Planet Week: House Democrats (finally) have a climate plan

Good morning, and welcome to Planet Week. Each week, we’ll highlight the last week of environmental news and what it means for our planet.

In the past week, China discovered a new swine flu with pandemic potential. Americans “celebrated” Independence Day with fireworks loaded with particulate matter, a common air pollutant. And Plastic Free July kicked off.

In case you missed it, here’s what else happened around the planet this past week:

Monday, June 29: Americans’ flood risk is way higher than previously thought

Flood risk across the U.S. is nearly twice as high as previously thought, according to research from the First Street Foundation. The new estimates factor in flooding from creeks, sea level rise, and increased rainfall, all of which federal government flood maps leave out.

Federal maps are used to guide decisions on flood insurance, mortgage risk, and where and how to build. If the new numbers are accurate, millions have made decisions based on information that understates the properties’ real financial and physical risks.

“There are millions of Americans who have substantial flood risk and have no idea, and now they’ll be able to access that,” Matthew Eby, founder and executive director of First Street Foundation, told Axios. “Having that data available will change the perspective of flood risk in this country. It now makes it meaningful and personal.”

Assess the risk in your area using First Street Foundation’s Flood Factor website.

Monday: South Pole is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet

It’s official: No region on Earth is safe from the influences of human-caused climate change.

That’s the conclusion after recent findings showed the South Pole warming at three times the global rate over the last three decades. And while the higher temps are within the threshold for natural variability in the region, researchers warn against ignoring our role in heating the planet.

“If anything, our results clearly demonstrate that humans are likely playing a large role and may have caused over half of the recent warming,” the study’s author Kyle Clem told Gizmodo.

Tuesday, June 30: House democrats (finally) release their climate plan

About a year and a half after progressive Democrats released a 14-page bill calling for a “Green New Deal,” House Democrats finally released a comprehensive climate plan, reports The Hill.

Most notably, the 547-page climate plan calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2050. To hit that goal, the plan outlines 12 pillars, including investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, decarbonization technologies and agricultural climate solutions.

In the wake of mass social unrest, the plan also acknowledges social and racial justice issues, highlighting the connections between pollution and racial inequalities. There’s a lot to unpack here — fortunately, Axios outlines 6 takeaways from the plan, and Vox’s David Roberts dives deeper.

Thursday, July 2: Climate change threatens more than half of fishes

If we can’t get our emissions in check, 60% of fish species won’t survive in their current habitats by 2100. The number comes from a recent study of 700 fresh and saltwater species in warming waters, which lower water oxygen levels and create harsh environments for embryos and pregnant fish.

But it’s not just the fish we should be worried about. Many of the species at risk over the next century are economically and ecologically valuable — entire ecosystems could collapse, and billions of people could lose an essential source of protein and profit. Read the full story by CNN.

Thursday: E-waste is piling up

We’re trashing more and more phones, computers, and appliances each year. And according to a new report, in 2019 we generated the largest amount of electronic waste ever recorded.

E-waste in 2019 was up globally 21% from 2014 — worse still, the report predicts we’ll double 2014 numbers by 2030 if we don’t take global action. Only 17% of the 53.6 million metric tons was officially recycled last year, meaning most of it was left to poison the surrounding environment.

“Electronic companies do a great job of designing for pleasure and efficiency, but the rapid change in consumer demand also means that they’re designing for obsolescence,” Scott Cassel, founder of the Product Stewardship Institute, told The Verge. “It’s not only that our oceans are filling with plastic. But our land is filling with electronic waste.”

Friday, July 3: Heatwaves are longer, the summer is hotter

In every part of the world, heatwaves are longer and more frequent than in the 1950s, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. The study was the first of its kind to look at heatwaves on a regional level.

“The dramatic region-by-region change in heatwaves we have witnessed, and the rapid increase in the number of these events, are unequivocal indicators that global heating is with us and accelerating,” Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, lead author of the study, told The Guardian.

Speaking of heatwaves, the U.S. is expected to see historic heat in the first weeks of July, which will increase wildfire risk in already dry states like Arizona and Texas, reports CNBC. And in Australia, bushfires, combined with deforestation, may drive Koala Bears in New South Wales, Australia, to extinction by 2050, according to a new government report.

This week: 2020’s first climate change summit

This week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) will host an online summit for the world’s biggest economies as well as developing countries, reports The Guardian. It will be the first major international summit on climate change this year.

Despite the U.S. dragging its feet in green recovery plans (none of its $3 trillion in COVID-19 stimulus packages addresses climate change), the country will be in attendance, alongside the European Union, India, and China.

“Even if governments do not take climate change as a key priority, they should still implement our sustainable recovery plan just to create jobs and to give economic growth,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA.

Bonus: Big bears get ready for winter

While we all struggle to recover from the first six months of 2020, brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska are already looking toward winter.

Each summer, the National Park Service sets up five webcams to capture the bears feeding and relaxing in the river. And lucky for us, June and July are the best months to watch these bears fatten up — some larger bears catch upward of 30 salmon, weighing in at 120 pounds of fish eaten per day.

Add bear watching to your list of pandemic hobbies: Check out the livestreams.

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.