Last year, we observed a number of trends that seem to suggest we have made progress in tackling climate change but we have not done enough. In 2019 alone, there were 15 natural disasters that caused damages totaling at least $1 billion, which experts argue were made worse by climate change. Seven of them exceeded $10 billion.
Which Natural Disasters Were The Worst?
By cost and death toll, five specific disasters especially stand out.
5. Cyclone Idai
Cyclone Idai was the deadliest of the natural disasters included in the original group of 15. The storm hit Beira, Mozambique in southern Africa on March 15th. When it hit land, the storm had peak wind speeds of 105 mph.
The total cost of damages done by the hurricane ends up reaching only $2 billion. While this is the least amount of any of the disasters in this article, what shocks is the number dead. Over 1,300 people died in the storm and aftermath.
Another 2,500 were injured and a total of 3 million people were affected. As storms get worse and evolve with increasing temperatures, a terrifying theory is that all cyclones, typhoons, and storms of severity may soon have similar death tolls to cyclone Idai, as cities will not be able to adequately prepare for the storm’s wrath.
4. Typhoon Lekima
The second costliest typhoon in Chinese history and the sixth costliest Pacific typhoon in recorded history, Typhoon Lekima made landfall on August 9th. The typhoon unleashed winds of 115 mph on Zhejiang, China. The powerful storm caused over $9 billion in damages. In the typhoon, 56 people died.
Researchers speculate that climate change made this storm worse because hurricanes gain energy from warm ocean waters. Warmer air temperatures would clearly lead to warmer ocean waters. The warm air also spurs an increased rate of evaporation.
This gives storms like Typhoon Lekima more water vapor to pull in as they travel through the oceans. And a more massive storm leads to greater amounts of rainfall. This causes greater amounts of flooding when the storm hits land.
Additionally, the rise in sea levels caused by glacier melt can lead to worse storm surges. The severity of storm-related flooding from these storm surges is also correspondingly higher.
3. Typhoon Hagibis
This year not only saw the sixth costliest typhoon in recorded history; it also saw the second. Typhoon Hagibis made landfall in Shizuoka, Japan on October 12th, after passing through the nearby Mariana Islands.
The typhoon had wind speeds of 120 mph on the Mariana Islands and racked up $15 billion in damages once it attacked the larger country of Japan. Besides the sky-high cost, 91 people died, and 85,000 homes were destroyed.
With Typhoon Hagibis taking the second-place spot in the list of costliest pacific typhoons, five from the top ten are from the past 6 years. This trend casts a dark light on future storms fueled by warmer global temperatures.
2. Floods Around the World
Besides fueling typhoons, climate change is causing major shifts in weather patterns in all continents. This was evidenced by extreme flooding in China, India, and the Southern and Midwestern United States.
Flooding in China
Flooding in China peaked in July, and damaged nearly 10,000 homes, leading to the evacuation of 356,000 people. The floods killed 60 people. Additionally, the floods rendered 3.7 million hectares of farmland unusable.
The flooding in China illustrates how changing weather patterns can lead to increased difficulty in food production in the future.
Flooding in India
In India, floods were at their worst during July and early August and concentrated in the stats of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The waters were deadliest here, causing more than 100 mortalities. While the area is subject to a yearly monsoon season and thus is used to heavy amounts of rain in short periods of time, the season was one of the heaviest in recent history, too severe for infrastructure to handle.
Flooding in India warns that the new weather patterns created by climate change may overload infrastructure worldwide.
Flooding in the United States (South and Midwest)
Finally, floods in the South and Midwest of the United States occurred mainly along the Missouri River. The tragedy affected nearly 14 million people in the areas, and set new record river levels in 42 different locations.
Similar to the flood in China, large amounts of farmland were destroyed. Farmers of the 1 million unusable acres suffered losses, and damages totaled $2.9 billion. The risen water levels were not quick to leave, either, beginning in March and lasting until December in the worst locations. The New York Times has dubbed the event “The Great Flood of 2019”.
