Jun 1, 2022 - Podcasts

U.S. cities are combating extreme heat

A sweltering heat wave has made its way across the country over the past week, in a reminder of the drastic effects of climate change that just keep getting worse. Now cities are looking for new ways to keep people cool.

  • Plus, how the war in Ukraine is causing global hunger.
  • And, Canada proposes new gun legislation, in the wake of American mass shootings.

Guests: Axios' Jennifer Kingson and Emily Peck.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday June 1st. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: US cities are combating extreme heat. Plus: Canada proposes new gun legislation, in the wake of American mass shootings.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: how the war in Ukraine is causing global hunger.

Russian forces have taken almost full control of several of Severodonetsk, a key city in Ukraine's Donbas region. The Kremlin has captured nearly all of this Eastern part of the country, including the southern coastline, which effectively blocks Ukraine's major ports along the Black Sea. Before the invasion began, Ukraine exported about 5 to 6 million tons of grain a month. Just in April, that number was 1 million tons. The sharp decline in grain exports has caused bread prices to soar, particularly in some of the world's most vulnerable countries. Axios markets reporter Emily Peck has been reporting on what this surge can mean for global food prices. Hi Emily.


NIALA: Emily I think the important first question here is how much of the world relies on Ukrainian wheat exports?

EMILY: 26 countries on the planet get 50% or more of their food from Ukraine or Russia. The two countries combined, they're exporting about more than 25% of the world’s wheat. Um, so this is critical suppliers of wheat especially to Africa and the Middle East.

NIALA: And what about us? So does America rely on European, Russia and Ukrainian wheat?

EMILY: No, food prices are going up in the United States, but we're not dependent on that supply from Ukraine and Russia. People will be affected, especially those at the lower end of the income scale, those dependent on SNAP benefits. And so that is having impact here and we'll continue it's just that it's not as dire.

NIALA: India is another major wheat exporter. India is actually the ninth largest in the world. How has India responded to this shortage?

EMILY: So shortages, beget, shortages. Shortages beget what's called export bands and protectionism. You see the price of something as critical as wheat going up. And you're worried about securing enough for the people who live in your country as India is. And so they have banned wheat exports to the rest of the world, putting even more price pressure on bread and wheat for everybody else.

NIALA: And so what are we looking like globally? Are we facing a global hunger crisis because of these shortages?

EMILY: Yes. You would speak to experts, you know, at the UN World Food Program, they've been sounding the alarms for a while on this. Hunger crisis is a definite concern. Certainly shortages are a concern. And all the instability and unrest that comes along with that is a big concern as well. If you look back on in history, the price of bread going up often leads to political unrest. Let's just say going back to Arab spring, to the French revolution in the 18th century to the Russian revolution, this is a serious, serious business. Vladimir Putin is using food as a weapon in this war. And it is working. You hear a lot about the Western sanctions against Russia and yes, they are working, but this is Putin's retaliation. This is what he's doing. And it’s probably going to cause a lot of people to go hungry and who knows what else political unrest could come from it.

NIALA: Axios’ Emily Peck. Thanks Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with how cities are trying to fight the urban heat island effect.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo. It was 94 degrees yesterday here in DC, the hottest day of the year so far. A sweltering heat wave has made its way across the country over the past week. A reminder of the drastic effects of human-caused climate change that just keeps getting worse. Now cities are looking for new ways to keep their residents cool. Here to explain on the first day of meteorological summer is Axios chief correspondent, Jennifer Kingson. Hi Jennifer.


NIALA: So Jennifer, technically it was 94 yesterday, but when I was driving in my car, I saw, especially when you're on the highway and around concrete, my car temperature said it was 98 degrees outside.

JENNIFER: That's because of the urban heat island effect, which has buildings and dark streets and all the things that, uh, crowd into cities, trapping the hot air and making it feel even hotter. Climate change is hitting cities twice as hard as other areas and slamming public officials in the face with the problem.

NIALA: Jennifer, can you remind us what the stakes are here in terms of deaths and how cities are trying to prevent this?

JENNIFER: As bad as the heat is for everyone in the city uh, when a heat wave hits, it's particularly dire for low-income people who are more likely to lack air conditioning, to have jobs that require them to be outside, to live in areas with, uh, undesirable facilities, like industrial plants and so forth. And it's something that forward thinking cities are trying to tackle methodically. So far, three US cities Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami Dade county have appointed chief heat officers whose job it is to, uh, come up with ways to cool people down during the summer. That includes high-tech things like applying advanced sealants to streets, to cool them down and low tech things like misting people in the streets um, having cooling centers where people can come inside. One interesting experiment in Phoenix had a particular brand of sealant painted on the streets to change the color to gray from black and that succeeded in a 10 to 12 degree temperature drop, on those streets that were painted. So that's one thing that cities are starting to look at, but not quite fast enough.

NIALA: Jennifer Kingson is an Axios correspondent and you can find her in the What's Next newsletter. Thanks Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: Funerals have begun for the 21 people who were murdered in the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. And while the US Congress continues to debate action on guns, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced new gun legislation on Monday.

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: We need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action firmly and rapidly it gets worse and worse and gets more difficult to counter. That’s why as of this moment or as of the passage of this legislation, it will be illegal to buy, sell, import or transfer handguns in this country.

NIALA: The proposed Canadian laws are expected to pass, and would also force people to turn in handguns and military-style rifles through a buy-back program.

Many countries have responded to mass shootings with broad legislation, including Australia, which enforced a mandatory gun buyback program after a 1996 massacre. It has only seen one mass shooting in the 26 years since. And the UK banned semi automatic weapons after a gunman used one to kill 16 people in 1987. They also banned handguns after a 1996 school shooting.

The US has had more mass shootings than almost any other country. The New York Times reports that when adjusted for population, Yemen is the only country with more.

Alright, we know we’ve been covering some heavy news stories. So - let’s end with a moment of hope. Axios Latino’s Marina Franco reports that Monarch butterflies are seeing a resurgence in Mexico. The eastern Monarch has declined more than 70% over the last three decades because of factors like climate change and deforestation. But a new study says the area occupied by eastern monarchs in the Mexican forests they flock to grew 35% from 2020 to 2021. For more on this glimmer of good news, you can find Marina’s piece in our show notes.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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