July 15, 2024
  • On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Justice Department to weigh in on two cases that deal with whether cities and states can hold fossil fuel companies responsible for the effects of climate change. While we wait to see what happens, one thing is abundantly clear: climate change is already affecting our health. Vox Media, Grist and The 19th News teamed up for a series on how our changing climate is reshaping the reproductive cycle from menstruation to menopause. Lead reporter Zoya Teirstein joins us to talk about the series, “Expecting worse: Giving birth on a planet in crisis.”
  • And in headlines: Voters in the key swing state of Nevada head to the polls today to vote in the state’s primary election, the United Nations Security Council approved a U.S.-sponsored ceasefire resolution for the war in Gaza, and researchers say wild African elephants call each other by unique names when communicating.


Show Notes:





Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, June 11th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson and this is What a Day where we are once again scratching our heads after listening to Donald Trump go off on a tangent about how he would rather die by electrocution than be eaten by a shark at a campaign rally on Sunday. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I bet a lot of people would be interested to watch either scenario, so just let the people know when to tune in, Donald. [laughter] [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, it’s primary day in Nevada. We look at the highly contested races in the state. Plus, the United Nations Security Council approved the US backed ceasefire resolution for the war in Gaza. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, on Monday, the US Supreme Court asked the Justice Department to file a brief in two appeals cases that the court is considering taking up. The cases Sunoco versus Honolulu and Shell versus Honolulu, asked the court to decide whether greenhouse gas emissions can only be regulated by the federal government, or if individual states have the power to regulate emissions themselves. Last year, the state of California sued five oil and gas companies for what they called a, quote, “decades long campaign of deception” that led to harms caused by climate change. And then other states including Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and a number of other local governments filed suits as well. Meanwhile, 19 conservative state attorneys general filed a lawsuit to stop those progressive suits from holding gas and oil accountable. And now we’re waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will take this case or not. But one thing is clear, the reality of the effects of climate change on all of our health is completely undeniable at this point. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, we already know that 2023 was the warmest year on record, and we’re on track to be even hotter this year. And we’ve been covering on our show how our increasingly warming climate has triggered the stronger storms, wildfires and droughts that folks have been experiencing worldwide. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. And we talk about these extreme weather events so often that it can be kind of hard to conceptualize it on like a day to day micro level. Right. How is changing climate really impacting people’s everyday lives outside of the extremes? And we’re starting to understand better how those impacts are gendered. Research from the International Panel on Climate Change has said that women are increasingly more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men are, and at this time, when reproductive rights are under attack, it’s important to also consider the ways that climate change is making reproduction harder as well. Grist, Vox Media, and the 19th news teamed up to report specifically on how climate change is impacting the reproductive cycle, including menstruation, childbirth, fertility and menopause. It’s all part of an in-depth series called Expecting Worse, Giving Birth on a Planet in Crisis. I got to talk with the lead reporter on this project, Zoya Teirstein. She’s a staff writer over at Grist. I started by asking her to talk about how this project came about. 


Zoya Teirstein: When you read these annual climate reports that come out, they often say, at the very beginning, climate change will affect these people in these places, and women and children are among those who will be most affected. And I’ve always taken that for granted. I assume that’s the case for most climate impacts. But I wondered recently, you know, like well why? Why are women affected especially? Um. And I also cover climate change and disease for Grist, many of the diseases that I cover, women are most affected, pregnant women especially. So I wondered, you know, what are is there a biological vulnerability in addition to sort of the societal patriarchal issues that are at play often? And I found out that, yes, there are these biological underlying factors at play in the way that climate change affects women and children. And that’s what this series really explores, that connection. 


Josie Duffy Rice: In part of the series you focus on Bangladesh, and you also talk about these dangers of high salt volumes on reproductive cycles. So can you explain a bit about saltwater intrusion and why it’s concerning for women living in coastal or low lying areas around the world? 


Zoya Teirstein: So as seas rise, saltwater tends to encroach into freshwater resources, and that happens a number of ways. A few of them may include worsening cyclones that push larger quantities of water inland. As rivers dry, they become more saline, and then water gets actually sucked up from oceans through riverbeds. That actually happened in Louisiana not too long ago, a saltwater wedge started moving up. I don’t know if you remember the news headlines there, but that was pretty severe. In Bangladesh what’s happening is that you have this widespread saltwater intrusion, and women in coastal Bangladesh are drinking water that has a lot of salt in it, and that has profound impacts on their health. Hypertension, uterine cancers, from standing in water that is too high now, fertility issues, menstruation issues, interrupted cycles, that kind of thing. We talked to one woman who said that it felt like it was she was drinking needles when she was drinking her water. So it’s a really widespread issue. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Can you talk a little bit more about the standing in water and the uterine cancer? Do we know what the connection is there? 


