According to Deanne Criswell, the FEMA administrator, the agency has seen a rise in intense storms and severe weather patterns that it anticipates to continue as a result of climate change. Speaking on morning news shows on Sunday, Criswell shared the agency’s plans to prepare for increasing rates of deadly storms as the country faces the “crisis of our generation.”
“This is going to be our new normal,” Criswell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper. “The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation. We’re taking a lot of efforts at FEMA to work with communities to help reduce the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events and help to develop systemwide projects that can help protect communities.”
Criswell’s remarks come after severe storms and tornadoes ripped through six states, killing an estimated 80 people in Kentucky in what the state’s governor, Andy Beshear, said on Saturday “is likely to be the most severe tornado outbreak in our state’s history.”
They also follow a year marked by historic storms that caused unprecedented damage across the country, including winter storms that left large swaths of Texas without power and killed an estimated 210 people, rampant forest fires on the West Coast that have produced harmful smoke traveling thousands of miles across the nation, and severe hurricanes that ravaged much of the East Coast this spring.
Speaking on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Criswell said while FEMA is dedicated to improving disaster response and helping communities impacted by disasters, “there is a lot that we need to do as a nation.”
“There’s going to be a lot to learn from this event and the events that we saw through the summer,” she told Stephanopoulos. “We’re seeing more intense storms, severe weather, whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wild fires. And one of the focuses my agency is going to have is, how can we start to reduce the impacts of these events as they continue to grow?”
Looking ahead, Criswell told Stephanopoulos that FEMA is focusing on how to help communities become “more resilient” as they face powerful storms in the future.
“We’re having a concerted effort going forward in how we can help communities understand what their unique risks are, the type of mitigation projects that are out there that can help protect them community-wide instead of incremental projects,” she said.
Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund donated $443 million to 44 climate groups on Monday.
This is part of his commitment to spend $10 billion by 2030 to fight the climate crisis.
Bezos recently used his fortune to send himself to space and has been criticized for focusing too much on space travel.
Jeff Bezos left his fellow humans on Earth for about 15 minutes in July when he shot himself up to the edge of space. But that doesn’t mean he’s leaving his home planet behind.
On Monday, the founder of Amazon announced a $443 million donation to organizations focused on climate justice, nature conservation, and tracking climate goals. Bezos’ organization, the Bezos Earth Fund, wrote in a press release that it awarded 44 grants to organizations that fit that criteria, including $140 million to President Joe Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which helps fight climate change in disadvantaged communities, along with $51 million to support land restoration in the US and Africa.
These grants are part of Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to his Earth Fund to fight climate change — funds of which he promised would be fully disbursed by 2030.
“The goal of the Bezos Earth Fund is to support change agents who are seizing the challenges that this decisive decade presents,” Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a statement. “Through these grants, we are advancing climate justice and the protection of nature, two areas that demand stronger action.”
As the world’s second richest person, Bezos has been using his money to not only fight the climate crisis — his fund gave $791 million to 16 climate organizations last year — but to venture into space. On July 20, Bezos boarded a rocket made by his aerospace company Blue Origin and spent about three minutes in outer space — a form of travel, and way of life, he anticipates will become the norm.
“Over centuries, many people will be born in space. It will be their first home,” Bezos said during a recent conference. “They will be born on these colonies, live on these colonies. Then, they’ll visit Earth the way you would visit, you know, Yellowstone National Park.”
After his space flight, Bezos also expressed the need to preserve the Earth and move the “polluting industry to space,” adding that his quick trip “reinforces my commitment to climate change, to the environment.”
“We live on this beautiful planet. You can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space,” Bezos said in July. “We live in it, and it looks so big. It feels like, you know, this atmosphere is huge and we can disregard it and treat it poorly. When you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is.”
The billionaire has been criticized for focusing too much on outer space when there are many pressing problems down here on Earth. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, recently criticized Bezos for his fixation on space travel while managing to avoid paying his fair share in taxes.
