MLML Climate Collective (MCC): Addressing the climate crisis with collective action

by Taylor Azizeh and Basil Darby, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab and MLML Physical Oceanography Lab

These days, “climate change” seems like a buzzword in many settings. However, the rapid and devastating effects of an anthropogenically-shifting climate are at the forefront of scientists’ minds at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML). Underneath the brilliant science happening in our small community and amidst administrative bureaucracy, there is a stormy, ominous cloud hanging over our heads, echoing the same collective thought: What are we going to do about climate change?

As we write this in early September 2022, California is experiencing one of the most extreme heat waves ever recorded in the western United States at this time of year. On the other side of the world, after months of endless monsoons which have resulted in ten times the average rainfall, over one-third of Pakistan is underwater, with massive floods displacing millions of people. Pakistan contributes only 0.6% of global CO2 but is facing devastating repercussions. This is becoming an all-too-familiar story for most of the global south

It’s undeniable that excess carbon dioxide produced by humans through industry, energy production, transportation, and more is affecting the entire planet in innumerable ways, including via heat waves. To quote the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” [1]

The world’s oceans, which cover 70% of the Earth, have acted as a massive carbon sink by absorbing 90% of the excess heat produced by increased carbon emissions [1]. Studying the ocean’s role in global systems is an overarching objective of researchers at MLML. We are a consortium institution that was founded in a spirit of collaboration across CSU campuses and disciplines, with the goal of “advancing marine science, serving society, and transforming public discourse and policy towards sustainable human interaction with the world.”

As such, researchers here cover an incredibly wide range of topics. For the most part, we are acutely interested in how climate change affects marine systems, ranging from mammals to invertebrates to large-scale oceanographic processes (for examples of this, see Table 1).

Table 1. Examples in the literature of how climate change can affect the eight main faculty research groups at MLML.
Lab Sources
Biological Oceanography Gradinger (1996), Thompson et al. (2015)
Chemical Oceanography Altieri & Gedan (2014), Hoegh-Guldberg et al.(2007)
Geological Oceanography Hunt et al. (2013), Trenhaile et al. (2010)
Ichthyology Lab Genner et al. (2010), Pörtner et al. (2007)
Invertebrate Ecology Byrne et al. (2020), Reddin et al. (2020)
Phycology Lab Assis et al. (2018), Krumhansel et al. (2013)
Physical Oceanography Bakun et al. (1990), van Leeuwen et al. (2022), 
Vertebrate Ecology Kovacs & Lydersen (2008), Forcada & Trathan (2009)
It’s happening now… and it’s serious

The negative effects of anthropogenic climate change are innumerable and could range from food shortages and an increased risk of disease to all-out wars over water rights and access (see the IPCC report [1] for a more complete list). It has also been shown that human impacts are causing what is known as the sixth mass extinction [3]. It’s impossible to overstate the implications resulting from this, especially if we continue along the same trajectory of emissions (Figure 1).

The U.S. economy is projected to lose between about 1% to 4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually by 2100 through shifts in mortality, labor, production, agriculture, crime, and coastal storms under a high emissions scenario. The question, therefore, is not “How can we afford to implement solutions?”, but rather: How can we afford not to?

“Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating, and adapting to, climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development.” [2]

Figure 1. Projections of temperature into the future given different emission scenarios. Source: IPCC (2021), Credit: Jenessa Duncombe

One of the first steps in addressing a problem is identifying the root cause. The individual is not to blame. There have been many examples of how companies like Exxon Mobil influence policy by lobbying politicians, producing disinformation campaigns, and actively preventing solutions. And considering US taxpayers are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry with about $20.5 billion per year, one could argue that these companies have been extremely successful. 

A collaborative and collective effort of communities is a powerful tool that we have at our disposal. We must utilize it if we have any chance at addressing these threats to human civilization and our global ecosystem. As daunting as it is to stand up to large corporations, the power really is with the people. Once enough people recognize this, we can start to take steps to enact change.

Moss Landing Marine Labs Climate Collective (MCC)

The brunt of climate impacts will be felt locally at first – which is the most important place we can enact change. Many local governments already have action plans which include reductions in CO2 targets and other measures. Many scientists aim to produce objective, accessible science and aren’t always ready to get involved by making political statements. However, the Moss Landing Marine Labs Climate Collective (MCC) believes that it is no longer just a political issue. We believe that politics, social justice, and science are intimately intertwined (Figure 2). Therefore, we seek to facilitate discussions, increase collaborative learning and research, and push for climate solutions and action plans.

