Every region of the United States is now seeing rapid warming due to climate change, according to the federal government’s fifth National Climate Assessment, which was released Tuesday.
“I’ve seen firsthand what the report makes clear: the devastating toll of climate change. And its existential threat to all of us,” President Biden said from the White House Tuesday morning. “I’ve walked the streets of Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Puerto Rico, where historic floods and hurricanes wiped out homes, hospitals, houses of worship.”
“This assessment shows us in clear scientific terms that climate change is impacting all regions, all sectors of the United States — not just some, all,” he added.
The report lays out in stark detail how climate change is already harming communities nationwide.
“Climate change is finally moving from an abstract future issue to a present, concrete, relevant issue. It’s happening right now,” the report’s lead author, Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy and a professor at Texas Tech University, said in a statement.
Here are the key takeaways from the assessment.
Everyone is feeling the heat
This year is on pace to be the warmest on record globally, and in the U.S., the heat is being felt nationwide, according to the report, which the federal government is required by law to produce every five years:
Every single region has higher average temperatures today than it did between 1951 and 1980.
The U.S. is warming faster than most of the world. Since 1970, the Lower 48 states have warmed by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and Alaska by 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with the global average temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Phoenix set a record this year with 54 days of high temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, including 31 straight days over 110.
In Alaska, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost and disappearing sea ice are destroying the hunting and fishing-dependent economy. Some Indigenous communities may need to be relocated to flee rising sea levels.
Since warming is happening faster at higher latitudes, the report projects that the U.S. will warm about 40% more than the global average in the future.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Hot nights in South Florida: Nighttime low temperature set record high this weekend
'Heavy precipitation events are increasing'
Warmer air holds more moisture, so climate change is throwing the water cycle out of whack, researchers say. Since 2000, the western half of the country has endured a two-decade megadrought that has threatened freshwater supplies for millions of people.
But while annual rainfall has decreased in much of that region, the entire country has seen an increase in heavy precipitation events. As a result, this year saw a series of sometimes deadly flash floods from California to Vermont.
Hurricanes, which draw power from warm ocean waters, are also increasingly powerful, thanks in part to hotter ocean temperatures. (In July, the all-time record-high ocean temperature was set at 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit off of Florida’s Gulf Coast.)
'More severe wildfires'
Warmer temperatures and dried-out vegetation from drought lead to more frequent and severe wildfires. Wildfires and the smoke they create have been an increasingly prevalent and severe problem in the West in recent years, but this summer the Northeast and Midwest were also at times enveloped in thick smoke from Canada’s record-setting wildfire season.
An economic toll
The report notes a sharp rise in the number of billion-dollar disasters in the U.S., with one occurring every three weeks since 2018. In the 1980s, the country experienced a billion-dollar weather disaster once every four months, according to the assessment.
“Extreme events cost the U.S. close to $150 billion each year — a conservative estimate that does not account for loss of life, health care-related costs or damages to ecosystem services,” the report stated.
The report also identifies frequent flooding due to sea-level rise and more powerful storms as a threat to low-lying regions across the country. Health risks, such as food and water contamination, increased air pollution from smoke, dust and pollen are also expected to worsen.
“Climate change threatens vital infrastructure that moves people and goods, powers homes and businesses, and delivers public services,” the report states.
The U.S. has begun to combat climate change
The report also notes that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped 12% between 2005 and 2019 thanks to the adoption of renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy.
The Biden administration has attempted to build on this progress through regulatory measures, like stiff new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. And Congress approved $369 billion for investments in clean energy and electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act. But those measures are only projected to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, not the 50% Biden has pledged to the international community.
A need to adapt, and to act
States and cities across the country have begun retrofitting infrastructure to meet the challenges of climate change, and measures such as enhanced storm drain capacity and improved forest management have increased in every region since the last assessment in 2018, according to the assessment.
But the report finds that faster, more ambitious adaptation investments are needed to minimize the still-growing costs of climate change.