“The richest guy on Earth can launch himself into space while over half the country lives paycheck to paycheck, nearly 43 million are saddled with student debt, and child care costs force millions out of work,” Warren tweeted. “He can afford to pitch in so everyone else gets a chance.”
But Bezos responded to claims he doesn’t focus enough on pressing issues on Earth, saying at the same conference that those critics miss the fact that “we need to do both, and that the two things are deeply connected.”
On the latest episode of Pitchfork Economics, two professors at the Institute of New Economics at Oxford University, Erick Beinhocker and Doyne Farmer, join Nick Hanauer to address the flaws in the way we discuss the problems of, and solutions to, climate change.
“We’ve had the wrong economic ideas about how climate change is framed,” Beinhocker explains. As an example of this flawed thinking, he cites the the Nobel Prize-winning work of Yale economist William Nordhaus, which has warned since the 1990s “that it’s going to be very expensive and costly to transition from our fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy, but those costs have to be weighed against the benefits of avoiding an ecological collapse and potential mass extinction event.”
Nordhaus’s models have helped frame the conversation about climate change as a negative one. We’ve been told since the dawn of the modern environmental movement in the 1990s that saving the planet will cost us all a great deal in profits, convenience, and quality of life.
Environmental advocacy groups often explain their policies in terms of what ordinary people will have to give up, both financially and in terms of convenience, in order to save the planet.
New research indicates that this punitive, eat-your-spinach style of thinking may be completely wrong. “We think that converting to renewables, and doing so reasonably quickly within a span of about 20 years, is going to save the world money,” Farmer says. “It’s going to make energy cheaper for us, as well as evading climate change.”
Farmer participates in one of the two major academic groups researching rates of technological advancement, and the indicators point to a fast-growing future for affordable green energy. While green energy keeps getting cheaper, fossil fuels and their attendant costs have remained basically flat for nearly a century and a half. If solar, wind, and hydrogen power continue to stay on their current development path for another decade or two, and if battery storage capacity continues to improve as well, green energy will overtake fossil fuels to become the world’s dominant power source.
“We’re going to see energy cheaper than it’s ever been” in the history of the world, Farmer predicts.
“We still have a long way to go,” Beinhocker warns. “Only about 20 percent of global energy is from non-fossil fuels today, and 80 percent from fossil fuels. But the growth [of green energy] has been extraordinary.”
Beinhocker says that renewable energy capacity increased by 45 percent in 2020, making it “the only energy source to actually grow during the pandemic, and 90 percent of new power additions in the world now in the electrical sector are from renewables.” The global switch to green energy is nearing “a tipping point,” he says, “but it’s a race against the clock.”
This research, though, should mark a significant change in the conversation about climate change. Rather than focusing on punitive policies which make fuel more expensive for the average American, our leaders should instead be investing deeply into research to advance cheap clean technologies, as well as speeding up the construction of green infrastructure, making the adoption of clean fuels more desirable. As we’ve seen in increased electric vehicle adoption rates around the world, consumers are happy to make the switch to a clean alternative, when they’re presented with an affordable, convenient option.
The evidence is clear: it’s time for the environmental conversation in America to become an additive, positive one, rather than a negative story of sacrifice and punishment. When it comes to the green economy, it’s no longer about saying no to Exxon; it’s about saying yes to building a faster track to a cleaner, cheaper future for the whole human race.
World leaders are focusing on electric vehicles to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis.
But electrifying vehicles is simply not enough — especially given their large production footprint.
To really make a difference, we need smaller cars, less cars, and more transportation alternatives.