1. California Wildfires
The costliest environmental disaster of the year is the California Wildfires. 253,214 acres of homes, farms, and forests went up in flames, with significant wildfires this year starting in May and going up until December.
Climate experts warn that the new precipitation pattern becoming normal in California, wherein heavy rainfalls in early months of the year and primes vegetation to dry out later, create an abundance of fuel for the wildfires.
While California has always had a wildfire season, and several of the vegetation species in the state rely on periodic wildfires for offspring to proliferate, changing rain patterns have created an environment that these species did not evolve for, and leads to the fires doing much more harm than good.
What’s more, is that additional specific and drastic precautions were taken this year in anticipation of a severe wildfire season.
Massive “public safety shutoffs” from some of California’s biggest power companies affected 800,000 electric customers, and factors more individual people since a whole household counts as a single electric customer. In total, the fires created $25 billion in damages, a tough hit to recover from when the same pattern may start up again in only a few months.
Natural Disasters: The Bigger Picture
Climate change is altering global weather patterns and pushing the effects of natural disasters from bad to worse. 2019 has been one of the worst years on record for natural disasters. If we don’t step up and control climate change, it may soon pale in comparison to our future seasons.
Walmart Wants Companies And Consumers To Work Together To Reduce Plastic Pollution
You realize you want something, go online, and click buy. And just a few days later, your package arrives. The product is just what you’ve wanted for so long and now you finally have it. It’s magical. Now, all there’s left to do is to throw away the box, the plastic wrapper, and the rest of that cumbersome packaging. This common scenario answers to how the plastic pollution problem has gotten so bad.
And the data shows it too. According to the EPA, individuals produced over 80 million tons of container and packaging waste in 2017. Unfortunately, only 50.1% was recycled, the rest in landfills or combusted it for partial energy recovery.
There is no doubt, packaging has contributed to plastic pollution for decades. However, the increase in consumer goods production is only worsening the problem.
To get a better idea of where the plastic pollution problem really lies and understand how companies should be acting to solve it, we chatted with Walmart Lead for Sustainable Packaging Ashley C. Hall.
As she guides us through her work, we were able to dive deep into what level of involvement we need from both companies and consumers alike to truly move the needle when it comes to reducing plastic pollution.
Reducing Plastic Pollution Involves Companies Keeping A Product’s ‘End of Life’ In Mind
While it is not always possible to reduce the amount of packaging being used, there are other ways to adopt greener methods. Hall notes that there is a range for making packaging more sustainable.
Contrary to what many believe, product sustainability exists far deeper than the choice of material being used. Hall showed us that there is much more to the picture.
Through her experience, education is one of many areas that can spark change in the packaging space.
Specifically, she tells us: “it is important for those in the supply chain to know how to design with the end of life in mind.”
With this school of thought, industries have the ability to lead their product manufacturing in a sustainable direction.
Everyone in the Industry Can Design For the ‘End of Life’
Manufacturers must also constantly assess the level of engagement between consumers and products. For instance, they should consider customers’ habits with product packaging. Although a majority of individuals want to recycle, some still improperly dispose of products.
Unfortunately, some of the public is guilty of “wish cycling”, or the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin in hopes that they will somehow be recycled.
When consumers do that, they can contaminate recycling loads.
By thoughtfully considering a product’s life-cycle from production to use, companies can design packaging that is recyclable, reusable, and easy for customers to dispose of. As a result, the amount of waste going into landfills can be significantly reduced.
Walmart’s America Recycles Program: Engaging With Customers To Reduce Plastic Pollution
Earlier this November, Walmart piloted the “Walmart Recycles Together” program in 110 of its stores. As a part of the initiative, the retail giant developed an in-store and digital campaign to engage its customers on the importance of recycling packaging.
