Lauren Sommer

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Coral reef biologists are often asked the same question again and again: "When my kids grow up, will there still be coral reefs?"

"That's a question I ask myself," says Christopher Cornwall, a research fellow at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. "The greatest fear is that all the coral will be gone at a certain point in time."

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.

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.

With just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. But whether it claims the top spot misses the point, climate scientists say. There is no shortage of disquieting statistics about what is happening to the Earth.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

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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TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Each family had their reasons for ending up in harm's way.

For the Harts, it was the chance to have a large backyard in a quiet part of Ashland, Ore. The porch of the Baltimore house was perfect for Scott Harris' barbecue equipment. Kevin Boudreaux had grown up on the bayou and wanted to settle near his childhood home in Cameron, La.

California will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state's drivers to switch to electric cars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that amounts to the most aggressive clean-car policy in the United States. Although it bans the sale of new gas cars and trucks after the 15-year deadline, it will still allow such vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.

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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