Iceland has a climate president

Women leading on climate, senior citizens at risk, and more climate voices to follow

Katharine Hayhoe

June 12, 2024

Last week, my newsletter focused on the risks of extreme heat around the world, and how to stay safe: but I could write about this every week. The US National Weather Service just introduced a new Heat Risk forecast map showing where people will face dangerous levels of heat. Last week, the entire southern US, from California to Floridawas baking in yet another early-season heatwave, with Phoenix, AZ setting a new daily high of 112F (44C) last Thursday.

I also mentioned last week how heat disproportionately affects elderly people—and this new article goes into depth on exactly why that is. Older adults “don’t sense heat the same way,” says Dr. Glen P. Kenny, a physiology researcher. “The heart has to sometimes pump two to four times more blood each minute than it would on a cooler day,” adds ER physician Renee N. Salas, MD, MPH, MS, my co-author on this essay titled “Climate action for health and hope.” Finally, as Deborah Carr, who studies aging, explains, “Older people don’t sweat as much. They have essentially a less efficient cooling system.”

Even more reason to check on each other and make sure we stay safe!

On June 2, Iceland elected an amazing climate leader I know and respect – Halla Tomasdottir! Halla and I are members of Project Dandelion, an inspiring women-led global campaign for climate justice. Before running for president, Halla was the CEO of The B Team, a global nonprofit advocating for “economic systems change and new corporate norms” to ensure a livable future for humanity. In her 2021 TED Talk, she calls on people to use their “voice, vote and wallet for climate action.” And it sounds like Iceland did!

Research consistently shows women leaders are more likely to support climate action, clean energy, and sustainability. So it’s also hopefully good news that on June 3, energy expert Claudia Sheinbaum was elected as Mexico’s first female president.

Despite headlines you may have read, however, Claudia is not a climate scientist and has a patchy record on environmental and climate issues. It’s true that she served as an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) author, and during her campaign she called for investing $13 billion into renewable energy. However, she has supported building transportation infrastructure through wetlands in Mexico City and through the biodiversity haven that is the Maya Forest in the Yucatan Peninsula. She is also in favor of developing new oil resources in Mexico that would prevent the country from meeting their Paris goals.

Mexico is very vulnerable to climate impacts – including a deadly heatwave just last week – so it’s my sincere hope that, now that she’s president, she’ll use her position make the right decisions for Mexico’s future.

Not-So-Good News

It’s not only heatwaves that put senior citizens at risk: many of those who retired to coastal areas are now being threatened by rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes as well. I’ve written before about senior women from Australia to Switzerland who are leading climate action where they live, and I’ve been waiting for the broader community to start talking about climate change for a long time. So I was encouraged to see a report about this in the magazine of the American Association of Retired Persons just last month!

As coastal flood risk is rising, the population living there is getting older. “Between 1970 and 2022, the number of people over 65 living in counties along the country’s East, West, Gulf and Great Lakes coasts rose 159 percent,” the article states. The impact of flooding specifically on older people is “often underappreciated,” says Anamaria Bukvic, a Virginia Tech professor who studies this. “Older people who face even minor flooding may have a harder time accessing food, medical care, and medicine. And older people may have a harder time coping with the lack of power or air conditioning.”

What You Can Do

This week, I recommend signing up for another newsletter to expand your climate news. There are so many good ones these days, it’s impossible to choose just one!

Climate Coach by Michael J. Coren investigates “what we can do about climate change with curiosity, optimism — and vigilant skepticism.” In recent issues he tagged along on a “bike bus” to school in San Francisco, tried out some plant-based bacons, and counted the climate-friendly reasons that rabbits might make better pets than cats. Michael’s newsletter is consistently informative and delightful and I read it myself every week.

Anna Robertson’s The Cool Down (TCD) is full of well-researched articles on how climate change is affecting our lives and what people are doing about it, from making carbon-negative shoes to discovering ways to grow drought-resistant crops, and reviews that help you make the best choices on everything from composters to induction stoves. I’m currently partnering with TCD to make a series of funny and informative videos on climate science, inspired by some of the mean tweets I’ve received over the years.

I also recommend The Climate Optimist by Anne Therese Gennari, which focuses on “changing the narrative on climate change so we can act from courage and excitement, not fear.” (I love that, as you can imagine!) And Neelima Vallangi explains the motivation for her excellent and informative newsletter, Climate Matters, like this: “In 2019, I was deep in the pits of despair over climate anxiety. [Now] after letting the grief run through me, I’m ready to take action. I now spend my time actively reading, researching, and spreading the word about climate change.” More of this please!

To stay up to date on the science, I recommend The Climate Brink by my colleagues Andrew Dessler and Zeke Hausfather. Their scientific expertise is solid and their perspectives on everything from the latest scientific study to the latest outbreak of severe weather is second to none.

More generally, Fix the News is a weekly summary of progress being made around the globe regarding human rights, public health, peace and safety, economic development, conservation, and clean energy. We often feel that the world is only getting worse, but when we look around we can still discover so many reasons to be hopeful and to continue to act.

This week, sign up for one or more of these; and remember to share what you learn with people you know! As Joanna K Huxster, PhD aka “The Climate Convo Prof” explains in her latest reel, we need to tell more stories that encourage people to “GO!” rather than stop — and these resources are full of them.

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