The latest US climate analysis shows the extreme toll climate change is taking

Climate disasters cost the US billions of dollars a year, and the damage is not evenly distributed, a new national climate assessment shows.

The assessment, conducted approximately every four years, details the toll climate change is taking in each region of the United States. This is the fifth – but for the first time, this year’s report includes chapters dedicated to economic impact and social inequality. As floods, fires, heat waves and other climate change-related disasters intensify, households pay the price in higher costs and ever-increasing environmental injustice.

As floods, fires, heat waves and other disasters related to climate change increase, households are paying the price in higher costs and increasing environmental injustices

Climate change has created conditions the planet has not seen for thousands of years, the report said. Global temperatures have risen faster in the past half century than in at least 2,000 years. That has led to all kinds of new threats, such as the 2021 heat wave that killed more than 1,400 people in the typically temperate Pacific Northwest. And old problems are becoming much bigger, like droughts that are draining the Southwest. The drought in the western US is currently more severe than at any time in at least 1,200 years. Since 1980, drought and heat waves alone have caused more than $320 billion in damage.

Extreme weather disasters are one of the most devastating manifestations of climate change and are becoming increasingly common – and expensive. In the 1980s, the US suffered an average of one billion dollar disaster once every four months (a figure adjusted for inflation). Now the US has to deal with it every three weeks. It is estimated that these extreme events are associated with $150 billion in losses every year. That is a “conservative estimate that does not take into account loss of life, healthcare-related costs or damage to ecosystem services,” the report said.

There are also more insidious ways in which climate change is taking a bite out of the American economy. Consumers need to spend more money on food and other goods as prices reflect the damage caused by climate change. In the Midwest, pests, diseases and the trade-off between wet and dry conditions due to climate change threaten corn and apple crops. And climate change has already fueled 18 major fishing disasters in Alaska “particularly harmful to coastal indigenous peoples, subsistence fishermen, and rural communities,” the report said.

None of these challenges occur in a vacuum. Like pollution, climate disasters disproportionately affect Americans of color, low-income households, and other groups that have been historically marginalized. While 20 to 40 percent of small businesses that close after a natural disaster never reopen, businesses owned by women, people of color and veterans are even more likely to close for good.

Flood losses are expected to increase much faster in communities with a higher share of Black residents

Flood losses are expected to increase much faster in communities with a higher share of Black residents. In census tracts where at least 20 percent of the population is black, average annual losses from flooding are expected to rise twice as fast as in other census tracts where less than 1 percent of the population is black. It is partly a symptom of racist housing policies, such as redlining, that leave certain communities without the infrastructure and resources to deal with the dangers posed by climate change. Former red-lined neighborhoods can also be about 12 degrees warmer than surrounding areas, due to fewer green spaces and more paved surfaces that retain heat.

All these risks will increase as long as the US, the world’s largest oil and gas producer, and other countries continue to run on fossil fuels. The world has warmed by just over 1 degree Celsius since the industrial revolution, and the report says 2 degrees of warming would more than double the economic toll of climate change.

The report shows that the US is not taking action quickly enough to stop this outcome. Global warming pollution in the US has only fallen by an average of about 1 percent per year since 2005. Pollution must fall by more than 6 percent per year to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to keeping global warming below limits. 2 degrees Celsius.

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