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Ezra Markowitz and Co-authors Help US Government Understand How Climate Change Will Affect American Society

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Two men carry a solar panel in a cover image from the fifth annual National Climate Assessment

The federal government recently release its fifth annual National Climate Assessment (NCA5), the U.S.’ preeminent report on climate change impacts, risks and responses. The congressionally mandated report draws on the expertise of hundreds of the nation’s top scientists, thinkers and experts—including UMass Amherst’s own Ezra Markowitz, professor of environmental conservation.

“I was deeply honored to serve as one of the authors on the Social Systems and Justice chapter,” Markowitz says. “This was the first edition of the report to include a chapter like this, which reflects a growing and long-overdue recognition of the importance and centrality of the social sciences to understanding, characterizing and addressing the multifaceted threat that climate change poses to life on our planet.”

Markowitz and his chapter co-authors emphasize three key messages:

  • Social systems in the US are changing the climate, and when the climate changes its impacts are inequitably distributed by those same social systems throughout the US. “For example,” write the authors, “Black and BIPOC individuals and communities, members of low-income households, immigrants with limited English proficiency, unhoused individuals, rural communities and agricultural workers are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and climate change.”

  • People’s histories, educations, cultures and ethics determine how they understand and experience climate change, all of which leads to diverse approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation. Including community perspectives and multiple forms of knowledge in climate discussions and decision-making helps promote justice.

  • Climate justice is possible if processes like migration and energy transitions are equitable.

“What’s clear from the report is that climate change is not just a technical, engineering or scientific problem,” Markowitz says. “It is fundamentally a problem of human decision-making. But that also means we can choose—individually and collectively—to build a more just and equitable climate future for all.”

The complete report can be found at https://nca2023.globalchange.gov.