We are sinking in heavy weather. Elders are up to 75% of climate-driven fatalities in developed world disasters. Seniors expert Danielle Arigoni on her new book book “Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation”. Then Lauren Stuart, Scientific Officer for the World Meteorological Organization who just reported on the crazy first half of 2023. We toss in a bit of James Hansen and news from Germany.
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“Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation”
As extreme rain, fires, heat and storms become the new normal, this supposedly advanced civilization cannot protect their elders. From Hurricane Katrina to California fires 70 to 85% of fatalities were adults over the age of 65. This lack of climate readiness comes as America approaches another tipping point: in 10 years the country will have more people over 65 than kids under 18. Japan is already there.
Danielle Arigoni has 25 years experience in public planning. She worked with non-profit groups like AARP The American Association of Retired Persons. She carried leadership roles in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Danielle is currently managing director of policy and solutions at National Housing Trust. With her Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Cornell, Arigoni just published her prescription to keep more citizens alive during climate disasters. Listeners in every country need to consider her solid book “Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation”.
In Europe’s most deadly heatwave of 2003, tens of thousands of French seniors died, while their families were away on summer vacation. The situation for older adults in the United States is getting worse as record long-lasting heat settles in. Doctors I interview about heat fatalities say babies and the elderly are most at risk.
Climate change is much more than the heat. Many seniors die during big storms like Hurricane Ian that ravaged the Gulf Coast of Florida in late September 2022. The suffering for older adults continues long after the smoke settles or the winds die down. Danielle writes: “Impacts associated with disasters tend to have a long tail, manifesting months or years after the event in the form of effects on both physical and mental health.”
Some seniors decide to ride out a hurricane because they survived previous storms. Now with an overheated ocean, Tropical Depressions storms can spin up into Cat 4 or Cat 5 status overnight. Just look what happened in Acapulco. Experience of the former climate is fooling older adults now.
I also recall high senior heat deaths during the Chicago heat wave of 1995. Many of the fatalities were people of color. Seniors living in high crime areas were afraid to open their windows or doors, and so died in their overheated homes. There are socio-economic factors too in this picture of high climate risk for older adults.
This book is loaded with information than only a career in the field could collect. For example:
“The Center for Disaster Philanthropy notes that older adults represented 70 percent of deaths related to Hurricane Katrina, despite the fact that older adults constituted only 15 percent of the population of New Orleans.
In the California Camp Fire of 2018, 85 percent of the fatalities were among people over sixty, in part because of the large number of retirees who had chosen to locate in this wildland-urban interface community.
In February 2021, almost two-thirds of the 246 Texans who died as a result of an intense winter storm that brought subzero temperatures and extended power outages were people over sixty.”
Another small factor I would add to this book’s catalog of senior dangers: surveys show most climate deniers are older white men. A major American political party is against climate and health care. The State of Florida tried to prevent officials even saying the words ’climate change’, much less plan for it. Why prepare, or spend tax dollars on climate readiness when it is a hoax? Yet the unprepared are among the victims.
We think of seniors as a minority, the small top of the population pyramid. That is no longer true in most countries. Within a decade, there will be more seniors than kids, defined as people under the age of 18. Japan is already there.
“Already, there are more than fifty million Americans aged sixty-five or older, representing 17 percent of the US population in 2020. In just ten years, this cohort has grown by 38 percent – dramatically faster than the growth rate for people under sixty-five, which grew by just 2 percent – and the share of older adults will continue to grow.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau that age tipping point arrives in 2034.
NO PLACE TO SHELTER IN PLACE
For older Americans, climate impacts are just part of a polycrisis. Harsh weather on steroids arrives as older adults struggle to find affordable shelter that could save their lives. TV news footage regularly shows mobile homes used by so many seniors – blown away or washed downstream. Seniors encounter climate change during a housing crisis.
A study from the University of California San Francisco found unhoused older adults flooding homeless shelters in America. According to Harvard, single adults over 50 now make up half of the homeless population. We hear stories of seniors living in RV’s, in their cars, or just on the streets. What can we do when vulnerable older people have no place to shelter in place?
