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A look back at APR’s coverage of climate change in 2019

Eddie Burkhalter

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APR began covering climate change during the summer of 2019, and in that time we looked closer at its impacts on Alabama and elsewhere, what’s being done to address them and the problems people have simply discussing climate change.

Here’s a closer look at what we’ve learned in the last five months. 

We started our coverage of climate change off with a talk with Alabama’s very own James McClintock, a professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has spent decades researching climate change and studying its impact while on expeditions to the Antarctic. 

“In Alabama we’re experiencing more torrential rains, dryer dries and hotter hots, and all these things that scientists have been predicting would happen as we continue to add carbon to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels,” McClintock told APR in July. “I think there’s a real need and a hunger for education about climate change in this part of the country.”

Next, we looked at how people communicate, or don’t, about climate change. We learned that, perhaps unsurprisingly, 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. 

Benji Backer, the 21-year-old conservative environmentalist and founder of the American Conservative Coalition, told APR in July that there was hope, despite the Politicization around the topic of climate change, that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground.

“There are so many ways to talk about climate change that are bipartisan,” Backer told APR. “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.” 

APR then began looking at the impacts climate change is having on Alabama and the rest of the world, including this article  in August on how heat, heat weaves and stagnation are impacting air quality. 

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We learned that since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association began monitoring air stagnation in 1973, Birmingham’s number of stagnant summer days increased 254 percent, from 11 days annually to 39 days in 2018. 

Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, told APR that while heat waves are nothing new “recent studies suggest they’re getting hotter and lasting longer.” 

Alabama’s coastline between 2005 and 2017 lost $158 million in residential property values due to tidal flooding caused by rising sea levels and climate change, APR learned in August

Gulf Shores was hit hardest, with $26 million in relative home values lost between 2005 and 2017, followed by Mobile at $25.8 million and Dauphin Island with $23 million. Orange Beach saw $15.6 million in losses and Bayou La Batre recorded $7.8 million. 

The work climate scientists are doing is paramount to our understanding of the problem, but APR learned in August that while 57 percent of Americans say they have mostly positive views of environmental research scientists there are large divides between republicans and democrats over trust in their work. 

If there was any doubt the world continues to get hotter, APR learned in August that July was the hottest month since mankind began keeping records more than a century ago. In Birmingham, the average low temperature during summer nights has increased by 4.1 percent since 1970, according to a report by NOAA, APR reported. 

The average fall temperature in Birmingham has risen 2.9 degrees since 1970, APR reported in September

In Anniston on Sept. 13, the 100 degree weather broke the previous record of 95 set in 1978. Birmingham’s 99 degrees broke a 92-year record, set in 1927 when the city saw 98 degrees. Mobile’s record high of 96 degrees set in 1911 fell when the city hit the 97 degree mark on Sept. 13. Huntsville’s 100 degree day on Sept. 13 just missed beating topping the 101 degree day set in 1927. 

There’s plenty of peer-reviewed research being done right here in Alabama by scientists devoted to learning more about climate change. 

APR also reported in August that David Keellings, a climatologist and assistant professor of geography at The University of Alabama, received a three-year, $340,000 grant that will help him study the deadly heat waves, which are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change.

We also learned in September about work being done by Drew Gentry, a doctoral student and instructor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, to look at how rising sea temperatures impact sea turtles. 

In October we reported that Auburn University had been awarded a $3 million grant to help fund climate change resilience education for graduate students. 

Outside of higher education, APR reported on other groups in Alabama and the surrounding states working to mitigate the impact of climate change. 

APR reported in November about The Gulf South for a Green New Deal, made up of 49 organizations in Texas, Luisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The group  formed this year with the goal of helping marginalized communities in those states become part of the conversation as the nation moves away from fossil fuels to clean energy and combats the impacts of climate change. 

Teresa Fox Bettis, executive director for the Center for Fair Housing in Mobile, told reporters in November that “What we have seen is an increase in demand for affordable housing, especially after climate disasters.” 

APR also reported in November about a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that shows that natural disasters made more severe and more frequent by climate change are endangering 11 superfund sites in Alabama. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has listed more than 500 contaminants at the National Priority List sites, including arsenic and lead. The report by the GAO notes that climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense “which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.” 

