Tag Archives: united states

Ivory-billed woodpecker and other 22 species to be declared extinct in the US

After looking for decades, the US government has officially given up hope on trying to find 23 species of birds, fish, and other animals — and is declaring them extinct. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to officially remove them from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a decision they argue was made based on reviews of the latest science. 

Image credit: Flickr / Tim Lumley

The protection granted by the ESA, which came into effect in 1973, came too late for this group of species, the FWS said in a press release. But it stressed that so far, the act has been successful at preventing the extinction of more than 99% of the species listed – protections that are needed now more than ever due to the climate crisis

“With climate change and natural area loss pushing more and more species to the brink, now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife,” US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The ESA has been incredibly effective at preventing species from going extinct.”

The proposal marks the largest group of animals and plants to be formally considered extinct since the ESA was passed. Only 11 had been taken off the list since then. But that’s due to change now with 23 further species, including 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two types of fish, a flowering plant in the mint family, and a fruit bat. 

The species include the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), Bachman’s warbler (Vermivora bachmanii), two species of freshwater fishes, eight species of Southeastern freshwater mussels, and 11 species from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, like the Maui akepa (Loxops ochraceus) and Molokai creeper (Paroreomyza flammea).

The woodpecker was listed as endangered in 1967, with the last sighting in Louisiana. Despite decades of survey efforts, it hasn’t been relocated. Bachman’s warbler was listed in the same year but hasn’t been seen since 1962. Loss of forest habitat and widespread collection are the main reasons behind their extinction, FWS said. 

Freshwater mussels are among the most endangered species in the US, home to more than half of the world’s species of mussels. The ones to be taken off the ESA include flat pigtoe, southern acornshell, stirrupshell, upland combshell, green-bloosom pearly, tugid-blossom pearly mussel, yellow-blossom pearly mussel and the turbecled-blossom pearly mussuel. 

An environmental crisis

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a statement from Leigh Henry, director of wildlife policy, in response to the news, arguing this is a “glaring warning sign” that the planet is in the midst of an “extinction crisis.” Swifter and bolder action is needed to prioritize the natural world, which is key for both human wellbeing and ecosystems, he added.

Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) argued that the FWS has been “exceedingly slow” to protect species, mentioning a 2016 study that found species waited an average of 12 years to receive safeguards. They also recalled President Biden hasn’t nominated yet a director for the FWS amid limited funding for endangered species. 

“The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the plants and animals under its care, but sadly these species were extinct or nearly gone when they were listed,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the CBD, said in a statement. “The tragedy will be magnified if we don’t keep this from happening again by fully funding species protection.”

Still, the ESA has had success stories too. A total of 54 species were removed from protected status thanks to their recovery, including the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and the American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Another 56 species were also moved from endangered to threatened since ESA was enacted. 

Flooding caused by climate change is costing the US billions every year

The climate crisis is costing the United States economy billions every year due to flooding alone, a new study by Standford University researchers showed. Rainfall contributed a third of the costs of flooding over the past three decades, totaling almost $75 billion of the estimated $199 billion.

Image credit: Flickr / Vilma

Flooding is considered by insurance companies the number-one natural threat in the US, even before wildfire and storm, with 14.6 million properties at substantial risk. The frequency and severity of the phenomenon are increasing as the climate crisis kicks in, with the floodplains expected to grow by 45% by the end of the century.

A growing amount of flooding is already happening in the US, especially in the Mississippi River Valley, Midwest, and Northeast, while coastal flooding has also doubled in a matter of decades, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a 2017 report that looked at climate change in the US.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading group of climate experts, said in a report in 2012 that climate change “has detectably influenced” several of the water-related variables that contribute to floods, such as rainfall and snowmelt. Still, connecting climate change with flooding and its costs hasn’t been an easy task.

Many factors can lead to a flood. There are weather events such as prolonged or heavy rains but also human-driven elements such as the way waterways are managed and the alterations done to the land. Growing urbanization, for example, adds impermeable surfaces such as pavement and alters natural drainage systems.

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase in the future is well known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” lead author Frances Davenport said in a statement. “Our analysis allows us to isolate how much of those changes in precipitation translate to changes in the cost of flooding, both now and in the future.”

Davenport and Standford University researchers combined high-resolution climate and economic data with advanced methods from economics to quantify the link between historical precipitation variation and historic flooding costs. They showed that climate change is largely to blame for the growing cost of flooding in the US.

The researchers developed a model based on observed precipitation and monthly reports of flood damage, controlling factors that might affect flooding costs like increases in home values. Then they calculated the change in extreme rain in each state and finally used the model to calculate the economic damages if the changes in extreme precipitation hadn’t happened.

When considering all the individual states, changes in rain patterns represented 36% of the flooding costs in the US from 1988 to 2017, according to the study. The effect of changing rain was primarily driven by increases in extreme precipitation, which have been responsible for the largest share of flooding costs historically.

“Previous studies have analyzed pieces of this puzzle, but this is the first study to combine rigorous economic analysis of the historical relationships between climate and flooding costs with really careful extreme event analyses in both historical observations and global climate models, across the whole United States,” said senior author Noah Diffenbaugh.

The researchers believe their findings have implications beyond flooding in the US. They believe it could be applied to other natural threats, to climate effects in different sectors of the economy, and to other regions of the planet, helping to understand the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

What does Biden have in store for science? Expect changes on COVID-19 and climate change, for starters

The United States will see big changes in its main policies on health, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic among many other areas over the next months, as Joe Biden is expected to take office on 20 January.

While some of these planned changes depend on Congress approval, others will be passed more directly through executive presidential orders.

Image Credits: Flickr Stingrayschuller.

The general trend: reversing damaging action

The four-year presidency of Donald Trump witnessed a dismantling of many environmental regulations and a step back from the US’ position as a leader in climate and health — even science itself. Biden will have the opportunity and the challenge to reverse many of the policies introduced by the Trump administration that scientists and researchers claim were damaging to science.

A democrat who previously served as a vice-president, Biden vowed in the campaign to increase test-and-trace programs to help bring the coronavirus under control alongside his vice-president Kamala Harris, the first woman to be VP in the US.

Some measures will take time, and some will come on his first day at the White House. Biden already anticipated the enactment of a set of executive orders to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Worth Health Organization (WHO), among other issues, marking a big gap from the policies set by Trump.

