Dear EarthTalk: Where will be the best places to live if global warming gets the best of us? — Cynthia McIntosh, Jasper, WY
If temperatures around the globe continue to rise in the face of human-induced climate change as climatologists expect, some of the world’s most populous areas could become uninhabitable. Rising sea levels will flood out coastal areas, while increasing drought will make survival in already arid areas difficult at best. While we may have at least a few decades of runway to prepare ourselves for the worst, advance planners might want to think carefully about where to put down roots now.
According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-Gain) that measures and ranks 175 countries based on vulnerability and readiness to adapt to climate change, Scandinavian countries –Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark — just might be the safest spot in the carbon-compromised world of the future.
ND-Gain researchers stress that residents of just about any developed country (including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, China and most of Europe) will likely be fine staying put given the fact that better-heeled governments are already gearing up to adapt to warmer temperatures, more intense storms, rising sea levels and other expected changes. On the flip side, the worst places to be may be mid-latitude developing countries, including most of Africa and South Asia. The countries ND-Gain predicts will be hardest hit by climate change include Chad, Eritrea, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Niger, Haiti, Afghanistan and Guinie Bissau.
Americans looking for the best place to live domestically as the world warms should also look north. Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, both blessed with plenty of water and plenty of terrain well above sea level, are generally acknowledged to be the best parts of the country to be in under a new climate regime. In fact, University of Washington atmospheric science professor Cliff Mass believes the Pacific Northwest will be “a potential climate refuge” in coming decades. He writes in his popular weather blog that Washington State could soon become the nation’s premier wine production region as California’s vineyards continue to be slammed by years and years of drought.
Meanwhile, UCLA environmental economics professor, Matthew Kahn, says that otherwise fading cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit will become more and more attractive as their counterparts to the south (Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego) take the brunt of global warming’s fury. In his 2010 book, Climatopolis, Kahn predicts that Detroit will be one of the nation’s most desirable cities by 2100. Other climate change winners could include Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Colorado.
Not everyone agrees that Detroit will be the golden city of our future world. Author Giles Slade contends in his 2013 book, American Exodus, that we all may be heading for northern Canada when global warming’s fury really starts to kick in. “The safest places will be significant communities in the north that are not isolated, that have abundant water, that have the possibility of agricultural self-sufficiency, that have little immediate risk of forest fires, that are well elevated, and that are built on solid rock,” he writes. “Our northern lands are our Noah’s ark — a vital refuge against the moment of mankind’s greatest need.”
Contacts: Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), www.gain.org; Cliff Mass Weather Blog, cliffmass.blogspot.com. Photo above: Some consider Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest to be a potential refuge for Americans looking to escape drought-stricken southern states. Credit: Howard Ignatius, FlickrCC.
Dear EarthTalk: It seems like I’m getting more junk mail than ever these days. How can I stop the deluge? — Grace Dixon, Houston, TX
First of all, you’re probably right! Junk mail has increased to a massive scale in recent years, with the average American receiving 16 pieces each week. While this might not seem like much, it adds up to weigh an estimated 41 pounds each year, according to leading anti-junk mail organization, 41pounds.org.
What’s more, 44 percent of it is never opened, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates only about 40 percent is recycled properly. This enormous waste of paper has triggered the U.S. Postal Service to install over 4,000 postal recycling stations around the country. From a financial perspective, nearly $320 million of local tax money is used to dispose of and recycle of junk mail each year.
However, junk mail has environmental repercussions on a larger scale than individual inconvenience or waste of tax money. The paper for these mailings comes from more than 100 million trees each year. Not only does this cause deforestation and other direct problems to the local environment, it also creates an imbalance of the planet’s carbon levels. While forests usually act as “carbon sinks” to maintain constant levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, chopping down these trees and converting them into paper emits this stored carbon prematurely back into the atmosphere. On top of that, according to 41pounds.org, the carbon emissions from junk mailings each year are roughly equivalent to those of nine million cars.
ForestEthics.org, another leader in the charge against junk mail, estimates that junk mail produces 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. Ciara O’Rourke reports in The New York Times that this is roughly the same amount of emissions produced by heating 13 million homes in the winter. ForestEthics’ report, “Climate Change Enclosed,” likens junk mail’s carbon burden to 2.4 million cars idling 24/7 year-round.
Another negative impact of junk mail is the water waste it creates. As drought becomes an increasingly important problem across the country, Americans continue to waste upwards of 28 billion gallons of water on junk mail production and recycling every year.
Thankfully, these enormous environmental costs can easily be reduced by taking basic steps to get off mailing lists. By registering at 41pounds.org, junk mailings can be reduced by 80-95 percent for $41. Similar to a no-call list for telemarketers, you can also opt out of these mailing lists at catologchoice.org. By contacting dozens of these mailers directly, these organizations aim to eliminate junk mail waste.
