Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
How do climate change–related temperature increases impact human health?
Less than a week after a stifling heat wave brought record temperatures to much of the Pacific Northwest, officials in California are bracing for similarly high temperatures. In California, this heat is arriving at the start of wildfire season—and in one of the driest years on record for the state, the heat threatens to exacerbate health risks to Californians even further. These heat waves come as climate change warms temperatures and brings more extreme weather patterns. Portland, Oregon—which in 1940 saw only about 10 days per year with a high temperature above 90°F—now averages about 20 such days per year. These high temperatures can impact human health directly and can strain local infrastructure in ways that further imperil well-being: this summer, the high temperatures have exacerbated fire risks, overwhelmed healthcare providers, and melted power cables essential to public transit. In all, at least 118 people across the entire Pacific Northwest region have died due to the heat.
On a new episode of the Resources Radio podcast, Emory University Assistant Professor Noah Scovronick discusses a study he recently coauthored about the impacts of climate change on heat-related mortality. The study indicates that climate change already has exacerbated heat mortality; the authors estimate that climate change contributed to about 90 heat-related deaths per year in Chicago during the study period of 1991 to 2018. More broadly, Scovronick and his colleagues find that about a third of all heat deaths across the 700 studied locations are attributable to climate change, which Scovronick says equates to nearly 10,000 additional deaths each year. Although heat waves can emerge across the globe, Scovronick says, “Places that are predicted to suffer net increases in temperature-related mortality under different climate change scenarios will be disproportionately in warmer and poorer regions of the world. That is obviously a huge concern.”
Related research and commentary:
- Podcast: Handling Heat and Health as Climate Changes, with Noah Scovronick
- Working Paper: Effects of Climate Change on Heat- and Cold-Related Mortality: A Literature Review to Inform Updated Estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon
- Podcast: AC/DC: Unequal Access to Air Conditioning, with Kelly T. Sanders
How could a climate bill that recently sailed through the Senate make it easier for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to incorporate sustainable practices and reduce their emissions?
Last month, the US Senate—in a rare bipartisan vote on an environmental bill—passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which aims to make it easier for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to participate in private carbon markets. If passed in the House of Representatives as well, the legislation will task the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with creating a certification program for existing markets and providing a “one-stop shop” for landowners to learn about approved programs. These carbon markets, often established by private companies looking to offset emissions from their operations, provide financial incentives for participants to engage in less carbon-intensive practices, such as cover cropping. But these markets can be hard to access for landowners, and many existing programs have uncertain environmental benefits. While no clear timeline is in place for a floor vote in the House, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a key architect behind the proposal, has expressed optimism that the bill eventually will become law and pointed to support from both President Joe Biden and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
In a new blog post, RFF Senior Advisor Ann Bartuska both describes existing USDA programs that promote sustainable practices among landowners and explores the possible role of the Growing Climate Solutions Act in facilitating further emissions reductions. Two existing programs that Bartuska notes are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which funds projects that encourage climate-friendly practices, and the Cooperative Extension system of the land grant universities, a partnership with USDA, which has provided farmers with information about existing private carbon markets. According to Bartuska, the Growing Climate Solutions Act builds on these existing programs and could help engage landowners who want to reduce their emissions but might not know of the resources available to them. “This enhancement of conservation programs that focus on climate mitigation at USDA is an important step toward encouraging sustainable practices among farmers, ranchers, and foresters—the stewards of our nation’s landscape,” Bartuska says.
Related research and commentary:
What are the implications and future of the Trump administration’s deregulatory approach to rulemaking around the Clean Water Act?
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced last month that the Biden administration plans to repeal the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed Clean Water Act protections from isolated wetlands and ephemeral streams. While formally replacing the rule will take years and likely involve legal challenges, taking a different approach to water regulation has been a priority for President Biden, who ordered a review of the rule during his first week in office. The review concluded that the Trump administration’s rulemaking had disproportionate impacts on bodies of water in arid western states, including New Mexico and Arizona, and consequently permitted hundreds of projects in waterways that had been protected previously. The Trump administration had justified easing the standards by contending that the Obama-era Clean Water Rule imposed burdens on businesses and by assuming that states would implement new water regulations in the absence of stringent federal standards.
In a recent Science article, RFF University Fellows Sheila Olmstead and Catherine Kling, along with several coauthors, reflect on the reasoning behind the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. In particular, they take issue with the assumption that states will fill the void left by the federal government, which they say “downplays the importance of cross-state pollution” and skews the underlying benefit-cost analysis. Such an assumption also neglects to consider recent history: of the 31 states that the agencies assume will proactively protect newly unregulated waterways, the authors point out that 14 states had challenged the Obama-era Clean Water Rule in court for expanding protections too much. In a recent Resources magazine article about the long-running uncertainty about which waterways merit federal protection, Olmstead warns that “these arguments about devolving regulatory authority from the federal to the state governments are familiar arguments that one could make about many other environmental statutes.”
Related research and commentary:
As high temperatures grip much of the western United States, consider this week's #FactOfTheWeek.
A study coauthored by Resources Radio guest Noah Scovronick assesses the impact of climate change on heat-related human mortality in 43 countries across three decades. The scholars conclude that nearly a third of all heat-related deaths across the study locations—10,000 deaths per year—are attributable to climate change.