The Reason Behind Your Sneezing? Climate Change

Spring has sprung, the flowers are blooming, and allergy season is well underway and seemingly worse than ever. While nearly 20 million Americans are going to feel the affects, new studies show that climate change may be to blame.

Image by cenczi from Pixabay

 

 

The reason why has the do with airborne pollen, which has increased with warming temperatures, according to scientists.

Dr. Jeffrey Demain from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology gave a talk about some of the environmental changes taking place.

According to the  Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s annual survey, fewer “freeze-free” days in the year between 1995 and 2011 led to 11-27 days added to pollen season for most of the nation, and they’ve discovered that it’s been growing each year.

According to CNN’s Jen Christensen, studies show that with this comes more allergies because plants like ragweed will begin migrating north, likely bringing New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine more pollen.

Image by pixel2013 from Pixabay

Angel Waldron, the director of communications for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, explained to CNN how much we are now seeing the impact of climate change on allergies.

“Warmer temperatures allow the trees to pollinate earlier and for longer times. We didn’t used to see our cars covered in pollen before March, but we do now, and we hear from people all the time who are dealing with allergies for a lot longer than they used to when they were little. That’s definitely connected to climate change.”

A prime example of these changes taking noticeable effects happened in Durham, North Carolina this month with Jeremy Gilchrist’s #Pollmageddon photos. The former meteorologist used a drone to snap pictures of massive clouds of pollen overtaking the sky in a yellowish haze.

This is a prime example of tree pollen on the move, and North Carolina isn’t the only Appalachian state set to feel the effects of it, according to AAFA and the National Wildlife Federation’s report on the impact of climate change on people with asthma and allergies.

Their report revealed that the effects of climate change favor trees with more highly allergenic pollen.

“In particular, habitat suitable for highly allergenic oak and hickory species may expand at the expense of habitat where much less allergenic pine, spruce, and fir trees currently dominate. These shifts might be most dramatic along the Appalachian Mountains, Northeastern states from Pennsylvania to Maine, in the Upper Midwest, and along the lower Mississippi River.

When looking further into just how dramatic these shifts might be in West Virginia, the state has a low to moderate allergenic potential level on the current habitat distribution map, but is projected to be high to very high by 2100 in a high emissions scenario.

“These maps show the annual allergenic potential from tree pollen for the current distribution of tree species habitat and for projected distributions of tree species habitat under two future climate scenarios—–one in which greenhouse gas emissions are higher and one with lower emissions.” Credit: AAFA and the National Wildlife Federation

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking to get any better for allergy sufferers unless things change. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, under current environmental conditions, researchers expect to pollen counts in the U.S. to double by 2040.

According to EcoWatch’s Sam Nickerson researchers have even more reason to believe that climate change is linked to the growing severity of allergy season. The Union of Concerned Scientists has found several signs of climate change and that also drive allergen production such as Increase in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Temperature Increases, and Seasonal Creep.

The impacts of climate change can take a huge toll on allergy sufferers, and according to Vox, “can cause mild annoyances like hives or itchy eyes, or life-threatening issues like anaphylaxis, where blood pressure plummets and airways start swelling shut.”

Many have even taken to social media to express their concern and note just how much more allergy season is affecting them this year.

While many of us are rightfully frustrated, there are still some things that we can do to help. According to CNN, things such as turning out the lights when leaving a room, use energy efficient light bulbs, unplug chargers from outlets when they’re not being used, and washing clothes in cold water instead of hot are all small chances we can make in our daily lives to help slow climate change.

As well as this you can also join the action network for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to stay up to date about pending federal or state asthma and allergy legislation.

 

WVU Strategic Communications Students Do Their Part for Climate Change

by Shana Nelson

While #schoolstrikes4climatechange is a new movement that students across the globe are getting involved in, some WVU students are lending a helping hand to educate the world about climate change in their own way.

Credit: Project Drawdown

This semester, Dr. Jasper Fessman’s strategic communications capstone class has teamed up with Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization which consists of a coalition of researchers, scientists, doctors, and many more, that has developed 100 sustainable solutions to climate change.

Founded in 2014 by environmentalist and author Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown was created to, “map, measure, and model the most substantive solutions to stop global warming, and to communicate those findings to the world.”

Edited by Hawken and released in 2017 Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, lays out the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.

Paul Hawken, Drawdown. Credit: Raymond Baltar

The list of all 100 solutions can be found here, and they range from topics such as a plant-rich diet, educating girls, and LED household lighting,  just to name a few.

In terms of just how this organization and WVU started working together, Dr. Fessmann said that he wanted to use his scholarship and activism in order to help students make a difference.

