This Week In Climate News
Heat waves, wildfires, heat records, melting ice sheets, and more.
How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering
In the previous newsletter, we talked about the idea of shade inequality, where low-income communities have more paved areas and fewer green spaces, while high-income communities have the opposite. The consequence is a significant difference in temperature, resulting in the creation of urban heat islands.
This week in NYT, Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich have a scrolling graphic article on how neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia that were redlined in the 1930s because the majority of residents were Black are now “some of the hottest parts of town in the summer, with few trees and an abundance of heat-trapping pavement.” Meanwhile, “White neighborhoods that weren’t redlined tend to be much cooler today — a pattern that repeats nationwide.” This is an example of how decades of systemic racism is causing the climate crisis to disproportionately impact Black Americans.
Plumer and Popovich’s work is consistently excellent, so I highly recommend checking it out. Some highlights:
Across more than 100 cities, a recent study found, formerly redlined neighborhoods are today 5 degrees [F] hotter in summer, on average, than areas once favored for housing loans, with some cities seeing differences as large as 12 degrees [F]. Redlined neighborhoods, which remain lower-income and more likely to have Black or Hispanic residents, consistently have far fewer trees and parks that help cool the air. They also have more paved surfaces, such as asphalt lots or nearby highways, that absorb and radiate heat.
Even small differences in heat can be dangerous, scientists have found. During a heat wave, every one degree [F] increase in temperature can increase the risk of dying by 2.5 percent. Higher temperatures can strain the heart and make breathing more difficult, increasing hospitalization rates for cardiac arrest and respiratory diseases like asthma. Richmond’s four hottest ZIP codes all have the city’s highest rates of heat-related emergency-room visits.
The Impact of Heatwaves on LA’s Homeless Community
By Alexandria Herr in Grist:
Heat waves are the deadliest weather-related event to hit cities every year, killing on average 702 people annually nationwide, and their impact will only worsen with climate change. For the nation’s 568,000 homeless people, 66,000 of whom live in Los Angeles County, the heatwave is adding to the challenges of a population already vulnerable to the crises of COVID-19, climate change, and police brutality.
Heat, Smoke and COVID are Battering Farm Workers
By Somini Sengupta in NYT:
Most [agricultural workers in California] are immigrants from Mexico. Mostly, they earn minimum wage ($13 an hour in California). Mostly, they lack health insurance and they live amid chronic pollution, making them susceptible to a host of respiratory ailments.
Climate change exacerbates these horrors.
By noon one day last week, temperatures had soared to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Lodi, in the valley’s northern stretch. Still, Leonor Hernández, 38, mother of three, was at work. [..]
As the week progressed and more acres burned, the air grew increasingly toxic. Her head and chest hurt. She was coughing. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District urged residents to stay indoors.
Good advice, in theory, Ms. Hernández said. “But we need to work, and if we stay indoors we don’t get paid,” she said. “We have bills for food and rent to pay.”
via Brooke Jarvis
How US Corporate Interests are Short Circuiting Climate Action
This was a brilliant, illuminating interview with climate policy expert Leah Stokes in the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast. Stokes is an excellent public speaker, and she clearly breaks down how corporate interests in the US spend vast amounts of money to stall climate progress. While I was aware of this in theory, the specifics are eye-opening. I’ll be listening to this a few times to absorb all this information, and I highly recommend that you check it out. Stokes has a new book on this topic, called Short Circuiting Policy.
The Climate Is Becoming an Increasingly Important Issue for Voters
According to a new survey of a thousand US Americans, roughly 80% accept that Earth’s temperature has been increasing over the past 100 years, that it will increase over the next 100 years, and that humans are at least partly reponsible. The data shows that these views have been remarkably consistent over the past two decades, although people’s confidence in their views has been on the rise in recent years.
John Schwartz at NYT reports on this study. Jon Krosnick, a leader of the study, told NYT that the percentage of people who feel climate change is an extremely important issue to them personally is now 25%, up from 13% in 2015, “trailing only the group focused on abortion, at 31 percent.”
In Other Climate News
👉🏽 According to two new studies, the Greenland ice sheet may be approaching a tipping point of uncontrollable melting. The melt from Greenland alone is the largest single contributor to rising sea levels.
"The result for 2019 confirms that the ice sheet has returned to a state of high loss, in line with the IPCCs worst-case climate warming scenario," said Prof Andy Shepherd from Leeds University, who is the co-lead investigator for Imbie [Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise].
'This means we need to prepare for an extra 10cm or so of global sea level rise by 2100 from Greenland alone."
"If Greenland's ice losses continue on their current trajectory, an extra 25 million people could be flooded each year by the end of this century."
I was surprised to learn that transport makes up a surprisingly small fraction of the carbon footprint of what we eat, and found this chart immensely helpful.
👉🏽 Policy expert Bina Venkataraman interviews climate scientist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in The Boston Globe:
I also just don’t see how we win at addressing the climate crisis unless we involve people of color. It is not a merely technical challenge that we’re facing. It’s not like we can get a bunch of engineers in a room and then climate change will be solved. It is about how we implement solutions. It is about how we replicate and scale them. It is about how communities change the way that they do things. It is about agriculture and buildings and transportation and electricity. Solving the climate crisis is about everything. And so we need to find ways that everyone can be a part of this transformation that we need and be a part of the plentiful solutions that we already have available.
Research done at Yale and George Mason Universities shows people of color are more concerned already about the climate crisis. Wouldn’t it make sense to prioritize the people who are already on board who already care? The climate crisis is so big that we need to build the biggest possible team.
👉🏽 This was a fascinating chemistry-packed video by Alex Dainis on the science of the ozone hole and CFCs. She describes a chain reaction through which a single Chlorine atom can destroy up to 100 thousand Ozone molecules! And while the ozone hole has been shrinking, recent ozone emissions from China have been undoing some of this progress. If you’re interested in digging into the data, the NASA Ozone Watch page is packed with graphs and visualizations.
McCarty has searched through the scientific literature from Arctic nations as part of a report she is co-authoring for the Arctic Council. “This is the type of fire event that would be described by these worst-case modeling scenarios that were supposed to occur mid-century,” she said, adding that we may be 30 years early in seeing such fire impacts, which would require a reevaluation of how the Arctic is responding to global warming.
Via Brooke Jarvis
👉🏽 Washington Post has an excellent series on the places in the US already experiencing more than 2 degrees C of warming. Juliet Eilperin, Carolyn Van Houten and John Muyskens report on a 20 year drought in Western Colorado.