More than 100 doctors and nurses traveled to Glasgow earlier this month with a message for world leaders: Global warming is a leading threat to public health. And curbing planet-warming emissions is a prescription.
That message resonated at COP26 more than it has at previous United Nations climate summits, according to experts who have been attending the talks for years.
“I have been coming to these for the last 12 years, and I have seen how certain topics have gained more relevance. And certainly public health is one of them,” Ramon Cruz, president of the Sierra Club's board of directors, told The Climate 202.
Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, who has gone to five U.N. climate summits, agreed with that assessment. She noted that the World Health Organization sponsored a health pavilion at COP26 for the first time in the organization’s history.
“The WHO pavilion sounds like maybe a small thing,” Miller told The Climate 202. “But it made health — in a very literal sense of the term — visible at the COP. It created a physical place that people could walk by and countries’ delegations could see.”
Even before the conference in Glasgow, there was a growing recognition in the medical profession that rising global temperatures imperil millions of lives.
- The Lancet, a top medical journal, warned in October that climate change is set to become the “defining narrative of human health,” as my colleague Sarah Kaplan reported at the time.
- In a special report, the WHO also called climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity,” noting that its effects could be more catastrophic than the coronavirus pandemic.
Miller said health professionals urged world leaders in Glasgow to meet the more ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris agreement: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “The science is clear that warming greater than that could be catastrophic for people’s health, and that every tenth of a degree averted matters,” she said.
Miller also noted that burning fossil fuels — a primary driver of climate change — releases air pollutants that can trigger asthma and other respiratory conditions. Fine-particle pollution from burning fossil fuels causes roughly 4 million people to die prematurely each year, research shows.
“Fossil fuels are killing us,” Miller said, adding that the science supports setting “clear targets for phasing out coal, the worst offender.”
In addition to the link between fine-particle pollution and respiratory conditions, climate change has menaced human health in the U.S. and globally in a variety of ways:
- Smoke from wildfires in California over the summer infiltrated the lungs and then the bloodstreams of people as far away as New York, Ohio and Texas.
- Rising temperatures have led to higher rates of heat illness, causing people to collapse in their homes when a heat dome roasted the Pacific Northwest in June.
- In Madagascar, extreme drought has caused crops to fail, leaving tens of thousands of people suffering from severe hunger and food insecurity, leading the U.N. to warn of the world's first climate change-induced famine.
The good news is that doctors increasingly are keeping climate effects in mind when treating patients, said Renee Salas, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who attended COP26.
“If you come in with an asthma attack to my emergency department, that’s your primary diagnosis. But yet … climate change is driving pollen levels to be higher, so it is actually a secondary diagnosis,” Salas said during a panel last week hosted by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Salas concluded her remarks with a call to action: Doctors and nurses must have an even greater impact on the next round of U.N. climate talks, known as COP27, which will be hosted by Egypt in 2022.
“We need to make sure that health has an even more prominent stage at COP27,” she said, “and that it's actually incorporated throughout discussions.”
On the Hill
First in The Climate 202: Green group launches ads targeting Republicans against Build Back Better Act
The League of Conservation Voters on Saturday launched digital ads criticizing House lawmakers who voted against the Build Back Better Act (BBB), which contains the largest clean energy investment in U.S. history.
The ads target eight Republicans — Reps. Mike Garcia (Calif.), Carlos Giménez (Fla.), Andy Harris (Md.), Young Kim (Calif.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), David Valadao (Calif.), Maria Salazar (Fla.) and Michelle Steel (Calif.) — as well as Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, the sole Democrat to vote no on the legislation.
The negative accountability ads come after several climate groups — including LCV, Climate Power, EDF Action and Climate Reality Action Fund — spent $1 million on positive TV and digital ads thanking lawmakers in key districts for voting yes on the BBB. LCV organizers also plan to greet those lawmakers at airports and thank them as they travel home for Thanksgiving.
Separately, another coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Climate Action Campaign and Clean Air Moms Action launched a new social media and ad campaign titled “Climate Storytellers.” That campaign features 20 people describing how climate change has affected their livelihoods and calling on lawmakers representing 15 competitive House districts in eight states to support climate action.
An oil sheen was reported in California near where a pipeline leaked last month
Divers on Saturday reported a 30-by-70-foot oil sheen near a pipeline that leaked in October off Huntington Beach, Calif., The Washington Post's María Luisa Paúl reports.
The pipeline — owned by Houston-based energy company Amplify Energy — previously spilled thousands of gallons of oil last month, threatening local seabirds and angering environmental activists. After hours of searching, authorities did not find evidence of another major breach of the pipeline. But they suspect the sheen is related to damage along the pipeline, which has been shut down since the spill.
Pentagon official says the U.S. military isn’t ready for climate change
The United States is “not ready” to handle the national security challenge presented by climate change, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks told CNN.
"We are not where we should be, and now is beyond the time when we need to get in front of that challenge," said Hicks, the first woman to hold the Pentagon's No. 2 position.
Extreme weather events fueled by climate change pose a threat to U.S. military installations around the world. Meanwhile, climate change has spurred a global competition for control of the Arctic and scarce resources, such as the minerals needed to make electric vehicle batteries.
The shift to clean energy could see trillions in stranded assets
As companies agree to curb their use of fossil fuels, the shift in investment, as well as effects from climate change itself, could result in trillions of dollars of assets becoming worthless, the WSJ's Jean Eaglesham and Vipal Monga report.
A variety of assets could be candidates for write-downs because of climate change, including coal-fired power plants that shut down early because of climate regulations and buildings that are damaged by floods. That prospect is raising fears of market volatility while paving the way for a major battle in corporate finance over the accounting rules for these write-downs.
The international climate
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit its highest level in 15 years
The Amazon in Brazil lost more than 5,000 square miles of rainforest from August 2020 to July 2021 — the highest level of deforestation since 2006, according to a report from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, Ellen Francis and Gabriela Sá Pessoa write for The Post.
That marks the fourth year in a row that the rate of deforestation rose, according to the report, which relied on satellite data. Much of the increase in deforestation has come during the tenure of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a promise to open the Amazon to development and industries such as logging.
Bolsonaro did not attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, although Brazil agreed to join a global pledge to end deforestation. Some critics have questioned whether Brazil delayed the release of the report until after the summit — a move the country’s environment minister has denied.
The U.S. is losing out to China in a global race to secure materials for electric vehicles
A New York Times investigative series explores the rivalry between the United States and China over cobalt, a crucial material used in the batteries that power electric cars.
As of 2020, 15 of 19 cobalt-producing mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the source of more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt production, were owned or financed by Chinese companies, according to a data analysis by the Times and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. These Chinese companies have received billions in loans and can draw on credit from state-backed banks.
The investigation found that the United States “essentially surrendered” cobalt resources to China, despite decades of financial and diplomatic investment in Congo. In 2016, for instance, the American company Freeport-McMoRan sold one of the world’s largest cobalt mines to the conglomerate China Molybdenum. Despite an early warning system that alerted U.S. officials to a potential loss in critical resources, the Obama administration, consumed by the war in Afghanistan and a fight with the Islamic State, did little to prevent the sale. Last year, Freeport sold a second major cobalt site to the company.
“Saturday Night Live" tackled climate change and COP26 over the weekend, with Aidy Bryant playing “Mother Earth" and urging people to stop throwing their iPhones into the ocean.
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