In September we again talked with professor James McClintock about a jarring new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that detailed how flooding along coastal regions and monster tropical storms are becoming more severe and more frequent, and sea levels are rising more rapidly than was predicted because of human-caused climate change. 

“This stunning new IPCC report on the impacts of rapid anthropogenic climate change on our world’s oceans is based on over 7,000 scientific studies,” McClintock told APR.  “The news is not good. Carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels continues to be absorbed by oceans acidifying the water in a process known as ocean acidification. Shelled species are particularly vulnerable to the acidity.” 

Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, told APR in October about drought conditions that were hitting Alabama cattle producers hard, especially those in the northeastern portion of the state. 

“That area the state was the first to really get into drought condition, and is probably the most extreme and has been for the longest period of time,” Beasley told APR

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s August report on climate change and land discusses how human-caused climate change  is increasing drought frequency and severity in parts of the world. 

APR reported on Investment banking powerhouse Goldman Sachs’s September report that predicts climate change will drive the “largest infrastructure buildout in history” as cities spend big to mitigate rising seas, flooding, increasingly strong storms longer and more intense heat waves and threats to food and water supplies. 

Lastly, APR learned in December that while Climate change impacts are multinational, how the world’s journalists cover climate change depends largely upon how wealthy their country is. 

Hong Tien Vu, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Kansas and the study’s lead author, told APR that in the U.S. journalists often give more time in their coverage to experts who say that humans aren’t driving climate change, as they attempt to provide balanced coverage. 

APR has covered a lot of ground in these last five months in an effort to give our readers a better understanding of climate change, what’s already happening in Alabama and elsewhere and what may happen in the future. 

As we look ahead into the new year, APR plans to continue expanding on that coverage. 

Got an idea for a climate change story? Send APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter a message at [email protected] and following him on Twitter @BurkhalterEddie.

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Environment

Above-normal hurricane season predicted

Eddie Burkhalter

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Monday marks the first day of hurricane season, and in a statement Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey warned of the potential of numerous hurricanes this season. 

“June 1 marks the first day of hurricane season, and as we know, Alabama is far too familiar with the uncertainty and damage that accompanies any severe weather. The National Weather Service is predicting an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs now through November 30,” Ivey said in a statement. 

“As our country focuses on safely reopening our economy and combatting a health pandemic, it is also vitally important we remember to make preparations now for any severe weather, because hurricanes, tornadoes and severe weather will not wait for us to be ready. Hurricane preparedness must still be a focus for every Alabamian,” Ivey continued. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. 

“NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher),” according to NOAA’s website.

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Environment

Alabama State Waters reopen for shrimping on June 1

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division announced that pursuant to Section 9-12-46, Code of Alabama 1975, all inside waters not permanently closed by law or regulation will open for shrimp harvesting at 6 a.m., on Monday, June 1, 2020.

This opening includes Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, the Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay, Arnica Bay, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon.

Licensed live bait dealers holding a permit for Special Live Bait Areas are reminded that an area beside the Battleship Alabama south of the Tensaw River Bridge, north of a line from the north point of Pinto Pass (N30 40.755, W88 01.124) to the northwest edge of Goat Island (N30 40.124, W88 00.784), and west of a line from the northwest edge of Goat Island to the eastern end of Tensaw River Bridge (N30 40.955, W88 00.444) will be open from one hour before sunrise until sunset from June 1 to December 31, 2020.

Shrimp are an important food species for a number of fish and wildlife species. Alabama waters contain 15 to 22 species of shrimp. Only three of these are normally eaten by humans. These are: the brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), the white shrimp (P. setiferus), and the pink shrimp (P. duorarum). Shrimp, along with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, are a species of invertebrates known as decapods. There are about 2,000 species of shrimp in the world.

The brown shrimp is by far the most abundant The pink shrimp is the least abundant of the three. Alabamians harvest approximately 20.5 million pounds of shrimp with an estimated dockside value of $45 million.

The ADCNR closes Alabama’s waters around May 1 each year because May is when the juvenile brown shrimp begin to leave their nurseries in the wetlands and marshes to explore deeper water. The break in the shrimping action gives the commercially important shrimp time to age and grow without fishing pressure.

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.

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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To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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Environment

Ivey announces $11.9 million for fisheries impacted by COVID-19, flooding

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the $3.3 million in federal coronavirus aid money will be available in the coming months to Alabama’s seafood industry, impacted by the outbreak. 