At this time, Walmart released an updated version of what it calls its “Recycling Playbook”. As a revamped copy of its playbook from February 2019, the retail giant provides information to suppliers and other companies looking to adopt sustainable packaging.
In the 89-page document, the company covers a wide variety of information regarding packaging format. However, the retail giant primarily focuses on the most common packaging formats found in its stores.
For example, bags, films, bottles, and boxes. With data primarily pulled from North America, the playbook covers recyclability information based on existing infrastructures.
For instance, it explains how to create or read recycling labels, the comparison between different materials, and additive factors into a product that may present recycling challenges.
Unsurprisingly, those who engaged with the book found immediate benefits.
Many times, individuals found themselves simply saying, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that.”
As the booklet is still published on Walmart’s website, it serves as a continuous reference for companies to educate themselves on how to design for recycling.
Offering In-Store Recycling Opportunities to Tackle Plastic Pollution
Walmart is also providing a handful of other opportunities for customers to adopt greener habits. Additional to its in-person educational events in November, Walmart continuously offers in-store recycling opportunities.
Currently, its stores have drop boxes to dispose of more difficult-to-recycle materials, such as plastic bags and films. When customers attended the Walmart Recycles Together event, they were provided the education and outlets needed to avoid further contributing to wish cycling.
But Walmart doesn’t want its initiatives to end there; it hopes to get other companies involved in tackling the plastic pollution issue too.
Walmart’s Is Involving Other Companies
Walmart is currently working closely with a handful of other companies. Among these are Coca-Cola and Unilever, two companies that the retail giant worked with throughout the “Walmart Recycles Together” event.
To forge a true partnership, Walmart is providing companies access to its Project Gigaton Platform.
In its database, Walmart encourages companies to set reduction goals and then track and report the progress of its own greenhouse gas emissions and usage of materials.
With Walmart’s help, these brands are able to take the necessary steps to include reusable methods into their packaging.
What’s Next For Walmart’s Recycling Initiative
While Walmart continues to work on a variety of sustainability initiatives, its efforts seem to stretch far into the future.
Currently, Walmart’s private brands are striving for 100% of its food and consumable products to have the How2Recycle labels on-pack by 2022.
In addition, the retail giant plans to continue working through philanthropic outlets, like the Walmart Foundation, to continue its work in sustainability.
Everyone Has An Opportunity to Be a Part of the Solution
Fortunately, Hall told us: “Walmart believes everyone has an opportunity to be a part of the solution.”
However, in order to contribute, we should all consider the three elementary aspects of recycling:
It is essential for manufacturers to educate themselves on how to design for the end of a product’s life. Whether by choosing eco-friendly materials or reducing material usage, these choices can positively impact the packing space.
However, as we learned, it is equally important for retailers to provide the information necessary for consumers to properly dispose of products after use. after use.
Overall, the life-cycle of a product is only sustainable if we all play our parts. Walmart wants to make it happen; who else wants to join the fight against plastic pollution?
Ecotourism: How Marketers Can Ethically Promote Travel Amid The Climate Crisis
2020 has definitely been off to a shaky start — literally. Since January 1st, there have been over 950 earthquakes in Puerto Rico alone. But in today’s new age of climate change, natural disasters like this are only becoming more and more common. So how can the tourism industry survive without harming our environment further? The answer may involve ecotourism — an opportunity for both marketers and destinations.
Your first thought may be to simply limit travel. But we often forget that many of the countries most affected by climate change-related disasters also rely on tourism to fund their recoveries.
Take a look at the Bahamas, where tourism brings in an annual $4.3 billion — 47.8 percent of their GDP. Without their tourism industry, the Bahamas’ complete recovery from Hurricane Dorian would be dramatically delayed.
And as Australia’s wildfires have merged into a 1.5 million acre “megafire,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison petitioned U.S. leaders to stimulate tourism by downgrading the urgency of their travel warnings.
