Warming Trends: Battling Beetles, Climate Change Blues and a Tool That Helps You Take Action

The first installment of a column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Oct 31, 2020
Confused flour beetle (Tribolium confusum) is one of two species used in the experiment detailed in a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images

The confused flour beetle (Tribolium confusum) is one of two species used in the experiment detailed in a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images

Warming Trends

 

Science

 

 

Beetles' Battle Over Resources Show Climate's Impact on Species

As the planet warms, many species are being pushed by temperature shifts into new regions—higher up a mountainside, for example, or further north in coastal waters. A new study shows that once they reach their new homes, some animals will face tough competition for resources from species already living in those areas.

Landing in another species' territory is a bit like moving into a new house with the old homeowners still living there and eating all the food.

The research, published Oct. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that competition is a determining factor in setting the boundaries of a species' new range.

 

The study used two species of flour beetles—an model organism for ecology experiments—to model a competitive situation between species. The beetles were raised in two boxes separated by a plexiglass barrier with holes that could open and close. Then, researchers observed as one beetle species was allowed to expand into the other's range and compete for resources.

"It's a microcosm of the larger natural world that allows you to focus in on the core processes of birth, death and movement," said Brett Melbourne, senior author on the study and associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study confirmed that interspecies competition, which puts both the native species and the newcomer at risk of extinction, is a vital factor to include in ecological models. 

 

 

 

An Online Tool Can Show You Climate Action Options

Say you care about climate change and you have half-an-hour a week to spend trying to do something about it. Where do you invest your energy?

Trying to take meaningful action can be overwhelming, especially when most solutions to the problem have to come at the level of corporate or government policy.

But a new nonprofit organization that aims to help people take responsibility for addressing climate change says there's a lot individuals can do.

You Change Earth is an online tool, developed by six Duke University students, in which participants answer questions about their lifestyle—their work situation, their living situation, and how much free time they have—and then are matched with ways they can take action, from dietary changes and waste reduction to advocating for green policies in local government and workplaces. Participants can set reminders for themselves and tally up their progress on the You Change Earth website by checking items off of a list and reading about how the actions translate into climate progress.

"Millions of people are constantly inspired to take action on climate change, but as they struggle to sort through the overwhelming amount of cluttered and disorganized content on the web, their motivation quickly dissipates into inaction," co-founder and Duke student Daniel Levy said. "We were determined to solve this disconnect and tap into this massive potential for change."

 

Science

 

 

More and More Americans Say Climate Change Is Affecting Their Mental Health

An increasing number of Americans have climate change on their minds and say it is taking a toll on their mental health, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association.

The proportion of American adults who say climate change is probably or definitely affecting mental health jumped from 47 percent in 2019 to 68 percent in 2020, the poll found. 

Flames incinerate a forest as the Creek Fire rapidly expands on Sept. 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

Flames incinerate a forest as the Creek Fire rapidly expands on Sept. 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

The results may come as no surprise at a time of seemingly nonstop hurricanes in the Atlantic, raging wildfires in the West and a pandemic that scientists say may only be a preview of the diseases that might emerge in a warming world.

"These results are a wake-up call on how climate change not only hurts our environment, but also negatively impacts our mental health," said APA President Jeffrey Geller in a news release. "Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals need to be aware that in addition to the many other concerns in our world today, the impacts of climate change are weighing on the minds of most Americans."

The survey found that the majority of adults agree that climate change has an impact on their mental health, with young adults more concerned than older adults. Among younger respondents, 67 percent of Gen Z-ers, ages 18 to 23, and 63 percent of millenials, ages 24 to 39, said they were "somewhat" or "very" concerned about the effects of climate change on their mental health, compared with 58 percent of Gen Xers, ages 40 to 55, and 42 percent of baby boomers, ages 56 to 74.

 

Culture

 

 

Another Climate Disaster Movie? 

Climate change has become a favorite theme for end-of-the-world blockbusters. Now George Clooney is starring in the latest film set in what seems to be a post-climate crisis world, which is hitting Netflix in December. The climate link isn't stated directly, but Clooney plays Augustine, a scientist living alone in the Arctic—presumably after most of the rest of the planet becomes uninhabitable. His only company is a young girl. 

Augustine attempts to reach a team of astronauts who have lost contact with Earth and warn them of the global catastrophe that has left him marooned.

The icy Arctic setting gives the viewer a sense of climate doom in a future where extreme heat, drought, sea level rise and weather disasters have left the cold poles as the only refuge.

The movie will be released by Netflix Dec. 23.

 

Culture

 

 

Trick 'r Treat: Mom, Can I Go as a Hurricane?

Looking for a Halloween costume that's both scary and timely? 

The Sierra Club suggests some possibilities with a climate change theme. Here are some highlights:

  1. Dress as a wildfire: Wear orange and yellow clothes, and attach some extra fabric to give it a flame-ish look.

  2. Try a costume that illustrates plastic pollution in the ocean: Wear blue clothes and tape on plastic bags, bottles and other trash. 

  3. Make the rounds outfitted as a natural gas pipeline: Wear black clothes and attach a line of white duct tape to be the pipeline. The Sierra Club suggests including blue tape to show vulnerable water supplies and red fabric to illustrate an explosion.

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