USA - How does climate change threaten where you live? A guide for cities and states across the U.S.
The U.S. government’s most comprehensive report on the effects of climate change details challenges for every part of the country.
Every four years, the federal government is required to gather up the leading research on how climate change is affecting Americans, boil it all down, and then publish a National Climate Assessment. This report, a collaboration between more than a dozen federal agencies and a wide array of academic researchers, takes stock of just how severe global warming has become, and meticulously breaks down its effects by geography—10 distinct regions in total, encompassing all of the country’s states and territories.
The last report, which the Trump administration tried to bury when it came out in 2018, was the most dire since the first assessment was published in 2000. Until now.
The Fifth National Climate Assessment, released on Tuesday by the Biden administration, is unique for its focus on the present. Like previous versions, it looks at how rising temperatures will change the United States in decades to come, but it also makes clear that the rising seas, major hurricanes, and other disastrous consequences of climate change predicted in prior reports have begun to arrive. The effects are felt in every region. In the 1980s, the country saw a billion-dollar disaster every four months on average. Now, there’s one billion-dollar disaster every three weeks, according to the assessment. All of the many extreme weather events that hit the U.S., from the tiniest flood to the biggest hurricane, cost around $150 billion every year—and that’s likely a huge underestimate.
“Climate change is here,” said Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Biden administration, during a briefing on the report. “Whether it’s wildfires or floods or drought, whether it’s extreme heat or storms, we know that climate change has made its way into our lives, and it’s unfolding as predicted.”
The report outlines steps every level of government can take to combat the climate crisis. And it takes stock of progress that has been made over the past four years. There’s good news on that front: President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have managed to pass historic climate measures that are expected to reduce the country’s carbon footprint by between 32% and 51% by 2035, putting the U.S. closer to meeting its emissions targets under the global climate treaty known as the Paris Agreement. A number of cities and states have passed climate policies that can serve as a blueprint for what actions the rest of the country, and indeed the world at large, needs to take in the coming years. California’s clean car program and the Northeast’s regional carbon cap-and-trade program are two examples.
Despite this progress, climate impacts—oppressive heat domes in the Southeast that linger for weeks on end, record-breaking droughtin the Southwest, bigger and more damaging hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, wildfires of unusual duration and intensity along the West Coast—are accelerating. That’s the nature of human-caused climate change: The consequences of a century and a half of burning fossil fuels are arriving now. Even if we stopped burning oil and gas tomorrow, some degree of planetary warming is baked in.
This reality, the report says, leaves the country no choice but to adapt, and quickly. “We need to be moving much faster,” the Biden administration said. “We need more transformative adaptation actions to keep pace with climate change.”
The Grist staff, located all over the country, reviewed the assessment to provide you with the most important takeaways for your region. Here they are.
One of the joys of living in Alaska is being able to walk through thick brush without fearing that a tiny, eight-legged critter could latch onto you at any moment and give you a debilitating illness like Lyme disease (though, sure, grizzly bears are a worry). According to the assessment, that’s about to change: The western black-legged tick is creeping north, and it’s poised to establish a new home in the country’s largest state.
As Alaska warms two or three times faster than the rest of the world, it’s making life harder for many of the 730,000 people who live there, particularly Indigenous and rural residents who rely on hunting and fishing for food. Crabs are sweltering in the Bering Sea. Salmon are disappearing, leaving fish racks and freezers empty in Yup’ik and Athabascan villages along the Yukon River. Melting sea ice, extreme ocean warming, and toxic algae blooms are unraveling food webs, killing seabirds and marine mammals. It’s not pretty.
And it’s not all happening at sea. The ground beneath Alaskans’ feet is collapsing. Eighty percent of the state sits on permafrost, much of which is thawing. In Denali National Park, a melting underground glacier triggered a landslide in 2021 that forced the park’s main road to close for a few years. Add freak storms, flooding, and erosion to the mix, and Alaska Native communities face nearly $5 billion in infrastructure damage over the next 50 years, the report says.
There are a few bright spots. Higher elevations could see more snow, not less, and Alaska’s growing season is getting longer—a boon for a fledgling agricultural industry. Still, if you migrate north to start a farm, don’t think you’ll have found a refuge from wildfires, even in the Arctic. Just Google “zombie fires.”