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Heat Waves Rolling In

Photo credit: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP

By Leila Waid.

The beginning of summer has already brought immense heat waves throughout the world. Countries in Southeast Asia, such as India and Thailand, already had extreme heat waves in April—with UNICEF stating that the extreme temperatures posed a risk to 243 million children. In the Southwest U.S., June has also seen record-breaking extreme temperatures in early June. With the summer just beginning, how many more heatwaves will the world endure this season, and how many individuals will be at risk?

Heat waves are a significant public health issue because of the variety of health issues they pose. They are a prescient environmental justice issue because, due to climate change, the temperatures will keep climbing to unbearable levels. A study using modeling techniques has found that heat waves will become more extreme and longer-lasting in the latter half of the 21st century. An alarming finding from another study forecasts that “the limit for survivability may be reached at the end of the twenty-first century in many regions of the world” because the combination of high heat and humidity levels (referred to as the wet-bulb temperature) can pose extreme danger to human health.   

One way that heat waves impact human health is by increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is already the number one cause of death in the U.S. According to the American Health Association, close to 50% of the American population has some form of heart disease. This finding means that half of Americans are at an even more increased risk from heat waves. Along with impacting those who already have heart issues, heat waves are also associated with the development of heart disease – with epidemiological studies showcasing that increased temperatures can lead to the development of ischemic heart disease.

Increased temperature places undue stress on the body, and these changes can cause “imbalances in the autonomic control of the heart, increase local arterial pressures, induce systemic inflammation, and impair clotting responses.” Thus, heat waves place those with pre-existing heart disease in increased danger and also increase the risk of heart disease development in the rest of the population. One study modeled how climate change will impact cardiovascular rates in the future and found that death from heart disease could increase from 162% to 233%. Currently, extreme heat causes an estimated 1,651 deaths annually from heart disease. The study projects that this number could increase anywhere from 4,320 to 5,491 deaths by the mid-21st century.  

As with most aspects of health, the impacts are not felt equally across the populations due to societal factors. For example, those with lower socioeconomic status face worse health outcomes during heat waves. One study examined whether insurance status played a role in heat-induced heart attacks and found that it was a critical factor in individuals’ health outcomes. Based in New York, the study found that individuals without health insurance – a stand-in for socioeconomic status (SES) – had a higher risk of myocardial infarction (heart attacks) during extreme heat even than those with health insurance. Another study conducted in Hong Kong found similar results – older individuals with lower SES were more likely to be admitted to the hospital during heat waves than those with higher SES.

Climate change continues to cause record-breaking heat waves year after year, and thus, we need to be aware of all of the risks these temperatures pose to our health. At an individual level, it is essential to understand what factors can place you at risk and to avoid outside activity, if possible, during these extreme temperatures. At a community level, we must look out for one another. For example, this summer, check up on your elderly family members and neighbors and be aware of signs of heat exhaustion and heat strokes in others so that you can provide assistance in case of emergencies. And at a societal level, keep fighting for and supporting climate change policies!

Backyard Talk

What is “Fridays for Future,” and why are youth protesting outside their parliaments across the world? By Maddelene Karlsson

Since August 2018 a climate change movement known as “Fridays for Future” has grown significantly fast. It all started with the now 16-year old Swedish Greta Thunberg, who learned about the devastating effects of climate change in school. She felt so taken by what she had learned and thought that interventions on a global level need to happen sooner rather then later. Greta started to protest outside of the Swedish parliament every Friday during normal school hours arguing “why study for a future which may not be there.” The goal of her protests was to demand political leaders improve current climate policies for a sustainable future. Greta also argues “why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?”. Like the snowball effect, Greta’s protesting went from her protesting alone to large school “strikes” together with thousands of people across the world every Friday.
Fridays for future Greta Thunberg

(Photo: Michael Campanella/The Guardian)

