A new Treasury Department report finds that more than half of U.S. counties — populated by millions of Americans — face heightened future exposure to at least one of the three leading climate hazards: flooding, wildfire or extreme heat.
And for some Americans, the report’s finding may feel even more immediate. That’s especially true at the end of a summer marked by record-high temperatures in parts of Texas and Arizona, costly flooding in Vermont and compromised breathing as Canadian wildfire smoke drifted down to the U.S. Northeast and upper Great Lakes.
“Severe flooding, wildfires and extreme heat are imposing significant financial burdens on households across the country. This has been highlighted by recent events such as this summer’s wildfires that blanketed numerous U.S. cities with poor air quality,” said Graham Steele, Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial institutions.
“Underserved communities are particularly hard-hit by such events,” Steele said, in releasing the report that’s intended to guide policymakers and consumers in making decisions about how to insure and safeguard their health and property.
The report details financial risk to households tied to lost earnings, property damage or destruction, insurance gaps and limited access to public-benefits programs. Climate change-related weather can mean the extra expense of running air conditioning for longer periods of time, or may result in illness or injury that strains underinsured Americans especially. The report also describes indirect effects from extreme weather, such as higher prices for consumer goods when the supply chain is impacted and rising costs of gasoline and other energy as severe storms can hinder production and transport.
The report is viewed as a framework for evaluating the impacts of climate change on household finances and recommends steps to build capacity to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate-related shocks and stresses. The report also includes a catalog of specific consumer resources, including educational resources to promote awareness about the steps households can take to prepare for and adapt to climate hazards.
Though many households are impacted by climate hazards, certain households are particularly susceptible to experiencing financial strain, Treasury officials said. For example, outdoor workers face income loss due to adverse climate conditions, single-parent households led by women face reduced child care availability, and lower-income households face reduced access to credit.
Heat waves, sometimes called silent killers, are already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. and will intensify in frequency and severity as human-caused climate change increases global temperatures. Leading public-health journals and medical organizations have said climate change poses the biggest threat to public health in the coming years.
And because high healthcare costs already burden some U.S. families more than others, recent climate-change research has focused on heat and health.
A separate report from the public-policy research group Center for American Progress estimates that extreme heat resulted in $1 billion in additional healthcare-related costs in the U.S. this summer alone. That group projected that excessive heat will prompt roughly 235,000 emergency-department visits and more than 56,000 hospital admissions for conditions related to increased body temperature this summer.