Latest US climate assessment shows the extreme toll taken by climate change

Latest US climate assessment shows the extreme toll taken by climate change

Latest US Climate Assessment Reveals Alarming Impact of Climate Change

The recently released national climate assessment highlights the escalating economic toll of climate change in the United States. Conducted approximately every four years, this fifth assessment not only outlines the climate-related challenges faced by every region in the country but also includes dedicated sections on economic repercussions and social inequalities for the first time.

Climate-related disasters, such as floods, fires, and heatwaves, are inflicting billions of dollars in damages annually, creating a financial burden that is far from uniformly distributed. The report underscores the widening economic impact and deepening environmental injustices as the frequency and intensity of climate-linked calamities rise.

The assessment points out that climate change has brought about unprecedented conditions not witnessed for thousands of years. Over the past 50 years, global temperatures have surged at a rate unseen in the last 2,000 years, leading to new threats and exacerbating existing problems. For instance, the 2021 heatwave claimed over 1,400 lives in the typically mild Pacific Northwest, while prolonged droughts in the Western US are at their most severe in at least 1,200 years. Since 1980, damages from droughts and heatwaves alone have surpassed $320 billion.

Extreme weather events, emblematic of climate change’s devastating impact, are not only increasing in frequency but also becoming more expensive. In the 1980s, the US experienced a billion-dollar disaster approximately every four months (adjusted for inflation). Presently, the nation grapples with such disasters every three weeks, resulting in annual losses of around $150 billion, according to the assessment. This estimate, described as conservative, excludes considerations for loss of life, healthcare expenses, or damages to ecosystem services.

Climate change also exerts more subtle pressures on the US economy. Rising costs of food and other commodities are reflective of the damages inflicted by climate change. In the Midwest, variable climate conditions linked to climate change, such as pests, diseases, and erratic wet-dry cycles, pose threats to corn and apple harvests. Furthermore, climate change has intensified 18 major fishery disasters in Alaska, significantly impacting coastal Indigenous Peoples, subsistence fishers, and rural communities.

Importantly, the challenges posed by climate change are not distributed equally. Similar to pollution, the adverse effects of climate disasters disproportionately affect marginalized communities, low-income households, and people of color. The assessment notes that 20 to 40 percent of small businesses closing after such disasters belong to historically marginalized groups, further emphasizing the urgency of addressing the intersectionality of climate impacts.

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