Thos with homes think: When emergency comes and it is time to evacuate, just fill up the RV and get out. Ford even sells a vehicle called an “Escape”. What about seniors who live in a car-based world – but who can not drive? A huge portion of seniors no longer drive.
NOT THINKING STRAIGHT ABOUT CLIMATE DANGERS
The other tough problem Arigoni raises: as more people live longer, the number of cognitively challenged seniors becomes staggering. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other cognitive illness are harming millions of people. Heat itself lowers cognitive ability. Danielle talks to us about how all that impacts older people’s response, and the need to plan for confused people during emergencies.
We could add more confused people after COVID-19 brain damage. The book has a whole chapter on actions, and failures during the first years of the COVID pandemic and what that tells us about preparing for older adult safety during climate change.
A FEW BRIGHTER LIGHTS
We the “age-friendly” movement. Danielle talks to us about the on-going role of community-based organizations when it comes to seniors and climate change.
She also says physicians should start talking climate facts and readiness to patients. In 2017 I did a show called “Has Your Doctor Told You?”. My guest was Colorado emergency physician Jay Lemery with his book “Enviromedics”. I’ll bet this climate conversation is not happening in most American doctor’s offices… even though polls show millions of people are stressed by climate worries or suffering from climate-driven trauma.
The world’s top medical journal The Lancet just published it’s 2023 Countdown on health and climate change. But institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. 2023 National Climate Report are not talking about older adults in more dangerous weather extremes.
Some heath care upgrades Arigoni recommends sound like services already available in most other developed countries, through a national health care system. I’m wondering how many American lives will be shortened by climate extremes if affordable health care is not available to everyone, like a basic right. Do you think the American health care system can cope with the new climate future?
Danielle tells us how the City of Portland and Multnomah County in Oregon responded to their heat and wildfire emergency, plus things like a resilience center, hub, or pod and Joint Volunteer Information Centers.
As she downloads 25 years of experience on planning and organizing, this book seems like a prescription – for a glaring weakness in the American social system, and in many other countries. I wonder if a sequel could cover lessons learned from other countries, like Bangladesh (which built emergency cyclone shelters, warning systems, and mass evacuation plans for millions living in low-lying delta lands. Mass casualty events from the past have been avoided.)
If we really care about older people, this book recommends fundamental changes to a wide range of institutions, Right now, more climate legislation in Washington seems unlikely. State-action is possible in some places, but community action better in others. Please think about what you can do personally to help seniors through climate change, and what your community should be doing.
From the National Housing Trust, our guest was long-time social planner and senior advocate Danielle Arigoni. Her new book “Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation” is both a diagnosis and handbook for action. Find links out more about this book here: www.resilienceforanagingnation.com
THE WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION ON CLIMATE DANGER
Super storms, firestorms, extreme everything – who can keep up? The United Nations weather team has been running hard. The World Meteorological Organization once was slow on climate change. No more. Last year they led the big United Science report warning the warming world was heading into “uncharted territory of destruction”. Sure enough, all that arrived big-time in 2023.
For our guide, we reached Lauren Stuart. With her Master’s degree in climate change and international development, Stuart has been on the ground in Nepal, and in Congress for Oxfam America. Now she is Scientific Officer for the WMO.
When I started reporting on climate change in the 1990’s, TV weather meteorologists did not mention climate change and some denied global warming. Now the WMO is a leading voice warning of climate change, calling for faster action.
In May 2023, the World Meteorological Organization predicted global temperatures would reach new records in next five years. But did they expect the mind-boggling record-smashing heat all over the Northern Hemisphere so soon, this summer? As July boiled over in stupefying temperatures, U.N. Secretary Guterres said “Climate Change is here, it is terrifying and it is just the beginning“. The WMO certified July 2023 as the hottest in history.
