1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

Climate-Exacerbated Disasters Underscore the Need for Climate Legislation

By Mariah Shriner, September 11, 2020


The news the past few weeks has been hard, as we learn about climate-exacerbated disaster after disaster – from Hurricane Laura, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the United States, to the massive wildfires raging across the West, to record breaking temperatures across the Southwest. The impacts of these events are worsened by historic and ongoing racism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hurricane Laura’s intensification from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours is nearly unprecedented, and it is an unfortunate harbinger of storms to come. As a result of warming ocean temperatures, we’re seeing this rapid intensification more frequently, hindering emergency preparedness and causing more extensive damage.

It’s impossible to deny that climate change is here already.

Wildfires too have been made worse by climate change. Entire towns have been burned in California, Washington, and Oregon. In California, fire crews continue to try and contain the second, third, and fourth largest fires in the state’s history. In Washington, more acres have burned already this fire season than in the last twelve combined. Scientists are clear that the link between a more intense fire season and climate change is undeniable, as decreased precipitation and warmer temperatures create more fuel.

As the top weather-related cause of death in the United States, heat is also a dangerous killer. Due to the legacy of systemic racism in the United States, people of color are more likely to live in areas that experience extreme summer heat. Formerly redlined neighborhoods, which often remain lower-income and are more likely to have Black or Hispanic residents, are on average five degrees Fahrenheit hotter in the summer than white neighborhoods.

Facing climate-exacerbated hurricanes, wildfires, and extreme heat during a pandemic places people in even greater jeopardy. Shelters and cooling centers across the country have closed or are operating at limited capacity due to COVID-19, forcing people to weather extreme heat without relief – and leading to an elevated number of heat-related illnesses and deaths in the southwestern United States.

While Congress and the administration have missed opportunities to address the climate crisis, climate-exacerbated disasters have placed an increasing number of lives in jeopardy.

In Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas, more than 1.5 million people were under evacuation orders, and hundreds of thousands have been left without electricity and water, in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, raising tough questions about where to continue to shelter. Similar challenges face those who evacuate due to the fires in the West. Some are sleeping in their cars, staying in tents within shelters, or moving into hotels to minimize exposure to the coronavirus.

Even those whose homes are not directly impacted by disasters can experience severe consequences. Studies have shown that lung function can continue to worsen over a year after inhaling smoke from wildfires. This too is especially concerning during a pandemic that impacts the respiratory system.

It’s impossible to deny that climate change is here already. While Congress and the administration have missed opportunities to address the climate crisis, climate-exacerbated disasters have placed an increasing number of lives in jeopardy. And at the intersection of climate, historic and ongoing racism, and the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that we need to act now.

Addressing climate change should be a top issue for the presidential contenders as well as for candidates running to serve in the 117th Congress. Take action by calling on Congress to prioritize strong bipartisan climate legislation. Reach out to your legislators and candidates running for office using our questions for candidates, and check out our guide to interacting with candidates.

Mariah Shriner

  • Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy & Environment

Mariah Shriner serves as the program assistant for the sustainable energy and environment team. Working alongside constituents and coalition partners, Mariah lobbies members of Congress, advocating for bipartisan responses to climate change and support for climate justice.