Letters | Coronavirus crisis shows why Hong Kong must stop illegal wildlife trade and conserve global biodiversity

  • Hong Kong remains a major transit point for the illegal wildlife trade and the number of consignments that go undetected is troubling. Strong action can help Asia’s World City shed its reputation as a haven for illicit wildlife trafficking
Live turtles on display at a farmer’s market in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province of southern China, on May 4. Photo: EPA-EFE
Live turtles on display at a farmer’s market in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province of southern China, on May 4. Photo: EPA-EFE

Following the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, a team of virologists led by Dr Vincent Cheng from the University of Hong Kong warned of a “time bomb” waiting to explode from China’s wildlife markets. As predicted, the Covid-19 pandemic emerged with devastating repercussions that are affecting every corner of the world.

Despite China declaring a ban on most

wildlife sales

and the closure of wildlife markets, a suspected disease source, there are reports of markets back in operation.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, illegal wildlife trade was one of the world’s most profitable illicit sectors, worth US$10 billion to US$23 billion a year and run by the syndicates that traffic drugs, arms and people. In the past decade, more than 2,000 wildlife species have been trafficked through Hong Kong, with a 57 per cent increase in the trade and a 1,600 per cent increase in profits.

Many species are heavily threatened by the trade, including elephants, rhinoceros, pangolins, sharks, lions and tigers. The

recent confiscation

of 26 tonnes of illegal fins, from more than 38,000 mostly endangered sharks, confirms that Hong Kong remains a major transit point for the illegal wildlife trade. The number of consignments that go undetected is troubling.

The intense global demand for wild meat, exotic pets and animal parts for medicines, ivory and curios is decimating wildlife populations and biodiversity, leaving us empty forests, savannahs, deserts and seas.

Not only are ecosystems and the services they provide compromised, the risk of future zoonotic disease outbreaks will remain high if it is not stopped. There is strong, science-based evidence to indicate that degraded ecosystems are less resilient to the impacts of the

climate crisis

, leaving nature and humanity exposed.

Why a greener Hong Kong can better keep pandemics at bay
17 May 2020

Hong Kong can have a huge positive impact in tackling the wildlife trade through strident, committed action. On this World Biodiversity Day, we ask the government to take stronger steps to shed our reputation as one of the world’s major hubs for the wildlife trade and to better meet its obligations under the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

We urge the government to increase and strengthen enforcement operations, and to include wildlife crime offences under Schedule 1 of Cap. 455 Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, to further deter transnational criminal enterprises.

Hong Kong must shed its reputation as a global hub for the illegal wildlife trade if it is to live up to its aspirations as Asia’s World City.

While the world reels from coronavirus, the next pandemic is waiting in the wings

Stop The Wildlife Trade: Zoonotic diseases represent a real and present threat to the modern world – after failing to address the danger for centuries, we must act now

Poached in Africa, pangolin meat is consumed by hunters and the scales are destined for the Chinese pharmacopoeia market

Poached in Africa, pangolin meat is consumed by hunters and the scales are destined for the Chinese pharmacopoeia market ( Reuters )

The mountains are high and the emperor is far away, goes the Chinese proverb. Over the years, the chorus of warnings on the wildlife trade and sale of live animals has steadily grown louder.

For too long, governments across the world have made overtures to curb this crisis of animal rights, but they have turned a blind eye to the continued growth of the industry in their own backyards. The threat to public health has been known to us for centuries, even since the Black Death.

But it is not going away. Rather it is becoming a more serious and sustained threat to the modern world. Indeed, zoonotic diseases are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths every year around the world. As human civilisation expands into more animal habitats, and the exploitation of the natural world continues, these infectious diseases are likely to become ever more common.

Researchers and experts have been warning of the threat of zoonotic viruses from Asia’s wildlife trade for some time. One academic paper from 2017 warns that the rise of China, a “cradle” of such diseases since the Black Death, would almost certainly herald a new wave.

Income growth means more Chinese consumers can afford the rare meats seen as “luxury”, fuelling the demand that leads to smuggling, corruption and illegal markets. Urbanisation increases the risk of a disease becoming an epidemic. And globalisation brings China closer to the world. Just as the bubonic plague bacteria spread across the ancient silk roads to reach Europe, the coronavirus was carried from Wuhan across the globe in Boeing 747s and cruise liners.

While huge swathes of the rest of the world pull down the shutters on shops, businesses and markets, and impose lockdowns to halt the terrifying spread of the disease, there are markets in filthy conditions across China and southeast Asia selling live animals. The general trend is that territories further from Beijing and the east coast have more flagrant abuses.

China’s growing international clout also threatens to ramp up the illegal wildlife trade. While it has traditionally relied upon its close neighbours, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, for certain animals such as pangolins and dogs, its global ambitions could change this.

Its Belt and Road Initiative, a massive state-backed programme of investment across 60 countries to stimulate growth and trade and cement influence, might ease the illegal wildlife trade and put habitats of rare species like Asian brown bears and Persian leopards within reach, according to an article in one nature journal.

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The WHO and governments globally are facing pleas to halt the sale of animals in unhygienic conditions

China has taken steps to control the wildlife trade. In February, it instituted a temporary ban on selling and eating wild animals, and authorities moved to close markets across the country. At the beginning of this month, the Ministry of Agriculture hinted that the dog meat trade could be outlawed.

Jill Robinson, the founder of an organisation that runs animal sanctuaries in China and Vietnam for trafficked bears, warned me that we need a sea change in our attitude towards animals and the cultural practices surrounding their treatment.

“Markets have unsanitary conditions, and vast amounts of antibiotics are being used simply to keep the animals alive. This latest outbreak calls for great change globally and no country is immune. Governments must now take the decision to make massive and sweeping change or risk the next deadly virus that is waiting in the wings.”

Wuhan virus outbreak exposes perils of exotic wildlife trade

ASEAN+

Thursday, 23 Jan 2020
4:40 PM MYT

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Xinhua): A new coronavirus spreading from the city of Wuhan has put a spotlight on China’s poorly regulated wild animal trade
– driven by relentless demand for exotic delicacies and ingredients for traditional medicine.

China’s markets, where wild and often poached animals are packed together, have been described as a breeding ground for disease and an incubator for a multitude of viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.

More than 500 people have been infected by the new flu-like virus that authorities say emerged from illegally traded wildlife in a seafood market in the central Chinese city, with the death toll at 17 and expected to rise.

“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao Fu, director of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing.

Preliminary research suggested that in the most recent stage of its evolution, the Wuhan virus was passed on to humans from snakes. But Chinese government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

Conservationists and health experts have long denounced the trade in wildlife for its impact on biodiversity and the potential for spreading disease in markets.