“I am an activist scholar. I am a scholar first, but I really like to use my scholarship and my research to have an impact. Teaching a capstone class really allows me to also help the students and learn a lot for a real client, and at the same time make an impact.”

Credit: University of Central Florida

At the beginning of the semester, groups of students were told to come up with a campaign idea for Project Drawdown, and of those groups one was chosen to work on a social media campaigns, and another was chosen to focus on the organization’s solution of a plant-rich diet,  creating advocacy toolkits for the organization to generate awareness to their solutions.

Dr. Fessmann himself is also doing work to help on the environmental front with the recent release of a book he edited, Strategic Climate Change Communications: Effective Approaches to Fighting Climate Denial. The book, according to Dr. Fessmann, is meant to help journalists understand strategic communications campaigns that are used against them by climate denial, which is an industry with a budget of about $900 billion a year according to this research.

“There’s a very, very strong difference in the playing field. You have all of the money and expertise on one side, and this book and others try to level the strategic communications playing field to really give journalists and activists a toolkit of what techniques are used against them, and how they can counter them.”

In terms of doing their part to reverse global warming, students of today seem to have their sights set on ditching corporate jobs and doing more public interests communications and advocacy work, Dr. Fessmann said.

“A lot of the students want to do more than a traditional corporate job, and this generation is a lot more socially active. They understand how much impact they can have, especially through social media, that they can spark social movement. That makes it a lot more meaningful.”

While WVU students are working directly with the organization, other schools did their part by joining in on the EcoChallenge on social media.

Whether it’s working hands on with organizations such as these or joining movements online, there are many ways that students both locally and globally are working to reverse climate change, and thanks to organizations like Project Drawdown, we are all able to have access to solutions to help ourselves and the planet.

Recycled Materials and Clothing: This Season’s Best Fashion Trend

by Shana Nelson

The change in weather is bringing forward new fashions, and the biggest trend this year may just be one that helps the environment: clothing made from recycled materials.

Repreve, a brand created specifically to use recycled, plastic water bottles to make clothing and other materials, has teamed up with companies that are close to the area, and is helping to bring environmentally friendly fashion to the Morgantown area.

Credit: Repreve

To begin with, you can’t think of a college student without thinking of Patagonia. When it comes to being trendy, this brand has been in the know since the beginning.

In 1993, Patagonia became the first clothing made from recycled PET bottles (polyethylene terephthalate is the actual name, but that’s a mouth full), and has pushed other companies to jump on board and do the same thing ever since.

Credit: Patagonia and Repreve

While WVU students have hopped on the trend of wearing Patagonia, they may not have known that they have been helping the environment while doing so.

Some local retailers that are selling Patagonia are Dicks Sporting Goods and Pathfinder on High Street.

In terms of other high-end brands that are set on helping the environment, Lane Bryant is one of them. They have also teamed up with Repreve to create an eco-conscious collection of super-soft tees, jeans, and Livi Activewear.

Located at the University Town Centre, this store is also providing students with a way to help the environment and look fashionable while doing so.

Jeans from the eco-chic collection. Credit: Lane Bryant

In terms of just how impactful this partnership is, Haleigh Carey, the store manager, said, “I feel in a world where global warming is being overlooked, it is important for larger corporations to do their part in helping the earth while also educating their consumers of the small things they can do to help.”

“Lane Bryant has always been a company based on helping women feel beautiful and look good, so it is only fitting for them to help Mother Earth feel that way as well,” Carey stated.

Leggings from the Livi eco-chic collection

The process of making this clothing is just as cool as the impact that it’s having. In an interview with Fast Company, Helen Sahi, vice president of global corporate sustainability at Unifi, explained the process in turning plastic bottles into textiles.

“First, the bottles are broken down into small flakes at the Repreve Bottle Processing Center in North Carolina… Those flakes are then melted down into tiny pellets at a separate facility. There, the chips are melted again, and filtered and spun into threads through a process that resembles water flowing through a shower head… Depending on how the threads are treated, they can be used for a range of textiles, from swimwear to denim to car seats.”

Here is also a video that shows the process that Sahi explained

While we have local stores to go to such as Lane Bryant, and brands to look for such as Patagonia, Repreve is also making its way to other college campuses.

While they recently brought their own truck to UCLA to engage with students on game day, doing the same sort of thing at WVU would be an awesome way to get students involved.

All in all, no matter what your style is, making steps towards helping the environment is the most trendy (and responsible) thing that you can do.

While it’s my personal hope that this is something that all clothing companies begin doing, it’s amazing that we have brands like Lane Bryant and Patagonia in our area that are doing their part, and allowing us to help the world and look great while doing so.

