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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.” 

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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. 

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.” 

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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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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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Environment

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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