Paris Marx is the host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast and author of the forthcoming book, Road to Nowhere, about the problems with Silicon Valley’s future of transportation.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Climate change is happening now. Wildfires are getting worse, flooding more common, hurricanes more powerful, and heat waves more deadly. Yet when world leaders met in Glasgow earlier this month, their proposals still had the world on track for 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming — far above the 1.5-degree target. Governments aren’t doing enough, but they are beginning to take action, and many are focusing on the opportunity offered by electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles are one piece of a strategy to slash transport emissions, but they tend to receive far more attention than proposals to cut car use. The electrification of transportation is essential — there is no doubt about that — but just replacing every personal vehicle with a battery-powered equivalent will produce an environmental disaster of its own. Such a strategy also denies us the opportunity to rethink a near-century of misguided auto-oriented city planning.
SUVs make the problem worse
Since the 1990s, SUVs have gone from being a niche vehicle segment to nearly half of new vehicle sales in the United States. When you add in vans and pickup trucks, that number rises to more than 70% of the market. These large vehicles now dominate North American roads, despite the fact that they’re at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians, have contributed to a 30% increase in pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2019, and make it harder to cut the carbon emitted from transportation.
While fuel economy standards have improved over time, the shift from sedans to SUVs and trucks has partially offset the emissions reductions that should have accompanied those improvements. Plus, when you look at the global picture, SUV sales have also taken off to such a degree that they were the second largest contributor to the increase in global emissions from 2010 to 2018. The commonly stated solution to this problem is not to address the growing size of vehicles or the mass ownership of personal vehicles of any kind, but simply to electrify them. That isn’t good enough.
The focus on tailpipe emissions misses the bigger picture, and at a moment when we can see the complex, global nature of supply chains in our everyday lives, we need to think beyond such a limited framing of electric vehicles’ environmental impact.
For example, particulate matter created from tire, brake, and road wear, as well as the dust kicked up by cars on the road, does not fuel climate change, but it does create air pollution that’s harmful to human health. In the United States, these pollutants are responsible for about 53,000 premature deaths each year, and heavier electric vehicles like SUVs and trucks could actually generate more particulate matter than lighter, non-electric cars.
Yet while health effects are important, the biggest concern is the minerals that are required to make the batteries that power electric vehicles and the mining that has to happen to extract them. It’s a reality that seriously dirties their green image, and shows the “zero emissions” branding simply isn’t accurate.
The mining behind electric vehicles
Ahead of COP26, the International Energy Agency released its latest World Energy Outlook that estimated achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will require six times more minerals by mid-century than is necessary today. Yet the majority of those minerals are required for electric vehicles and storage, whose mineral demand is projected to increase by “well over 50 times by 2050” as the demand for batteries to power them grows substantially. As a result, the United States is assessing its own mineral supply chains and working with Canada to expand mining activities to supply battery makers. But all that mining comes with consequences.
That’s because these mines harm the surrounding environment, use excess amounts of water, and create significant amounts of waste, but they also have consequences for workers and nearby communities who often suffer from much higher rates of illness. In some countries, a more organized opposition to mining activities is forming, including groups in Latin America that call it a form of green extractivism where people and ecosystems are sacrificed in the name of the climate crisis. As plans to extract more minerals escalate, the backlash will only grow, both at home and abroad.
We need to reduce car use
Electric vehicles tend to be more environmentally friendly than those powered by gas or diesel, but they still have a significant footprint of their own that primarily occurs in the production stage rather than during their use. As long as an electric vehicle replaces all the trips a conventional vehicle might take, it will typically produce fewer emissions over its lifetime within a few years. But we need to ensure we’re not being misled by industry players that have an incentive to greenwash products that don’t do nearly enough to address the problem.
On top of the issues with mining and large vehicle pollution, continuing to have communities built around the assumption that everyone will drive simply isn’t sustainable. The automotive industry wants us to replace the vehicle fleet with battery-powered alternatives because they’ll make a lot of money in the process, but it’s not the best path for the environment, nor for our communities.
As leaders at COP26 were focused on electric vehicles, a network of mayors and the International Transport Workers’ Federation released a report arguing that public transit use needs to double by 2030 in order to meet emissions targets. Making transit available within a 10-minute walk of people’s homes would not only encourage its use and create tens of millions of jobs, but could begin to transform our relationship to mobility.
