America’s Largest Cities on the Frontlines of Climate Change

About 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban settings, making cities the forefront of climate change. Experts have identified two major impacts expected to worsen as climate change continues: extreme heat and increased flooding.
Extreme heat is a clear signal of climate change, with cities like New York City experiencing a rise in average temperatures, posing a greater danger during heatwaves. Disadvantaged communities without access to air conditioning or means to run it all the time are especially vulnerable. Heat illness is the number one weather-related killer globally, and cooling centers available during business hours don’t help vulnerable populations at night when the risk is highest. Urban areas are prone to overheating due to the lack of green space, abundance of concrete, and air pollution from heavy traffic, creating urban heat islands.

Historically, large coastal cities around the world have faced the challenge of sea level rise and high tide flooding due to their convenient location for transportation and trade. Rising sea levels, mainly caused by Arctic melting, contribute to chronic flooding in metropolitan regions. Changing storm patterns and stronger storms with increased moisture also play a role in increased flooding. In areas like New York City, chronic flooding has become so regular that it occurs weekly. Concrete-covered surfaces and the absence of wetlands and dunes make coastal neighborhoods more susceptible to flooding.

Both extreme heat and flooding have significant impacts on health, livelihoods, and the economy. These impacts extend to water quality, air quality, and infrastructure like roads and the power grid, creating threats to public health. Rising groundwater, caused by sea level rise and human consumption, exacerbates flooding risks. When floodwaters rise, there is potential for polluted water and sewage to surface, further compromising public health.

The suburbs are not safe either, as a study by Risk Strategies predicts that homes in cities like New York City, Oakland, Miami, and Cape Coral will be underwater in 100 years. The impacts of climate change will be felt acutely by suburban communities as well.

The consequences of climate change in large cities have wide-ranging effects on people’s health, livelihoods, and the economy. The impacts are not limited to extreme heat and flooding but also affect water and air quality, infrastructure, and access to food. As climate change worsens, it is crucial to address these challenges in order to protect vulnerable populations and ensure the sustainability of our cities.