Worsening warming is hurting people in all regions, US climate assessment shows
Revved-up climate change now permeates Americans’ daily lives with harm that is “already far-reaching and worsening across every region of the United States (US),” a massive new government report says.
The National Climate Assessment, which comes out every four to five years, was released Tuesday with details that bring climate change’s impacts down to a local level. Unveiling the report at the White House, President Joe Biden blasted Republican legislators and his predecessor for disputing global warming.
“Anyone who willfully denies the impact of climate change is condemning the American people to a very dangerous future. Impacts are only going to get worse, more frequent, more ferocious and more costly,” Biden said, noting that disasters cost the country $178 billion last year. “None of this is inevitable.”
Overall, Tuesday’s assessment paints a picture of a country warming about 60% faster than the world as a whole, one that regularly gets smacked with costly weather disasters and faces even bigger problems in the future.
Since 1970, the Lower 48 states have warmed by 2.5 degrees (1.4 degrees Celsius) and Alaska has heated up by 4.2 degrees (2.3 degrees Celsius), compared to the global average of 1.7 degrees (0.9 degrees Celsius), the report said. But what people really feel is not the averages, but when the weather is extreme.
With heat waves, drought, wildfire and heavy downpours, “we are seeing an acceleration of the impacts of climate change in the United States,” said study co-author Zeke Hausfather of the tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth.
And that’s not healthy.
Climate change is ”harming physical, mental, spiritual, and community health and well-being through the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events, increasing cases of infectious and vector-borne diseases, and declines in food and water quality and security,” the report said.
Compared to earlier national assessments, this year’s uses far stronger language and “unequivocally” blames the burning of coal, oil and gas for climate change.
The 37-chapter assessment includes an interactive atlas that zooms down to the county level. It finds that climate change is affecting people’s security, health and livelihoods in every corner of the country in different ways, with minority and Native American communities often disproportionately at risk.
In Alaska, which is warming two to three times faster than the global average, reduced snowpack, shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, acidifying oceans and disappearing sea ice have affected everything from the state’s growing season, to hunting and fishing, with projections raising questions about whether some Indigenous communities should be relocated.
The Southwest is experiencing more drought and extreme heat – including 31 consecutive days this summer when Phoenix’s daily high temperatures reached or exceeded 110 degrees – reducing water supplies and increasing wildfire risk.
Northeastern cities are seeing more extreme heat, flooding and poor air quality, as well as risks to infrastructure, while drought and floods exacerbated by climate change threaten farming and ecosystems in rural areas.
In the Midwest, both extreme drought and flooding threaten crops and animal production, which can affect the global food supply.
In the northern Great Plains, weather extremes like drought and flooding, as well as declining water resources, threaten an economy dependent largely on crops, cattle, energy production and recreation. Meanwhile, water shortages in parts of the southern Great Plains are projected to worsen, while high temperatures are expected to break records in all three states by midcentury.
In the Southeast, minority and Native American communities — who may live in areas with higher exposures to extreme heat, pollution and flooding — have fewer resources to prepare for or to escape the effects of climate change.
In the Northwest, hotter days and nights that don’t cool down much have resulted in drier streams and less snowpack, leading to increased risk of drought and wildfires. The climate disturbance has also brought damaging extreme rain.
Hawaii and other Pacific islands, as well as the US Caribbean, are increasingly vulnerable to the extremes of drought and heavy rain as well as sea level rise and natural disaster as temperatures warm.