The number of victims of climate disasters is increasing. But an American report also has good news. | ET REALITY


The food we eat and the roads we drive on. Our health and safety. Our cultural heritage, natural environments and economic flourishing. Nearly every cherished aspect of American life is under increasing threat from climate change, and it is effectively too late to prevent many of the damages from worsening over the next decade, a major federal government report concludes.

Global warming caused by human activities (primarily the burning of oil, gas and coal) is raising average temperatures in the United States faster than the rest of the planet. The report published on Tuesday the National Climate Assessmentis the government’s leading collection of scientific knowledge about what this means for the country and how Americans are responding.

“Too many people still think that climate change is an issue distant from us in space, time or relevance,” said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University who contributed to the report. The new assessment, the fifth of its kind, shows “how climate change is affecting us here, in the places where we live, both now and in the future,” she said.

Human-caused warming is intensifying wildfires in the West, droughts in the Great Plains and heat waves from coast to coast. It is causing hurricanes to strengthen more quickly in the Atlantic and loading storms of all types with more rain. So far this year, the nation has experienced a record 25 multi-billion dollar climate disastersmany of them exacerbated by the warmer climate.

President Biden on Tuesday called climate change “the ultimate threat to humanity.”

“We are sharing this report in detail with the American people so they know exactly what they are facing,” said Biden, who sought to draw a distinction from his predecessor and likely rival in the 2024 presidential election, Donald J. Trump.

In 2017, the Trump administration released the fourth national climate assessment the day after Thanksgiving, and several officials acknowledged at the time that they hoped it wouldn’t get much attention. Trump later disbanded a federal advisory committee tasked with translating the report into guidance for local governments and private companies.

By contrast, Biden said Tuesday that along with the report, his administration released a online tool to allow people to see the impacts of climate change in their city and state.

Biden also announced the allocation of about $6 billion to strengthen the electric grid, help implement carbon-free energy and protect communities from the impacts of climate change, and improve water reliability in Western states. “We need to do more and move faster,” she added.

The report released Tuesday notes that cost-effective tools and technologies already exist to significantly reduce the United States’ contribution to global warming. U.S. emissions of heat-trapping gases fell 12 percent between 2005 and 2019 as the country shifted from coal to natural gas and renewable sources. And options are increasing to electrify energy use, reduce energy demand and protect natural carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands, the report says.

Even so, the United States and other industrialized countries are still curbing their emissions so slowly that some additional amount of greenhouse warming is essentially assured, forcing societies to learn to live with the effects. On this front, the report concludes that Americans’ efforts have largely been “incremental” rather than “transformative”: installing air conditioners instead of redesigning buildings, increasing irrigation instead of reimagining how and where crops are grown. crops, elevate houses instead of directing new development away from floodplains.

Americans, the report says, need to make deeper changes in the way they work, manage their environment and move through it to become resilient to the climate conditions that humanity’s past choices have brought about, conditions that the Earth never before experienced hosting so many members of our species.

More than 750 experts evaluated thousands of academic studies and other insights to compile the latest National Climate Assessment, which is released as world leaders prepare to gather in the United Arab Emirates for the annual United Nations climate talks. at the end of this month.

Federal agencies have produced new assessments about twice a decade since 2000, as mandated by a 1990 law. After the previous installment was issued in 2018, the Trump administration attempted, but largely failed, to thwart work on the last.

The new report comes as President Biden seeks re-election. While Biden signed the nation’s first climate law and proposed regulations to significantly reduce emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks, many young voters alarmed by global warming are angered by his decision to greenlight new oil drilling in Alaska. Biden administration officials said the assessment’s findings showed how the president’s policies were moving the nation toward a clean energy future.

“We have climate solutions that can be created in America and that are being made in America, that we are implementing brick by brick and block by block,” said Ali Zaidi, White House national climate adviser. “That gives us hope.”

According to the report, all parts of the country are feeling the effects of a warming planet. Increase in deaths from extreme heat in the Southwest. Earlier and longer pollen seasons in Texas. Northward expansion of crop pests in the corn belt. More damaging hail storms in Wyoming and Nebraska. Strongest hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Changing ranges of disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes in many regions.

