ISeptember Joe BidenAfter Hurricane Ida caused flooding of the area of Manville in New Jersey, he stood in the midst of the destruction. He pointed out the water marks that reached up to the top of some homes on the block.
“Literally over your head, that’s pretty amazing,” the president reportedly said, while consoling a family whose home was destroyed by a fire that began alongside the flooding. “Well, thank God you’re safe.”
A presidential disaster tour is a play that has been performed thousands of times, in gentle words and resolute shows of strength to build again, against Mother Nature’s fury. It used to fall mostly to vice-presidents to make visits to disaster areas, but in the last 20 years, Americans expect presidents themselves to turn up – and some of that shift can be traced to George W Bush’s decision not to visit New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
2021 has brought climate disasters to the forefront. Biden has made at most five disaster tours in the last year, visiting victims of extreme storms and hurricanes along the Gulf coast and in New York, as well as wildfire victims in the west. His administration tried to pass broad climate policies, but with mixed results.
According to the most recent statistics, the combined cost of the 18 weather disasters that struck the United States during 2021 was more than $100bn. Estimates. Noaa estimates that the disaster costs of the last five years have been almost one-third of those of the previous 42 years. 2021 is predicted to be the worst disaster year.
The climate disaster year began in January, when northern California experienced flash flooding and severe winter storms as a “bomb cyclone” and an “atmospheric river” hit the Sierra Nevadas and surrounding areas. In just a few days, the storm dropped 16 inches of rain and brought 100 mph winds to the middle of the state. Atmospheric rivers are like fast-moving, airborne conveyor belts that shuttle moisture from the Pacific to the west coast about a dozen times a year, and much of the west’s water comes from them.
Texas went into a deep freeze in February – a phenomenon that scientists say is linked to a changing polar vortex. Some scientists believe that the Arctic warming has disrupted winds that surround the pole, releasing giant blobs cold air into lower latitudes.
At least 210 people died during the storm’s aftermath, where the underprepared power grid gave out and more than 4m households lost power. As many areas were covered with snow and ice, travel was almost impossible. Biden visited the Houston area in late February, where he was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God’s work”. Biden promised that the federal government would be there to help Texans recover.
A heat dome struck the Pacific Northwest in June, pushing temperatures up to the triple digits in Seattle, Portland. The following analysis was done by the Group World Weather Attribution, which specializes in using computer modeling to examine the links between ongoing weather events and climate change, finds that the extreme heat wave would have been “virtually impossible” without human influence.
July saw the worst wildfire of the year, located about 100 miles north from Sacramento. After a horrible 2020 wildfire season, experts feared extreme summer heat – and that’s exactly what happened in creating the Dixie fire. It became California’s second-largest fire ever, burning nearly 1m acres in the Lassen national forest and destroying the town of Greenville before it was finally doused in late October.
Biden reflected on climate change’s impact on weather events in the United States while sitting in an airport hangar. “These fires are blinking code red for our nation,” said Biden, who used the occasion to promote two bills pending in Congress that would fund forest management and more resilient infrastructure as well as combat global warming. The country couldn’t “ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change.”
Biden visited Louisiana in September to remind residents that Hurricane Ida, which was a category 4 hurricane, had caused $65bn of damage in Louisiana. “And superstorms are going to come, and they’re going to come more frequently and more ferociously,” he said. “I’ve been working closely with the governor and our colleagues in Congress in both parties on my Build Back Better plan that will modernize our roads, our bridges, sewers and drainage systems and power grids and transmission lines to make sure they’re more resilient.”
Biden flew to Kentucky last month to assess the damage done by a series tornadoes that tore through the state. More than 1,000 people were killed and thousands more were left homeless. Biden pledged to do “whatever it takes, as long as it takes” to help Kentucky and other states after a series of deadly tornadoes that he said left a trail of unimaginable devastation. “You will recover and rebuild,” he said.
In the halls of government, it has been a mixed year on changing the course on this country’s response to the climate crisis. The outcome of the Cop26 climate summit was met with disappointment. Wealthy nations refused the offer of reparations to poorer countries to cover climate-related damage. While many countries agreed to increase their climate action commitments, scientists warn that the world is still on course to heat significantly.
And Biden’s plans to pass a historic social spending bill, which includes $550bn worth of climate and energy provisions – and the president’s climate agenda – have been halted by West Virginia senator Joe Manchin’s pledge to vote no.
But there were also big wins this year for climate. Biden revoked permits of the Keystone XL Pipeline, ending the dispute and closing the project.
Biden also signed an executive order titled Justice40, which promised that at least 40% of all benefits from federal investments in clean energy and climate adaptation will go to “disadvantaged communities.” That has already taken effect, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed in November includes $240bn for environmental justice projects–the largest such investment in US history. Climate disasters are disproportionately affecting communities of color. It is therefore important to invest to ensure their safety.
Biden also achieved a climate win at year’s end, as his administration raised vehicle mileage standards to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions.
Monday’s final rule will raise mileage standards, starting in 2023 model years. It is expected to reach a industry-wide goal for 40 miles per gallon by 2020. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the rule will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3.1 billion tons over the next 30 years. This is equivalent to shutting down 700 coal plants per year.
The American public was the one who took the greatest climate action this year, as they watched these disasters happen month after month. An October poll by Pew Research TrustIt was found that more than two thirds of Americans see an increase in extreme climate. A survey found that nearly eight out of ten Americans are more concerned about climate changes as a result severe weather. For the first time, More than halfMany Americans claim that they have experienced the effects of climate change personally.
“Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, our economy, and the threat is here,” Biden said as he toured a neighborhood in Queens, New York, after Hurricane Ida in early September. “It’s not going to get any better. The question is: can it get worse?”