Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Oceans and wetlands in peril and countries fail to act
July 31, 2023
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the last two weeks’ news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: Convergence. Several troubling reports released in recent days show the devastating impact increasing heat is having on our planet’s bodies of water. First, scientists examining 150 years of temperature data warn that a vital ocean current system could be in trouble.
Scientists say that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)—the current system that distributes heat throughout the Atlantic Ocean and helps regulate climate and weather patterns around the globe—is at its weakest point in 1,000 years. Melting Arctic ice has resulted in an influx of cold freshwater that has weakened the current, which experts say could completely collapse this century without significant emission reductions. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such a collapse would result in severe changes to the climate system and pose a critical threat to global food security.
What’s more, Florida’s reef system appears to be in crisis as soaring water temperatures trigger severe coral bleaching. Water temperatures up to 93°F have accelerated coral deterioration along the Florida coast, with one site investigated by researchers in recent days showing “100% coral mortality,” sparking fears of a broader threat to the biodiversity, coastal protection, carbon sequestration and economic benefits that healthy coral reefs provide to coastal areas.
And the world’s ocean isn’t the only body of water at risk. Scientists say that wetlands, which serve as natural ecosystems as well as repositories for toxic pollution from industrial waste and agricultural runoff, are now considered “timebombs,” with many now highly vulnerable to wildfires that could release hundreds of years of dormant toxins and pose a serious risk to human and environmental health.
Despite the dire news, many with the power to alter the trajectory of the climate crisis continue to abdicate global leadership. This week, climate ministers from the G20 countries—which together are responsible for nearly 80% of global emissions—failed to reach consensus on curbing emissions or scaling up renewable energy, effectively leaving the countries “nowhere” in their pursuit of climate action. The failed talks come just a week after the G20 energy ministers failed to reach an agreement on phasing down fossil fuels—an untenable situation as devastating climate impacts inch closer to reality.
As Earth’s hottest locales endure increasingly extreme heat, Iran reached a heat index—a measure of heat combined with humidity—of 152 degrees last week, nearing levels thought to be the most intense the human body can withstand. (The Washington Post)
Climate-driven insect migration is posing a risk to Americans, with U.S. cases of mosquito-, tick-, and flea-borne disease tripling in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016, underscoring the increased need for surveillance, vaccines, and early-warning systems to protect human health in the face of rising temperatures. (AP, Grist)
Former OSHA chief David Michaels argues that the absence of national OSHA standards for employers to follow in the face of extreme heat and toxic smoke is putting workers’ lives at risk and underscores the need for urgent congressional action on worker protection standards as the climate crisis intensifies. (The Atlantic)
Two new studies have found that the current of the Atlantic Ocean is in its weakest state in 1,000 years, becoming slower and less resilient and raising the possibility it could collapse by mid-century, drastically affecting the global climate and weather patterns on both sides of the Atlantic. (Axios, The Washington Post)
Scientists say wetlands—which serve as natural repositories by absorbing and retaining hundreds of years’ worth of toxic pollution—are now “timebombs” under increasing threat from climate change and human activity, with many now highly vulnerable to wildfires that could release dormant toxins and threaten human lives. (The Conversation)
Florida’s coral reefs are facing an urgent crisis as soaring water temperatures trigger severe coral bleaching, causing up to an “unimaginable” level of coral mortality in some areas and threatening the vital biodiversity, coastal protection, carbon sequestration and economic benefits they provide. (CBS News)
More than 100,000 prisoners in Texas are detained in 68 state correctional facilities that lack air conditioning, enduring extreme indoor summer temperatures over 100°F that officials say contributed to a 20% increase in prisoner deaths from June 1 – July 13 compared to the 6 weeks prior. (Texas Standard)
Studies show that U.S. rural agricultural workers are 35 times more likely than those in other industries to die from heat-related causes, yet efforts to address risks like heat exhaustion and dehydration have primarily focused on urban areas, leaving rural communities with limited research, data, and resources to adapt to the changing climate. (AAMC)
Politics & Economy
Amid scorching global temperatures, airlines must adapt their operations to help mitigate the negative impact of heat on engine performance and lift, including reducing fuel and baggage—and in some cases asking passengers to leave the plane—to reduce weight. (TIME)
The U.S. government is investing billions of dollars to fortify Alaskan national security facilities and operations against rising seas as Arctic temperatures rise two to four times as fast as the rest of the planet. (USA Today)
At the Group of 20 (G20) major economies meeting, finance ministers failed to reach an agreement on phasing down fossil fuels due to objections from oil-producing nations and disagreements over the tripling of renewable energy and the role of carbon capture. (Reuters)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ‘s disaster relief fund is on pace to run out of money in late August—the peak of hurricane and wildfire seasons— due to the dozen $1 billion+ weather and climate disasters that have already occurred this year. (Axios)
Stanford University scientists have found that the necessary switch from hydropower to fossil fuels during periods of drought has cost Western U.S. states $20 billion over two decades, with the problem not limited to the U.S. and only expected to get worse as the climate crisis intensifies. (The Hill)
Amid record-shattering heat this year, oil majors including Exxon, BP and Shell have quietly scaled back their climate pledges—and in some cases expanded U.S. drilling and oil production —renewing skepticism that their commitments were made in name only and strictly in an effort to avoid further regulation. (The Guardian)
Life as We Know It
Researchers have proposed that employers in the U.K. take action to help protect workers in the face of rising heat, including retrofitting buildings for better ventilation, encouraging casual summer dress codes, and shifting work hours from 9 am-5 pm to 6 am-2 pm—a move that employers in parts of Spain have already started to implement. (Fortune)
As summer temperatures continue to rise around the world, techniques from historically hot countries—like Moroccan riads, Spanish shutters, Iranian wind catchers, and Mediteratian shade trees and climbing plants—can be adapted to naturally cool living spaces and reduce the need for air conditioners. (Bloomberg)
Wind and solar generated more power than coal in the first half of 2023—compared to just five years ago when coal’s share was quadruple that of wind and solar combined—a significant milestone as renewables continue to emerge as the dominant form of new electricity generation capacity in the U.S. (Canary Media)
After years of delays, the Department of Energy is fully enforcing rules to phase out nearly all incandescent lightbulb products, a move expected to cut 222 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. (E&E News)
The EPA and Department of Energy will provide up to $1.55 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to monitor and reduce oil and gas sector methane emissions, which they say will cut the equivalent of 15 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions through 2055. (Reuters)
Seeking a comprehensive resource for climate data? Check out the Climate Data Platforms Explorer, a tool developed by the World Resources Institute and ClimateWorks Foundation to help users navigate the vast array of open climate data platforms.
The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”
– UN Secretary-General António Guterres
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB team— Aaron Benavides, Thomas Baer, Stefana Hendronetto, Sharde Olabanji, Marci Welford, and Nikki Melamed. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.