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The Conversation: Impact of climate change in Alabama

Eddie Burkhalter

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Editor’s note: This is the second installment in APR’s yearlong series on climate change in Alabama. See our first story: Introduction: Impact of climate change in Alabama. Eddie Burkhalter is a staff writer at Alabama Political Reporter and a fellow at the Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship. The program is a partnership between the Poynter Institute and the Charles Koch Institute. Charles G. Koch is chairman of the board for the Charles Koch Institute and CEO of the multinational petroleum company Koch Industries.

Jim Allen’s latest edition of the Free Fredonia Times is a make-believe glimpse back at the small rural Alabama community from a hundred years into the future. 

Issue number 67 begins, “Fredonia then and Now, 1919-2119.” 

Most of the then-modern homes from photographs taken in 2019 weren’t designed to make use of natural heating and cooling, Allen wrote, and instead used mostly coal-fired electricity or propane. In the 2119 Fredonia, folks run their homes on electricity provided by local solar systems and windmills, Allen wrote. 

“We are of course thankful that the Great Transition away from fossil fuels, accomplished shortly after 2019, kept climate change from becoming as devastating as it surely would have become by now,” Allen writes. 

Allen’s article on the imagined future of Fredonia in the publication that has been published “on no particular schedule” for many years includes the usual church announcements and a piece on a storm that killed power during singer-songwriter Jim Scott’s June 22 performance, which went on “without amplification and by flashlight.” 

Allen, 83, taught  English at Auburn University in the 1970s before becoming a publications editor for the university’s extension service in 1978. He was a founding board member and president of the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, and over the years has spoken often about the environmental, energy issues and climate change. 

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Allen isn’t a climate scientist but he’s passionate about it, and said he wants to continue his work to start a dialogue with others. 

It’s that desire to talk about climate change and the science behind it that researchers at Yale University recently found is important to increasing knowledge and concern about the issue. That might seem like common sense, but just talking about climate change has become such a partisan topic that many say they avoid those conversations altogether. 

The report, published July 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that talking about climate change facts led to increased knowledge and understanding of the extent of human-caused climate change. 

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Matthew Goldberg, one of the authors of the study, is a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Golderbg told APR that the most surprising aspect of their findings was that the effect ran both ways. More discussion led to increased perceptions of scientific agreement, he said, and increased perceptions of scientific agreement led to increased discussion.

“Our new study builds on previous work coming from the Yale Program on Climate Change and its collaborators, showing that highlighting the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening can be very effective in moving people’s beliefs,” Goldberg said. 

In a separate report in April, researchers at Yale found that while 69 percent of Americans surveyed think that global warming is happening, only about 1 in 6, or 17 percent, of Americans understand how strong the level of consensus among scientists is. About 63 percent of Americans say they never or rarely talk about climate change with family or friends, according to the report. 

Whether or not someone believes that the earth is warming due to human activity comes down, in part, to which side of the political fence they fall on. 

A 2018 study by the nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based think tank the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of liberal democrats believed that humans were the biggest cause of global warming, while just 18 percent of conservative republicans thought so. That divide shrinks between moderate republicans and moderate democrats. 

Back in Fredonia about 50 families live in the Chambers County community, situated between Auburn and Wedowee and a short drive from the Georgia line. There’s a vending machine and a pay phone, and most folks are either retired or farming, Allen said. 

“Antiques and Uniques is open Saturdays only,” Allen said. 

The Fredonia area is heavily republican, Allen said, and there are a fair share of climate change deniers, but that hasn’t stopped Allen from talking and writing about it. 

“In this last issue, I’m appealing to hear from people,” Allen said. “Let’s talk about it. Have a conversation. I said that I’m going to reserve a whole page for reader comments.”

“No death threats,” Allen said with a laugh, speaking of the reaction from his latest issue. “Sometimes I think I would welcome some, but most of the time I just don’t get much feedback, and what I do get is ‘thanks for keeping us informed about what is going on in Fredonia.’” 

But any notion that conservatives don’t care about climate change simply isn’t true, said Benji Backer, the 21-year-old conservative environmentalist and founder of the American Conservative Coalition, a group of young conservative activists working to spread the message of pro-market clean energy policies. 