“Instead of dog-eat-dog, maybe we will have a modicum of international cooperation, greater adherence to laws and treaties, more civility in politics across the globe, less ‘fake news’, more smiles and less anger,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and nuclear-proliferation specialist based in Islamabad, told Nature.

Acting on COVID-19

Biden’s transition team already unveiled the 13 members of what will be his Covid-19 task force once he takes office. The task force will consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address racial disparities in the impact of the pandemic.

Some of the members of the task force include Luciana Borio (former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist), Rick Bright (former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA, fired by the Trump administration), and Atul Gawande, surgeon and recently departed CEO of Haven Healthcare, a not-for-profit health body.

“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe and effective.”

While President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, opposing local efforts and even suggesting cutting down on tests, Biden’s team has committed to increasing test-and-trace programs. The new administration vowed to work side-by-side with state- and local-level officials to implement mandates nationwide and strengthening public-health facilities.

The president-elect has also promised to make decisions grounded in science. This also a sharp contrast with Trump, who sidelined government scientists at public-health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shunning scientists and science alike.

Biden announced plans to reopen the lines of communication with other countries and international organizations.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that no country can face our current challenges alone, and hopefully will re-engage and help re-form key science-based multilateral institutions,” Marga Gual Soler, an adviser on science diplomacy and policy to the European Union, told Nature.

What to do with face masks will be one of the first tests for Biden. His team already concluded they can’t impose a national mask mandate from the White House, they will need to work with governors and mayors on this end. But the White House could ask for the use of masks on federal property and during interstate transportation. Still, they need to gather support from governors and work on persuasive messaging.

Image Credits: Phil Roeder.

The same applies to testing, another key decision for the new president. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist and expert in medical testing for viruses, said the new administration should invest in simple, do-it-yourself coronavirus tests that could be distributed across the country to tens of millions of households.

On their transition website, Biden and Harris said they want to double the number of drive-through testing sites and establishing a Pandemic Testing Board, an organizing body that will direct the production and distribution of “tens of millions of tests.” They also want to deploy a US Public Health Corp to protect at-risk populations.

They plan to invest $25 billion in the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, hoping to guarantee a free vaccine to every American. Clinical data for any approved vaccine will be publicly released. The new administration also wants to prevent price gouging for approved COVID-19 treatments.

Environment action

Biden will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards Trump abolished and launch what could be one of the boldest plans on climate change the US has ever seen. While some programs may find resistance from Senate Republicans, the country is on track to make a big change in its environmental policy.

The new administration has plans to develop renewable energy even further, restrict oil and gas drilling on public land, block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country and encourage other countries to cut their emissions even further. It’s all part of a large package Biden is getting ready and will see the light in January.

Under Biden, the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2ºC and ideally below 1.5ºC. Biden has promised measures to put the US will on track for net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. Scientists have said this would have big implications for the Paris goals.

Image credits: Diane Greene.

An analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit organization, said Biden’s climate plan could put the Paris Agreement’s goals “within striking distance”. If fulfilled, the US would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 75 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, decreasing global warming by 0.1°C by the end of the century.

The US is the world’s second-biggest polluter, behind China. Trump decided to leave the Paris Agreement, which became official one day after the presidential election. The move signaled to the world that the US wouldn’t lead the fight against climate change anymore, with critics saying this undermined other nations’ effort.

Biden said he will not allow fracking on federal land. Fracking is a drilling process in which chemicals are injected into rocks to liberate natural gas and oil and is controversial because of its environmental impact. However, about 90% of it occurs on state or private land, so most operations won’t be affected.

He has also vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. If he can’t implement it through Senate, he’ll rely on executive orders to advance his agenda.

Candidates are already being considered for the top environmental posts under the new administration. Mary Nichols, who has implemented many of the nation’s most liberal climate policies, is a leading contender to head the EPA. The former secretary of state John F. Kerry may get involved with climate policy.

Andrew Light, a former senior climate official in the Obama administration, said Biden is focused on lowering emissions and increasing jobs. “There will be a big push on electric vehicles, a big push on efficient buildings, both residential and offices, a big push on creating a new kind of civilian conservation corps and doing a lot of nature-based solutions on climate change,” he told the BBC.

It remains to be seen how much of his plans Biden will actually be able to accomplish. However, one thing’s for sure: US science will witness a very different presidency.

What the US vote means for the world’s climate

How the US elections go will likely play a critical role in how much hotter the world gets in the coming years, climate experts agree. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have opposite views on climate change. No matter which one of them gets elected, they will have a big hand to play in shaping the world’s climate.

Credit White House

President Trump notified the United Nations a year ago that the US would be renouncing the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the US will formally leave the agreement just one day after the presidential election. Due to the clauses in the international pact, November 4th is the earliest a that the US can withdraw (one year after the decision was officially announced).

This means the US, the world’s second-largest climate polluter, will be the first country to exit the agreement, which forces countries to pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world has already warmed by 1ºC compared to pre-industrial levels and is on track to reach warming between 3ºC and 4ºC.

Democrat candidate Joe Biden has pledged to put the country immediately back in the Paris agreement. This doesn’t require congressional approval and would take three months, from November to the January inauguration. If the US pulls back into the agreement, other countries will be less likely to back out too.

In the last debate, Biden vowed to set a goal of zero net carbon emissions for the US by 2050. This means the country would not put more greenhouse gases into the air than it takes out. More than a dozen countries, including top polluting such as China, have already made similar pledges and more are expected to come.

“Losing most of the world’s coral reefs is something that would be hard to avoid if the U.S. remains out of the Paris process,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, told Associated Press. “At the margins, we would see a world of more extreme heatwaves.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week in a visit to the Maldives that the Trump administration has done its “fair share” to reduce carbon emissions. He said the US reduced emissions through “creativity, innovation, and good governance” instead of imposing “state-driven and forced rulesets.”

Carbon emissions from the US dropped by less than 1% a year from 2016 to 2019, until plunging (probably temporarily) during the pandemic, according to the Department of Energy. More than 60 countries cut emissions by higher percentages than the US over that time, according to international data.

Using a “Climate Deregulation Tracker,” researchers at Columbia University in New York have tracked more than 160 significant rollbacks of environmental regulations over the past three years of the Trump administration. These cover everything from car fuel standards, to methane emissions, to light bulbs.

“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris Climate Accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told AP in a statement. “President Trump understands economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict.”

Trevor Houser, a climate modeler for the independent Rhodium Group, compared a continuation of the Trump administration’s current emission trends to what would happen if Biden worked toward net-zero emissions. He found that in the next 10 years, the US under a Trump scenario would emit 6 billion tons more greenhouse gases than under Biden.

Americans are responsible for much more plastic waste than previously thought

The United States generates a much larger share of the plastic waste polluting the oceans than previously thought, a new study showed. Researchers found that the US produces the most plastic waste in total, and ranks first in the world in per capita plastic waste released in the oceans.

Credit Flickr Paolo Margari

Asian countries such as China have always ranked much higher than the US on the list of coastal plastic polluters. A previous study had ranked the US 20th among countries that mismanaged plastic waste the most in 2010. But the study didn’t look at whether waste was mismanaged after it was exported to another country for recycling.

“Plastic pollution globally is at a crisis level,” said Nick Mallos, senior director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program and co-author of the paper. “Most problematic is that rather than looking the problem in the eye, for more than 30 years, [the US] outsourced our waste problem to developing countries.”

The researchers looked at data for 2016 and considered how waste was treated after it was shipped abroad. They found that the US share of mismanaged plastic waste jumped by up to 400% compared to the 2010 figure. Americans, in total, generate the most plastic waste in the world, according to the study.

On average, an American is responsible for over 280 pounds (127 kilograms) of plastic waste every year compared to about 120 pounds (54 kilograms) for a European. After the European Union, India generated the next largest amount of plastic waste per capita, with about 44 pounds per year, the researchers found.

The US sent more than half of its massive pile of plastic recyclables to other countries. That amounted to close to 2 million metric tons shipped overseas, of which up to 1 million metric tons likely ended up polluting the environment. Almost 90% of the exports ended up in countries where it was mismanaged.

“For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste,” said lead author Kara Lavender Law. “And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.”

The authors were able to gather global data from 2016, since more recent figures weren’t available. Since then, recycling has changed significantly. China, which used to accept most of the recyclables from the US, decided in 2018 that it would stop accepting low-grade plastics. That led to plastics being shipped to other countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia.

They previously didn’t receive such a high volume of waste so this meant a big challenge for their waste infrastructure. Those places inundated by a flood of new waste might burn the discarded plastic or dump it in open pits, where winds and floods can easily push lightweight materials out to the ocean.

The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise sharply in the US, India and Brazil

The coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down in the worst-affected countries, the United States, Brazil and India. The three nations account for more than 60% of the new positive cases of the virus, according to recent estimations by John Hopkins University.

India reported today almost 25,000 new coronavirus infections, as the disease continues to spread among its 1.4 billion inhabitants. Meanwhile, the US reported nearly 59,00 new daily cases, close to the record of 60,000 cases from a day earlier. In Brazil, nearly 45,000 new cases were reported.

The number of confirmed cases in the US has already passed three million, which means at least one in every 100 people has been infected, with the number of deaths exceeding 132,000. President Trump stills wants to reopen schools and threatened to hold back federal money from districts that don’t follow through.

Despite the pressure, New York City announced that most of its students would return to classrooms only two or three days a week and would learn online in between. “Most schools will not be able to have all their kids in school at the same time,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press conference.

Health experts have urged US officials to reconsider how they are planning to reopen the economy as a whole and to prioritize schools. This would mean closing down some establishments like bars to limit the spread of the virus and increase the possibility of returning to the classrooms.

“We need to think about what our priorities are as a society, and some other things may just have to wait” Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, told AP. “I think there are hard choices having to be made by decision-makers.”

In Brazil, cases of coronavirus are soaring across the country, and the healthcare system in several states has been stretched to its limit. Brazil is second only to the United States in the number of infections and deaths, and on Tuesday, president Jair Bolsonaro was also diagnosed with Covid-19.

The virus first hit Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, as well as some regions in the southeast of the country, such as San Pablo or Rio de Janeiro, but in recent weeks it has spread with force to other areas, such as the west center and the south.

Meanwhile, India remains as the third country with the largest number of cases, so far totaling 767,296. Of those, about 476,000 have already recovered. Maharashtra remains the most affected state and accumulates more than 223,000 positives, followed by Tamil Nadu (more than 122,000) and Delhi (almost 105,000).

The situation in other countries

The novel coronavirus has also been spreading quite fast in South Africa, which registered almost 9,000 new cases in the latest daily update. The government is preparing 1.5 million gravesites, according to a provincial health official, who told AP it’s the public’s responsibility “to make sure that we don’t get there.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, following initial success in containing the outbreak, the country reported 179 new cases. Most of them were located in the city of Melbourne, which has imposed a new six-week lockdown. Six new cases were from a high school that is now considered the state’s larger known cluster with 113 people infected.

The virus is also escalating in Tokyo, with more than 220 new cases today, exceeding the record daily increase from mid-April. Most of the new cases are linked to night clubs, according to Tokyo’s virus task force, but there are also growing concerns of a wider spread in the community from workplaces and households.

In Serbia, the police threw tear gas at protesters who were complaining against the president’s handling of the outbreak. The government backtracked on reinstating a lockdown in Belgrade and demonstrations turned violent, with protesters throwing stones against the parliament.

EU eyes countries for renewed travel to the bloc, but not the US

After four months of travel bans, Europe will soon officially be open to visitors from at least 14 countries, but the United States isn’t on the list. The move follows a decline in the number of positive COVID-19 cases across the continent, which hopes to welcome tourists back again.

Credit Flickr

The European Union restricted nonessential travel to most of its member-states under rules in effect until at least June 30. But starting July 1, European countries will loosen some of those measures, allowing travel from non-EU countries again that meet certain criteria, including their ability to contain the coronavirus.

The final list will be revealed at some point this week, but media reports have said Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea will be among those greenlighted. Meanwhile, Brazil, Russia, and the United States will likely be excluded, due to their current high numbers of positive cases.

According to Euronews, 54 countries were on an initial draft list obtained “from EU diplomatic sources.” The list includes countries in Southeastern and Central Europe, as well as Africa, the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. While many will not be ultimately granted access now, they might be greenlighted later on.

