Deniers will keep on denying apparently, but the signs of climate change are everywhere. As the planet has warmed up, severe weather events are happening in every corner of the globe, alerting us to the need for strong, immediate action.
1. Many parts of the world are suffering from extended heat waves. We've heard a lot about the heat waves blanketing India and Pakistan, which have claimed a high body count. Thousands of people in the region have died as a result. The situation has been exacerbated by the region's high poverty—most of those dying have been the poor and/or homeless. Temperatures have soared as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit in New Delhi.
“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” India's Earth Sciences Minister Harsh Vardhan told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change."
— Imgur (@imgur) May 26, 2015
2. There's been no dramatic death toll there, but Europe is also languishing under a heat wave, and temperatures there have set records in many places. Germany just set an all-time heat record of 104.5 degrees in the city of Kitzingen. Downtown Frankfort also had its hottest day on record, with a temperature of 102.2 degrees. Paris saw its second hottest day ever on July 1 when the temperature reached 103.5.
And players at this year's Wimbledon might almost think they're back at January's Australian Open where scorching heat has impacted matches for years during that country's peak summer season. On July 1, it reached 96 degrees at the nearest weather reporting station to the fabled tennis courts, but on-court temperatures were much higher. The temperature on Center Court was measured at more than 106 degrees.
Maybe those dangerously hot Australian matches have made the players take heat waves in stride, but top women players seemed unconcerned. “Yeah, it is going to be very hot," said the world No. 1 ranked player and top seed Serena Williams. "But I don’t think I’ve ever played in 34, 35 degrees Celsius here. But I do in other countries. I just was training in Florida. It was like 42 degrees. I mean, this will be OK.” The world No. 4 player, Maria Sharapova, was similarly unconcerned. "It's much warmer in my hometown of Longboat Key, Florida," she said.
3. The wildfire season has started earlier than usual up and down the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada with thousands of acres of drought-parched forests going up in flames. It's not only starting earlier but lasting longer and producing larger and more numerous fires, thanks to a combination of warming temperatures, extreme drought and stronger winds. In California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alaska, hundreds of fires are forcing the evacuations of thousands of people from their homes. Alaska, where temperatures have warmed twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., saw almost a tenfold increase in wildfires in the 2000s over the 1950s and 1960s. Fires in western Canada are so large and numerous that smoke is blanketing much of the western and midwestern U.S., leading to air quality warnings as far away as Colorado and Minnesota. The National Weather Service has reported some smoke as far east as the Atlantic Coast.
And experts fear that the 2015 season could be the worst yet.
"Climate change and misguided forestry policies have combined to present a landscape very vulnerable to devastating fires,” Dr. Wally Covington, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at North Arizona University, told Climate News Network. “Since around 2000, we’ve seen more severe dry weather, matched with high winds throughout the western U.S. Intense firestorms are the result. Get in the vicinity of one of those and it’s like being near a blast furnace.”
— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) June 29, 2015
4. Greenland's ice sheet remained solid during its cool spring, but now that summer has arrived, it's melting at a faster-than-normal rate for this time of year, with half its surface now liquid. Greenland might seem remote, but its ice sheet, the second largest glacial ice mass in the world, influences sea levels and how fast the Gulf Stream current moves. Although the temperatures in Greenland seem polar compared to Europe, those temperatures in the 30s and 40s are accelerating melt. The movements of massive hunks of ice are even causing earthquakes. “The earthquakes are not themselves destabilizing the ice sheet,” said Meredith Nettles of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. "But they are a marker of the fact that the ice sheet is getting smaller and retreating."
5. The drought in California is well into its fourth year, and the state imposed unprecedented water-saving restrictions in June. While rich people whine about their lawns turning brown, debates rage about allocations for drinking, agriculture, fracking and bottled water companies. Actor Tom Selleck is being accused by the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County of stealing water from a public hydrant and having it delivered in truckloads to his house. While conservatives have blamed gays, abortion, immigrants and even environmentalists for the drought, scientists, looking at actual facts, are fingering climate change as a more likely culprit.
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) July 8, 2015
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Global climate change affects a variety of factors associated with drought. There is high confidence that increased temperatures will lead to more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, earlier snow melt, and increased evaporation and transpiration. Thus the risk of hydrological and agricultural drought increases as temperatures rise."
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.