All eyes were on Hurricane Irma last week as the storm roared across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, flattening buildings and tossing debris across homes and streets, killing at least 47 and putting hundreds of thousands in shelters. Though analysts had expected the storm to cause the most damage in Florida, it devastated islands like St. Martin and Barbuda, which officials say will take years to rebuild.
It’s not yet clear how much the damage will cost — either in Florida, where millions remain without power, or in Texas, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey — or how much more money Congress can free up to help. Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert told reporters he’s not worried. But lawmakers now must deal with disaster funding on top of an already-packed legislative calendar (including DACA, the debt ceiling and tax reform).
As we learn more about what the storm left behind, and where recovery goes now, here are five stories you might have missed.
1. More people are dying of fentanyl overdoses than during the peak of the AIDS epidemic
More than 64,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, according to numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control — a more than 20 percent increase over the previous year.
It was a much more dramatic rise in deadly overdoses than analysts had predicted, including at the New York Times, whose own analysis in June predicted 59,000 deaths last year. The fatalities are largely driven by the opioid epidemic, responsible for 6 in 10 opioid deaths.
Among the more shocking findings in the government report, analyzed by the Times last week, was that deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl more than doubled in 2016. The number of deaths tied to fentanyl has increased more than 540 percent over the past three years, according to its analysis. It’s now responsible for more fatalities than heroin and prescription painkillers, Vox says.
Why it’s important
The numbers are part of a preliminary tally of fatal drug overdoses. The final numbers won’t be released until the end of the year. But at the moment, it appears deaths caused by drug overdoses, and the number of deaths linked specifically with fentanyl, exceeds even the number of deaths at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1995, Vox points out.
In comparison more than 58,000 US soldiers died in the entire Vietnam War, nearly 55,000 Americans died of car crashes at the peak of such deaths in 1972, more than 43,000 died due to HIV/AIDS during that epidemic’s peak in 1995, and nearly 40,000 died of guns during the peak of firearm deaths in 1993.
“We’ve known for a while that fentanyls were behind the growing count of drug deaths in some states and counties,” Josh Katz wrote in his analysis for the Times. “But now we can see the extent to which this is true.”
The CDC classifies this as part of the third wave in the ongoing opioid epidemic — the first in 1999 driven largely by prescription opioids and the second in 2010 fueled by heroin. The third, which began in 2013, involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is now often being combined with cocaine, heroin and counterfeit pills for a superior high.
The question that continues to elude politicians and public health advocates is why exactly overdoses have been on the rise, and what to do about it.
While President Donald Trump said in August he intended to make the opioid crisis a national emergency, he has yet to act on that or any of the other recommendations in an interim report issued by his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the commission, told NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that he was at the White House this week to discuss the report with senior administration staff.
“I’m anxious to see that happen like everyone else,” he said. “I know the president, and I know his heart on this, and I know he’s ready to do what needs to be done” to get a national emergency in place.
2. China is phasing out the production of fuel-dependent cars
China will set a deadline for automakers to stop making fuel-dependent cars, Bloomberg reported last week, making it the largest country yet to put such a restriction in place.
It’s the latest push by China to incentivize electric vehicle production and curb carbon emissions, a strategy which has included the installation of hundreds of thousands of charging stations across the country as well as new tax breaks for those who purchase electric vehicles for the first time.
The UK and France both passed similar laws earlier this year that would ban the production of gas and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040.
It’s unclear when China’s deadline would be, but experts told Bloomberg most automakers should be able to comply by 2040.
Why it’s important
China is one of the biggest car makers and sellers in the world. It sold 28 million vehicles in 2016. This latest announcement ups the stakes in the race toward electric-powered vehicles.
Manufacturers are already following suit, The Verge points out: Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Marton have all announced plans to go all electric (or electric hybrid) between now and 2025. Reuters dives into where other automakers stand here.
Will the wave stick? Most analysts say yes. Several countries have adopted emissions standards that are making electric vehicles more attractive for both customers and manufacturers. While cost for consumers remains an issue, some experts told CNBC that as early as 10 years from now, parts for an electric vehicle would cost about the same to make as those for a traditional car engine.
