In the News, September 2023
Written by Olivia Nater, Communications Manager | Published: September 11, 2023
Major Atlantic Ocean current could collapse within next decades, study suggests
Using statistical models and ocean temperature data, a new study published in Nature Communications found that an important ocean current could reach a major tipping point sooner than previously estimated, causing it to shut down sometime between 2025 and 2095.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) plays a key role in climate regulation, moving warm water from the tropics into the North Atlantic Ocean, and moving cold water south. Scientists have known that the AMOC is slowing (which is happening due to an influx of freshwater from ice melt) ever since detailed measurements began in 2004.
A complete collapse of the AMOC would have disastrous consequences, causing extreme temperature drops in Europe, faster warming in the tropics, and rapid sea level rise on the northeast coast of North America, among other impacts.
While scientists agree the AMOC is increasingly weakening under climate change, there is still wide disagreement about when a disastrous tipping point might be reached.
Deforestation increased in 2022
Despite world leaders’ pledge to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, 4.1 million hectares (approximately 10.1 million acres) of primary rainforest were destroyed in 2022, 10 percent more than in 2021, according to data published in June by the World Resources Institute.
The majority of primary (old-growth, mature) forest loss occurred in Brazil (43.1 percent), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (12.5 percent), Bolivia (9.4 percent), and Indonesia (5.6 percent). Brazil’s primary forest loss accelerated under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration (January 2019 to December 2022), which stripped away environmental protections and weakened Indigenous land rights, making it easier for damaging industrial activities to expand.
Climate breakdown and population growth
Governments are still largely ignoring the urgent need to increase funding for international family planning programs—a need exacerbated by the escalating climate crisis. A report by the Population Institute, published in July, adds to previous scientific warnings that the most hard-hit areas also have the fastest growing populations.
The report compares population, gender, and reproductive health indicators for the 80 most vulnerable countries in the world, as measured by their exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive abilities. It found that in these countries, population is growing on average at twice the global average rate, while in a dozen of the most vulnerable countries, populations are growing at more than three times the global average rate.
Niger, for example, is ranked most climate-vulnerable while also having the highest fertility rate in the world, at 6.7 live births per woman. Niger is expected to warm faster than other areas, which will deal a huge blow to agricultural productivity. Already, 2.5 million Nigeriens are acutely food insecure, and nearly half of children under five are chronically malnourished.
The authors call for incorporating funding for women’s and girls’ empowerment, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights, into climate adaptation plans.
Summer months bring climate chaos
Scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service declared July 2023 to be the hottest month on record before it even ended. During the first and third weeks, temperatures temporarily exceeded the 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement.
Commenting on the data, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “the era of global warming has ended,” and “the era of global boiling has arrived.”
Deadly heatwaves in North America and Europe, record-breaking wildfires in Canada and Greece, extreme flooding in India, and unprecedented ocean temperature increase off the coast of Florida are just some of the disastrous ways in which the climate crisis manifested itself these past few months.
FDA approves first over-the-counter birth control pill
On July 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Opill, a progestin-only birth control pill, for over-the-counter use—the first oral contraceptive approved for use in the U.S. without a prescription.
Opill is expected to be on shelves as of early 2024, and reproductive health advocates hope it will help more people access contraception by removing the need for a prior doctor visit. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended.
Poll reveals record high support for U.S. abortion rights
Gallup poll results released in June show 69 percent of respondents think abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy. This is higher than the previous record of 67 percent recorded in May 2022 after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft decision was leaked.
While the majority of respondents still oppose abortion later in pregnancy, 37 percent said it should be legal in the second trimester and 22 percent said it should be legal in the last three months of pregnancy—the highest rates Gallup has recorded since 1996.
Overall, 34 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances and 51 percent say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. Thirteen percent of respondents think it should be illegal in all circumstances—a significant reduction from 21 percent in 2019. Current policies do not reflect these views, with 14 states so far having banned abortion in most cases at any point in pregnancy.
Serious disease risk from U.S. livestock populations
A report by experts at Harvard Law School and New York University published in July warns of a high risk of zoonotic disease spillover from animal to human populations in the United States. The U.S. has one of the largest livestock and poultry counts in the world, at approximately 10 billion, and is also the biggest importer of wildlife, bringing more than 220 million live wild animals across its borders each year.
The authors point out the hypocrisy of western calls to shut down China’s wet markets, while the U.S. engages in many of the same risky practices. For example, there are at least 130 live bird markets in the northeastern United States alone, with roughly 25 million birds passing through them every year. The report notes that there have already been several outbreaks of bird flu at these markets in 2023, and there is evidence that swine flu has spilled over into humans at live animal markets in Minneapolis.
The authors warn that the use and production of animals in the U.S. “remains a cultural blind spot” and that public health is chronically underfunded.