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Climate Change Is Allowing A Deadly Virus To Kill Marine Animals

Avery Maloto

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PDV is killing seals and other marine animals.

As climate change continues to melt sea ice, people, particularly in coastal regions are becoming increasingly worried about being cities going underwater in the future; but now, it appears that there is another problem: melting sea ice is also allowing a deadly virus to spread and kill marine animals. That virus is PDV, or phocine distemper virus, a deadly virus that is spreading among rapidly in the Arctic waters.

While this virus continues to infect rapid and lethal rate, the disease is causing many scientists to scratch their heads. How is it traveling so quickly? And how is climate change playing a role in its rapid spread?

What Is PDV And How Is It Impacting Marine Animals?

PDV has been notorious for infecting seal populations for the last few decades. Since 1988, it has caused multiple mass deaths within the marine animal population. At an alarming rate, tens of thousands of marine animals are falling victim to PDV.

Once isolated, the virus is now circulating in seal species across the globe. 

With the use of 15 years of data that tracked 2,530 live and 165 dead marine animals of multiple regions, scientists began searching for an explanation for PDV’s infectious trend. 

PDV Outbreaks Linked To Reduction Of Sea Ice

In a recent study published by Nature, researchers linked the viral emergence in marine animals to Arctic sea ice reduction. Offering an answer to the head-scratching situation, the authors found that the melting of ice is opening-up previously blocked pathways in the Arctic Circle. 

Throughout their experiment, the researchers focused on samples from animals living in icy habitats. These include spotted seals, bearded seals, steller sea lions, northern fur, seals, and northern sea otters.

In 2003, the scientists identified a widespread exposure to and infection of PDV in the North Pacific Ocean. Six years later in 2009, the second peak of PDV exposure had infected marine animals in connected regions.

These trends were directly related to the reduction of Arctic sea ice.

Many times, Arctic ice acts as a barrier between ocean regions. However, once melted, there is no longer a physical separation between ecosystems.

With new paths of travel, the increase of marine animal mobility leads to the transmission of PDV among sea life. As there becomes more contact between the Arctic and sub-arctic marine animals, the two regions are continuing to infect once-healthy populations.

More Than One Way Of Exposing Marine Animals To Disease

Unfortunately, there is more than one way that the melting of sea ice is introducing diseases into the environment and impacting marine animals.

Through Earth’s rising temperatures, many bodies of ice are beginning to thaw for the first time in decades. Remarkably, viruses have the ability to survive a long time in frigid environments.

Under the right conditions, previously frozen organisms have a high probability of becoming re-exposed to the environment. Despite being dormant for a long period of time, these diseases may return at a similar infectious level as before.

For example, in 2014, two scientists resurrected the largest virus ever seen. After extracting the ancient virus from a 30,000-year-old sample of ice, the disease was still infections despite centuries of lying dormant.  

Summary

Fortunately, PDV-positive marine animals lie in colder waters. As a result, sea animals in warmer regions are most likely safe from PDV.

However, scientists still believe the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice continues to melt with the increased opportunity to affect more species.

To stop this infectious trend, the obvious answer is to put a halt on melting sea ice. In order to do this, each and every population has to become educated on the causes of climate change and preventative solutions.

Instead of having to learn to adapt, let us work to ensure marine animals are able to live in the quality of life they deserve.

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Sustainability

Bad Move: 31 States Significantly Reduce Funding To Environmental Protection Efforts

Avery Maloto

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Environmental protection has been a hot button issue for decades. Fortunately, today’s younger generation seems to be expressing more dedication to climate change reform. However, while younger adults strive for change, the government does not seem to match the public’s efforts. Instead, state governments are rolling back many regulations that support environmental protection. 

In the last ten years, several states have collectively cut 4,400 job positions at agencies that are responsible for environmental protection.

Study Shows Drastic Budget Cuts To Environmental Protection Efforts

In a recent study published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), analysts underscored the economical behavior of state agencies that strive to protect public health and the environment from all forms of pollution. Their discoveries were shocking.

