Lauren Sommer | New Hampshire Public Radio

Lauren Sommer

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.

Off the coast of England, there's a tiny, wind-swept island with the remains of a lifeboat rescue station from the mid-1800s. The workers who once ran the station on Hilbre Island did something that, unbeknownst to them, has become crucial for understanding the future of a hotter climate: They recorded the tides.

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And for more on what today's executive actions mean, we are joined by Lauren Sommer of NPR's climate team, who's been listening in to that conversation.

Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

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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In addition to being the year of COVID, 2020 was also a year of extreme wildfires and hurricanes, in part because global temperatures were among the hottest ever recorded. Here's NPR's Lauren Sommer.

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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.

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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.

Jennifer Montano watches her two kids' faces as they quietly clamber out of the car in their driveway in Vacaville, Calif. It's been a week since the children were last home, but where their house once stood, there's ash and rubble now.

In August, the Montanos' house was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, one of more than 10,000 structures lost in record-breaking blazes across the West this year.

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The upshot of climate change is that everyone alive is destined to experience unprecedented disasters. The most powerful hurricanes, the most intense wildfires, the most prolonged heat waves and the most frequent outbreaks of new diseases are all in our future. Records will be broken, again and again.

But the predicted destruction is still shocking when it unfolds at the same time.

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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.

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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 on a new front: suburbia.

"They want to eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs," Trump said on a July campaign call.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

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When Kirsten Delegard's grandparents bought their first house in south Minneapolis in 1941, they signed the property's deed, as is standard for any homebuyer.

But the deed came with this line: "No person or persons other than of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy said premises or any part thereof."

With the coronavirus pandemic eroding state budgets across the country, many communities risk having this disaster make them less prepared for looming climate-driven disasters.

Still recovering from devastating wildfires, California was poised to spend billions of dollars to prepare for future fires and other extreme weather disasters. The infrastructure projects, designed to make communities and homes more resistant to wildfire, have long been overlooked, fire experts say.

But with a $54 billion budget deficit, the programs are being put on hold.

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With traffic dramatically down in recent months, the United States is in the middle of an accidental experiment showing what happens to air pollution when millions of people stop driving.

With coronavirus testing still lagging behind targets, health officials are searching for other ways to assess the spread of the outbreak. One possibility? Looking at what we flush.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is often spread through sneezes and coughs, but it also leaves the human body through our waste. Scientists around the world are now testing sewage for the virus, using it as a collective sample to measure infection levels among thousands of people.

As the climate has warmed, Antarctica and Greenland have lost enough ice in the last 16 years to fill Lake Michigan, according to results from a new NASA mission.

Put another way, more than 5,000 gigatons of ice has melted (a gigaton equals one billion metric tons or enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools), which drove up sea levels around the world.

The findings show how the massive ice sheets at the far ends of the planet will affect millions of people on coastlines everywhere.

In early February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was looking for ways to stop the novel coronavirus before it got out of control in the United States.

What does an outdoor cat do all day? According to new research, it could be taking a heavy toll on local wildlife.

A tracking study of more than 900 house cats shows when they kill small birds and mammals, their impact is concentrated in a small area, having a bigger effect than wild predators do.

As coronavirus numbers have ticked steadily upwards in some U.S. states and cities, officials have watched one specific figure to see whether they're facing a flattening curve or runaway outbreak: the doubling rate.

Simply put, it's how many days it takes for the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations or deaths to double. The shorter the time frame, the steeper the curve and the faster the growth.

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