The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has brought us news we should already know: The climate crisis is not in some future but is already here. The earth is set to arrive at or exceed the critical 1.5 C. increase over the next two decades; we are already at 1.1 degrees C. As the writers put it in the press release, “For every 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.” To even hold the increase at 2 degrees C will be impossible “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” Regional information can be found on their interactive atlas.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
1. Legislation to address wildfire smoke
Another of the health threats from the climate crisis is the smoke that accompanies wildfires. Smoke from the immense Dixie fire in California has reached Tennessee, and the fires in British Columbia have made the skies in Ontario hazy. Even those living far from the actual fire location can be breathing air with dangerously high particulate matter. An article in the journal Nature points out that 7.4 million children are affected by wildfire smoke annually; the smoke tends not to be caught in their noses and goes straight to their lungs, which are still developing and therefore are especially susceptible to long-term effects. Adults are also vulnerable to wildfire smoke, which has been shown to raise the death rate even in otherwise healthy adults, causing about 339,000 deaths per year worldwide, according to a 2012 study cited by WebMD–numbers for the more recent period are not available. And if a person already has respiratory issues, the threat from fine particulate matter–especially if toxic fuels are burning–is even greater. (The CDC suggests measures people can take to mitigate the threat to some degree.)
As a result of these hazards, Congress is beginning to consider legislation that would address the threat posed by smoke as well as by fire:
◉S.2423, the Wildfire Smoke Relief Act, would provide necessary medical equipment to those at risk from wildfire smoke or, if that is not available, temporary housing in an area not significantly affected by wildfire smoke. S.2423 was introduced by Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden. Currently its only cosponsor is Oregon’s other Senator Jeff Merkley. The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act is with the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee.
◉S.2421, the Smoke Research and Planning Act, requires EPA research on wildfire smoke and its mitigation. It would establish four Centers of Excellence for Wildfire Smoke at higher education institutions and would create a community grant program to support wildfire smoke mitigation projects. S.2421 was introduced by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, and its only cosponsors at the moment are Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden and California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. The Smoke Research and Planning Act is currentlywith the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
◉S.2419, the Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, would allow the President to declare a smoke emergency, including doing so in anticipation of such an event. Governors would also have the right to petition the President to declare a smoke emergency. It would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide assistance to those affected by a smoke emergency. S.2419 also creates Small Business Administration (SBA) grants for businesses impacted by a smoke emergency. The Smoke Emergency Declaration Act was introduced by Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and is cosponsored by Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden and California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. This legislation is with the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. S-HP/RLS
You can do something to save your own lungs here–as well as those of others. You can urge the Senate Homeland Security Committee to take swift, positive action on S.2423 and S.2419. You can also tell the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee to act quickly on S.2421. You also might suggest that your Senators (if you’re not from California or Oregon) become cosponsors of S.2423, S.2421 and S.2419 and thank Senators Feinstein and Padilla for cosponsoringS.2421 and S.2419; also ask that they also support S.2423 (if you are in California). Addresses are here.
2. Representatives Bush, Pressley, and Omar get some eviction protection restored
Eviction at any time is a catastrophe. Eviction during a pandemic compounds the danger, NPR points out, as evicted residents may stay with family members and friends, increasing exposure. The Eviction Lab, which points out that landlords attempt 3.7 million evictions annually, keeps a database on evictions. Small landlords, too, are at risk of defaulting on their mortgages, according to the Wall Street Journal, and in California, a number of them are suing the state to rescind the ban on evictions, even though landlords can be reimbursed for unpaid rent through a federal fund, the Mercury News points out. Homelessness in California, which has half of all unhoused people, rose by 6.8% between 2019 and 2020, and by 16.2% between 2007 and 2020, according to a HUD study quoted in State of Reform, a health policy thinktank.
The House left for its summer recess without taking action to extend the eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was set to expire on July 31, despite the fact that distribution of these funds has been delayed repeatedly. To protest the House’s failure to act, Representatives Cori Bush (D-MO), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), chose to sleep outside the capitol to draw attention to the eviction moratorium’s expiration. Shortly after that, in order to ensure that all COVID-19 funds marked for rental assistance were distributed before the moratorium ended, the CDC extended the moratorium through October 3.
Whether this move will benefit renters—or which renters it will benefit—is an open question. The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a ruling in June allowing the eviction moratorium to remain, but that ruling assumed that the eviction moratorium would expire on July 31. Shortly before the moratorium’s expiration, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CDC has acted beyond its powers in declaring the moratorium. As a result, the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan have no obligation to continue the moratorium. If you are facing eviction, CNBC has a list of steps you can take. S-HP/RLS
You can thank Representatives Bush, Pressley, and Omar for their protest, which shone a light on the crisis U.S. renters are facing. You might also express your disappointment at the House’s failure to extend the eviction moratorium. Addresses are here. In addition, Moms Rising has important information on the effect of eviction on families and a way to engage.
