It’s getting hot in here: a fire in Windsor, California, October 2019
Max Whittaker / The New York Times / Redux

Ever since climate change became a concern for policymakers and laypeople alike, the focus of public debate has largely been on mitigation: limiting greenhouse gas emissions, capturing carbon, and transitioning to renewable energy. Those efforts must continue if we hope to keep the planet hospitable. But it is also time to acknowledge that—no matter what we do—some measure of climate change is here to stay. The phenomenon has already affected the U.S. economy, U.S. national security, and human health. Such costs will only grow over time. The United States must build resilience and overhaul key systems, including those governing infrastructure, the use of climate data, and finance. 

Otherwise, the blow to the U.S. economy will be staggering. Assuming that current trends continue, coastal damage, increased spending on electricity, and lost productivity due to climate-related illness are projected to consume an estimated $500 billion per year by the time a child born today has settled into retirement. Other estimates suggest that the U.S. economy will lose about 1.2 percent of GDP per year for every degree Celsius of warming, effectively halving the country’s annual growth.

Climate change also threatens to fray the United States’ social fabric.

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  • ALICE HILL is Senior Fellow for Climate Change Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Senior Director for Resilience Policy at the U.S. National Security Council. 
  • LEONARDO MARTINEZ-DIAZ is Global Director of the Sustainable Finance Center at the World Resources Institute and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy and Environment at the U.S. Treasury Department.
  • They are the authors of Building a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate Disruption.
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