Briefly

Stuff that matters


Cup Of Oh, Wait

There’s hope for you yet, coffee fiends.

No, not that you’ll wean yourself off the stuff someday — good luck with that. The better news is that you might not have to.

We’ve long worried that climate change will take a toll on our collective coffee habit by contributing to conditions that spread a disease called “coffee rust.” But new research from scientists at the University of Exeter suggests that weather and climate are only one part of a complicated equation that governs outbreaks of coffee rust.

The study looked at coffee powerhouse Colombia, which saw a huge disease-related drop in bean production from 2008 to 2011. And while that was a relatively wet period, the researchers found little correlation between weather and coffee rust in the long run: From 1990 to 2015, coffee production went up and down without much regard for the weather. The 2008 epidemic had more to do with a rise in prices that caused farmers to use much less fertilizer on their crops.

Disease aside, there are plenty of other caffeine threats that come with climate change. Coffee plants are finicky, and as climate shifts, so will the places they can grow. But at least we’re not headed to total coffee annihilation anytime soon — probably.

A message from The Wilderness Society:

Senate is voting on a bill this week that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Help stop it!


Europe aflame

Photos show Portugal and Spain in flames.

A series of fires in both countries this week killed more than 40 people and injured at least 63 more.

The fires began over the weekend and grew stronger on Sunday as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia exacerbated the flames. Portugal’s forests have been burning all summer, and the Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere reports September was the country’s driest month on record since 1930.

Drought and high temperatures magnified fires that Spanish authorities believe were started by arsonists. “What we are dealing with here is something that is not caused by accident. It has been provoked,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the press on Monday.

Fires are still burning in northwestern Spain but don’t currently pose a threat to population centers. As of Tuesday morning, all active fires in Portugal had been extinguished. However, frightening images of smoke and destruction remain:

Smoke is seen amidst burned trees after a forest fire in Chandebrito, Galicia, northern Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal
A vehicle turns around as a forest fire burns by the road near Vigo, Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

pipe dream

A judge lets pipeline protesters mount an unusual defense.

Last year, protesters were arrested and charged with felonies after turning off valves that control the flow of crude oil from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S. They intended to prevent damage to the climate and show solidarity with Standing Rock.

A Minnesota judge decided that three activists could use the “necessity” of confronting climate change as justification in court. They’ll call on scientists and present evidence of harms from climate change to show they violated the law to protect people and had no legal alternatives.

This is one of very few times where a court has allowed the so-called “necessity defense” — which activists have previously used in cases related to the Vietnam War and abortion — in a case about climate change.

Enbridge, the Canadian company operating the pipelines that were shut down, argues that the protesters took “reckless and dangerous” actions. The court will consider whether the dangers of climate change outweigh the risks of the protesters’ actions.

“The prosecutor will probably put people on the stand who will say, this is dangerous,” Patrick Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School, told InsideClimate News. So, it’s a long shot.


#UsToo

The National Park Service has both a sexual harassment and a discrimination problem.

A recent internal study reveals that within the past year more than one in six female employees have experienced sexual harassment, and one in three women have experienced some form of gender-based harassment.

The findings come amid reports of sexual harassment and assault allegations involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Women around the world are detailing their own experiences on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.

At the National Park Service, the discrimination goes beyond just women. Nearly 40 percent of employees have reported experiencing harassment or assault based on gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. One in 5 employees of color said that they had been harassed based on their racial or ethnic background. Only 35 percent of employees who registered a complaint knew that the person who they told took action.

“The days of watching things, not saying anything, and not taking action are over,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told National Park Service employees in an address last Friday. He added that he has removed several Park Service employees due to improper behavior.

Diversity might lay at the heart of the Park Service’s issues: of its 22,000 employees, less than 40 percent are women and fewer than 20 percent are people of color.


Oh, Ophelia

Ophelia is the strongest storm to hit Ireland in at least 50 years.

With winds approaching 100 mph, storm surge has breached coastal defenses, pushing the Atlantic Ocean inland. The Irish Defense Force is on standby to assist with rescue and recovery.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity, a situation the Irish power network is calling “unprecedented territory.” Officials say it will take weeks to repair the damage.

Meanwhile, Ophelia’s strong winds, as well as lingering dry conditions from a record hot summer heatwave nicknamed “Lucifer,” have worsened hundreds of wildfires that are raging mostly out of control in parts of Portugal and Spain. Dozens of people have died, and thousands of firefighters are working to quash the flames, which have encroached on several urban areas.

Late last week, Ophelia became the first hurricane ever seen of Category 3 strength or greater in the eastern Atlantic. While its wind speed weakened as it approached, it made landfall in Ireland as a superstorm that had grown substantially in size. Recent studies argue that storms like Ophelia will affect Europe much more often as the Atlantic continues to warm and the belt of tropical winds expands. By 2100, the region could see a four-fold increase in frequency of storms of Category 3 or higher.


Sponsored

Congress might allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a 2018 budget resolution this week. The outcome could open the pristine landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and drilling.

At nearly 19.6 million acres, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. More than 7 million acres of its landscape is federally protected wilderness — but not the “1002 area,” a 1.5-million-acre stretch of coastal plain that sits above an estimated 4 to 12 billion barrels of oil, less than a year’s worth of oil in U.S. markets.

The 2018 budget resolution would require the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to draft legislation to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1 billion over the next decade, a figure that includes projected revenues for Arctic Refuge drilling. If passed, this would provide the first step for greenlighting opening the refuge for drilling.

Environmentalists and opponents say that the risks of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic are too great considering the potential for habitat destruction, pollution, and oil spills. Construction and noise pollution emitted from drilling could also disrupt the migration of birds, the calving of porcupine caribou, and the denning patterns of polar bears, environmentalists say. For thousands of years, native communities like the Gwich’in have depended on the ecological harmony of the region.

Advocates are making sure Congress hears about it.


Sunnyside up

The sun keeps turning an apocalyptic shade of red. Here’s why.

In parts of the United Kingdom Monday morning, people woke up to a blood-red sun — a phenomenon seen around the globe this year.

The color was caused by smoke that blew in from wildfires across Portugal and Spain. Hurricane Ophelia deepened the reddish hue by dragging up dust from the Sahara.

Red skies have haunted the western U.S. recently as wildfires burned in Montana and ash rained down in Seattle. This month in Northern California, 20,000 people evacuated from massive wildfires under a red-orange sky.

Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images

On the other side of the world, wildfires burned in Siberia all summer long, covering the sun with enormous clouds of smoke and ash.

REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

To understand why this happens, you need to know a bit of optics. Sun rays contain light from the whole visible spectrum. As the sun’s white light beams into the atmosphere, it collides with molecules that diffuse some of the wavelengths. On a normal day, short wavelength colors, like purple and blue, are filtered out, making the sun look yellow.

But high concentrations of light-scattering molecules in the air (like smoke particles from a wildfire) crowd out more of those short-wavelength colors, leaving behind that hellish red color.

Since climate change makes wildfires worse, we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.