There was a moment during the pandemic where it felt that change was not only possible, but was happening in front of our very eyes. Streets were closed to vehicles so people had space to move, and temporary bike lanes were thrown up to encourage cycling. In some cities, those efforts were expanded as the worst of the pandemic lifted so people could leave their cars at home and commit to using bikes or transit. But in other cities, the push to go “back to normal” swept away those spaces, and the SUVs returned.
We should seize this opportunity to challenge the past century of auto-oriented planning and emphasize walking, cycling, and transit use over driving. Not only would people’s quality of life improve, but if we’re serious about taking on the climate crisis, we need to significantly reduce the number of cars and SUVs on the road — regardless of what powers them.
Utqiaġvik, Alaska is the northernmost town in the US, overlooking the Arctic Ocean.
“Polar night” begins this week, plunging the town’s residents into 66 days of 24-hour darkness.
Local business owners told Insider what it’s like to work in the region — from $98 laundry detergent to hunting whales.
When Myron McCumber talks about life in Alaska, he talks in terms of “the lower 48,” a saying used by locals to describe the continental US.
“Alaskans tend to be pretty independent thinkers,” he told Insider. “We see ourselves as separate from and still belonging to the United States.”
Myron and his wife, Susan McCumber, run Latitude 71, a 12-room bed and breakfast in Utqiagvik, Alaska. Their guests range from Brazilian tourists chasing the northern lights to local oil rig workers.
Along Utqiagvik’s coast is a welcome sign that reads “America’s northernmost city” above a blue and white illustration of a whale tail. Home to just over 4,000 people, Utqiagvik goes by many names, including “the rooftop of the world” and “ground zero for climate change.”
Starting this week, the town will enter “polar night” and plunge into 66 days of 24-hour darkness. Without the sun, temperatures drop substantially. Utqiagvik is below freezing for 160 days out of the year.
While tourists plan visits around the cosmic phenomena, the locals of Utqiagvik continue their daily lives, Myron said — just without the sun.
“It’s dark when you come home at lunch,” he described. “You turn your headlights on at noon to drive home … that would be a little different for most people living in the lower 48.”
Year-round, running a business in Utqiagvik comes with its own set of challenges. Namely, food.
“It’s $14 for a gallon of milk,” Myron told Insider. “A box of Tide laundry pods is like $98. A case of water that you get from Walmart for $6 — here it’s $48.”
In order to afford meals for hotel guests, the McCumbers travel four to five times a year to Anchorage, where groceries are slightly cheaper. The hauls are then stored in Latitude 71’s six freezers and two refrigerators.
“We bring in 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of food and supplies like toilet paper,” Myron said. “An 18-pack of paper towels here is $58. In Anchorage, that would be about $24.”
The majority of North Slope residents are Iñupiat Alaska Natives, who have inhabited the polar region for thousands of years. The Iñupiat have historically survived the harsh climate through subsistence hunting of whale, caribou, walrus, seal, and bird.
With grocery prices so high, hunting is still an important part of living in Utqiagvik. Each Spring, the community gathers during “Nalukataq” to celebrate a successful whale-hunting season.
But climate change has made hunting harder than ever, Myron told Insider. In 2017, the temperature in Utqiagvik rose so fast that an algorithm flagged the data as “unreal” and removed it from the government’s database.
“With the sea ice not being here as much, we don’t see the seals and the walrus and the polar bear,” he said. “It’s changing migration patterns for animals and birds — so all of that has a big impact on subsistence hunters, which is a lot of the population here.”
Most of Utqiagvik is immune to the lower 48’s commercialization — except for the local Subway.
“There are 4,500 people here and there’s only five other restaurants,” its owner, John Masterson, told Insider, adding that Subway is the only place in Utqiagvik whose menu doesn’t include pizza, hamburgers, or Chinese food.
Despite the fact that a foot-long steak and cheese sandwich costs $16.99, Masterson said the store broke “every Subway sales record” there was.
