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Climate, Health and Equity


November 20, 2020

Global cancer rates, pregnancy risks and environmental justice

Written By: Matt James and Traci Siegel

The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.

Hot Topic: Public health. New research out this week gives further insight into the public health risks posed by climate change. First, a UCSF report found that the continued burning of fossil fuels will lead to higher global rates of cancerespecially lung, skin and gastrointestinal cancersdue to degraded air quality and more widespread and concentrated exposure to industrial toxins and ultraviolet radiation.

Another report analyzed 70 studies on the impact of heatwaves on pregnancy in 24 countries, finding that repeated exposure to high temperatures is associated with a 46 percent increased risk of stillbirth and a 16 percent increased risk of preterm birth among pregnant women. As rising global temperatures and record-breaking heatwaves become the new norm, these findings have grave implications for the health of future generations.

For many communities, the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation are already a fact of life, and stories this week highlight several specific examples. In California, 92 percent of the nearly two million Californians most impacted by environmental pollution are people of color. In south Dallas, tens of thousands of Black and Latino residents face continuous exposure to toxins from an illegal waste dump that local officials have largely chosen to ignore. And in Los Angeles County, more than 500,000 people live within a half-mile of an active oil well—many of them low-income families already contending with asthma and other co-morbidities that are exacerbated by their proximity to fossil fuel activity.

Ultimately, we will only begin to truly achieve climate justice by taking on the practices that are responsible for climate change as well as the systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination—and by working to achieve meaningful change everywhere the two intersect.

Matt & Traci, GMMB

Programming note: The Brief will be on hiatus for Thanksgiving next week, returning to your inbox the week of November 30. We wish you all a safe and restful holiday!

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A new report found that climate change will give rise to higher rates of cancerglobally due to increasing exposure to environmental toxins and air pollution unless there is a without a significant reduction in greenhouse gases. (UCSF)

A recent global analysis found that frequent and repeated exposure to high temperatures is associated with a 46 percent increased risk of stillbirth and a 16 percent increased risk of preterm birth among pregnant women. (The New York Times)

A new report revealed that climate-induced weather disasters have risen by an average of 35 percent globally since the 1990s, with 1.7 billion peoplea majority of whom live in Africa and Asiaaffected over the past decade. (The Independent)

Damaging rains and heavy winds have left at least 67 dead and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage in the Philippines after Typhoon Vamco became the 21st storm to hit the country this year. (CNN)

As Honduras reels from the torrential effects of Hurricane Eta earlier this month with costs estimated at 20 percent of the country’s GDP, Hurricane Iota has followed closely behind, leaving 30 dead and forcing tens of thousands from their homes across Columbia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. (The New Yorker, BBC News)


A new video op-ed from The New York Times explores the disproportionate health effects suffered by Black and brown communities in California and calls on lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent oil and gas drilling in their neighborhoods. (The New York Times)

Black and Latino residents in south Dallas, a city that historically restricted housing loans for people of color, now face disproportionate exposure to toxins and poor air quality from a nearby illegal toxic waste dump that is largely ignored by city officials. (The Washington Post)

Politics & Economy

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to sign an executive order on his first day in office to conserve 30 percent of the country’s land and waterways for recreation and wildlife by 2030. (AP News)

The Trump administration is rushing to finalize more than a dozen environmental rule changes by the end of the year, including allowing oil and gas leases in the untouched Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and streamlining the approval of logging, roads and pipelines on federal lands. (The Washington Post, The Hill)

A new analysis found that among a two-thirds majority of voters who see climate change as a “serious problem,” 29 percent still voted for Trump during the election, with economic concerns generally overshadowing climate as a top-tier issue. (The Washington Post)


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced his first round of investments from the Bezos Earth Fund this week; his $791 million in grants to 16 groups included a historic $151 million in support for organizations focused exclusively on environmental justice. (The Washington Post, Inside Philanthropy)

Arizona’s utility regulation commission approved a clean-energy mandate that will require utilities to provide customers with 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. (The Arizona Republic)

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered the Enbridge Line 5 petroleum pipeline to shut down following a recent environmental review revealing a significant oil spill risk in the Great Lakes. (Bridge Michigan)

Getting ready for Thanksgiving? Check out this guide on how to celebrate with less waste.

“Climate change is not only an environmental issue — it is a humanitarian, economic, health and justice issue as well.

–  Frances Beinecke, environmental activist and former NRDC president