The latest climate assessment is the first to include a chapter dedicated to economics, reflecting growing academic interest in pinpointing both the direct costs of climate change and its broader effects on households, businesses and markets, it said. Solomon M. Hsiang, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped lead the writing of the chapter.

These effects vary between regions: warmer regions suffer more damage and colder regions potentially benefit. But the report cites studies that show an overall loss in the country’s economic well-being. For every degree Fahrenheit the planet warms, the growth of the U.S. economy each year is 0.13 percentage points slower than it would otherwise be, the report found, a seemingly small effect that can add up, over decades, to a considerable amount of lost prosperity. .

However, those metrics don’t capture all of warming’s effects on less tangible things that Americans value, including human health, ecosystems, commerce like fishing that is passed down from generation to generation, and even recreational activities like fishing. skiing, camping and other outdoor hobbies that Wildfire smoke and scorching heat are becoming more dangerous. “In many cases, the non-market effects of climate change are some of the most important,” Dr. Hsiang said.

Governments spend much of the spending to respond and adapt to climate change, and the assessment warns of rising costs for public programs such as disaster relief, wildfire suppression, crop insurance subsidies, species protection in danger of extinction and medical attention. Such spending could increase even as climate change undermines tax revenues by reducing incomes and home values, the report says. Private insurers are already so tired of losing money in catastrophe-prone places like California that they are restricting coverage or pulling out.

The assessment finds that efforts to plan for climate threats have expanded in recent years. About two in five states and 90 percent of U.S.-based companies have assessed their climate risks. Eighteen states have climate adaptation plans; six others are working on theirs.

However, implementation so far has been “insufficient,” the report concludes. Funding is a challenge, he says, but so is coordination.

The assessment cites some programs in California and Florida that have attempted to plan for climate adaptation across city and county lines. However, when not properly designed and monitored, adaptation efforts can lead to unwanted side effects, said Katharine J. Mach, an environmental scientist at the University of Miami who contributed to the report. “In some cases, we may be working well on climate, but creating other problems,” she said.

Disaster aid, for example, disproportionately reaches cities and towns, which could be exacerbating disparities between urban and rural areas, Dr. Mach said. Federal housing purchases in vulnerable locations have occurred disproportionately in wealthy counties, largely because agencies in those locations can better navigate bureaucratic requirements.

The assessment recognizes the United States’ progress toward emitting less carbon into the atmosphere, but says the country must do more and much, much faster. Emissions from electricity generation in the United States have decreased about 40 percent since 2005. However, emissions from transportation increased nearly 25 percent between 1990 and 2018, even as vehicles became more energy efficient. The reason? Americans drive more.

Meeting the country’s emissions targets will likely require continued advancement in technologies such as hydrogen fuel and carbon dioxide removal, the report says. But it will also mean doing more of the things we can already do, such as generating electricity from clean sources and replacing car engines, furnaces and boilers with electric versions.

“Sometimes people focus so much on things we don’t know how to do that it paralyzes them from thinking about the options we have today,” said Steven J. Davis, a professor of Earth systems science at the University of California. , Irvine and another author of the report.

Still, solar and wind installations will require enormous amounts of land, potentially between 3 and 13 percent of the area of ​​the contiguous United States, according to the report. About 8 million Americans, or 5 percent of the workforce, work in energy-related jobs, many of which are at risk in the shift to renewable sources. The Biden administration’s plans for offshore wind have run into problems as rising interest rates, supply chain delays and local opposition hamper the projects.

Dr. Davis expressed optimism that the obstacles could be overcome. The assessment cites analysis showing that clean energy and related industries can create enough jobs to offset declining fossil fuel employment. According to the report, switching to carbon-free energy could reduce air pollution enough to prevent between 200,000 and 2 million deaths by 2050.

“It’s not all bad trade-offs,” Dr. Davis said.

Lisa Friedman contributed reporting from Washington.

Leave a Comment