Backer’s group has received national attention, and he’s spoken at the Conservative Political Action Committee, better known as CPAC, more than once. Backer also doesn’t buy into the assumption that republicans and democrats can’t reach compromises to combat climate change.  

“There are so many ways to talk about climate change that are bipartisan,” Backer told APR on Saturday. “You can talk about it from the environmental or the economic angle. … We need to stop vilifying each other. We’re being told and convinced to hate each other.” 

Progressives and young conservatives like himself might disagree on how best to deal the climate change, but Backers said there’s plenty of agreement on the things like the need to reduce greenhouse gas emission and fossil fuel use. 

Backer said while younger conservatives are much better on these issues than their older counterparts, he believes the elders are listening to their younger counterparts, and it helps to approach the subject carefully. 

“They care about the environment just as much as anybody else, so you have to come at them from a point of, as cliche as it sounds, compassion and of trying to work with them where they’re at to get them re-engaged,” Backer said. 

Backer’s group played a role in the formation of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, which was announced earlier this month by founding members Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado. 

“I believe the nine out of the 10, not the one,” Graham said of scientists’ consensus on human’s role in climate change, speaking at the announcement of the caucus. “I would encourage the president to look long and hard at the science and find the solution. I’m tired of playing defense on the environment.”

There’s plenty of skepticism from the left for what many see as a late-in-the-game attempt by the caucus members to rebrand the Republican Party as environmentally conscious. 

The Trump administration has worked to weaken federal climate rules, erase climate scientists’ data from federal websites and Trump himself has said climate change is a “hoax” invented by China. In June 2017, Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

And despite Graham’s statements encouraging Trump to believe the science behind climate change,  the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus isn’t likely to take up climate change policy early on, according to Backer. 

“Specifically, conservation is the goal for right away,” Backer said.

National parks funding and wildlife management issues often fall behind concern over climate change, Backer said, so those are the areas he believes the caucus will focus on in the coming months. 

And it comes down, again, to meeting people where they’re at, Backer said. Some in the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus haven’t done much for the environment in the past, while still others have done a lot, but it’s important to work with them all, he said. 

For 17-year-old Isabel Hope of Tuscaloosa speaking about climate change comes easy. In October 2018, she founded the Meddling Kids Movement, which brings together young people from across the globe to discuss topics important to them, including climate change. 

The group’s website, www.meddlingkidsmovement.com, has more than 100 interviews with youth worldwide. It’s those young voices that seemed to be missing from much of the coverage on these issues, Hope said, so she did something about it. 

“A lot of the kids I talk to are from underrepresented or low-income communities, and they don’t get that much of a spotlight, so I really wanted to showcase them and their work, as well,” Hope said. 

Hope organized the Alabama Youth Climate Strike, held in Montgomery on March 15. She joined about 60 others on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol to demand lawmakers do more to address climate change. 

When asked what she would tell those who say they’ve given up trying to talk to others about climate change, that doing so just leads to arguments, Hope said that not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. 

“I would say that that’s a very privileged standpoint to have,” Hope said. 

If those same people who realize how little time we have to act, she said,  then perhaps they’d “get a little uncomfortable” and have those conversations. 

Discussing global warming study

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Bidens suggest that Hurricane Sally due to climate change

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, released a joint statement this week on Hurricane Sally, suggesting that the hurricane and fires in the West are due in part to or exacerbated by climate change.

“Jill and I are praying for everyone from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and up the East Coast into the Carolinas as Hurricane Sally unleashes fury and flood that are leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power and evacuating their homes and businesses,” the Bidens wrote. “Our hearts are also with everyone in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and across the West who have lost everything and the firefighters and first responders who are risking their lives as the wildfires rage on and ash falls from an orange sky.”

“Every year the devastating impacts of climate change — in billions of dollars in damage, in immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods — sets new records of destruction in big cities, small towns, on coastlines, and farmlands across the country,” the Bidens wrote. “It is happening everywhere. It is happening now. And it’s all happening while we fight off a historic pandemic and economic recession.”

But it doesn’t have to be this bad, the Bidens wrote.

