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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, March 2nd, 2018

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New York City has painted about 7 million square feet of tar rooftops white to lower temperatures. Image: NASA
Paint It White 

The urban heat island effect has been observed since the 19th century and results from the fact that in cities, the materials that most city buildings and roads are made out of reflect much less solar radiation – and absorb more of it – than the vegetation they have replaced. As YaleE360 reported, "Fresh asphalt reflects only 4 percent of sunlight compared to as much as 25 percent for natural grassland and up to 90 percent for a white surface such as fresh snow." For cities, this means that they are, on average, several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside and don't cool down at night as much. During heatwaves (such as the deadly ones Europe experienced in 2003) the lack of cooling down at night is what caused the deaths of vulnerable people, namely those who are elderly or very young. 

A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience asks, "if dark heat-absorbing surfaces are warming our cities, why not negate the effect by installing white roofs and other light-colored surfaces to reflect back the sun’s rays?" Painting rooftops and other urban surfaces a light color “could help to lower extreme temperatures by up to 2 or 3 degrees Celsius" according to the research. While this may not sound like a lot, it could make the difference between a hot day and a lethally hot one. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have already started funding programs that paint city rooftops and roads more reflective shades. While scientists don't think that painting roofs white is enough to fight climate change it could help lessen the most severe consequences of excess heat in cities and be a literal lifesaver.

Why This Matters: Summer heat can be very dangerous. It worsens pre-existing conditions, such as heart and lung disease, kidney problems, diabetes, and asthma, more often than it kills directly. “People end up going to the hospital because heat affects their health, makes their asthma worse or something worse,” says David Eisenman, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA. Not only does limiting the urban heat island help save energy costs it can help make the difference between life and death for vulnerable people and those that don't have access to air-conditioning. 

Heat is also killing our trees, overloading our electrical systems, increasing emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases, and is generally uncomfortable for people having to experience it. Furthermore, entire regions in the world, like parts of the Persian Gulf, are set to become uninhabitable due to climate change and extreme heat. Painting urban roofs and roads white is a relatively easy step cities can take to make summer heat safer and more tolerable for their residents. 

 Climate Change

Treasure Island, which sits between San Francisco and Oakland, is sinking fast. 
Photo: Frank Ramspott/Getty Images via Wired
San Francisco Is Sinking

A study out this week provides a new, more dire prediction about climate-related flooding in San Francisco.  The problem is that in addition to the sea level rising, the land is also sinking.  Climatewire reports that previous estimates looking at only sea-level rise suggested that 20 to 160 square miles of the Bay Area's coastline could be inundated by the year 2100. But when the land subsidence is factored in, the projected area of flooding increases to between 50 and 165 square miles, depending on the severity of future climate change.

Sea level rise estimates are also increasing.  According to a 2017 Report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by the end of the century, the Pacific Coast could potentially see 5 or 6 feet of sea-level rise under severe climate change trajectories.  Subsidence of coastal lands can be caused by a variety of influences is often caused by land-use practices that degrade the soil or deplete groundwater resources.  San Francisco is hardly alone -- recent research in Louisiana, for instance, has raised serious concerns about the state's rapidly sinking coastline.

Why This Matters:  As we often repeat here in ODP, climate change is real, but with this kind of advance warning about the impacts, there is time to mitigate them.  The Trump Administration's infrastructure spending (should it ever happen) would be a good place to start investing to save our vulnerable coastal areas from the double whammy of sea level rise and subsidence.  Interestingly, San Francisco is one of the cities that is suing the big oil companies for causing climate change, and that trial is heating up (bad pun).  The Judge in the case has just asked for a tutorial on the science of climate change -- both its causes and its impacts.  If found liable, these companies would be responsible for bearing some of the cost of mitigation. One way or another, someone will pay for it. 

And If You Are In The Bay Area This Weekend: You can catch me (Monica) at 3 pm on Sunday speaking on a panel on women in ocean science at the Fort Mason Center as part of the International Ocean Film Festival.


Photo: Serenity House 
North Philly Putting the Soul Back in Solar 

Serenity House is a community center in North Philadelphia that is also an outreach ministry of the United Methodist Church. They take on a roll in the community and provide men's and women's support groups, a community garden, meals, public events etc. Several years ago, in partnership with Swarthmore College and help from Re-Volv (a solar financing nonprofit) and Solar States (a local solar installer), Serenity House has launched a community solar initiative called Serenity SoularSerenity Soular has a three-pronged mission: supporting renewable energy in North Philadelphia with installations and education, introducing community residents to jobs in the green economy and putting the “soul back in solar,” as its slogan states.

