Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Secretary Haaland, climate migration and environmental justice
March 27, 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: Historic appointment. Last week the Senate confirmed Hon. Debra A. Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. The appointment is a critical move toward policy change to combat the climate crisis and strengthen protections for humans and the environment. Secretary Haaland, who has a distinguished background in fighting to protect public lands and transition away from fossil fuels, will now lead the department that oversees land use policies, steers wildlife preservation efforts and decides how natural resources are extracted.
Secretary Haaland—a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe—is the first Indigenous American in history to be appointed as a U.S. Cabinet secretary. The feat is more than just symbolic, as the Interior Department upholds the federal government’s commitment to tribal communities, including addressing environmental impacts on their lands. Indigenous people have been disproportionately exposed to soil and water contamination and other health impacts from fossil fuel activity. In the western U.S., more than 600,000 Indigenous people live within six miles of an abandoned mine, and pollution at these sites has been linked to increased rates of diabetes, childhood leukemia and cardiovascular disease. Sec. Haaland has a deep understanding of how oil pipelines threaten sacred Indigenous lands and provides a long-missing perspective at the highest levels of the federal government.
Game-changing Cabinet appointments are not the only way the Biden administration is addressing environmental injustices. An unprecedented $100 million of the COVID-19 stimulus package is earmarked to address fossil fuel pollution in low-income and minority communities, which have faced higher cases and deaths from COVID-19. And under recently appointed Administrator Michael Regan, the EPA now highlights environmental justice as a top priority and has restored public access to climate facts and data at EPA.gov.
With a new report this week revealing that climate-induced extreme weather events have displaced more than 10 million people globally in just the last six months, swift action to reduce carbon emissions and increase climate resilience is fast becoming an imperative. Secretary Haaland’s confirmation is one way that those who have been historically under-represented will now have a voice in the highest levels of government.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
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Interior Secretary Debra A. Haaland, the first-ever Native American to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, is committed to reversing the agency’s history of environmental racism by increasing collaboration with tribal groups and elevating Indigenous policy priorities, among other commitments. (Reuters)
As part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed March 11 by President Biden, an unprecedented $100 million will fund environmental justice grants that address public health risks of fossil fuel pollution in minority and low-income communities. (InsideClimate News)
Epic rainfall and catastrophic flooding in Australia this week have killed at least two people, damaged homes, roads and other critical infrastructure and forced more than 40,000 people to evacuate. (The New York Times, Reuters)
A new report revealed that globally, 10.3 million (79 percent) of the nearly 13 million people forced to migrate in the last six months were displaced by climate-induced extreme weather events such as flooding and drought. (Reuters)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) official spring outlook projects that drier-than-normal conditions will lead to worsening drought that threatens up to 74 million Americans with increased wildfires, crop damage and water shortages. (AP News)
Politics & Economy
As Bitcoin becomes increasingly popular among companies and investors, environmentalists are decrying the cryptocurrency’s carbon footprint—with annual electricity emissions from its transactions equal to the total annual emissions of Argentina or New Zealand. (The New York Times)
A recent investigation into the fossil fuel industry revealed that oil and gas companies became aware of the public health and environmental risks from burning fossil fuels as early as 50 years ago, yet have spent the ensuing decades lobbying against clean air regulations and undermining climate science. (The Guardian)
A recent report found that of the nearly 700 global companies that pledged to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains by 2020, only four (0.5 percent)—including cosmetics giant L’Oréal, chocolate titan Mars, food packager Tetra Pak and toilet paper company Essity—successfully followed through. (Grist)
Homeowners in Avon, North Carolina are bracing for property tax increases of as much as 50 percent after local officials estimated that the town needs at least $11 million to fund climate resiliency efforts against rapidly rising Atlantic sea levels. (The New York Times)
After a four-year hiatus under the previous administration, the EPA website has restored its webpage on climate change and elevated environmental justice as a priority, reopening public access to vetted information that combats the spread of climate misinformation across the internet. (The Verge)
Need some inspiration on climate action? Check out the 2021 Grist 50, a list of up-and-coming climate and environmental justice leaders across major global industries.
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet and all of our protected land.”
-Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior