Report Shows 29 States Unprepared for Growing Water Threats
Only nine states have taken comprehensive steps to address their vulnerabilities to the water-related impacts of climate change, while 29 states are unprepared for growing water threats to their economies and public health, according to a first ever detailed state-by-state analysis of water readiness released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report ranks all 50 states on their climate preparedness planning, and is accompanied by an interactive online map showing the threats every state faces from climate change.
The new NRDC report, Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning, outlines four preparedness categories to differentiate between the nine best-prepared and most engaged states with comprehensive adaptation plans (including California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), from those states that are least prepared and lagging farthest behind (including Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Texas).
“Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events are impacting our families, our health and our pocketbooks. Water is a matter of survival. It powers our lives and industries, and it keeps our natural systems healthy,” said NRDC Water & Climate Program Director Steve Fleischli. “This report is both a wake-up call and a roadmap for all communities to understand how vital it is to prepare for climate change so we can effectively safeguard our most valuable resources. Preparing for the impacts of a changing climate requires that states confront reality, and prioritize climate change adaptation to reduce local water risks and create healthier communities.”
NRDC’s report focuses on how state governments across the nation are planning and preparing for the water-related impacts of climate change. These impacts include more severe and frequent storms, intense rainfall, sea-level rise, warmer water temperatures and drought events.
Key findings include:
- Nearly nine out of 10 states are poised for more frequent and intense storm events and/or increased flooding.
- While at least 36 states are facing possible water supply challenges, only six of those have comprehensive adaptation plans.
- The majority of states—29 or nearly 60 percent—have done either nothing at all or very little to prepare for water-related climate impacts. (See full list below.)
- Six states—Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota—have done virtually nothing to address climate pollution or prepare for climate change in the face of growing water risks.
- Water preparedness activities appear to have “slowed or stalled” in four of the nine best prepared states—Alaska, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
- Only 22 states have developed plans and formally adopted targets or goals to cut the pollution that causes climate change, which comes mainly from power plants and vehicles.
The 29 states that have done either nothing at all or very little to prepare for water-related climate impacts are broken into two groups: The least prepared or “Category 4” (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Utah); and the second least prepared or “Category 3” (Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming).
The full list of the nine most prepared states (“Category 1”) consists of: Alaska, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.
The climate crisis poses far-reaching implications for water supply, quality, accessibility and use. More intense rainfall events increase flooding risks to property and health, and can cause devastating economic damages. They also overwhelm often-antiquated infrastructure, leading to increased discharges of untreated sewage in waterways and potentially contaminating drinking water supplies and closing beaches. Drought conditions and warmer temperatures threaten supply for municipalities, agriculture, and industries, and could increase water demand for irrigation, hydropower production and power plant cooling.
“A handful of state governments should be recognized as climate leaders for developing robust comprehensive adaptation plans while taking steps to cut global warming pollution,” said NRDC water policy analyst and report author Ben Chou. “On the flip side, there is tremendous potential for so many more states to follow suit. The first step is understanding how your state will be impacted by climate change. With an ever-growing body of research, new adaptation tools, and guidance resources, there’s no excuse not to tackle this challenge.”
There are proactive steps states can take to minimize the impact on communities increasingly vulnerable to climate-induced changes. NRDC encourages all states to undertake the following key actions:
- Enact plans to cut emissions from power plants, vehicles and other major sources of heat-trapping pollution; coupled with increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- Conduct a statewide vulnerability assessment to determine potential climate change impacts.
- Develop a comprehensive adaptation plan to address climate risks in all relevant sectors.
- Prioritize and support implementation of the adaptation plan.
- Measure progress regularly and update the adaptation plan as needed.
NRDC’s blog series detailing select state findings:
- Maryland and Virginia: A Tale of Two States Preparing for Climate Change
- Texas: Texas Lags Behind Most States When it Comes to Preparing for Climate Change
- Florida: Drowning in Climate Change Denial
- California: Leading the Fight Against Climate Change
- Ohio: Bringing Up the Rear on Climate Change Action
- New York and Pennsylvania: Among the Best at Planning for Climate Change
For more information, click here.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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