This Could Be the Hottest Summer Ever. Here’s What We’re Doing About It.

Burning fossil fuels is making summer more prone to extreme weather events. Here’s how we’re tackling the climate crisis.

Waves of heat come off the road on a sunny day on a city street.
A person crosses a street in Downtown Houston in the afternoon heat in May 2024. (Jon Shapley / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

The start of summer now includes increasingly dire weather-prediction reports warning about the extreme impacts of climate change. These impacts — deadly heat waves, destructive hurricanes and wildfires — are shaping our society and our future, but we can still change course.

As summer 2024 heats up, we’re rising to meet the realities of climate change, from mitigating the impacts of extreme weather to helping advance the clean energy transition.

In 2024 alone:

A large swirl of clouds in the ocean with the curvature of Earth visible above it.

A photo of Hurricane Ian in the Caribbean Sea, taken on September 26, 2022 from the International Space Station. (NASA)

How Extreme Weather Causes Harm

Every extreme weather disaster creates ripple effects that affect communities, jobs, public health, and the environment. Here are just a few:

Chemical Disasters

On the Gulf Coast, which houses roughly half of the country’s oil and gas refineries, the danger hurricanes bring is magnified by the release of toxic chemicals in people’s air and water, when high winds and flooding damage oil, gas, and chemical facilities.

Deadly Heat

Summer heat waves are creating a deadly situation for outdoor workers, who often must choose between risking the agony of heat stroke and losing their pay. “I feel like I’m drowning,” says Griselda Lomeli, a worker at a plant nursery in southern Florida who has experienced heat stress. “I’m suffocating. My heart beats very quickly, and I can hear it accelerating.”

Toxic Air

Wildfires create smoke that is even more dangerous for our health than other types of air pollution. The soot in wildfire smoke (also called particulate matter, or “PM2.5”) can penetrate deep into our lungs and is linked to increases in heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer, as well as hampering lung growth in children. As climate change fuels hotter and drier conditions, wildfires now account for nearly 40% of the U.S.’s particulate matter pollution.

A person wearing a mask walks alone across a river from skyscrapers. Everything is dark and covered in thick orange smoke.

People walk along Park Avenue and Grand Central Terminal as they are covered in a haze from Canada wildfires on June 7, 2023 in New York City. (NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)

Addressing the Causes of Extreme Weather

These record-breaking summers owe their cause to one industry in particular: the fossil fuel industry, whose heat-trapping emissions have disrupted the earth’s climate.

The news may seem dire, but hopelessness is not an option for our only planet and the millions of species who live on it.

We’re working at every level to accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy and end dependence on fossil fuels — a critical step to avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis. This includes fighting the industry’s aggressive plans to lock in yet more oil and gas infrastructure, and working to replace outdated, polluting gas plants with clean energy.

Here are just a few ways we’re combating extreme weather impacts and creating pathways to a clean energy future:

Cleaning Up Polluting Power Plants

After years of advocacy from Earthjustice and community groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized the first-ever standards to limit carbon pollution from new gas and existing coal-burning power plants. Until now, these plants have had a free pass to dump climate-warming emissions into the air.

A close up photo of a smokestack with a large amount of white smoke coming out as one bird flies near it.

A bird flies by the emissions from the coal-fired Gavin Power Plant in Cheshire, Ohio. (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)

Ending Fossil Fuels’ Grip on Our Power Grid

You’ve probably never heard the names of the people on your state’s public utility commission, but these under-the-radar regulators have enormous power to transform the nation’s power grid and alleviate the climate crisis.

We’re advocating at public utility commissions  to stop utilities from forcing consumers to bail out unprofitable coal or pay for new fossil gas we don’t need, and instead secure utility investment in renewable power, energy efficiency, and other clean energy alternatives.

Making Polluters Accountable for Soot Pollution

Wildfires aren’t the only source of toxic soot — it also comes from fossil fuel combustion for electricity generation, manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture.

Earthjustice successfully pushed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize new, tighter standards on PM2.5 air pollution, saving thousands of lives. We’re also intervening to defend the EPA’s new standards in court against a challenge by industrial associations, including the American Petroleum Institute.

A power line is toppled over in the foreground and a large industrial facility in the background emits dark smoke.

Broken power lines, destroyed by Hurricane Ida, are seen along a highway as flares come out of a petroleum refinery on August 30, 2021 outside LaPlace, Louisiana. Ida’s eastern wall went right over LaPlace inflicting heavy damage on the area. (Michael Robinson Chavez / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Protecting Communities from Toxic Releases During Storms

Earthjustice helped push the federal government to adopt new storm-preparedness safeguards aimed at nearly 12,000 chemical plants. These crucial measures are designed to mitigate risks of explosions, fires, and other hazardous industrial incidents, which are a constant danger for coastal communities experiencing extreme weather.

Stopping Massive Emissions from Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Exports

Liquified methane gas is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. For example, just one project proposed in Louisiana would produce 20 times the annual carbon emissions of the controversial Willow oil and gas drilling project in Alaska.

After pressure from Earthjustice, frontline communities, and many other environmental advocates, the Biden administration announced it will rethink how it decides whether gas export projects are in the public interest.

Take action today

Coal and gas-fired power plants are responsible for more than 30% of U.S. carbon pollution, and they also emit other pollutants that harm our air, water, and health. And yet, there are almost no limits on the amount of climate-warming pollution these plants emit. You can help change that.

Alison Cagle is a writer at Earthjustice. She is based in San Francisco. Alison tells the stories of the earth: the systems that govern it, the ripple effects of those systems, and the people who are fighting to change them — to protect our planet and all its inhabitants.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.