Figure 2. An illustration (IPCC 2022) of the interconnection of climate science, environmental impacts, and subsequent human actions

Combating the climate crisis while doing thesis work, completing coursework, and working potentially 1-3 jobs may seem like an overwhelming or impossible task. Even if you are not a graduate student, working in the job force while slowly seeing the climate crisis unfold can make you feel powerless. But working towards climate action is possible and it must be done. The U.S. is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and this being a global issue means that we are all under an obligation to give what time and energy we can to this.

If we share the burden together, the weight on our shoulders will feel so much lighter. 

What does it mean to you to be part of the Moss Landing Marine Labs community when faced with such an existential threat to human civilization?

It means coming together to face these problems head-on. Everything from advocating divestment from fossil fuels to making local initiatives more accessible to the Moss Landing community. Solutions to the climate crisis need to also address complex issues like race, class, gender, and sexuality.

MCC Mission Statement:

“We are a collective of students from the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory CSU consortium that strives to advocate for the implementation of sustainable university and community-wide practices. We believe that politics, social justice, and science are intimately intertwined, and therefore we created the MLML Climate Collective (MCC) which aims to support action towards combating causes of anthropogenically-driven climate change through tangible measures, such as:

  • Obtaining comprehensive carbon neutrality plans (without carbon offsets) with a detailed timeline from home campuses
  • Creating a dialogue about university divestment in fossil fuels
  • Identifying and implementing sustainable campus living measures, including power generation and conservation, responsible recycling (e.g. food, clothes, electronics), and campus water management
  • Recognition of intersectionality (i.e. class, gender, race, sexuality, etc.) in climate response
  • Providing a safe space and inclusive environment to openly discuss climate issues and ways to support the MLML community”

These next couple of decades will be a challenge for everyone, so we kindly invite you to join us in the MLML Climate Collective. If you are interested in being involved please contact us.

 

References

[1] IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In press.

[2] IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926

[3] Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul R Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo. “Biological Annihilation via the Ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction Signaled by Vertebrate Population Losses and Declines.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - PNAS 114.30 (2017): E6089–E6096.

Gradinger, R. (1995). Climate Change and Biological Oceanography of the Arctic Ocean. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 352(1699), 277–286. doi:10.1098/rsta.1995.0070 

Thompson, Peter A. et al. “Climate Variability Drives Plankton Community Composition Changes: The 2010–2011 El Niño to La Niña Transition Around Australia.” Journal of Plankton Research 37.5 (2015): 966–984.

Altieri, AH, and KB Gedan. “Climate Change and Dead Zones.” Global Change Biology 21.4 (2015): 1395–1406.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O et al. “Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification.” Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 318.5857 (2007): 1737–1742. 

Hunt, James E. et al. “Frequency and Timing of Landslide-Triggered Turbidity Currents Within the Agadir Basin, Offshore NW Africa: Are There Associations with Climate Change, Sea Level Change and Slope Sedimentation Rates?” Marine Geology 346 (2013): 274–291.

Trenhaile, Alan S. “Modeling Cohesive Clay Coast Evolution and Response to Climate Change.” Marine Geology 277.1 (2010): 11–20.

Genner, Martin J. et al. “Body Size-Dependent Responses of a Marine Fish Assemblage to Climate Change and Fishing over a Century-Long Scale.” Global Change Biology 16.2 (2010): 517–527.

Pörtner, Hans O, and Rainer Knust. “Climate Change Affects Marine Fishes Through the Oxygen Limitation of Thermal Tolerance.” Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 315.5808 (2007): 95–97.

Byrne, Maria et al. “Limitations of Cross— and Multigenerational Plasticity for Marine Invertebrates Faced with Global Climate Change.” Global Change Biology 26.1 (2020): 80–102.

Reddin, Carl J., Ádám T. Kocsis, and Wolfgang Kiessling. “Marine Invertebrate Migrations Trace Climate Change over 450 Million Years.” Global Ecology and Biogeography 29.7 (2020): 1280–1282.

Assis, Jorge, Miguel B. Araújo, and Ester A. Serrão. “Projected Climate Changes Threaten Ancient Refugia of Kelp Forests in the North Atlantic.” Global Change Biology 24.1 (2018): e55–e66.

Krumhansl, Kira A, Jean-Sébastien Lauzon-Guay, and Robert E Scheibling. “Modeling Effects of Climate Change and Phase Shifts on Detrital Production of a Kelp Bed.” Ecology (Durham) 95.3 (2014): 763–774. Web.

