The Apple Fire burns north of Beaumont, California, on July 31st, 2020 (Brody Hessin, Wikimedia commons)
Article written by Danielle Ferdinand, a volunteer for Climate Justice for All
The United States has been experiencing more and more natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and snowstorms due to the rising temperatures. According to data collected by both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2020 was one of the warmest years ever recorded. NASA has 2020 tied with 2016 and NOAA has it second to 2016. In the continental U.S there were no below average annual temperatures recorded in 2020. In fact, the five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2012 (NCEI, 2021). While the pandemic did reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the overall CO2 concentrations remained the same (NASA, 2021).
The three largest sources of emissions in the United States are electricity/heat at 32%, transportation at 17%, and manufacturing/construction at 13%, according to the Climate Watch Data for Climate Action. Recently, more attention has been given to calls to reduce these emissions. Most famously, the Green New Deal (GND) was proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. While the idea of a Green New Deal is not new, the support it has been receiving and the call for action has been much greater than it has been in the past, especially from youth. The GND calls for creating electricity from renewable and zero-emission sources, remodeling the transportation system by investing in more efficient public options like a high-speed rail, and upgrading buildings to be more energy efficient. Just these three ideas would reduce emissions from the United States’ major sources.
These demands cannot be ignored any longer. Last year saw the most active wildfire year recorded in western U.S. Five of the six largest fires in California history and the three largest fires on record in Colorado all occurred in 2020. Over 10 million acres of land was destroyed in these wildfires and, more importantly, many lives and homes were lost.
Last year was also the most active hurricane season, with 30 storms named and 12 making landfall in the U.S (NCEI, 2021). This past February, the state of Texas experienced winter storm Uri, which caused major issues due to failed power grids, burst water pipes, and limited road and air travel. There were officially 151 people who died as a result of this storm, though the real number is thought to be much higher. Millions were left without power/heat for days in subfreezing temperatures. These disasters cost the U.S. billions to recover from, and in 2020 annual losses exceeded $95 billion, the fourth highest on record.
In the Northeast, the winters are getting milder and the summers are getting hotter. Just this past summer New England has had three heat waves already. Less snow in the winter means more rain, and more rain means a higher pollen count, which is evident in the increased numbers of allergies and asthma attacks. The reduction of snow and ice also means a reduction in surface area that reflects the heat back into space, resulting in warmer surface temperatures. Research shows that the Northeast is actually warming at a faster rate than the rest of the contiguous U.S. (Weiss, 2020).
Until something is done to change emission rates these climate disasters will continue to occur. The global temperatures will continue to rise, ice caps will continue to melt, and sea levels will continue to rise. Millions of people around the world are at risk of losing everything and habitats will be destroyed, causing various species to go extinct. If we continue to do nothing, we will eventually hit a point of no return. Simply acknowledging that climate change is happening is not enough. The world needs to come together to tackle this issue and create serious change before it is too late. It is time to take action, and the youth of today have been driving forces for change in the United States. We are calling on our World Leaders to act now, and Climate Justice for All is working hard to make this happen. Together we can create and share resources that can make change easier, especially for those in vulnerable communities. We are calling on our representatives at the COP to make climate justice possible for everyone.
Climate Watch – Data for Climate Action. (n.d.).Greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions: Climate watch. https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions.
Congressional Research Service. (2021, August 6). Wildfire Statistics. Federation of American Scientists. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF10244.pdf.
Friedlingstein, P., O’Sullivan, M., Jones, M. W., Andrew, R. M., Hauck, J., Olsen, A., Peters, G. P., Peters, W., Pongratz, J., Sitch, S., Le Quéré, C., Canadell, J. G., Ciais, P., Jackson, R. B., Alin, S., Aragão, L. E., Arneth, A., Arora, V., Bates, N. R., … Zaehle, S. (2020). Global carbon budget 2020. Earth System Science Data, 12(4), 3269–3340. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-12-3269-2020
NASA. (2021, January 21). 2020 tied For warmest year on Record, NASA analysis shows – climate change: Vital signs of the planet. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3061/2020-tied-for-warmest-year-on-record-nasa-analysis-shows/.
National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Assessing the U.S. climate in 2020. (2021, January 12). https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/national-climate-202012.
ScienceDaily. (2021, June 23). Natural hazards threaten 57% of US structures. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210623091230.htm.
Weiss, A. (2020, November 30). Fading winters, hotter Summers make the NORTHEAST America’s FASTEST Warming Region. Inside Climate News. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27062020/hotter-summers-northeast-united-states-warming/.