“We sold over 1,000 sandwiches the first day and over almost 10,000 sandwiches in the first week,” Masterson said.
On Friday, the House finally passed Biden’s $2 trillion social spending package after an all-night vote.
Now, the bill heads to the Senate, where it’ll likely be reshaped before becoming law.
Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to include progressive priorities like taxes on the rich, lower drug prices, expanded Medicare, and climate crisis measures.
After an all-night session, the House finally passed President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion party-line social spending bill. The next hurdle is the Senate, where the package is likely to be reshaped as Democrats once again duke it out over which provisions are included.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is already envisioning some changes. In a statement, Sanders said he hopes to see the bill “strengthened in a number of ways” in the Senate.
“Is that really too much to ask in the richest country on Earth — that elderly people have teeth in their mouth and can see and can hear?” Sanders said previously.
Sanders also said that the Senate must act “to combat the existential threat of climate change and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.”
For now, progressives are celebrating a win as their centerpiece legislation moves forward
Following its passage, progressives lauded the policies in the legislation, like universal pre-K and national paid and family leave. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar celebrated the passage by dancing with a Build Back Better character on the steps of the Capitol building.
Missouri Rep. Cori Bush wrote on Twitter that her vote for the bill “was for the home care workers in my district who urged me with teary eyes not to leave behind the part of the Build Back Better Agenda that took care of them too.”
She added: “Senator Manchin: We’re looking at you. The people must win.”
Sanders and other progressives are likely to run up against opposition from key centrists Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have been responsible for the package getting pared down from its original $3.5 trillion price tag. Sinema opposes higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations; Manchin has pushed back on provisions like paid leave, and the overall size of the package.
Manchin has frequently expressed concerns with the cost of the bill and how it will impact the US budget, but given the Congressional Budget Office’s statement on Thursday that Democrats’ proposed framework would add just $160 billion to the budget deficit over ten years, Manchin’s inflation concerns might be eased.
The bill now heads to the Senate, and Biden wrote in a statement on Friday that he hopes to sign a critical piece of his economic agenda into law “as soon as possible.” Earlier this week, he signed his bipartisan infrastructure bill into law.
His crewmates were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
The Crew-2 astronauts boarded SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship and undocked from the ISS on November 7.
Pesquet served as ISS commander for the last month of his spaceflight.
The next day, they plummeted to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pesquet was “basically the designated professional photographer of this mission,” SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said on a livestream, as the Crew Dragon backed away from the ISS.
During his time in space, Pesquet took more than 245,000 photos from about 250 miles above the Earth.
“I think there’s too many pictures,” Pesquet said in a NASA Q&A on Monday.
On one of Pesquet’s last days in space, the ISS flew above a highly active, multicolored aurora borealis, triggered by a huge burst of particles from the sun.
“We flew right above the center of the ring, rapid waves and pulses all over,” Pesquet wrote when he shared the photo. Some of the aurora’s spikes reach higher than the space station, he added.
“We’ve been treated with some unbelievable auroras,” Pesquet said during the Q&A. “It’s sad, because the pictures just don’t do them justice.”
Pesquet said he saw about 15 to 20 instances of the aurora during the mission.
Auroras are just one example of stunning views Pesquet and his crewmates enjoyed as they orbited Earth.
Among Pesquet’s favorite subjects is what he calls “crop art” — the colorful geometry of agricultural fields.
Agricultural areas can make beautiful patterns. While it’s hard to pin down exact locations from space, Pesquet said these farms in the desert are somewhere on the African continent.
“I like how something artistic sometimes comes out of a very practical purpose,” Pesquet wrote when he shared this photo on social media.
“Circles, squares, (salt) mines and irrigation are not meant to be pretty from up close, but they dazzle us from above and at a giant scale,” he added.
In some places, like Bolivia, pretty patterns — and the crops growing within them — are due to the clearing of tropical forests.
