This story includes details on the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.
This summer’s weather disasters affected nearly 1 in 3 Americans, highlighting the urgency for immediate mitigation and raising doubts about whether the country is prepared for climate change.
“People who never considered themselves at risk from climate change are suddenly waking up to floodwaters outside their windows and smoke in their skies, wondering if anywhere is safe,” reports the Washington Post.
Every region of the United States experienced climate shocks such as droughts, wildfires, floods, heavy rainfall, or hurricanes. Multi-day heat waves—which are not classified as disasters—also affected 64% of Americans. For many, the overwhelming extent of unprecedented weather events is driving home the severity of global warming.
“Americans’ growing sense of vulnerability is palpable,” says the Post.
Because of their increasing frequency and intensity, extreme weather events are coinciding to create “compound catastrophes” that create circumstances more dangerous than an individual disaster. A heat wave in Louisiana, for instance, arrived immediately after Hurricane Ida left residents without electricity to power air conditioning.
The breathtaking severity of the summer’s disasters also exposed the limits of the country’s existing infrastructure, as floodwaters overwhelmed subway pumps in New York City and high temperatures threatened to melt streetcar cables in Portland, Oregon. Along the coast, Hurricane Ida intensified so rapidly that officials were unable to evacuate residents in time.
Although infrastructure will be critical to help citizens adapt to changing weather patterns, “no amount of investment in infrastructure will be enough…if people don’t stop the world from warming,” the Post warns. The worst-case scenarios for climate change project a 6° to 8°C rise by 2100 and a possible 60,000 additional deaths per year by 2050, and the rapid change will disproportionately affect low-income communities that don’t have the resources to adapt.
But even the severity of the past summer may not have been enough to precipitate widespread climate action. Climate change remains a polarizing issue in the United States, with 82% of Democrats saying the effects of global warming but only 29% of Republicans agreeing. “The true test of this summer’s significance will be in whether the United States can meaningfully curb its planet-warming emissions—and fast,” the Post writes.