3. Funds for child care and early learning proposed
If we were to draw up a list of basic services that are assumed to be “rights” in other industrialized nations, childcare and early education would appear near the top of the list. Childcare costs more than the actual income of many working-class Americans. Some states offer universal preschool, but many don’t, and that presents another cost working-class parents can’t afford. The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act (S.1398 in the Senate; H.R.2886 in the House) could change all that. This legislation would provide the Department of Health and Human Services with funds for child care and early learning programs for children ages 6 weeks through school age that would be open to all regardless of family income, disability status, citizenship status, or employment of a family member. Most families would have to pay a subsidized fee for these services, but they would be waived for children from families with incomes below 200% of the poverty line, and would be capped at a maximum of 7% of family income regardless of income level. Our pessimistic selves may see the success of this legislation as a pipe dream, but to be ultimately successful we need to be making noise now, even if change will come slowly. S.1398 is with the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. H.R.2886 is with the House Education and Labor Committee. S-HP
If you want to send a message that early childhood education and childcare are priorities, you could urge swift, positive action on the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act by the appropriate committees. You could also see whether your Senators are co-sponsors of S.1398 and THANK/NUDGE as appropriate. You can also see whether your Representative is a co-sponsor of H.R.2886 and also thank/nudge as appropriate. Addresses are here.
4. New legislation would prohibit religion from being used to ban travel
Former President Trump’s ban on travel to the US by anyone from a group of Muslim-majority countries not only intensified Islamophobia in the US but derailed the lives of millions of people–include those who had already been approved to visit or immigrate. As the American Friends Service Committee explains, some of these were refugees, fleeing violence and/or living in refugee camps. Adding injury to injury, people from Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen already in the US also had their Temporary Protection Status revoked, leaving them stranded.
Others were trying to rejoin family members, go to universities, or obtain medical treatment unavailable elsewhere. Not only did those unable to travel suffer, but family members already in the US had to deal with a family divided. Muslims from Iran were especially impacted, as the sanctions against Iran cut off many options for them at home.
The NO BAN Act, H.R.1333, was written in response to the Trump administration’s sweeping ban on travel to the U.S. This legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion in immigration-related decisions. It also requires that any travel bans be narrowly defined; that Congress be consulted before such bans are issued; and that Congress must be notified within 48 hours of the administration issuing a travel ban or the ban becomes invalid. The NO BAN Act also allows those in the U.S. and harmed by such a restriction to sue in federal court. H.R.1333 was passed by the House on April 21 and has been with the Senate Judiciary Committee since May 27. S-HP/RLS
If you want to act on this, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1333 by the Senate Judiciary Committee to prevent the kinds of travel abuses put in place by the Trump administration from being used again. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. You can also tell your Senators you want them to advocate for H.R.1333 when it reaches the Senate floor.
5. California legislature acts on gun violence
Homicides in California increased by 31% last year, according to the AP; a third of the victims were Black. The increase does not appear to be a function of the pandemic, the AP noted, but it pointed out that a third of these deaths were caused by a gun, and quoted Attorney General Rob Bonta as noting a “connection to a 65.5% increase in sales of handguns and 45.9% increase in long-gun sales last year. The 686,435 handguns sold was a record, while the 480,401 rifles and shotguns was second only to 2016.”
The California Legislature is currently on break and will be reconvening on August 16, and a number of gun safety and police accountability efforts should be coming up then. A quick run-down:
◉AB-1223 would tax the sale of firearms and ammunition in order to fund gun violence intervention and prevention programs.
◉AB-1057 would assure that police have the right to seize ghost guns from individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.
◉AB-988 would fund a crisis hotline that would dispatch mental health professionals, not police, with the intention of preventing suicides, including “suicide by cops.”
◉AB-490 would expand the ban on choke holds and use of positions likely to cause asphyxia.
◉SB-2 would end qualified immunity for police.
◉SB-715 would tighten gun regulations and would also allow the State Attorney Generalto investigate police violence resulting in death of an unarmed civilian, including cases where there is a dispute regarding whether that civilian was armed.
Both Senate bills have made it through the Senate, and these, along with AB-1223, are currently with the State Assembly. AB-490, AB-988, and AB-1057 have made it through the Assembly and are with the state Senate.
For information about federal gun legislation, see the bills in our database that originated in the House and that for the most part are still stalled there.
If you want to see action on gun violence and police accountability, urge your Assemblymember to support SB-715, SB-2, and AB-1223 and your California Senator to support AB-490, AB-988, and AB-1057.
6. Mexico sues US gun manufacturers
In case we need more evidence that gun proliferation in the U.S. is out of control, note that 25 million guns crossed the border into Mexico last year, according to a Washington Post study last fall. American guns are being used to kill police officers in Mexico, and the number of homicides involving guns has risen precipitously, from fewer than 20% in 1997 to 69% in 2018, As a result, Mexico is suing a group of U.S. gun manufacturers—including Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta USA, Glock, and Colt—and asking for damages of $10 billion, tighter controls on U.S. gun sales, and better security features on weapons.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is quoted in the Washington Post explaining, “If we don’t file a suit like this and win it, [manufacturers] are never going to understand, they’re going to continue doing the same thing andwe will continue having deaths every day in our country.” The suit alleges that U.S. arms manufacturers are deliberately designing guns that will appeal to crime groups, citing the example of a Colt .38 engraved with the face of Mexico’s revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata. The chances for this suit’s success are limited. In 2005 Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, whichprotects firearms manufacturers from civil liability. S-HP/RLS
If you want to address this issue, you might direct the President, the cabinet, and Congress’ attention to this lawsuit and emphasize that our failure to reasonably regulate weapons is not just killing Americans—it’s killing people outside of this country and generating international animus. Addresses are here.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.
The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.
A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.
Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.
Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.
The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.
The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.