Why the US needs the Paris Agreement

Damage from climate-related extreme weather events cost Americans nearly $4 billion so far this year alone

Oroville Dam, California. Source: California National Guard

Today, Trump looks to turn his back on the Paris climate agreement, which over 195 countries signed in December 2015. If it were to leave, the US would be one of only three countries outside of the international accord. The other two? Nicaragua, who thought the agreement wasn’t strong enough, and Syria, who is in the middle of a civil war. The entire world recognized the threat climate change poses to the health, safety, and economic future of their people. The US too, needs the Paris Agreement to avoid extreme risks, domestic and foreign, that will become more common with unmitigated climate change.

In a warming world, extreme weather will become more frequent and severe, bringing more fires and floods across the US. Storms, fires and floods destroy infrastructure, delay economic activity and endanger human health. In 2016 alone, there were 15 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that impacted Americans. Catastrophic weather events are now the new normal.

Climate change fueled Hurricane Matthew in fall 2016, leading to hundreds of deaths and billions in economic damages. Matthew set records for storm tides and rainfall at multiple locations along the Southeastern US, driving historic flooding and destructive winds along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia.

Hurricane rolled into the Lowcountry in early October 2016, knocking out electricity, leaving behind flooded areas, downed trees. Source: Flickr

In 2017, the storms have not let up. In five months alone, the U.S. has experienced three billion-dollar climate-driven disasters.

In January, winter storms brought heavy rain and snow across parts of the west, with most of the damage occurring in California. Flash flooding and mudslides caused an estimated $700 million in damages.

Then, California was inundated by multiple powerful storm systems in February. Record-breaking floods caused nearly 200,000 people to evacuate in northern California after the Lake Oroville reservoir reached full capacity and damaged the dam’s infrastructure. The high water level was caused by tremendous rainfall from a series of recent storms. There was so much water, the auxiliary spillway was used for the first time in the reservoir’s history. The cost to repair the spillways were listed at up to $200 million, and general economic losses across the state reached over $1 billion.

A long stretch of warm weather over the winter, followed by three days of sub-freezing temperatures in March, led to an expected $1 billion cost to agriculture in South Carolina and Georgia. Production in Georgia might be a quarter of what it was in 2016. In South Carolina, which is second only to California in peach production, the numbers are as bad or worse. As much as 85 to 90 percent of the state’s peach crop is gone, according to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. (Will we ever get to sing this song again?)

Finally, this past April, a complex weather pattern shot thunderstorms, floods and even blizzards across vast sections of the central US. At least 20 were killed and 70 injured. Flooding along the Mississippi was seen across several states, and damages are expected to be well over $1 billion.

In a warmer world, catastrophic events will be the new normal. Our jobs, our communities and our very lives are at stake. The consequences are clear: by pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Trump is putting all Americans at risk.


Garrett Blad writes for I Heart Climate Scientists and other publications on climate change, policy and social change. You can follow him @gblad.