West Alton, Mo., was among the communities devastated by climate-related flooding in 2019, the most expensive of the billion-dollar disasters last year.West Alton, Mo., was among the communities devastated by climate-related flooding in 2019, the most expensive of the billion-dollar disasters last year. Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images
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By Dana Drugmand

The last decade was the warmest on record and also the costliest, with more than twice the number of billion-dollar extreme weather events in the U.S. as the previous decade. There were 119 disasters from 2010-19 that topped $1 billion in damages, compared to 59 of them from 2000-09, according to new data released by NOAA. 

The data, compiled by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), paint a picture of ballooning costs shouldered almost entirely by U.S. taxpayers. As the costs rise, however, more than a dozen communities have filed lawsuits against fossil fuel corporations to hold them accountable for the damage and their role in climate change.

The data makes clear the toll those communities are already facing. Last year alone, 14 disasters exceeded $1 billion in damage, including extensive flooding in the Midwest costing $20 billion, nearly half the 2019 total of $45 billion. 

The total for the 119 billion-dollar disasters from the past decade topped $800 billion, according to NCEI. And in the past five years, total costs were more than $525 billion—a record amount.

NCEI has tracked extreme weather events and their costs since 1980. The 258  billion-dollar disasters over the past 40 years have cost $1.75 trillion, according to the agency. Almost half occurred in the past 10 years. The 2000s saw 59 extreme weather events exceeding $1 billion, the 1990s saw 52 such events and the 1980s had 28. 

According to a poll conducted last year by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications, 57 percent of Americans support making fossil fuel companies pay for the increasing costs of climate damages. 

“The likes of Exxon, Shell, and Chevron have put us on a first-name basis with the climate chaos we’re now experiencing. Fossil fuel executives have known and lied about the role of climate-wrecking fossil fuels for decades. Instead of our communities bearing the costs of their lies, we are rising up to make them pay for their climate crimes,” said Lindsay Meiman, spokesperson for the climate advocacy organization 350.org. “2020 kicks-off the Climate Decade, and our work to hold fossil fuel billionaires, and their political and financial backers, to account is crucial to build a world that truly puts our health and safety first.”

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