OCTOBER 15, 2020
The section launches today with “The Heat Gap” by senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II, who reports that heat is the human rights issue of the next decade. More on his extensive reporting follows.Just as The Atlantic has committed the full strength of its newsroom to shape thinking on seminal issues across centuries, climate change permeates every element of our existence––and as such, Planet will draw from the entire editorial team in coverage of climate. In an introduction to the section, The Atlantic’s staff writer and lead climate reporter Robinson Meyer writes that Planet: “will cover climate change in the present tense—not as a distant threat, but as a force that is already reconfiguring business, culture, society, and life on Earth. This outlook doesn’t reflect our prediction about where the world is heading; we think a detached assessment of the facts allows for no other conclusion.”
Meyer’s reporting will anchor Planet, with extensive contributions from writers and editors from across The Atlantic. This area of focus, together with a newsletter The Weekly Planet, written by Meyer and coming October 20, will help readers make sense of their complicated and already-changing world. It will be a user’s guide to living through climate change, illuminating the experience of what it feels like to live through this moment, and to be faced with daily decisions about what to consume and what to care about. And it will give readers the tools they need to make those decisions, identifying the essential questions readers should be thinking about, and answering them with nuance, expertise, and humanity.
In the inaugural report, “The Heat Gap,” Newkirk makes the case that as the world gets hotter, the global connection between poverty and heat stress becomes clearer, and the global gap between rich and poor expands. Newkirk writes that in the world’s new gilded era, the heat gap will be the defining issue between capital and labor—a dynamic that will drive future social movements. His reporting shows how rising temperatures are already reshaping our world now—from melon plantations in southern Honduras, where oppressive high-summer heat puts workers at risk for fainting, skin cancer, and long-term kidney problems; to apparel factories in Cambodia and Bangladesh, where workers toil in sweatshops to fabricate the moisture-wicking fabrics that dominate summer athleisure in wealthy countries; to the United States, where low-income families face utility shut offs, and are left without air conditioning in the hottest summer months.
Newkirk writes: “Poor people—and those otherwise marginalized by way of race, class, caste, or gender—are more likely to live in hot places and do jobs in the heat. And the people who generated most of the emissions making those places and jobs hotter are likely to be wealthier, living in conditions that shelter them from the heat…The climate catastrophe might one day be so overwhelming that the ordeals of poor people and racial minorities become predictive in some way for the experiences of the elite. But maybe they aren’t really the canaries in the climate-change coal mine. Maybe they are the victims of a massive, global wealth transfer that affects almost every facet of life in a warming world, and will continue to do so well into the future. The people on the margins of society assume an unwanted role as buffers—absorbing the climate risks that the rest of the world has created and now shirks.”