Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Nature’s wrath, extreme heat and organ failure
June 18, 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: Heating up. While the nation watched in awe as Mother Nature devastated parts of Yellowstone National Park, extreme weather of another kind was also playing out across a wide swath of the country. Record-shattering temperatures have plagued more than 100 million Americans from California to the Carolinas over the last two weeks, setting new record highs in 16 cities, prompting countless heat advisories and forcing multiple schools with sub-standard air conditioning to opt for distance learning.
With the last seven years the hottest in recorded history and severe heat waves now occurring regularly, scientists are drilling down on the ways that an increasingly warm world threatens human lives and health. And many are finding that the compounded impacts of extreme heat—currently the deadliest weather threat in the country—are clearer and more troubling than ever.
Research shows that in addition to causing heat stress and heat stroke, extreme temperatures are increasingly associated with organ failure, cell damage, impaired motor function, premature aging of the body, anxiety, depression and suicide. And the risks aren’t equal. Children, senior citizens, those with chronic health conditions and the poor are particularly vulnerable—as are those who earn their living outdoors.
A recent study from the Desert Research Institute reveals the disproportionate danger facing outdoor laborers in the U.S. Southwest, for whom years of experience working in the heat actually proves to be a disadvantage. In fact, the study—which analyzed outdoor workforces in Arizona, California and Nevada—made the surprising discovery that those who had held outdoor jobs for more than five years faced the greatest risk of health impacts, likely due to accumulated exposure to heat stress over time.
Research also indicates that extreme heat plays an insidious role in amplifying gender-based violence. An analysis of 41 peer-reviewed studies found that harassment, sexual violence and physical violence against women increase during and following extreme weather events, likely because they act as an amplifier to other drivers of conflict, including mental stress, economic instability, and food insecurity.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come if the world fails to move quickly to cut emissions. A new study published in the journal Nature found that the Arctic is heating at a rate seven times faster than the global average, with the most rapid changes documented in the North Barents Sea. Scientists warn that the loss of sea ice in the region will begin to set off a feedback loop that increases warming, exacerbates sea-level rise and triggers extreme weather events—including increasingly severe heat—across the globe.
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
Scientists conducting a wide range of studies are increasingly linking extreme heat with higher rates of kidney failure, cardiovascular collapse, organ and cell damage, impaired motor function, premature aging of the body, anxiety, depression and suicide. (The New York Times)
The worst drought in four decades is compounding the global food crisis across the Horn of Africa, destroying crops, draining rivers and wells, killing livestock and putting nearly 20 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia at risk of death by starvation. ( The New York Times)
Researchers at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) warn that the outdoor workforce in the U.S. Southwest is at high risk for heat-related illness and injury beyond heat stroke, including vomiting, loss of strength, and severe headaches, with workers on the job five years or longer at the highest risk. (The Washington Post)
New research has found that women worldwide are more likely to experience gender-based violence—including sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking—after extreme weather events, which exacerbate traditional drivers of violence such as economic instability, food insecurity and mental stress. (Business Insider)
Images of the unprecedented flooding in Yellowstone National Park shocked the nation this week as water runoff equivalent to nearly three months’ worth of rain inundated the region in just three days, setting off mudslides, destroying roads and bridges, flooding local towns, tearing homes from their foundations and forcing the park to close for the first time in nearly four decades. (CNN)
A new study has alarmed scientists with findings of “extraordinary heating” in the Arctic, with the North Barents Sea now heating at more than twice the speed previously understood by scientists and seven times faster than the global average—a situation they warn is a frightening sign of what’s to come for the broader Arctic region. (The Guardian)
A new study warns that nearly 200,000 homes and businesses across coastal England are at risk of loss to sea level rise-related flooding by 2050, with tens of thousands of additional homes at risk of loss due to coastal erosion. (The Independent)
California’s ancient Sequoias—the world’s largest trees, some of which have stood for more than 3,000 years—are struggling to survive amid increasingly frequent massive and intense wildfires, with nearly 20% of the giants lost to fire in the last two years alone. (The Washington Post)
We all know that when flash flooding or thunderstorms or hurricanes are coming, we better take care of ourselves, but not really [with] extreme heat. It’s probably one of the most under-considered risks we can be facing.”
– Dr. Erick Bandala, DRI study author
U.S. Latinos—whom the data show disproportionately suffer from health conditions aggravated by extreme heat and reside in areas with higher population density and limited tree cover—are driving a surge in U.S. climate activism, leading the way in efforts ranging from grassroots organizing to global advocacy. (ABC News)
Fiji’s Defense Minister declared climate change the biggest security threat to the Asia-Pacific region—which scientists say has only contributed 0.03% of the global emissions responsible for the climate emergency—citing the extreme tropical cyclones and devastating flooding that has displaced thousands and hobbled economies across the region. (CNN)
Politics & Economy
At least 2,000 cattle perished this week in Kansas due to extreme heat and humidity as the temperature reached 108°F, cooling winds disappeared and the rapid temperature increase prevented the livestock from properly acclimatizing to the change. (Reuters)
The apparel industry-run Higg Index—which measures environmental impact across the life cycle of clothing—is under fire for favoring synthetic fabrics made from fossil fuels over natural materials, which critics say is fueling the explosive growth of cheap apparel by allowing it to be marketed to consumers as a more sustainable choice. (The New York Times)
Life as We Know It
As Yellowstone continues to deal with the devastating effects of recent floods, experts warn that this is a sign of things to come for all of our national parks as climate-fueled disasters will continue to drive chaos in the country’s natural wonders. (The New York Times)
One of the world’s largest producers of Sriracha has issued a bleak warning to wholesalers that exceptional drought has affected the quality of chili peppers, resulting in a shortage that has left the producer without the essential ingredient for its beloved hot sauce. (The Vegetarian Times) )
Spurred by their recent success pushing wealthy universities to divest from fossil fuels, activists are now working to stop university researchers from receiving grant money from oil and gas companies, as it helps greenwash the reputations of companies known to actively engage in climate disinformation. (The Boston Globe)
Marvel (and despair) at the destructive power of Mother Nature on fossil fuels in this Weather.com compilation of photos from the devastation in Yellowstone National Park.
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, Adrian Plaisance and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.