April 15, 2018

Box score: Ecology

From a report by the Institute for Policy Studies

Fossil fuel, chemical, and other industries have been allowed to poison our air, water, and land, contributing to an estimated 9 million premature deaths (16 percent of all deaths) worldwide in 2015 — three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.  The environmental death toll is expected to rise exponentially as a result of climate change. And the poor, particularly poor people of color, face the worst impacts.

Catastrophic events like hurricanes and flooding are partly attributable to climate change and are expected to become more frequent. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, where the poverty rate was already 43.5 percent , almost the entire island lost access to electricity. Two months later, more than half of the island’s residents still lacked power and about nine percent lacked water. The delay was partly due to the poor state of the island’s infrastructure, which had been allowed to deteriorate as the U.S. Congress pressured the island to prioritize debt payments to Wall Street. A New York Times analysis indicates as many as 1,025 people may have died as a result of the hurricane.

Across the United States, poor people face crises of water affordability, water pollution, and water scarcity in some areas exacerbated by climate change. As a percentage of income, poor households spend seven times as much on water bills as wealthy households. The United Nations recommends that, in order to remain affordable, water rates do not exceed 3 percent of household income. Yet, there are 13.8 million low - income households that already spend more “

While poor urban populations deal with rising water bills, the rural poor often lack access to piped water and sewage systems, with striking racial disparities. According to a 2016 study , an estimated 540,000 households (1.4 million to 1.7 million people) reported a lack of access to complete plumbing facilities. Of the 20 counties with the highest percentage of households lacking access to complete plumbing, all were rural and 13 had a majority Native American or Alaskan Native population.

Meanwhile, pipeline infrastructure to transport oil and gas has been expanding, even though it poses seri ous threats to the climate, water quality, and public health through leakage as well as catastrophic spills. The proximity of pipelines to freshwater sources is particularly dangerous, since leaks of pollutants into water can spread large distances and aff ect drinking water sources for down stream communities.  Between 1998 and 2017, there have been 5, 712 significant oil and gas leaks or ruptures on U.S.  pipelines.  Between 1964 and 2015, there were 2,441 spills from offshore oil drilling operations in U.S. territorial waters, discharging almost 5.2 million barrels (218 million gallons) of oil.

The U.S. Department of Defense was responsible for emitting 72 percent of the U.S. government’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. The DoD’s overseas emissions, which are produced during the most destructive operations of the U.S.  military, accounted for 56 percent of the U.S. Government’s total greenhouse emissions; however, these overseas emissions are exempt from the U.S. Government’s emissions reduction goals.

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