“The animal welfare part of this is obvious, but much more hidden is this stashing and mixing of all these species together in a very small area, with secretions and urine mixed up together,” said Christian Walzer, executive director of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

China’s wet markets have already been blamed for outbreaks of other infectious diseases in China and southeast Asia, including the virus responsible for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people worldwide in 2003.

“The other thing you have to consider is that these animals are massively stressed in these cages so their immune systems fail very quickly,” said Walzer.

“It is a perfect system. You couldn’t do it any better if you tried,”
Walzer said of the markets’ propensity to generate viruses.

Photographs taken at the Wuhan market before it was closed at the end of last year show cages packed with snakes, porcupines and foxes. Media said about 50 types of wild animal were on sale at the market, including endangered pangolins.

According to a report by the China Business Journal, a state-owned paper that interviewed the sister of a vendor infected by the virus, snakes, ducks and wild rabbits were popular at the market.

Since the outbreak began, authorities in Wuhan and elsewhere have shut down markets, zoos and forest parks, suspended trade in live poultry and the trade and transport of wild animals, though residents in some areas said the measures appeared to be largely symbolic.

The southeastern province of Guangdong, where a wide variety of animals are sold, has long been regarded as a prime source of new diseases.

Scientists believe Sars was caused by cross-species transmission in the province – with the blame initially falling on masked palm civets, which are considered a delicacy.

Authorities slaughtered thousands of the animals although bats were later believed to have been the source of Sars.

After Sars, China tried to improve the way the animal trade is regulated. At the same time, authorities have tried to curb the poaching of exotic species and has a long list of officially protected wildlife.

But efforts to protect animals often lose out to generations of tradition.

Environmentalists have long campaigned for new laws to restrict the use of wild animals in Chinese medicine and to develop synthetic alternatives.

But many animal products are still easily available.

Snakes, peacocks and even crocodiles are on sale via Taobao, a Chinese e-commerce website run by Alibaba.

Reuters contacted an Inner Mongolia resident named Gong Jian who sells snake, camel, crocodile and deer meat via WeChat.

Given booming business, he said he was aiming to expand his online marketing.

“Customers really like the crocodile – they stew it,” he said. – Xinhua

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2020/01/23/wuhan-virus-outbreak-exposes-perils-of-exotic-wildlife-trade

Australia bushfires: Carrots dropped from helicopters feed wallabies

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/newsbeat-51098239/australia-bushfires-carrots-dropped-from-helicopters-feed-wallabies

As animals try to recover from bushfires which have ravaged Australia, wildlife services in New South Wales have taken to the skies to help wallabies.

The marsupials’ food sources and habitats have been burned in the fires, so authorities are airdropping over 2,000 kg of carrots and sweet potatoes from helicopters.

Elsewhere in the state, communities and rescue centres have helped kangaroos, camels, horses and alpacas to survive.

But they’re the lucky ones – many more animals have died in the fires, and in some cases the animals have had to be put down because their burns are too severe.

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As the Amazon Burns, It’s Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

[Unfortunately, although this piece says a lot of good things about the anthropogenic threats faced by the natural world, it becomes delusional in its defense of stone-aged hunter-gatherer societies. Human hunters have never acted in harmony with the life that surrounded them–especially not in North and South America. Just ask the megafauna driven to extinction 10,000 years ago by humans armed with nothing more than spears and inflated egos. How were they different from modern trophy hunters?]
_____________________________________________________________________
Right now, we are facing the end of the world, says Derrick Jensen. We have the opportunity and the honor to protect the planet that gave us our lives.
Amazon burning, Amazon burns, Amazon fires, fire in the Amazon, Amazon rainforest, Amazon rainforest fire, Derrick Jensen, Derrick Jensen news, environment, environment activist

© Mike Mareen

The Amazon is burning. This is what the end of the world looks like. Oh, and there’ll be more forests burn, more forests felled by chainsaws, more wetlands drained, more rivers dammed, more grasslands plowed, oceans further toxified and emptied of fish.

And each of these is what the end of the world looks like.

The end of the world looks like factory trawlers pulling in net after net full to bursting with fish — the fish’s eyes popping out from the pressure of all those bodies squeezed together. It looks like puffins starving to death. It looks like emaciated polar bears. It looks like whales washing up on shore and walruses not finding ice on which to rest.

The end of the world looks like plows digging into grasslands, turning over soil and killing all who live there, even down to bacteria. It looks like rows of monocrops, as far as the eye can see.

The end of the world looks like humans staring at screens, clucking their tongues at the destruction of forests far away, never noticing that they themselves — whether they’re in London, New York, Paris, Rome, Athens, Beirut, Beijing or Baghdad — are standing in clear-cuts.

The end of the world looks like cities, with most of their residents never giving a thought to who and what was killed to build that city, never giving a thought to who and what was killed to mine, manufacture and move everything they consider necessary to their lives, and never thinking about what is necessary to life and what is not.

The end of the world looks like humans turning the planet to human use. Or rather attempting to, because it’s not possible to turn this wild and fecund Earth totally to human use, and this attempting is itself what is causing the end of the world.

From the beginning of this culture, it has been so. When you think of Iraq, is the first thing you think of cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touches the ground? That’s what it was like, prior to the beginning of this culture. The first written myth of Western civilization is Gilgamesh deforesting the hills and valleys of Iraq to make a great city.

Have you heard of Mesopotamian elephants? Most of us haven’t. They were exterminated to make way for this culture. And when you think of the Arabian Peninsula, do you think of oak savannas? These forests were cut for export to fuel the economy, to build cities.

The Near East was heavily forested. We’ve all heard of the cedars of Lebanon. They still have one on their flag. The great forests of North Africa were felled to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. Greece was heavily forested. So was Italy. So was France. The great forests of Britain came down to make the navy that allowed the sun never to set on the British Empire.

This is what this culture does. Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels.

The end of the world was not written into human existence. For most of our species’ time on Earth, we’ve lived sustainably. The Tolowa Indians lived where I live now for at least 12,500 years, and when the dominant culture arrived, salmon still ran so thick they turned entire rivers “black and roiling” with their bodies. There was no such thing as “ancient redwood forests.” There was only “home” — a home filled with trees thousands of years old, a home filled with nonhumans in abundance most of us literally cannot conceptualize.

Can you imagine — and this moves us across the continent — flocks of passenger pigeons so large they darken the sky for days at a time, flying 60 miles per hour and sounding like rolling thunder? Can you imagine so many whales that the air looks foggy, just from their breath? Can you imagine fish in such abundance that they slow the passage of ships? Can you imagine entire islands so full of great auks that one European explorer said they could load every ship in France and it would not make a dent? Well, they did, and it did, and the last great auk was killed in the 19th century.