In mid-March 2019, the largest strike so far took place in more than 125 countries with at least 1.6 million participants, all demanding action against climate change. Recently, on May 24, another large school strike was organized with similar participation rates, as featured in The Washington Post. The group Youth Climate Strike US, is the lead youth climate action organization in the U.S. They are advocating for the New Green Deal, a stop to new construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, evidence-based policymaking in the government, a declaration of national emergency on climate change, comprehensive climate change education in primary schools, improved preservation of public lands and wildlife habitats and clean water actions.
Fridays for future protest

(Photo: Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The main goal of the school strikes is to urge political leaders globally to comply with the recommendations of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s stated in their latest report that in order to prevent and reverse the predicted devastating impacts of climate change on planet earth and human health, global CO2 emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030. While political leaders are responsible for implementing sustainable policies, such as fulfilling the pledges they made in the Paris agreement for 2030, all people can do their part with small lifestyle changes as well. If we don’t act now, we put ourselves and all wildlife at risk for a mass extinction.
The devastating effects of climate change is not limited to melting icecaps and rising sea levels. Climate change has also caused an increased number and intensity of extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, tornados and rainfall in the U.S. In the 2009 CHEJ publication “In the Eye of the Storm,” the impact of extreme weathers near or at Superfund sites is explored. Superfund sites are already toxic and put human health at risk. With the increased number of storms and flooding, toxins migrate in soil and water and pose a greater risk than originally, making the cleanup processes more difficult and costly too.

Backyard Talk

Climate Change’s Most Vulnerable Populations Take U.S. Government to Court

Our use of fossil fuels is driving carbon dioxide levels higher and accelerating global warming. However, most of the impacts from our overuse of coal and oil fall on people who haven’t yet been born, much less had the chance to contribute significantly to climate change. Should future generations be able to sue over global warming? According to several courts in the United States, the answer is yes.
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Children from Washington won a major victory against climate change last month. Image:

In mid-April, twenty-one young people received the go-ahead from an Oregon judge that their lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change could proceed. The plaintiffs, between ages 8 and 19, alleged that the federal government, by failing to act on climate change and continuing our pattern of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, has caused harm to today and tomorrow’s youth, and violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Previous climate-related lawsuits have focused mainly on violations to specific environmental laws, and this was the first to focus purely on constitutional rights. The federal government and the fossil fuel industry moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
In Washington State, young people recently won a major victory against climate change. A group of eight children filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Ecology department for endangering their rights by not taking strict measures against climate change. The court ruled that the state must create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016, fulfilling their responsibility to protect air quality for future generations. Late in May, a group of four young people in Massachusetts won a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set stronger regulations against greenhouse gases. These groups, as well as the students in Oregon, were represented by the non-profit group Our Children’s Trust. This group also has pending cases in North Carolina and Colorado, and is engaged in international work.
According to experts on climate change, future generations will bear the brunt of global warming impacts. This week, Dr. Frederica Perera of Columbia University penned an op-ed for Environmental Health News about why our climate change policies should focus on children. While adults do suffer illness and death as a result of fossil fuel pollution, children’s health and development suffer profoundly from our lack of regulation. “While air pollution and the adverse health impacts of climate change affect us all,” Perera writes, “they are most damaging to children, especially the developing fetus and young child and particularly those of low socioeconomic status, who often have the greatest exposure and the least amount of protection.” Perera also published an article in Environmental Health Perspectives on our moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable population – children – from climate change.
As the lawsuits in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington demonstrate, youth activists and climate change organizations are prepared to tackle this issue head-on, and in at least a few cases, the courts are prepared to listen. We can only hope that robust regulations will follow on the heels of legal victories, so that today’s children are the last generation of young people to have to sue for protection from climate change. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for generations to come are dependent on our ability to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and our emission of greenhouse gases – and as these lawsuits prove, we cannot wait any longer.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Snowmageddon 2016 Brought to You by Climate Change

By: Katie O’Brien

Mega winter storm Jonas, also referred to as Snowzilla or Snowmageddon, is just starting to hit the Eastern U.S. The D.C. metro area (where CHEJ is located!) is the bull’s-eye of the storm, expecting up to a whopping 30 inches. It is expected to snow for about 36 hours and will affect over 60 million people. Many of these people are under a blizzard warning, meaning the storm will have long hours of strong wind gusts and extreme reduced visibility. In some areas it will snow at a rate of 2-3 inches per hour. The DC area has not seen this much snow in the forecast since 1922.