After five years, 41pounds.org estimates “you’ll conserve 1.7 trees and 700 gallons of water, and prevent global warming emissions — and you’ll gain about 350 hours of free time.” Though readers should note you must re-register every five years, this simple action can make a huge impact in stopping the torrent of junk mail being crammed into your mailbox each week.
Dear EarthTalk: Summer is near and I am planning a big road trip. Do you have any tips for boosting my car’s fuel efficiency on long, hot drives? — Esther McCoy, Burlington, VT
Ah, the summer road trip, that classic American experience. But long drives through steamy weather can burn through a lot of gas and cause untold wear and tear on your car’s engine and systems while putting you at risk for overheating. Doubling down on tactics to help your car run better will not only improve fuel efficiency, but could also help you avoid spending a large chunk of your vacation time in the breakdown lane waiting for a tow.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), there are lots of ways to conserve fuel on hot weather road trips that also will help prolong the life of your car. “In summer, drive during cooler parts of the day,” reports the group. “Cooler, denser air can boost power and mileage.”
While it may seem counterintuitive, using your car’s air conditioning is actually a smart idea in hot weather. “Today’s air conditioners create less drag on the engine than driving with the windows open,” says AAA. Meanwhile, if you have a hybrid, pre-cool it before you get in so it can devote more electricity to driving when you are out on the road. But don’t warm-up (or pre-cool) a conventional car, as the extra idling doesn’t do the car any good and just wastes fuel and creates extra heat. Another key tip for hot weather driving is to park in the shade when you can.
The Green Car Reports website suggests utilizing cruise control and overdrive features on cars that offer them on long summer roads trips; these features help normalize the energy demands of the engine which in turn helps conserve fuel.
According to AA1car.com, a leading online information resource on auto repair and maintenance, placing a sunshade under the windshield and cracking the windows when parked can help keep the interior cool between drives. This can also “lighten the cooling load on the air conditioner when the vehicle is first started.” The website also reports that changing old dirty motor oil with a fresh higher viscosity one will help keep your car’s engine lubricated and running smoothly on those summer road trips. “For example, you might want to change from 5W-30 to 10W-30, 10W-40 or 20W-30 for hot weather driving,” reports AA1car.com. “Synthetic motor oils are even better for high temperature protection.”
Of course, some fuel saving tips apply any time of year. For instance, jackrabbit starts are a big no-no; drivers should always try to accelerate gradually. Taking your foot off the gas as early as possible when approaching a red light is another way to save gas. Keeping filters clean, maintaining recommended tire pressure and driving at the speed limit are additional ways to conserve fuel, reduce emissions and treat your ride nicely.
Of course, summertime road trips can also be hard on drivers and passengers, so pack plenty of sunscreen — especially if you plan to have the windows open (or top down) — and bring along a cooler with healthy drinks so everyone can stay hydrated.
Dear EarthTalk: What are so-called non-human rights? — Richard Montcalm, Jenkintown, PA
Non-human rights is a term coined by animal welfare activist and lawyer Steven Wise, who has campaigned for three decades to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. His organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), is working “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
According to NhRP, nonhuman animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law. Even those animals that we know possess feelings, emotions and higher forms of intelligence — great apes, elephants, dolphins, whales — have no more legal standing than a shoe, a table or a car.
“These are complex animals who have deep emotions, understand each other’s minds, live in complicated societies, transmit culture, use sophisticated communication, solve difficult problems, and even mourn the loss of their loved ones,” reports the group. “Just like humans.”
“But they are still considered property, poached and taken from their natural habitat, separated and held against their will, subjected to cruel experimentation, exploited for entertainment, sold on the black market, used, abused and treated like objects for our amusement and financial gain,” says NhRP, adding that such experiences can scar animals for life. “Yet the law affords them no rights, allowing humans to do with them whatever we want.”
Wise and company would like to see animals who are confined for use in research or entertainment have the opportunity to live out their days in a wildlife sanctuary with a hospitable climate where they can enjoy “bodily liberty” to pursue their free will. NhRP is working to first establish a legal precedent that nonhumans can have legal rights in the U.S. judicial system. The organization filed its first cases in New York State in December 2013 representing four individual chimpanzees being used in research labs and for entertainment purposes, and hopes to expand its caseload to other nonhuman species in the near future.
In the meantime, NhRP is looking for the help of volunteer lawyers, scientists, mathematicians and predictive analysis professionals interested in lending their expertise to the fight for recognizing the legal rights of nonhumans.
“Over the coming years, we will be filing as many cases as we can afford, so contributions are very important, too,” reports the group. “We also need funds to help establish sanctuaries for the animals we’re working to free from captivity.”
Why should we care that animals have legal rights too? Steven Wise is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” If we don’t want to live in a world where humans are enslaved, why should we tolerate similar treatment of our closest animal relatives and other sentient beings great and small? Whether or not the chimps he is fighting for ever get to a sanctuary, Steven Wise will forever go down in history as the Abraham Lincoln of the non-human rights movement.
Contact: Nonhuman Rights Project, www.nonhumanrightsproject.org.