Jul 25, 2023 - Podcasts

What extreme heat reveals about climate change

More than 1,500 record-high temperatures have been recorded in the U.S. this month, according to NOAA. And a new study finds a definitive link between this extreme heat and climate change. But the biggest discovery may be just how vulnerable we are to the warming of the planet.

  • Plus, Israel curbs the power of its Supreme Court, and tens of thousands protest.
  • And, Speaker McCarthy’s quiet winning streak.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Freedman, Barak Ravid and Josh Kraushaar.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. 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 Tuesday, July 25. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: Israel curbs the power of its Supreme Court – and tens of thousands protest. Plus, Speaker McCarthy’s quiet winning streak.

But first, new data shows just how vulnerable we are to extreme heat caused by climate change. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Record heat called "virtually impossible" without climate change

NIALA: More than 1500 record high temperatures have been recorded in the U.S. this month, according to NOAA. And this deadly heat extends around the world. Now a new study’s finding a definitive link between this extreme heat and climate change. Axios’ Andrew Friedman has been reporting on this. Hi Andrew.


NIALA: Obviously this is not the first time a link has been made between extreme weather and climate change. What's new about this report?

ANDREW: So, what's new about this is they really quantified three particular heat waves. One in the U.S., especially in the southern and southwestern U.S., as well as northern Mexico, one in Southern Europe, and then one in China. So these are three separate events quantified in terms of their link to climate change based on methods that have been peer reviewed and tested over the last couple years.

NIALA: And so those methods were done by scientists. I thought it was so interesting you described them as like a climate change detective squad. What were they investigating and what did they find?

ANDREW: They're trying to produce studies that are societally relevant for people about events that are still in the news or just very recently happened, because everybody is asking the question, what does this thing have to do with climate change? And what they were trying to find out is, did climate change make this event more likely? More severe and more likely? Or did it really not differ very much from the background noise of natural variability? And what they found was, for the U.S. and Europe, these two heat waves would have been virtually impossible to occur in a pre-industrial world. So a world in which we had not warmed it by 1.2 degrees Celsius through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and, and other causes.

NIALA: How do they know that?

ANDREW: They take the weather conditions that have just occurred and compare that to a simulated pre-industrial climate to see whether or not something like this would have taken place in dozens of scenarios of the climate back then.

NIALA: So in the case of the U.S. and Europe, the study says that climate change not only made the heat waves more likely, but also made the temperatures hotter. What does that mean for future heat events?

ANDREW: So it means that future heat events are gonna get hotter and hotter, largely because we aren't bending the emissions curve downward yet. Generally you can say from a Fahrenheit perspective that things are three to five degrees hotter than they otherwise would've been, and that makes a huge difference when you're talking about Miami breaking records, El Paso shattering records by large amounts.

NIALA: Does this report change how you think or cover all of this?

ANDREW: So this report really confirms our thinking about extreme heat. Extreme heat is probably the most confident of extremes that we know how it's changing. It's less variable than when you look at precipitation over a certain region.

People are dying in the U.S. people are dying in Europe from this, and people are dying in Asia. And I think, really, what it drives home was something that was said towards the end of a call with reporters, which is that it's not that climate change is suddenly getting out of control and happening much faster than anybody thought. It's much more that society is proving more vulnerable than previously expected to lower levels of warming and we better get our act together on the resilience side of things and the heat plans that cities have. And if we're not coping well right now, that doesn't portend very well for the future.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman is Axios’ Senior Climate Reporter. Thanks Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

Israel curbs the power of its Supreme Court, and tens of thousands protest.

NIALA: The Israeli parliament yesterday passed the first bill of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul plan, despite mass protests and U.S. opposition to the plan. Axios’ Barak Ravid has what we need to know.

BARAK RAVID: What the new law does is that it significantly limits the Supreme Court's ability to review government decisions, policies, and appointments. In recent years, it was a main tool by the court, to do its job as checks and balances for the executive branch. Now, it will be much harder for the Supreme Court to do that.

President Biden for the last several months told Netanyahu two things. First, the Biden administration wanted to water down the whole judicial overhaul, including this bill. And the second thing is that it wanted to see a consensus around it. Neither happened. The law that passed was in the most extreme version, and it was done unilaterally without any broad consensus with the opposition.

The reaction across the country was very, very strong. On Monday, shortly after the law passed, thousands of Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, other cities, according to police estimates, there were more than 150,000 people in the streets. The police used quite a lot of force against the protesters using water cannons, using horses. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke several hours after the law was passed and after attacking the opposition and attacking the protesters, he said that he is willing now to go back to the negotiation table with the opposition for at least another four months to try and get a compromise or a grand bargain over the other parts of the judicial overhaul. The only problem is that after the talks collapsed and led to the vote. Nobody in the opposition is willing to negotiate with Netanyahu anymore. And I think this is the recipe for even more destabilization in the country.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Barak Ravid. In a moment, how Speaker McCarthy is dividing Democrats.

McCarthy's winning streak

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodoo. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has been on something of a quiet winning streak lately on issues including crime, immigration, energy policy in Israel. McCarthy has brought bills to the floor that win bipartisan support from Republicans and a sizable number of Democrats.

Axios's Josh Kraushaar is here with why these McCarthy wins matter. Josh, can you take us through some of what McCarthy has done to get agreement on some of the stickier issues that I just mentioned?

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: He has shown a very deft political sense in identifying issues where the moderate Democrats are on the opposite side of the issue as progressive Democrats. And, we most recently saw that when it came to the issue of Israel. Before the Israeli president Isaac Herzog's visit to the United States, Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made a very controversial statement that Israel was a racist state. She ended up apologizing, but it led Republicans to pass a resolution saying Israel is not a racist state and condemning antisemitism and got most Democrats to support it, except for the nine very high profile members of the squad.

That was one example where the McCarthy strategy split the squad from the rest of the party. But there have been other examples, Niala, where the Democrats have been evenly divided on a very hot button issue. And that happened a few months ago when, uh, McCarthy saw what was going on in Washington, saw sort of the rising crime, carjackings, and saw that the D.C. city council was passing a resolution that was essentially going to loosen some of the penalties on a wider range of criminal activity. And, uh, McCarthy passed legislation essentially overruling what the D.C. city council had done and got some Democrats to support him. Some Democrats did not support him. No one knew what the Democratic Party position was. And eventually, most Democrats actually ended up joining Kevin McCarthy's position in the Senate. And Joe Biden actually ended up signing the McCarthy-backed resolution into law.

NIALA: What effect is this having on Democrats in Congress right now, then?

JOSH: Well, look, it's putting them on the defensive. Kevin McCarthy, to a lot of people's surprise, kept his party together on the debt ceiling fight and scored some concessions in the process from the White House. He kept his party together on these defense authorization amendments, on social issues like abortion rights, transgender rights,

You know, there's a maxim in politics: the party that stays together is usually the party that's winning now. We'll find out if that actually is the case in 2024, but the empirical evidence is that Democrats have been a lot more divided on some very consequential issues, whereas the Republicans under McCarthy have been remarkably united.

NIALA: Looking ahead to this fall, we're likely to see a spending battle ramp up within the GOP. Do you think that unity will still hold?

JOSH: That is the next big test. McCarthy's gonna have another big headache dealing with Republicans on the right who want to cut spending, who want and might do it even if it means a government shutdown.

NIALA: Josh Kraushaar is an Axios contributor. Thanks, Josh!

JOSH: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today!

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

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