From 2008 to 2018, EIP found that 31 states reduced funding for pollution control programs through their local environmental agencies. As a result, half of U.S. states were subject to budget cuts of at least 10 percent. 

Out of these, Wisconsin experienced the largest reduction of 36% of funding for its environmental agency. Closely following are Texas and Louisiana with a reduction of 35% and North Carolina with a reduction of 34%. 

Unfortunately, the losses do not stop there. On top of the rollbacks of funding, a total of 41 states have reduced their staff population in their respective environmental agencies. 

Illinois suffered the most with a cut of 38% of its environmental staffing. In addition, North Carolina cut 35%, Arizona cut 32%, and Louisiana cut 30% of their respective staffings. 

Why Are Budget Cuts Happening For Environmental Protection?

Surprisingly, these cuts are not necessarily the consequence of a partisan issue. Many Republican states, such as Texas and Louisiana, experienced large losses in environmental funding. However, Democratic states like New York and Illinois suffered as well.

The question then arises, if not for political opinion, why are these changes happening?

One explanation is the possibility that some states simply do not have the money. As noted in the report, federal and state governments play complementary but essential roles in environmental protection.

However, many states nor the EPA have enough funding to do their share. Unfortunately, this results in many of the cuts seen in the workforce.

For Instance, Texas Is Making Huge Reductions

However, Luke Metzger, the Executive Director of Environment Texas, explained another obvious reason: lack of care.

Metzger noted that with “one-third of [Texas] waterways unsafe for fishing and swimming and two-thirds of Texans living in areas with unsafe air quality, Texas has major environmental problems”.

However, he continues to note that “instead of meeting this challenge, [Texas] legislature is de-prioritizing the environment and public health”.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state de-prioritizing the issue.

In 2011, an EPA Inspector General report found that Louisiana had the worst enforcement of environmental laws in the country. In addition, North Carolina cut $136 million in 2008, a time when overall state spending increased.

Where Do These Decisions Leave Us?

Unfortunately, environmentalists and policy experts warn that state-level cuts are only the beginning. Following the trend, many foresee similar budget cuts in federal spending in the near future.

This would entail a larger slash in funding than the 16% already lost by the EPA between 2008 and 2018.

The truth is, there is no silver lining on these actions. To say in simpler terms, cuts to state environmental agencies are attacks on the quality of life across the country.

By stripping the allotted budget away from environmental protection, public health may very well deteriorate over time. Whether through the lack of spending or sheer apathy, the health of families, forests, and waterways are put in jeopardy by pollution.

Not only do we not want that for ourselves, but for the sake of future generations, something needs to change.

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New Zealand Steps Up To The Plate On Climate Action As Australia Lags Further Behind

Rich Bowden

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Australian progressives have long looked in jealousy across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand on its commitment to climate action. There, New Zealand leads the South Pacific in attempts to resolve these divisive problems. Additionally, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a beacon for progressive government policies. It’s less so in Australia.

There, action on meeting emissions targets has stalled. Also, government support for renewable energy and the protection of the environment have been secondary concerns.

A Stark Contrast In Climate Action Between NZ And Australia

Australia is currently suffering under the worst drought for decades. Moreover, bushfires in a number of states have destroyed property and continue to threaten towns and cities.

In contrast to his NZ counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen criticism for a Trump-style “thoughts and prayers” approach for bushfire victims as opposed to real climate action to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.

This approach has (unsurprisingly) caused anger among some bushfire survivors.

Further, while Australia has seen inaction on the climate emergency, New Zealand has stepped up to the plate. Its government has declared that climate will be central to all future policy decision-making.

Positive Climate Action Sentiments At NZ’s Governmental Level

The New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act earlier in the year. Additionally, Environment Minister James Shaw announced that all major decisions made by the Ardern government would keep the climate emergency in mind.

“Cabinet routinely considers the effects of its decisions on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender – now climate change will be a standard part of Cabinet’s decision-making too,” Shaw said in an announcement.

He added that an impact assessment on climate will be central to the government’s decision making.