That’s not likely going to be the case for the US, which now has the highest number of coronavirus deaths and infections in the world. At least 2.5 million had been infected in the country and 128,000 people had died, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

An EU diplomat told CNN that it was very “unlikely” travelers from the US would be allowed in, adding that even though the list had not been finalized “the US’s chances are close to zero.” The diplomat also said, “with their infection rates … not even they can believe in that possibility.”

But infection rates aren’t the single factor being considered by the EU when choosing which countries to grant access to. Other elements also weight in heavily, such as whether the country has lifted travel restrictions on the EU. Something that is still not the case with the US.

Back in March, as the number of coronavirus cases began growing in the US, President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on anyone arriving from the European Union. Trump described the decision as a way to protect Americans, though some doubted its effectiveness in really slowing the spread of the virus.

The policy change caused confusion about who could and couldn’t return to the US, leading to chaos at airports and potentially backfiring as a rush of people returned to US airports. It also caught European leaders by surprise, who condemned the unilateral decision.

The spat between the EU and the US wasn’t actually something new. Since Trump took office, he has picked up fights with European leaders on a wide array of issues from trade to the Iran deal. The US declined to participate on a global vaccine summit and pulled out of the World Health Organization, both moves questioned by Europe.

As both Europe and the US seek to rebuild their economies, continuing travel bans from both sides will likely make it more difficult. Tourism is already being severely hit, according to the US Travel Association. “The EU’s announcement is incredibly disappointing, and a step in the wrong direction as we seek to rebuild our global economy,” said its VP for Public Affairs Tori Emerson Barnes in a statement.

The US could supply 90% of its electrical power with clean energy by 2035 – and it wouldn’t cost more

Renewable energy could power 90% of the country’s demand for electricity by 2035, at no extra cost to consumer bills, according to a new report. Doing so would avoid important environmental and health costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and give a boost to the economy.

Credit Flickr

The report “2035 Report: Plummeting Solar, Wind, and Battery Costs Can Accelerate Our Clean Energy Future” by the University of California showed how consistent reductions in cost for solar, wind, and battery storage could allow the US to curtail fossil fuels usage.

Retaining existing hydropower and nuclear capacity, as well as much of the existing natural gas capacity, and in combination with new battery storage would be enough to meet US electricity demand with a 90% clean grid by 2035, the study concluded. Under this scenario, the researchers assume all existing coal plants have been retired by 2035 and no new ones have been built.

Doing so would mean a $1.7 trillion injection into the country’s economy, increasing energy-related jobs by up to 530,000 per year through 2035, across all regions of the U.S. — and all without raising consumers’ bills. What’s more, a 90% renewable energy matrix would avoid $1.2 trillion in environmental and health costs through 2050.

It won’t be easy, though. This scenario advances state and national energy policy proposals by 15 years. But that level of ambition is what’s actually needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In 2018, the UN warned the world only has twelve years to cut emissions in order to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

“We’re talking about the ability to achieve near-100 percent clean electricity by 2035, in half the time most people are talking about,” said in a statement David Wooley, director of the Center for Environmental Public Policy, which authored the report. “This is exciting, because the 2035 timeframe is actually compatible with climate realities.”

A 90% clean grid reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 88% through 2035, the report showed. It also reduces exposure to fine particulate matter by reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 96% and sulfur dioxide emissions by 99%. As a result, a 90% clean grid would prevent 85,000 premature deaths through 2050.

The target year of 2035 gives sufficient time for most fossil fuel energy plants to recover their fixed costs, avoiding the risk of stranded investments, according to the report. Wind, solar, and battery storage can provide the bulk of the clean electricity and new fossil fuel generators aren’t needed. In periods of low demand for renewables, existing gas plants, hydropower, and nuclear plants could be used.

The report was published alongside a set of recommendations for policymakers by the nonpartisan policy firm Energy Innovation. The US should establish a technology-neutral national clean energy standard targeting 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2045, the authors of the report proposed.

“What an incredible opportunity for economic stimulus. A federal clean energy standard, supported by government investments in deployment and American manufacturing, could put us back on track for a healthier economy. Meanwhile, continued policy leadership from the states can bolster progress,” said in a statement Sonia Aggarwal, Vice President at Energy Innovation.

US surpasses two million coronavirus cases as states start to reopen

The United States hit a grim mark: two million confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The milestone comes as many states have started to reopen after months of quarantines, and some (like Florida and Texas) are reporting spikes in cases.

Credit Flickr

More than 112,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S, the highest number of fatalities reported by any country so far. A model cited by the White House has said the death toll could reach 169,890 in October, with a possible range of 133,000 to 290,000 deaths.

“If the US is unable to check the growth in September, we could be facing worsening trends in October, November and the following months if the pandemic, as we expect, follows pneumonia seasonality,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a statement.

The new data reflects the difficulty of getting rid of the coronavirus in the US. While some early hot spots such as New York state states have registered a drop in the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is rising fast in Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, and California.

Texas reported new records for hospitalizations due to coronavirus on three consecutive days this week, now with 2,153 hospitalized patients. The state has been one of the first to start lifting the lockdown measures, with Governor Greg Abbott moving ahead with a plan to increase the occupancy limits of bars and stores.

Meanwhile, Florida is also reporting a new surge, with more people testing positive for COVID-19 last Saturday than any day in the past two months. The state has reported more than 1,000 new cases every day since June 2, with the number of deaths from coronavirus dropping to double-digits.

The state entered its second phase of reopening last week, which does not place a limit on how many customers can be in stores or gyms and allows bars to serve half as many guests as they normally would. Social distancing is still encouraged at all businesses. However, the counties with the most infections were excluded from the new phase.

Optimistic for the future, Governor Ron DeSantis said he had volunteered several cities to be potential sites for the Republican National Convention, including Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. “So this is almost three months out, I think we’re probably going to be able to pull it off,” DeSantis said.

The highest per capita rate of new infections was registered in Arizona, with an average of more than 1,000 new cases every day this week. The state’s health department said a quarter of the beds in intensive case are still available, underscoring the new surge across the state.

As of last month, all states had begun easing their coronavirus restrictions in the US, with only a few with stay-at-home orders still in place. This could suggest that more people are moving around and that the new increases in cases are real and not just a result of more testing.

With the new scenario, health experts ask people not to become complacent and to carefully follow habits that help to slow the coronavirus, such as washing hands, maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from others, and wearing a face mask when in close contact.

