Extreme Heat Is a Climate Story. So Are its Unequal Impacts.

Our audiences need to know that this summer’s heat—and its inequitable social impacts—are not just bad luck. We humans are causing this, and it’s getting worse.

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images News / Getty Images

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In Washington, D.C., this week, temperatures are reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of the South and Midwest of the United States aren’t faring much better, and in many locations it’s been this way for weeks. And, of course, it’s not just the US. Africa, already the world’s hottest continent, is warming faster than the global average, pushing temperatures to 101 F in Timbuktu this week. And Siberia has been roasting for months, and is currently undergoing a heatwave that scientists say would be “effectively impossible” without human-caused climate change.

All summers are hot, of course, but today’s persistently high temperatures are unusual—and harbingers of the harsher heat waves that scientists say are inevitable as climate change intensifies.

Many journalists are insulated from the heat, since we tend to work from the comfort of cooled spaces and homes. Much of the public is not so lucky. Even in the relatively prosperous US, the Covid-19 economic collapse has left many people unable to afford  air conditioning, which can be fatal. A recent Columbia Investigations and Center for Public Integrity investigation revealed that more Americans than ever are dying from heat—even as the federal government is doing less to protect them. (This excellent investigation is available for republication by CCNow partners, in long and short versions.) Like all extreme weather, extreme heat reminds us of the unequal impacts that climate change visits on the poor and communities of color.

Weather is a daily story for newsrooms the world over. As record heat and other types of extreme weather unfold over the coming days and weeks, news coverage and weather forecasts must make it clear that this is climate change in action. Our audiences need to know that this summer’s heat—and its inequitable social impacts—are not just bad luck. We humans are causing this, and it’s getting worse.

Now, here’s your weekly sampling of the latest in climate news, from across the Covering Climate Now collaboration.

  • Africa, as mentioned above, endures broiling temperatures that climate change is making worse. But a lack of data analysis means that many African heat waves are never recognized as such, which in turn hampers public health protection, according to a new study covered by InsideClimate News. This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • For more on the heat, Yale Climate Connections offers a good run down of recommended reading on extreme temperatures and how people are adapting.
  • In a reported segment on environmental racism, CBS News visits Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” 85 miles of land straddling the Mississippi river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Pollution from the area’s many petrochemical plants has helped make the incidence of cancer among area residents, who are overwhelmingly Black, higher than anywhere else in the US. “We are proud… but we have just been beat down,” one resident tells CBS’s Jeff Berardelli. But change is possible, Berardelli reports, if all voices in local communities have a say about what industrial facilities are allowed there and under what conditions.
  • A new study shows that affluent Americans’ homes can account for “as much as 15 times the greenhouse gas emissions as nearby, poorer districts,” according to The Guardian. About a fifth of US emissions come from residential buildings and homes, and Americans’ energy use dwarves that of people in most countries. Green retrofits and denser living will help, but only to a point—a useful reminder that  lavish consumption patterns, not mere population numbers, are the chief cause of most environmental hazards. This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • Buried in Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, released last week, is a call to upgrade and expand America’s telecommunications infrastructure—important, Grist reports, in that internet connectivity can be an important aspect of climate change resilience. Zooming in on the issue, the piece shows how communities in the US with faster, more reliable internet connectivity are able to respond better and faster to disasters (as the coronavirus has in fact shown). This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • From Ghana to Sudan, Colombia, and Nepal, young climate activists in the Global South are making their voices heard on climate change. An op-ed for Yes! Magazine surveys their efforts to raise the climate crisis’s profile in their home countries, even though wealthy countries are the ones whose emissions are driving that crisis. The young people are also claiming their share of the activist narrative. “Although it is a very progressive thing to hold strikes in Global North countries, in a country like Sudan, going to school is a privilege for a lot of students,” one young activist explains. “Young people in Sudan are taking three different paths for climate action: policy, activism—including advocacy, campaigning, and work in civil society organizations—and community-based work.” This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • Nexus Media News interviewed Bill Nye, the children’s TV science host, about climate change, coronavirus, and science literacy in the US. “We are failing the test,” Nye says, lamenting Americans’ reticence towards expertise. “When you tell someone that you need to have a scientist to explain this, and then you have people on the other side saying your opinion is every bit as good as a scientist’s, it’s not resolvable.” Nye finds cause for hope in younger Americans, however, who as a group show much more concern for the climate crisis. This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • Mongabay covers growing investments in agroforestry, an important and widely overlooked part of the climate solutions toolbox. US agriculture has long seemed to ignore trees, the story explains, but recognition is on the rise that agroforestry is “climate-friendly, environmentally sustainable, and profitable.” This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, in New Jersey, is out with a study that charts the rise of climate-related journalism collaborations, including CCNow. Through robust analysis and interviews, the study finds that collaborations have, among other impacts, helped combat climate disinformation, helped journalists draw on wider bodies of knowledge and expertise, and ultimately raised the visibility of the climate crisis in the public’s eye.

As a reminder: At Covering Climate Now, we believe climate change is a defining issue in this fall’s elections, at all levels of government. In the coming weeks, we will announce specific plans for how we hope to help newsrooms respond, including a CCNow “joint coverage week” September 21 to 28; a ‘Talking Shop’ webinar later this month; regional, policy-focused climate journalism conferences; collaborative high-profile newsmaker interviews; and more.