How did the world get to be so full of life in the first place? By each creature making the world richer by living and dying. Salmon make forests stronger by their lives and deaths. Redwood trees do the same. Buffalo make grasslands stronger by their lives and deaths. Wolves do the same. And humans can do the same. But not living the way we do.

The Tolowa were not alone in their sustainability. There have been sustainable cultures the world over. The San of southern Africa, for example, evolved in place. They have lived there, in human terms, forever.

And how have humans lived sustainably in place? Simple. By not destroying the places where they lived, and by not destroying other places either. By improving the habitat on its own terms by their presence. The Tolowa made land-use decisions, just as all other beings on the land do, and just as we make land-use decisions. But the Tolowa made these land-use decisions on the assumption they would be living in a place for the next 500 years. That assumption changes everything about how you make decisions and how you live. It is the difference between life and death, between sustainability and the end of the world.

The end of the world was not written into human existence. It was, however, written into the story of Gilgamesh. The end of the world is written into this way of life of converting the Earth solely to human use. It was written into existence with the plow, and with the cities the plow makes possible.

The logic is simple and inescapable. If you convert the land that previously grew bushes and trees that fed elephants into wheat that feeds humans, you can grow more humans per hectare. Many of these humans can become a standing army. And you can use those trees you cut down to build ships of war. You now have a competitive military advantage over those who live sustainably, over those who do not destroy their land base. Further, because you’ve degraded your own land base, you must expand into other land bases. But fortunately for you, you’ve got a standing military.

This is the last 6,000 years of history. This is the story of the end of the world.

More than 90% of forests on the planet have been destroyed. The same is true for wetlands, grasslands, seagrass beds, large schools of fish, wildlife populations in general.

This culture is killing the planet. It doesn’t have to be this way. Not every culture has lived this way. Not every culture has killed the planet.

Recently, more and more people are talking about the possibility of human extinction. That possibility has entered our consciousness enough that, in December 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed asking whether it would be better for the Earth if humans went extinct.

As the Amazon burns, here’s the thing that haunts me. How is it that this culture can contemplate the end of the Amazon rainforest, contemplate the end of elephants, great apes, insects, fish in the oceans? How is it that it can blithely destroy life on Earth? How is it that it can with not much horror contemplate human extinction, but cannot contemplate stopping this way of life?

If aliens came from outer space and did to Earth what this culture is doing — change the climate; burn the Amazon; deforest the planet; vacuum the oceans and put dioxin in every mother’s breastmilk; and bathe the world in plastics, endocrine disrupters and neurotoxin — we would know exactly what to do. We would resist. We would fight as though our lives depend on it. We would destroy the aliens’ infrastructure that allows them to wage war on the planet that is our only home.

Or, put another way, if the Amazon could take on human manifestation, what would it do? If salmon could take on human manifestation, how long would dams stand? If humans from the future could come to our time, how would they act?

As the writer Lierre Keith often says, “If there are any humans left 100 years from now, they are going to ask what the fuck was wrong with us that we didn’t fight like hell when the world was going down.”

Many of us who know history might have fantasies of how we would have acted were we alive under German occupation in World War II or under British colonial rule. Right now, we are facing the end of the world. We have the opportunity and the honor to protect the planet that gave us our lives.

The time is now. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Life on this planet needs you.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Climate is changing faster than animal adaptation

International science team draws ‘worrisome’ conclusion

CORNELL UNIVERSITY

IMAGE
IMAGE: SONG SPARROW IS ONE OF THE SPECIES CONSIDERED IN AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF CLIMATE CHANGE STUDIES. view more 

CREDIT: JENNIFER TAGGART, COURTESY CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY

Berlin, Germany & Ithaca, N.Y.–An international team of scientists reviewed more than 10,000 published climate change studies and has reached a sobering conclusion. Birds and other animals cannot adapt fast enough to keep pace with climate change, throwing species survival in doubt. These results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“Our research focused on birds because complete data on other groups were scarce,” says lead author Viktoriia Radchuk at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. She adds: “We demonstrate that in temperate regions, the rising temperatures are associated with a shift in the timing of biological events to earlier dates.”

These biological events include hibernation, reproduction, and migration. Changes in body size, body mass, or other physical traits have also been associated with climate change but–as confirmed by this study–show no systematic pattern.

“Birds can respond to changing climate by adjusting the timing of egg-laying. They lay earlier in warmer springs and later in colder springs. This is adaptive because in doing that they have young in the nest when food is most abundant,” explains co-author André Dhondt at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “The results of this analysis are especially worrisome given its scope. The rate of climate change has increased so much over the last 20 years that in general birds and other animals cannot respond fast enough, leading to a mismatch between the timing of nesting and when food needed to feed the babies is peaking.”

The researchers extracted relevant information from the scientific literature to relate changes in climate over the years to possible changes in timing and physical traits. Next, they evaluated whether observed trait changes were associated with higher survival or an increased number of offspring.

Co-author Thomas Reed, senior lecturer at University College Cork, Ireland, explains, “Our results were obtained by comparing the observed response to climate change with the one expected if a population would be able to adjust their traits so to track the climate change perfectly.”

The data analyzed included common and abundant species which are known to cope with climate change relatively well. Even they cannot keep pace.

“This work underscores the importance of careful, long-term studies of bird populations with individually marked birds,” says Dhondt. “My work on Great and Blue Tits in Belgium, together with multiple other studies, not only documents how birds adapt in response to climate change, but also shows how separate populations of the same bird species can adapt differently.”

The scientists hope that their analysis and the assembled datasets will stimulate research on the resilience of bird and other animal populations in the face of global change and contribute to a better predictive framework to assist future conservation management actions.

###

Reference

Radchuk V et. al (2019:) Adaptive responses of animals to climate change are most likely insufficient. Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10924-4

Download a PDF of the paper and the banner image.

Contacts:

Dr. Viktoriia Radchuk
Scientist in the Department of Ecological Dynamics
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Straße 17, 10315 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0)30 5168454
Email: radchuk@izw-berlin.de

Pat Leonard
Media Relations
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Ithaca, New York
Phone: (607) 254-2137
Email: pel27@cornell.edu

Galápagos Islands: outcry after Ecuador allows US military to use airstrip

Political row sparked after government gave US permission to use island for anti-narcotics flights

A woman holds a sign that reads in Spanish ‘Galápagos is not to be sold, but to be defended’ during a protest agains plans to allow the US military to use an island.
 A woman holds a sign that reads in Spanish ‘Galápagos is not to be sold, but to be defended’ during a protest agains plans to allow the US military to use an island. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

The Galápagos Islands are at the centre of political row in Ecuador after the government agreed to allow US anti-narcotics planes to use an airstrip on the archipelago which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Dozens of people demonstrated outside the main government office in Quito on Monday to protest against a plan they described as a threat to the world heritage site’s unique environment – and an attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty.

