Tag Archives: case

The Next Great Migration – Sonia Shah


The Next Great Migration

The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move

Sonia Shah

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: June 2, 2020

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Seller: Bookwire GmbH

A prize-winning journalist upends our centuries-long assumptions about migration through science, history, and reporting–predicting its lifesaving power in the face of climate change. The news today is full of stories of dislocated people on the move. Wild species, too, are escaping warming seas and desiccated lands, creeping, swimming, and flying in a mass exodus from their past habitats. News media presents this scrambling of the planet's migration patterns as unprecedented, provoking fears of the spread of disease and conflict and waves of anxiety across the Western world. On both sides of the Atlantic, experts issue alarmed predictions of millions of invading aliens, unstoppable as an advancing tsunami, and countries respond by electing anti-immigration leaders who slam closed borders that were historically porous. But the science and history of migration in animals, plants, and humans tell a different story. Far from being a disruptive behavior to be quelled at any cost, migration is an ancient and lifesaving response to environmental change, a biological imperative as necessary as breathing. Climate changes triggered the first human migrations out of Africa. Falling sea levels allowed our passage across the Bering Sea. Unhampered by barbed wire, migration allowed our ancestors to people the planet, catapulting us into the highest reaches of the Himalayan mountains and the most remote islands of the Pacific, creating and disseminating the biological, cultural, and social diversity that ecosystems and societies depend upon. In other words, migration is not the crisis–it is the solution. Conclusively tracking the history of misinformation from the 18th century through today's anti-immigration policies, The Next Great Migration makes the case for a future in which migration is not a source of fear, but of hope.

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The Next Great Migration – Sonia Shah

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Don’t be April fooled, Google did not just swear off funding climate deniers

Congratulations! After an approximately 4 billion year–long March, we’ve made it to April 1st. Under normal circumstances, this day would be filled with jolly fun, like cars covered in plastic wrap, sugar in the salt shaker, fake product launches, and of course, the infamous annual Google prank.

But after days or weeks of being shut in our homes, washing our hands to oblivion, eyes glued to charts and maps showing the coronavirus spreading around the country and the number of cases and deaths ticking upward, pranks don’t have much appeal right now. Out of respect for the essential workers who are risking their lives to get us through this, Google officially called off its annual joke.

But it did appear to make a big announcement today. A very convincing statement from CEO Sundar Pichai appeared at the address agreenergoogle.com today, with an exciting message: The company will stop funding climate change deniers.

“In lieu of our normal April Fools’ joke, today we’re getting serious,” it says. The site goes on to list eight organizations that Google has funded or otherwise worked with that have opposed measures to fight climate change like the Paris Agreement and Obama’s Clean Power Plan. It includes an apology for “putting profits over the planet” and for stalling on changing its ways for so long. COVID-19 has forced the company to reckon with the perils of ignoring science, it says.

Sigh, if only that were the case. The site is a prank put out by the New York City arm of the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion. While not everyone will appreciate the group using a global health crisis to further its mission, the message is more sobering than funny. There are more truths on the page than jokes: Google has made substantial contributions to major climate deniers in Washington, including the eight groups listed on the site. It has also been criticized by its own workers for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Despite being a carbon neutral company, the company’s operations still run on fossil fuels, which it makes up for by buying renewable energy and carbon offsets.

As the prank highlights, Google’s funding of climate denial is dangerous. We’re now experiencing something similar to the climate crisis but at “warp speed” and seeing the fatal consequences when people in power fail to heed scientists’ warnings and then downplay the seriousness of a global public health threat. Dumb April Fools’ Day jokes aside, misinformation kills.

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Don’t be April fooled, Google did not just swear off funding climate deniers

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Supreme Court permits Baltimore suit against energy companies to continue

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A court case between the city of Baltimore and a group of energy companies will be permitted to continue after the Supreme Court earlier this week rejected the latter’s attempt to freeze the case. The litigation, which the city initiated in 2018, alleges that the energy companies are liable “for their direct emissions of greenhouse gases” and the damages they’ve caused the city and its residents.

No explanation accompanied the Supreme Court rejection, but Baltimore is considering it a victory, since its case against companies including BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Citgo can now continue. Though the ultimate decision of where the case should be heard may end up being more significant than the high court ruling.

The energy companies’ request to halt the case is part of their broader legal fight to move the case from state to federal court. The companies hope to establish a precedent in which climate cases are largely heard by federal courts, where “climate-related cases have been largely decided in the companies’ favor,” reports Climate Liability News. In a recent article on the Supreme Court’s rejection of the freeze, New York Times columnist Adam Liptak points out that cases in state courts disadvantage big corporations because cities have a “home-court advantage before local judges.”

