Lauren Sommer

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They're purple, spiky and voracious, and just off the West Coast, there are more of them than you can count.

Purple sea urchins have exploded in recent years off California, covering the ocean floor in what divers describe as a "purple carpet." And they devour kelp: the once-lush forests of seaweed that hugged the coastline are disappearing. Since 2014, 95 percent of the kelp have vanished across a large part of Northern California, most of it bull kelp.

A few years ago, marine biologist Kyle Van Houtan spotted an online video that he couldn't quite believe. It showed a young great white shark, about five-feet long, swimming just off a pier in Central California.

"Our initial reaction was that it can't be true," Van Houtan says. "We know that they're in Southern California and Mexico, not in Monterey."

When they're young, white sharks typically live in the warm waters of Southern California, hundreds of miles from the cold, rough surf up north off Monterey.

As the blackouts in Texas dragged on, millions of residents quickly realized they had more to worry about than trying to light and heat their homes. The water coming out their faucets was no longer safe to drink.

Like falling dominos, infrastructure around Texas, dependent on electricity, began failing in the extreme cold. In Austin, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant shut down due to an electrical failure. That, combined with low water pressure from broken pipes, meant residents had to boil their water.

President Biden is moving quickly on climate change on his first day in office, saying he plans to sign a sweeping executive order to undo many of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks.

As commuters stayed home in 2020 and airplanes remained on the ground, the nationwide slowdown led to a sizable drop in heat-trapping emissions. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10 percent, the largest annual drop since World War II, according to a report by the Rhodium Group.

Still, the climate diet isn't likely to stick. The reductions were largely due to temporary changes during lockdown orders. By the end of the year, Americans were already back to driving and flying more.

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The pandemic is having some unintended consequences on the environment. There's less air pollution. And now scientists are finding that water quality is improving, too. NPR's Lauren Sommer reports.

After record-breaking wildfires this year, thousands of people across the West are still clearing piles of charred debris where their homes once stood in the hope of rebuilding their lives.

With climate change fueling bigger, more destructive wildfires, rebuilding offers an opportunity to create more fire-resistant communities by using building materials that can help homes survive the next blaze.

It's become a near-annual occurrence. A massive wildfire forces thousands of people to flee their homes. Exhausted firefighters warn of its speed and intensity. Smoke smothers cities and states hundreds of miles away.

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Here in California, we've had almost a week of rolling blackouts. And NPR's Lauren Sommer has been asking how to keep this from becoming normal.

They're wiggly and slimy and live inside the flesh of other animals. Now, scientists are making a new case for why they should be saved.

Parasites play crucial roles in ecosystems around the world, making up around 40% of animal species. As wildlife faces the growing threats of climate change and habitat loss, scientists warn that parasites are equally vulnerable.

That's why a team of scientists has released a "global parasite conservation plan."

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President Trump is attacking Democrats in an area where he's trying to win votes - the suburbs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

International climate change negotiations scheduled for later this year are being postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. United Nations officials say a conference is no longer possible, delaying what many hoped would be an ambitious climate agreement among nations.

With tests scarce, epidemiologists are looking at hospitalizations as an indicator of how the novel coronavirus is spreading. But in some of the areas of the country worst-hit by COVID-19, states and counties aren't releasing that data.

The result is an incomplete picture of where the pandemic is surging, even in hotspots such as Washington and California.

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Ever wonder what outdoor cats do all day? Well, it turns out they may be having a big impact on the local ecosystem. NPR's Lauren Sommer has more on a new study.

Winters are warming faster than other seasons across much of the United States. While that may sound like a welcome change for those bundled in scarves and hats, it's causing a cascade of unpredictable impacts in communities across the country.

Temperatures continue to steadily rise around the globe, but that trend isn't spread evenly across the map or even the yearly calendar.