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, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Fueled by climate change, extreme weather events could overwhelm electrical grids across the United States.
The story: Studies show that extreme weather events — from droughts to snowstorms — are becoming more frequent as climate change accelerates. According to experts, this could be catastrophic for electric grids across the United States, reported Brad Plumer for The New York Times.
For example, uncharacteristically severe snowstorms in Texas last week overwhelmed the state’s electrical grid and froze many of its wind turbines, leaving 4 million people without power. Although scientists are not yet sure if this snowstorm was fueled by climate change, they project that electric grids in many states will be unable to withstand extreme weather events in the coming years.
The big picture: “We need to decarbonize our power systems so that climate change doesn’t keep getting worse, but we also need to adapt to changing conditions at the same time,” Emily Grubert, an infrastructure expert, told The New York Times. Rather than continuing to invest in fossil fuel-based energy, experts are urging cities to prepare for unpredictable weather by installing backup power sources that are fueled by green energy.
The global wildlife trade is decimating local species populations.
The story: New research found that wildlife populations are declining by more than 60 percent in places where species are traded, reported The Science Wire. Compiling data from 31 studies on more than 130 terrestrial species, including pangolins and elephants, the study is the first to ever quantify the impact of both the legal and illegal global wildlife trade, which is largely driven by the exotic pet industry and traditional medicine.
The big picture: According to the study, more than 100 million animals and plants around the world are trafficked each year. Not only is the global wildlife trade contributing to the decline of Earth’s species, it could drive future pandemics, explained Conservation International wildlife scientist Jorge Ahumada.
“The wild animal trade puts species in contact with other species — and other diseases — that they likely would have never encountered naturally in the wild,” Ahumada told Conservation News in a recent interview. “As soon as these animals are traded internationally, the risk of a small zoonotic disease outbreak turning into a full-blown pandemic suddenly increases exponentially.”
An endangered ferret was just cloned in the United States, giving some scientists hope for the species’ future.
The story: A group of scientists recently cloned a black-footed ferret using preserved ferret cells frozen more than 30 years ago, reported Douglas Main for National Geographic. After nearly dying out in the 1960s due to limited food availability, just seven black-footed ferrets remained in the wild and were transferred to a captive-breeding program in Colorado.
Since then, the program has successfully produced more than 400 ferrets — however, they are inbred, leaving them vulnerable to disease due to their lack of genetic diversity. Some scientists say that the new clone could help introduce genetic diversity into the black-footed ferret population.
The big picture: “Broadening the gene pool seems like a tremendous opportunity to help assure the long-term sustainability of the species,” Oliver Ryder, San Diego Zoo’s director of conservation genetics, told National Geographic. This is the first time that a native endangered species has ever been cloned in the United States — and some scientists say that cloning could eventually become an effective strategy for preserving the planet’s biodiversity.
Cover image: A pangolin at a rehabilitation center in Cambodia (© Conor Wall)