Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Two continents under siege
July 22, 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: Meltdown. From the United States to Europe, extreme heat has dominated forecasts for the last two weeks, and the impact on communities and the environment has been overwhelming. In the U.S., at least 110 million people in more than two dozen states are under heat alerts, and 60 daily high temperature records have been tied or broken this week alone as dangerous heat enveloped much of the nation.
Amid the sweltering conditions, demand for air conditioning is surging. But just as relief from the heat is more important than ever for public health, the nation’s aging infrastructure is once again cracking under pressure. In Austin, where temperatures reached 100°F on 38 of the last 44 days, officials are ironically calling for homes and businesses to limit their power use in a desperate push to keep its grid running and avoid catastrophe akin to last winter. keep its grid running and avoid catastrophe akin to last winter. And in Oklahoma, scorching temperatures that reached 115°F have caused unprecedented ground shifting in several areas, breaking water lines below the surface and significantly decreasing the availability of water that is safe to use without boiling.
Yet even as America grapples with the consequences of the climate crisis, government action is failing to meet the moment. Following a Supreme Court ruling that undercut the federal government’s ability to fight climate change, many environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers pressed for the declaration of a national climate emergency by President Biden, a move that would unlock a string of federal powers to catalyze climate action. Instead, the president opted for just two executive orders to fund climate resilience projects and expand offshore wind. An emergency declaration remains a strong possibility but a “matter of timing,” according to Climate Envoy John Kerry.
Meanwhile in Europe, up to 2,000 heat-related casualties have resulted from record-setting temperatures so far—a number that could grow higher due to fewer than 10% of European homes being equipped with air conditioning. Amid the unprecedented heat, devastating wildfires have ignited that pose “extreme” or “very extreme” danger to 22 countries, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.
With just a few months to go until world leaders convene in Egypt for COP27—this year’s installment of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference—UN Secretary General António Guterres echoed a crucial warning to the world this week: If we fail to take the climate emergency seriously now, we do so at humanity’s peril.
—Matt & Traci, GMMB
Heat stroke, hyperthermia and other heat-related illness took the lives of at least 2,000 people in Spain and Portugal this week as temperatures reached as high as 114°F in a region where only a fraction of homes are equipped with air conditioning. (Axios)
Wildfires erupted across Southern Europe amid an unprecedented heatwave and prolonged drought, prompting mass evacuation orders and putting 19 countries in “extreme danger” from the wildfires—and Spain, Portugal and France at “very extreme danger”—according to the European Forest Fire Information System. (Aljazeera)
Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were in effect for more than 105 million people across 28 U.S. states this week and temperature records were “obliterated” in the Great Plains, where temperatures reached 115°F. (The Washington Post)
The UK recorded temperatures above 104°F for the first time in recorded history, causing roads to warp, railroad tracks to buckle, and runways to melt—and revealing just how unequipped the country’s infrastructure is to deal with rising temperatures. (BBC and CBS News)
New satellite data show that wildfires, drought and other climate-related sources of stress have reduced nearly seven percent of the tree population in California’s mountainous regions, concerning scientists given the critical role trees play in mitigating erosion and capturing carbon. (San Francisco Chronicle)
A heatwave in Greenland has triggered rapid melting of the region’s icebergs, adding 18 billion tons of water to the ocean over just three days and continuing a disturbing trend that scientists say makes the eventual disintegration of the nation’s ice sheet unavoidable. (CNN)
We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”
-UN Secretary General António Guterres
New strategy documents reveal that a group of right-wing American think tanks has funded extensive campaigns in Canada to limit the ability of First Nations to push back on oil or gas extraction on their own land. (The Guardian)
Indigenous communities have been shut out of talks about the Colorado River crisis despite having ownership rights to 25% of the river, a situation advocates consider unconscionable as policymakers decide how the river’s rapidly dwindling water supplies are apportioned and conserved. (Los Angeles Times)
Politics & Economy
Stopping short of declaring a climate emergency, President Biden announced executive actions to establish wind farms off the Gulf Coast and provide up to $2.3 billion for disaster preparedness, with Climate Envoy John Kerry noting that an emergency declaration by the president is forthcoming but remains a “matter of timing.” (The New York Times)
Following public backlash and legal challenges, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it will purchase electric vehicles to replace 40 percent of its aging delivery fleet, up from its original pledge to electrify just 10 percent of new trucks. (Canary Media)
UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning during a climate summit this week, urging wealthy nations to deliver the climate funding they’ve promised to lower-income countries and calling on leaders to work together to reduce emissions and invest in adaptation or fail to do so at their own peril. (CNBC)
A new survey of 190 utility company leaders revealed that while nearly 90 percent said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a high or moderate priority, only 38 percent have an active plan to decarbonize their businesses. (E&E News)
Despite approval in the House, Congress has yet to approve funding for President Biden’s Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, established 18 months ago, leaving an uncertain future for yet another climate initiative due to potential challenges in the Senate. (NBC News)
Life as We Know It
The iconic North American monarch butterfly has been declared endangered due to years of habitat destruction and rising temperatures, with their numbers in Western states dropping by an estimated 99.9 percent since the 1980s. (The Washington Post)
Bangladesh’s early warning system, renowned for increasing the country’s resilience to extreme weather despite its lack of resources, is becoming a model for other lower-income countries now seeking to mitigate climate impacts. (BBC)
A new report focused on Baltimore as a test case found that replacing streets, rooftops, playgrounds and parking lots with smart surfaces can reduce peak summer temperatures, create jobs and boost tourism in overheating cities. (Axios)
Enter your zip code in Brown University’s Climate Opportunity Map to see the specific health benefits and job opportunities that could result from investment in clean energy in your community..
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team— Elke Cortes, Devin Della Maggoria, Sharde Olabanji and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.