The strategy of choice among big energy companies is to appeal to the federal courts — in this case the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — that its cases belong there, then request a stay on the state case while the appeal is decided, citing the costliness of multiple concurrent cases. The recent New York Times article elaborates on the one-two punch:

In the Supreme Court, the energy companies argued that the issues in the case require adjudication in federal court.

“It is difficult to imagine,” they told the justices in court papers, “claims that more clearly implicate substantial questions of federal law and require uniform disposition than the claims at issue here, which seek to transform the nation’s energy, environmental, national security and foreign policies by punishing energy companies for lawfully supplying necessary oil and gas resources.”

Letting the state court suit move forward in the meantime, the companies said, would subject them to needless litigation expenses. Baltimore responded that such costs did not amount to the sort of irreparable injury that would warrant a stay of proceedings while the question of the proper forum is resolved.

It’s not the first time the energy companies have tried to remove the case from a state court. In June, a federal court in Baltimore ruled that the defendants’ attempt to push the case out of local courts was “improper.” A similar request lodged to the circuit court while it still decides on the legitimacy of the defendants’ appeal was also denied.

With the appellate court still deciding if the case can be elevated to the federal level, the final arena is undecided. If the battle between Baltimore and the energy companies remains in a local court, the implications for future cases are substantial, paving the way for court battles with energy companies at the local level.

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Supreme Court permits Baltimore suit against energy companies to continue

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The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes – Donald Hoffman


The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

Donald Hoffman

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: August 13, 2019

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Can we trust our senses to tell us the truth? Challenging leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. How can it be possible that the world we see is not objective reality? And how can our senses be useful if they are not communicating the truth? Hoffman grapples with these questions and more over the course of this eye-opening work. Ever since Homo sapiens has walked the earth, natural selection has favored perception that hides the truth and guides us toward useful action, shaping our senses to keep us alive and reproducing. We observe a speeding car and do not walk in front of it; we see mold growing on bread and do not eat it. These impressions, though, are not objective reality. Just like a file icon on a desktop screen is a useful symbol rather than a genuine representation of what a computer file looks like, the objects we see every day are merely icons, allowing us to navigate the world safely and with ease. The real-world implications for this discovery are huge. From examining why fashion designers create clothes that give the illusion of a more “attractive” body shape to studying how companies use color to elicit specific emotions in consumers, and even dismantling the very notion that spacetime is objective reality, The Case Against Reality dares us to question everything we thought we knew about the world we see.

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The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes – Donald Hoffman

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Cool It – Bjørn Lomborg


Cool It

Bjørn Lomborg

Genre: Environment

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: September 4, 2007

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

Bjorn Lomborg argues that many of the elaborate and staggeringly expensive actions now being considered to meet the challenges of global warming ultimately will have little impact on the world’s temperature. He suggests that rather than focusing on ineffective solutions that will cost us trillions of dollars over the coming decades, we should be looking for smarter, more cost-effective approaches (such as massively increasing our commitment to green energy R&D) that will allow us to deal not only with climate change but also with other pressing global concerns, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And he considers why and how this debate has fostered an atmosphere in which dissenters are immediately demonized.

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Cool It – Bjørn Lomborg

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Want clean air in 2019? Let’s talk climate change

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For years, air quality and climate change have been like star-crossed lovers — inextricably linked, but never quite finding their way to each other in environmental policy and dialogue. Well in 2018, the two finally got hot and heavy thanks to several landmark reports and climate calamities literally taking our breath away. People seem to see that it makes sense to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions together.

Especially on the local level, failing to take air quality into consideration has left some glaring holes in our climate action strategies. Take, for instance, California’s cap-and-trade system, a climate solution touted by some environmentalists. Although California managed to reduce its carbon emissions overall for the state, its carbon trading market ended up concentrating contaminants in the “fenceline” neighborhoods that were already facing the most pollution.

From a public health perspective, according to Lara Cushing, the lead author of a study on the environmental equity of carbon trading, getting the most good out of emissions reductions “means prioritizing emissions reductions from sources that also release a lot of health-damaging pollutants.”

The effect climate change has had on air quality hasn’t headlined much in the past. But that changed after this year’s blazing wildfires sent California’s greenhouse gas gains up in smoke. On top of that, record-breaking heat waves have sped up the production of ozone pollution — a trend that will likely continue thanks to global warming predictions. The behemoth 4th National Climate Assessment dedicated 27 of its more than 1,500 pages to air quality.