But natural landscapes make colorful patterns, too.
Australia has particularly dramatic natural formations, like these salt lakes.
Since the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets per day. But not all the sights are beautiful.
“We see the pollution of rivers, atmospheric pollution, things like that,” Pesquet told French President Emmanuel Macron on November 4.
He spoke with Macron on a video call from the ISS, as world leaders met during the UN climate conference in Scotland. Negotiators’ goal in Scotland should be to speed up humanity’s response to the climate crisis, Macron responded, according to The Associated Press.
“What really shocked me on this mission were extreme weather or climate phenomena,” Pesquet told Macron.
“We saw entire regions burning from the space station, in Canada, in California,” he said, adding, “the fragility of Earth is a shock.”
“Year after year, we also know we are beating records for fires, for storms, for floods. And that is very, very visible. I very clearly saw the difference compared to my mission four or five years ago,” Pesquet told Macron.
Pesquet also saw comforting sights, like his birthplace of Normandy, France.
Many of his photos feature France’s landscapes.
“We are in public service. We have a responsibility to do things for the people and inform people of what we’re doing,” Pesquet said during the Q&A on Monday.
“I think there’s a responsibility also to share this point of view because you see the fragility of the Earth,” he said, adding, “When you see the Earth from space, it’s very finite, limited resources.”
Bezos also talked about the importance of space travel, saying there’s a “tremendous amount to be done in the here and now, and we cannot forget about that. But at the same time in a deeply connected way, we need to look to the future.”
“We humans have always done both things, we’ve always looked at the here and now, we have always looked out to the future. And this planet is so small, if we want to keep growing as a civilization, using more energy as a civilization, most of that in the future needs to be done off-planet,” he added.
Diplomats from more than 200 nations on Saturday agreed at COP26 on a path forward to combat climate change and its effects in the culmination of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.
According to The New York Times, the agreement between nations centered on the idea that the countries would return to the conference next year with more detailed strategies on how they planned to address climate change. It also called on wealthy nations to “at least double” the amount of funds allocated to assisting vulnerable nations in adapting to the changing climate, the Times reported.
The agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support developing nations was reached Saturday, one day after the conference was scheduled to end, after continued divisions between countries.
According to the Times, the deal lacks the complete funding needed for developing countries to mitigate extreme weather events and to build clean energy infrastructure. The agreement landed on language that the nations would pledge to “phase down” the use of unabated coal rather than “phase out” coal as an earlier draft had said.
The change was pushed by India, according to Politico. India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav told negotiators Saturday that developing countries were “entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels,” Politico reported.
“We do not need to phase down, but to phase out,” Switzerland’s representative, Simonetta Sommaruga, said, according to The New York Times. “We are disappointed both about the process and the last minute change. This will not bring us closer to 1.5 but will make it more difficult to reach.”
According to CNN, the agreement Saturday marked the first time in the conference’s history that coal or any other fossil fuel, including oil or gas, had been mentioned as a cause of climate change.
The agreement outlined how the world should work to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gases, including methane, according to the Times. It also included rules to hold nations accountable for making the necessary changes outlined, the Times reported.
More than 1 billion children are at extreme risk for weather disasters, a UNICEF report found.
The majority of these kids live in countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions.
High-risk countries are already facing extreme heat, water scarcity, flooding and other impacts.
Tahsin Uddin, a 23-year-old climate activist who lives in the southern city of Barisal in Bangladesh, has already lost one family home to coastal flooding and rising sea levels. Within the next few years, he expects his current home to be submerged under water as well.
Uddin is just one of the millions of Bangladeshis and others across the globe facing the brutal consequences of the climate crisis.
By 2050, more than 20 million Bangladeshis will be displaced and nearly 20% of the country’s land will be underwater because of rising sea levels, a direct impact of the changing climate, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit climate advocacy group.
Uddin told Insider the impact of those rising sea levels can be seen throughout the country: “I go to different coastal areas. I saw how much people are suffering. They are trying to survive by drinking salty water. Saline water is very dangerous for their health.”
