New climate report confirms challenges,opportunities facing communities

(Photo: Alyse Dietel, FRAGILITY (2023, PEN, WATERCOLOR, ACRYLIC). Source: Fifth National Climate Assessment Art x Climate  Gallery.)

By Pedro Hernández, Ivanhoe Sol 


In mid-November, the Biden Administration released the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) – a federally mandated report to Congress and the President. NCA5 was thoroughly reviewed by Federal Government experts, external experts, and the public multiple times throughout the report development process.  


This purpose of this  report is to “analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”




The Assessment begins with a stark and clear message, “The more the plant warms, the greater the impacts” and that Without large-scale transformative action to reduce carbon emissions and adapt our communities to climate impacts, the United States will continue to experience accelerating dire consequences. 


In its nearly 30 chapters, the report strongly demonstrates that Climate change is already affecting every region in the United States and that climate change will continue to have impacts in the near term. These trends are unique and demonstrative of the potential impacts across the globe since the US is warming faster than the global average. 



At first, NCA5 presents high-level perspectives which ground the regional impacts of climate change in global historical trends. For example, the most up-to-date data concludes:

  • present-day levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years, with most of these emissions occurring since 1970. 
  • Global temperature has increased faster in the past 500 years than at any time in that least the past 2,000 years 
  • The current drought in the western United States is now the most severe drought in that least 1,200 years and he persisted for decades 


As a result, on average the United States now experiences a billion-dollar weather or climate disaster every three weeks – up from the 1980’s average of one every three to four months. This also increases the potential of two or more extreme events occurring simultaneously or in quick succession in the same region – known as compound events.


Locally, as early as 2020 Tulare County and Ivanhoe experienced the combination of massive wildfires and drought. In this last case, increased and drought contributed to dry conditions conducive to wildfire which led to the San Joaquin Valley experiencing the worst air quality in the world. 


At that time, the Ivanhoe Sol interviewed Ivanhoe residents who reported overall increasing energy bills and the challenge of attempting to cool their homes with air conditioning while the coolers sucked in polluted air into their homes. 



Extreme heat, drought, and ecosystem change in the Southwest are projected to have the most prominent climate-related impacts on places like Ivanhoe.


Droughts are projected to increase in intensity, duration and frequency throughout the country but especially in the U.S. southwest. As Tulare County has experienced for years, the report also projects that higher temperatures will increase irrigation demand that leads to groundwater pumping  which could endanger groundwater supplies, which are already declining in many major aquifers. 


These impacts will be adversely felt by people, animals, and the agricultural industry.


Tulare County’s rich biodiversity is being threatened at a record pace due to climate change. For example, between 2020 and 2021 the mountain ranges lost 19 percent of all Sequoia trees due to wildfire. Additionally, local native species such as the tri-colored blackbird have lost their range due to loss of native habitat and are highly threatened. Even federally protected lands such as the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge are struggling with maintaining their wetlands due to declining groundwater levels. 


The goods and services provided by land systems are threatened. In particular for Ivanhoe and Tulare County’s agricultural industry, many challenges currently felt are projected to increase.  NCA5 projects that increased instabilities in US and global food production and distribution systems are projected to make food less available and more expensive. These price increases and disruptions are expected to disproportionately affect the nutrition and health of women, children, older adults, and low-wealth communities. Additionally, the farm workers continue to experience heat-related stress and death at significantly greater rates than any other profession in the United States. 


At the same time, climate change is expected to place multiple demands on infrastructure and public services. Risks to energy, water, healthcare, transportation, telecommunications, and waste management systems will continue to rise with further climate change, with many infrastructure systems at risk of failing. For example, higher temperatures and other effects of climate change, such as greater exposure to storm water or wastewater, will increase demand for healthcare.The disproportionate health impacts of climate change compound with similar disparities in other health contexts.



While the Fifth National Climate Assessment is clear in its assertions that the United States is experiencing record climate impacts in every region of the county, it does provide various discussions on potential solutions.


Currently there are climate actions taking place across all regions of the United States with states like California far outpacing nearly every other state in terms of volume of projects. However, these climate actions are incremental and not yet taking place on the scale needed to adequately meet the challenges presented by climate change. 


Without significant emissions reductions, rapid shifts in environmental conditions are expected to lead to irreversible ecological transformations by mid to late century.


The good news is that actions taken now to accelerate net emissions reductions and adapt to ongoing changes can reduce risks to current and future generations. The choices people make on a day-to-day basis—how to power homes and businesses, get around, and produce and use food and other goods—collectively determine the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted.


In addition to the choices of individuals, transformative adaptation would require new and better-coordinated governance mechanisms and cooperation across all levels of government, the private sector, and society.


In many cases, more transformative adaptation will be necessary to adequately address the risks of current and future climate change. For example, while an incremental solution to heat may be using air-conditioning, a more transformative adaptation would include redesigning cities and buildings to address heat through increased tree canopies and weatherization for homes.


Large near-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are achievable through many currently available and cost-effective mitigation options. However, reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century cannot be achieved without exploring additional mitigation options. Even if the world decarbonizes rapidly, the Nation will continue to face climate impacts and risks.


Large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are expected to result in widespread health benefits and avoided death or illness that far outweigh the costs of mitigation actions. Improving early warning, surveillance, and communication of health threats; strengthening the resilience of healthcare systems; and supporting community driven adaptation strategies can reduce inequities in the resources and capabilities needed to adapt as health threats from climate change continue to grow. Additionally, nature-based solutions that restore degraded ecosystems and preserve or enhance carbon storage in natural systems like forests, oceans, and wetlands, as well as agricultural lands, are cost-effective mitigation strategies.


While adaptation planning and implementation has advanced in the US, most adaptation actions to date have been incremental and small in scale (see Table 1.3). In many cases, more transformative adaptation will be necessary to adequately address the risks of current and future climate change. For example, while an incremental solution to heat may be using air-conditioning, a more transformative adaptation would include redesigning cities and buildings to address heat through increased tree canopies and weatherization for homes. 


Climate change, and how the country responds, is expected to alter demand for workers and shift where jobs are available. Additional opportunities include jobs in ecosystem restoration and construction of energy-efficient and climate-resilient housing and infrastructure.While adaptation options to protect fragile ecosystems may be limited, particularly under higher levels of warming, management and restoration measures can reduce stress on ecological systems and build resilience. These measures include migration assistance for vulnerable species and protection of essential habitats, such as establishing wildlife corridors or places where species  and recreationalists can avoid heat. 



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