Today is Thursday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
With recreational cannabis now legal in many states, some drug dogs are out of a job — which in New Mexico alone could cost police $194,000 to train new ones, according to local NBC affiliate KOB 4.
The problem: The old method of drug-hunting, in which a K-9 signals to his or her handler when drugs are present, has been thrown off by the era of legal marijuana. Drug dogs alert by a simple binary, telling the handler that they smell some form of contraband — such as methamphetamine, heroin or marijuana — and providing probable cause for a search.
But now, a dog who signals for “contraband” might just be telling officers that the suspect is carrying their legally permissible 2 ounces of cannabis — which could render anything else found during the search inadmissible.
“That meant the easiest, simplest thing was to just stop using those dogs for that purpose," Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe told KOB.
The dogs’ handlers will be given an option to adopt them — which is about all the good news we have for you today. In the far grimmer public health sector, we’re looking at the sustainability impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which has now passed 4 million global deaths. And that, officials say, pales in comparison to the coming threat from heat.
For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sharon at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin.
Let’s get to it.
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WHO director: A fossil-fuel driven coronavirus recovery as grave a threat as pandemic itself
With a Johns Hopkins study showing 4 million dead from the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the worldwide vaccination and carbon reduction campaigns are part of one universal struggle.
To avert millions of deaths, he said, the world has to inoculate more and emit less — and do so quickly.
First, the basics: The delta variant of the coronavirus has laid waste to any hopes in the U.S. and Europe that they had left the pandemic behind.
I’m vaccinated. Should I be worried? Yes, but not for the reasons you’d think.
The delta variant’s surge isn’t as direct a threat to the vaccinated. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump on what would prevent 2024 bid: 'I guess a bad call from a doctor' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs Fauci: 'Worst time' for a government shutdown is in middle of pandemic MORE told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that less than 1 percent of people in America who died from coronavirus in June were fully immunized, according to Mychael Schnell of The Hill.
But the pandemic has spread chaos even among those who have remained healthy. A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the pandemic had destroyed 22 million jobs in the world’s richest countries, Hanna Ziady reported for CNN Business. The OECD said those jobs aren’t expected to return until 2023.
And while The Associated Press noted in late June that vaccination would nearly wipe out American coronavirus fatalities, that remains a pipe dream for billions of people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. As the numbers of the dead climb past 4 million, Daniel E. Slotnik reported for The New York Times, these are its new killing grounds.
The spike in global south cases is not only a recipe for untold human misery, but it’s also a reservoir of potential mutations — like the delta variant, which was identified in India.
ON THE BACK BURNER
A dangerous inequity: That inequity, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in an op-ed for the Financial Times, is a threat to all countries. That is both because of the viral threat — and the linked danger of climate change, which virtually all countries, regardless of income, have back-burnered while the pandemic rages.
The wealthy world, he wrote, is facing two related challenges: to get out of “the acute phase” of the coronavirus, and rebooting the economy “in a way that avoids exacerbating the climate crisis.”
So far, Tedros noted, progress has been poor: Since the pandemic began in January 2020, the Group of 20, composed of the world’s wealthiest economies, has committed “close to $300 billion” to fossil fuel energy, locking in further, lethal global heating.
And while 2020 saw a much-lauded dip in emissions — about 6.4 percent, according to a January article in Nature, or about double what Japan releases each year — many businesses saw emissions increase. Amazon, for example, had a 19 percent increase in 2020, Annie Palmer reported for CNBC.
And as Rebecca Leber wrote for Vox in June, the coronavirus dip still represented a net increase in global carbon dioxide and methane concentrations. Think of the atmosphere as a clogged bathtub: “Even if you turn down the faucet for a little while, the water will keep rising.”
What’s your prescription, Dr. Tedros? “Cutting all permits, subsidies and financing for fossil fuel use is a crucial first step,” the WHO director-general wrote. Such a move would free up money for green infrastructure, which he called “one of the greatest contributions governments, companies and investors can make to improve long-term public health.”
One example he noted: a joint WHO project, run with the vaccine-access organization Gavi and the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, which provides free solar panels to keep the vaccine-containing fridges running in hospitals without reliable power supply — avoiding the need to buy carbon-belching generators.
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Scientists: Climate change kills a coronavirus pandemic’s worth of people each year
Extreme temperatures fueled by climate change are responsible for more than 5 million deaths annually, according to a new Lancet Planetary Health study — meaning that 25 percent more people die from heat and cold each year than from the entire coronavirus pandemic thus far.
Researchers from Australia’s Monash University and China’s Shandong University attributed 9.4 percent of global deaths from 2000-2019 to excess heat and cold exposure. Although 51 percent of these deaths occurred in Asia, the southeastern portion of the continent experienced the largest decline in overall “excess death” ratio.
Everywhere it was the unaccustomed conditions that killed: Eastern Europe had the highest heat-related excess death rate, while sub-Saharan Africa had the highest cold-related death rate.