Lack of irrigation water challenges farmers in the US

Agriculture is an important sector of the US economy. Crops, livestock, and seafood contribute more than $300 billion to the economy each year. But the sector is highly dependent on climate, which is already changing due to global warming.

Credit Flickr

Many farmers in the Western US rely on snowmelt to help irrigate their crops. But the timing and the availability of snowmelt could be severely altered because of climate change, according to a new study.

A team of researchers looked at monthly irrigation water demand and snowmelt runoff across global basins from 1985 to 2015, hoping to establish where irrigated agriculture has depended on snowmelt runoff in the past and how that might change with a higher temperature.

The next step was looking at the projected changes in snowmelt and rainfall runoff if the Earth warms by 2 or 4 degrees Celsius (about 3 ½ or 7 degrees Fahrenheit), which will potentially put snow-dependent basins at risk.

The findings showed many basins globally are at risk of not having enough water available at the right times for irrigation because of changes in snowmelt patterns. Of those most affected, two are the San Joaquin and Colorado river basins in the western United States.

“In many areas of the world, agriculture depends on snowmelt runoff happening at certain times and at certain magnitudes,” said in a statement Yue Qin, lead author of the study. “But climate change is going to cause less snow and early melting in some basins, which could have profound effects on food production.”

Under a 4-degree Celsius warming scenario, the researchers project that the share of irrigation water demand met by snowmelt in the San Joaquin Basin decreases from 33 to 18%. In the Colorado Basin, the share of water demand met by snowmelt decreases from 38 to 23%. Other basins in which agriculture is at particular risk because of changes in snowmelt are located in southern Europe, western China, and Central Asia, the authors report.

Depending on the magnitude and the timing, rainfall-runoff may be able to compensate for declines in snowmelt runoff in meeting irrigation water demand – but only for some basins. “In many basins, future changes in rainfall do not compensate for the lost snowmelt in crops’ growing seasons,” the study reads.

The researchers looked at the potential availability of reservoir storage and groundwater to help satisfy the additional irrigation need created by less snowmelt and early melting. In some basins, those additional requirements would pose great challenges in trying to make up for changing snowmelt patterns.

“Irrigation demands not met by rainfall or snowmelt currently already represent more than 40 percent of reservoir water storage in many Asian and North American basins,” Steve Davis, co-author, said. “And in a warming world, agriculture won’t be the only added demand on reservoirs and other alternative water supplies like groundwater.”

The study also examined which crops globally were at most at risk because of snowmelt changes resulting from climate change. Findings showed that rice and cotton in northern hemisphere summer, or wheat and managed grassland in spring, were particularly snow-dependent.

The results of the study could be used to prioritize and inform methods to minimize the impact of changing snowmelt on water supplies for agriculture, the researchers said. In some cases, policymakers may have to consider extra groundwater pumping and reservoir development.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Still think it’s just like the flu? COVID-19 now officially killed more Americans than the entire 2019 flu season — and it’s just started

Putting our heads in the sand will get us nowhere.

Credit: Pixabay.

Some people still believe that this whole coronavirus crisis is exaggerated and COVID-19 is nothing more than an ‘aggressive’ flu. The thing is, while some symptoms of the COVID-19 and the flu overlap greatly and many people develop very mild symptoms, COVID-19 is nothing like the flu. Many others die horribly. Many others still can spend weeks with a thumb-sized tube down their throat in order to survive.

Enough with anecdotes, though. Let’s look at the numbers.

As I’m typing this, the United States has experienced over 780,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 41,837 deaths. The vast majority of these fatalities have been recorded in this month of April (with more than a week to go).

For comparison, the flu killed 34,200 people during the entire 2018-2019 season, according to CDC records.

The rise in coronavirus casualties has also been alarming. On March 20th, there were 49 recorded COVID-19 fatalities. On April 19th, there were 1,561 deaths — in a single day.

This is not to say that influenza isn’t a heavy health burden in itself, but it’s a very different story. In 2019, there were an estimated 35.5 million people who were infected with influenza, resulting in a fatality rate of around 0.1%.

The coronavirus has already blown this death toll out of the water in less than a month. Reaching a case fatality rate of around 5%, signifying a mortality rate 50 times greater than the flu.

Of course, the real number of cases is much higher than that, but even a 1% mortality rate would make COVID-19 at least 10 times deadlier than the flu.

The worst flu season of the past decade was in 2017-2018, which saw 61,000 deaths. At this rate, COVID-19 might break this flu record for the 2010s by the end of the month.

It’s not clear how many people have become infected with the coronavirus and now have immunity, but the US is still early in the pandemic. If strict social distancing measures aren’t enforced and adhered to, millions of Americans might die this year alone or by the end of the pandemic — which could be years away.

Do you trust the numbers? You might be one of those people who recklessly compare the seriousness of this crisis to the seasonal flu.


Don’t bail out fossil fuel companies, Democrat lawmakers insist

The US already agreed to use US$2 trillion to support those economic sectors and workers most affected by the coronavirus lockdown. But how should that money be used? Not on fossil fuels, at least according to these Democrats.

Credit Flickr

A group of more than 40 Democratic lawmakers argue that fossil fuel companies should not be able to receive any assistance from the aid package recently passed by Congress. The aid is intended to support “struggling families, workers, businesses, states, and municipalities.”

“Giving that money to the fossil fuel industry will do nothing to stop the spread of the deadly virus or provide relief to those in need. It will only artificially inflate the fossil fuel industry’s balance sheets,” lawmakers wrote in a letter.

Global markets have taken a large plunge amid the coronavirus, including the price of oil, reaching record lows. Nevertheless, democrats argued fossil fuel firms shouldn’t receive any assistance. The Trump administration had also tried to secure a US$3 million package just for the sector.

“We call on you to ignore the pleas of big oil lobbyists, put consideration of this corporate bailout aside, and instead focus on supporting the workers and small businesses who truly need assistance due to the coronavirus public health emergency,” they added.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group that represents oil companies, replied to the claim by the Democrats, saying they are not interested in the money.

Nevertheless, they rejected the letter, claiming it’s “harmful” to workers and “opportunistic — asking the Trump administration to dismiss the claim.

Back in the 2008 economic crisis, former US President Barack Obama passed a stimulus package with the aim of moving forward with clean energy. Nevertheless, on this new package, renewable energy advocates have struggled to be included.

In a joint letter, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) asked members of Congress to extend their credits so as to “allow our member companies to hire thousands of additional workers and inject billions in the U.S. economy.”

