Warming Trends: A Famed Mountain Hut Falls Victim to Warming, Climate Concerns Brazil’s Voters and an Author Explores the Intersection of Environmentalism and Social Justice

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

Abbot Pass Hut sits on the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia. Credit: Parks Canada
Abbot Pass Hut sits on the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia. Credit: Parks Canada

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Heat Hurts Historic Hut

A 100-year-old cultural heritage site in Canada will be demolished later this year because it now poses a safety risk to mountaineers. The culprit? Climate change.

Abbot Pass Hut is a rustic cabin located nearly 10,000 feet above sea level on the border of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. The hut was constructed by Swiss mountaineers in 1922 and for nearly a century was used as a refuge by mountain climbers scaling the challenging peaks that rise around it. The stone building was listed as a national historic site in 1992 and is the second-highest permanent structure in Canada. 

But in 2016, reports to Parks Canada, the agency that manages the site, revealed that the slope supporting the hut was eroding, because snow and ice that had once permanently covered the rocky saddle was now melting in the summer. The hut was closed to visitors and Parks Canada brought in a team of geotechnical engineers to help stabilize the slope, but the extreme conditions proved difficult. 

“The snow-free period up there is weeks, not months,” said Alex Kolesch, a senior advisor with Parks Canada.

In 2018, the engineers did hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work to stabilize the hut, but the 2019 summer was too short to get any done. Then the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 forced another year of delay. By the summer of 2021, the erosion was too far gone, Kolesch said, likely due in part to the extreme heat experienced in western Canada that summer. The hut now poses a safety risk to hikers below and cannot feasibly be moved, he said, so it must be dismantled. 


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The hut will be taken down this summer, but Kolesch said that Parks Canada was able to capture 3D images of the shelter in the summer of 2021 to be used to digitally preserve it in the future. He said the agency plans to work with stakeholders, including Indigenous groups, to determine how to do that. 

“We’re definitely saddened by the loss of this Alpine refuge due to the effects of climate change,” Kolesch said. “We look forward to exploring ways to continue to commemorate this important part of Canada’s heritage and this national historic site.”


Brazil’s Political Climate is Warming to Environmental Issues

Just months away from a presidential election in Brazil, new survey data shows that most Brazilians believe climate change is happening, and that it is human caused. That could be bad news for President Jair Bolsonaro, who is up for reelection in October.

A right-wing former military captain, Bolsonaro has overseen a sharp increase in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest during his presidency, which began in 2019. Critics have also accused him of commiting crimes against the environment and Indigenous people. Bolsonaro is challenged by former left-wing Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who supports more environmentally progressive policies. 

A new survey of 2,600 Brazilians conducted by the Institute for Technology & Society of Rio, the Brazilian survey research firm IPEC and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 96 percent of respondents believe global warming is happening, and 77 percent believe it is mainly caused by human activity. Forty-five percent of respondents said they had voted for politicians in the past based on their policies defending the environment, and 81 percent said the issue of climate change was “very important” to them.

Nearly all respondents also said they had heard about the issue of fires in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil. Most said that the fires are getting worse and 75 percent said that they were caused by human activities. Some ranchers and farmers illegally burn patches of the rainforest to clear land for agriculture, mostly raising cattle. And worsening droughts driven by climate change are leading to more fires. 

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said governments should be responsible for solving the problem of climate change. Fifty percent said governments should address the fires in the Amazon.

Although experts expect that economic issues will likely be top of mind for the nation’s voters, who are facing unprecedented unemployment and inflation as the country struggles to recover from the pandemic, Brazilian sociologist and political commentator Sérgio Abranches said during a press conference that environmental issues will be a factor at the polls.

The questions asked in this survey are the same as questions that the Yale program has been asking Americans for years. When comparing the responses from the U.S. and Brazil, Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale program, noted that climate change is much less polarizing and much more accepted in Brazil.

“[Brazil] has one of the biggest, most globally historic elections about to happen in just seven months. It will literally determine the future of Brazil, it will almost certainly determine the future of much of the natural environment, including the future of the Amazon,” Leiserowitz said. “Brazilians will be going to the polls and making truly historic decisions in just a few months. And climate change will be at least one of the issues that will be on their mind.”


