Earth Matters: Alligators have a cold weather trick; despite pandemic, solar and wind soared in 2020


Thousands of the 18,000 species of fish living in the world’s rivers are at risk, according to “Human impacts on global freshwater fish biodiversity” published Friday in the journal Science. Summarizing, the authors stated, “We are increasingly aware of human impacts on biodiversity across our planet, especially in terrestrial and marine systems. We know less about fresh waters, including large rivers. Su et al. looked across such systems globally, focusing on several key measures of fish biodiversity. They found that half of all river systems have been heavily affected by human activities, with only very large tropical river basins receiving the lowest levels of change. Fragmentation and non-native species have also led to the homogenization of rivers, with many now containing similar species and fewer specialized lineages.” The French and Chinese scientists who conducted the study put together a “biodiversity index score” that they described as a “holistic measure of multiple measures of biodiversity change.” The results: Industrialization—including overfishing, redirected rivers, dams, soil and water pollution, and reckless land use have moderately or severely affected more than 86% of 2,456 river basins worldwide. The remainder are mostly concentrated in tropical Africa and Australia. Julian Olden, an ecology professor at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the study, told Eric Roston at Bloomberg, “This study provides support to the growing realization that the world is facing a freshwater biodiversity crisis, and humans are the primary cause.”


While the U.S. economy plunged into recession last year, with at least 25 million Americans now unemployed, furloughed, or working for less pay than before the coronavirus struck in February 2020, there were record-breaking new installations of renewable energy sources. Installations already operating generated 20% of all electricity produced in the U.S. in 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. “It was a year of records but also resilience,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas research at BloombergNEF at an event highlighting the report. “I’ll be candid in saying [that] about halfway through the year, things looked pretty dire.” And, in fact, the renewables industry lost 67,000 jobs between February and December, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, new U.S. solar installations hit 16.5 gigawatts, breaking the previous record of 14.4 gigawatts set in 2016. Using a different metric to measure timing of projects’ completion, Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy, put the gain at more than 19 gigawatts of solar. The wind industry added more than 17 gigawatts, according to BloombergNEF. Together these renewable additions grew 11% over 2019.

Native American candidate Deb Haaland who is running for Congress in New Mexico's 1st congressional district seat for the upcoming mid-term elections, speaks in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 1, 2018. - If Haaland is successful she will be the first Native American woman to hold a seat in the United States House of Representatives. The seat is currently held by Michelle Lujan Grisham who will now run for Governor of the state. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Rep. Deb Haaland


As we have reported previously here and here, Deb Haaland, the Indigenous congresswoman who President Joe Biden has picked to be the next Secretary of the Interior, has plenty of Republican foes who consider her too radical for the post. Her nomination would seem certain to clear the Energy and Natural Resources Committee after she testifies at her confirmation hearing Tuesday. But the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin III, the committee’s Democratic chairman, says he hasn’t decided how he will vote, although he told The Washington Post last month that he has “always been deferential to whoever the president” wants in a cabinet official. Haaland has some vigorous Native and other support behind her nomination.

Darryl Fears reports that the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council put up two billboards Thursday with Haaland’s picture in Billings and Great Falls, Mont., the state where Natives make up about 7% of the population and her toughest critic is Republican Sen. Steve Daines. He calls her “radical.” But it’s his own ideas about public land use that are extreme and destructive. Of him, Holly Cook Macarro, chairwoman of the American Indian Graduate Center, said, “Even though he’s a senator from the state of Montana, his statements did not reflect the views of the tribes at all.” Interior oversees about 75% of public lands under federal jurisdiction. This encompasses the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Services, the Bureau of Land Management, and hundreds of wildlife refuges. For 172 years, it has also handled many Indigenous matters, including governing trust lands and supervising the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. Numerous tribes and individual Natives have strongly endorsed Haaland, who is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo. 

Alligator "icing"
Alligator “icing.”


In the deep freeze that hit much of the central and southern United States this week, humans weren’t the only species that suffered. Tweeted photos went viral of cold-stunned turtles, one with a dozen or so or the reptiles stacked into the rear of a hatchback. In Oklahoma, alligators can be seen surviving by means of “icing” or “snorkeling.” David Arbour of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation posted photos on Facebook Tuesday to show the beasts with their snouts sticking out of the ice. “They keep [their] nose up through the ice to maintain a[n] air hole so they can breathe,” he explained. The photos were taken in the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area, a 5,814-acre wetland in the southeastern part of the state that a large variety of species call home. When the temperatures head toward freezing, alligators sense this and stick their noses out at just the right time. They engage in a kind of semi-hibernation called brumation. This allows them to slow their heart rate and metabolism to await warmer weather. 


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