Climate Disaster Affected Over 40% of Americans Last Year
New analysis from the Washington Post has found that over four in ten Americans live in a county hit with climate-related extreme weather events last year; over 80% of Americans experienced a heat wave; and at least 656 people died in last year's weather disasters. Additionally, damages from climate-related disasters last year cost $100.2 billion, not including the destruction caused by the West Coast's wildfires, drought, and heat waves.
While FEMA's data showed fewer climate-related disasters per county last year, they still cited a 1998 record-breaking eight statewide emergencies, affecting 135 million people.
Why This Matters
The weather disasters of last year should be a wake-up call for addressing climate change. But fossil-fuel pollution hit record highs in 2021, while the blockbuster Build Back Better bill, which would commit the largest amount of money to clean energy in US history, took months to pass. And, the pledges countries made at COP26 will only limit warming to 2.5 degrees Celsius, which the IPCC report considered disastrous.
The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 30, 2021.
The results of the study also matter on a political level. As climate change has affected more people directly and as more Americans report that they actually feel its impacts, the numbers of Americans who see climate as a crucial issue in their lives has grown accordingly, meaning that the constituency for action is growing too.
There are short-term solutions that can make the country's disaster response stronger. For example, better building codes, burying power lines, and campaigns informing the public about the importance of putting out cigarette butts and campfires could diminish the risk of wildfires.
Still, as the Washington Post put it: "2022 begins with two crucial questions still unanswered: Will the United States invest in ways to make extreme weather less destructive? And will the country lead the world in curbing warming before it becomes impossible for humanity to adapt?"
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft: Climate Chaos - Confronting the Real Existential Threat, November 4, 2021.