Without further help, SEIA estimates the solar industry could see as much as 50% of residential solar jobs lost this year due to the pandemic. At the same time, AWEA estimates $43 billion dollars of investments and payments, mostly in the rural communities, is at risk.

Environmental and climate activists are asking all governments to focus the COVID-19 economic stimulus in zero-emissions sectors such as renewable energy and electric transportation, which can actually create millions of jobs and help the transition from polluting industries.

US cities with polluted air could be more affected by coronavirus outbreak

Two main risk factors are currently known to raise the chances of dying from the coronavirus that has brought the world to a halt: being old and having a weak immune system. Air pollution makes the second of those more likely.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Researchers at Harvard University have found that coronavirus patients in the most polluted areas of the United States are more likely to die from the illness than those in cleaner areas, based on an analysis of 3,080 counties – which represent 98% of the population.

The COVID-19 could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, according to official government estimations. More than 30 states have taken lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the virus, while others have been reluctant to do as well, so far. There are over 400.000 confirmed cases as of writing this in the US.

The new study showed a correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and heightened death rates associated with the virus. The findings could impact how medical resources necessary to respond to the virus are being distributed throughout the country.

“There is a large overlap between causes of deaths of COVID-19 patients and the diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5),” the study reads. “PM2.5 contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.”

The new analysis demonstrated that even slight increases in the level of particle pollution had negative impacts associated with COVID-19. Someone who has lived for decades in a county with such dangerous levels of pollution is 15% more likely to die from the coronavirus than an individual in a cleaner area.

The researchers collected data on particulate matter from more than 3,000 counties over the past 17 years. They compiled COVID-19 death statistics through April 4 from each county, using data from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

“The results of this study also underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations during the COVID-19 crisis. Based on our result, we anticipate a failure to do so can potentially increase the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalizations, further burdening our healthcare system,” the study reads.

Air pollution is the most urgent environmental health risk in the world. More than 90% of the planet breathes unhealthy air, leading to seven million premature deaths per year and billions of dollars in costs for health services.

The world is facing a “pandemic of air pollution”, which shortens life expectancy by almost three years — more than tobacco, AIDS, wars, or diseases such as malaria, according to a recent study. East Asia and Africa are the most affected regions.

Research on previous outbreaks has also suggested bad air makes viruses more deadly and spread further. A study of SARS-CoV-1 victims in 2003 found that patients were twice as likely to die in regions where air pollution was high rather than low.

Coronavirus takes a toll on Latino and Asian workers in the United States

As well as demanding a lot from the country’s health system, the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on workers across the United States. The lockdown in many states has led to massive business closures and a spike in jobless claims, which hit 6.6 million last week.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

This is particularly concerning for Latino and Asian American populations, which are more vulnerable to the economic uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a new report, which looked at Latino and Asian neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

“Entire communities are in a precarious financial situation, weakening the economic base in areas that already have a history of underinvestment and limited opportunities,” said Paul Ong, lead author and director of the and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK).

Los Angeles has taken dramatic action to limit person-to-person interactions by restricting group gatherings, encouraging “social distancing,” and ordering “sheltering in place.” Declining consumer demand and new temporary mandates have led to massive business closures, putting workers at risk.

According to the report, Asian and Latino neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable during this pandemic given their outsized share of the County’s retail and service sector workers. From this perspective, 57% of the Latino-majority neighborhoods and 40% of Asian-majority neighborhoods are at high-risk.

The report also found that neighborhoods with the highest rate of low-income individuals are also home to the County’s greatest share of at-risk service and retail workers (34%). This is in line with the finding that the wages of workers in these clusters are less than half of those in other sectors.

Communities that will see the greatest impacts include neighborhoods in northeast Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, Inglewood, and the northeast San Fernando Valley, the report found. The affected neighborhoods also have a high concentration of foreign-born residents.

“The economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic places an enormous strain on families and communities that are already in a precarious financial situation, and greatly weakens the economic base in many neighborhoods that historically suffer from under investment,” the report reads

A disproportionate number of the at-risk workers are likely excluded from the federal COVID-19 economic stimulus package, the report argued, given the low levels of unemployment insurance enrollment and the high number of foreign-born workers who may not possess a social security number.This means state and local officials should implement measures to support low-wage workers in Los Angeles County.

“Latinos and Asian Americans are critical to the continued success of Los Angeles County’s economy, and the impact that they will see in this crisis requires urgent action,” said Sonja Diaz, co-author of the report, in a statement.

Much worse than Italy: In the US, an absolute disaster is brewing

There is no denying it: Italy is not an unfortunate exception. Soon enough, most countries will face a similar struggle.

**The chart below has been updated on 24 March 2020. The accelerating trend of US infections compared to Italy continues.

Experts have long warned that the US health system, notably the only developed economy without universal health care, is in worse shape than Italy. Data via Johns Hopkins.

The US now has the largest growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the world, doubling approximately every 2 days. What initially seemed to be a relatively slow growth rate was, apparently, directed only by a lack of tests — as soon as people were getting tested, the number of cases surged.

It is becoming clear that sooner rather than later, the US will face a similar strain to Italy’s — and even Italy has not seen the peak of the outbreak.

The simple chart above shows that the rate of infection in the US is accelerating much faster than the one in Italy.

Of course, there is an argument to be made — first, about the number of asymptomatic cases. We know that a number of cases are asymptomatic and people might not even know they have the disease at all. We don’t know how many there are, but this is an important uncertainty. Then, there’s a discussion about the number of tests — most countries are only testing people who are already sick, but outside of Asia, mass testing has not really been deployed.

These are both serious sources of uncertainty, and there are others as well. But even so, there is nothing to suggest that Italy is the worst-case scenario. Recent statements by the US surgeon general seem to echo these concerns: “This week, it’s gonna get bad,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said. Considering that obesity and diabetes also appear to be risk factors for COVID-19, this would put much of the US population under even more pressure.

The US is not alone in this accelerated surge of infected cases.

Other countries looking at Italy from a distance would also be wise to understand that Italy is not the exception. Most have a similar infection rate, or even slightly accelerated.

The noted difference are some Asian countries — Japan and South Korea, to name just two. These countries managed to stabilize the situation and flatline the number of cases. Although there are concerns that the outbreak might re-emerge, they have both bought valuable time.

