Where climate change will hit the U.S. hardest - Axios

Where climate change will hit the U.S. hardest

Left unmitigated, rising temperatures from climate change will increase inequality and mortality rates in the U.S. by the end of the 21st century, a team of economists and climate scientists warn in a study published today. It's the first to project the impacts of climate change on individual counties in the U.S. Many of those predicted to be hit hardest are in fast-growing Arizona, Texas, and Florida.

Data: Hsiang, Kopp, Jina, Rising, et al. (2017); Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Local differences: If steps are not taken to lessen the rate of warming from climate change, counties in the South and lower Midwest — which on average tend to already be poorer and warmer — may lose as much as 20% of their income and may experience higher mortality rates. However, areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and New England — which on average tend to be wealthier and cooler — could benefit economically from the change and see lower mortality rates.

A climate impact map by county is available here.

"The poorest 10% of counties stand to lose over 10% of their county GDP, while many richer counties will see climate-driven boosts." — study author James Rising of UC Berkeley.

Dire warning: The researchers predict mortality will increase by 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature. "We show there are going to be as many additional deaths from climate change as there are car crashes, and possibly more. Of the sectors we looked at, the greatest costs by far to society are going to come from those additional deaths," Rising told Axios. But it would vary by region: in cold northern counties, warming reduces mortality whereas in southern ones it could rise.

Nationwide, for every one degree Celsius temperature rise, the study predicts:

  • Gross domestic product will drop 1.2%
  • Agriculture average yields will decline by 9%
  • Electricity demand will rise by 5.3%
  • Total hours of labor supplied will drop — by 0.11% for low-risk workers (work mostly indoors) and 0.53% for high-risk workers (exposed to outdoor temperatures).
  • Violent crime will rise by roughly 0.88% nationally. Property crime (which tends to be lower in cold weather) will increase with warming but doesn't change once it reaches hot levels of temperature.
  • Coastal damage will be distributed unequally: acute impacts could be felt in eastern coastal states with low-lying cities. The rise of Middle Sea Levels alone raises expected economic damage to South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida in particular.
Outside perspective: One of the study authors said that unmitigated climate change may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in U.S. history. In response, Stanford University's Marshall Burke told Axios:
"Poor counties in the U.S. will be harder hit, mainly because they are already hot. Whether we should think of climate change as a "transfer" of wealth is less clear to me, though, and it is also less clear that even if we want to use "transfer" in the way they are using it, that this would be the biggest transfer in U.S. history. For instance, I think it's correct that the differential growth in incomes between the poorest 20% of U.S. household and the richest 1% has been a lot bigger over the last 20 years than the effects they find here."

What they did: The team used historical records of temperature effects on different sectors and 116 climate projections to price the real-world costs of higher temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas, and intensifying hurricanes to 6 key economic factors: agriculture yield, crime rates, health, energy demand, labor supply, and coastal damage. The projections across all U.S. counties and a range of possible future climates are for four blocks of time between 2020 and the end of the 21st century that are compared to historical data from the period from 1989 to 2001.

"For the longest time when we talked about climate change it has been at the global level. One of the challenges is that it is hard to translate global stats to a local level," says UC Santa Barbara's Kyle Meng. "What's important about this work is that it put a lot of effort into summarizing the literature so we are able to actually tell what impacts will look like at particular locations in the U.S."

Limitations: The study doesn't account for technological adaptations that might mitigate the effects or the impact of migration on the population.

Added value: The team developed the Spatial Empirical Adaptive Global- to-Local Assessment System (SEAGLAS), which will be able to take in research across multiple fields and analyze in near-real time. "They've created a platform that researchers can update continuously so we can get real-time updates of our understanding of climate change, not just discrete ones every time a study is published," says Meng, who has collaborated with the team in the past but wasn't involved in the current study.

What's missing: "The main worry that I have — and this is clearly mentioned in the paper — is that they are missing some important sectors because impact estimates do not exist for these sectors. Morbidity in particular is probably the most important one, and this could mean they are substantially understating overall impacts," Burke added.


Study shows firearm waiting periods prevent 750 deaths annually

Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell holds a Glock 9 mm pistol. Photo: Don Petersen / AP

A Harvard Business School study found if all states adopted firearm purchase delay laws, an additional 910 lives could be saved each year, per CNN. The study suggests mandatory waiting periods allow a "cooling off" period for heightened emotions that could lead to crimes and suicide.

Why it matters: Most of the 33,000 gun-related deaths in the United States each year are suicides. Between 2006 and 2014, there were 190,396 people sent to the ER for handgun-related injuries; 55% of those were assault victims.

The studies: The researchers looked at the number of handgun-related homicides between 1970 and 2014 in states with mandatory waiting periods and those without, and found the laws were associated with "a 17% decrease in gun homicides and a 7% to 11% decrease in gun suicides," according to CNN. They also analyzed the impact of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act — federal legislation that enacted a waiting period from 1994 to 1998 — and found a similar reduction in homicides related to firearms. The findings on suicide reduction need further research, the authors said.

