The Climate Apocalypse Will be Streamed on TikTok
The sight of a weatherman clinging to a street sign in the middle of a hurricane is so ubiquitous in American media that in 2013 singer/songwriter Brent Burns wrote an ode to The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore. On Wednesday, the song was revived on TikTok by a user showing preparations for Hurricane Ian in Punta Gorda, Florida.
TikTok is increasingly being used to share real-time videos of extreme weather events. As of Friday afternoon, videos shared with #HurricaneIan have had more than 1.7 billion views. The video of Jim Cantore being hit by a tree branch during Ian’s wrath went viral on Twitter, reaching over 1 million views in less than 24 hours. As the forces of climate change increase sea level rise and fuel hurricanes’ intensity, their destructive power pushes higher storm surges into inhabited coastal areas. Sea levels are predicted to continue to rise by at least several inches in the next 15 years, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This begs the question: Should broadcast media continue to send meteorologists and camera crews out into potential danger?
Some broadcast media are already incorporating TikTok videos into their coverage instead. Brad Kugler, who posted a series of video updates from his home in Palm Harbor northwest of Tampa, Florida, said that a producer for CBS National News saw them on TikTok and called him at 5 a.m. on Thursday to request a live update for their 6:30 a.m. program. He missed the call, but awoke to find he suddenly had more than 125,000 followers on TikTok.
Kugler’s videos depict a phenomenon that he says he’s never seen before: the water in the Gulf of Mexico suddenly disappeared and stayed missing for about 16 hours, pulled south by the hurricane. He started recording the videos to share with his neighbors who had evacuated but soon found himself with a large audience waiting to hear updates about the missing water. Within 12 hours, his videos had millions of views.
The missing water left a remarkable view: miles of seagrass exposed directly to the sun and air. “Hours and hours go by, there’s less and less water, I could literally walk half a mile out into the the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kugler.
The water had been sucked south towards Sarasota and Lee counties, where Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday. Parts of Fort Myers, Florida were flooded by 3 or 4 feet of water.
Other parts of the state also flocked to TikTok to share their hurricane preparations. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park shared a video showing how it keeps its tall birds safe during extreme weather events—the storks take a brief vacation from their outdoor enclosures into the bathrooms of the park.
John Brueggen, the director of the alligator farm, said that the park had about 350 TikTok followers on Tuesday and as of Friday afternoon, they now have more than 48,000. The zoo is home to every crocodile species in the world as well as monkeys, lemurs, parrots and other birds. Most of the mammals and birds are taken to the storm-fortified Komodo Dragon building before a hurricane and separated in appropriate crates.
The storks, however, are too tall to fit well in a crate that could easily topple over. This is why Brueggen said the park decided to dedicate its bathrooms to the long-legged, long-necked birds.
“Every animal survived and is healthy and will be happy to get back to their normal enclosures,” Brueggen said. “And all of our staff seems to have done all right … they’re all healthy and back here cleaning up the place.”
Nature as Health Insurance
What’s good for Earth’s health is good for our own health, an experiment in Finland shows.
It’s a concept called “planetary health,” coined by the Lancet and the Rockefeller Foundation in 2015 to describe how human wellbeing is tied to the natural world. Planetary health emphasizes the “interconnections between human health and environmental changes and enables holistic thinking about overlapping challenges and integrated solutions for present and future generations,” according to the Lancet.
The city of Lahti in Finland has added planetary health to its public health program and has hired physician Hanna Haveri as the country’s first planetary health physician. She took this concept and created planetary “prescriptions” for five patients to follow this summer. One was an avid runner struggling with fatigue who started taking barefoot walks in the woods after his runs to relax and connect with nature. Another was a grandmother concerned for her grandkids’ future who increased her consumption of vegetarian foods and replaced dairy products in her diet. According to Haveri’s results, the participants saw on average a 17 percent drop in their carbon footprints, a 36 percent decline in their exhaustion scores and a 16 percent increase in their overall wellbeing.
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Haveri said that inactivity along with unhealthy eating habits and sleeping irregularly is contributing to poor health, and connecting with nature can be a great place to start a journey toward planetary health.
“We can go to the nearest park and be there for a while and just breathe the probably fresher air. And if there are birds, listen to them. Just try to pick some interesting things in nature and try to concentrate on them for a little moment,” Haveri said. “These are very easy to do. It shouldn’t be something overwhelming. This could be something like you could make a routine in your daily life.”
Turning from Blue to Green
Blue lakes are rare, often found in environments that are cold, rainy or high in the mountains. Their mesmerizing color and generally good water quality makes these bodies of water, including lakes Superior and Michigan, highly desirable for human use and recreation. But a warming climate may drive as much as 14 percent of the world’s blue lakes to turn to a greenish brown color, a new study found.
Xiao Yang, a remote sensing hydrologist from Southern Methodist University, and Catherine O’Reilly, an aquatic ecologist from Illinois State University, used satellites to detect the color of more than 85,000 lakes around the world. About 31 percent of the lakes in the study were blue, many in Canada and Scandinavia. This study gives scientists a first-of-its-kind global baseline of lake color to monitor future changes as the climate warms. They assembled their findings in an interactive map that shows the sampling of the world’s lakes and their colors.
Lakes in cooler climates tend to be blue because they don’t foster as much algal growth, which can turn the water color green, the study authors write. Lakes that freeze over in the winter also tend to be blue because the ice slows down the production of algae.
“When the water conditions are warmer, algal populations are happier and they grow faster,” said O’Reilly. “We’ve already seen algal blooms become more likely and that’s going to make lakes look on average more green and less blue.”
Green lakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, O’Reilly said, but a lake shifting from blue to green can affect the species that live there. As lakes change from blue to green, they can change the species of algae available for aquatic animals to eat and can cause oxygen levels to decline in lakes.
“When you have a blue lake, you have a pretty different ecological community than when you have a green or brown lake,” O’Reilly said. “If you’re switching from blue to green, you’re going to see a very different type of food web existing in that lake.”
Finding Toxic Elements in Your Neighborhood
When selecting a new city or neighborhood to live in, you may consider things like crime statistics, the quality of local schools or the number of restaurants and grocery stores nearby. But do you consider the local climate and pollution risks? An online tool with a new premium version lets you do just that.
With the free version of AreaHub, users can search any U.S. zip code and find out more about risks in the area that are natural, like earthquakes and hurricanes; and industrial, like pipes in the neighborhood that could burst or contaminated sites that could leak pollutants. The tool also reveals whether an area has a lot of ugly infrastructure that can hurt property values and if the area is prone to poor air quality or could have high radon levels.
With the premium version, launched this week and available for a fee, users can narrow their search to a street address and access information about more nearby risks like power plants and solid waste landfills. Users can save locations with this version and receive notifications when things change, which can be useful for users tracking risks at a loved one’s home or business owners interested in multiple locations.
The tool, backed by data largely from government sources, came to be after co-founder Alison Gregory was frustrated trying to find answers about the risks her family faced in their own neighborhood. She and others banded together to create the tool, which she said provides a “holistic sense of the area across a range of topics.”
“We thought it was important to not just cover climate topics or extreme weather, natural hazard topics,” Gregory added. “But to also include industrial hazards, pollution information and infrastructure facilities, because these things are connected.” Extreme heat, for example, can exacerbate drought and increase risk of wildfires. Flooding can cause isolated pollution to spread throughout a neighborhood.
“Basically, we are trying to inform and equip people in an aggregate and relevant way in a time when they need it more than ever,” Gregory said, “because they’re facing increasingly intense and frequent climate challenges.”