The health and safety we enjoy as individuals and the opportunities for employment, education, and recreation available to us are shaped to a large degree by the built environment in which we live. For the past 70 years, the vast majority of new housing development has followed the example of Levittown, New York. The city now serves as the poster child for a seemingly endless wave of car-dependent greenfield suburban sprawl developments that not only helped to generate the carbon emissions that contribute to the climate crisis we now face but also modeled a form of growth that provided opportunity for wealth creation for some households and not others.
When Hurricane Katrina touched down in New Orleans in late August 2005, nine-year-old Nia Burnett was too young to realize that her life would never be the same. Nia's family had chosen to stay in the city and wait out the storm. They all headed to a local hospital for safety. What they found were corpses lining the hallways. The whole building smelled like rotten flesh. Nia remembers later standing on the roof after the hospital started flooding, waiting to be rescued. Below her, she watched as all the neighborhoods she used to play in with her friends were swallowed up by the rising waters. Meanwhile, even more bodies floated around the hospital. It wasn't until 11 years after the storm that Nia was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Over the past 20 years, extreme weather events globally, like hurricanes, floods and heat waves, have cost an estimated $2.8 trillion, according to a new study. The study authors estimate the cost of the extreme weather damages from 2000 to 2019 to average around $143 billion, which breaks down to around $16.3 million per hour. The researchers analyzed studies that used a methodology known as Extreme Event Attribution (EEA), which connects human-related greenhouse gas emissions and changes in extreme weather events. They compared these analyses to socio-economic costs from extreme weather events to determine how much of the socio-economic costs of extreme weather events are linked to climate change.
Three days before the Abu Mansur and Al Bilad dams collapsed in Wadi Derna, Libya, on the night of September 10, the poet Mustafa al-Trabelsi participated in a discussion at the Derna House of Culture about the neglect of basic infrastructure in his city. At the meeting, al-Trabelsi warned about the poor condition of the dams. As he wrote on Facebook that same day, over the past decade his beloved city has been ‘exposed to whipping and bombing, and then it was enclosed by a wall that had no door, leaving it shrouded in fear and depression’. Then, Storm Daniel picked up off the Mediterranean coast, dragged itself into Libya, and broke the dams. CCTV camera footage in the city’s Maghar neighbourhood showed the rapid advance of the floodwaters, powerful enough to destroy buildings and crush lives. A reported 70% of infrastructure and 95% of educational institutions have been damaged in the flood-affected areas. As of Wednesday 20 September, an estimated 4,000 to 11,000 people have died in the flood – among them the poet Mustafa al-Trabelsi, whose warnings over the years went unheeded – and another 10,000 are missing.
On the 11th of September, small towns and cities in eastern Libya (Sousa, Baida, and Batta) experienced heavy rains and flooding, leading to some infrastructural and material damage. However, the big catastrophe was in the city of Darna which houses more than 100,000 inhabitants and is located by a valley leading directly from the mountains. The two dams that control the flow of the water that seeps through the city’s valley collapsed at around 2:00 a.m., leading to a complete blackout and mass flooding. Cars, 10-story apartments, and houses were washed away with their residents, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe with more than 10,000 dead and 11,000 missing.
Last week, France was blanketed by a dome of heat, resulting in exceptionally warm temperatures. It even broke the previous record set in 1949, making September 4 the hottest day ever recorded in France during the month of September. The French national meteorological service, Météo-France, points to a remarkably long and intense heat wave which has lasted late into the season, clearly pointing to the impact of climate change, which tends to extend summer heatwaves. At the Stellantis plant in Hordain, France, where Peugeot and Citroën vehicles are assembled, outside temperatures exceeded a scorching 30°C (86°F) every afternoon from September 5 to 10.
The most expensive type of disaster in the United States is flooding. Hurricanes, a major source of flooding, make up seven of the 10 costliest disasters in United States history, from Katrina in 2005 to Ian in 2022. Together, these storms alone have cost $800 billion, adjusted for inflation. Half a century ago—before any of these storms occurred—the federal government created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a public sector alternative to fill in the gaps in higher-risk areas where commercial insurance is unavailable. But as the frequency and severity of flooding events have increased—and as insurers continue to add to the list of states they refuse to insure—the NFIP has become massively oversubscribed, amassing more than $20 billion in debt on behalf of its five million policyholders.
