Climate Change Is a Chronic Condition

And Policymakers Need to Respond to It Accordingly

Houses sit in floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence, in this aerial picture, on the outskirts of Lumberton, North Carolina, September 2018. Jason Miczek / REUTERS

Last June, dozens of flights were canceled for multiple days at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The culprit? Extreme heat, grounding planes not able to operate at temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Two months later, trillions of gallons of rain fell on Houston in the space of just a few days. The city’s third “500-year flood” in just three years, the storm damaged more than 200,000 homes. The estimated damage is over $100 billion. Recovery from the flood, which displaced nearly 40,000 people, is expected to last for years. Fast-forward to last September, when Idaho battled 23 active wildfires, caused by dry and hot conditions making lightning strikes exceptionally dangerous. Smoke in the air kept children inside for days and cost the state over $20 million in fire suppression. Nearby Washington and Oregon experienced similar losses.

These incidents took place over a few months in the summer and fall of 2017. That’s just one snapshot in time: one could easily point to more recent developments, including Hurricane Florence’s destructive and deadly path through the Carolinas; the wildfires currently devastating wide swaths of central California; or the fact that southern Japan just suffered devastating flooding that drove two million people from their homes and destroyed 10,000 houses.

Continuing shifts in climate around the United States and the world are driving up current and future costs, putting new strains on short-term emergency response but also on long-term investments and economic growth. These are no longer one-off events but chronic problems, and managing them requires a fundamentally different approach from the way most policymakers currently think about climate change.


For many Americans, climate change still seems like an esoteric global issue, too far removed from daily life to rise to the level of urgency. But climate change is not someone else’s problem—it’s a profoundly local issue, with both acute and chronic impacts being felt across the country.

The brunt of costs falls on cities and states. Already, climate impacts ranging from extreme heat (Phoenix, Los Angeles)

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