The Galápagos Islands, 563 miles west of the South American continent, are renowned for their unique plants and wildlife. Unesco describes the archipelago – visited by a quarter of a million tourists every year – as a “living museum and a showcase for evolution”.

Ecuador’s defense minister, Oswaldo Jarrín, provoked patriotic and environmental outrage last week when he said last week that US aircraft would be able to use the airbase on San Cristóbal Island, and described the islands as a “natural aircraft carrier”.

Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa tweeted: “Galápagos is NOT an ‘aircraft carrier’ for gringo use. It is an Ecuadorean province, world heritage site, homeland.”

Correa – once a close ally but now a bitter enemy of his successor, Lenín Moreno – accused the government of capitulating to US pressure. Correa closed a US military base in Manta in 2008, changing the constitution to ban foreign military bases on Ecuadorean soil and in 2014 ordered all US defence department staff to leave the country.

But Ecuador’s foreign minister, José Valencia, told the Guardian that Correa’s argument sought to “maliciously distort what was completely legitimate international cooperation against drug-trafficking”.

He said the US aircraft – specially equipped to trace small craft which might be carrying drugs – would pass through the airbase once or twice a month to refuel, or to make an emergency stop.

“The argument that it would have environmental impact is totally false,” Valencia added. The islands receive 252 tourist flights every month and a total of 3,097 in 2018, he explained.

Drug trafficking is growing problem in Ecuador. The former head of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation was arrested on Sunday in connection with the 2018 seizure of more than a ton of cocaine, along with a current official of the same agency, three soldiers and an active-duty police officer.

“There is not nor will there be a foreign military base,” Norman Wray, president of the Galápagos government council, said in a statement last week.

But the islands’ governor did admit to a deal with the US to improve the runway at the San Cristóbal airport while allowing the “refueling of two planes monitoring illegal activities in the extensive marine reserve”. He said the US aircraft would monitor drug-trafficking and illegal fishing, particularly from foreign fishing fleets.

Last week, lawmakers in Quito voted to summon Jarrín and the environment minister, Marcelo Mata, to explain the scope of the cooperation with the US on the islands, which are considered one of the last near pristine wildernesses on the planet.

Opposition MP Brenda Flor said the archipelago should be considered a “living and unique laboratory which we must protect”.

On Monday, Jarrín said his “aircraft carrier” remark was a reference to the islands’ geographic location in the Pacific Ocean rather than a place where aircraft could land. Speaking to local radio, he said only one US aircraft, a Lockheed P-3 Orion, would stop off at the island airport every month for refueling, or in emergency situations.

“There will not be a permanent presence, there will not be a base,” the minister said.

84 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump

President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority. His administration, with help from Republicans in Congress, has often targeted environmental rules it sees as burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses.

A New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law SchoolColumbia Law School and other sources, counts more than 80 environmental rules and regulations on the way out under Mr. Trump.

Our list represents two types of policy changes: rules that were officially reversed and rollbacks still in progress. The Trump administration has released an aggressive schedule to try to finalize many of these rollbacks this year.

49
35
84

ROLLBACKS COMPLETED
ROLLBACKS IN PROCESS
TOTAL ROLLBACKS
Air pollution and emissions
10
12
22
Drilling and extraction
9
9
18
Infrastructure and planning
12
1
13
Animals
8
2
10
Toxic substances and safety
3
2
5
Water pollution
4
3
7
Other
3
6
9

The Trump administration has often used a “one-two punch” when rolling back environmental rules, said Caitlin McCoy, a fellow in the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School who tracks regulatory rollbacks. “First a delay rule to buy some time, and then a final substantive rule.”

But the process of rolling back regulations has not always been smooth. In some cases, the administration has failed to provide a strong legal argument in favor of proposed changes or agencies have skipped key steps in the rulemaking process, like notifying the public and asking for comment. In several cases, courts have ordered agencies to enforce their own rules.

Several environmental rules — summarized at the bottom of this page — were rolled back and then later reinstated, often following legal challenges. Other rollbacks remain mired in court.

Here are the details for each of the policies targeted by the administration so far. Are there rollbacks we missed? Email climateteam@nytimes.com or tweet @nytclimate.

Air pollution and emissions

COMPLETED

1. Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions.Environmental Protection Agency | Read more
2. Revised and partially repealed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations.Interior Department | Read more
3. Loosened a Clinton-era rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters.E.P.A. | Read more
4. Stopped enforcing a 2015 rule that prohibited the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases, in air-conditioners and refrigerators.E.P.A. | Read more
5. Repealed a requirement that state and regional authorities track tailpipe emissions from vehicles traveling on federal highways.Transportation Department | Read more
6. Reverted to a weaker 2009 pollution permitting program for new power plants and expansions.E.P.A. | Read more
7. Amended rules that govern how refineries monitor pollution in surrounding communities.E.P.A. | Read more
8. Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” that rulemakers used to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.Executive Order | Read more
9. Withdrew guidance that federal agencies include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. But several district courts have ruled that emissions must be included in such reviews.Executive Order; Council on Environmental Quality | Read more
10. Lifted a summertime ban on the use of E15, a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol. (Burning gasoline with a higher concentration of ethanol in hot conditions increases smog.)E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

11. Proposed weakening Obama-era fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. The proposal also challenges California’s right to set its own more stringent standards, which other states can choose to follow.E.P.A. and Transportation Department | Read more
12. Announced intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. (The process of withdrawing cannot be completed until 2020.)Executive Order | Read more
13. Proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. In April 2019, the E.P.A. sent a replacement plan, which would let states set their own rules, to the White House for budget review.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
14. Proposed eliminating Obama-era restrictions that in effect required newly built coal power plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions.E.P.A. | Read more
15. Proposed a legal justification for weakening an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants.E.P.A. | Read more
16. Proposed revisions to standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified and reconstructed power plants.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
17. Began review of emissions rules for power plant start-ups, shutdowns and malfunctions. In April, the E.P.A. filed an order reversing a requirement that 36 states follow the emissions rule.E.P.A. | Read more
18. Proposed relaxing Obama-era requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.E.P.A. | Read more
19. Proposed changing rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills. In May, 2019, a federal judge ruled against the E.P.A. for failing to enforce the existing law and gave the agency a fall deadline for finalizing state and federal rules. E.P.A. said it is reviewing the decision.E.P.A. | Read more
20. Announced a rewrite of an Obama-era rule meant to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas.E.P.A. | Read more
21. Weakened oversight of some state plans for reducing air pollution in national parks. (In Texas, the E.P.A. rejected an Obama-era plan that would have required the installation of equipment at some coal-burning power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.)E.P.A. | Read more
22. Proposed repealing leak-repair, maintenance and reporting requirements for large refrigeration and air conditioning systems containing hydrofluorocarbons.E.P.A. | Read more