Bakun, A. “Global Climate Change and Intensification of Coastal Ocean Upwelling.” Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 247.4939 (1990): 198–201.

van Leeuwen, SM et al. “The Mediterranean Rhodes Gyre: Modelled Impacts of Climate Change, Acidification and Fishing.” Marine Ecology Progress Series (Halstenbek) 690 (2022): 31–50. Web.

Kovacs, Kit M, and Christian Lydersen. “Climate Change Impacts on Seals and Whales in the North Atlantic Arctic and Adjacent Shelf Seas.” Science Progress (1916) 91.2 (2008): 117–150. Web.

Forcada, Jaume, and Trathan, PN. “Penguin Responses to Climate Change in the Southern Ocean.” Global Change Biology 15.7 (2009): 1618–1630. Web.

Crippa, M., Guizzardi, D., Solazzo, E., Muntean, M., Schaaf, E., Monforti-Ferrario, F., Banja, M., Olivier, J.G.J., Grassi, G., Rossi, S., Vignati, E.,GHG emissions of all world countries - 2021 Report, EUR 30831 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76-41547-3, doi:10.2760/173513, JRC126363

Does science have market value? Understanding the influence of science on the economy

by Jason Gonsalves, MLML Physical Oceanography Lab

 

Eco-consciousness at first seems like an individual choice without wider implications. Working with Green Seal this past summer revealed the attachment of this behavior to anentire market through a process called ecolabeling. Green Seal generates “rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance” that aim to drive “permanent shifts in the marketplace, empowering better purchasing decisions and rewarding industry innovators.” As an intern in the Science & Standards Department with Green Seal, I witnessed both how widespread these labels are, and how companies concern themselves with being portrayed as ‘environmentally friendly’, so much so that they’d pay to be certified by ecolabeling nonprofits like Green Seal. At a moment where conservation of the environment is increasingly more popular and desired, I began to wonder about how valuable science (and by extension conservation) is to the economy.

A 2020 report from Gutleber states that “science and technology underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization.” The focus of Gutleber’s report is on the efficacy of investing in particle physics, noting “large-scale instruments can also offer positive returns for the economy and society as well as many opportunities for industry and enable co-innovation through international collaboration.” However, these benefits could be extended to other scientific operations as innovation expands in other disciplines. Has the expansion of science into the mainstream world created market value for scientific interpretation?

Does scientific advancement generate revenue?

Globally, there are research initiatives that are contributing considerable economic growth. Examples of this are organizations like the National Institute of Health (NIH), which generates $2.21 in additional economic output for every $1 spent on biomedical innovation. In Australia, government analysts released a report in 2015 recognizing around $145 billion a year in revenue from innovation in science and research.

While preliminary costs are often times large, studies have shown investment into public research yields a high rate of return through scientific breakthroughs. Source: Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academies, 2006)

Other than direct production from research endeavors, improvements in scientific fields have led to the preservation of assets in world resources. A 2015 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report estimated ocean assets (i.e. fishing, aquaculture, tourism, education, shipping) totalling over $24 trillion in value. Anthropogenic effects like habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and climate change have begun to chip away at that value. Advances in ocean sustainability, coastal management and new technology are crucial to maintaining the value of critical resources like the ocean.

The business perspective on science

Investment into scientific innovation is clearly profitable, and the numbers show that the corporate world should build this into their framework. However, over the past 30 years, there has been a considerable decline in corporate R&D on basic research concepts as opposed to late stage development. A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) 2015 report found that companies are still patenting new products, but those patents are being acquired from other places.

Combined internal and acquired publications and patents for science and technology, showing a clear downward trend in internal company R&D. Source: Arora et. al (2015)

It seems corporations have become more interested in the products of science as opposed to scientific applicability. Large-scale R&D has been beneficial to society, but there is a possibility that it is not commercially viable. Looking at it from a business perspective, the biggest obstacle is the viability for shareholder returns. It’s clearly imperative that not only the United States, but the world not lose sight of the importance in advancing scientific discovery. How do we pitch investing in science more effectively to corporations?

Reinvigorating the corporate conversation on scientific innovation

The same Australian study concludes that in societies with an ‘advanced’ economy (i.e., a high standard of living), science underpinned 10-15% of economic activity. In order for continued economic growth, the logical undertone would be that science and technology will require further development. To return to an age of rapid scientific progress and innovation, the conversation must be approached from both an academic and economic standpoint.

Academia has long been considered an ‘ivory tower,’ and accessibility to information from non-scientists has been difficult for a number of years. This mentality created a gap in trust and accountability between the public and scientists, but recent data shows that could be changing. Pew Research Center’s 2020 polling data shows that 73% of Americans believe science has positively impacted society, and 82% expect future developments to also be impactful. Public confidence in scientists has also increased, the same data noting 35% of Americans fully trust scientists (up from 29% in 2016) and 51% have a fair amount of trust for scientists.