Suppression is valuable not just to contain the spread of the virus, but also to ensure that the medical system is not overwhelmed. Around 14% of all cases require hospitalization, and most of these people can be saved with proper care. But if the number gets too high and the medical system is overrun, the survival rate can decrease drastically. This is why it is important to take severe suppression measures as quickly as possible.

Follow our resource page for coronavirus in the US:

*This article is not regularly updated.

Not just the old: 29% of American patients sick with coronavirus are Millennials

You might have heard that people aged 60 or older are the most vulnerable to complications caused by COVID-19 — a new illness that can affect the lungs and airways caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This is still valid. However, adults of all ages can get seriously sick and even die, according to a preliminary report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Airmen assist one another in donning their personal protective equipment, while on-board an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during transportation isolation system training at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody R. Miller.

The CDC researchers analyzed data on the first significant wave of coronavirus infections in the United States, which included 2,449 patients of all ages. These cases did not include imported cases, such as people sick with COVID-19 who had returned to the country from trips in China or Japan.

According to the CDC, the age distribution of these domestic infections with the new coronavirus looks as following:

  • 6% were 85 and older
  • 25% were between 65 and 84
  • 18% were aged 55 to 64
  • 18% were aged 45 to 54
  • 29% were aged 20 to 44
  • only 5% were aged 19 and younger

The report did not offer information about any risk factors such as any underlying factors. Previous studies suggest that individuals suffering from chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and autoimmune disorders are at high risk of developing severe or critical respiratory problems related to COVID-19.

Of 508 patients that required medical care in the hospital, the researchers found that:

  • 9% were 85 years old or older
  • 26% were between 65 and 84 years old
  • 17% were between 55 and 64 years old
  • 18% were between 44 and 54 years old
  • 20% were between 20 and 44 years old
  • Less 1% were 19 years old or younger

“These preliminary data also demonstrate that severe illness leading to hospitalization, including I.C.U. admission and death, can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19,” the CDC researchers wrote.

Of the 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units, 50% were under the age of 65, while 12% were aged 20-44. No intensive care admissions or deaths were reported among those aged 19 or younger.

The CDC found that 80% of deaths were among adults 65 years or older, with the highest percentage of severe outcomes registered among those 85 or older (their case fatality rate was between 10% and 27%).

When it comes to the risk of serious illness and death, the new CDC report mirrors other studies elsewhere that found older age groups are the greatest risk. However, unlike other studies, the CDC found that people of all ages can get very sick with COVID-19.

“The risk for serious disease and death in COVID-19 cases among persons in the United States increases with age. Social distancing is recommended for all ages to slow the spread of the virus, protect the health care system, and help protect vulnerable older adults. Further, older adults should maintain adequate supplies of nonperishable foods and at least a 30-day supply of necessary medications, take precautions to keep space between themselves and others, stay away from those who are sick, avoid crowds as much as possible, avoid cruise travel and nonessential air travel, and stay home as much as possible to further reduce the risk of being exposed. Persons of all ages and communities can take actions to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect older adults,” the report concludes.

Many young people are less worried about COVID-19 because they’ve heard it’s highly unlikely for them to develop severe symptoms. This report suggests this is not true at all.

If not for the sake of their parents, teachers, and other elderly members of their community, the youth should be wary of the coronavirus because of the dangers it poses to themselves.

Visit our official coronavirus updates page for the United States with real-time info on cases, maps, and charts on the COVID-19 crisis.

Coronavirus precautions

  • Wash your hands. You’ve heard this a million times, and there’s a reason for it: it works. Soap and water is your best option, but sanitizer also works if applied correctly. Wash hands thoroughly for 20+ seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Disinfect commonly touched objects — especially your phone, but also things like doorknobs.
  • Clean your room and bathroom. This is is good hygienic practice in general, but a preliminary study suggests that disinfecting your room is effective at removing the virus. Here is a list of EPA-approved disinfectants.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or in a tissue that you immediately dispose of safely.
  • If you can work from home, do that.
  • Practice (temporary) social distancing. Avoid large gatherings, try to stay 1+ meter (3+ feet) away from people.
  • Plan ahead, but be considerate. Consider some preparations in anticipation of social distancing or supply chain shortages, but don’t take more than you need and be considerate of others in your community. Your best chance of not getting sick is if your local community doesn’t get sick.
  • Be aware, prepared, but not panicked.

Democrat voters see climate change as a top priority in the presidential elections

As the United States gets closer to the presidential elections, climate change is gaining momentum among one of the top priority issues for most Democrat voters, showing a big gap with Republican voters.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

While healthcare remains the main issue for Democrats, climate change ranks in a close second place, according to a new survey by Climate Nexus, a nonpartisan nonprofit group.

Nearly 2,000 registered voters showed global warming has become a key issue in American politics, alongside the economy, jobs, immigration, and social security. For democrats, this is now nationally the most important issue, the survey showed.

The poll was done online in 26 states, each of them set to hold a Democratic primary between now and the end of March. Climate Nexus partnered up with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

“This is the first time in American political history where climate change is not just a top-tier issue—it is the top-tier issue,” Antony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told The Atlantic.

While Democrat voters seem to be more engaged with climate change, that’s not the case of Republicans, according to the poll. Democrats are by far more likely to consider the issue as one of the priorities than Republicans, showing a big divide among voters.

The Democratic primaries so far have reaffirmed the results of the survey. In Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina climate change were among the top three issues, according to the AP’s VoteCast exit polls.

Earlier this year, a survey by the Pew Research Center showed nearly two-thirds of Americans ranked protecting the environment as a leading policy priority, but with a big divide among Democrats and Republicans on climate change.

The Democratic Party has put a strong focus on climate change in this year’s presidential elections, with all presidential hopefuls claiming they would implement strong climate action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans also introduced a climate agenda, pushing an initiative to plant one trillion trees by 2050, likely addressed to younger Republican voters, who are more in line with climate action. Nevertheless, experts have said the effort is largely not sufficient to avoid global warming to continue.

There are still big misperceptions about climate change and the ecological crisis among United States citizens, a survey last year showed. The survey asked more than 1,000 people how many of the past 22 years have been among the hottest. Despite the correct answer being 20, the average answer was 14.

Climate change is drying up the Colorado River

The Colorado River is among the most important ones of the United States, rising in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and then flowing westward to the Gulf of California. But that flow is now gradually being reduced because of climate change, according to a new study.