“Early on when we were talking about climate, the old iconic polar bear disappearing became sort of the focus,” says Janice Nolan, assistant vice president of national policy at the American Lung Association. What’s changing now, she says, is that “people are seeing that this is a human health impact.”

Even the World Health Organization got in on the air quality action in 2018, releasing a child environmental health report this October with an entire section dedicated to the benefits of cleaner air for health and the climate. “Actions to reduce air pollution will benefit child health, not only by avoiding direct effects but also by reducing emissions of certain greenhouse gases and thus mitigating climate change and its effects on health,” it read.

And last but certainly not least on the big, scary study list, the U.N.’s special climate report released this year spelled out the case for finding solutions that target both climate change and air pollution: “Focusing on pathways and policies which both improve air quality and reduce impacts of climate change can provide multiple co-benefits.”

These reports sound like a lot of sad news, but the great thing about this newfound attention to the pairing between climate action and clean air policies is that it’s super efficient, since carbon and the crap that makes it harder to breathe are often released at the same time.

The two solutions actually make each other better when they’re together. Awwww.

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Want clean air in 2019? Let’s talk climate change

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Landmark children’s climate lawsuit hits new roadblock

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A high-profile lawsuit aiming to hold the federal government accountable for not curbing climate change has encountered yet another roadblock. After the Supreme Court permitted the case to proceed last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delayed the case again on Thursday.

The case, Juliana v. United States, has its roots in a lawsuit filed against the Obama administration in August 2015 by 21 plaintiffs—all between the ages of 11 and 21. The teenage activists claimed that the federal government had violated their constitutional rights by not curbing climate change and asked the court to “develop a national plan to restore Earth’s energy balance, and implement that national plan so as to stabilize the climate system.”

The trial had been scheduled to begin in federal district court in Eugene, Oregon, on October 29, but several interventions by higher courts kept the case in limbo.

“What these young plaintiffs are being put through just to have their day in court is disgraceful,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a statement to Mother Jones. “This trial would finally hold the Trump administration accountable for its climate denial and destructive agenda. The court shouldn’t let the Trump administration use absurd legal claims to weasel out of it.”

After the Trump administration inherited the defense of the case, the government’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to dismiss it in July, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction and calling the plaintiffs’ request to have the executive branch phase out carbon dioxide emissions “groundless and improper.” The court rejected the administration’s “premature” motion, even as the justices acknowledged that the “breadth” of the plaintiffs’ claims was “striking.” Ten days before the trial was set to begin, Chief Justice John Roberts put the case on hold pending the plaintiffs’ response to the government’s request to significantly narrow the case. While the full court reviewed the new filing, the plaintiffs rallied in the rain with hundreds of students outside the federal courthouse in Eugene, Reuters reported.

“The Brown v. Board of Education case was all about school districts inflicting harm on children because of the ‘separate but equal’ policies. Our case is about the federal government knowingly inflicting harm on children through fossil fuel emissions,” plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Phil Gregory told Mother Jones last month. “If you substitute a word like ‘segregation’ for ‘climate change,’ there’s no way the Supreme Court would stop this case.”

Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization aligned with the plaintiffs, made a similar argument in a press release. “This is not an environmental case, it’s a civil rights case,” the group stated.

On November 2, the Supreme Court vacated Roberts’ previous decision and allowed the case to proceed over the objections of Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. But the government requested another delay, this time petitioning the district court directly. In a motion on November 5, the administration argued that it would be impossible to “develop and implement a comprehensive, government-wide energy policy” without breaking the constitutional imperative to vest legislative power in Congress and executive power in the White House. Three days later, the Ninth Circuit halted the case for another 15 days.

Once the Ninth Circuit makes a decision, district court Judge Ann Aiken said she will set a new date for the trial to begin.

“The Court told us to continue getting our work done for trial so that we are all ready when the Ninth Circuit rules. That’s exactly what we will do,” said Julia Olson, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, in a statement. “Our briefs to the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit … will show that there is no basis to grant the Government’s request of an appeal before final judgment.”

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Landmark children’s climate lawsuit hits new roadblock

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Toxic algae has oozed out of lakes and into Florida’s Senate race

Slimeballs could determine who wins a race for the U.S. Senate. And in this case, slimeballs isn’t another word for disgraced politicians or dirty-money lobbyists.

Slime is flowing off Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in balls, clots, and sheets into coastal waters. It’s made of algae that blooms in massive numbers when fertilizer-laden agricultural runoff sits in warm water. Rain raised the level of this fetid brew until officials had no choice but to send it downstream to the sea.