It is not just the heat. In the last week of October 2023, strong storms raked the planet. Listeners in the UK and Ireland were buffeted. Three amazing cyclones hit Mexico, Yemen, and Vanuatu at the same time. The world’s storm system is destabilized. Huge storms are just part of the new water system on a warmer planet. The WMO says “The Hydrological Cycle Is Spinning Out of Balance”. The WMO calls for better monitoring of increasingly erratic water cycle.
Here is a little news for listeners. The United Nations University has a think-tank called the Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. On October 25 they released their 2023 Interconnected Disaster Risks report. It warns we approach tipping points that could “destroy the very systems our life depends on”. At the same time, a group of elite scientists released their report titled “The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory”. People are calling on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to do a hurry-up report on tipping points and existential risk.
SEE ALSO: UNITED IN SCIENCE REPORT 2023
THE HEAT JUST KEEPS COMING
– Alex Smith
The summer of 2023 was shocking, even to long-time climate alarmists. The heat, instant floods, wildfires the size of Europe, pretty well every record smashed. It was the hottest summer ever recorded. Almost too strange to believe, extreme heat has not stopped, even in November. Like vast clouds, patches of hotter air float around in both hemispheres.
The heat in South America is so strange, nothing compares. Searing temperatures like 39 degrees C. – over 100 Fahrenheit crept up into cool mountain cities in the Andes. You heard Taylor Swift canceled a concert in Rio Brazil after a fan died of heat. Last week, people sweated through the hottest night-time temperature ever recorded in South America. The following day was the hottest temperature – at any time – ever measured in South America. With humidity, it felt like 158 degrees Fahrenheit – 70 degrees C. That is stunning.
What really threw me: at the very same time, it was T-shirt weather in Siberia, in the mid-60’s Fahrenheit, 18 degrees C, in November! Russians were out in the heat instead of snow and frozen ground as always was known there. Satellite heat maps show a big red blare over Eastern Siberia. That is unreal. We have entered science-fiction level warming.
In science fiction, and in real science, pessimists predicted the global average temperature would warm 2 degrees C. over pre-industrial – by the year 2100. In November 2023, we got our first taste, seventy seven years early. For two days, planet Earth was 2 degrees hotter than before the fossil fuel bonanza. To be official, global average temperature would remain at 2 degrees for at least several years, if not ten years. We are not there. But it is starting.
As you heard from James Hansen, and the World Meteorological Organization agrees, Earth is likely to experience a 12 month period of 1.5 degrees for at least one year in the next five, before 2030. Last week, we learned the combination of fossil multinationals and national producers are developing enough fossil fuels to create, as the Guardian newspaper put it, “hellish” 3C of climate heating”. That harsh revelation came with the “2023 Production Gap Report”. Be sure to listen to that interview with Stuart Lazarus of the Stockholm Environment Institute – If you can face reality. (Link below)
Let’s get the view from the German Public Broadcaster Deutche Welle. This short report was broadcast November 20, 2023.
Again, that strong warning from DW News is based on the UNEP “2023 Production Gap Report”. Find notes on that report in my show blog posted November 22, 2023.
I began Radio Ecoshock in 2006, at first on one station (CFRO Vancouver, yay!). Now the show is broadcast weekly by 106 non-profit radio stations in 4 countries. In my view, we blew the best chance for humanity and natural balance in the Copenhagen climate meeting of 2009. In the perverse universe, weather outside the conference halls was brutally cold in that Danish December of 2009. Tens of thousands of climate activists and concerned citizens stood shivering outside, calling for salvation from the coming heat, storms and high seas. That was a hinge moment of failure.
Desperate hope returned in 2015, when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. Pretty well no government in the world came even close to living up the weak promises to reduce fossil fuels. Instead, humans expanded fossil fuel burning more and more each year.
THE TIME OF WARNING IS OVER
Now the time of warning is over. The future has arrived. It is coming down to choices about survival. Can we get off fossil drugs? Can we unite to avoid worse Hell arriving? I’ll stick around trying as long as I am able. I hope you will too.
I’m Alex. Thank you for listening, and still caring about this world and all the creatures in it.