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Highlights from the Week's News

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Everything Everywhere All at Once

March 26, 2023

IPCC Final Warning Report Says There’s Hope, but Action Needed Now

Everything Everywhere All at Once. Yes, it’s the name of an award-winning movie—and it’s also how the world needs to take climate action on all fronts, according to UN Secretary General António Guterres. He made his remarks on March 20 as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its synthesis report—the last in the sixth assessment cycle and what they are calling their final warning on the climate crisis.

Credit: IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report

The report from the world’s leading climate scientists says that human-caused climate change has already led to widespread and rapid changes in the ocean and atmosphere, affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Among other conclusions, the scientists say vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to the current climate crisis are disproportionately affected.

For more than 30 years, the IPCC has been warning about the crisis caused by global warming from CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Yet, they say there is still some hope. Global temperatures are currently at about 1.1C above pre-industrial levels, and the IPCC said that if greenhouse gas emissions are limited as soon as possible and then reduced, it may be possible to avoid the worst calamities that would occur if we reach 1.5C. However, experts say that we are likely to go above that level in the 2030s, which the report says could lead to tipping points that can’t be stopped, like the melting of permafrost that would release more greenhouse gases.

The report also warns that what we don’t do today to lower global warming will affect our planet for multiple millennia. If temperatures go up to 2C and above, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets may be irreversibly lost.

Guterres said that leaders of developed countries must commit to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as close as possible to 2040—the limit they should all aim to respect—and that it can be done, with some having already set a target as early as 2035.

Biden Announces Land and Water Protections in Wake of Willow Project

Some are calling it a “carbon bomb.” About two weeks ago, despite more than 4.5 million petitioners opposing the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, the Biden administration approved the development by ConocoPhillips. There have already been suits filed in court against it, arguing that the government must take steps to reduce carbon pollution in addition to protecting the land and wildlife. CNN reports that the White House and the Interior Department were aggressively lobbied for months to approve Willow, and the administration determined that legally they could not fully reject the project.  

Avi Kwa Ame National Monument | Credit: Stan Shebs

The approval of the Willow project has some people challenging the idea that Joe Biden is the “environmental president.” This past week, the administration took some steps that may help him reclaim that title.

On March 21, 2023, in an effort to protect federal land, the Biden administration announced the establishment of two new monuments—the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada and the Castner Range National Monument in Texas. In Nevada, the move would prevent development on 500,000 acres and create one of the largest contiguous areas of protected wildlife in the U.S.  The Castner Range designation in Texas protects more than 6,000 acres near El Paso, an area that was a former military training and testing site.

On the same day, the administration also announced its Ocean Climate Action Plan, which, in part, directs the Secretary of Commerce to consider designating additional marine sanctuary areas around the Pacific Remote Islands southwest of Hawaii, to protect 30 percent of the nation’s ocean. Overall goals of the plan include, achieving carbon neutrality, using the oceans to store greenhouse gases, and helping communities to become more resilient. Biden’s priorities will include such efforts as boosting offshore wind and decarbonizing ships.

However, in terms of protecting marine environments, Rob Steiner, a marine biologist and a retired professor from the University of Alaska, wrote in The Hill that the most pressing ocean conservation imperative is not only the remote Pacific regions, but also much closer waters along the continental shelf that are heavily exploited, degraded, and at risk of further decline.

A Way to Save Caterpillars

Ever turn on a porch light at night and suddenly see swarms of insects? If there happened to be a caterpillar munching on a leaf nearby, you just outed them and made them vulnerable to predators. That’s the conclusion in a recent study about artificial light and its impact on wildlife—in this case, two moth caterpillars that live in New Hampshire.

Under moderate levels of artificial light, predators have more opportunity to attack caterpillars. | Credit: John Deitsch/Cornell University

Researchers at Cornell University created caterpillar models from green clay that resembled Noctuidae (owlet moths) and Notodontidae (prominent moths), two insects commonly found at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains. The material was soft enough that imprints from any predators like arthropods, insects, or birds that landed on it or tried to bite the clay would leave a mark.

Of the 552 clay caterpillars glued to leaves and then subjected to the equivalent of a streetlight, 521 models were recovered and 249 (47.8 percent) showed predatory marks during the summer-long study—27 percent more than fakes in the pitch dark. That’s not good for the critters, which are most vulnerable at their larval stage and already facing threats from habitat loss, pesticides, invasive species, and climate change.

Caterpillars are not the only creatures affected by artificial light. Many nocturnal animals from migratory birds to sea turtles are thrown off. So, the researchers say, do nature a favor—don’t leave the light on.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Instant Beer? Just Add Water

There are a lot of drinks you can make by just adding water—instant coffee, hot chocolate, Kool-Aid…and beer? Yup, beer.

Neuzelle abbey brewery | Credit: Petrus Silesius/Creative Commons

The Neuzelle Monastery Brewery near Munich, Germany—that’s been in operation for over 500 years—has launched a powdered beer they say is kinder to the planet. Because beer is mostly water, not having to transport bottles will reduce its weight by 90 percent. That will lower the carbon footprint of shipping their dry lager, which is currently being tested in small quantities.

Stefan Fritsche, the brewery's managing director, told The Times, that given inflation, the energy crisis, and a glass shortage, it made no sense to import bottles, fill them with German water, and export them around the world.

To imbibe the dry beer just mix a couple of spoonfuls of the powder into water and stir. It will develop a real head of foam, is carbonated, and tastes like a lager you ordered on tap…minus the alcohol. This initial product is dry in more ways than one, but if they attract investors, the company plans to roll out an alcoholic version soon.

Neuzelle has a record of disruption in the brewing industry, selling among its 42 different products, ones that are anti-aging, gluten-free—and their Badebier—a beer you can bathe in.