The laws: 16 states and the D.C. have state regulated waiting periods. Hawaii requires two weeks for all firearm purchases, while Florida and Iowa require only three days for handgun purchases only, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


China's first space lab will fall to Earth in next six months

A man looks at a display model of a Shenzhou 8 spacecraft docked with Tiangong 1. Photo: Alexander F. Yuan / AP

Tiangong 1, China's first space lab, will make an uncontrolled descent to Earth sometime before April after the country lost control of the craft due to its rapidly decaying orbit, per The Guardian. The reentry into Earth's atmosphere should burn up most of the craft, but 220-pound pieces of debris could reach Earth's surface. China has told the United Nations the chances of the lab wreaking any havoc on the ground are "very low," but that it would closely monitor the craft's reentry.

Think back: It's not the first uncontrolled reentry of a large spacecraft, as Skylab broke up over Australia in 1979. And no word if Taco Bell will set up a target for Tiangong 1 to offer free tacos to every American — like it did with Mir's descent in 2001.


Ancient reptile had bird-like head before birds existed

A Greater Adjutant Stork, pictured in India. Photo: Anupam Nath / AP

Scientists have found a bird-like skull from a reptile that existed in the Triassic age — 100 million years before birds evolved, per a new study. The newly discovered species is called Avicranium renestoi. Scientists used modern computer modeling technology to render a representation of the full reptile using just the skull.

Why it matters: This is the first time we've seen a bird-like head from an animal that lived this long ago. It's a striking example of convergent evolution, separated by time. Other examples of convergent evolution include wings in bats and birds, and color in penguins and killer whales.

Shorter antibiotic regime appears effective for drug-resistant TB

An Indian doctor examines a X-ray picture of a tuberculosis patient. Photo: Channi Anand / AP

A shorter nine-month course of antibiotics might be just as effective in fighting multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) as the current two-year standard, according to early results from an international clinical trial, per the New York Times. The trial saw a 78% success rate, compared with 81% for the two-year treatment.

Why it matters: Each year, nearly 500,000 people become sick with MDR TB, leading to about 200,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A shorter medication regime would benefit the infected populace, which is centered in the developing world.

Current treatments: "Patients with even uncomplicated tuberculosis must take four drugs a day for six months. Treating drug-resistant tuberculosis can require in-hospital intravenous infusions and toxic second-line antibiotics that may cause nausea, deafness, liver damage and other side effects that lead patients to drop out of treatment," the NYT piece stated.

Limitations: Trials tend to show a higher rate of success than real-life scenarios, likely due to the increased scrutiny given during the trials, the researchers said.

"Unlike drug-sensitive TB, which can be treated effectively and cured with the current standard of care, treatment outcomes for MDR-TB are poor, with less than half of cases having successful outcomes with no more than one in 10 MDR-TB patients being effectively identified and treated," according to the study, conducted by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and UCL.


As fires die down, Californians return to destroyed homes

A father and daughter survey the remnants of their house in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP

Fire crews are making significant progress in Northern California, now working to contain the biggest fires. A number of evacuees are beginning to return home, but many are finding that their homes, and often their entire neighborhoods, have been destroyed by a week of blazes throughout the region.

The bottom line: As the wildfires subside in California, the state is looking ahead to a long and expensive recovery process. State Sen. Mike McGuire said the cost to rebuild Sonoma Country could top $3 billion.

The numbers

  • The death toll from the fires stands at 40 and is expected to rise with more than 200 people reported missing.
  • As on Sunday, 217,000 acres of land and 5,700 homes and buildings have been destroyed.
  • More than 75,000 people were evacuated, and the state is directing some of them home, including the residents of Napa and Calistoga. They are being instructed to be wary of toxic ash when sifting through their homes and belongings, CNN reports.
  • The three biggest fires are the Atlas (50,000 acres, 65% contained), the Tubbs (45,000 acres, 60% contained) and the Nuns (48,000 acres, 40% contained).

On the scene

A Santa Rosa resident stands in what remains of her home. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP

A helicopter drops water over a fire in Oakville. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The leveled Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a smoky morning in San Francisco. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP


In detecting star collision for first time, astronomers see a new era

An artist's depiction of neutron star merger. Credit: NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University / A. Simonnet

Scientists announced today they've detected the collision of two neutron stars 130 million years ago. It's the first time one of the massive mergers has been witnessed, and that light detected with telescopes has been combined with gravitational waves detection to observe a cosmic event.

What it means: "This result provides definitive evidence for the first time that heavy elements like platinum and gold, are produced in these collisions," David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, whose founders will collect the Nobel Prize in physics this year. The so-called "multi-messenger astronomy" allows researchers to view events in both light and sound, and will be used to better understand the structure of stars, the rate of expansion of the universe and other fundamental questions in physics.

What they saw: 130 million years ago, two dense neutron stars — with masses 1.6 and 1.1 times those of our sun crammed into about 10-mile-wide spaces — merged. The highly energetic event sent ripples across space and time that physicists working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo detectors observed on Aug. 17, 2017. The collision, which occurred relatively close to Earth, released high-energy, gamma-ray light that was also then seen by 70 optical, X-ray, radio, ultraviolet, infrared, and gamma-ray telescopes around the world and in space over the following days.

