Climate, Health and Equity Brief
America: Under water, on fire and economically besieged
September 7, 2021
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: America under siege. From destructive winds to torrential flooding and harrowing wildfires, tens of millions of Americans bore the brunt of a fresh string of climate-driven disasters across the country this week.
In the face of an already hyperactive storm season, Hurricane Ida wrought devastation from Louisiana to New York. Forceful winds damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in the south, knocked out power to more than a million homes in New Orleans amid severe summer heat, and set off an extremely rare tornado in New Jersey that ripped several structures to shreds. Record-breaking Ida rainfall also triggered deadly flooding that inundated neighborhoods, roadways, and the New York City subway system.
Scientists confirm that Ida’s jarring impacts simply could not have been possible without the influence of climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that rising ocean temperatures have created conditions ripe for intense storm activity, with parts of the Gulf of Mexico already 3-5°F higher than last-century averages. Storm systems draw their energy from warm ocean water, which in this case provided fuel for Ida to strengthen from a Category 1 to a Category 4 in less than 24 hours, packing 150-mph winds just in time to wreak havoc as it made landfall in the U.S.
Meanwhile, in California, six of the seven largest fires in recorded history have occurred in just the last 12 months. Intense heat and bone-dry terrain severely dehydrated by the state’s two-year drought have helped provide unprecedented fuel for these explosive blazes. Heat persisting overnight is also supercharging fire spread, and roads, highways, and other traditional fire breaks are failing to stop the flames. All told, 2,600 square miles of forest and land have already burned so far this year in the state, with the ever-growing fire season still underway.
Climate change deniers would be wise to take note that extreme weather events cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion last year alone—more than quadruple the average just three decades ago. Without rapid action and significant commitments to get our emissions in check, this economic devastation—among other deadly impacts—will only continue to grow.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
After Hurricane Ida’s fierce winds and torrential rainfall caused seven deaths and left more than a million customers without power in Louisiana, the storm’s remnants continued the destruction in the northeast this week, inundating the region in flash floods that have killed 43 people so far. (The Washington Post, The New York Times)
California’s Caldor Fire has destroyed 800 structures and burned more than 200,000 acres so far, causing mandatory evacuation orders in the Lake Tahoe area forcing more than 50,000 residents to leave their homes with no timeline for return. (San Francisco Chronicle, CNN)
New research found that increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide, largely attributed to diesel vehicles and the burning of fossil fuels, led to a 32 percent increase in the need for community-based mental health treatment. (The Guardian)
Climate change is causing rising wet-bulb temperatures that make it impossible for humans to cool off fast enough to prevent overheating, forcing the heart and kidneys to work harder and eventually leading to organ failure. (The Washington Post)
Hurricane Ida strengthened from a category one to a category four hurricane in 24 hours, in part due to the hotter-than-average Gulf waters and abundance of moisture in the atmosphere, both symptoms of the climate crisis. (The New York Times, Axios)
Climate change is reducing snowpack and drying out mountain forests at high elevations, causing up to 11 percent more forest across the West to be susceptible to wildfires and empowering the flames to reach abnormal heights. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Six of the seven largest fires in California history have occurred within the past year, prompting the Governor to close 20 million acres of national forest land to public access for the Labor Day weekend. (San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee)
A new report by NOAA states that 2020 saw the highest annual increase in ocean concentrations of methane, record-breaking sea level rise, and oceans absorbing unparalleled amounts of carbon dioxide, acidifying the ocean and threatening aquatic life on a massive scale. (CNBC)
Twenty-five years ago, people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse.”
A new EPA report has found that American Indians and Alaska Natives are 48 percent more likely to live in flood-prone areas due to rising sea levels, Latinos are 43 percent more likely to live in areas that will lose work hours due to unbearable heat, and Black people will suffer higher mortality rates due to the disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis. (The Washington Post)
Politics & Economy
A new study found that extreme weather cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion last year, reporting that the average costs of extreme weather events have more than quadrupled since the 1980s. (Center for American Progress)
A federal judge reversed a rule by the Trump administration that scaled back federal protections for streams, marshes and wetlands, citing “serious environmental harm.” (The Washington Post)
A new autonomous, zero-emission cargo ship is set to sail in Norway by the end of the year, the first fully electric cargo ship of its kind. (CNN)
The Department of Health and Human Services has established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, recognizing the effects of the climate crisis as a public-health issue and seeking to address disproportionate climate impacts and health inequities. (The Wall Street Journal)
Algeria, the last country to use leaded petrol, ended its use of the toxic gas last month, which the UN says will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save global economies $2.4 trillion annually. (Al Jazeera)
Check out this interactive story that explains why wildfires in the California Sierra are climbing higher than ever before.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes, Stefana Simonetto and Sydney Lykins. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.