The environmental disaster is choking dolphins and strangling the tourism economy. It’s stinky, ugly, sad, and impossible for Floridians to ignore, and so it’s become a central element in the race for Senate between the incumbent, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and the challenger, Governor Rick Scott. Both blame the other for the crisis.

What’s surprising here is that environmental issues are taking a starring role in a an election campaign. We complain all the time at Grist about the lack of attention to climate change in presidential debates and the like. This lack of focus has allowed politicians — mostly of the Republican persuasion — to ignore and deny the many environmental disasters unfolding in slow motion. But as those problems begin to erode voters’ quality of life, they’re bound to become more of a political issue, which means politicians of all stripes will have to address them to get elected.

In this case, it was Scott — the Republican! — who started the skirmish, releasing this ad saying that Nelson has not managed to clean-up Okeechobee in his 30 years of political service.

Nelson fired back back with his own TV spot, quoting newspapers that blame Scott for the crisis.

Who’s right? Well, Sen. Nelson hasn’t fixed the environmental mess that is Lake Okeechobee, the slimy source of the scum, but it’s an enormous challenge that has bogged down many attempts, said Michael Grunwald, senior writer for Politico Magazine, who laid out that history in his book, The Swamp. The proposed solution was a deal to turn 100,000 acres of sugar-cane farms into reservoirs for storage. “If you build a shit ton of storage you don’t have to dump water on the estuaries and Everglades,” Grunwald said.

But Scott passed a law to block the reservoirs. He also oversaw budget reductions for state environmental agencies, according to the Washington Post, cutting “scientists and engineers whose jobs were to monitor pollution levels and algal blooms.” Thanks to those budget cuts, scientists don’t have the data to show the root causes of the crisis.

Scott and Nelson are now neck and neck in the polls. If there’s a bright spot here it’s that this race is proving that some Republicans are willing to campaign on environmental issues, provided voters care enough to raise a stink. “The old saying here is that election years are good for the Everglades,” Grunwald said.

Taking action once in office, as opposed to using the environment to score campaign points, is another story.

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Toxic algae has oozed out of lakes and into Florida’s Senate race

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Climate change will have its Scopes Monkey Trial this week

In 1925, a Tennessee substitute teacher was indicted by a grand jury for teaching evolution to his high school class. That case, the Scopes trial, became famous for pitting science against the Bible, and it helped pave the way for educational reform.

On Tuesday, a case in California could do for climate change what the Scopes trial did for evolution. Last September, San Francisco and Oakland filed major lawsuits against five of the world’s largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell.

All of those companies are constantly being sued for making large and sometimes permanent environmental messes. But the people of California aren’t suing BP and co. for spills, explosions, or other easily traceable disasters. Rather, they’re suing because those companies:

  1. knew about climate change decades ago,
  2. continued doing business as usual, and
  3. engaged in a world-wide public relations campaign to sow confusion over climate science.

California says the companies have been using deception to profit as the planet warms, and they should pay for the infrastructure the state needs to protect itself against rising sea-levels.

The lawsuits join others in a new wave of court cases: the climate suits. Two weeks ago, a climate change lawsuit filed by 21 kid activists against the Trump administration was cleared for trial. A week later, Arnold Schwarzeneggar announced plans to sue Big Oil for committing “first degree murder.” And New York City hit polluters with a double whammy in January: the city decided to divest billions of dollars in pension money from fossil fuels and filed a lawsuit against some of the biggest polluters in the industry.

The cases pit people against industry and government, and, whether or not the people win, the legal battles could mark the beginning of a shift in the way fossil fuel companies are held accountable in court. This particular case is especially novel, thanks to an unorthodox judge named William Alsup.

The judge presiding over the Bay Area cities-vs.-oil companies case isn’t your average federal justice. Alsup’s the guy who blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA, taught himself how to use a programming script for a Silicon Valley lawsuit, and, as part of another tech battle, asked two ride-sharing services to give him a tutorial on self-driving cars to make a better-informed ruling.

Alsup’s quest for a well-rounded education means that before this trial moves forward, both parties must give him a two-part, first-of-its-kind tutorial in climate science in no more than two hours each. It’s a highly unusual request from a judge, experts say, and it will give Americans the opportunity to follow along as big polluters finally go on record about climate science and climate denialism.

Judge Alsup has submitted 14 questions for each party in the case to answer, including:

What caused the various ice ages?
What are the main sources of CO2 that account for the incremental buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere?
Why hasn’t plant life turned the higher levels of CO2 back into oxygen?