While the consequences of climate change are pummeling Bangladesh, it contributes very little to carbon emissions.
A UNICEF report published in August found more than 1 billion children, nearly half the world’s kids, lived in places with a high risk of extreme weather events. The 33 countries where the climate crisis poses the most risk to children contributed only 9% of global CO2 emissions, while 70% of emissions were attributed to just 10 countries.
A 2016 study found 20 of the 36 highest-emitting countries were among the least vulnerable to the effects of a warming climate, while 11 of the 17 countries with low or moderate emissions were significantly vulnerable.
Some of the countries with low emissions per capita that are at a high risk include Bangladesh, India, Philippines, and multiple countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.
They are facing heat waves, water scarcity, coastal flooding, and water-borne disease, among other hazards, which in turn can lead to poor sanitation, lack of food, scarce income, and deteriorating living conditions. Meanwhile, many of the places currently experiencing these effects lack the infrastructure or resources to mitigate them.
Experts and climate activists have said that while countries contributing the most need to reduce emissions, poorer countries are in need of immediate funding to address current challenges.
Heat waves have killed thousands in India in recent years
In the summer of 2019, large swaths of India were scorched by temperatures greater than 113 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly three weeks. In some regions, officials closed local schools. Medical authorities canceled time off for doctors to ensure hospitals could handle the influx of patients.
“Shortly after we left Agra, the heat became unbearable and some people started complaining of breathing problems and uneasiness. Before we could get some help, they collapsed,” a passenger told India Today.
By the end of that summer heat wave, more than 200 people had died. The heat wave of 2015 was far worse, with extreme heat causing the deaths of more than 2,000 people. In the past decade, more than 6,000 people in India have died as a result of excessive heat, according to government data.
“Climate change is leading to more frequent, more intense, and longer heat waves around the world,” said Olga Wilhelmi, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, adding that the link has been well-documented.
An estimated 820 million children, more than a third of kids worldwide, are highly exposed to heat waves, according to the UNICEF report.
“Extreme heat is probably one of the least appreciated weather hazards, but it’s actually one of the more deadly weather hazards in the US and worldwide,” Wilhelmi said. “Studies show that in the US, somewhere on average between 600 and 1,800 people die from extreme heat every year, but we don’t usually read about that in the news.”
Health complications of extreme heat can vary from dehydration to heatstroke. Heat waves can also exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Groups at a higher risk include older people, children, people with pre-existing conditions, and those who are lower-income and do not have access to air conditioning.
Heat waves can also shut down electric grids when they don’t have the capacity to handle the increased demand for air conditioning.
Lack of water leads to poverty and hunger
Water scarcity, the lack of adequate access to clean water, is another way people are feeling the climate crisis.
While scarcity can be due to institutional failures to deliver water, in many instances it’s due to dwindling water sources or growing populations that need more water.
More than a third of kids worldwide, 920 million are currently highly exposed to water scarcity.
This issue affects kids in various parts of the world including parts of India, South America, Australia, and the Middle East.
For example, while parts of India are at extreme risk of scarcity, the country only contributed to 3.14% of overall emissions in 2019.
Greg Pierce, the co-director of the Water Resources Group: Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, told Insider the biggest effect could be felt in rural areas.
Pierce said rural areas tend to be poorer and have one water source. Residents are usually already walking long distances to get to that water which may not always be clean.
Water isn’t just needed for drinking, but for producing and selling agriculture. Water is very much tied to livelihoods.
“The scarcity issue makes it harder to do agriculture, which is what most rural populations rely on for livelihoods. So, there’s a hunger, inability to grow food and inability to earn any money,” Pierce told Insider. “That lack of water leads directly to people starving and that is going to become a lot more common, unfortunately again, in many parts of the world.”
When those resources dry up, residents would be forced to travel even further or move, further straining resources.
