Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Climate change on the world stage
August 2, 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: Olympic-sized impacts. With the Summer Olympics underway in Tokyo, extreme heat in the region has garnered nearly as much attention as the athletic performances. So far, daily temperatures have ranged from the high 80s to low 90s, but consistently high humidity makes it feel more like 100°F. And the impacts of the heat on arguably the world’s healthiest individuals have been substantial. Russian archer Svetlana Gomboeva fainted after competing, several men’s triathlon competitors collapsed in the heat, Spain’s Paula Badosa had to forfeit her game after suffering heat stroke during her match, and officials have announced mandatory medical timeouts throughout tennis matches due to the risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
A May report from the British Association for Sustainable Sport found that the mean temperature in Tokyo has climbed by nearly 3°C since 1900—more than three times faster than the global average—but the threat of extreme heat is not isolated to Japan. With a continued global reliance on fossil fuels, scientists warn that rising planetary temperatures will make it impossible for all but a handful of cities around the world to host the Summer Games by 2085.
And the impacts of climate change this week extended far beyond Tokyo. Fires in the U.S. have already burned three million acres this year—an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. In Madagascar, the world’s first-ever famine caused solely by climate change has taken hold, leaving 1.5 million people in outright famine or facing food insecurity and forced to survive on cactus, wild leaves and locusts. In Siberia, more than 250 wildfires have resulted in what scientists have termed an “airpocalypse,” with air quality measuring 17 times worse than even world’s most polluted cities. And powerful monsoons near the Bay of Bengal have caused days of flooding and landslides, killing more than 160 people in India and damaging or destroying an estimated 2,500 Rohingya refugee shelters in Bangladesh.
In the face of intensifying climate-fueled disasters in every region of the globe, the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels is clear. While agreement on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate this week is an important step forward, it still faces final votes in both the House and Senate, and the meat of the climate provisions are yet to come in a separate, $3.5 trillion bill Democrats hope to push through this fall over the objection of Republicans.
Meanwhile, G20 environment ministers ended their talks in Italy this week deadlocked on the phaseout of coal-fired power generation, thanks to countries including China, India, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia objecting. The ministers will revisit the issue in October, just before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. In the meantime, coal power plants are currently projected to increase by 3 percent globally and potentially reach an all-time high in 2022, showing that the stakes and need for decisive action during this Fall’s climate negotiations could not be higher.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
Athletes competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics are facing their biggest competition from the brutal heat and humidity, causing one athlete to forfeit her match after suffering heat stroke and others to faint or collapse after finishing their events. (Our Daily Planet)
Researchers found that only a fraction of cities will remain “low-risk” for hosting the Summer Olympics by 2085 due to rising global temperatures, leaving many questions about the future of the Olympic Games in a world beset by the climate crisis. (Popular Science)
Madagascar is facing the world’s first-ever famine caused solely by climate change, with more than 1.5 million people in famine or facing food insecurity due to erratic weather patterns, high temperatures and drought. (Time)
Scientists declared an “airpocalypse” in Siberia this week after toxic wildfire smoke caused air quality readings more than 17 times worse than the average in even the most polluted cities of China and India, with some experts saying this could be one of the worst air quality events in human history. (The Guardian)
Powerful monsoons near the Bay of Bengal have caused days of flooding and landslides, killing more than 160 people in India and damaging or destroying an estimated 2,500 Rohingya refugee shelters in Bangladesh. (AP, The New York Times)
Wildfires this year have burned nearly three million acres of land in the U.S.–more area than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined–with 81 active fires accounting for over half of the burned area. (CNN)
Trout populations are down over 75 percent in some parts of the U.S. as warming waters lead to mass die-offs of fish and threaten fishing industries in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. (Our Daily Planet)
The conditions are brutal. I’ve played tennis professionally for 20 years now and I’ve never faced these kind of conditions in my entire life.”
-Tennis star Novak Djokovic
Communities of color are disproportionately affected by failing wastewater infrastructure under increased strain due to climate-induced weather events, causing backed up sewage that poses risks of mold, illness and high costs of repair. (Grist)
Politics & Economy
A $1 trillion infrastructure deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday dedicates significant funding to President Biden’s environmental agenda, including a federal expenditure on EV charging stations and the largest investment in public transit and clean water systems in U.S. history. (The New York Times)
Despite the need for huge cuts in coal-fired power generation to keep Paris Agreement goals within reach, a meeting of G20 environment ministers last week ended without an agreement to phase out global coal plants after objections from Chinese, Indian and Russian officials. (Axios)
Coffee prices surged 17 percent this week after Brazil’s worst frost in two decades wiped out coffee trees, exemplifying how climate-fueled extreme weather events at both ends of the spectrum are battering the global food supply. (Bloomberg)
A new analysis found that countries taking action to reach Paris Agreement goals could increase jobs in the energy industry by nearly 50 percent, offsetting jobs lost as countries move away from fossil fuels. (Our Daily Planet)
Despite its history popularizing environmentally friendly hybrid and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, Toyota is now lobbying extensively against global climate regulations including EV sale requirements, fuel efficiency rules and carbon taxes, among others, as it faces growing threats to its global market share. (The New York Times)
In a first-in-the-nation decision, Washington state’s Whatcom County has banned all new fossil fuel projects, including the development of refineries, coal-fired power plants and other related fossil fuel infrastructure. (The Guardian)
Israel has announced plans to cut 85 percent of carbon emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of cutting emissions 27 percent by 2030. (BBC)
Check out how the Olympic medals for this year’s games were made for the first time from recycled electronics, as the Japanese public donated over 47,000 tons of electronics and over 5 million cell phones for the effort.
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.