A new study by an international team of 29 scientists from eight countries provides the third update to the planetary boundaries framework. The update shows how human activities are increasingly impacting our planet, thus augmenting the risk of triggering drastic changes in Earth’s overall conditions. The nine planetary boundaries represent the limits within which humans can continue to thrive and develop. “The planetary boundaries framework draws upon Earth system science,” the study said. “It identifies nine processes that are critical for maintaining the stability and resilience of Earth system as a whole. All are presently heavily perturbed by human activities.
With nearly four months still to go in 2023, the U.S. has already set a record for the most natural disasters that have cost $1 billion or more in a single year. Since 1980, there have been 371 climate– and weather-related disaster events in the U.S. with costs and damages reaching or exceeding $1 billion, a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) said. The estimated costs include a consumer price index adjustment. Altogether these disasters cost more than $2.6 trillion. This year, there have been 23 confirmed climate and weather-related disasters in the U.S. that killed a total of 253 people and resulted in losses of more than $1 billion each.
Private equity firms are increasingly profiting from cleaning up climate disasters in the US, while failing to better protect workers and often also investing in the fossil fuels that are causing the climate emergency, new research has found. The demand for skilled disaster restoration or resilience workers, who are mostly immigrants and refugees from Latin America and Asia, is soaring as greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels heat the planet, provoking more destructive storms, floods and wildfires. As the disaster industry has become more profitable, at least 72 companies that specialize in disaster cleanups and restoration have been acquired by private equity firms since 2020.
When disaster strikes, disabled people and low-income communities are hit the hardest and face higher mortality rates. They also take longer to recover. Germán Parodi and Shaylin Sluzalis were protesting in Washington, D.C., for disability rights as they found out Hurricane Maria was on its way to Puerto Rico in 2017. Now the co-directors of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, they were deployed as part of a disabled first responder team. Parodi, who was born and raised on the island, lives with a mobility disability, while Sluzalis lives with an invisible disability. “Being culturally aware of the dynamics of the island … and knowing how to interact with people with different types of disabilities opened doors that we were being told wouldn’t open in some neighborhoods,” says Parodi.
One of the nation’s most important climate fights is currently playing out under the radar in California, where state residents are weathering an unprecedented tropical storm. Oil and industry lobbying groups are spending millions in a last-ditch attempt to block first-of-its-kind legislation that would require thousands of large companies doing business in the state to fully disclose their carbon emissions, a move that would effectively set national policy. In the final weeks of California’s legislative session, which ends in mid-September, Assembly members are expected to vote on the climate transparency bill.
August 29 will mark the 18th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, which devastated much of the Gulf Coast (specifically Louisiana and Mississippi) and disproportionately struck New Orleans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that this Category 4 hurricane caused at least $108 billion in structural damage, leading to more than one million people being displaced, many permanently, especially the poor and people of color. According to livescience.com, an estimated 1,833 people died in the hurricane and the flooding that followed. (Aug. 27, 2015) That flooding, mainly caused by broken levees, overwhelmed the Ninth Ward, a predominant working-class Black neighborhood in New Orleans.
As heat waves and wildfires cause chaos in North Africa, Europe and North America, climate scientists from the United Nations (UN) have announced that it is almost certain this July will be the warmest month ever recorded. At a press conference on climate Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned, “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” a UN press release said. “Today, the World Meteorological Organization and the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service are releasing official data that confirms that July 2023 is set to be the hottest month ever recorded in human history,” Guterres said.
The Gulf Stream is a strong current of warm water that flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, and runs from the East Coast of the United States across the Atlantic and north past Western Europe. Without the Gulf Stream, which is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a system of ocean currents that is vital to Earth’s climate, places like England would be much colder. A new study by Susanne Ditlevsen and Peter Ditlevsen, researchers with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, has concluded that the AMOC is at risk of collapsing around mid-century, much earlier than scientists had previously thought.