But why have storms such as Jonas, and others like Superstorm Sandy become so severe? Many scientists believe that human induced climate change is to blame.  The Director of Penn State’s Earth Systems Science Center, Michael Mann, says that “unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures” can cause high amounts of moisture in the air and are contributing to these severe storms.

“When you mix extra moisture with “a cold Arctic outbreak (something we’ll continue to get even as global warming proceeds) you get huge amounts of energy and moisture, and monster snowfalls, like we’re about to see here”, says Mann.

Scientists are in the process of completing additional studies showing that climate change is causing the increased length and severity of these life-threatening storms. Many of them believe that climate change is altering the patterns of weather by affecting the jet streams in which they travel. This slows down storms immensely, causing heavy precipitation to essentially “dump” on certain areas at increased rates. Climate change is changing our world in big ways.

While some may use huge snowstorms like Jonas to deny climate change, this storm actually supports climate change science.

It’s time to fight back against the affects of climate change. Click here to learn more about how you can personally reduce your carbon footprint.

Click here to learn more about climate change and Blizzard Jonas.

Backyard Talk

"The Story of Change," Climate Change, and PVC-Free Schools

Two great new pieces of activist reporting came out last week, and both dovetail perfectly with our work to get PVC, the poison plastic (a k a vinyl), out of NYC schools. Check them out!

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More than half of the United States is currently in drought

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” a feature article in Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben, lays out three numbers that may well define the future of our planet: how much warmer we can “safely” allow the climate to get; how much carbon we can burn without going over; and how much carbon is currently planning to be burned by the oil and gas industry. (Hint: that last one is about five times larger than the second one.)

McKibben’s frightening conclusion is that unless the international community (i.e. we) demands that Exxon, Chesapeake, and the other oil, gas, and coal giants keep about 80% of their current reserves in the ground, unused, uncontrollable climate destabilization is inevitable. Problem is, that would mean about $20 trillion in losses for these companies, giving them roughly unlimited financial (if not human) incentive to block legislation forcing them to do it.

In short, we have our work cut out for us. Enter the latest installment from Story of Stuff Project:


Story of Change

The animated web-comic “The Story of Change” by Annie Leonard and her team takes viewers through a six-and-a-half minute tour of how citizens can bring about the environmentally sustainable, people-centered, non-toxic, socially equitable economy that we want.

Her prescription? [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Big idea] + [people] + [action] = CHANGE. It’s a convincing argument, and one that we’ll need to take to heart if we’re going to keep the fossil fuel industry’s equation from stealing the future.


So what’s the connection to PVC-free schools for New York City?

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

First, it can save energy.

The vinyl 3-ring binders, floor tiles, and examination gloves found throughout the NYC school system don’t just release harmful toxins into the air. They also take enormous amounts of energy to produce. PVC plastic is made up of about 40% chlorine, and chlorine production is one of the most energy intensive (not to mention dangerous) industrial processes in the world. According to Joe Thornton, PhD, of the Healthy Building Network, “Chlorine production for PVC consumes an estimated 47 billion kilowatt hours per year — equivalent to the annual total output of eight medium-sized nuclear power plants.”

By spending its multi-million dollar purchasing budget on safer, cost-effective alternatives to PVC, the NYC school system can better protect its students, teachers, and staff, and help drive producers away from this costly, energy-intensive material.

Second, we’re using a big idea, building people power, and taking action!

We’re bringing together parents, teachers, students, doctors, environmental justice activists, labor unions, and more to stand behind a clear message: PVC is the wrong choice for NYC school supplies and construction materials. Click here to join the effort!