The United States has suffered Disasters worth $23 billion So far in 2023, this is a record for this period of year that highlights the country’s struggle to adapt to the effects of climate change.
The list, compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, includes the fire on Maui that killed at least 115 people, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century; Hurricane Idalia, which struck western Florida as a Category 3 storm; A storm in Minnesota brought down hail Size of ping pong ballsPower was cut off to more than 25,000 homes and businesses.
That was just last month.
On the one hand, the increasing cost of disasters is not surprising. Burning fossil fuels causes air and water temperatures to rise, which in turn makes it possible for hurricanes to become stronger, rainfall to become more intense, and wildfires to spread faster.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which tracks the number of multibillion-dollar disasters in the United States, adjusted for inflation, show a relatively steady upward march, from Three such disasters in 1980 to 22 in 2020. The current year has already surpassed 2020’s record.
But the rising losses show more than just the effects of global warming. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the federal government has spent billions of dollars trying to make American communities more resilient to the effects of climate change through investments in seawalls, storm drains, building science, forest management and other strategies.
The increasing number of large and costly disasters shows the limits of these efforts.
The Biden administration, aware of these concerns, is working to increase flexibility spending. FEMA “has provided historic levels of mitigation funding to help communities build resilience,” Jeremy Edwards, an agency spokesman, said in a statement. Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated nearly 500 communities as “disaster-resilient areas,” eligible for increased federal funding.
“Rural communities are really on the front lines of climate change,” said Christine Smith, a researcher at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit policy consulting group, which has studied the distribution of federal resilience funding. “But many don’t have the resources to do anything about it.”
The Biden administration has also tried to persuade state and local governments to impose stricter building codes, which could significantly reduce damage from floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters.
But stricter regulations increase the initial cost of homes, which is a strong disadvantage because much of the country suffers from a housing shortage. Despite the efforts of the federal government, only about a third of U.S. jurisdictions use the latest building codes, according to the Building and Home Safety Institute, a research group funded by the insurance industry.
This industry has a lot of reasons to be concerned. As disasters become more frequent and more expensive, insurance companies have increasingly stopped writing new coverage in high-risk states such as Florida, California and Louisiana. The Maui wildfires have raised questions about the viability of Hawaii’s insurance market as well.
As insurance becomes more expensive or unavailable, the result could be a broader economic downturn, leading to lower home values and the collection of local property taxes. This downward cycle, until recently limited to particularly disaster-prone parts of the United States, threatens to spread more widely as high-cost disasters become more frequent.
The United States needs to take climate adaptation seriously, said Amy Chester, executive director of Rebuild by Design, a nonprofit group that helps communities recover from disasters. This means not only spending money on resilience, but also requiring state and local governments to build infrastructure to higher standards.
Ms Chester added that adapting to climate shocks also means “having real conversations” about helping people leave vulnerable areas. “Maybe we can’t live everywhere we live.”
Meanwhile, she noted, multibillion-dollar disasters don’t just affect the people living in them. As federal disaster costs rise, Ms. Chester said, “We’re all paying for it.”
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