Global heating, health, earnings, and environmental justice

Most Canadians experienced global heating directly this summer – and in British Columbia, the chief coroner attributed  570 of the 815 sudden deaths during the June extreme heat event to the record-breaking temperatures, as reported by the CBC.   July 2021 was Earth’s hottest month ever recorded, NOAA finds”  (Washington Post, Aug. 13) states that the combined land and ocean-surface temperature in July was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, with North America  2.77 F above average. The IPCC Report released in August includes long-term temperature trends in its overview of the physical impacts of climate change, and makes dire forecasts for the future.

Health, earnings, and environmental justice

Two new medical articles on the theme of heat and health appeared in the prestigious journal The Lancet, and are summarized in  Extreme heat-caused deaths have jumped 74% in the last 30 yearsin  Axios in August.   

Examining the economic impacts on workers, in mid-August the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released  Too hot to work: Assessing the Threats Climate Change Poses to Outdoor Workers. The UCS report is summarized in  “If we ignore climate change, it will be hell on outdoor workers”  in HuffPost, re-posted by the National Observer on August 24. One of its unique findings: a forecast that  between now and 2065, (assuming no action to reduce global emissions), the exposure to hazardous levels of heat will quadruple, resulting in a potential loss of 10 percent or more of earnings annually for more than 7.1 million US workers.  Economy-wide, this translates into up to $55.4 billion of earnings at risk annually. In Health Costs of Climate Change , published by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices published in June 2021, the estimate for Canada was that the labour productivity impact of higher temperatures is projected as “a loss of 128 million work hours annually by the end of century—the equivalent of 62,000 full-time equivalent workers, at a cost of almost $15 billion.”   

Too Hot to Work counts farm labourers and construction workers, but also truck drivers, delivery and postal workers, firefighters, police, and forestry workers as outdoor workers. Given that  Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino workers disproportionately comprise many U.S. outdoor occupations, the report highlights the environmental justice aspects of extreme heat . This  environmental justice aspect has been described anecdotally by many articles over the summer – notably, in the poignant text and photos of “Postcard From Thermal: Surviving the Climate Gap in Eastern Coachella Valley” (ProPublica, Aug. 17) , which contrasts the living conditions of the wealthy in California, living relatively unaffected, and the real suffering of the mainly immigrant workers who live close by and work on the farms and as service workers.

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