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In This State, the Kids Are All Right

July 07, 2024

Was Hurricane Beryl a Freak Occurrence or a Sign of What’s to Come?

Last week, Hurricane Beryl became the earliest Category 5 hurricane ever recorded, moving through the Caribbean, killing 11 people as of July 7, and causing major devastation. After striking the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the storm was expected to hit Texas Sunday night.

NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick captured this image of Hurricane Beryl in the Caribbean on July 1, 2024, while aboard the International Space Station. The Category 5 hurricane ultimately had winds of about 165 mph.

Hurricane season starts on June 1 each year, and even if one forms in the early summer months, it usually does not reach the intensity of those that occur in September. Beryl intensified so rapidly that scientists are freaking out.

The reason for the storm’s rapid intensification, according to Brian Tang of the University of Albany, writing in The Conversation, is the unusually warm water in the Atlantic Ocean, which is already at temperatures that aren’t normal for at least two months. The warm water can supercharge a hurricane. In only 24 hours, Beryl intensified from a tropical storm with winds of 70 miles per hour to a major hurricane with winds at 130 mph and, later, up to 165 mph.

Brian McNoldy of the University of Miami wrote online that it is hard to communicate how unbelievable this is and that it’s the type of outlier event that people have been warning about for months before the start of this hurricane season. Tang writes that with climate change, it’s reasonable to theorize that this rapid intensification could become more common. He adds that the rates of peak intensification of these storms have increased up to an average of 30 percent in about the last 20 years compared to the two decades ending in 1990. ClimaMeter, a research consortium, concluded that the winds and precipitation in Beryl were mostly strengthened by human-driven climate change.

Kids in Hawaiʻi Have Prevailed Against the State Government on Climate Change

About two weeks ago, the State of Hawaiʻi was about to go to trial defending against claims brought by children and teens who said that there had not been progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that their rights to a clean and healthy environment had been infringed. But just days before trial, the case was settled, with the state agreeing to have the court monitor specific targets to reduce climate-warming gas pollution until Hawaiʻi’s zero-emission goal was met or until 2045, whichever is earlier.

The state of Hawaiʻi reached a settlement with young people who sued the state over climate change, and it agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its transportation sector. |  Credit: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve by Heather Schreppel Cherokee Nations Technologies, USGS

The settlement marks the first time a state or the federal government has decided to work with young people instead of fighting against their efforts to protect their rights to live in a healthy environment.  

The young plaintiffs in Hawaiʻi, many of whom are Native Hawaiʻians, based their claims on rising sea levels, floods, and fires, which are threatening their culture, including fishing and growing taro. They alleged that officials ignored state climate goals by not taking any significant steps to reduce transportation emissions. In earlier cases elsewhere, young people lost when officials fought their claims. Among those, one brought by Oregon children against the federal government in 2015 was thrown out in May this year. Another in Utah is on appeal after it was dismissed. However, last summer in Montana a judge ruled that the state had violated children’s rights there to a clean and healthy environment. Montana has now appealed that ruling.  

In Hawaiʻi, the state Department of Transportation will now have to establish a greenhouse gas reduction plan and invest in clean transportation infrastructure.

Florida Farmers Are Planting a “Miracle Tree” That Grows Renewable Energy

Florida is famous for oranges, but the industry has soured over the past few decades as many citrus orchards have been decimated by two fatal diseases, greening and citrus canker. But fields in the Sunshine State have not been left fallow. They’re increasingly full of pongamia trees, where farmers are growing not fruit but climate solutions. 

Pongamia pods  | Credit: Jumanous/Creative Commons

Pongamia trees (Millettia pinnata) are ancient legumes native to India, Southeast Asia, and Australia, where they’ve been used in Ayurvedic medicine. A company called Terviva is betting the plants can heal the Earth, too. Pongamia have been called “miracle trees” because they sequester carbon, improve soil health and water quality, and can grow on any type of land, no matter how degraded. The tropical trees, which grow up to 80 feet tall, can thrive without irrigation, fertilizer, or pesticides, and have flowers that native bees and other pollinators love. According to the Associated Press, harvesting the trees’ beans is not labor intensive—a machine simply shakes them from the branches.

All these qualities are a dream come true for struggling citrus farmers in Florida, who are now growing pongamia not only for use as a plant protein and vegetable oil—but also for renewable energy. In December 2023, Terviva partnered with the Mitsubishi Corporation to convert the plant’s feedstock into biodiesel, renewable diesel, or sustainable aviation fuel, adding that one acre of pongamia trees can provide the same amount of oil as four acres of soybeans. Ron Edwards, chairman of Terviva's board of directors and a long-time Florida citrus grower told the AP that "from an ecological point of view, it's very attractive because it can replace some of the oils and vegetable proteins that are now being generated by things like palm oil, which is environmentally a much more damaging crop."

These Insects Can Provide Medical Care That Rivals Human Medical Systems

Carpenter ants, as their name implies, burrow into wood to create nests. They use their strong jaws not only to remove the fibers but also to fend off intruders. As can happen in the busy and territorial ant world, injuries like broken legs can occur, which could be life threatening if left untreated. Luckily for the creatures, their friends are happy to help—even performing surgery if the situation warrants.

Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus) perform amuptations on nestmates when their legs are injured. |  Credit: Bart Zijlstra/UNIL

Researchers from the University of Würzburg who were studying Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus) in their lab, observed that when one of the insects fell in battle, their comrades would spring into action like tiny emergency medics. First, they would clean the wound with their mouths to remove bacteria. Next, they would assess a treatment plan based on the extent of the broken leg. If it was near the ankle or tibia, no further action was needed. If the damage was high up on the thigh or femur, the tiny surgeons would amputate the leg by chewing it off—a lifesaving intervention where nearly 95 percent of the amputees survived. Even 75 percent of the tibia patients, who just got a cleaning, lived, versus 15 percent for those whose wounds were left untreated.

Lead author Erik Frank said in a press release that the ants’ ability to diagnose wounds for infection and then treat them accordingly rivals human medical systems.

Even more astonishing? No ant was ever denied care because it didn’t have insurance.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.