By Kayla Benjamin
Happy springtime! Temperatures rose, jackets started to come off and the District’s favorite flower hit its peak last week. With more sunshine and greener grass on its way for “Earth Month” in April, now’s a great time to look back on the environmental stories you might have missed this month.
Cherry Blossoms are Blooming Earlier Thanks to Climate Change
The National Park Service called it official on March 23 — the cherry blossoms had hit “peak bloom.” That’s the period when about 70% of the Yoshino cherry blossom trees are flowering. This year, the timing lined up nearly perfectly with the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival — the pink petals were at their fullest over the weekend during Saturday’s grand opening ceremony and the annual kite festival on Sunday.
But the nice timing also serves as a reminder that climate change is tangibly changing our world. Over the last century, the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom date has crept forward in the season; it now comes about a week earlier on average than it did in 1920, according to National Park Service data. That’s because average temperatures — globally and locally — have gotten warmer as fossil fuels have increased the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
It’s Electrifying! Getting Around Without Gas, That Is
Electric transportation in the District continued to grow this month. Capital Bikeshare — the D.C.-area-specific company that allows riders to rent a bike from one dock and drop it at another — unveiled a new e-bike model on March 20. The city will get more than 700 of the e-bikes, which have a 60-mile range and can go up to 20 miles per hour, according to reporting from DCist.
In other non-gas transit news from last week, WMATA released its “Zero-Emission Bus Transition Plan” March 23. The initiative aims to switch to a fully-electric bus fleet by 2042, three years before the Metro Board’s original goal. Earlier in the month, the transit agency broke ground on Bladensburg Bus Garage, which is slated to host about 150 zero-emissions buses when it reopens.
Electric transit isn’t just good for reducing the carbon emissions that are rapidly turning up our planet’s thermostat. It also cuts down on air pollution, which causes serious and deeply unequal public health harms. The District’s historically Black and brown neighborhoods experience higher levels of air pollutants that increase risks for health problems like lung cancer and strokes compared to whiter parts of the city. One 2021 study published in the journal GeoHealth found that some neighborhoods in Southeast experience more than four times as many pollution-related premature deaths as some wealthy areas in Northwest do.
Secretary-General on Latest U.N. Report: ‘The climate time-bomb is ticking‘
Here’s a boring-sounding sentence for you: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its most recent Synthesis Report on March 20. Here’s a translated version: the world’s leading climate experts said to the world last week, ‘act now or it will be too late.’
“Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said, making a reference to this year’s Oscar Best Picture winner.
A few of the top-line findings from the report, in plain English:
- Humans have already caused the Earth to warm up by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and that has caused changes to the climate unprecedented in human history. The last decade was the warmest in about 125,000 years.
- Climate change impacts on people and ecosystems have been worse than expected. Some vulnerable communities have already lost their homes and livelihoods.
- Meeting the world’s agreed-upon goal — limiting warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — remains possible. It would require immediate and sweeping action to reduce and then eliminate fossil fuel burning.
- Even if the world misses the 2.7-degree mark, every tenth of a degree beyond that will matter. Every additional bit of warming increases risks immensely, but by the same token, every bit of warming avoided makes a big difference.
- Climate change exacerbates global inequality. The impacts of global warming hit poorer, historically marginalized communities hardest — and those same people produce the fewest emissions. Efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts will add to inequities unless justice features centrally in every climate conversation.
Readers: The Informer has some exciting plans for our environmental coverage this spring — and we want to hear from you! Would you read an environmental roundup newsletter, similar to this one, delivered to your inbox monthly? Let us know at email@example.com.