Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Deadly heat, enormous wildfires and a new record.
May 12, 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: Unprecedented. An intense and widespread heatwave has gripped India and Pakistan in recent weeks, blanketing the region in some of the highest temperatures ever recorded on Earth for April. Land-surface temperatures reached as high as 140°F, and more than 1 billion people—the vast majority of whom have no air conditioning—have now endured temperatures over 100°F for weeks on end.
While South Asia is a region known for high temperatures, this event has hit differently. Such prolonged, extreme heat in the region is “unprecedented” in March and April. Dozens of people have been reported dead of heat-related illness, though experts believe that number is vastly underreported. Schools have been forced to cancel classes, toxic landfills are catching fire, and staple crops are at risk of failing amidst a global food shortage. And in areas where the intense heat is coupled with high humidity, the combination risks raising the so-called “wet bulb” temperature to 95°F—the level at which the human body can no longer gain any cooling benefit from sweating and begins to shut down.
While India already gets 70% of its power from coal, demand for electricity has been so high in recent weeks that the government has halted passenger train service to free the tracks for additional coal shipments to power plants, which of course will further exacerbate emissions. Historically speaking, however, it is the United States, Europe (collectively), Russia and increasingly China that bear the greatest responsibility for the climate crisis, not the largely poverty-stricken populations now facing its most deadly and inescapable impacts.
Another unseasonable and tragic event currently plaguing the planet is the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak megafire in New Mexico, which has grown to nearly four times the size of Washington, DC, destroyed hundreds of homes and is only 20% contained as of this writing. An estimated 300,000 acres have burned so far this year in the state—more than the last two years combined—even though New Mexico’s fire season doesn’t peak until June.
Coinciding diabolically with these unseasonal events is a new and disturbing planetary record. Despite the pandemic and renewed country pledges to cut emissions, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 420 parts per million last month, which is well above the 280-350 ppm scientists say is ideal for human life, certified as the highest level ever recorded, and estimated to be the highest in the last 4.5 million years.
Carbon dioxide lasts hundreds to even thousands of years in the atmosphere, and researchers say that recent year-to-year growth in our planetary CO2 concentrations is unprecedented. As a result, “unprecedented” no longer describes the extreme and deadly climate impacts that are increasingly becoming the new normal.
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
The unseasonal and unrelenting heatwave in South Asia continues, with land surface temperatures reaching 140°F in parts of India and the intense heat closing schools, destroying crops, straining energy supplies and ‘testing the limits of human survivability.’ (Common Dreams)
England’s University of East Anglia is among the first in the UK to start a campus program aimed at addressing climate anxiety, including discussion groups to address hopelessness and an eight-week course on how to turn feelings of despair and anger into ‘hopeful action.’ (BBC)
The Calf Canyon-Hermit’s Peak fire in New Mexico—the largest so far this year in the U.S.—has grown to more than triple the size of Washington D.C. and threatened the evacuation of 15,000 homes despite the state’s fire season having yet to peak. (The Washington Post)
New data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography revealed that atmospheric CO2 levels reached the highest levels ever recorded in April, with researchers estimating May will be even higher despite global efforts to reduce emissions. (Axios)
A recent investigation revealed that the U.S has become the world’s second-largest consumer of Brazilian beef—purchasing over 320 million pounds last year alone—and as a result is a primary accomplice in the further clear-cutting of the Amazon rainforest for cattle ranching. (The Washington Post)
Controlled burns are becoming a less viable option to contain extended wildfire seasons throughout the U.S. as unpredictable rain patterns, exceptionally dry conditions and strong winds prevent officials from carrying out containment fires safely. (The New York Times)
A new analysis revealed that Americans recycled only around 6% of plastics in 2021—down nearly 3% compared to 2018—underscoring the need for consumer brands and governments to adopt policies that reduce the production and usage of plastics. (The Washington Post)
Anxiety is a sensible response to what we’re facing. Everyone, everything and every place you love is at stake.”
– Katharine Hayhoe, The Nature Conservancy
Insurers are reassessing their risk modeling practices after suffering tens of billions of dollars in losses from severe weather events in recent years, leaving homeowners facing escalating property insurance premiums and creating hardship for retirees reliant on fixed incomes. (The New York Times)
Bronzeville, a neighborhood considered Chicago’s center of Black history and culture, will become the first U.S neighborhood fully supported by a sustainable microgrid of solar panels, generators, and batteries that will provide critical support to its residents. (Canary Media)
Politics & Economy
As part of its goal to ensure that electric vehicles make up 50% of all new vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030, the Biden Administration announced it will distribute $3.1 billion in grant funding to bolster domestic battery production. (CNBC)
This week’s Roe v. Wade revelation from the Supreme Court has alarmed environmentalists who fear the Court’s willingness to cast aside long-standing legal precedent to achieve right-leaning political goals spells trouble for forthcoming environmental cases. (The Washington Post)
Sixteen states, the District of Columbia and several environmental groups are suing the U.S. Postal Service for using “faulty assumptions and miscalculations” on environmental impact to justify an $11.3 billion mail truck fleet purchase, 90% of which will be made up of gas-powered vehicles. (The Washington Post)
Life as We Know It
Las Vegas, Nevada has begun the implementation of a new law that requires the removal of lawns in order to reduce water consumption and shift to landscaping that is sustainable in an increasingly hot and dry environment. (The New York Times)
Environmental advocates are increasingly touting the benefits of—and need for—induction cookstoves in homes as they waste very little heat, release zero toxic gases, and emit far less CO2 than gas stoves. (Canary Media)
With increasing scientific consensus that the need to remove vast amounts of CO2 from the air is now “unavoidable,” Google, Elon Musk and a host of private equity investors have committed more than $2 billion to startups that propose carbon removal solutions. (Bloomberg)
A $1 billion donation to Stanford—the second-largest donation to any U.S. university in history—will launch a new climate school that will offer full degree programs and a sustainability accelerator program focused on addressing urgent societal climate challenges. (San Francisco Chronicle)
California briefly achieved 100% renewable electricity generation from sources including solar and wind for the first time over the weekend, highlighting the state’s potential to rely solely on clean energy by 2030 with political support and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Want to see which countries have historically contributed the most to the climate crisis? Check out this one-minute video infographic from the team at Carbon Brief.
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 and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.