In case you missed it: 4 big stories from our world

Mamanuca Islands, Fiji.

Mamanuca Islands, Fiji. (© Levi S. Norton). By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean if we don’t take action.

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares four stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. California moves towards 100 percent carbon-free electricity after landmark vote

Legislators in California voted to switch to carbon-free energy sources by 2045.

The story: California may become the second state in the U.S., after Hawaii, to set a goal of clean energy reliance by 2045, Oliver Milman with The Guardian wrote last Wednesday. According to state senator Kevin de Leon, the legislation is a “victory for clean air. It’s a victory to tackle climate change and the devastation that it’s leaving in its wake.” The bill still needs to be signed by the state senate and the governor before it can take effect.

The big picture: This news comes just days after the release of the latest climate change assessment for California. The report lists the effects of climate change — including water shortages, an increase in heat-related deaths, rising seas and more wildfires — and states that they could all occur by 2050 if emissions are not reduced. The bill would help mitigate these effects (and decrease California’s contribution to global climate change) by building the state’s reliance on clean energy. This would result in fewer emissions that contribute to global warming being released into the atmosphere.

Read the story here.

  1. Plastic-riding invasive species are making their way across oceans

Invasive species are commuting across the Pacific Ocean on plastic trash, arriving at their new destination alive and ready to reproduce.

The story: Algae, mussels, barnacles and other species have traveled from countries such as Japan to the U.S. on plastic trash in the ocean, Whitney Pipkin wrote for National Geographic last Tuesday. These species were previously unable, or not easily able, to travel long distances, and scientists are concerned with how their new presence will affect the ecosystems they are invading.

The big picture: By 2050, experts estimate there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Extreme weather events, such as the tsunami in Japan in 2011, cause plastic floating in coastal areas to make its way to sea, eventually turning up thousands of miles from home. Previously, species would hitch a ride on driftwood, which would often decompose while at sea. The durability of plastic makes it an excellent transportation device, one that’s perhaps too effective: When non-native species invade new habitats they can overtake native species, disrupting entire ecosystems.

Read the story here.

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  1. How Google Earth led a team of scientists to discover an untouched mountaintop rainforest

 A virtually untouched forest was discovered in Mozambique atop a 410-foot mountain.

The story: Mount Lico’s mountain-top forest ecosystem was recently discovered when Julian Bayliss, a conservation scientist and butterfly expert, happened upon it while using Google Earth, Andy Wright and Sonner Kehrt wrote for The Verge last Tuesday. The tool showed a forest on the top of the mountain, seemingly untouched by humans. After spending two weeks atop the mountain with a 28-person team studying the flora and fauna, Bayliss and colleagues discovered at least one new butterfly species.

The big picture: The arduous hike up the 410-foot mountain has protected the forest ecosystem from humans, keeping it intact and pristine. Not only did the team discover a new species, but their findings will help scientists understand how forests react and cope with climate change when humans are not in the equation. The expedition’s Mozambican leader, Hermenegildo Matimele, said that their findings will help raise awareness of — and protect — the region, and will “guide our strategies in terms of how we use the land.”

Read the story here.

  1. How much hotter is your hometown than when you were born?

Plug your hometown and year of birth into a program to see how temperatures have risen over your lifetime — and how much more they rise will in the future.

The story: We’re already feeling the effects of global warming. One of the most widely felt impacts? Rising temperatures. To help track exactly how much hotter you were this summer than, say, when you were 10 years old, The New York Times has created an interactive model that enables you to see how much the temperature has increased in your hometown since your birth, and how much it will increase in the future.

The big picture: Many people, especially those living in developing countries, do not have air conditioners. So when temperatures rise, they, along with outdoor workers, are more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures, such as heat-related illnesses. The effects could be deadly. “Worldwide, high temperatures have been found to increase the risk of illness and death, especially among older people, infants and people with chronic medical conditions,” the article states.

Interact with the program here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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