For Intersectional Environmentalist, Justice is No ‘Add-On’

After the police killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman named Leah Thomas was troubled that her environmental science classes and the wider environmental community didn’t seem to acknowledge the growing Black Lives Matter movement. 

The connections between environmentalism and racial justice seemed obvious to her. When George Floyd was killed by police in May 2020, she hit her tipping point. In a post on Instagram, she wrote, “Social justice cannot wait. It is not an optional ‘add-on’ to environmentalism.” The post went viral and sparked a new organization: Intersectional Environmentalist, which aims to educate on environmentalism and identity. 

Thomas’s new book, The Intersectional Environmentalist, dives deeper into her mission. Inside Climate News recently discussed the book with Thomas. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is intersectional environmentalism?

I would say intersectional environmentalism is a kind of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both people and the planet. And not only that, it kind of goes a step further and argues that the exploitation of the Earth and the exploitation of people is kind of connected, because you can really tell how a society might prioritize its people by the way that it degrades the Earth and vice versa, and how it places value on people on the planet. Sometimes it’s similar. 

And it also argues that you should amplify the voices of people who have been kind of left out of mainstream conservation and environmental history because their stories and solutions are also really important. 

Tell me about the disconnect between the environmental movement and movements surrounding other identities. How can these movements unite?

It feels so obvious to say that you should protect people and the planet, like they are inhabitants of the planet. I don’t know what went wrong in conservation. It’s probably like a human superiority thing. But we are animals. Humans are animals. So when we’re talking about conservation, it should include people, but for such a long time, that hasn’t really been the case.

So it’s kind of this push and pull in the environmental space of, do we include humans now? Do we not? And I think we should always include humans, because we are responsible for the climate crisis as well. Throughout history, the civil rights movement has been kind of separated from the environmental movement, which has been separated from the environmental justice movement. That’s a lot of people power. That’s a lot of momentum. And I’m trying to make the argument, we’re fighting for a lot of similar things. So these movements should unite where there is overlap and intersectionality.

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So much of your reach and influence has been on social media. What have you learned about using social media as a tool to spread information about climate change and justice issues?

I’ve seen a lot of success using social media because it reaches people where they’re at. If they’re on social media, and they’re more likely to read an infographic or listen to a Tik Tok with the same data than they are to go read a scientific article. I and other people who are familiar with the science can condense it in a way that most people can understand. And to me as an eco-communicator, as I call it, I think that’s what climate information should be moving forward. I think every environmentalist, if you’re studying it formally, should learn how to break down that information so you can become an advocate to save the planet. Because if you have all this information but no one understands, then what’s the use?


Studying Sea Salt to Learn About Water on Land

Climate change is driving an intensification of global water cycles—dry places are facing longer and hotter droughts, and wet places are facing deluges that can cause dangerous and destructive floods.  

Although this much is known, the global cycling of freshwater has been difficult to study. That’s because the vast majority of rainfall and evaporation of water into the atmosphere occurs over the oceans, where there are no permanent weather stations to provide long term data on precipitation and evaporation. 

But a new study found a way around this data gap. Instead of measuring how much water was going into and out of the oceans, researchers from the University of New South Wales in Sydney measured the salinity of the ocean water. Saltier water has experienced more evaporation, leaving behind a higher concentration of salt, while less salty water has experienced more rainfall, which diluted the salt content. 

“The water cycle ends up leaving a signature or a fingerprint on the ocean’s patterns of salinity,” said lead author Taimoor Sohail, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales.

Sohail and his colleagues found that since 1970, freshwater cycles have intensified two to four times more than climate models have suggested. Their findings were published last month in the journal Nature. 

Sohail hopes the study’s findings help scientists build more accurate climate models and provide policymakers reliable information on how freshwater resources will change in their communities. 

“Society will need to adapt by creating more climate resilient and extreme weather resilient infrastructure, and also creating workarounds so that they can continue to irrigate crops, navigate freshwater channels and lakes, and have an adequate source of drinking water,” Sohail said. “What this study is saying is that these changes are coming faster than we thought. And so the adaptation and mitigation measures that are well documented need to come faster.”