Solar States works to train members of the community to install local solar and then employs trainees, giving participants of Serenity Soular skills in the green economy. As John Bowie, a community activist, said "We ask young people to just say no without giving them something to say 'yes' to, this is something they can say 'yes' to." 

Serenity Soular is working in the intersection of social justice and green energy to build a thriving and sustainable North Philly. 

Why This Matters: This program shows community members that they have a place in the green economy and gives them an opportunity they may not have heard of before. While communities of color and those of lower income use the least amount of energy, they suffer disproportionate consequences resulting from the pollution of fossil fuel energy generation. 

NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson describes it best: "Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition. Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition."

Take a look at their work below:


Photo: P. Rossignol/Reuters 
Chanel Not So Stylish For Felling Trees

Chanel's creative director Karl Lagerfeld is one of fashion's most respected designers but he's caused quite an outrage after he created a forest with real, chopped-down mature trees for the Chanel Fall/Winter 2018 catwalk show in Paris this past week. 

French environmental activists said in a statement that the luxury brand is trying to "give itself a more green image while completely divorced from the reality of protecting nature." Adding that, "Nature is not chopping down trees in a forest, putting them up for a few hours for a show and then throwing them into a skip." 

France Nature Environnement argued that instead of cutting down trees in a forest, it would have been better to hold a show in an actual forest and bring spectators into the natural world. While it's still unclear if the trees Chanel had chopped down were over 100 years old (Chanel says they weren't, activists say they were), the fashion house did make a commitment to replant 100 new oak trees in the same forest. 

Why This Matters: In Paris, the city that is known for its global agreement on carbon emissions, one might have expected a bit more sensitivity to the carbon capturing capacity of these trees.  Harper's Bazaar praised Karl Lagerfeld's "lifelike forest," but that misses the point that an actual forest was harmed for the short-lived artistic effect. While some designers have made an earnest commitment to strike balance between a constant fashion-cycle and sustainability, others have been more tone deaf. Top designers who set trends should be more cognizant of the signals they send because consumerism is a major contributor to climate change. Not to mention, cutting down trees just for a fashion show comes off as gauche when Europe's last primeval forest is under threat from illegal logging. 

(h/t to reader Tom Snitch for sending us this story) 


Interview of the Week: Dr. Jon Witman of Brown University

The Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99% of the world's oceans over the past 10 years.  And as reported in Axios Science yesterday, scientists are scrambling to figure out what that will mean for all the marine life there such as endangered whales, and for fishermen whose livelihoods depend on it.  Jon Witman has been studying the Gulf of Maine for nearly his entire career.  Growing up near the broad horizon of the ocean undoubtedly influenced his interest in large-scale marine ecology.  He is deeply committed to training the next generation of ecologists and is fortunate to have conducted research in all five oceans of the world.  In our interview this week, he discusses his recent research on ocean warming in the Gulf of Maine. 

ODP:  The Gulf of Maine is a place where climate change is having a huge impact.  What is happening and why? 
JW:  The Gulf is warming from the increasingly frequent periods of unseasonably warm air that change atmospheric circulation in a way that has caused exceptionally rapid warming over the past several decades. The warm Gulf Stream is flowing in more than before as cold northern currents are changing. Right now, more is known about changes in the climate of the Gulf of Maine than about the ecological impact of the climate changes, but this is a rapidly growing area of scientific research that is timely and critically important.
ODP:  How is all this warming impacting natural resources in the Gulf of Maine? 
JW:  As the Gulf of Maine warms, scientists are basically documenting four types of impacts:
  • northward range shifts of typical inhabitants such as cod and lobster and warm water species like black sea bass;
  • reduced populations of some inhabitants as their food supply is diminished, as is happening with puffins;
  • wildlife disease spreading from the south; and
  • a reduction in habitats formed by cold water species such as kelp, due to warm water stress and invasive species. 
We observed the last type of change in one vibrant offshore area called Cashes Ledge. All these changes mean that the future Gulf of Maine food chain will be transformed in ways that we don’t fully understand yet.
ODP:  You have focused your research on a place called Cashes Ledge about 100 miles off the coast of New Hampshire.  What makes Cashes Ledge so special?
JW:  I used to say that diving on Cashes Ledge is like taking a time machine back to underwater New England hundreds of years ago when Captain John Smith used to come all the way over from England, load up his boats with codfish, and return to England in a short period of time. That’s a bit of an exaggeration today, but in our recent study we documented that the number and size of fish in the massive kelp forest on Cashes Ledge is still exceptionally high, over 300 times higher than in coastal communities and that the amount of kelp is 150 times higher than at the same depth along the coast.  So, Cashes Ledge is an abundance and biodiversity hotspot – an oasis in the center of the Gulf of Maine. It’s off the charts really.
ODP: Fishermen have agreed to prohibit most fishing on Cashes Ledge and other large swaths of the Gulf of Maine for now.  Is that sufficient or should protection be more permanent in your view?
JW:  Yes, an area around Cashes Ledge was closed in 1998 to bottom trawling in order to protect essential fish habitat for groundfish like cod, which was a welcome move because the sea floor in this area was so heavily trawled previously that in the 80’s it looked like a snowplow had scraped and cleared the bottom absolutely everywhere. There are holes in the current protection of Cashes Ledge big enough to drive a snowplow through, as pelagic longlining and gillnetting is allowed. I think that permanent protection for the spectacular and unique Cashes Ledge area as a National Monument in the ocean would be a win-win for both fishermen and environmental advocates.  We all want the same thing -- a healthy ocean with lots of fish and other species.
ODP:  What can scientists learn from Cashes Ledge?  Given climate change in the Gulf of Maine, why is this so important?
JW:  We found that the ocean is warmer offshore on Cashes Ledge than in the coastal southwest region of the Gulf.  Particularly during the summer of 2012, it was as if the Gulf of Maine had a “fever.”  We saw a big reduction in kelp populations during this heat wave that was exacerbated by an invasive species that grew
over the plants. We know this because we have been studying Cashes Ledge for 30 years. Cashes Ledge, like a lush forest in a rapidly warming area on land, is a natural laboratory for studying climate change in the Gulf of Maine. We want to continue to study the health of the kelp forest community there so we can learn how to protect it in the face of climate change.

