wilson was president, according to NBC News.
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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.
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
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