Zoya Teirstein: So basically what happens is women, you know, for example, will wash their sanitary napkins or pads in salt water. And when salt water dries it’s not like fresh water. It actually hardens the cloth. And so they’ll use those sanitary pads. They will get scratches on their genitals and they’ll stand in water and get infections. Infections can proceed to like a number of issues, including, you know, the connections to cancer like are confusing. And researchers are still studying it. But it’s like infections lead to larger issues. So they, you had a lot of women in those in the hospitals near the areas where this is happening. And the gynecologists there were reporting high levels of uterine cancer, of hysterectomies, that kind of thing. Anecdotally, too, I mean, women were talking to women saying, I don’t know what’s going on. Like we know like five women in our village who are affected, like in this way, you know, what’s going on?


Josie Duffy Rice: So you spoke with a lot of women and folks who can get pregnant. What surprised you the most while reporting for this series? 


Zoya Teirstein: I talked to many researchers and doctors in Papua New Guinea about how malaria is moving up in the highland regions of that country. And so what’s happening there is women are sort of being exposed to this disease for the first time, even though they live in a country where malaria is endemic. They never had the disease because it’s been too cold where they live in the highlands for the mosquitoes to thrive. What happens when you’re pregnant I learned like, well, you know, why would pregnant women be so much more susceptible to malaria than non-pregnant women, even in the same region? And the answer is that when you’re pregnant, your immune system stands down in order not to reject the fetus. I didn’t realize the extent to which that simple mechanism to make sure that you’re not going to reject this thing growing inside of you, really primes the body for disease. It is difficult to stay healthy when you’re pregnant. And so that’s the reason why, you know, when if you’ve ever traveled in the U.S., if you’ve ever traveled to South America or other countries where, like mosquito borne illnesses are common, people often warn pregnant women. Um. So that was just fascinating to me. I’m like, wow, what a wild underlying biological vulnerability for people who can become pregnant. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So we talked on our show earlier this year about how Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are considered children and that they’re covered under the states wrongful death of a minor law. We all kind of saw what happened in Alabama after that, that people who had been kind of planning reproductive assistance for years suddenly saw the possibility of that thrown into the air. In-vitro fertilization, or IVF, is obviously under threat in legal ways in the US right now. So how are IVF clinics and people hoping to use IVF also under threat from climate change? Like, what does this mean for people who are already struggling with fertility? 


Zoya Teirstein: Well, this is a really interesting piece of the package. I mean, obviously women’s reproductive rights are under threat in very severe and direct ways across the country talking about courts, etc.. Now, when it comes to climate change being a threat, it’s a little more indirect. And we talked to one woman who’s one of a few that we found who said that she was getting ready for one of two most time sensitive procedures in the IVF process, which, by the way, the whole process itself is incredibly time sensitive. You have to really be on it. And if you’re not, you know, you can lose a window very quickly and have to start the whole process over again. It’s very expensive. Everyone knows this. So what happened was she was in Florida when Hurricane Ian hit, and she was supposed to go in to get her embryo transfer done. And the hurricane hit just as that was about to happen. So she had to delay. And it’s a very heartbreaking story, you know, and again, this is just one way in which a woman had her IVF experience interrupted. Of course, there are legal issues that are also, you know, in some ways much more pressing in many ways across the country. But in this one instance, it was an interesting example of how these storms, like Hurricane Ian, for example, one of the worst storms at the time in history um in terms of breadth and scale. And so you see these huge storms barreling in and it affects everything in its path. And so IVF is just one of those things. 


Josie Duffy Rice: This product is, I think, a real reality check of how much climate change already impacts our bodies. Like we talk about what it does to our environment a lot, and we have this kind of general sense of what climate change will do. But this is a very tangible, terrifying example of the impact it will have. So was there a moment of hope that you can share with our audience? Like so much of climate change obviously feels heavy and depressing. Did you come out of this with any hope? 