There is still more work to be done about the transparency of science, however, with that same 2020 polling data showing two-in-ten or fewer Americans don’t believe scientists are transparent about their conflicts of interest, and less than two-in-ten Americans believe scientists admit and take responsibility for their mistakes. This seems to be remedied in the study, with 57% of Americans saying they trust scientists more when data is publicly available.

Solving the divide between the public and the scientific community should restore scientific advancement to the forefront of social and economic development. Only time will tell if the efforts scientists are currently making will be enough to shorten that gap.

Fourteen students defend thesis research in 2021!

By Emily Montgomery, MLML Phycology Lab

2021 was a complex year to be a graduate student, with global societal issues demanding our attention and energy alongside our usual scientific workload. The emergence of the COVID-19 vaccines brought with it the hope of being able to safely socialize in-person with our friends and loved ones again. The resilient Moss community was able to return to some in-person activities in the Fall of 2021, including hosting the first lab Halloween party since 2019!

During this rollercoaster of a year, 14 students successfully defended their MLML theses virtually via Zoom. Please join me in congratulating the following students:

  • Ann Bishop, Phycology Lab
  • Taylor Eddy, Invertebrate Zoology Lab
  • Bonnie Brown, Fisheries and Conservation Biology Lab
  • Matthew Jew, Ichthyology Lab
  • Justin Cordova, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Gregory Bongey, Geological Oceanography Lab
  • Jennifer Tackaberry, Vertebrate Ecology Lab
  • Sophie Bernstein, Ichthyology Lab
  • Rachel Brooks, Ichthyology Lab
  • Holly Doerr, Ichthyology Lab
  • Melissa Naugle, Invertebrate Ecology Lab
  • Kristen Saksa, Ichthyology Lab
  • Jacquie Chisholm, Physical Oceanography Lab
  • Amanda Camarato, Physical Oceanography Lab

Read below for pictures of the graduates, and explore the links to their thesis announcement posts with more info about their projects and the YouTube recordings of their defenses.

Check out posts commemorating past defenders written by MLML alumna June Shrestha: 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.

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Our Supercharge Experience: The Logan Lab

By Arie Dash, CSUMB Logan Lab

 

The Logan Lab is the Marine Environmental Physiology Lab at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). We are a mix of graduate and undergraduate students under the guidance of Dr. Cheryl Logan, and we’re focused on evaluating the physiological responses of marine fish and invertebrates to the current and predicted effects of climate change. Many of our projects rely on analyzing large environmental, physiological, or genomic datasets but most of us do not have formal training in data science.

Over time, we’ve developed several shared workflows, but our code, documentation, and data management practices have not always been optimal. Luckily, this challenge is not unique to our lab and we decided to undertake Openscapes’ 10-week Supercharge plan during the 2020 Fall semester to learn more about current open science best practices. We dedicated a number of our regularly scheduled weekly lab meetings to the Openscapes modules with different combinations of students taking the lead each time.

While we didn’t fully finish the 10-week plan, we made good progress in several areas. At the individual level, most of us started using GitHub to work collaboratively (no more emailing code back and forth!) and started intentionally organizing our files so that others, including our future selves, can more easily use them. We also found that collectively learning about the techniques was helpful when approaching concepts we weren’t familiar with, and as a result, our coding ability has increased tremendously!

The Logan Lab at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB)

As a lab, we wrote a formal code of conduct and created a lab-wide Github page. Most of our sessions were heavily discussion based, which was very helpful for getting everyone up to the same speed and learning about the topics, but we lacked time to actually implement all that we learned. As a result, while many of us made individual progress, most of the lab-wide goals like a shared GitHub page and a formalized onboarding and offboarding process still have work to be done.

In the current 2-month Champions Program, we are excited to learn more advanced techniques for what we’ve already implemented, discuss data management approaches with different CSU labs, and collaboratively implement more open science best practices. This will be an ongoing process, but we hope that by the end of the workshop we will be able to work more efficiently and collaboratively, and that we can further our lab goal of fostering a supportive and inclusive community approach to open science.

Happy World Oceans Day!

By Kali Prescott, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

A day near and dear to everyone here at MLML. Here is a brief history on World Ocean Day and a link to the website!

