Every four years, the federal government is required to gather up the leading research on how climate change is affecting Americans, boil it all downaand 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 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 drought in 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 are the takeaways for the Southeast, with the complete list of regions available at Grist.com.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
The sunny and fast-growing Southeast is on a collision course with climate change. Its cities have gobbled up more than 1.3 million acres of exceptionally biodiverse land since 1985, and more than a million people have moved to Florida alone since 2018. These newcomers are sitting ducks for worsening disasters, especially floods. The Southeast has seen almost two dozen hurricanes make landfall since 2018, and these monster storms are ballooning to full strength much faster as they cross a hotter Gulf of Mexico. The slow creep of sea-level rise has also led to more frequent tidal flooding in coastal cities like Miami. That’s bad news for the millions of people who have bought waterfront homes over the past few decades.
To say the region is ill-prepared for this era of climate disaster would be an understatement. Many Southeastern cities are plagued with flimsy manufactured housing, antiquated drainage systems and decades-old power grids. Heat stroke will become a bigger danger for outdoor workers, and more blackouts will knock out life-saving AC units in big cities. Louisiana saw more than 20 such events between 2011 and 2021. Warmer spring temperatures will also increase pollen counts in cities like Atlanta, worsening air quality. All these impacts will be more dangerous for the region’s Black residents, who live in hotter and more flood-prone places than their neighbors.
The region’s declining rural areas also face existential threats, as industries find themselves unprepared for a warmer world. Farmers of cash crops such as citrus and soybeans, for instance, are fighting a four-front war against drought, flooding, heat, and wildfires, which all reduce annual yields. Extreme weather will continue sapping these moribund economies, leading to more out-migration and urban growth.
— Jake Bittle
This article originally appeared in Grist at https://grist.org/climate/national-climate-assessment-2023-us-regional-impacts-summary/.
Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Learn more at Grist.org.