Drilling and extraction

COMPLETED

23. Made significant cuts to the borders of two national monuments in Utah and recommended border and resource management changes to several more.Presidential Proclamation; Interior Department | Read more
24. Rescinded water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indian lands.Interior Department | Read more
25. Scrapped a proposed rule that required mines to prove they could pay to clean up future pollution.E.P.A. | Read more
26. Withdrew a requirement that Gulf oil rig owners prove they could cover the costs of removing rigs once they have stopped producing.Interior Department | Read more
27. Approved construction of the Dakota Access pipelineless than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Under the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers had said it would explore alternative routes.Executive Order; Army | Read more
28. Revoked an Obama-era executive order designed to preserve ocean, coastal and Great Lakes waters in favor of a policy focused on energy production and economic growth.Executive Order | Read more
29. Changed how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers the indirect effects of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews of pipelines.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission | Read more
30. Permitted the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The practice, which can kill marine life and disrupt fisheries, was blocked under the Obama administration.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
31. Loosened offshore drilling safety regulationsimplemented by the Obama administration following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The revised rules include reduced testing requirements for blowout prevention systems.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

32. Completed preliminary environmental reviews to clear the way for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Congress; Interior Department | Read more
33. Proposed opening most of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, but delayed the plan after a federal judge ruled that Mr. Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic Ocean was unlawlful.Interior Department | Read more
34. Lifted an Obama-era freeze on new coal leases on public lands. But, in April 2019, a judge ruled that the Interior Department could not begin selling new leases without completing an environmental review. A month later, the agency published a draft assessment that concluded restarting federal coal leasing would have little environmental impact.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
35. Repealed an Obama-era rule governing royalties for oil, gas and coal leases on federal lands, which replaced a 1980s rule that critics said allowed companies to underpay the federal government. A federal judge struck down the Trump administration’s repeal. The Interior Department is reviewing the decision.Interior Department | Read more
36. Proposed “streamlining” the approval process for drilling for oil and gas in national forests.Agriculture Department; Interior Department | Read more
37. Ordered review of regulations on oil and gas drilling in national parks where mineral rights are privately owned.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
38. Recommended shrinking three marine protected areas, or opening them to commercial fishing.Executive Order; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
39. Ordered review of regulations on offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels in the Arctic that were developed after a 2013 accident. The Interior Department said it was “considering full rescission or revision of this rule.”Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
40. Approved the Keystone XL pipeline rejected by President Barack Obama, but a federal judge blocked the project from going forward without an adequate environmental review process. Mr. Trump later attempted to side-step the ruling by issuing a presidential permit, but the project remains tied up in court.Executive Order; State Department | Read more

Infrastructure and planning

COMPLETED

41. Revoked Obama-era flood standards for federal infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges. The standards required the government to account for sea-level rise and other climate change effects.Executive Order | Read more
42. Relaxed the environmental review process for federal infrastructure projects.Executive Order | Read more
43. Revoked a directive for federal agencies to minimize impacts on water, wildlife, land and other natural resources when approving development projects.Executive Order | Read more
44. Revoked an Obama executive order promoting“climate resilience” in the northern Bering Sea region of Alaska, which withdrew local waters from oil and gas leasing and established a tribal advisory council to consult on local environmental issues.Executive Order | Read more
45. Revoked an Obama executive order that set a goal of cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over 10 years.Executive Order | Read more
46. Reversed an update to the Bureau of Land Management’s public land use planning process.Congress | Read more
47. Withdrew an Obama-era order to consider climate change in managing natural resources in national parks.National Park Service | Read more
48. Restricted most Interior Department environmental studies to one year in length and a maximum of 150 pages, citing a need to reduce paperwork.Interior Department | Read more
49. Withdrew a number of Obama-era Interior Department climate change and conservation policies that the agency said could “burden the development or utilization of domestically produced energy resources.”Interior Department | Read more
50. Eliminated the use of an Obama-era planning system designed to minimize harm from oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes, such as national parks.Interior Department | Read more
51. Eased the environmental review processes for small wireless infrastructure projects with the goal of expanding 5G wireless networks.Federal Communications Commission | Read more
52. Withdrew Obama-era policies designed to maintain or, ideally improve, natural resources affected by federal projects.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

53. Proposed plans to streamline the environmental review process for Forest Service projects.Agriculture Department | Read more

Animals

COMPLETED

54. Opened nine million acres of Western land to oil and gas drilling by weakening habitat protections for the sage grouse, an imperiled bird with an elaborate mating dance.Interior Department | Read more
55. Overturned a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands.Interior Department | Read more
56. Overturned a ban on the hunting of predators in Alaskan wildlife refuges.Congress | Read more
57. Ended an Obama-era rule barring hunters on some Alaska public lands from using bait to lure and kill grizzly bears.National Park Service; Interior Department | Read more
58. Withdrew proposed limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that people who fish could unintentionally kill or injure with sword-fishing nets on the West Coast. In 2018, California issued a state rule prohibiting the use of the nets the rule was intending to regulate.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
59. Amended fishing regulations for a number of species to allow for longer seasons and higher catch rates.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
60. Rolled back a roughly 40-year-old interprentation of a policy aimed at protecting migratory birds, potentially running afoul of treaties with Canada and Mexico.Interior Department | Read more
61. Overturned a ban on using parts of migratory birds in handicrafts made by Alaskan Natives.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

62. Proposed stripping the Endangered Species Act of key provisions.Interior Department | Read more
63. Proposed relaxing environmental protections for salmon and smelt in California’s Central Valley in order to free up water for farmers.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more

Toxic substances and safety

COMPLETED

64. Narrowed the scope of a 2016 law mandating safety assessments for potentially toxic chemicals, like dry-cleaning solvents and paint strippers. The E.P.A. will focus on direct exposure and exclude air, water and ground contamination.E.P.A. | Read more
65. Reversed an Obama-era rule that required braking system upgrades for “high hazard” trains hauling flammable liquids, like oil and ethanol.Transportation Department | Read more
66. Removed copper filter cake, an electronics manufacturing byproduct comprised of heavy metals, from the “hazardous waste” list.E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