Schools Strike for Climate Change: Could WVU Be Next?

by Shana Nelson

It all started in Sweden, when students didn’t feel they should go to school for a future that didn’t exist. Now, students all across the globe are joining together and beginning to lead their own protests with #schoolstrike4climatechange.

The movement started with the workings of a then 15 year old Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, who was shaken and confused with the climate affair matters in her country. On Augsust 20, 2018, she bravely sat by herself on the cobblestones of a parliament building.

Photo by Anders Hellberg

On September 8th, after three weeks of striking, she made a decision to continue her striking every Friday, until, according to FridaysForFuture, “the Swedish policies provided a safe pathway well under 2-degree C, i.e. in line with the Paris agreement.”

While she started out all alone in the beginning, she is now the face of a new movement that’s being followed by students all around the world with joining the FridaysForFuture movement and posting to social media with #schoolstrike4climatechange.

Greta Thunberg addressed a crowd at some are saying was Finland’s largest climate change protest in history. Photo by Svante Thunberg/Twitter

So far, the protests are being organized in more than 123 countries around the world, and the online movement has taken social media by storm.

Thunberg, though she may only be 16 years old now, is considered the face against climate change. Besides starting this movement, she’s gained so much authority in the matter that she’s even given her own TED Talk. 

In fact, Thunberg’s plea is so convincing that a teacher in Sweden even left her job in order to support her students.

Overall, the tale of FridaysForFuture and #schoolstrike4climatechange goes to show that the tiniest people are sometimes the mightiest, and that students are the ones with the ability to truly teach the world the importance of certain issues.

When it comes to young people making waves, it didn’t start here. In fact, The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts writes that this movement was actually inspired by the actions taken by students in Parkland, FL when starting March For Our Lives.

“The climate strike was inspired by students from the Parkland school in Florida, who walked out of classes in protest against the US gun laws that enabled the massacre on their campus. Greta was part of a group that wanted to do something similar to raise awareness about climate change, but they couldn’t agree what.”

March For Our Lives rally. Photo by The Tennessean

Student-led protests are happening for issues all over the world for various issues, and WVU had a protest of its own in late February due to the campus carry bill, it’s clear to see that students here are good at rallying together to get a message across.

To add to this, there may even be more of a reason for students here to protest due to the fact that The West Virginia Legislature recently passed a bill containing a set of environmental regulations, which according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Brittany Patterson, includes,  “a controversial water pollution rule that was pared down during the legislative process.”

The rule would govern the dumping of pollution in the rivers and streams of our state, a move that will directly impacting the health of the people here.

Photo by suju/Pixabay

With this in mind, it’s’ interesting to wonder whether or not FridaysForFuture, #schoolstrike4climatechange, or a similar movement will make its way to Morgantown soon.

Whether or not it makes its way here, the lesson provided by Thunberg’s movement is one to take note of, and one that is fittingly applicable outside of the classroom. It’s that there is always a reason to fight for what’s right, and to remember that we have a right to protest and yearn for the protection and betterment the futures of ourselves and our children.

The Now Extinct Bramble Cay Melomy: A Lesson for West Virginia

Last month, news broke of the first rodent to go extinct due to man-made climate change. The Bramble Cay melomy, a small rodent native to Australia, was officially confirmed extinct by the Australian government on February 18th.

The reasoning behind its extinction has proven to be man-made climate change. According to National Geographic’s Brian Clark Howard, Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is one of many researchers who backs this claim.

“The key factor responsible for the extirpation of this population was almost certainly ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, very likely on multiple occasions, during the last decade, causing dramatic habitat loss and perhaps also direct mortality of individuals. For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise.”

And although the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomy is something to talk about right now, this comic by First Dog on the Moon is a perfect illustration of how we never truly learn our lesson after we mourn the loss of a species.

While this extinction hasn’t taken place in West Virginia, or even on this continent, it’s a lesson and a warning of what is to come in the future if changes aren’t made, and an opportunity for us to reflect on the species closest to home that are in need of extra care.

To begin with, there are many species of bats that are endangered in West Virginia including: the Virginia big-eared bat, the gray bat, and the Indiana bat.

The Virginia big-eared bat resides in parts of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern West Virginia. In terms of what is endangering this bat in particular, humans are the direct result according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Photo by John MacGregor

“The major causes of the species’ decline are loss of habitat, vandalism, and increased human visitation to maternity roosts and hibernacula. Virginia big-eared bats are extremely sensitive to human disturbance. Even slight disturbances can cause adults to abandon caves, abandon young, and force bats to use valuable energy reserves needed to survive hibernation.”

The gray bat is extremely rare in WV, and the only citing of it in Pendleton County was considered accidental, however, the state still recognizes it as an endangered species.

