It’s way too hot way too early
In the Pacific Northwest, there might be a new adage for spring: April showers could bring May heat waves. Temperatures were 20-30 degrees above average last week, reminiscent of the “heat dome” we experienced in late June 2021. The ongoing heat shattered dozens of temperature records across Washington, Oregon, and Canada exacerbating nearly 100 fires burning across Alberta and increasing the dangers of heat-related illnesses throughout the region. And while the PNW hasn’t been historically known for its excellent summer weather, reports show heat waves in the region are five times more likely due to climate change. Compared to the 1960s, heat waves nearly three times as frequent across the U.S and the upcoming three month climate outlook shows no place unscathed from extreme heat.
Extreme heat is another nexus between climate impacts, public health, and climate justice. High temperatures can lead to a multiplicity of heat-related illnesses and even death. Research and health experts say “Heat illness is a spectrum of disease," impacting anyone, but especially harmful to higher-risk populations including the elderly, infants and young children, outdoor workers and people with lower-incomes.
Heat could be here to stay in a warming world
New reports from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization this week showed the Northwest as a microcosm of what to expect with little major action to curb pollution globally: there is a 98% chance of the hottest year on record being broken by 2027 and there’s a 32% chance the average temperature over the next five years will exceed the 1.5℃ threshold for the first time, So while this does not mean that the world has officially breached the aspirational Paris climate goals, scientists now think the world will probably exceed that threshold around the early 2030s noting they, “generally mean a longer-term average over, say, two decades in order to root out the influence of natural variability." This year’s early heat may be intensified by the impact of a developing El Niño weather system in the Pacific—and notably the Northwest hasn’t been an isolated instance with an April heat wave across Asia.
Meanwhile… a “sleeping giant” flexes its muscles
The Biden administration continues to demonstrate its ambition in transforming the U.S. economy to clean energy and following through on campaign promises to act strongly on climate and environmental justice. Just this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled carbon pollution rules (a first nationwide) for coal- and gas-fired power plants. If the agency succeeds in enacting these policies, these rules would transform the U.S. economy by accelerating the transition off coal, just as EPA’s proposals to limit car and truck pollution aim to spur a rapid shift to electric vehicles. The EPA also went big on anti-pollution rules targeting everything from drinking water to toxic waste from coal power plants. Other agencies acted as well with the U.S. Department of Agriculture kicking off nearly $11 billion in funding to electrify and decarbonize rural parts of the U.S., and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety proposing the first major change since the 1970s to reduce leaks from pipelines.
Oregon Republican legislators refuse, again, to legislate
Oregon’s most recent tax revenue forecast was much rosier than expected, and should provide significantly more resources for legislators now tasked with determining the state’s spending priorities for the next two years. The Legislature is currently considering action on a number of issues facing the state, including climate resiliency, affordable housing, education, the mental health safety net, and wildfire protection, among others; the revenue windfall is expected to make it easier for lawmakers to fully fund solutions.
But there’s a very uniquely Oregon problem: The Legislature is currently at a standstill, unable to conduct business in the Senate or pass a state budget, because a number of Republican Senators have been refusing to come to work in order to deny the State Senate a quorum. If this sounds familiar it’s because Republican legislators – in both chambers - in Oregon have used the same scorched-earth tactic several times in recent years to upend bills on climate change and gun safety, among other things. Under law, Oregon has an unusually high quorum requirement to conduct business, which the Republicans are exploiting to stall out legislation they don’t agree with. The current walkout is to obstruct the Democratic majority’s priority bills focused on reproductive and gender-affirming health care, as well as gun safety. Along with the state budget to fund schools, health care, and address drought and wildfires, hundreds of other bills are also being held up, including the Resilient, Efficient Buildings package which would expand access to life-saving cooling devices like heat pumps and promote other climate resiliency measures.
As of this writing, the walkout has entered its 13th day, with no immediate end in sight; at least ten Republican Senators have now accumulated enough unexcused absences that they are barred from running for re-election, under a measure voters approved last year in an effort to prevent the abuse of this tactic. Just this morning, CS Oregon Director Meredith Connolly spoke with Oregon Public Broadcasting about the walkout, “I think it hits a little harder for climate folks because we know what it feels like to have your bill be the focal point [of a walkout]. I think once you give into those tactics, they become expected. Unfortunately, we’re seeing that continue, which is really deeply upsetting.”
What we’re listening to 🎧
Our bi-weekly ClimateCast captures a lot of news and we write our summaries so you can get our quick take on a curated digest of recent news and commentary on climate issues. With our new “what we’re listening to” feature, we will highlight a podcast episode or longer form radio interview that we found interesting and is worth a longer bit of time to tune in–but with the freedom to be off screen for the medium. First feature: a deep dive into why we need environmentally friendly buildings (and while it features policies in Oregon, it’s a worthwhile listen to learn more on the topic!).