On Tuesday, the United States government published the Fifth National Climate Assessment — an exhaustive summary of the leading research on climate change and how it affects life in every part of the country. It may come as no surprise that its findings are dire. Impacts that we are already experiencing today, like the rate of temperature increase, frequent and extreme wildfires, and ongoing drought in the West, are “unprecedented for thousands of years.” These changes will only worsen for as long as society continues to burn fossil fuels, and for some time after.
But the report also offers reason for hope. “The takeaway from this assessment, the takeaway from all of our collective work on climate, should not be doom and despair,” Ali Zaidi, the White House national climate adviser, said in a press call. Instead, he and others stressed, the message should be one of action and possibility.
As the crisis has intensified, so have efforts to mitigate it. States, cities, businesses, and organizations across the country are taking increasingly large steps to reduce emissions — and those efforts are aided by the falling costs of renewable energy and other decarbonizing technologies. The report notes that the cost of solar energy has fallen 90% in the last decade, and the cost of wind power has dropped 70%. Between 2005 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. decreased by 12%. Still, emissions must decrease far more rapidly than that by 2050 to keep us in line with international climate goals.
In the meantime, communities across the country are taking the necessary steps to adapt to climate impacts, and in many cases, doing so in ways that address inequities.
Since the last National Climate Assessment in 2018, scientific advancements — increased confidence in the links between climate change and weather disasters, for example, and the connections between climate and environmental justice — have improved our understanding of the crisis and bolstered awareness. In the press call, Biden administration officials highlighted how the climate conversation has advanced in the last five years. That’s partly the result of more Americans feeling the effects of climate change in their daily lives. It’s no longer a question of whether the crisis is “real,” but rather what must be done to respond to it, and prevent as much harm as possible.
Grist writers from across the U.S. dove into the report to highlight some key solutions and adaptation strategies happening in each region. Here are the solutions and adaptation strategies happening in 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
In its chapter on the Southeast, the report zeroes in on the tremendous risks facing the region’s cities, which are in a state of “unconstrained exurban and suburban sprawl.” Hurricanes and more intense rainstorms will destroy billions of dollars of property in cities from Miami to Atlanta, and local governments will have to retrofit everything from power grids to water treatment plants to protect residents from the blackouts and disease outbreaks that can follow big storms.
The best way to eliminate this risk, though, is to unwind the decades of construction that created it. The federal government has already started doing this by paying local governments to buy out and relocate communities in flood-prone areas. Officials in states like North Carolina have purchased thousands of vulnerable homes and knocked them down, giving residents money to move to higher ground. This strategy, known as managed retreat, will likely expand — but must be paired with corresponding restrictions on development. According to one study, for every home North Carolina bought out between 1996 and 2017, 10 more homes were built in the floodplain.
Furthermore, these programs have well-documented equity issues: The report cites the historic Black town of Princeville, North Carolina, as an example of a successful buyout program, but Grist has documented the townʻs long and complicated journey to recovery. Even so, most experts agree that buyouts are the cheapest and best way to reduce future flood damages and save lives. A better funded and more forward-looking program, like New Jersey’s Blue Acres initiative, would go a long way toward reversing the South’s long trend of unsustainable development. In that program, officials hold counseling sessions with potential participants, and provide money to help defray moving expenses.
— Jake Bittle
This article originally appeared in Grist at https://grist.org/climate/solutions-adaptation-national-climate-assessment-2023/.
Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Learn more at Grist.org.