Extreme Temperature Diary- Tuesday June 18th, 2024/Main Topic: FEMA Should Recognize Our Climate Emergency

Labor, Green, and Health Groups Demand FEMA Recognize Climate Emergency | Common Dreams

Labor, Green, and Health Groups Demand FEMA Recognize Climate Emergency

“It’s urgent that FEMA treats intensifying heatwaves and wildfire smoke as the major climate disasters they are,” said one campaigner.


As people across the United States endured the wildfires and high temperatures made more likely and extreme by fossil fuel-driven global heating, a coalition on Monday called for expanding the disasters for which Americans can receive federal relief.

Over two dozen environmental, labor, and public health advocacy groups petitioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “to amend its regulations to include extreme heat and wildfire smoke in the Stafford Act regulatory definition of ‘major disaster.'”

“This simple but elegant amendment serves to unlock critical funds for state, tribal, and local governments and communities to manage and mitigate extreme heat and wildfire smoke—both natural catastrophes predicted to worsen in duration, frequency, and severity due to the climate emergency,” the groups explained.

“It’s past time for FEMA to address the climate emergency head-on.”

Jean Su, energy justice director and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which led the coalition, said in a statement, “It’s urgent that FEMA treats intensifying heatwaves and wildfire smoke as the major climate disasters they are.”

“It’s past time for FEMA to address the climate emergency head-on,” she continued. “That means unlocking crucial funding for local governments to build robust and resilient solutions like community solar and storage, cooling centers, and air filtration. That’s a critical way we can protect workers and vulnerable communities from the ravages of the climate emergency.”

The coalition’s petition points out that an estimated 2,300 people nationwide died from heat-related illness last year—the hottest in human history—and this year could be even deadlier.

“After the hottest year on record in 2023 and new heat records broken already this year, it is clear that labor protections aren’t keeping up with the escalation of the climate crisis,” said AFL-CIO president of Liz Shuler. “Too many workers are exposed to extreme heat and wildfire smoke on the job without adequate safety measures in place. Not only do we need to develop strong worker protection standards to meet the demand of the changing environment and intensifying climate disasters, we need the federal government to take action now to release resources.”

“The AFL-CIO calls on FEMA to swiftly classify heat and wildfires as ‘major disasters’ under the Stafford Act to ensure workers and their communities—especially marginalized communities—have the resources they need to prepare for and respond to the ongoing threats of climate change,” she added. “FEMA has the power to save lives—and we urge them to use that power to meet this emergency with the urgency it deserves.”

Other coalition members include the Arizona Public Health Association, Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Justice Alliance, Food & Water Watch, Fridays for Future USA, Friends of the Earth, National Nurses United, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sunrise Movement, Transport Workers Union, United Farmworkers Foundation, and Workers Defense Project.

“The impact of the climate crisis coupled with the fact that Texas is the most dangerous state to work in makes the detrimental impact of heat and wildfire smoke an increasing threat for all Texans regardless of socioeconomic status,” said Margarita Del Cid, a Workers Defense Dallas member-leader. “However, day laborers, the vast majority of whom are migrant and Latine, are especially vulnerable to exposure, illness, or even death.”

“One construction worker dies every three days in Texas and a huge factor in these deaths is heat; whether it’s heat stroke or hyperthermia or in some cases, prolonged illness that can affect eyesight and quality of life,” Del Cid noted. “Additionally, communities of color including Latines, generally reside in areas that are more susceptible to the effect of wildfire smoke that can lead to life-threatening illness such as asthma, bronchitis, and even affect the brain’s function. A federal standard to qualify heat and wildfire smoke as a major disaster will make way for lifesaving and proactive resources and support in these vulnerable communities and areas.”

Republican-led states such as Texas and Florida have actually taken steps to further endanger workers forced to contend with extreme heat through moves like eliminating local rules that require water breaks. However, some governments are working to provide relief.

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, highlighted that “state and local communities have been stepping up their preparation to deal with these threats but it’s not enough.”

He told the Los Angeles Times that heat and smoke will continue to endanger people, and “in both cases there are times when state resources are insufficient to deal with the problems.”

“Given that this is going to become more and more frequent because of the urban heat island and climate change and the recalcitrance of these local jurisdictions,” he said, “there’s going to be more and more times when I think we need a burst of federal resources coming in.”

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Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.

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