Image Credits: Wikipedia Commons.

The river extends for 2,330 km and provides water to about 40 million people that live in the cities of Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, among others. That makes it very important for the communities around it, whose water availability could be altered if the river flow keeps changing.

Researchers from the Institute of Geological Studies of the United States (USGS) developed a detailed mathematical model of water movements (including snow, rain, evaporation and river flow, among others) in the upper river basin between 1913 and 2017, based on records of rainfall and temperature as well as satellite surveys.

They observed that the increase in temperature has caused a smaller accumulation of snow and ice in successive winters. Less snow means that melting occurs earlier in the spring. In turn, a surface with less snow reflects fewer sun rays, which means that more rays end up being absorbed by the basin.

This additional energy absorption causes greater water evaporation, said Paul Milly, one of the scientists at USGS, which results in the lower flow. Thanks to the study, evaporation due to heating could be quantified: the annual flow rate is reduced by 9.3% for each rise of one degree Celsius.

The Colorado River is famous for its karstic scenery, which includes amazing canyons.

The difference is significant. For the 1913-2017 period analyzed in the study, the flow of the river decreased by about 20%, according to the researchers “More than half of this decrease was associated with warming. The rest was related to variations in precipitation,” Milly said in a press release.

Global warming has already exceeded the 1ºC compared to pre-industrial levels and the trend will continue going up without ambitious actions from every country. That’s bad news for the Colorado River, as there could be a higher risk of water shortages for the seven states connected by the river.

But climate change isn’t the only threat that the river has to cope with. The agricultural production in the area means lots of water is pumped from the river. Farmers use about 80% of Colorado River water to irrigate four million acres, providing 15% of the US crop output. This has led to reservoirs as the Lake Mead facing record-low levels.

Last year, the US government imposed mandatory cuts in water use from the river because of a record drought. Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico agreed to take less water from the river and implemented conservation measures such as replacing lawns with desert landscaping.

The study was published in Science.

Blue-collar workers face the highest risk of suicide in the US, report shows

In less than two decades, the suicide rate in individuals of working age in the US has increased by 40%, particularly affecting workers on the mining, oil and gas, construction, and vehicle industries, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The report looked at data from 32 states that participated in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). The public health institute reported that almost 38,000 people between 16 to 64 years of age committed suicide in 2017. This means a rate of 18 people out of 100,000, compared to 12.9 in the year 2000.

“Previous research indicates suicide risk is associated with low-skilled work, lower education, lower absolute and relative socioeconomic status, work-related access to lethal means, and job stress, including poor supervisory and colleague support, low job control, and job insecurity, the CDC wrote.

Among all men, the suicide rate was 27.4 individuals per 100,000 people, going up to 49.4 per 100.000 in the construction field. The professions with the highest suicide rate for men were mining, quarrying and oil and gas, with a 54.2 per 100.000 suicide rate.

Meanwhile, in the case of women, the rate for the total population was 7.7 per 100.000 individuals. Construction and extraction were the professions with the highest rate for women at 25.5 per 100.000 individuals.

The researchers said the report had several limitations. It didn’t look at the factors that might account for different suicide rates among and within the industry or occupational groups, it didn’t address suicide in unemployed workers, and the results aren’t nationally representative. Nevertheless, the findings highlighted the importance of prevention strategies such as increasing economic support, teaching problem-solving and coping skills and improving access to delivery of care. All industries can benefit from a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, researchers claimed.

“These findings highlight opportunities for targeted prevention strategies and further investigation of work-related factors that might increase the risk of suicide,” according to the CDC.

The report also mentioned a set of strategies to improve the overall well-being of workers. The list includes training workers to detect early signals and respond to them, giving them more time off and benefits, reducing the access to lethal means and creating a plan to respond to the needs of others at risk.

CDC’s workplace strategies to prevent suicide

-Promoting help-seeking

-Integrating workplace safety and health programs to advance the well-being of workers

-Referring workers to financial and other helping services

-Facilitating time-off and benefits

-Reducing access to lethal means

-Creating a crisis response plan

Five cases of coronavirus now confirmed in the US

The fourth and fifth cases of coronavirus in the United States have now been confirmed, as health officers in California and Arizona said they were each treating a patient that had been infected with the illness originated in China.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The five patients, located in Southern California, Chicago, Arizona, and Washington state, had traveled from Wuhan, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. They are now hospitalized and under treatment.

About 100 people in 26 states have been investigated or are currently monitored in the US for the virus, after showing potential symptoms. At least 25 were negative for the virus. The CDC said it expects more potential cases soon but clarified that the risk for the public is low.

The news came as health officials from China said people can spread the virus before they even have symptoms. If this is correct, it would mean people can go weeks without realizing they are sick and spread the virus.

Nevertheless, this was questioned by Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We don’t have clear evidence that patients are infectious before symptom onset, but we are actively investigating that possibility,” she said.

The new victim of the virus in California has been isolated and is in “good condition” at a local hospital, according to the county’s Health Care Agency. State and federal health officials are following up with anyone who may have had close contact with the person and could be at risk of infection.

Barbara Ferrer, head of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said they are “well prepared” to deal with cases. “We are working closely with our federal, state and local partners to provide healthcare providers and the public with accurate information about actions we are taking to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus and to care for those who are ill,” she added.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the infected person is a member of the Arizona State University community but does not live in university housing. Officials are now looking at close contacts of the individual to determine whether the virus spread while the patient was infectious.

The new cases led Senator Chuck Schumer to urge the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare an emergency to free up $85 million for the CDC. The money is already appropriated and sitting in the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund, he said, and the CDC will have full discretion to use the money.

“We want to make sure (the CDC) can sustain this pace and have all the dollars they need should the outbreak get worse,” the senator said. “Use the key now and unlock the money.”

At the same time, the US State Department said it plans to evacuate staff from its Wuhan consulate and will offer some US citizens flights out of the city. A few private US citizens will be allowed to board a “single flight” leaving Wuhan on Tuesday for San Francisco.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will travel to Beijing to meet with the Chinese government and health experts working on the response to the virus.

“My WHO colleagues and I would like to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak,” he wrote on Twitter.

Besides the US, cases were confirmed in France, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea. At least 80 people have died from the virus in China, and another 2,744 people in the country have been infected.