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U.S. cities hire specialists to counter climate change as impacts worsen

Tucson hired a forester. Miami named a heat officer. And Los Angeles appointed a climate emergency mobilization director. Across the United States, cities have launched new programs focused on dealing with extreme weather, reflecting the growing impacts of climate change on local communities, according to experts.

Since 2019 at least 30 U.S. cities have taken fresh action such as hiring specialists to combat the impact of extreme weather, including Phoenix, Houston, Louisville, Nashville, and Oakland, according to the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, based at Washington D.C.’s Atlantic Council think tank. Many of those cities have created posts and initiatives to deal with worsening heatwaves, seasonal wildfires or the effects of flooding, often with a focus on poor and minority communities, the group said.

“Local government officials have to respond to it,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, the head of the Resilience Center, which promotes solutions to climate impacts, in part, by partnering with governments and bringing public and private funding to projects. New EPA data released in May, after years of delays during the Trump administration, showed heat waves across the country occur more frequently, last longer, and are often hotter, that wildfires are torching more land, and that the East and Gulf Coasts are flooding more often.

Many times poor and minority communities take the brunt, said Alice Hill, an energy and climate policy expert at the independent Council on Foreign Relations think tank based in New York. “There has been a growing recognition that because they are at greater risk of harm, more needs to be done to protect them,” she said. Some of these cities, including Los Angeles, said they are hoping their efforts will get a funding boost under President Joe Biden’s administration, which in January ordered that 40% of the benefits of federal clean energy investment go to neighborhoods that have historically been neglected.

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump downplayed climate risks and withdrew the United States from an international pact to slow global warming. The Biden administration rejoined that deal, has introduced a raft of new policies to fight climate change, and is now building a database to help it identify the parts of the country most in need of federal assistance in dealing with the impacts of warming and industrial pollution.

“Climate change is a public health issue, a public health hazard, and the front-line communities that are most affected by climate change are low-income communities,” Mayor Regina Romero told Reuters. Romero aims for Tucson to be carbon neutral by 2030 and says the Biden administration’s spending plan will help her achieve that goal “because it includes funding for a lot of what local governments have to do to create this green infrastructure.”
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