While many parts of India are dealing with water scarcity, other regions are also experiencing flooding, Pierce said. However, the flooding comes with other complications and doesn’t counter the consequences of water scarcity.
Coastal flooding, which destroys property and resources, is already taking a heavy toll in Bangladesh
In Uddin’s home of Bangladesh, rising seas and extreme precipitation have inundated communities with flooding in recent years.
The village of Bonnotola, once home to more than 2,000 people, has less than 500 residents left, as the flooding and salt water-tainted soil destroyed many people’s homes and livelihoods, the Associated Press reported.
One woman from the village of Gabura told AP everyone used to grow food in their backyards, but that salt water flooding has disrupted the once-fertile lands and freshwater that many relied on.
“We have water everywhere, but we don’t have a drop anymore to drink from ponds or wells,” she said.
Almost every ocean on Earth is experiencing a sea-level rise, according to William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One in 10 children, or 240 million, are currently exposed to coastal flooding, according to the UNICEF report. Sea-level rise is exacerbated by extreme rainfall events, which are also a consequence of warming.
“The same heating that’s causing oceans to rise, ice caps and ice sheets to melt, and oceans to expand, is also enabling more moisture to be held within the atmosphere,” Sweet said, adding that the result is frequent heavy rains. “The combined effect of course is flooding with nowhere for that water to go.”
While the threat of entire cities being underwater is the most commonly talked about result of rising sea levels, there are many significant issues that arise well before a city or property is actually underwater.
“It’s not when you’re underwater, it’s when the system fails,” Sweet said, adding that flooding can overwhelm infrastructure and destroy roadways, stormwater and wastewater systems, and people’s personal property.
He said by the time areas are actually underwater, people are already gone by then, driven out by the flooding.
Coastal flooding creates more problems where water infrastructure is lacking, Pierce told Insider.
“Flooding doesn’t typically increase water supply. It can have a direct impact on water-borne illness, especially because there’s poor sanitation in a lot of places and when there’s flooding, it gets into wherever the waste is being contained or into the open sewers and spreads,” he said.
Diseases are becoming more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South America because of the climate crisis
As temperatures rise, cities flood and water becomes scarce, there’s also a rise of waterborne illnesses with an estimated 600 million children currently exposed to diseases like malaria and dengue fever, according to the UNICEF report.
The impact can be most immediately felt in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South America.
Martin Muchangi, AMREF water and sanitation specialist based in Kenya, told Insider he studies waterborne illnesses across much of sub-Saharan Africa, and that a vast majority of people are dealing with water scarcity which in turn is driving up waterborne diseases.
Muchangi said the issue is twofold: changing temperatures pushing things like mosquitoes into more places and increasing pathogens that cause diarrhea illnesses like cholera and typhoid and the lack of water leading to poor hygiene and diseases like scabies or glaucoma.
He told Insider the problem is leading to harming both people and the economy.
“So now at the end of the day, if you combine the sum total, you realize that there’s major economic loss, there’s serious effects to the health, there’s serious effects to the thriving of children,” he said.
Many countries facing the worst of the climate crisis also have the least resources to address it
While nowhere on earth will escape the effects of the climate crisis, some countries have infrastructure and resources that make them more prepared to respond.
Pierce told Insider many of the impacts can be mitigated with robust public health initiatives and proper infrastructure. Water filtration systems, for example, can mitigate the risks of water-borne disease.
Muchangi and Uddin told Insider the countries they live and work in, however, don’t have the funds they need to address the issues they’re facing.
In Bangladesh, Uddin said funding is needed to direct towards researching ways to remove salt from saltwater and towards building infrastructure that can withstand flooding, including fortifying schools, hospitals, homes, and other essential buildings.
Muchangi said that while finding ways to mitigate the immediate impacts of the changing climate is necessary, limiting CO2 emissions would greatly reduce the burden.
“If we are able to alleviate climate change itself, then the effects of climate change are going to become lesser and we are going to be able to thrive in a better way,” he said.