Fires, Health Risks, and U.S. Progress
Climate, Health and Equity Brief

Fires, Health Risks, and U.S. Progress

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: Australia. As we enter the new year, Australia continues to make global headlines as unprecedented wildfires ravage the country. Nearly 18 million acres of land have burned so far—an area larger than Belgium and Denmark combined—killing dozens of people, destroying entire towns, devastating wildlife, and blanketing swaths of the country in hazardous smoke. Scientists say the fires signal a ‘tipping point’ at which water flows and vegetation will now change and fewer living trees will be left to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

While the fires dominate the news, research and evidence out this month point more quietly to ways that climate is changing human health.  One study links fine particulate matter from ambient air pollution with an elevated risk of osteoporosis, and another shows that in 2017, air pollution caused 15% of premature deaths in the United States. England’s 2019 heat waves were reported to have caused a total of 900 deaths. Extreme weather events continue to create thousands of refugees in the Caribbean, despite their minuscule contribution to global carbon emissions. And melting permafrost in the Arctic is leaking toxins into the ocean, worrying scientists about the threat to our global food supply.

While there is no shortage of troubling news, we have added a periodic new section to the Brief this week we call Progress, which highlights areas where action is making a difference.  This week we see how reducing our reliance on coal in the U.S. has saved lives and helped reduce America’s carbon footprint.

—Matt & Traci, GMMB

Feel like you’re missing issues? Don’t forget to whitelist


Unprecedented wildfires in Australia fueled by recent drought and high wind conditions have caused at least 27 deaths, set 18 million acres of land ablaze and continue to blanket swaths of the country in a hazardous smoke. (CNN, The New York Times)

The United States is among the top 10 countries for pollution-related fatalities, with data collected in 2017 revealing that 15% of premature deaths in the U.S. were linked to air pollution. (The Guardian)

A new study found that exposure to fine particulate matter from ambient air pollution is linked to poor bone health and the development of osteoporosis. (Global Health News Wire)

A new report found that record temperatures in England last summer had significant health impacts, including nearly 900 deaths resulting from just two heatwaves. (The Guardian)

According to a new study, melting permafrost in the Artic is leaking toxins like mercury in the ocean and threatening the global food supply. (Vox)

In the midst of current wildfires, Australia’s indigenous people are reliving their grief from 2018 when bushfires destroyed ancient rock art which were treasured as records of global human history. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

The NAACP is urging state and local chapters to decline donations from utility companies who build polluting power plants in predominantly minority neighborhoods, which put locals at greater risk of asthma and hinder their ability to adapt to climate change. (The New York Times)

Climate change is increasing the rate of extreme weather events and creating thousands of refugees in the Caribbean despite the region contributing less than one percent to global carbon dioxide emissions. (Grist)

Politics & Economy
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to downplay the link between climate change and current wildfires, dismissing calls to limit greenhouse gas emissions and defending the country’s coal exporting industry. (Vox)

News Corp, Australia’s largest media company—led by Rupert Murdoch—is under fire for spreading misinformation about the country’s wildfires by exaggerating the role of arson and arguing that current blazes are no worse than those of previous years. (The New York Times)

A new plan from the Trump administration would weaken environmental laws that require federal agencies to take climate impacts into account when planning infrastructure projects. (The New York Times)

A recent analysis revealed that more than 26,000 lives were saved in the U.S. after a shift away from coal between 2005 and 2016 reduced pollution in communities near coal facilities. (The Guardian)

According to a new study, recent reductions in U.S. coal consumption led to a 2.1% decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. (The Washington Post)

A panel of 41 EPA scientists have criticized rollbacks on environmental regulations proposed by the Trump administration, arguing that they contradict established science. (The New York Times)

Learn how you can help the victims of Australia’s fires here.


“When one country faces a climate disaster, we all face a climate disaster, so we are in this together.”
– Australian actress Cate Blanchett