Climate disasters cost the United States billions of dollars a year, and the damage is not evenly distributed, according to a new national climate assessment.
The assessment, conducted approximately every four years, exposes the adverse consequences of climate change in all regions of the United States. This is the fifth, but for the first time, this year’s report includes chapters devoted to economic impact and social inequalities. As floods, fires, heatwaves and other calamities linked to climate change intensify, households are paying the price: higher costs and worsening environmental injustices.
As floods, fires, heatwaves and other climate change-related calamities intensify, households are paying the price with higher costs and worsening environmental injustices.
Climate change has created circumstances the planet has not experienced for thousands of years, the report said. Global temperatures have risen faster in the past half-century than they have in at least 2,000 years. This has given rise to all kinds of new threats, like Heatwave 2021 that killed more than 1,400 people in the typically temperate Pacific Northwest. And old problems are getting worse, like the droughts that are drying out the Southwest. The drought in the western United States is currently more severe than it has been in at least 1,200 years. Since 1980, drought and heat waves alone have caused more than $320 billion in damage.
Extreme weather disasters constitute some of the most devastating manifestations of climate change and are becoming increasingly common – and more costly. In the 1980s, a billion-dollar disaster hit the United States on average every four months (a figure adjusted for inflation). Now the United States has to deal with an incident every three weeks. These extreme events result in losses of $150 billion each year, according to the assessment. This is a “conservative estimate that does not take into account loss of life, health care costs, or damage to ecosystem services,” the report said.
There are also more insidious ways that climate change is harming the U.S. economy. Consumers are having to fork out more money to buy food and other goods as prices reflect the damage caused by climate change. In the Midwest, pests, diseases and whiplash between wet and dry conditions linked to climate change threaten corn and apple crops. And climate change has already caused 18 major fishing disasters in Alaska “that have been particularly damaging to coastal indigenous peoples, subsistence fishermen, and rural communities,” according to the report.
None of these challenges arise in isolation. Like pollution, climate disasters disproportionately affect Americans of color, low-income households, and other historically marginalized groups. While 20 to 40 percent of small businesses that close after a natural disaster never reopen, those owned by women, people of color and veterans are even more likely to close permanently.
Flood losses are expected to increase much faster in communities with a higher proportion of black residents.
Flood losses are expected to increase much faster in communities with a higher proportion of black residents. Census tracts where at least 20 percent of the population is black are expected to see average annual flood losses increase at twice the rate of other census tracts where less than 1 percent of the population is black. It is partly a symptom of racist housing policies like redlining which have left some communities without infrastructure and resources to deal with the dangers caused by climate change. Neighborhoods formerly marked by red lines may also be present 12 degrees warmer than surrounding areas due to less green space and more paved surfaces that trap heat.
All of these risks increase as long as the United States, 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 United States is not acting quickly enough to stop this outcome, the report shows. In the United States, pollution caused by global warming has declined on average by only about 1% per year since 2005. It must decline by more than 6% per year to meet the goals of the climate accord. Climate Paris, which commits countries to keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.