- More than 20 federal agencies released new climate action plans.
- The reports detail how the U.S. government will adapt to climate change.
- Transportation, schools and health are among the areas most affected.
From health to food to family vacations and kids’ education, a series of reports released Thursday that detail the effects of climate change on nearly every part of the federal government provide a window into how everyday life in the U.S. is changing, too.
The reports from 23 federal agencies, ordered by President Joe Biden when he took office in January, lay out plans for how each agency will work to adapt its facilities and operations and become more resilient to things like warmer temperatures, more extreme weather events, damage to infrastructure and increasing health and safety risks.
“Nearly every service that the government provides will be impacted by climate change sooner or later,” Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who researches climate adaptation and has advised federal agencies, told the New York Times.
The plans also take into account health and socioeconomic inequalities in at-risk populations, such as tribal communities.
A similar overview was released during the Obama administration, but many climate change initiatives stalled when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. Biden pledged to make climate a key priority of his presidency. A cornerstone of the Biden’s climate policy, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, was passed by the Senate in August but is tied up in political wrangling in the House.
With the reports released Thursday, the administration’s goal is to take action now in order to minimize disruption to federal operations and programs and ensure safer working conditions for employees, according to a White House fact sheet that outlines the plans.
Here’s some of the ways climate change affects everyday life, according to highlights from some of the key reports:
Health: Weather Events Play a Major Role
Record-breaking heat waves, storms, floods, wildfires and drought all affect people’s overall wellbeing and in some cases have long-term medical repercussions, according to the Department of Health and Human Services report.
Heat is especially deadly, claiming more lives every year than any other type of weather. Increased exposure to floodwaters increases risk of infection, and changing life cycles of ticks and mosquitoes exposes more people to disease spread by insects.
Severe and repeated weather-related disasters also lead to mental issues including anxiety and depression.
And health is an area where those already at risk are especially hard hit.
“Although the climate crisis affects everyone, those most susceptible include communities of color, older adults, children, pregnant persons, people with lower incomes, those who live or work in areas with greater exposure, as well as people with pre-existing physical, behavioral, or chronic health conditions,” the HHS report states. “Existing health disparities are likely to be exacerbated.”
Food: Lower Agricultural Productivity
Farming and other agriculture productivity are under threat from changing temperature and precipitation patterns, as well as the potential for increased pests and diseases and fewer pollinators, according to the Department of Agriculture’s report. Water supply and the intensity of extreme weather events like flooding, storms and wildfires also play a role.
Those factors are expected to change optimal growing seasons and impact the quantity and quality of crop yields as well as livestock production and development.
Failure to adapt to these changes could “lead to a less diverse and resilient food system, degraded natural resources, and missed economic opportunities,” the USDA said.
Travel: Heat Affects Roads and Runways
Climate variability and change could endanger travelers and mean more flooding and damage to highways and subway tunnels, buckled airport runways and weakened infrastructure such as bridges, the Department of Transportation says.
There may be a need for new evacuation routes and changes in design and construction of things like highways and bridges. Roads may degrade more quickly because of heat, resulting in limited access and congestion.
“Interruptions to emergency routes or infrastructure failure can make travel conditions unsafe,” the agency’s report says. “They jeopardize national investment in transportation infrastructure, weaken mobility and economy, and compromise the safety of the traveling public.”
Severe weather also brings more risk of accidents and disrupts mass transit.
Air travel is affected by weather delays and higher outside temperatures limit aircraft performance, leading to reduced payloads or shorter flight ranges.
Jobs: Prioritizing Protection From Extreme Weather
Health and safety risks are rising for people who work outside, especially during hazardous weather conditions such as high temperatures, the Department of Labor says in its report. Workers are also at risk during response and recovery operations that happen after hurricanes and other weather events.
The agency says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – known as OSHA – is prioritizing worker safety as a climate resilience issue. That effort includes providing stronger technical assistance and workplace safety support during and after extreme weather events and increasing employer and employee knowledge of ways to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths related to weather.
The department sees many jobs switching to the clean energy industry, and aims to help prepare workers for those jobs.
Education: More Missed Days of School
The Department of Education plan notes that an earlier report written in 2014 under the Obama administration focused on the potential for climate change to affect operations. Now, the agency says, the 2021 report acknowledges that climate change is already impacting children’s education.
“Climate change impacts on students, families, schools, and communities across the country are present, severe, and worsening,” the report states.
The department cites statistics on missed school days due to the kind of weather-related events that scientists say are made worse by climate change, including 1 million students who missed school in California in 2018-2019 due to wildfires. It also singles out poor environmental conditions within schools, students’ personal health and safety and increased social and emotional anxiety over climate change and extreme weather.
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