Interactive Map Shows 96% of Americans Live in Counties Hit by Extreme Weather
Ninety six percent of Americans live in a county affected by at least one weather-related disaster in the last five years, according to new interactive map created by Environment America and Frontier Group using federal government data.
Scientists have confirmed that global warming is causing an increase in extreme weather around the world. A recent study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society was even able to link at least 14 extreme weather events in 2014 to climate change. And last year, the World Bank warned in a report that extreme weather will be the "new climate normal" unless world leaders take immediate action.
“We used to think of climate change as a problem that would happen someday, somewhere,” said Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions program. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”
.@thestate: #SouthCarolina #tourism hit hard by last month's historic flooding https://t.co/btg33dtTzu https://t.co/h65mH2GE8d— Power of Travel (@Power of Travel)1447262067.0
Superstorm Sandy, California's drought, flooding in Texas and Oklahoma this past spring and most recently the flooding in South Carolina are all examples of the headline-grabbing extreme weather that has rocked the U.S. in recent years. But since September 2010, weather-related disasters were declared in all 50 states and Washington, DC, according to the online map.
And scientists predict that if global warming is left unchecked, extreme weather will only increase in frequency and intensity—more intense hurricanes, more heavy downpours, more flooding, more drought, more heat waves and more wildfires.
To create the interactive map, the researchers collected data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The map also includes case studies and personal stories from Americans impacted by extreme weather events across the country, says Environment America.
“The 2015 Memorial Day Weekend flood of the Blanco River was an unprecedented, historic, catastrophic event,” began the story from Scott from Wimberley, Texas, where deadly floods struck last spring. “I speak for many in saying that we’ve lost many personal possessions that can not be replaced; family photos, baby books, family heirlooms, furniture, a lot of our family history … gone forever.”
“The drought in California has hit every single resident hard. Living in Northern California, my family is one of those families struggling to reduce water from being wasted,” wrote Julia from Kensington, California. “I now also track the path of wildfires in Northern California hoping they can be stopped. Yet I watch them creep ever closer to my home and family. It’s hard to watch the state I love go through all of this at once.”
The map comes just weeks before world leaders convene in Paris for COP21 to try to reach an agreement to slash carbon emissions to keep warming below the dangerous two degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels. So far, more than 150 countries comprising 90 percent of the world’s pollution have already pledged reductions. A recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report found that the climate action plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) will not be enough to avoid the worst impacts of warming alone, but they provide a significant foundation that can be built on.
The urgency of the crisis could not be any more apparent. Earlier this week the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that greenhouse gas emissions have hit yet another record. This past spring the global average “crossed the 400 ppm barrier,” reports the WMO. March marked the first time ever that global carbon levels surpassed 400 ppm for an entire month. The UK's Met Office also reported earlier this week that for the first time global mean temperature at the Earth’s surface this year is set to reach one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Still, many, including notable environmental activist Al Gore, remain positive about the upcoming talks. "I'm optimistic," said Gore in an interview this week with the Associated Press. "We're going to win this."
In more positive news, a new report this week from the International Energy Agency found that renewables will overtake coal as the largest power source globally in the 2030s. The report says, "there's a clear sign an energy transition is underway."
Environment America and Frontier Group hope this interactive map will "hit home" with Americans, as well as, international leaders on the need to act immediately to stop the worst effects of climate change. "To avoid even more devastating climate impacts,” said Aurilio, “we need our leaders to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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