67. Rejected a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a potentially neurotoxic pesticide. In August 2018, a federal court ordered the E.P.A. to ban the pesticide, but the agency is appealing the ruling.E.P.A. | Read more
68. Announced a review of an Obama-era rule lowering coal dust limits in mines. The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration said there were no immediate plans to change the dust limit, but the review is continuing.Labor Department | Read more

Water pollution

COMPLETED

69. Revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams.Congress | Read more
70. Withdrew a proposed rule aimed at reducing pollutants, including air pollution, at sewage treatment plants.E.P.A. | Read more
71. Withdrew a proposed rule requiring groundwater protections for certain uranium mines.E.P.A. | Read more
72. Weakened federal rules regulating the disposal and storage of coal ash waste from power plants. (A second phase of this rollback is still under way.)E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

73. Proposed rolling back protections for certain tributaries and wetlands that the Obama administration wanted covered by the Clean Water Act.E.P.A.; Army | Read more
74. Delayed by two years an E.P.A. rule regulating limits on toxic discharge, which can include mercury, from power plants into public waterways.E.P.A. | Read more
75. Ordered the E.P.A. to re-evaluate a section of the Clean Water Act and related guidance that allows states to reject or delay federal projects – including pipelines and other fossil fuel facilities – if they don’t meet local water quality goals.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more

Other

COMPLETED

76. Prohibited funding environmental and community development projects through corporate settlements of federal lawsuits.Justice Department | Read more
77. Announced intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions.Executive Order | Read more
78. Reversed restrictions on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks desgined to cut down on litter, despite a Park Service report that the effort worked.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

79. Proposed limiting the studies used by the E.P.A. for rulemaking to only those that make data publicly available. (The move was widely criticized by scientists, who said it would effectively block the agency from considering landmark research that relies on confidential health data.)E.P.A. | Read more
80. Proposed repealing an Obama-era regulation that nearly doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards set to go into effect next year.Energy Department | Read more
81. Proposed changes to the way cost-benefit analyses are conducted under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental statutes.E.P.A. | Read more
82. Delayed compliance dates for federal building efficiency standards until Sept. 30, 2017. No updates have been published, and the status of the rule remains unclear.Energy Department | Read more
83. Proposed withdrawing efficiency standards for residential furnaces and commercial water heatersdesigned to reduce energy use.Energy Department | Read more
84. Initially withdrew then delayed a proposed rule that would inform car owners about fuel-efficient replacement tires. (The Transportation Department has scheduled a new rulemaking notice for 2020.)Transportation Department | Read more

9 rules were reinstated following
lawsuits and other challenges

1. Reinstated a rule aimed at improving safety at facilities that use hazardous chemicals following a federal court order.E.P.A. | Read more
2. Reversed course on repealing emissions standards for “glider” trucks — vehicles retrofitted with older, often dirtier engines — after Andrew Wheeler took over as head of the E.P.A.E.P.A. | Read more
3. Delayed a compliance deadline for new national ozone pollution standards by one year, but later reversed course.E.P.A. | Read more
4. Suspended an effort to lift restrictions on mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. But the Army Corps of Engineers is performing an environmental review of an application for mining in the area.E.P.A.; Army | Read more
5. Delayed implementation of a rule regulating the certification and training of pesticide applicators, but a judge ruled that the E.P.A. had done so illegally and declared the rule in effect.E.P.A. | Read more
6. Initially delayed publishing efficiency standards for household appliances, but later published them after multiple states and environmental groups sued.Energy Department | Read more
7. Reissued a rule limiting the discharge of mercury by dental offices into municipal sewers after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.E.P.A. | Read more
8. Re-posted a proposed rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, after initially changing its status to “inactive” on the E.P.A. website. In May 2019, the agency confimed it would issue the rule.E.P.A. | Read more
9. Removed the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List, but the protections were later reinstated by a federal judge. (The Trump administration appealed the ruling in May 2019.)Interior Department | Read more

Reindeer are eating seaweed to survive climate change, scientists say

As the planet warms due to climate change, the Arctic winters are seeing longer open water spells and less sea ice. It also now rains more often than snow during this period, something that is directly affecting wildlife like the Svalbard reindeer.

Named after the group of Norwegian islands they’ve lived on for 5,000 years, these 20,000–plus reindeer are now eating seaweed to survive the increasingly warm winters. According to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Biodiversity Dynamic, the reindeer are turning to seaweed because the plants they normally eat are becoming harder to get to.

More rain is now falling instead of snow, which causes the snow on the ground to freeze over (also known as “icing”), burying the tundra vegetation under thick ice.

(Credit: Tamara Hiltunen)

(Credit: Tamara Hiltunen)

UP TO 1 MILLION SPECIES ARE AT RISK OF EXTINCTION AND IT’S ALL OUR FAULT

The research team first noticed that the reindeer’s feeding behavior might have changed when the animals started gathering on the shoreline. They’re usually further inland, where they rake at the ice with their hooves to get to vegetation. Suspecting that the reindeer were now surviving on kelp, the team set about the undesirable task of collecting poop for analysis. They then compared the stable isotope ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur values of excrement from seaweed-eating reindeer with fecal matter from the terrestrial plant-eating reindeer.

Sure enough, the levels were markedly different, though it was also determined that the reindeer were eating the seaweed in addition to normal food. There are still some ice-free places for the reindeer to graze, though they’re getting more and more sparse.

Kelp isn’t as nutritious as the tundra plants the reindeer normally eat. It also seems to be giving the reindeer diarrhea, probably from the salt content. Currently, seaweed is being more or less used as an emergency ration, with the reindeer turning to it only during spells of severe icing. According to the study, the kelp-eating has been happening for over 10 years.

It’s not just the seaweed diet that poses a problem. Unlike the caribou in Alaska, Svalbard reindeer don’t have to live in fear of predators such as wolves or bears. Now, as they spend more time on the shoreline looking for seaweed to eat, they’re left open to attacks from hungry polar bears who can’t find seals to eat, thanks in large part to less sea ice.

(Credit: Jeffrey Welker)

(Credit: Jeffrey Welker)

MYSTERY SEA  OPENED UP DURING THE ANTARCTIC WINTER. NOW, SCIENTISTS KNOW WHY.

So what can be done to help the reindeer, besides reducing climate change? According to Dr. Jeffrey Welker, a professor for the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage and one of the study’s co-authors – not much.

