Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Forest loss, flooding and falling short
May 14, 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: Uphill battle. While there has been a heartening growth in global commitments to mitigate the climate crisis in recent months, research continues to emphasize the troubling environmental and public health impacts of climate change that have already begun to unfold.
One study out this week revealed that while a nationwide phase-down of coal reduced the risk of premature death by up to 60 percent between 2008 and 2017, an estimated 64,000 premature deaths in 2017 in the U.S. were linked to the burning of natural gas and wood fuel in buildings. This research not only underscores the importance of addressing public health concerns in energy policy, it also has implications for federal policymakers currently drawing up plans to decarbonize buildings. Scientists warn that focusing on reducing emissions from sources like coal alone could encourage fuel switching to other air pollutants like natural gas, oil, wood and biomass that will sustain health risks in communities across the country.
Another study from the World Wildlife Fund noted that although 228,000 square miles of forest has regrown around the world since 2000, seven times that area was destroyed through deforestation and illegal burning in the same time frame. To reclaim forests as a carbon sink and natural climate solution, regeneration efforts around the world must be implemented in tandem with international laws that prohibit forest destruction in the name of agricultural production.
And three weeks after a number of global leaders announced strengthened emissions reduction targets at President Biden’s Earth Week summit, a new report warns that the ice sheets of Antarctica are set to push past a tipping point toward irreversible melting by 2060 unless all nations amp up their commitments. Surpassing that tipping point would also mean a catastrophic change in average sea level, with researchers estimating an up to 16-inch rise within a century—an increase that would inundate entire coastal cities and displace tens of millions of people.
Just how much more aggressive do climate commitments need to get? A recent study out of the University of Washington found that if countries take immediate action to achieve an average 1.8 percent drop in emissions per year, a goal that is 80 percent more ambitious than the current one percent annual target, the world still has an opportunity to avert the worst effects of climate change—but our time to act is running out.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
A recent study found that although a nationwide phase-down of coal lowered premature death risk by up to 60 percent between 2008 and 2017, an estimated 64,000 Americans still died prematurely in 2017 due to the use of polluting wood and natural gas fuel in buildings. (InsideClimate News)
A first-of-its-kind study revealed that more than 17,000 annual U.S. deaths are attributable to farming pollution, and that livestock agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of these deaths due to hazardous emissions of methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from manure and animal feed. (The Washington Post)
A recent report found that above-average temperatures are associated with an increase in hospital visits among individuals with multiple sclerosis, a chronic central nervous system disease that affects an estimated one million Americans. (Grist)
A new analysis shows that worsening drought conditions limit water access for 30 Native American tribes in the Colorado River Basin, whose water access is already restricted by a lack of water infrastructure and a contaminated water supply. (Grist)
A new report revealed that climate change threatens to decimate tea production in Kenya—the world’s largest supplier of black tea—due to shifting temperatures and rainfall patterns, putting the jobs of millions of tea plantation workers at risk. (Reuters)
Politics & Economy
A new report revealed that even if countries implement their recently updated climate pledges, the current rate of planetary warming could push Antarctica’s ice sheets to the point of irreversible melting. (InsideClimate News)
A new survey of 800 global cities revealed that 43 percent—representing 400 million people—do not have a climate adaptation plan in place and that one in four of them face budgetary barriers to action. (The Guardian)
A new World Wildlife Fund study found that 228,000 square miles of forest—which could store six billion tons of carbon dioxide—have grown back worldwide since 2000, but researchers warn that seven times that area was lost through deforestation in the same timeframe. (Sky News)
The Interior Department approved America’s first major offshore wind farm, an 800-megawatt, $2.8 billion venture off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that will create 3,600 jobs and provide enough power for 400,000 homes and businesses. (The Washington Post)
“Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had such power to do something about it.”
– David Attenborough
The Biden administration formally launched a Scientific Integrity Task Force which will ensure that the federal government’s scientific policies are free from inappropriate political influence, in part because of Trump-era hostility towards climate science. (CNN)
The European Parliament’s environment committee approved the EU’s proposed climate change law which requires emissions to be cut by at least 55 percent by 2030 and completely eliminated by 2050, paving the way for the bill to pass the full EU assembly in June. (Reuters)
The American Cleaning Institute, whose members produce 90 percent of cleaning supplies in the U.S., announced a roadmap for climate action in the cleaning product industry, with 15 companies making commitments that align with Paris Agreement targets. (Environment and Energy Leader)
Want to keep up with the latest in climate innovation? Check out Get Smart by Axios, a deep dive into the technologies driving today’s news.