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July 2019, Volume 25, Number 3


Europe had a heat wave in June 2019. Temperatures in France reached 45C and 40C in Germany; India and Pakistan also had record heat in May-June 2019. A similar European heat wave in 2003 led to 70,000 premature deaths. Governments warned people to avoid prolonged time in direct sunlight, and opened cooling shelters for those without air conditioning.

Anchorage, home to over half of Alaska's residents, had above-average temperatures during the month of June 2019, and was expected to reach a record 90F in early July 2019. Alaska is the fastest-warming US state, in part because ice that reflect sunlight in the Bering and Chukchi Seas is disappearing earlier each year. Fireworks were canceled because of high fire danger.

World leaders meeting at the G20 summit in Osaka in June 2019 re-committed their countries to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which calls on national governments to take steps to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5C higher than pre-industrial levels. Since the 1750s, global temperatures have risen about 1C. President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris agreement in 2017, and did not sign the Osaka commitment with the 19 other world leaders.

Achieving the less-than-1.5C goal requires reducing carbon emissions. There are many estimates of carbon emissions, and most agree that the three major sources are generating power and electricity, mobility, including flying and driving, and food, especially meat and dairy production.

Most economists argue that cap-and-trade programs are the most efficient policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cap-and-trade programs require carbon emitters to buy permits to emit. With a shrinking number of permits, their cost rises over time, encouraging emitters to recue their emissions.

California has a cap-and-trade system, and 10 northeastern states have a regional cap-and-trade program for electric power plants. Oregon tried to enact a cap-and-trade program in June 2019, prompting Republican senators to leave the state. The Oregon cap-and-trade proposal is projected to raise gas prices by $3 a gallon by 2050. The metro Portland area has 60 percent of the state's residents and is represented by Democrats, while rural Oregon's population is represented by Republicans.

The influx of Central Americans to the US that began in 2014 and accelerated in 2019 is due primarily to poverty, gangs and a lack of economic development that gives many poor residents little hope for a better future. Many Central Americans have relatives in the US who can finance the trip north and help newcomers after arrival.

Climate change may also encourage farmers to leave Central America. Guatemala and Honduras have a quarter of their labor forces in agriculture. Most agricultural workers are small farmers at the mercy of fluctuating coffee and other commodity prices while they grapple with rising temperatures that force them to move coffee trees to higher elevations and mean more variable yields for the staples corn and beans. Farms are often abandoned when farmers leave for the US.

The Mississippi river flows 2,300 miles from northern Minnesota's Straight River to New Orleans. The runoff from fertilizers and manure on the tributaries that feed the Mississippi are leading to algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico that starve water of oxygen and kill sea life. The 2019 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be almost 8,000 square miles.