What's next: Dozens of papers are being published today by the more than 3500 researchers involved in the work. The LIGO and Virgo detectors have finished their current run and will be offline for a year while researchers try to optimize them. "[They are] currently working at a fraction of their sensitivity. We expect to increase the overall network sensitivity by about a factor of 2," said LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker. That would open up 8 times more space for surveying and, they hope, observing other events like supernovae.

Go deeper: Quanta's Katia Moskvitch has the play-by-play of the detection.


A week of wildfires in California, by the numbers

Firefighters battle a blaze in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The latest bout of deadly wildfires in California has been raging for a week, taking at least 40 lives and leveling entire neighborhoods. Here's a look at the scale of the devastation and the resources mobilized to contain the blazes.

The numbers, per the LA Times and CNN:

  • The death toll currently stands at 40, but authorities expect it to rise as rescue workers account for the missing.
  • More that 10,000 firefighters are fighting 15 blazes across Northern California.
  • The operations include 880 fire engines, 134 bulldozers, 224 hand crews, 138 water tenders and 14 helicopters conducting water drops.
  • More than 100,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes.
  • The fires have destroyed 214,000 acres of land and 5,700 homes and buildings.
  • On Saturday night, 35 to 45 mph winds hindered fire crews' efforts and exacerbated the fires.
  • The Tubbs and Atlas fires, two of the big blazes in Napa and Sonoma counties, have each been 50% contained. Another major fire, the Nuns, is 30% contained.

Teens are suffering from anxiety more than depression

Courtesy N.Y. Times

The cover story of tomorrow's N.Y. Times Magazine, "More American Teenagers Than Ever [Are] Suffering From Severe Anxiety," is this week's most-read story on NYTimes.com:

  • What's new: "Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services."
  • Key stat: "In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they 'felt overwhelmed by all I had to do' during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent."
  • Why it matters: "[H]ospital admissions for suicidal teenagers [doubled] over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall ... [H]igh school administrators across the country ... report a glut of anxious, overwhelmed students."

Just two Adelie penguin chicks survived this year's breeding season

Scores of Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Photo: Brian Witte / AP

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will introduce a proposal to set up a Marine Protection Area (MPA) to help the Adelie penguin colony in east Antarctica after all but two chicks starved to death this breeding season, according to the BBC.

The problem: Because extensive ice in the region lasted late into the breeding season, adults in the colony of 36,000 had to travel further than usual to find food for the chicks.

"The region is impacted by environmental changes that are linked to the breakup of the Mertz glacier since 2010," Yan Ropert-Coudert from France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) said in a statement. "An [Marine Protection Area] will not remedy these changes but it could prevent further impacts that direct anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism and proposed fisheries, could bring."

The proposal: A marine protection area in which krill fishing would be banned in order to reduce the penguins' competition for their food. It will be raised on Monday at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).


CO2 emissions linked to El Niño hint at a warmer future

Firefighters in Siak Riau, Indinesia in September 2015. The next years' El Nino likely made such fires worse. (Credit: AP Photo/Rony Muharrman)

2015-2016 was a record year for atmospheric carbon, and NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) captured all of it. In a series of papers published Thursday in the journal Science, NASA researchers report using the satellites to pinpoint ways in which the years' strong El Niño exacerbated a series of carbon-emitting events around the globe.

Why it matters: "If future climate is more like this recent El Niño, the trouble is the Earth may actually lose some of the carbon removal services we get from these tropical forests, and then CO2 will increase even faster in the atmosphere," said Scott Denning, an OCO-2 scientist at a NASA press conference.

Why they did it: All told, 3 billion more metric tons of carbon were released in 2015 than 2011. But in 2015, CO2 emissions directly from human activities were fairly stable, so scientists wanted to know why the atmospheric levels were so high. The OCO-2 identifies natural and unnatural sources of carbon. According to OCO-2's estimates, roughly 80% of the extra CO2 emitted in 2015 could be linked to El Niño.

Drought in the Amazon: Drought-stressed rainforest plants take up CO2 more slowly than plants with enough water. Tropical rainforests are considered some of the most important carbon sinks on the planet, and play a key role in keeping CO2 levels in check.

Indonesian Fires: El Niño caused an unusually arid dry season in Indonesia, which allowed for the rapid spread of wildfires. As the forests burned, they released some the CO2 the trees had previously absorbed. The resulting haze stretched across much of Southeast Asia, and researchers estimate it may have been responsible for over 90,000 premature deaths. It should be noted that while El Niño contributed to the size and severity of Indonesia's catastrophic fires, they were initially started as illegal slash-and-burn land clearing.

Warmer Africa: Researchers think higher temperatures in Africa caused dead plants to decompose faster, a process that releases CO2.

Another study showed it's possible to locate precise sources of CO2, including cities and volcanoes.