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Biden’s bill to combat climate change advances as NC breaks new heat records

Graphic: NOAA

It’s been another hot summer for the Northern Hemisphere, the U.S., and in North Carolina.

According to the North Carolina State Climate Office, it was the driest June in over three decades.

In July – which is climate-wise the state’s hottest month – high pressure over the Southeast pushed temperatures to 102 in Raleigh on July 6 and 7, to tie a record high on both days.

Climate change is driving these global weather patterns, which include fires, drought and record heat in Western Europe and India, and torrential, life-threatening floods in Missouri and eastern Kentucky.

President Joe Biden’s landmark climate and spending bill recently passed the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. The Inflation Reduction Act is a $740 billion package would tackle climate change, healthcare and taxes. It now goes to the House and would need Biden’s signature to become law.

The bill includes strategies for reducing climate change, renewable energy production investments, and tax incentives for consumers to buy efficient electric appliances and electric cars.

On Thursday, two Duke University climate health scholars, Ashley Ward and Luke Parsons, held a virtual media briefing with journalists about the costs of extreme heat, climate change and the how the recent legislation could help mitigate a planetary crisis.

Ward, the senior policy associate for engagement and outreach for the Internet of Water, said the Inflation Reduction Act is a major positive step. “What we’re talking about here is a real shift in thinking, away from regulatory approaches towards an investment,” Ward said.

Ashley Ward (Photo: Duke University)

“This is important because investment is what’s needed to build production in the U.S. to clean energy,” Ward said. “In doing so, it accelerates the transition already underway, and cleverly so, by decreasing the demand for fossil fuels rather than decreasing the supply, which results in something politically difficult, which is driving up the cost.”

Luke Parsons, an earth and climate studies researcher, said the bill would help low-income families. “The thing I’m really excited about with this is this idea of also providing lower-income communities with the ability to try to cool themselves more effectively,” Parsons said.

“This is an equity issue. The average middle- or upper-class person with more income in North Carolina has probably more air conditioning access than a lower-income person. Protecting people by allowing them to efficiently and more effectively cool themselves during the day and at night is really important.”

Other issues in the briefing included extreme heat’s harm on the health of outdoor workers, athletes, and other people who spend long hours outside; deforestation, which reduces shade and prevents cooling; and public misconceptions about the heat.

More than 300,000 people living in NC are especially vulnerable to extreme heat. The number of heat wave days in the state are projected to quadruple by 2050, according to States at Risk, a project looking at the 50 states and the impacts of climate change.

Ward and Parsons both said that even though the heat will only increase in the future, people should still do what they can to fight climate change to help future generations.

Luke Parsons (Photo: Duke University)

Earlier this year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order to ensure climate action and environmental justice. The order establishes science-based goals of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

In 2018, Gov. Cooper also established the North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council as part of another executive order to address climate change and transition to a clean energy economy.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency also said the state has other issues due to climate change, such as higher water levels eroding beaches, submerging low lands, exacerbating coastal flooding and increasing the salinity of estuaries and aquifers.

James Burrell is a summer journalism fellow with NC Policy Watch, sponsored by the States Newsroom. He graduated from NC Central University, where he co-edited the student newspaper, the Campus Echo.

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Biden’s bill to combat climate change advances as NC breaks new heat records