To Dive Deeper Into Cashes Ledge:  You can read Jon's research paper co-authored with his
PhD student Robert Lamb, or watch the video below.  
Cashes Ledge: A Living Laboratory For Climate Change in the Gulf of Maine


Photo: International Fund for Animal Welfare
Tech Titans Team Up To Save Wildlife

On Wednesday, twenty-one top tech companies announced they are forming the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online to try to stop wildlife traffickers from trading endangered species on their platforms. The Coalition includes such tech companies as Alibaba, Baidu, eBay, Facebook, Instagram and Microsoft, as well as NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.  They have pledged to "work together to collectively reduce wildlife trafficking across platforms by 80% by 2020."  The problem has been that increasingly the illegal wildlife trade has moved online, where anonymity and the sheer number of for-sale postings means that it hard for law enforcement to stop the smuggling.  The smugglers just keep moving -- when one company cracks down, sellers simply move to another platform.

Ivory is the best-known wildlife product being trafficked online. Earlier this year, China banned the domestic sale and processing of ivory, thereby closing one of the world's biggest ivory markets.  But in addition to ivory, there are many kinds of wildlife sold illegally on the internet -- including live animals such as parrots and other birds, cheetah cubs, rare iguanas, and the endangered pangolin, a kind of scaly anteater used for its meat, scales, and leather.

Why This Matters:  It is not hard to find wildlife items for sale online -- everything from trinkets like elephant ivory carvings to live baby animals. These sales are generally illegal and/or in breach of a website’s rules.  Countless endangered species are under threat from illegal wildlife trafficking, which is accelerated since online sales happen at the click of a button.  Most buyers are totally unaware that what they are purchasing is devastating wildlife populations and funding dangerous international criminals. By banding together, these organizations are taking a critical step toward ensuring a future that includes rhinos, elephants and thousands of other creatures.  If only the Trump Administration would do the same and reinstate the ban on bringing wildlife "trophies" such as elephants and lions into the U.S. 



Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle   Photo: Mission Blue
Heroines of the Week: Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle

This week, in honor of International Women's Day, we choose to recognize two of the greatest scientists and conservation advocates of our time, Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle.  They are icons in conservation -- trailblazers -- who changed the way we look at the natural world.  Ms. Goodall, through her work protecting chimpanzees, has inspired millions to conserve nature and she reminds us that "everything is connected" and "everyone can make a difference."  Dr. Earle, aka "Her Deepness," has led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater including leading the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970, and setting a record for solo diving in 1,000 meters depth. Her tireless efforts to educate the public about the threats to the health of the ocean have also inspired millions.

In 2015, they teamed up to create the Tapestry of Hope. Combining Dr. Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program with Dr. Earle’s Hope Spots initiative, the Tapestry of Hope project highlights thousands of local service projects working towards a sustainable future both on the ground and in the water.  We cannot think of anyone more deserving of recognition for their decades of contributions to science and our understanding of the natural world, which are all the more remarkable because they achieved them at a time when few women went into science. 

To Check Out the Tapestry of Hope sites, click here for an interactive map.  
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