Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Punishing heat, workers at risk and hope on the Hill
August 8, 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: Disparate risks. For the third time in less than two months, tens of millions of Americans are under extreme heat alerts. From Texas to Montana and from the Mid-Atlantic to Maine, soaring temperatures have punished more than 80 million residents since Thursday, and conditions are expected to continue through the weekend.
While no one can hide from the heat, new developments this week shine a light on the disproportionate risks faced by vulnerable communities. Even as severe heat waves become increasingly normalized across the country, air conditioning is still largely treated as a luxury rather than a public health necessity. Government-funded buildings, housing units and prisons aren’t required to provide air conditioning, and only 18 states currently prevent utilities from shutting off residential power during a heat wave due to missed payments, compared to 41 states with such protections for winter.
For low-income families, life-threatening heat events like those currently raging can mean choosing between staying cool and putting food on the table. According to a recent Census survey, that choice is far from abstract for many Americans, with one in five households sharing that they have been unable to pay at least one utility bill in the last 12 months.
And there are other ways working-class Americans are at particular risk. A growing number of UPS employees are becoming sick and being hospitalized with heat-related illness as they labor in record-breaking temperatures for which their trucks and warehouses are not equipped. Union leaders are now demanding that the company implement basic heat safety measures for its trucks and warehouses, such as consistent supplies of fans, water and ice, more breathable uniforms, and more employees to reduce workload.
If passed, the newly introduced Inflation Reduction Act will help move the needle on environmental justice, with a proposed $60 billion for equity provisions including climate adaptation assistance for vulnerable communities. Already backed by frequent Democratic holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), the bill’s momentum continued this week after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)—another must-have vote for the party—announced she would soon be “ready to move forward” after negotiating to revise some of the bill’s tax proposals. With adoption of the bill now likely, the possibility of a brighter and more equitable climate future for all Americans is within closer reach.
— Matt and Traci
Programming note…the Brief team will be on hiatus for the next two weeks; we’ll be back in your inboxes with the latest climate developments on Saturday, August 27. Stay cool out there!
New data from FAIR Health reveal that Lyme disease cases in the U.S. have increased 357% in rural areas and 67% in urban areas over the past 15 years as higher temperatures lengthen summers and extend the active tick season each year. (WebMD)
As vicious summer conditions persist throughout the U.S., record high temperatures and oppressive humidity levels have triggered heat alerts for over 80 million Americans across the Eastern and Central parts of the country, with conditions expected to last through early next week.
A new report finds that human-caused climate change made Britain’s recent record-breaking heatwaves ten times more likely, with the country’s aging infrastructure and lack of residential air conditioning creating a worst-case scenario for rising temperatures. (The Washington Post)
In a new paper published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists are calling on the IPCC to explore the catastrophic impacts of 3°C (5.4°F) of warming or higher—including the possibilities of societal collapse or worse—saying humanity remains woefully unprepared for the possibility. (AP, BBC News)
Experts argue that policies outlawing utility shutoffs during heat waves—akin to similar policies in place for winter freezes—could save thousands of lives, particularly among the most vulnerable, yet only 18 states currently have such protections in place. (Vox)
In response to increased heat-related illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths, the UPS employee union is demanding heat safety measures to protect drivers and warehouse workers who have reported temperatures as high as 150° F on the job. (NBC News)
Despite extreme heat advisories warning people to remain indoors and use air conditioning, migrant workers throughout Asia continue strenuous work and lack access to cooling technology due to systematic restrictions and discrimination. (CNN)
Leaders of coastal villages across Fiji are renewing their call for developed nations to curb their emissions and provide the funding for adaptation and relocation measures needed to protect Fiji’s population from rapidly rising sea levels. (Reuters)
Richmond, California-based nonprofit RCF Connects is creating “virtual power plants” while fighting gentrification by restoring abandoned homes, installing revenue-generating green technology, and giving priority access to black first-time home buyers. (Grist)
No community should be saddled with more environmental burdens and fewer environmental benefits than any other.”
– Majora Carter
Kenya’s Wildlife and Tourism Board announced that climate change has surpassed poaching as the number one threat to its endangered elephant populations, with severe drought killing 20 times more elephants than poaching. (Discovery)
According to the European Union’s Joint Research Centre, raging wildfires across Europe have burned the second-largest area on record this summer—twice the size of Luxembourg—and the region is only halfway through its fire season. (Reuters)
Politics & Economy
China has suspended climate talks with the United States in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, putting the U.S.-China deal to cut methane emissions agreed to during COP26 in potential jeopardy. (POLITICO)
Following a year in which 20 climate-related disasters caused more than $1 billion each in damage, the Biden Administration announced a $1 billion grant program to help states, local communities, tribes and territories reduce climate-related hazards and prepare for natural disasters such as floods and wildfires. (Los Angeles Times)
Two new climate models find that the Manchin-backed climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030 and create 1.5 million new jobs. (Science)
African climate diplomats have rejected the African Union’s proposal for African nations to adopt a pro-gas stance for COP27, arguing the controversy would distract from priorities like adaptation and climate finance. (Climate Home News)
Life as We Know It
Warmer winters and higher temperatures are disrupting Georgia’s agricultural landscape and growing seasons, making it more challenging for farmers to grow cash crops like peaches, the state’s official fruit. (Axios)
New Zealand has unveiled its first-ever climate adaptation plan, with measures that include making climate change data more accessible and contingencies to relocate coastal homes as a last resort if rising seas and flooding worsen. (EuroNews)
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.