Climate, Health and Equity Brief
1,000-year rains and their deadly consequences
August 28, 2022
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: Inundated. In just the last five weeks, a whopping five one-in-1,000-year rain events have pummeled the United States. The events, described by scientists as flash flooding episodes with just a 0.1% probability of happening annually, have already struck parts of California, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri this month. And on Monday, parts of Texas’ Dallas-Fort Worth area saw up to 16 inches of rainfall in 24 hours, stranding residents, washing out roads and leaving entire neighborhoods under water.
Important to note is that all five states had been experiencing severe drought immediately before the flash floods set in. And while a sudden deluge of water may seem like welcome relief, the “weather whiplash” from one extreme to another actually increases vulnerability. Amid abnormally dry conditions, topsoil hardens and dries out, making it significantly easier for water to run off rather than absorb into the soil and trigger widespread, supercharged flooding.
Unfortunately, the record-setting floods in Texas are far from the only such event this week. In central Mississippi, torrential rain and flooding destroyed portions of highway and derailed a train, and flash floods across Arizona and New Mexico were so strong and sudden that many national park visitors were either caught up in fast-moving currents or stranded, prompting hundreds of emergency rescues.
Despite intensifying climate impacts in all regions of the country, a new AP poll released this week suggests that Americans are less concerned about the climate crisis today than they were three years ago—which scientists say is most likely a reflection of the competing, immediate pressures of COVID, inflation, and a rising concern about American political division. Still, the planetary crisis intensifies.
The same poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that governments and corporations—rather than individuals—hold primary responsibility for tackling climate change. The U.S. government took a massive step forward in shouldering that responsibility this month with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will invest $369 billion in climate solutions, and experts now say could cut the social costs of climate change by up to $1.9 trillion by 2050. Unfortunately, big industries are fighting climate regulations harder than ever, with fossil fuel and farming interests voicing fierce opposition this week to proposed SEC rules that would require large companies to publicly report their emissions and climate vulnerabilities.
It goes without saying that the consequences of corporate inaction and unabated emissions make waves beyond the nation’s borders—and in countries with little ability to adapt recover. Historic monsoon rains and flooding in Pakistan have killed nearly 1,000 people in recent weeks—and while the displacement tally continues, at least one million people are already confirmed homeless in the country’s Sindh province alone.
— Matt and Traci
Torrential downpours have resulted in flash flood warnings impacting at least 13 million Americans this week, creating life-threatening conditions that have submerged vehicles and homes, swept hikers off their feet, destroyed highways, derailed trains and required hundreds of life-saving rescues. (CNN, The Guardian)
Unprecedented summer monsoons in Pakistan have delivered 780% more August rainfall than average in some regions, triggering massive floods that have battered more than 30 million residents, killed more than 900 people, damaged nearly 500,000 homes and sent hundreds of thousands of people to relief camps. (Reuters)
“Weather whiplash” is plaguing communities across the U.S. as increased warming drives heavy rains in areas suffering from severe drought, such as Dallas-Fort Worth—which experienced the fifth “1,000-year” flash flood in the U.S. this year and recorded more than nine inches of rain in just 24 hours. (NBC News, The Washington Post)
An alarming new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor revealed that extreme drought conditions are expanding and intensifying rapidly across the northeastern U.S., with low rainfall, shrinking rivers and depleting reservoirs leaving New England farmers struggling to grow food crops, greatly affecting their income. (CNN)
Three to five extra inches of rainfall from climate change can make the difference between your lawn getting soaked and your house getting flooded leaving it uninhabitable.”
– Kevin Smiley sociologist at Louisiana State University
The Movement for Black Lives launched the Black Hive initiative, which unites 200 Black environmental leaders and organizers working towards equitable climate solutions for Black Americans who have disproportionately faced climate and environmental impacts. (AP)
A new study highlights how higher nighttime temperatures are increasing human vulnerability to infectious diseases, particularly among elderly and lower-income communities that lack reliable access to air conditioning. (The Hill)
Politics & Economy
An initial analysis by the White House Office of Management and Budget estimates that in addition to reducing carbon emissions by 40% 2030, the Inflation Reduction Act could curb the social costs of climate change—or the economic impact that would occur from a future level of carbon pollution—by up to $1.9 trillion by 2050. (CNBC)
In response to power grid vulnerability in the face of extreme heat and drought, Chinese authorities have implemented emergency measures—including cutting industrial power, dimming city lights, and closing electric vehicle recharging stations—that have had a cascading effect on imports around the world. (Financial Times)
With the U.S. and China both enduring inflation intensified by supply chain interruptions due to extreme weather, climate advocates are optimistic that the Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion investment in green manufacturing will fuel competition between the two countries for global leadership on climate. (Axios, Politico)
Fossil fuel and agriculture lobbies are fiercely opposing new SEC rules that would require publicly traded companies to report their vulnerabilities to climate change, their estimated emissions, and more detailed information about their green investment claims. (Inside Climate News)
A new poll from the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that fewer Americans believe they can personally impact climate change, think they will be personally impacted by climate change, or believe that individuals are responsible for addressing the issue compared to three years ago. (AP)
Life as We Know It
Due to last summer’s heat dome over Canada, France’s Dijon mustard manufacturers could only get half of their usual mustard seed supply from their largest importer, resulting in factories running at reduced capacity and empty mustard shelves across the country. (NPR)
Underwater artifacts continue to re-emerge around the world as worsening droughts plunge water levels globally, with newly exposed findings including Nazi World War II warships, 600-year-old Buddhist statues, 7,000-year-old ruins and even dinosaur tracks. (USA Today)
In a historic vote for both the U.S. and the world, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed strict new rules this week banning the sale of new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035, a move that has major implications for the US car market given the size of California’s economy and the likelihood that other states will move to implement similar rules. (CNN)
Hawaii plans to shut down its only remaining coal plant next week and fully transition to producing renewable power and storing it in batteries. (Canary Media)
Check out the National Weather Service’s Interactive Flood Information Map, which provides up-to-date information on flooding throughout the U.S. and tips for residents at risk to better protect their lives and property.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes, Thomas Baer, Quincy Tichenor, Sharde Olabanji and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.