Climate change threatens to destroy 'the things Americans value most', US government warns

Climate change threatens to destroy ‘the things Americans value most’, US government warns

The Jade Isle Mobile Home Park is flooded in this aerial view from a drone in St. Cloud. Residents of the community have been issued a voluntary evacuation order due to rising waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Paul Hennessey | Light flare | Getty Images

The United States must step up its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades as climate change worsens disasters and threatens water supplies and public health across the country, according to a important draft report released Monday by the federal government.

“The things Americans value most are at risk,” the authors of the National Climate Assessment wrote in the 1,695-page draft. “Many of the adverse impacts people across the country are already experiencing will worsen as warming increases, and new risks will emerge.”

Over the past 50 years, the United States has warmed about 68% faster than the planet as a whole, with temperatures rising 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. The land has warmed faster than the ocean, higher latitudes have warmed faster than lower latitudes, and the Arctic has warmed fastest of all, according to the report.

Climate-related disasters cause economic losses through damage to infrastructure, disruption of essential services and loss of property values, according to the report. The country has experienced an average of nearly eight $1 billion disasters each year for the past four decades, but in the past five years that average has climbed to nearly 18 events per year.

The report also describes how millions of Americans could be displaced by climate disasters such as severe wildfires in the western United States and rising sea levels in coastal cities. Climate change is also hurting regional economies by reducing crop yields in the Midwest and disrupting fishing operations in Alaska, among other negative effects.

The authors highlighted how a host of disasters fueled by climate change have disproportionately affected American communities with lower than average carbon footprints.

The white tub ring of Lake Meads reveals a historic drop in water levels near the Hoover Dam September 16, 2022 in Boulder City, Nevada.

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“The effects of climate change are felt most strongly by already overstretched communities, including Indigenous peoples, people of color, and low-income communities,” the authors wrote. “These frontline communities experience harmful climate impacts first and worst, but are often the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.”

The report also called for action.

The country cut emissions by 12% between 2007 and 2019, the report said, noting advances in renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, and reductions in the use of coal. But to meet the Biden administration’s goal of achieving a net-zero economy by 2050, emissions must decline by more than 6% each year going forward, the authors wrote.

“Threats to the people and places we love, our livelihoods and our hobbies can be reduced now through proven, proactive efforts to drastically reduce emissions and adapt to inevitable changes in a sustainable way. address inequalities across the country.”

The authors noted several actions with short-term benefits, such as accelerating low-carbon technologies, accelerating public transit, incentivizing the purchase of renewable energy and electric vehicles, as well as improved cropland management. But they warned that many of the adaptation efforts by states and cities are underfunded, calling their potential impact “incremental” rather than transformative.

A house fire as the Oak Fire burns in the area July 23, 2022 near Mariposa, California.

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“The worst consequences of climate change can yet be avoided or limited by large-scale actions that rapidly decarbonize the economy and prepare communities for impacts,” the authors wrote. “Longer-term planning and investment in transformative mitigation and adaptation offers the opportunity to create a healthier, fairer, and more resilient nation.”

The Congress-mandated report comes as world leaders gather this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt to discuss methods and set targets for tackling climate change.

The full report is expected to be released in 2023 after a period of public comment and peer review. The government is required to publish the National Climate Assessment every four years.

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