Unnatural Disasters: New Interactive Map Illustrates Growing Climate Impacts

Washington, D.C. — The National Wildlife Federation is launching a new interactive story map today showing where hurricanes, algal outbreaks, wildfires, droughts, and floods have hit in recent years across the United States, detailing how they’ve harmed local economies and wildlife. Unnatural Disasters: Climate Change and the Mounting Threats to People and Wildlife also explains how scientists now have the tools to attribute certain worsening natural disasters to climate change, which is making them more frequent and damaging than ever before.

In 2017 alone, disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and wildfires in the West led to more than 3,000 fatalities and caused $306 billion in cumulative costs — a new record.

“The threat of climate change-fueled natural disasters cannot be contained to any one region or state — and it’s a problem we all need to urgently address together. The latest science is shouting a warning to all of us: we may only have a decade to prevent irreversible damage to the global climate and the people and wildlife living on Earth. There’s no better time to roll up our sleeves and get to work than right now,” said Shannon Heyck-Williams, senior manager for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation. “We need lawmakers and other leaders in the public and private sectors to support cuts in industrial carbon pollution, investments in renewable energy and transit, and expanded adaptation and resilience plans to reduce risks from climate impacts.”

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new report this month warning of cataclysmic levels of global warming unless policymakers begin "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land management, energy, industry, building efficiency, transportation, and smart growth.

“Our report and the National Wildlife Federation map show that the world has already warmed, with significant impacts on ecosystems," said Univerity of Arizona Regent's Professor Diana Liverman, a lead author of the IPCC's new report. "If we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the biosphere as a carbon sink we could lose habitat for many key species.”

Among the disasters fueled by climate change highlighted in Unnatural Disasters:

  • Monster storms and record flooding: In addition to devastating communities, hurricanes can flood the habitats endangered species depend on, placing them at greater risk of extinction. In 2017, Hurricane Irma wiped out as much as 22 percent of Florida’s Key deer (previously estimated to be just 1,000 deer) and Hurricane Harvey decimated the wild population at Texas’ Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge down to just 12 birds. 
  • Toxic algae outbreaks: A threat from coast to coast, Florida’s 2018 red tide and blue-green outbreaks sickened dozens of people and killed thousands of fish, and killed or sickened hundreds of birds and endangered sea turtles, along with manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and a whale shark. In 2007, dead or dying sea otters were found in California, with investigators blaming toxic blue-green algae that washed into marine ecosystems.
  • Extreme heat and drought: It’s not just fish that are hurt by drought – many snow-dependent species, like wolverines, are already being hurt by reduced snowpack. Scientists say late-spring snow will decline by up to 60 percent in the Northern Rockies over the coming century, potentially drying up all wolverine habitat in the Lower 48.

Here you can read the National Wildlife Federation’s climate change policy recommendations for adaptation and mitigation.

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