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Bring local impacts into climate conversations
National climate assessments offer local insights that can help you navigate holiday climate conversations
Big news this past week: the U.S. government just dropped its Fifth National Climate Assessment. If you're keeping count, that's the fourth assessment I've helped write.
The obvious question is, what's different this time around, and what does it mean? In this week’s newsletter, I break down the key findings and explain why they matter to us. Here we go!
Overall, the report finds that climate action — both in terms of mitigation and adaptation — has increased in every region of the U.S. over the last few years. That’s good news.
Many climate solutions also address issues of justice and equity. This is even better news, as last week’s newsletter focused on how climate change disproportionately impacts those who have done the least to contribute to the problem.
Health is one example of this. Shutting down coal-fired plants reduces carbon emissions and air pollution, and these dirty power plants tend to be located in low-income communities. Across the U.S., replacing fossil fuels with zero carbon energy would prevent up to 2 million premature deaths from air pollution by 2050.
Jobs are another. Today, about 8 million people or 5 percent of the American workforce are employed in energy-related jobs. Reaching net zero by 2050 would create enough new green energy jobs to entirely make up for any losses in fossil fuel jobs and then some, the report finds.
While these efforts are a step in the right direction, they're still not enough. We need more. Without significant emission reductions in high-income countries like the U.S., the risks and costs will be overwhelming.
However, if we take action now, we can unlock a series of positive benefits for everyone. As the report says, “Climate change slows economic growth, while mitigation and adaptation can result in systemic, cascading benefits,” and it concludes, “climate action can create a more resilient and just country.” Who doesn’t want that?
Most Americans have been personally affected, or know someone who has been affected, by climate change and weather extremes. That’s a huge jump in numbers from when the previous national assessment was released in 2018.
A survey this past September found that 9 in 10 Americans have experienced at least one extreme weather event in the last few years, and most agree – accurately – that climate change is at least partly to blame. The report underscores this, concluding that the impacts of climate change “are already far-reaching and worsening across every region of the United States.” Risks vary by region, depending on the types of severe weather and climate extremes each one is exposed to, and how prepared any given region, state, and city is for these changes.
Over the past five years there have been considerable advances in the science of extreme event attribution. Scientists can now put a number on just how much hotter a heatwave was, how many more houses were flooded during a heavy downpour, or how much more area was burned by wildfires thanks to human-caused climate change.
The risk of “compound events”—defined as two or more extreme events occurring simultaneously—is also rising. “Climate change is increasing the chances of multiple climate hazards occurring simultaneously or consecutively across the U.S. and its territories,” the report says.
What’s at stake? Everything we care about. “Climate changes are making it harder to maintain safe homes and healthy families; reliable public services; a sustainable economy; thriving ecosystems, cultures, and traditions; and strong communities,” the authors write.
Finally, the report emphasizes that 1.5C isn’t a threshold: instead, the risks increase with every tenth of a degree the world warms. This echoes the conclusions of the IPCC, that “every choice matters, every action matters, and every bit of warming matters.” Our actions matter!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
This week is American Thanksgiving and for many others, the holiday season is coming up next month. This means that, wherever you live, you’ll have lots of opportunities to have a conversation about climate change soon.
I always recommend starting off with something you have in common; so focusing on how climate change is affecting the place where you both live, or care about, or visit, is a good place to begin.
You can mention one of the crazy weather events that happened this year, or perhaps how unseasonably warm the fall has been, depending on how you live. Then bring in some of the other changes that have been happening there, and how they are affecting people’s homes, livelihoods, or health.
Where can you find this information? If you live in the U.S., you can turn to this page of U.S. National Climate Assessment and find the chapter that describes your region to see what’s happening there. In Canada, we have the Climate Atlas of Canada that illustrates local impacts. For Australia, you can look to Climate Change in Australia; in the U.K., the Met Office and the BBC developed this tool; and for the E.U., there’s this report by the European Environment Agency.
Don’t forget to also bring up positive solutions that will get people excited about action. Even though they might not talk about it, most people are worried about climate change but don’t know what to do. This newsletter’s archives are full of solutions, such as the edition last month on food waste. Spread the word!
For more tips about how to talk climate change at family dinners, watch this webinar I hosted on this very topic, or my interview with Jimmy Kimmel where he asked me the same question. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!