“A climate impacts assessment will be mandatory for policy and legislative proposals that are designed to reduce emissions, or which are likely to have consequential impacts on greenhouse emissions greater than 250,000 tonnes a year.”

Climate Action Lags In Australia

A roundtable representing a diverse range of groups including environmental organizations, businesses, farmers and unions has warned that a “business as usual” approach to the climate emergency “would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia.”

The statement coincided with the Madrid climate talks with the Australian Climate Roundtable calling on the federal government to take climate action and adopt policies that would achieve deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions.

“Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity,” said the media statement.

“Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.”

Takeaways From The Roundtable

The roundtable believes government policy should be instrumental in achieving change. From the group’s joint principles released in May 2019: 

“Policy instruments should: be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximizing benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve.” 

Australia definitely has the capacity to commit further to climate action, but will it? And how?

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Sustainability

Time’s Up: Climate Change Displaces Another Person Every Two Seconds

Ari Kelo

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Alarmingly, non-profit group Oxfam has found that climate change displacement impacts another person every two seconds.. That amounts to roughly 20 million people a year who are forced away from their homes or over 200 million in the past decade. And without proper action, climate displacement will only get worse with time. It’s time to shed some light on this worsening issue.

Climate Change Displacement On The Rise

In the lead up to the UN’s Climate Summit in Madrid, Oxfam published a report on Monday raising awareness for the global issue of climate change displacement. The report expects to put this issue into the spotlight during these international climate talks.

According to the report, climate-related disasters have become the number one reason for internal displacement in the past decade.

To put that in perspective, people are now three times more likely to be displaced by a climate disaster than by political conflict. And cyclones, floods, and wildfires pose much more serious threats than earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. What’s worse? The number of these climate-related disasters has also increased five-fold in the past decade.

And while anyone could face displacement, Oxfam asserts that the poorest countries face the most at risk, despite their minimal responsibility for the climate crisis.

Hitting The Most Vulnerable First

“While no one is immune, it is overwhelmingly poor countries that are most at risk,” stated Oxfam’s press release.

For reference, eighty percent of global climate change displacement occurs in Asia, home to one-third of the world’s poorest population. And low- or middle- income countries like India, Nigeria, and Bolivia are four times as likely as rich countries like the U.S. to face climate change displacement.

Moreover, the consequences can become just as extreme as the weather events themselves. For example, extreme weather displaced almost five percent of Cuba, Dominica, and Tuvalu‘s populations each year of the past decade.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also at high risk. They make up seven of the ten countries most at risk for internal displacement due to extreme weather. And displacement has economic consequences as well. A Small Island Developing State can lose up to 20% of its national income because of extreme weather disasters.

These countries can be up to 150 times more likely to face climate change displacement than European communities. And what’s particularly concerning is the threat faced by displaced women. During displacement, they are subjected to a greater risk of sexual violence.

“Our governments are fueling a crisis that is driving millions of women, men and children from their homes and the poorest people in the poorest countries are paying the heaviest price,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s Acting Executive Director.

So What Now?

The short answer: we must take immediate action.

Luckily, the UN will review its progress since enacting its “Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage” mandate while in Madrid.

The mandate calls for “[enhanced] action and support, including finance, technology, and capacity-building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”

Accordingly, climate activists and developing countries are encouraging the UN to build a separate fund for communities recovering from climate disasters. Such a fund could help alleviate the impact of climate change displacement.

“Governments can and must make Madrid matter. They must commit to faster, deeper emissions cuts. Further, they must establish a new ‘Loss and Damage’ fund to help poor communities recover from climate disasters,” Vera said.

What Oxfam Thinks We Should Do About Climate Change Displacement

But no one action is enough. Climate change displacement and refugee crises will only crescendo in the coming years. We must do more to halt its consequences. So far, the international community has done very little.

But finding a fix is more important than ever. Here’s how Oxfam puts it. “As the 2019 UN Climate Summit opens, Oxfam is calling for more urgent and ambitious emissions reductions to minimize the impact of the crisis on people’s lives, and the establishment of a new ‘Loss and Damage’ finance facility to help communities recover and rebuild.”

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