News briefs: Asia's climate risks; 'underwater' mortgages

Plus, threatened pine trees, BofA won't support Arctic drilling, and more

Above: The resistant skeletons of whitebark pine trees hold on at high elevations in Glacier National Park. Possibly decades earlier, they succumbed to either white pine blister rust or mountain pine beetles. Photo: National Park Service.

Pine tree that feeds grizzlies is threatened 

Climate change, beetle infestation and disease are threatening the long-term survival of the whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree in the western U.S. that’s an important food source for grizzly, black bears and other species. A report from the AP this week says a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would protect the whitebark pine tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, according to documents posted by the Office of the Federal Register. The AP said the move is a belated acknowledgement of the tree’s severe declines in recent decades and sets the stage for restoration work. But government officials said they do not plan to designate which forest habitats are critical to the tree’s survival, stopping short of what some environmentalists argue is needed. According to the National Park Service, whitebark pine is considered a keystone species, or a species that increases the biodiversity of a community, because of the important and critical role it plays in the life cycle of many other species. This invaluable tree provides shelter and food for numerous species, including grizzly and black bears, red squirrels, and Clark’s nutcrackers.

Climate change’s outsized impact on Asia

James Conca writes in Forbes: “After reading McKinsey & Co.’s Climate risk and response in Asia report, I had to revisit my ideas of who gets hit hardest by climate change. It shouldn’t be surprising — Asia has more people in coastal cities than all other cities in the world combined. So sea level rise and severe weather will affect more people there than anywhere else.” He goes on to review the report, noting that by 2050, parts of Asia may see increasing average temperatures, lethal heat waves, extreme precipitation events, severe hurricanes, drought, and changes in water supply. The Asian GDP that is at risk from this warming accounts for more than two-thirds of the total annual global GDP impacted.

A new kind of ‘underwater’ mortgage

The federal government keeps pumping mortgage money into Hialeah, Fla. and hundreds of other communities facing grave dangers from climate change, especially flooding due to rising sea levels, Politico shows in a special report on how climate change could spark the next home mortgage disaster. According to the report, taxpayers are on the hook, not just homeowners: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hold the majority of home mortgages in some Hialeah neighborhoods. More significantly, Politico says, federal taxpayers hold greater than 60% of mortgages on homes in some areas outside the specially designated federal floodplain, according to an analysis of federal data by Amine Ouazad, an associate economics professor at Canadian business school HEC Montréal.

Bank of America says it won’t fund Arctic drilling

Amid pressure from environmental and indigenous groups, Bank of America (BAC) has said it will not finance any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, making it the last major U.S. financial institution to do so. EcoWatch quoted the Sierra Club’s Ben Cushing as saying “now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in President Trump's ill-advised lease sale should stay away." See related news story: Trump rushes to lock in oil drilling in Arctic Wildlife Refuge before Biden's term

Report: U.S. pollution-monitoring system fails

There is a broad failure of the U.S. air-pollution monitoring system, according to a Reuters examination of data from the EPA and independent monitoring organizations, along with interviews with scientists and environmental researchers. Reuters reported that the government network of 3,900 monitoring devices nationwide has routinely missed major toxic releases and day-to-day pollution dangers, the data show. The network, for example, identified no risks from 10 of the biggest refinery explosions over the past decade, the Reuters review of EPA data shows, even as thousands of people were hospitalized and the refineries reported toxic emissions to regulators.