And while the scientists found that global warming might actually reduce temperature-related deaths in the short-term — a 0.26-degree Celsius increase per decade coincided with a decrease in cold-related deaths — they warned that this downward trend would be temporary.
“In the long-term, climate change is expected to increase the mortality burden” as heat-related deaths rise, Yuming Guo of Monash University told Bloomberg Green.
The hottest June yet: North America experienced its warmest June on record, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. The E.U.-supported agency, according to The New York Times, said that average surface temperatures last month were a full 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1991-2020.
But June wasn’t just hot in North America, the Copernicus analysis showed: Europe experienced its second-warmest June ever, while temperatures were above average in Northwestern and Southern Africa, in parts of the Middle East, as well as in China and much of Southeast Asia, the Times reported.
Neither the far north nor far south were spared: Heat in Siberia exacerbated an early wildfire season there; a northern Finland city experienced its hottest day since 1914 on Sunday, as we wrote in Tuesday’s Equilibrium; and New Zealand underwent its warmest June on record, despite a “polar blast” that chilled the country last week, The Guardian reported.
No signs of reprieve: And don’t expect rain anytime soon to temper the heat. The National Integrated Drought Information System tweeted Thursday that for the fifth straight week, extreme and exceptional drought in the West has set a record “as degradations continue in the Northwest,” as well as in Montana and Wyoming.
A CLEAR LINK EMERGES
Climate change is fueling the fire: The significant warming, Henry Fountain wrote for the Times, provides “more evidence that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are warming the planet.” And in the Pacific Northwest, a research team found that last week’s unprecedented heat wave could not have occurred without climate change, Fountain wrote in another Times piece.
The scientists — a 27-member group called World Weather Attribution — concluded that in any given year, there was only a 0.1 percent chance that such an intense heat wave would occur, Fountain reported.
“It would have been virtually impossible without climate change,” Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute told the Times.
The study, Matthew Cappucci wrote for The Washington Post, observed a strong relationship between heat extremes and human-caused climate change, determining that greenhouse gas emissions made the heat wave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
Looking into the future, the study estimated that with 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, this type of event would have been another degree hotter and would occur roughly every five to 10 years instead of once every thousand years.
“We underestimate just how big a difference global warming can make to the likelihoods of extremes,” tweeted Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at The Breakthrough Institute.
What can be done? The World Weather Attribution team, as Zack Budryk reported for The Hill, said that certain steps can help mitigate death from extreme heat, such as implementing early warning systems. But they stressed that long-term plans for reducing emissions must incorporate the risks posed by such conditions — as Tedros of the WHO also has said.
The Monash and Shandong researchers — who linked 5 million deaths to extreme heat and cold — said they hope governments will consider the impact of temperatures on global health as they develop adaptation and mitigation strategies, with the understanding that a greater degree of climate change means a greater amount of death.
Once known for its water, Chicago now battles a changing Lake Michigan
- Although "water is, in fact, why Chicago exists," climate change has been “pushing Lake Michigan’s water levels toward uncharted territory,” Dan Egan reported in a stunning multimedia presentation for The New York Times.
- “The same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today,” Egan wrote.
- Chicago’s skyscrapers were built on a swamp. And while engineering projects have long “fought to maintain a perilous balance, keeping water in its place,” climate patterns are now making the lake’s high-water cycles higher and the lows lower.
- As storms ravage lakefront neighborhoods, Egan wrote, residents are grasping for solutions — waiting to learn whether the government will fund offshore breakwaters that might “dissipate the force of the surf” that has pounded their homes.
Extra water? California wants to put it in the bank
- Like many Western states — or Chicago — California is being pummeled by extremes: either long periods of drought that kills crops and lawns, or intense floods that can wipe out dams, Bloomberg reported.
- But with $7.1 billion in state bonds available for water projects — and $2.7 billion just for storage — managers are looking to “water banking” to smooth out those highs and lows.
- One case study: Sites Reservoir, a dry valley adjacent to a major river, that can fill only in times of extreme flooding. Had it been operational in 2017, the project director said, California farmers would now have another million acre-feet of water — enough to cover Los Angeles waist deep.
Once the lifeblood of the desert, Gila River faces an uncertain future
- While Arizona’s Gila River once gushed through the Sonoran Desert, the waterway is now the nation’s most endangered river, Jim Robbins reported for Yale E360.
- As the climate continues to warm, scientists predict that by 2050, snow will no longer fall in the New Mexican mountain ranges that form the Gila’s headwaters, according to Robbins.
- And without water, a lucrative agricultural sector will falter, Robbins observed. “Desert rivers, of course, make life in the desert possible for people, too.”
- The Gila River Indian Community, for which the Gila River is a historic lifeblood, is trying to cope with this changing reality — by launching an innovative underground water storage project, as Sharon reported for Ensia in May.