World Ocean Day was first proposed by Canada in 1992 at the Earth Summit; however, it wasn't until 2002 that a multi-national effort began to organize World Ocean Day as a global day of action. In it's first year (2003), World Ocean Day saw 25 events organized in 15 countries. 16 years later in 2019 over 140 countries organized over 2000 events in support of ocean conservation and awareness. Although the covid-19 pandemic nixed in person events, over 454 million people engaged with World Ocean Day during June of 2020. See https://worldoceanday.org/ for more info.

For us here a MLML, World Ocean Day means more visibility and more opportunities to share our research with our communities. We'd love to see what our MLML community is up to so share your research on social media!

P.S. Don't forget to tell your friends that the MLML Open House Crowdfunding Campaign is LIVE! Make sure they know to get their hands on this years Open House T-shirt design below!

 

Dissonance in science communication: Taking an evidence-based approach to discussing climate science

By Jason Gonsalves, MLML Physical Oceanography Lab

 

You don’t have to be actively involved in the larger national discussion to know that climate change is an increasingly sensitive topic, even in 2021. As unbelievable as it may sound, the chances of someone in your social circle not being under the impression that global warming is happening are shockingly high. In a 2020 survey, an estimated 72% of Americans think global warming is happening right now. When adjusting to a more specific question, that same survey showed that only 57% of Americans believe global warming is occurring as a result of human activities.

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Microplastics in Monterey Bay

By Bri Sotkovsky, MLML Geological Oceanography Lab

 

What are microplastics?

Hi there! My name is Bri and for my graduate thesis work at Moss Landing Marine Labs I plan to focus on microplastics in the beach habitat, and how it may be affecting the health of Monterey Bay’s ecosystem. This blog will walk you through an overview of microplastics and why this research is important. “One study estimated there are 15 to 51 trillion microplastics particles floating on the surface of the oceans. A trillion is one thousand billion. A trillion seconds is nearly 32,000 years” (National Geographic).

Microplastics pollute many aquatic ecosystems, but due to their small size, they often find themselves exempt from regulations that attempt to maintain the health of said aquatic ecosystems. Micro, coming from the Greek prefix meaning small (less than 5 mm to be precise) and plastics, also derived from the Greek word ''plastikos'' meaning fit for moulding, can come from a wide range of products with varying levels of semi- or fully synthetic polymers (materials constituted of long molecular chains (macromolecules) and organic connections obtained through processing of natural products or through synthesis of primary materials from oil, gas, or coal).

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What climate change means for water management in California and what you can do to help

By Allie Margulies, SFSU Estuary & Ocean Science Center

Looking back on the past few years, it feels as though Californians have faced a climate related crisis almost every year, whether it’s related to floods, fires, or drought. Within the past decade, many of us have become increasingly aware of our water usage after experiencing one of the most extreme multi-year droughts on record from 2012 to 2016. Then, in 2017 we experienced a record-breaking flood year. Now we are officially in another drought (Figure 1). Personally, I know I have made many permanent changes to my daily life in order to save water, such as making more informed food choices and taking shorter showers. Unfortunately, our problem is likely to get worse.

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Climate Change and the Legacy of Moss Landing

By Erick Partida, MLML Chemical Oceanography Lab

 

One of the many points of pride that Moss Landing Marine Laboratories holds up is the legacy of our former director Dr. John H. Martin, and his formulation of the Iron Hypothesis. This hypothesis, and the experiments conducted to prove the hypothesis transformed our understanding of oceanography as well as our understanding of climate change and earth’s history.

 

John Martin’s Iron Hypothesis

Throughout the ocean, the growth of microscopic plants, or micro-algae in a particular region is controlled primarily by the availability of nutrients (things like nitrate and phosphate that are like food to a plant) within that region. These micro-algae are extremely important, not only for oxygen production but for the uptake of the greenhouse gas, CO2 from our atmosphere, and their eventual transfer of that carbon to the deep ocean. This process of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is a vital component controlling the earth’s climate, and its function relies almost entirely on the availability of nutrients.

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The other pandemic: linking COVID-19 and climate change

By Grace Teranishi, MLML Ichthyology Lab

Salinas, CA (Summer 2020)

By now we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the haze and the smell of smoke, the ash that dusts our cars, our patios, our coats. It’s August, night. My friends have invited me over to drink beer and observe the glare of the River Fire ebb and flow over the hills across the highway. Within the week they’ll receive an evacuation order.

With both COVID-19 and environmental crises to convulse the world, this past year has witnessed its fair share of fires—literal and figurative—disrupting homes, livelihoods, social norms, and mental stabilities. Unsurprisingly, we find increasing evidence of how one pandemic (COVID) interacts with and bears resemblance to another, even deadlier one: climate change.

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