This national report says climate change is making life harder for Americans
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Climate change is making life more expensive in the U.S. It's making people sick, and it's affecting cultural traditions that Americans hold dear. But fighting climate change also presents opportunities to reshape the country for the better. Those are some of the key findings in a new federal report out today. Alejandra Borunda from NPR's Climate Desk reports.
ALEJANDRA BORUNDA, BYLINE: The newly released National Climate Assessment says that climate change now touches every region of the U.S., and it's making Americans' lives harder. Here's President Biden announcing the report today at the White House.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Last year alone, natural disasters in America caused $178 billion in damages. It hit everyone, no matter what their circumstances. But they hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
BORUNDA: That underlying message isn't exactly new. The first assessment detailed the risks from human-driven climate change back in 2000. But this new report comes at a different moment in the country's relationship with climate change. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is one of the assessment authors.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Many more people these days are worried about climate change. Many more people are aware of the impacts.
BORUNDA: One of the starkest impacts is that climate change is making Americans sick.
MARY HAYDEN: Climate change is harming human health.
HAYHOE: That's Mary Hayden. She's the lead author of a chapter on health.
HAYDEN: We tend to focus just on physical health.
BORUNDA: For example, extreme heat sends people to the ER. Wildfire smoke causes asthma attacks.
HAYDEN: But when we talk - we're talking about flooding and displacement, when we're talking about wildfires and displacement, we're talking about people's mental health.
BORUNDA: That's especially the case for young people, who are having their lives shaped by climate disasters and anxiety about the future. The anxiety partly comes from losing the places, cultures and traditions that people love most. For example, salmon that tribes have lived with in tandem for thousands of years - they're in trouble from climate change. Recreation like skiing or ice fishing - that's harder now. But Hayhoe says this assessment also shows the many ways the country can and is choosing a better future.
HAYHOE: Every tenth of a degree of warming we avoid - there's a benefit to that. And that's just such an encouraging and empowering message that our actions matter. Even tenths of a degree matter.
BORUNDA: Hayhoe says the upsides to action are huge. Transitioning away from fossil fuels would save Americans a lot of money. Less warming means fewer billion-dollar disasters. It also means less work hours lost to extreme heat and fewer ER visits from wildfire smoke. A lot of climate solutions can also help with other problems. Air pollution, for example - having fewer coal-burning power plants or diesel trucks means cleaner air. And here's an example from Ali Zaidi. He's the climate adviser for the White House.
ALI ZAIDI: A product of our racist housing policy of the past, redlined communities today have more pavement and fewer trees. And so it's literally hotter there. Folks feel it more in their bodies because of that historic injustice.
BORUNDA: So planting trees in formerly redlined neighborhoods is partly a climate solution. It's also a way to make up for longstanding environmental injustices. Climate change is harder on poor people, people of color and marginalized groups. That's a powerful new theme in the National Climate Assessment. But the report also says that climate change gives the country an opportunity to rethink the status quo and maybe make life better for a lot of Americans. Alejandra Borunda, NPR News.
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