Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Drying lakes, stifling heat and progress in Washington
June 25, 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: Things heat up. President Biden struck a deal Thursday with a bipartisan group of 10 senators that will invest $579 billion in new funding into fortifying American infrastructure, including but not limited to roads, broadband internet and electric utilities. While the agreement is a significant step forward and includes $47 billion for climate change resilience, President Biden has said he will not sign the measure unless it is accompanied by a companion—and much larger—reconciliation package, which Democrats will likely need to push through without Republican support.
While the details of the eventual plans are being hashed out, nearly 48 percent of the lower 48 states are currently experiencing one of the most severe droughts in recorded history. In just one frightening example of its impact, Lake Mead—the massive reservoir formed by Hoover Dam that supplies electricity and water to 25 million Americans—has fallen to just 37 percent capacity, with no end in sight to the current drought.
The historically dry conditions are being compounded by the intense heat wave currently stifling the American West. Just this week:
- Palm Springs, California hit 123 degrees, its highest recorded temperature;
- Phoenix, Arizona reached 118 degrees earlier in the year than ever before, prompting construction workers in the city to speak out about their fears of passing out or dying on the job;
- Doctors warn that people could get third-degree burns from contact with asphalt in Arizona and Nevada;
- The temperature reached a record 105 degrees in midwestern Omaha, Nebraska, buckling the pavement on some metro-area roads; and
- This weekend, heat 15 to 30 degrees above average is expected to hit the normally temperate Pacific Northwest during what is anticipated to be one of the longest-lasting and most extreme heatwaves in the region’s recorded history.
Scientists have warned that unless the world makes drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the number of extremely hot days in the U.S. could triple within decades. And the punishing heat is not just a U.S. problem. Ground temperatures topped 118°F this week in the Arctic Circle and normally frigid Siberia—a region where increasing temperatures threaten to melt the permafrost and release harmful, long-sequestered methane back into the atmosphere. And a new UN report says that drought could be “the next pandemic” if countries do not properly take action on water and land management to address the climate emergency.
As U.S. lawmakers deliberate about historic investments to fortify U.S. infrastructure over the coming months, we can only hope the fact that the inescapable impacts of a changing climate weigh heavily on their minds.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
In the first days of summer, oppressive heat is already setting new record high temperatures across the Western United States, reaching up to 128°F in some areas and exacerbating already extreme drought conditions and wildfire risks. (NPR, The Guardian)
The UN World Food Programme has said back-to-back droughts driven by climate change have led more than one million people in Madagascar “to the very edge of starvation.” (CNN)
A new report has found that during the first COVID-19 wave in England, deaths were 70 percent higher than average in areas with the greatest pollution and 40 percent lower than average in areas with the best air quality. (Sky News)
NASA aerial surveys have discovered that “Super-emitter” landfills in California are responsible for 43 percent of the state’s methane emissions, far outpacing EPA estimates and exposing a major flaw in how methane emissions are calculated. (Nasdaq)
Pacific island nation Kiribati, which has already had two of its islands destroyed by rising sea levels, has budgeted to purchase land in Fiji to eventually relocate its entire population, a drastic decision required by the changing climate. (International Policy Digest)
When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”
– Benjamin Franklin
The largely Black and Hispanic Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles—which has faced severe environmental degradation for decades due to industrial activity and government neglect—is now the location of a planned $1 billion revitalization project to build an urban farm and new green space, among other developments. (Grist)
Amid new funding expected from the U.S. infrastructure package, researchers have developed a model focused on public transport resilience and attention to serving marginalized communities to combat both climate change and inequalities in public transportation access. (Bloomberg)
Scorching conditions in Phoenix are making conditions unbearable for those experiencing homelessness as well as construction workers, some of whom report fearing they may pass out or die on the job. (The New York Times)
Politics & Economy
A compromise has been reached on a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal that includes about two-thirds of the funding President Biden called for in areas like clean power and environmental resilience, but Democrats say the deal must be accompanied by a separate and much larger reconciliation package in order to succeed. (The New York Times)
New research conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in swing congressional districts indicates Republicans can be persuaded to care more about climate change if it is presented as a threat to freedom or an opportunity for job and wealth creation. (Grist)
House Republicans introduced a Conservative Climate Caucus aimed at addressing the climate crisis in accordance with conservative values such as limited government and free-market policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (The New York Times)
Leaders in the Australian government known for their support of the fossil fuel industry have rejected plans for a renewable energy hub under the guise of concern for environmental impacts. (Bloomberg)
The IKEA Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation announced plans to establish a $1 billion dollar fund for renewable energy programs in developing nations. (Reuters)
Meteorologists are leading the charge to provide more coverage of climate change, with many news outlets focusing on how the changing climate is affecting communities at a local level. (Axios)
Some U.S. farmers are pursuing regenerative agriculture, a set of practices that increase the amount of carbon in the soil, in an effort to combat climate change and provide opportunities for companies to purchase the carbon credits. (Agweek)
Want to keep track of the progression of this year’s U.S. drought season? Check out this weekly updated drought monitor.
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.