Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Air, rivers, insects, cacti, and reasons for hope
April 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: Yin and yang. Four new reports timed for release during Earth Week paint a grim picture of our Mother’s current state of affairs. First, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report found that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. air pollution rose sharply from 2018-2020, a phenomenon they attribute in large part to significant increases in both wildfire smoke and online shopping deliveries—and therefore trucks on the road—during that time frame.
The report also found that more than 137 million Americans currently live in counties with failing air quality grades due to pollutants, fine particles and/or ozone—an increase of 2 million since last year—and that people of color are 3.6 times more likely than white people to live in a county with failing grades.
Second, a new report revealed that 10 American rivers that cross 20 states—all of which are critical sources of water, food and energy for millions of residents—are in a state of crisis brought on by intensifying drought, human-made dams, industrial pollution, and Trump-era rollbacks to the Clean Water Act.
Third, a study published in the journal Nature and based on what is believed to be the largest and most quantitative global study of its kind found that insect populations are declining by as much as 50% in some regions due to intensifying heat. Insects are vital to the health of our ecosystems—they pollinate flowers and food crops, aerate soil, consume biological waste, keep pest insect populations in check, and serve as the sole food source for many reptiles, birds, and mammals—making these findings especially troubling.
Finally, another Nature study found that more than half of the planet’s cactus species—which are among the heartiest plants on the planet—will face a greater risk of extinction by mid-century as a result of increased heat and intensifying drought.
While action is urgently needed to address these and dozens of other climate-related issues, there has been progress that offers hope this Earth Week. We now have the technologies and know-how to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. More than 700 cities in 53 countries have set ambitious net-zero targets. The costs for renewable energy are becoming increasingly competitive, driving strong growth in the sector. The transition to electric transport is underway and gaining traction. And poll after poll shows that a majority of people are taking the climate crisis seriously and demanding more from corporations and their elected leaders on climate.
Our plan? Take heart, stay committed, stay angry, be optimistic, keep speaking out, keep organizing, and keep living every aspect of our lives like every single day is Earth Day
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
A new report by the American Lung Association revealed a sharp uptick in U.S. pollution levels from 2018-2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon they attribute in part to significant increases in both wildfire smoke and online shopping deliveries over the past five years. (CNN)
As extreme weather brings new dangers to workplaces once considered safe, workplace watchdog OSHA remains woefully unprepared, lacking any regulations on heat and providing minimal oversight with fewer than 1,000 inspectors for 10 million worksites nationwide. (Mother Jones)
America Rivers’ 2022 list of endangered rivers spotlights 10 now in a state of crisis brought on by worsening droughts, human-made dams and industrial pollution, threatening vital sources of water, food and energy in 20 states. (CNN)
New findings published in the journal Nature revealed that intense warming and heavy agriculture and pesticide use are driving a 50% insect decline in some regions, alarming scientists given the vital role of insects in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. (NBC News)
Another Nature study found that 60 percent of cactus species—plants characterized by their ability to thrive in dry conditions—will be at greater risk of extinction by 2050 as global temperatures continue to rise. (The New York Times)
A recent one-hour-long methane leak from an unregulated Texas natural gas pipeline is estimated to have had similar warming impacts to the annual emissions of 16,000 cars, demonstrating the devastating effects even brief methane leaks can have. (Bloomberg)
We have the technology to power our future in ways that don’t threaten our health or poison our planet. Let’s choose to use it.”
– Denis Hayes, Earth Day Founder
A recent analysis found that UN regulations on the international plastic waste trade have been ineffective, as multiple wealthy western countries have continued to ship hundreds of millions of tons of plastic to developing countries, adding to the toxic pollution burden on their populations and their ecosystems. (Grist)
Politics & Economy
The Biden Administration has reinstated climate safeguards previously gutted by President Trump that require agencies to assess whether new infrastructure will increase emissions, fragment wildlife habitats, or burden communities that have already faced disproportionate amounts of pollution. (The Washington Post)
Following a ruling by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana, the Biden administration will soon begin the sale of onshore drilling leases on 225 square miles of Federal land—80% less than proposed by industry, and with a 50% hike in royalty rates—in a move that has angered environmentalists and oil executives alike. (NPR)
China increased its coal-mining capacity by an amount greater than all the coal produced in Western Europe in Q4 2021 alone and has indicated coal will remain a mainstay of the country’s power supply for the foreseeable future, dealing a blow to global efforts to tackle the climate crisis. (The New York Times)
Life as We Know It
Gleason Beach, California, will serve as the state’s test case for a $26 million “managed retreat” project to relocate homes, buildings and other infrastructure further inland as the city’s coastline erodes due to rising sea levels and more powerful, climate-fueled wave surges. (The San Francisco Chronicle)
A California-based consultancy group has developed a playbook for Hollywood storytellers to incorporate climate change proactively and accurately into scripts. (AP News)
Climate activists held Earth Day protests in dozens of cities Friday to press for halting new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, banning European imports of Russian oil and gas, urging more media coverage of the climate crisis. (Reuters)
More than two dozen U.S. cities, counties and states are suing ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips, saying they waged a disinformation campaign about climate change and should help fund necessary efforts to mitigate and adapt to the resulting crisis. (CBS News)
Looking for a way to give back? Visit the official Earth Day Take Action page, which lists numerous ways you can make your voice heard.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes, Sharde Olabanji, Adrian Plaisance and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.