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Photo by Adam Mann, Environmental Solutions and Innovations

The Indiana bat resides in WV significantly more, with nearly 21,000 wintering here and dwelling in Pendleton, Tucker, Boone and Kanawha counties.

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Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle/Bat Conservation International

For these two species in particular, they are currently being threatened by white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that affects hibernating bats. According to the White Nose Syndrome Response Team, “It attacks the bare skin of bats while they’re hibernating in a relatively inactive state. As it grows, it causes changes in bats that make them become active more than usual and burn up fat they need to survive the winter.”

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Credit: fs.usda.gov

According to The Center for Biological Diversity, the endangerment of these bats due to white nose syndrome has the ability to affect many species in our ecosystem.

“With the disease’s appearance in the southern Appalachian region, white-nose syndrome has the potential to afflict the extremely rare, federally listed Virginia big-eared bat, whose range is limited to West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

While it’s very difficult to visit the caves and hibernacula where these bats live due to the adverse and dangerous effects of human disruption, there are refuges set up across the nation that provide habitats for gray and Indiana bats in order to help ensure their safety and educate the public about them.

There are also many aquatic animals that are endangered in this state such as the Guyandotte River crayfish, the candy darter, and the diamond darter.

The Guyandotte River crayfish can only be found at two sites in at Pinnacle Creek and the Clear Fork streams in Wyoming County, WV.

Erosion and sedimentation have both played roles in endangering this species, who, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is very important to other forms of life.

“Crayfishes, including the Guyandotte River and Big Sandy crayfishes, play an important role in stream environments by recycling animal and plant matter and serving as food for other wildlife, including sport fish. Keeping streams healthy for crayfish also benefits people by ensuring clean water for drinking, wading and fishing. Ongoing erosion and sedimentation have made many streams within their historical ranges unsuitable for the crayfishes.”

A bright, beautiful freshwater fish that swims through the streams of Appalachia is the candy darter. Unfortunately, almost half of the population has decreased, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Nearly half of the 35 known candy darter populations have disappeared since the species was first described in 1932. Candy darter habitat historically declined when land conversion activities removed the forested and riparian habitat that sustained healthy stream conditions for the fish.”

Similarly, the diamond darter is in the same boat, with the only existing population of this species being found in the Elk River in WV.  Unfortunately, it’s location is one of the reasons that it is being threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explains the effects of these darters inhabiting the Elk River.

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Photo by Stuart Welsh, USGS. Public domain.

“Coal mining, oil and gas drilling, timber harvesting, all-terrain vehicles, improper sewage treatment, and stream bank erosion all occur in the Elk River watershed. Together, these activities compound the amount and type of pollutants flowing into the river, reducing the water quality and degrading the habitat needed by diamond darters.”

While it isn’t registered as an endangered species, it’s important to highlight one threatened species close to home, the Cheat Mountain salamander, who went face to face with the threat of extinction and came out alive after the U.S. Forest Service rejected a 10-mile segment of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

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Credit: USFWS

Finally, the rusty patched bumble bee is another endangered species in the state. It previously had a long history in West Virginia and 27 other states, but it can now only be found in only 5.

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Photo by Kim Mitchell, USFWS

In the Recovery Outline for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, climate change is one of the many things harming this species.  

“The threats to the rusty patched bumble bee primarily fall into one or more of six categories: pathogens, pesticides, habitat loss and degradation (loss of floral resources), effects of climate change, competition with non-native bees, and the effects of small population dynamics.”

When thinking about the causes behind what’s endangering these animals, mountaintop removal is high up on the list. In a recent lawsuit filed by The Center for Biological Diversity against the Trump Administration for refusing to release public records concerning coal mining and endangered species in WV, mountaintop removal is cited as detrimental to Appalachian fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and insects.

“More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.”

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Credit: Center for Biological Diversity

Why does it all matter?

As humans and predators, it’s our responsibility to look after the less powerful things around us. Besides wanting to save the world that we live in, it’s important to be concerned about endangered species due to growing extinction rates documented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Normally, new species develop through a process known as speciation at about the same rate that other species become extinct. However, because of air and water pollution, forest clearing, loss of wetlands, and other man-induced environmental changes, extinctions are now occurring at a rate that far exceeds the speciation rate.”

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Credit: http://www.greenhumour.com

So while the Bramble Cay melomy is now out of sight, we shouldn’t let it be out of mind. One of the key steps in not letting history repeat itself is in never forgetting about it, and by never forgetting about these other animals, by keeping up to date and educated on them, we are able to ensure their safety. We can never get this animal back, but we can use its memory as a powerful lesson in not forgetting about the creatures who need extra protection.