In addition to the $3.3 million from the CARES Act, the state is to also receive $8.6 million in federal fisheries disaster relief funds due to freshwater flooding in 2019 that impacted fisheries in the Gulf, according to a press release from Ivey’s office Wednesday. 

“The Gulf and its fisheries are vital to Alabama’s economy by providing jobs for fishermen, processors, and others in the seafood industry,” Ivey said in a statement. “We are thankful to provide this much needed relief to those affected in our coastal communities.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources worked with the seafood industry to calculate the damages and coordinated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the disaster relief funding.

The federal money isn’t yet available to affected commercial and charter fishing businesses, agriculture operations and seafood processors, however. 

 The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is currently and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish eligibility guidelines for applicants, the press release states. Those guidelines are expected to be finalized and released “in the coming months.” 

 “Once we receive documentation regarding the guidelines, the state will develop a spending plan and submit it to NOAA for approval,” said Christopher Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, in a statement. “When approved, we will announce the application period and the requirements for eligibility to the public. I would like to thank Senator Richard Shelby for his work to provide the fisheries disaster funding for the seafood industry and for including the fisheries funding in the CARES Act.”

Visit NOAA’s website for more information on federal relief for fisheries and the response to COVID-19.

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ADEM receives EPA grant to “help keep our waters clean”

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management recently received a $500,000 competitive grant from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency as part of ADEM’s efforts to keep trash out of Alabama’s waterways and from entering the Gulf of Mexico.

ADEM’s “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” litter abatement project was one of 17 recipients of EPA’s 2020 Trash Free Waters grants in the Southeastern U.S.

“ADEM has a long history of fostering good stewardship of the Gulf’s vast natural resources,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said.This grant will help the Department preserve, enhance and develop the area’s resources for present and future generations of Alabamians.

The “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project is designed to promote awareness about watersheds and reduce nonpoint source pollution entering waterways that drain to the Gulf of Mexico. A goal of the project is to engage the community in the fight against litter through education and outreach that encourage the use of voluntary and sustainable best practices.

“We want to inspire and empower citizens through their voluntary actions to help prevent litter from even reaching our waterways,” LeFleur said. “This project will both educate them about the importance of our rivers, streams and other bodies of water, and create opportunities for them to actually get involved in efforts to prevent and collect litter.

Perhaps the most visible aspects of the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project are signs being placed along interstates in Alabama to inform motorists they are entering a watershed and encourage them not to litter, as well as colorful metal sculptures of water lifesuch as fish, turtles and water birds – that will mark litter collection sites at rest areas and other strategic locations.

An important component of the project is education. ADEM will reach out to disadvantaged and other communities to promote anti-littering messages and to educate the public about the importance of good watershed health. The project will target specific locations andschools in its efforts.

In addition to ADEM, the City of Mobile and the Freshwater Land Trust also received EPA competitive grants.

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“The EPA has over 50 partnership projects across the country as part of our Trash Free Waters Program, which focuses on preventing trash from reaching waterways in the first place,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These 17 recipients will target the Gulf of Mexico Region for clean-up, trash prevention and education. Preventing trash from entering the waterways will have an immediate impact on the Gulf’s ecosystem.”

EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker added, “Staying on the front lines of environmental protection requires ingenuity and proactive practices. Investing in efforts to eliminate trash from entering waterways is critical for the protection of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans and essential for healthy drinking water. From a healthy ecosystem, to an economic boom, to flood protection, the benefits of trashfree waters are endless.”

According to the EPA, common trash from consumer goods makes up the majority of what eventually becomes marine debris, polluting our waterways and oceans. Plastics in the aquatic environment are of increasing concern because of their persistence and effect on the environment, wildlife and human health. About 80 percent of plastics come from land-based sources carried by both wind and water.

ADEM Director LeFleur said the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project will be a continuing effort of the state’s environmental watchdog agency.

“This isn’t a one-time deal. We want to promote long-term,sustainable, voluntary practices to reduce this form of pollution,which fouls Alabama waterways, spoils nature’s beauty and harms aquatic life. This grant help jump-start those efforts.”

For more information about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, go to www.adem.alabama.gov. For more information about EPA’s Trash Free Waters program, visit www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters.

 

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