Here’s How Bad Climate Change Will Get in the US—and Why There’s Still Hope

Hot after a summer of heat recordA a wild forest fire that destroyed Lahainaand the hurricanes that quickly intensified into monstersthe United States today published its Fifth National Climate Assessment. The report, produced with input from more than 750 experts from every U.S. state, comprehensively lays out the already severe effects of climate change on the country, how severe those effects are expected in the decades to come, and what we can do to remediate. Think of it as the home version of those more and more terrible reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which presents the latest scientific knowledge on global warming and strategies to slow it.

“The National Climate Assessment shows me both the impacts of climate change and the increasingly compelling economic opportunity of deploying clean energy solutions,” says Ali Zaidi, assistant to the president and national climate advisor. The report is a map of risks, Zaidi says, but also an atlas of opportunities “to create good-paying jobs, reopen shuttered factories, build badly needed infrastructure, and do it all with products made in America.” “.

First, the (somewhat) good news: between 2005 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States decreased by 12%, even though the population and gross domestic product increased. This is largely due to the shift away from coal-fired power generation to natural gas, as well as the falling costs of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. But, according to the report, “the current rate of decline is not sufficient to meet national and international climate commitments and targets.” Achieve net zero emissions by mid-century, meaning the U.S. capture as much greenhouse gas as it emits…we need a 6 percent drop each year on average. Between 2005 and 2019 in the United States, this figure averaged less than 1% per year.

The more solar panels and wind turbines the country can deploy, the faster it can reach this 6%. To this end, last year Inflation Reduction Act allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to accelerate decarbonization; for example, tax breaks for home improvements like better insulation and switching to electrical appliances and heat pumps. It was also about boosting the national green economy: according to a studyit has already created nearly 75,000 jobs and stimulated $86 billion in private investment.

The Biden administration also announced today that it will dedicate more than $6 billion to climate action, of which $3.9 billion will be dedicated to grid modernization. “Clean electrons are really the way that we’re going to decarbonize most of the economy,” Zaidi says. “This will force us to modernize our local network infrastructure, for example to charge heavy vehicles.”

The country’s fragile energy grid is in desperate need of an overhaul, both to cope with increasingly extreme weather and to accommodate more renewable energy. The report released today notes that the average number of power outages affecting more than 50,000 customers jumped about 64% between 2011 and 2021, compared to the period 2000 to 2010. The United States needs a network that is better able to transport electricity from renewable energy hot spots, like solar power generated in the sunny Southwest and wind power from the gusty Midwest. “Putting underground” more power lines, especially in the arid West, prevent infrastructure from starting catastrophic firesas the Campfire who destroyed the city of Paradise in 2018.

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