Luckily, just a few days ago, the U.S. heeded Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison’s pleas to water down travel warnings to ‘Down Under,’ which has now been set to “normal.”
The bottom line? When climate-induced disasters strike, tourism can provide necessary economic boosts.
So as climate change continues to interact with tourism, marketers have an ethical responsibility to present tourism and travel brands within the context of our shifting climate reality.
But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this. After all, we’re talking about an $8.27 trillion global industry with a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent. So we’re going to need some creative solutions.
Choose Ecotourism: Don’t Encourage Tourism Where It’s Harmful
To start, marketers should be cautious about where they’re sending tourists. Promoting vacation packages to the Australian Open when Melbourne is shrouded in smoke puts your customers at risk.
Yet marketing other trips could put the destination itself at risk. Take Antarctica, where several new cruise lines have popped up in the last year to shuttle tourists to Antarctica — while it’s still there.
“Climate change is a chief reason for the increased interest in visiting Antarctica,” said cruise travel planner Mary Curry. “We truly don’t know if the region will ever be as magnificent as it is now.”
According to the New York Times, Antarctica cruise bookings have seen a 53 percent spike since 2015. But cruises aren’t helping the environmental situation at all.
As these cruises flood into Antarctica, they bring environmental troubles with them. A day at sea produces just as much soot as a million cars. And cruises dump toxic raw sewage into the open sea. It’s safe to say that cruises are not doing Antarctica or its wildlife any favors.
Let’s not forget to add that at other port city destinations, cruises also squeeze local economies with bullying tactics that create dependency.
So while cruises are still growing in popularity, environmentally and socially conscious marketers should look towards ecotourism and consider driving tourism where it helps instead of hurts.
Instead of Antarctica, why not promote midwinter trips to the Bahamas, where tourist money is needed to rebuild?
Or instead of a cruise, why not promote the ferry from Fort Lauderdale?
Let’s Rethink the Carbon Footprint of Each Trip
Travel marketers are in a unique position of power. They can encourage travelers to think about their trips in terms of the carbon footprint attached. In doing so, they can normalize the practice of choosing travel plans with lower carbon emissions.
Take a trip from London to Western France. A study by Responsible Travel calculates these five days would produce 183.5 kg (404.5 lbs) of carbon dioxide. That’s broken down into food (77 kg), accommodation (26.5 kg), and transportation (102 kg per flight).
The flight for a trip like this, from London to Biarritz, takes about five hours, give or take an hour depending on your layover time in Paris.
That’s comparable to a flight from New York to LA. But going by train, you can get to Biarritz in a little over 7 hours. It costs a couple of hours more — or affords you some extra work and nap time if you present it that way.
It’s a small time difference, and it saves your customer a few bucks: $121 for a train compared with $150 for a flight.
But more importantly, the train ride cuts the carbon cost of transportation in half, bringing the total carbon footprint of the trip down by 51 kg (about 112 lbs) of CO2.
It may not seem like a lot, but that saves the same amount of carbon emissions that the average US citizen produces in a normal day.
Sell Ecotourism For All It’s Worth
Now, let’s be real about something. Climate change is a much, much bigger problem than can be solved by having travelers take trains instead of airplanes.
Nevertheless, knowing that efficient rail travel effectively halves the carbon cost of a trip means that responsible travel marketers should be putting everything they’ve got into pushing rail service over flights.
It’s an easy sell. Trains are roomier. You can get up and walk around. They won’t dump jet fuel on a schoolyard full of children like a Delta flight did this week in LA.
There’s a lot to like. And better marketing can encourage the development of cleaner, cheaper, more efficient rail systems. It’s these systemic changes that have the power to combat climate change.
Tourism has certainly contributed its share to the climate change emergencies we’re now facing, and as the climate bites back, we need to rethink what it means to market travel responsibly.
People aren’t going to stop traveling. But let’s look more towards ecotourism and make sure we’re being mindful of the environment with every trip.