Even in an electric vehicle, though, drivers might want to hang on to the controls. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that “design limitations” of the autopilot on the Tesla Model S — including a lack of safety features to keep drivers engaged — contributed to the first known fatality from a self-driving vehicle last year. (Major factors also included the driver’s over-reliance on that system, as well as a tractor-trailer’s failure to yield as the autonomous vehicle turned left). The company still hadn’t done enough to remedy that, in the board’s view.
3. The U.S. Asian population has grown 72 percent since 2000
The U.S. Asian population rose nearly 75 percent in the decade and a half since 2000, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center, growing from nearly 12 million in 2000 to 20.4 million in 2015.
That population is itself hugely diverse: The roughly 20 million Asian Americans come from more than 20 different countries across Asia and India.
Nearly a quarter (4.9 million) of those Asian Americans were of Chinese descent, followed by “Indian-origin Asians” and Filipinos.
Why it’s important
Many people look to the southern border of the U.S. when talking about immigration. But Pew’s latest survey shows that one-quarter of all immigrants who have come to the U.S. since 1965 are from Asia. And while people of Hispanic descent today are the fastest-growing immigrant group in the U.S., the latest numbers indicate Asians will become the country’s largest immigrant group by 2055, making up 38 percent of all U.S. immigrants, compared to 31 percent who identify as Hispanic.
The survey also showed 13 percent of the country’s 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants were from Asia, largely from India, China, the Philippines and Korea.
Some of the immigrants from these countries have also benefitted from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, ABC reported last week. There are more than 10,000 “dreamers” from South Korea, according to numbers from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with 5,000 from the Philippines and 3,800 from India — all of whom face an uncertain future as Congress weighs what to do when the program expires in March.
About 123,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state on Aug. 25.
“Those who have made it to Bangladesh are in poor condition,” said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Duniya Aslam Khan in Geneva. “They are hungry, weak and sick.”
About 30,000 have gone to existing refugee camps in Bangladesh, while others have sought shelter in villagers’ homes, schools, community centers and madrassas. The new arrivals joined about 200,000 refugees from Myanmar holed up in Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port in Bangladesh.
“We are running out of space in the existing settlements, and new arrivals are pitching camp wherever they can erect some plastic sheeting to protect themselves from the elements,” said Sarat Dash, the International Organization for Migration’s Bangladesh chief of mission.
The latest bout of violence occurred on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked two dozen police posts and an army base. At least 12 members of the security forces and dozens of militants reportedly were killed. Myanmar security forces have conducted counter-insurgency operations that have killed hundreds more.
Why it’s important
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sept. 5 urged Myanmar’s governmental, military and civilian leaders to end the violence and warned that escalating tensions could destabilize the region.
U.N. agencies had to suspend their aid deliveries after the Aug. 25 clashes for security reasons, and their staff has been unable to visit northern Rakhine state to help those affected by the violence.
5. Extraordinary space weather prompts solar storms
On Monday, the sun spewed forth a massive amount of ionized gas in a powerful solar flare, the seventh in as many days blasting out from a spot on the sun. This follows the strongest solar blast in 12 years, which occurred on Sept. 6. The latest blast prompted warnings from the Space Weather Prediction Center of possible radio blackouts.
The sun is made up of ionized gas called plasma that’s threaded with magnetic field. Since the sun spins faster at its equator, some of the magnetic field in the sun’s outer edges drag, getting all twisted and knotted up in the process, occasionally resulting in a powerful release of pent-up energy. This release takes the form of something called a coronal mass ejection, or, in this case, a solar flare.
A sunspot is a darker, cooler area on the sun’s visible surface that stores intense magnetic energy. All of the recent solar flares came from a sunspot known as Active Region (AR) 2673 , which, according to Space.com, “is currently turning away from Earth and will soon be out of sight.”
Why it matters
All of these flares were rated X-class – that’s equivalent to 100,000 times the amount of energy produced by humans in one year.
Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most harmful rays, but radiation from solar flares can affect GPS and short-wave radio communication used by pilots and ships.
Astronauts on the International Space Station must also take precautions against harmful radiation. (Fewer spacewalks immediately after a solar flare, for example.)
Newsweek also points out that increased solar activity has been linked to more auroras in the U.S. and Europe.