“[No steps to help] are planned as Svalbard reindeer are not actively managed-they are not fed hay in winter,” he told Foxnews.com. “More frequent icing events within a year, and year after year will put a lot of pressure on Svalbard reindeer, and reindeer in other Arctic regions as well as caribou in places like Alaska.”

The study can be found in the journal Ecosphere.

Climate Change Is Already Damaging American Democracy

DAVID GOLDMAN / AP

The damage from hurricane michael is still being cataloged. After the Category 4 storm made landfall in the Florida Panhandle two weeks ago, it ripped through parts of Florida and Georgia, killing dozens and destroying homes and vital infrastructure in rural communities. Residents don’t yet have a full account of the lives and property erased in the calamity, and even when they do, that accounting will only provide a rough estimate of what was lost. More difficult still will be dealing with the intangibles: the exhaustion and mental-health consequences, the frayed sense of security and safety, the missed school days, and the deepening vulnerability among people who faced the storm.

As the country deals with an onslaught of powerful hurricanes and other weather-related events, those intangibles have become more evident, and more and more important. Michael is—according to experts I spoke with—both a harbinger of a future climate and a representative of a class of disasters that in the past few years have exposed the vulnerabilities of local and national institutions. Those disasters have highlighted the role of inequality, civic instability, and poor planning in amplifying the effects of both extreme and mundane weather. The evidence seems to be mounting that not only will the developing climate regime, if sustained, expose the cracks in the American democratic project, but it will also widen them.

The recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides a grim vision of the near future. It finds that major, irreversible effects on ecosystems and natural resources are all but unavoidable, because they will likely occur at a lower temperature threshold than previously estimated.

On a human level, the IPCC report portends a cascade of troubling scenarios unless immediate action is taken: Droughts, floods, rising seas and heat indices, and famines will be disastrous for populations, especially the masses that continue to crowd global urban areas. Coastlines and wetlands will change faster than cities’ abilities to adapt. Human movement will warp boundaries and spark conflict. The report finds that, in the present day, “poverty and disadvantage have increased with recent warming,” and that those disadvantages will increase over time.

Even under President Donald Trump—who has abdicated national climate responsibilities—the global realities of a changing planet have become a part of American security policy. The 2017 defense-reauthorization bill included findings that “climate instability will lead to instability in geopolitics and impact American military operations around the world.” Those conclusions build on quadrennial reviews from the Defense Department that conceptualize climate change as a global security risk. “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions,” states the 2014 review.

Taken together, all of these forecasts envision a world in which major disasters weaken states and deepen conflicts, breaking safety nets and alliances alike. They predict the degradation of governance as economic outputs decrease, people are displaced, and global food resources falter. The Defense Department calls climate effects “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.” As Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, told me, these dramatic scenarios are actually supported by human history, which illustrates the rise of conflict during times of environmental pressure. “This seems almost like a science-fiction scenario, but in fact it’s a well-written thing in the geological and climate record,” said Zaelke, whose Washington-based nonprofit focuses on the future of international governance.

According to several climate researchers, those long-term global trends are already identifiable at the local level. Zaelke told me Hurricane Michael, like other recent storms, provided a sneak peek at the ways that climate-linked disasters are intensified by a lack of political will to mitigate climate change, which can in turn destabilize governments and sap them of the policy muscle needed to adapt. Though Michael hit a storm-prone stretch of the Deep South, this feedback loop is relevant across the country. Climate denialism among Republican policy makers, who dominate at the state and national levels, dictates that even acknowledging changing weather patterns can constitute a political loss, let alone planning for them in advance. When catastrophes hit, lawmakers funnel funds toward recovery, but they don’t invest in measures that could improve future resilience.

And even if state and local governments do want to plan for the future, disasters’ aftereffects are already constraining their ability to do so. “Costs are starting to mount for adaptation and resilience,” Zaelke says. As a 2016 Freddie Mac report about the risks of climate change to housing markets states: “Rising sea levels and spreading flood plains [appear] likely to destroy billions of dollars in property and to displace millions of people. The economic losses and social disruption may happen gradually, but they are likely to be greater in total than those experienced in the housing crisis and Great Recession.”

Property taxation is the foundation of most local governance, and climate risks, in some areas, threaten municipalities’ ability to meet the needs of their citizens. This is already evident in Miami, where the city has spent over $100 million to combat flooding and protect the city from sinking into the ocean—a sum that will only rise in future years and must be diverted from the local budget. And climate change is influencing the property-tax base that fuels that budget, too. As the Miami Herald reports, about $17 million worth of property will face regular flooding by 2030. Under current projections, about $100 million worth of property will face regular flooding by 2100.

According to the Freddie Mac report, Miami is representative of the threat facing coastal cities across the United States. But property is only one part of the tax-and-local-governance equation. Metropolitan areas also face rising populations, which create a classic supply-demand crisis in housing markets where attrition from climate change and the threat of hurricane damage are becoming more and more burdensome. As a result, “climate gentrification”—involving the inflation of the land value of high ground and the displacement of poorer people from those areas—looms over American cities. As a study this year from Harvard University researchers indicates, the theoretical risk of climate gentrification may already be shaping Miami’s housing market, as preferences for higher ground appear to be emerging.

In Georgia and Florida alike, Hurricane Michael inflicted visible political and economic effects on the hardest-hit counties, which tended to be rural and poor. The infrastructure in many places—like the dirt roads in Jackson County, Florida, or the water and power lines sustaining small towns and hamlets across the region—is incredibly fragile, and the loss of those systems has multiplicative effects in the near and longer term. In the aftermath of the storm, the infrastructure damage remains life-threatening: It’s endangered people who have chronic illnesses, made the work of rescue and recovery that much more difficult, and compounded the other woes brought on by the storm, like reduced access to groceries and clean water. The need to rebuild infrastructure will squeeze cash-strapped counties and could spur more people to move away, depleting local tax bases.

Essentially, both the steady drumbeat of ordinary climate-based problems and the crescendo of exceptional disasters could strain the basic model of how American government works, destroying tax bases, uprooting people, and sending them careening from one vulnerable area to the next. The same framework can be applied in places where sea-level rise isn’t a major threat—for example, inland towns, such as Princeville, North Carolina, that are located on major waterways and see existential risks from floods, or drought-plagued California towns that haven’t built enough of a tax base to fight those dry spells over the long term.

