The Cost of Climate Change in the US

Spotlight Activity: The Cost of Climate Change in the US

The groups in the U.S. most harmed by climate change include all vulnerable populations: low income communities, racial minorities, young children and the elderly or disabled, and indigenous or tribal peoples. In particular, poor communities of color and tribal communities will face the greatest risks.

Tribal communities are “uniquely and disproportionately” harmed by climate change as it brings hotter temperatures, droughts, floods, and threatens drinking water supplies. Additionally, as climate change harms wildlife and changes the growing season, tribes are losing critical foods and cultural traditions. Secondary mental health impacts can be expected as a direct result of primary climate change impacts. Finally, northern tribes face displacement as a result of melting permafrost, increased likelihood of wildfires in Alaska, and melting sea ice.

“Populations including older adults, children, low-income communities, and some communities of color are often disproportionately affected by, and less resilient to, the health impacts of climate change,” according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. These communities stand to see the greatest increase in asthma rates and heat-related illnesses, and are the least resistant to vector-borne diseases like Zika and Lyme disease.

Rising energy use for cooling and heating, as well as costs of damages associated with increasing patterns of severe weather, will take a disproportionately higher toll on lower-income communities.

While the federal government has largely failed to provide funding or programs specifically intended to improve climate change resilience, the U.S. Global Change Research Program does offer a toolkit to assist with the identification of climate change vulnerability at the organizational, community, or municipal level. 

Many state and local governments have detailed climate adaptation plans. These plans often include specific provisions for the most vulnerable members of the population, such as flood insurance models or infrastructure projects. The city of Boston, for example, plans to pursue economic development as a means of expanded resiliency for lower income communities, and to create assistance programs to encourage building owners to update them to be the most resilient possible.

However, most of these plans are produced by densely populated coastal states, leaving the more rural midwestern and southeastern states without provisions for their most vulnerable residents, and emphasizing the need for decisive federal action.

Status: Standing Still

While at the sub-national level, policy is moving forward to assist with the reduction of climate vulnerability, strong federal action is necessary to provide fiscal and policy support. Additionally, targeted assistance to support the most vulnerable members of the population should be provided by the federal government.

Take Action

Send a message to your members of Congress calling for dedicated funding for targeted climate change resilience programs for the most vulnerable members of the population.

Climate change will affect all Americans, but it is currently and will continue to have the greatest negative effect on low income communities, tribal peoples, and the elderly and disabled. These communities need federal assistance to improve their resilience to the impending effects of climate change. Please vote to include dedicated funding for climate change resilience and adaptation in the next federal appropriations bill.

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