President-elect Joseph R. Biden stirred up controversy during his campaign by underscoring that during his time in office the nation would begin its official shift away from fossil fuels in an attempt to mitigate climate change. Yesterday, Biden made his first move towards those goals, appointing former secretary of state John Kerry as the brand new presidential envoy for climate — a move that signals the country’s imminent reentry into global climate politics.
It’s a move that couldn’t come too soon, experts warn, as concerns surrounding the worsening effects of climate change continue to ramp up across the country. By midcentury, it’s projected that the number of massive wildfires in California could increase by 50 percent, and that the sea level along parts of the Florida coast could rise a possible 34 inches.
“I don’t think we should worry about the future; we should be terrified about the present,” Camilo Mora, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told Fast Company.
Property values in some areas have already dropped billions of dollars due to sea-level rise, and even states not flanked by the ocean have increased flooding to worry about. Evidence suggests that most states in the south are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as deadly hurricanes threaten to destroy infrastructure such as homes, powerlines, businesses and roadways.
Many states have already taken matters into their own hands, setting ambitious goals for carbon neutrality and establishing programs that encourage citizens to turn to more eco-conscious forms of energy to power their daily lives. While no state is without vulnerability to climate change, these states may be in a better position to combat the effects of extreme weather events, while other states in more temperate regions away from the coast have advantages of their own.
The most vulnerable states
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Florida is one of the states most vulnerable to the worsening effects of climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the sea level along Florida’s coast has risen about one inch every decade, and heavy rainstorms are becoming more severe. In the coming decades, rising temperatures are likely to increase storm damages, harm coral reefs and increase the frequency of unpleasantly hot days.
Scientists predict that the lower third of the state will actually be underwater by the end of the century, with some estimates projecting that some of Miami Beach’s landmarks such as the world famous South Beach will be lost within three decades.
Over the past couple of years California has experienced worsening wildfire seasons, and it is projected that the number of those deadly fires could increase by 50 percent come midcentury.
The state’s critical water supply from snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains is also projected to drop by two-thirds by 2050, as water levels in Lake Mead have already dropped to the lowest levels since it was first filled in the 1930s. The threat of statewide drought could spell bad news when combined with a worsening risk of fires — creating more challenging conditions in which to grow vital crops.
Luckily, California has already become one of the loudest voices in the fight against climate change, passing a "100 Percent Clean Energy Act" back in 2018 with the goal of achieving carbon-free electricity retail sales by 2045. They have also committed to putting 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2030.
In August 2005, Louisiana was hit by Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 1,200 residents and put 80 percent of the city of New Orleans under water. Since then, the city has been hit by at least nine hurricanes and countless tropical storms, including 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. Besides the state’s vulnerability to flooding and hurricanes, it could also see average temperatures rise more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 if emissions are not curbed.
4. South Carolina
South Carolina, a state heavily dependent on coastal tourism-based tax revenue, is home to 2,876 miles of coastline. Sea level rise poses a disproportionate threat to both the natural resources and economy of the state as flooding, shoreline erosion and the loss of coastal wetlands are all in the line of fire when it comes to the effects of climate change.
Besides that, South Carolina has not developed a statewide adaptation plan. It’s lack of a comprehensive climate plan means that no statewide efforts are being made to cut greenhouse gas pollution, limit sprawl or educate the public on how to adapt to the impending changes.
A new study from the Office of the Texas State Climatologist at Texas A&M University shows that Texans can expect warmer weather, more wildfires and urban flooding as well as increased impact from hurricanes due to the effects of climate change.
Climate change is also projected to create a Texas weather trifecta: warm winter temperatures, heavy spring rains, and parched summers. These conditions have already shown to have unexpectedly harmful effects in the state, such as toxic blue-green algae that has now been able to thrive in the state’s waterways.
The least vulnerable
The state of Washington has become a leader in the green energy space, passing a clean energy bill that targets 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The Pacific Northwest state already leads in carbon-free electricity, with almost 75 percent of its power currently coming from renewable resources.
Washington was also the first state to initiate state-funded green building standards, and is projected to reduce its energy use for new construction by a whopping 70 percent in the next 10 years. On top of all that, it holds the second-highest sales rate in the country for electric vehicles.
The landlocked state of Oklahoma is already at an advantage in terms of the possible sea level rise and flooding that is projected to affect much of the country. In addition to its natural positioning away from the coast, cities in Oklahoma like Tulsa have already gone to great lengths to protect themselves from flooding. Tulsa installed a number of detention ponds after a devastating storm in 1984, which brought flood-insurance rates down to among the lowest in the nation.
Another state away from the ocean, cities in Colorado like Denver and Boulder also have another important factor working in their favor: a high elevation. Camilo Mora, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii told Business Insider that in order to avoid environmental disasters, people should look for places where they can live self-sufficiently, with an independent agricultural system and a body of water that doesn't depend on melting ice. Boulder, with an altitude of more than 5,300 feet, has carefully monitored its water usage to account for changes in weather.
Colorado is also a leader in climate change mitigation efforts, with new legislation put into effect last May that set the state's greenhouse gas emission goals to reach 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and 90 percent by 2050.
In 2019, The New York Times named Duluth, Minnesota as America’s most climate-proof city, citing that geographic factors mean the region “will be one of the few places in America where the effects of climate change may be more easily managed.”
Minnesota may be known for harsh winters, but experts say that cities like Duluth and Minneapolis could actually be ideal for those looking to avoid the harshest effects of climate change in the near future. Minneapolis’s northern, inland location makes it less vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, and summers are not projected to get as persistently hot as in most other U.S. cities.
While there aren’t any “good” long term effects of climate change, experts say that in the short term states in the Midwest such as Pennsylvania will benefit from less extreme cold and a longer growing season. One Pennsylvania city in particular, Pittsburgh, is touted by experts as being safe from hurricanes and unlikely to experience drought. In 2018, the Pittsburgh City Council also approved an ambitious new climate plan to reduce carbon emissions, and the state as a whole has pledged to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.