WASHINGTON, DC, November 25, 2018 (ENS) – A bombshell of a report from the federal government that finds global warming is creating new risks and aggravating current vulnerabilities across the United States, is being shrugged off by the Trump administration and Republicans although it warns of “growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”
“The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country. More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities,” states the Fourth National Climate Assessment, developed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, USGCRP.
Although this report is intended to be an authoritative assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States, it was released over the Thanksgiving weekend, as if the Trump administration, led by a president who views climate change as a “hoax,” wants to deflect public attention from it.
Produced by 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies, the report concludes that the United States will warm at least three more degrees by 2100 unless the burning of fossil fuels is limited immediately.
“Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change,” it states. “Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs.”
This state-of-the-science synthesis of climate knowledge, impacts, and trends across U.S. regions and sectors is intended to inform decision making and resilience-building activities across the country.
But President Donald Trump has already announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which, through voluntary measures taken by governments, seeks to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aims to limit warming to just 1.5°C above those levels.
The president has not commented on the USGCRP report, but White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said the assessment was “…largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that, despite strong economic growth that would increase greenhouse gas emissions, there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.”
Regardless, the Trump administration has rescinded Obama-era environmental regulations put in place to limit the burning of fossil fuels and the release of potent greenhouse gases such as methane, and has promoted the production of coal and other fossil fuels as part of Trump’s deregulatory agenda.
The most comprehensive, authoritative assessment to date on the state of knowledge of current and future impacts of climate change on society in the United States, the report connects climate change to increasing water scarcity, worsening storms, deadly wildfires and greater exposure to tropical diseases across the United States.
And it warns that future climate change will aggravate existing challenges to prosperity posed by aging and deteriorating infrastructure, stressed ecosystems, and economic inequality.
For instance, “Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs,” the report states.
Former Vice President (1993-2001) and environmental activist Al Gore said Friday, “Unbelievably deadly and tragic wildfires rage in the west, hurricanes batter our coasts – and the Trump administration chooses the Friday after Thanksgiving to try and bury this critical U.S. assessment of the climate crisis. The President may try to hide the truth, but his own scientists and experts have made it as stark and clear as possible.”
“The rest of us are listening to the scientists – and to Mother Nature. The impacts of the Climate Crisis are being felt in all regions across our country – extreme weather, heat waves, deeper and longer droughts, crop failures, strengthening wildfires, sea level rise – and they are disproportionately borne by the most vulnerable among us.
“Mr. President,” said Gore, “the majority of Americans are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and demand action. Even as local leaders are responding in the wake of fires and storms, national leaders must summon the will to respond urgently to the dire warnings of this report with bold solutions.”
One of the sternest warnings in the report relates to water scarcity. The report states, “Groundwater depletion is exacerbating drought risk in many parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains. Dependable and safe water supplies for U.S. Caribbean, Hawaii, and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Island communities are threatened by drought, flooding, and saltwater contamination due to sea level rise.”
U.S. Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Senate Climate Change Task Force and is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement Friday, “We can see, feel, hear and experience the impacts of climate change when our communities suffer sea level rise, forest fires, and super-charged hurricanes.”
“The Trump administration may want to bury this report so that it doesn’t get attention, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand to the threat of climate change. We need to take action now to reduce carbon pollution and implement the clean energy solutions that will help save our planet,” Senator Markey said.
“Climate change remains the most critical challenge that human civilization faces, and today’s report affirms that conclusion,” said Markey. “In this National Climate Assessment, our best scientists are sending up an emergency flare – we need to take action now to mitigate carbon emissions or ignore the risks posed by climate change at our peril.”
The report details the projected effects of climate change on the U.S. economy, warning, “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
“With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century – more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states,” finds the report, which is mandated by Congress.
Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.
Changes in temperature and precipitation are increasing air quality and health risks from wildfire and ground-level ozone pollution. Rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events are expected to increase exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, affecting food and water safety.
With continued warming, cold-related deaths will decrease and heat-related deaths will increase; in most regions, increases in heat-related deaths are expected to outpace reductions in cold-related deaths, finds the report.
The frequency and severity of allergic illnesses, including asthma and hay fever, are expected to increase as a result of a changing climate.
Climate change is projected to alter the geographic range and distribution of disease-carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile virus, and dengue fever. Communities in the Southeast are particularly vulnerable to the combined health impacts from vector-borne disease, heat, and flooding.
“Rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities,” according to the report.
“Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change,” it warns.
Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States, the report finds. Increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.”
“Lasting damage to coastal property and infrastructure driven by sea level rise and storm surge is expected to lead to financial losses for individuals, businesses, and communities, with the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts facing above-average risks,” the USGCRP warns.”
“Impacts on coastal energy and transportation infrastructure driven by sea level rise and storm surge have the potential for cascading costs and disruptions across the country,” the report states. “Even if significant emissions reductions occur, many of the effects from sea level rise over this century – and particularly through mid-century – are already locked in due to historical emissions, and many communities are already dealing with the consequences.”
Business will also feel the effects. “The impacts of climate change beyond our borders are expected to increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.”
The report acknowledges that, “Some aspects of our economy may see slight near-term improvements in a modestly warmer world. However, the continued warming that is projected to occur, without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts.”
While Democrats are taking the report’s findings seriously, Republicans are nonchalant.
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, Sunday called for “balance” in responding to heightened concerns that the U.S. may face large-scale disasters, an economic downturn and a loss of jobs due to climate change.
“Any time we are putting regulation out, we need to consider impact to American industry and jobs,” Ernst said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We want to make sure that it makes sense going forward.”
“There is a balance that can be struck there,” said Ernst, pointing to her home state, which she says set a climate action standard not by “mandating” but by “incentivizing.”
The USGCRP report warns that those likely to be worst affected by global warming include older adults, children, low-income communities, some communities of color and many Indigenous peoples, who rely on natural resources for their economic, cultural, and physical well-being.
Throughout the United States, climate-related impacts are causing some Indigenous peoples to consider or actively pursue community relocation as an adaptation strategy, making the maintenance of cultural and community continuity a challenge.
Many Indigenous peoples are taking steps to adapt to climate change impacts structured around self-determination and traditional knowledge, and some tribes are pursuing mitigation actions through development of renewable energy on tribal lands.
The report advises, “Adaptation and mitigation policies and programs that help individuals, communities, and states prepare for the risks of a changing climate reduce the number of injuries, illnesses, and deaths from climate-related health outcomes.”
While the efforts of communities, governments, and businesses to reduce risks and costs associated with climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and implementing adaptation strategies have expanded in the four years since the last report, “…they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades,” the 2018 report warns.
There are a few hopeful signs. For instance, transformations in the energy sector – including the displacement of coal by natural gas and increased deployment of renewable energy – along with policy actions at the national, regional, state, and local levels are reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But this assessment shows that more immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as well as regional adaptation efforts, will be needed to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change in the long term.