Zoya Teirstein: The interesting thing about disease and climate driven disease, which is my whole beat at Grist, is that, you know, every illness and every death is, hypothetically, it’s preventable. It’s not guaranteed that you will get sick. It’s about protections that you take, interventions, medical vaccines, etc., that you can arm yourself with. And it’s not just individuals that need to do this. It’s actually, you know, obviously, governments. And for example, in Papua New Guinea, the government has little money for interventions for malaria control. And we’re talking about needing to direct funding towards that. Um. In the US, even realizing that there are these discrepancies along racial lines between white and Black women who get pregnant um, in extreme heat. I mean, that’s something that can be addressed, like, I think in many ways, addressing the climate and health overlap is about realizing that there’s a problem in the first place. And then you can take steps. We have solutions. It’s about deploying them. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That was my conversation with Zoya Teirstein, staff writer at Grist. You can check out the full series linked in our show notes of this episode. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That is the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in a moment, but if you like our show, make sure to subscribe and share with your friends. [music break]




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Voters in the key swing state of Nevada are heading to the polls today to vote in the state’s primary election. The most closely watched race is for the U.S. Senate. Democratic incumbent Senator Jacky Rosen is expected to advance to the general election, and on the Republican side, Army veteran Sam Brown is leading a crowded field of candidates. Brown’s campaign got a boost on Sunday when former President Donald Trump endorsed him on Truth Social. Trump posted that Brown was a, quote, “fearless American patriot.” All caps, of course. Trump’s endorsement came hours after he spoke at a rally in Nevada, where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. A Republican hasn’t won Nevada in a presidential race since 2004, but recent polling shows the state could be a tough battleground in November. 


Tre’vell Anderson: The jury in Hunter Biden’s federal gun trial began their deliberations on Monday, after closing arguments in the case wrapped up earlier in the day. The jury will resume their deliberations today. The case centers on whether the president’s son lied about using drugs on an application to buy a gun in October 2018, a violation of federal law. Throughout the trial, prosecutors presented ample evidence of Biden’s history of drug addiction, including excerpts from Biden’s own memoir. But his defense attorneys argued that there’s no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the president’s son was using drugs at the time he purchased the weapon. Hunter Biden faces another trial, this time on felony tax charges, in September. 


Josie Duffy Rice: On Monday, the United Nations Security Council approved a US sponsored temporary cease fire resolution for the war in Gaza. The plan, released by the Biden administration on May 31st, includes a six week pause in fighting, the release of women, children, elderly and wounded hostages from Hamas and humanitarian aid for Palestinians. 14 member states voted in favor of the resolution. Only Russia abstained. Israel has reportedly accepted the resolution, and in a statement on Monday, Hamas seemed open to it, also saying that they are ready to, quote, “enter into indirect negotiations on the implementation of these principles.” This is a departure from Hamas’s steady demand for a permanent cease fire. It’s also a rare win for the Biden administration and the council, especially after growing global criticism for how they have handled the humanitarian crisis. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And finally, some exciting news from the world of science. Researchers have discovered that wild African elephants call each other by unique names when communicating, much like humans do. According to new data published on Monday in the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution, scientists discovered this by studying the sounds of elephants in Kenya and tracking how their trunked friends would respond. Take a listen. [sound of elephants] Now, it is very rare for wild animals to use unique names for each other. Most just imitate the sounds of those within their species when communicating. But Monday’s findings suggest that elephants are the first non-human species to not rely on imitation. One of the coauthors of the study said, quote, “we just cracked open the door a bit to the elephant mind.” Now, Josie. I know it has been a little while since we did Josie versus science, but I have to know, how do you feel about this discovery? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I love this for the elephants. This is great. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, okay. [laugh]


Josie Duffy Rice: I think it’s bad for humans because they can’t be saying anything nice about us. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I don’t know. I like, you know, the fact that we just heard one elephant say to another like, hey, Shaqueeta, how you doing? And we don’t even know that. You know what I mean? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I know. They have really been doing their own elephant Morse code without us having any idea. And I love that for them. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Love that for them as well. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And those are the headlines. 




Josie Duffy Rice: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Don’t forget to vote in your state’s primaries, if you vote in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, or South Carolina and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you are into reading and not just scary climate change data like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe! I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


[spoken together] And let the elephants take over. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, have you seen those TikTok videos of elephants charging? 


Tre’vell Anderson: The safari vehicles? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I love them. I love every one, but they’re like, just leave me alone. And I feel them on that. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Same, actually. Okay? Leave me alone. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Leave me alone. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. 



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