Most of the 14 questions could be answered by a precocious fifth grader. But the hearing, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, will be the first time oil companies defend themselves in court against decades of climate science.

“Up until now, fossil fuel companies have been able to talk about climate science in political and media arenas where there is far less accountability to the truth,” Burger says.

The complaint

In addition to providing answers to Alsup’s questions, the plaintiffs will likely present evidence that oil companies knew about the harmful effects of CO2 on the atmosphere at least since the 1970s. They may also highlight the prize-winning 2015 investigation by InsideClimate News, which revealed that Exxon purposefully misled the public about the risks of fossil fuels in order to protect its business. Despite having long known about the dangers of fossil-fuel consumption, California will charge that the “defendants continue to engage in massive fossil fuel production.”

As CO2 levels spike and global temperatures increase, melting glaciers have caused flooding in California’s coastal cities. The state’s argument rests on the charge that fossil fuel producers have caused a public nuisance. While the accusation sounds like something you’d call a drunk guy making a ruckus in the street, in legalese, it’s dead serious, constituting a crime that jeopardizes the welfare of a community.

The defense

While the oil companies are unlikely to deny climate science, they are expected to highlight areas of uncertainty on its specifics. Even though climate science has made leaps and bounds in the past decade, scientists still readily admit how hard it is to pin down exactly how much sea-level rise we can expect in the next 50 to 100 years. You can be sure Big Oil’s lawyers will question the validity of some climate science’s conclusions in court.

But they won’t stop there. The defendants will probably try to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the complaint “calls into question longstanding decisions by the Federal Government regarding, among other things, national security, national energy policy, environmental protection, development of outer continental shelf lands, the maintenance of a national petroleum reserve, mineral extraction on federal lands.” And the lawyers will rightly point out that their clients have “produced billions of dollars for the federal government.” In other words, they’ll try to argue that, by putting this case on trial, the government is biting some of the hands that feed it.

The defendants have already achieved one victory — they requested that the case be heard in federal instead of state court, where local laws are tough on big polluters. Just Friday, fossil fuel companies suffered a blow when a different set of lawsuits from three Californian counties were successfully moved to state court. But, for this case, Judge Alsup agreed with industry, saying a “patchwork of 50 different answers to the same fundamental global issue would be unworkable.”

What happens if California wins

If San Francisco and Oakland win their respective suits, the five oil giants might have to pay billions of dollars into an “abatement fund,” a reserve that the cities can use to pay for seawalls and other infrastructure to protect their citizens against rising oceans.

But the case might not even make it to trial. California could quite possibly ace the upcoming climate change tutorial and lose the case nevertheless. The tutorial puts climate science in the spotlight, but the oil companies could persuasively argue that California’s sea-level concerns (and the damaging storm surges that accompany sea rise) can’t be pinned on individual companies.

“There are legal obstacles that could prevent this case from ever going to trial,” Burger says. “The science could play a role in some of these preliminary arguments, but the ultimate questions about whether the science equates with legal liability for these plaintiffs, the factual connection between these particular parties’ actions and the particular harm suffered by these cities, may never get heard.”

In other words, California could win the battle but lose the war. The oil companies hope the case will ultimately get dismissed or shunted up to the Supreme Court where legal precedent favors polluters. That doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the future of the climate suit.

If the court ultimately rules in favor of the defendants, there’s a long line of similar lawsuits waiting for their day in court. Buckle up, polluters! You’re in for it now.

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Climate change will have its Scopes Monkey Trial this week

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Here’s why Irma is a monster hurricane, in one GIF.

One would think that the demise of ticks and tapeworms would be cause for celebration (especially if your introduction to parasites was, as in my case, an encounter with zombie snails at a mercilessly young age).

But hold the party, say researchers. After studying 457 species of parasites in the Smithsonian Museum’s collection, mapping their global distribution, and applying a range of climate models and future scenarios, scientists predict that at least 5 to 10 percent of those critters would be extinct by 2070 due to climate change–induced habitat loss.

This extinction won’t do any favors to wildlife or humans. If a mass die-off were to occur, surviving parasites would likely invade new areas unpredictably — and that could greatly damage ecosystems. One researcher says parasites facilitate up to 80 percent of the food-web links in ecosystems, thus helping to sustain life (even if they’re also sucking it away).

What could save the parasites and our ecosystems? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Reduce carbon emissions.”

If emissions go unchecked, parasites could lose 37 percent of their habitats. If we cut carbon quickly, they’d reduce by only 20 percent — meaning the terrifying (but helpful!) parasites creating zombie snails will stay where they are.

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Here’s why Irma is a monster hurricane, in one GIF.

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