How Millions of Lives Can Be Saved if the United States Acts on Climate Now | Climate crisis


The rapidly shrinking window of opportunity for the United States to pass significant climate legislation will have deadly stakes, as well as political ones. Millions of lives around the world will be saved or lost, depending on whether America succeeds in propelling itself to a future without global warming emissions.

For the first time, researchers have calculated exactly how many people the United States could save by acting on the climate crisis. A total of 7.4 million lives worldwide will be saved this century if the United States manages to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050, according to the analysis.

The financial savings would also be huge, with a net-zero America able to save the world $3.7 billion in costs to adapt to the rising heat. As the second largest polluter of greenhouse gases in the world, the United States and its political vagaries will largely decide the number of people in distant lands who will be subjected to deadly heat, as well as to endure storms, floods, droughts and other consequences of the climate. emergency.

“Every additional ton of carbon has these global impacts – there is a tangible difference in terms of mortality rates,” said Hannah Hess, associate director of Rhodium Research Group, part of the Climate Impact Lab consortium that led the study. ‘study. “There is a sense of frustration with the lack of progress at the national level on the climate, but every action at the national or local level makes a difference in terms of lives.”

The lab’s new “lives saved calculator” uses a model of historical death records and localized temperature projections to estimate the number of lives saved if emissions are eliminated. The analysis only looks at lives threatened by extreme heat, meaning the true climate toll would be higher due to other growing threats such as flooding and heavy storms.

Just 10 US states could save 3.7 million lives worldwide by reducing their emissions to net zero, largely due to their high consumption of fossil fuels. Texas alone could save 1.1 million lives. But even action in less populated states would have an advantage: Idaho could save about 68,000 lives, Kansas could save 126,000 lives, and Hawaii could save about 16,000 lives.

Bar graph of the 10 states that could save the most lives by reducing their net CO2 equivalent emissions to 0 by 2050.

Hess said rising heat this century will lead to an uneven distribution of deaths around the world, mostly concentrated in regions such as North and West Africa, as well as South Asia. India and Pakistan recently suffered a brutal heat wave reaching 122 F (50 C) in some places, which killed several hundred people and was made 30 times more likely by the climate crisis.

“People have different coping abilities depending on the resources they have to protect themselves from extreme heat,” Hess said. “Not all the hottest places face an equally high risk of death; it is closely linked to economic growth. In the United States, there are impacts in places like Southern California and Texas, but the United States is really eclipsed by the poorer regions of the world when it comes to these types of deaths.

The United States has yet to pass meaningful legislation to address the climate crisis. Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which contained an estimated $550 billion in climate spending, was killed in the Senate earlier this year by Republican opposition and the intransigence of Joe Manchin, a centrist pro-coal Democrat. who opposed any move to phase out a fossil fuel industry that kills 9 million people a year worldwide from air pollution alone.

Map of the United States with circles representing each state, sized according to the number of lives saved under two 2050 climate change scenarios

Democrats still hope that about $300 billion of that spending, mostly in the form of tax incentives to develop solar, wind and other renewables, could be clawed back in a separate bill and that Manchin , a crucial vote, might be willing to pass it.

But time seems to be running out, with Democrats set to lose their tenuous grip on Congress in November’s midterm elections. “At the end of the day, we have narrow windows that we have to work in, but we’ll see,” Manchin told reporters last week. “We just have to make decisions here.”

Fears over inflation and the impact of war in Ukraine have overshadowed the increasingly urgent need for some sort of climate legislation, but those worries could be allayed by greater domestic clean energy production , according to Paul Bledsoe, who was scientific adviser to Bill Clinton. administration and is now a strategic advisor to the Progressive Policy Institute.

“Ironically, these crises may have increased the likelihood that Congress will act on clean energy legislation,” Bledsoe said. “If you don’t want these oil shocks to happen abroad, you have to reduce the demand for oil at home. Inflation and security imperatives are solved by the same clean energy technology and I think that factor will be enough to push that over the line.

If no legislation were passed, the United States and the world would fall far short of the effort to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. It would also seriously hurt Biden, who has placed climate action at the heart of his administration.

“If the Democrats don’t act and their majorities are lost in the fall, it will leave the United States without effective climate policy at this time of crisis,” Bledsoe said.

“It is hard to imagine a more devastating result both for the party and for the world. It is unthinkable that this does not happen. It would be devastating to Biden’s legacy.


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