Note: This article was originally posted at Grit Daily by Tina Mulqueen and edited and syndicated with permission.
There’s Hope: Effective Forest Management Can Still Save Our Biodiversity If We Act Now
We know how critical forests are to life on Earth, yet, at large, our actions often don’t reflect that. Industries destroy forests constantly for their lumber and companies constantly clear land to make room for construction and agriculture.
It makes sense to treat trees as an easily renewable resource, but unfortunately, it is much harder to renew a true forest.
Unperturbed forests consist of a wide array of plants, trees, and animals of different species and ages, and if handled irresponsibly, this diverse balance can easily fall out of place.
Deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon and Australia have made it clear that we need better forest management. As we approach a critical tipping point, the time to act truly is now.
Here’s what you need to know about deforestation tipping points and how forest management can play a role in making sure we don’t lose our coveted biodiversity.
Forest Tipping Points
Several countries have strict laws governing how forests can be treated by industry. These laws set a strict precedent on how to replant and renew wildlife in order to maintain balance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
The Amazon Rainforest, in particular, has lost 24,000 square miles over the past year due to environmentally regressive policy. It is estimated that 20% of the original forest has been cleared since 1970, meaning it is approaching a “tipping point”.
A recent study from the University of Cincinnati explained the concept of forest tipping points.
A team of ecologists and geographers surveyed every square mile of the Earth digitally year by year in order to understand the progression of deforestation.
Researchers divided the world into small “blocks” of land and studied how the blocks changed individually over time. The complex study uncovered a simple truth.
They found that “deforestation occurs comparatively slowly … until about half of the forest is gone. Then the remaining forest disappears very quickly.”
This is because wildlife wants to be one uniform biome, and as ecosystems fragment, it becomes harder to continue.
Wildfires and the Amazon Rainforest’s Tipping Point
Understanding how deforestation impacts the environment can allow us to set preventative measures.
Politicians must understand the concept of deforestation tipping points and integrate it into political action.
Scientists have concluded that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo and Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University recently proclaimed that:
“Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” — Carlos Nobre And Thomas Lovejoy, Science Advances
In fact, the entire world is approaching its tipping point.
The same University of Cincinnati researchers discovered in an earlier study that “22 percent of the Earth’s habitable surface has been altered in measurable ways, primarily from forest to agriculture, between 1992 and 2015.”
Forests have shrunk, and so have the ice caps, and reefs. The rate of destruction of these delicate biomes has increased exponentially and will likely continue to do so.
The outlook does look bleak but it is certainly not hopeless.
The Importance of Forest Management
On the other hand, reefs and forests have benefited greatly from technological advancement and active management.
Recently, researchers discovered that underwater speakers, among other measures, could counteract reef decay.
The solution is less clear for forests, but active forest management can certainly make a difference.
It may seem rather unremarkable, but forest management is an incredibly effective tool.
Forest Management Could Have Been Beneficial to California and Australia
The increased occurrence of wildfires in areas like California and Australia directly correlates with a decrease in preventative forest management.
Controlled burns generally prevent a larger wildfire from occurring, and Australia had drastically cut the number of controlled burns it performs prior to the wildfire crisis.
California suffers from a similar problem and has elected to pursue preventative measures, specifically forest thinning, in order to create more stable forests.
Currently, the privately-owned Forest Resilience Board can be contracted to manage healthy forests, and a government-wide forest management board could certainly help states like California and countries like Australia.
We Need To Vote Leaders Out If They Won’t Help With Forest Management
Unfortunately, the management of biomes cannot make a significant difference as long as politicians have no interest in the solutions.
Citizens are becoming more and more aware of climate issues and this has been reflected in voter priorities.
As our environment reaches a tipping point, we need to elect politicians who want to make a difference.
Only through doing so can we must pass the laws and preventative management necessary to ensure the usage of the Earth’s resources is sustainable for the years to come.
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