“We have to come together as a nation guided by science that can save lives,” the Bidens wrote. “And grounded by economics that can create millions of American jobs — union jobs — to make us safe, stronger, and more resilient to a changing climate and extreme weather that will only come with more frequency and ferocity.”

“And we have to keep the faith in the capacity of the American people — to act, not deny, to lead, not scapegoat, and to care for each other and generations to come,” the Bidens concluded.

Hurricanes are not new to the Alabama Gulf Shore. Since 1852, at least 27 hurricanes have hit the state of Alabama gulf coast, with Katrina in 2005 being the most recent until Sally on Wednesday.

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By comparison there were four hurricanes to strike the state between 1912 and 1917 and five between 1852 and 1860.

Democrats claim that President Donald Trump’s policies on climate change are having a negative effect on the planet and that a Biden administration would be better at reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.

Biden and Trump will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

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Plume site under downtown Montgomery removed from EPA superfund priority list

Josh Moon

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Downtown Montgomery (STOCK PHOTO)

A toxic plume that formed underneath several blocks of downtown Montgomery is being removed from the EPA’s superfund priority list after years of cleanup efforts have reduced the threat to the public, the agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced on Wednesday. 

Known as the Capital City Plume, the 50-block area of contaminated groundwater and soil covered much of downtown Montgomery and required millions of dollars in remediation costs. The city, county and a coalition of downtown businesses took control of the site in 2015, in an agreement with the EPA, and sped up cleanup efforts. 

The site was first discovered in 1993 and the EPA took control shortly thereafter, but very little remediation occurred because the agency could not definitively identify businesses that were responsible for the contamination.

The city’s agreement with EPA put to rest the issue of responsibility and allowed for a shared responsibility that apparently resulted in faster cleanup. 

“This is validation of all the hard work by many parties – city, county, state, federal and business entities – over many years to address and resolve a real environmental challenge,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “It couldn’t have happened without all the parties deciding we needed a plan to tackle the problem and agreeing to work together to carry it out. Now, this area of downtown Montgomery that has already seen significant redevelopment and reuse can blossom even more.”

The removal of the site from the National Priorities List should also remove burdensome and costly testing that hampered additional growth in many areas of downtown Montgomery. 

“This announcement charts a path forward for our community and is essential to our vision for a stronger, more vibrant downtown core,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said. “We commend the collaboration and steady resolve of the Alliance, ADEM, the EPA and everyone involved in doing what is right for our city and our region. Moving forward, we are committed to continue building on this success as we expand economic opportunity and progress in Montgomery.”

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The Downtown Alliance, as the collection of businesses, city, county and state government entities was known, was the brainchild of former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and attorneys negotiating with the EPA. At the time, it was a first-of-its-kind agreement.

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Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall

Brandon Moseley

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(ALABAMA TOURISM DEPARTMENT)

Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.

Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.

Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.

At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.

Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.

“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”

Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.

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The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.

Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.

Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.

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Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.

Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.

Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.

The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.

For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.

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Alabama fishermen will get extra red snapper days in October

The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Friday that after completing a review of the 2020 private angler red snapper season that ended July 3, 2020, they determined that three additional days can be added to the private angler recreational season. The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

The additional red snapper fishing days apply to state of Alabama waters as well as federal waters adjacent to Alabama. The limit will be two fish per angler with a 16-inch total length minimum size.

ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division reviewed landing estimates derived from angler reports submitted through Alabama’s Snapper Check system and determined that additional days are available in order to achieve the 2020 red snapper quota.

“The 2020 private angler season started out with record setting fishing effort,” said MRD director Scott Bannon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made outdoors recreation more important than ever, and that showed during this year’s red snapper season. That higher level of early season effort ultimately led to the closure on July 3. It is important to our fishermen to provide access to this resource, and our goal is to fish the quota we’ve been given by NOAA Fisheries. We are excited to offer these additional days in October to harvest more red snapper and still stay within our quota.”

Bannon said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds. The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.

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“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”

Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.

“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

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Detailed red snapper landing information is available online. Red snapper is arguably the most desired fish for saltwater fishermen to take home for the freezer. Consequentially the species is prone to overfishing. Limits on red snapper are designed to prevent the fish from being overfished.

Saltwater anglers, as well as freshwater anglers and hunters, may renew their hunting and fishing licenses beginning today.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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