As heat, disaster risks, and rising seas bombard local governments, the ability of those governments to fulfill their basic functions—the delivery of services, the maintenance of the safety net, and managing civil, familial, and educational institutions—could be degraded, too. This could manifest in three distinct phenomena that are already on display in disaster-affected areas: the increased dominance of private and developer-class interests in local politics, the acceleration of existing wealth inequality, and the collapse of institutions dedicated to disaster response.

With the current science available, it’s impossible to tell whether the recent hurricanes, fires, floods, heat waves, and droughts that have affected cities across the United States were themselves caused by a changing climate. But what research does indicate is that a warmer Earth is intensifying, and will continue to intensify, those events, which means stronger hurricanes, storms that grow more quickly before landfalllonger-lived forest fires, and more unpredictable flash floods.

A white paper on Hurricane Sandy from the Superstorm Research Lab sums up the three social phenomena of disasters and describes how they might be intensified, too. “On one hand, the crisis was seen as a weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo,” the authors write, referring to the 2012 storm. “On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm and continued afterwards in heightened form, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally.”

As Hurricane Sandy illustrated—like Katrina had years before—disasters and hostile climate conditions don’t create inequalities; they exacerbate them. “Disasters do not discriminate on their impact, but when we see differential consequences that’s [when] we see the disparities in preexisting conditions,” said Erin Bergren, a visiting professor at North Central College in Illinois and one of the authors of the Sandy paper. “The post-disaster conditions are premised on the pre-disaster conditions.”

Vulnerable people—especially racial minorities—are more likely to live in floodplains and have housing that isn’t insured or built to code. They are less likely than people with means to have reliable air conditioning. They are less likely to be able to evacuate, and they have less built-in community and familial resilience to deal with short- or long-term weather shocks than do people in wealthier, whiter communities.These differences pose existential risks to the lower classes in America. But over the next century, they could also sap savings and wealth, and could hide or reverse any wage gains these communities have made. In other words: If American society is already trending toward greater inequality, this all means that climate change will accelerate that trend. “If disasters are possibilities for social reorganization, then climate change is as well,” Bergren said.

Evidence exists that this social reorganization is already under way. In an August article in the quarterly journal Social Problems, the researchers Junia Howell from the University of Pittsburgh and James Elliott from Rice University indicate that the “two defining social problems of our day—wealth inequality and rising natural hazard damages—are dynamically linked.” The findings are stark. Using data on thousands of families in areas where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent disaster aid, Howell and Elliott demonstrate that white families in disaster-prone areas actually gained an average of $126,000 between 1999 and 2013. But black families in those areas lost an average of $27,000, and Latino families lost an average of $29,000. To put it more succinctly: “The more fema aid a county receives, the more unequal wealth becomes between more and less advantaged residents, holding all else constant.”

The most immediate consequence of climate change won’t be an abrupt entry into an alien Anthropocene hell. It’s more likely to be a slow descent. Racial wealth gaps will increase. Racial health disparities will be exacerbated. Sprawling metropolises and rural hamlets alike will face steeper and steeper budgetary constraints (and could be forced to rely heavily on fees and fines to keep the lights on, a move that some cash-strapped local governments have already made and one that disproportionately affects poor or minority residents).

Housing markets will continue to realign in favor of displacement and the creation of a migrant, renter class. Marginalized neighborhoods will continue to shoulder a majority of the environmental burden. Trust in government will continue to decline as it proves unable to help people plan for or respond to climate effects. Elections will be disrupted by disasters, fewer and fewer people will have real attachments to local civic life, and even the concept of a local or national shared destiny will suffer as the haves are shielded from consequences. And disasters can and will rapidly push each of these weaknesses to crisis points, even as the rolling disaster of environmental change makes crises incrementally more likely every day.

And underlying every crisis is the threat of autocracy.

My colleague robinson meyer has suggested that Donald Trump is the first global leader who embodies the future of climate authoritarianism. This is a persuasive argument. Although the president routinely dismisses climate science, he does have a keen eye on widening social and economic fault lines, and—most critically—he knows how to wield them to his advantage. He instinctively picks up on rising anti-immigrant sentiment, which is spreading internationally and is linked to climate change; identifies burgeoning insecurities about the global distribution of resources; and sells himself as a figure of stability and order amid visions of chaos.

“Insofar as his supporters are drawn to him by a sense of global calamity,” Meyer writes, “and insofar as his rhetoric singles out the refugee as yet another black and brown intruder trying to violate the nation’s cherished borders, Trump is the first demagogue of the Anthropocene.”

In the two years since Meyer wrote that essay, Trump has done nothing to rebut the argument. There’s probably never been an administration in American history more ill-equipped to deal with disasters. Owing at least in part to the administration’s incompetence, the federal response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation last year in Puerto Rico was a disaster. Trump has since abandoned responsibility by claiming that credible reports of thousands of deaths on the island are partisan hoaxes. Since the storm hit, Puerto Rico has felt its own slide into the murky waters of a less-than-democratic future, as its colonial status has clearly limited recovery options and accelerated migration to the mainland, and a new federally mandated austerity program reorganizes the island’s economy to meet the needs of creditors.

At the same time, Trump has only escalated his anti-immigration rhetoric, presenting a strongman figure for his base. His racism and racial divisiveness seem to serve a millennialist view of a world in decline—one where there isn’t enough to go around, where martial strength is the only recourse, and where the rules and niceties of a previous era must be abandoned.

Donald Trump is a character of the moment. He’s a developer with famous properties in New York, New Jersey, and Miami, during a time when developers in flooding areas have been ceded more and more local control. He’s the culmination of a crisis of faith in government and widening racial differences in opinion over the future, both of which can possibly be traced back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The political polarization and gerrymandering that enabled both his ascent and the strength of his party in Congress were most certainly aided by the displacement of people of color from cities over the past few decades. He’s the natural political conclusion of widening class and racial wealth gaps, and the heir of a system in which state and local governments have more regularly faced budget shortfalls. And climate change contributed to, contributes to, or will contribute to each of these in due time.

“It’s a crisis that we can still deal with if we wake up,” Zaelke says. But the awakening doesn’t just mean accepting the science, and in the American context doesn’t just mean finally overcoming the grip of climate denialism on politics. In the IPCC’s reading, and in the telling of several of the most vocal climate activists, the changes that the world must undertake in order to rein in climate change will be “unprecedented” and will require monumental shifts in governance and economics.

By all accounts, the task ahead is a moonshot. But perhaps the familiarity of the challenges before the country provide an opportunity. The disasters predicted under even the worst-case scenarios aren’t supernatural; rather, they are macro-level disturbances created by millions of local, often imperceptible perturbances. The cracks of inequality that look likely to widen into chasms of autocracy in the next century were all created by humans, and can all be conquered by them, too.