Warming Trends: Big Cat Against Big Cat, Michael Mann’s New Book and Trump Greenlights Killing Birds

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

A male jaguar carries off an ocelot at a watering hole in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. Credit: Washington State University

A male jaguar carries off an ocelot at a watering hole in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. Credit: Washington State University

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Science

A Climate-Driven Cat Attack?

A male jaguar waits near a watering hole. Eventually, an ocelot arrives to drink. The bigger cat quickly strikes, and walks off with the ocelot in his mouth.

The attack by one predatory big cat species on another, captured in newly released video footage from Guatemala, was unusual, and scientists say it could be an example of competition over water resources, driven by climate change. 

The interaction between the cats was found in March 2019 footage from one of 42 wildlife cameras placed at watering holes around the country. A team of Washington State University and Wildlife Conservation Society ecologists published a paper discussing the attack this week in the journal Biotropica. During the dry season, only half of the sites where the cameras were located had water. 

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“People don’t often think of tropical systems as being dry, but in many parts of the world, tropical rains are quite seasonal, and with climate change, some of these tropical ecosystems are expected to become even more seasonal,” Daniel Thornton, a Washington State assistant professor and co-author on the paper, said in a press release. “The more isolated and rare water resources become, the more they’re going to become hotspots of activity.”

Solutions

Good News In a Podcast About China

Headlines about China in the United States and other Western countries are often negative. So two Americans working in the climate and clean energy sectors decided to take a more positive approach, collaborating on a podcast that highlights clean technology innovations and entrepreneurs in China.

“We want to use a different avenue, put the politics aside,” said co-host Andrew Chang. “We have a common goal which is trying to fight climate change, and clean tech solutions, I think, is something we can all agree on.” 

The podcast, called China Cleantech, is co-hosted by Chang, the China program director for New Energy Nexus and a Chinese-American who grew up in California and lives in Shanghai. The other host is Marilyn Waite, who leads a climate and clean energy financial portfolio at the Hewlett Foundation and has worked in China periodically and with Chinese business leaders for the last six years. 

Marilyn Waite and Andrew Chang co-host a podcast called China Cleantech. Photo Courtesy of Marilyn Waite and Andrew Chang

The duo released a six-episode series of the podcast in November, sitting down with Chinese founders of clean tech start-ups to talk about topics like plant-based diets for a Chinese palate and clean energy options for low-income populations. Chang and Waite plan to release a second season of the podcast later this month, expanding to Chinese innovators outside of the tech space, in areas such as the protection of natural resources and green financial investments.

“No matter how you look at it, the Chinese economy and the American economy are critical” to solving climate change, Waite said.

Politics

Trump Makes it Legal to Kill Birds With Impunity

A rule finalized by the Trump administration on Tuesday reduces the penalties for industries that are found to be responsible for killing birds. 

Under the new rule, companies will not be punished if their infrastructure unintentionally results in bird deaths. 

“We have restored the original meaning and intent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by making it clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not prosecute landowners, industry and other individuals for accidentally killing a migratory bird,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement.

The 103-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act has protected millions of bird species from industrial dangers like oil pits and transmission lines, according to the National Audubon Society. The Biden administration could overturn the rule once the president-elect takes office later this month.

In August, a U.S. district court judge sided with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation in ruling on a lawsuit claiming that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act should not apply only to intentional bird killings, but all bird killings, a decision that the Trump administration appealed.

“This brazen effort will most certainly be in vain as the administration already found out in court that it can’t unilaterally gut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and its obligation to protect and conserve birds,” Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation policy at the National Audubon Society, said in a statement.

Culture

The New War on Climate Action

The late 1990s and early 2000s were not easy years for climatologist Michael Mann, who  frequently came under attack from climate deniers for his work on what is known as the “hockey stick” graph—a chart that illustrates the sharp rise in global temperatures in the last century.

But in a new book, “The New Climate War,” Mann, now at Penn State, writes that the war on climate change has taken a different turn. The book, available Jan. 12, outlines the tactics now used by the fossil fuel industry to suppress climate action. The industry is no longer pushing outright denial of climate science, Mann argues, but it is waging a new climate war with more subtle tactics. 

Inside Climate News recently spoke with Mann about the book.

What’s different now about the way the fossil fuel industry is approaching climate action? 

What they have done is turned to a whole new array of tactics that involve dividing, getting the climate community arguing with each other so they don’t speak with a single coherent voice. And one easy way to do that is to get people arguing about their carbon purity and individual behavioral choices. Your diet, whether you travel, whether you choose to have children.

I’m curious about the word “new” in the title. What is the old climate war? 

The days of outright denialism are largely behind us, because it’s not credible. You can be sure the fossil fuel interest groups, they do their focus groups, they do their polling, they know they can’t get away with that anymore. And you see that with Republican politicians who are almost lap dogs for the fossil fuel industry.  Now they’re not saying [climate change is] not happening, it’s a hoax. They’re saying it costs too much, we don’t want to destroy the economy, the real solution is to let the free market flourish. It’s a softer form of denialism. It seems reasonable and a lot of progressives have been taken in by these tactics.

What do you hope the reader gets out of this book?

I hope they feel forewarned. Forewarned is forearmed as they say. So I hope they feel armed with an understanding and a knowledge of the tactics being used to depress enthusiasm for climate action. 

Science

In South Asia, Cleaner Air Means Healthier Pregnancies

Improving air quality in South Asia to meet India’s air quality standards could prevent 7 percent of pregnancy losses, including miscarriages and stillbirths, a new study has found.

Researchers at Peking University and other institutions in China analyzed pregnancy losses in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 2000 to 2016. They found that nearly 350,000 pregnancy losses annually were associated with air pollution that exceeded 40 micrograms per cubic meter, India’s air quality standard. Mothers over 30 and mothers living in rural areas were most affected, the researchers said.

Although the issue isn’t unique to South Asia, lead author Tao Xue of Peking University said South Asia is a key region to study because it is a hotspot for air pollution and has a high rate of stillbirths.

Particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, known as PM 2.5, are released in the air by combustion from vehicles and the burning of wood or coal. When an expectant mother inhales PM 2.5, the tiny particles can cross the placental barrier and harm the fetus, or cause the mother to experience symptoms like inflammation or high blood pressure, which can be factors in a pregnancy loss.