Climate change “presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” and the United States will need to make monumental efforts to mitigate and adapt to those threats, according to a detailed federal report quietly released by the Trump administration over Thanksgiving weekend.
This report is clear:
It’s getting worse
But our choices can and do make a difference.
So: act now.
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) November 23, 2018
The 1,656-page peer-reviewed report — the latest edition of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, authored by officials from 13 federal agencies and numerous independent researchers — was released at 2pm EST on Black Friday when few people would likely notice. Many advocates, including several of the report’s authors, accused the Trump administration of attempting to bury the report.
That’s a dangerous ploy on the part of the administration, as threats identified by the report include life-threatening air pollution and heat waves, worsening wildfires, destructive storm surges and sea-level rise, drought, infectious disease outbreaks, and agricultural declines affecting both crops and livestock.
Most notably, the report showcases hundreds of pages of evidence that these threats are already happening, with detailed chapters on 10 regions throughout the United States. Existing effects include constrained access to fresh water, lengthening warm-weather seasons, shifts in animal populations, coral bleaching events, the spread of invasive insects, declines in snowpack and sea ice, increases in heavy rainstorms and floods and a surge in destructive wildfires.
The report primarily focuses on the effects of climate change on the United States, but as it notes, the “cascading impacts of climate change threaten the natural, built and social systems we rely on, both within and beyond the nation’s borders.”
The costs from these threats are already on the rise and will soon reach potentially crippling levels. “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,” according to the report, which found that under the worst-case scenario climate change would wipe out more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP — more than double the losses of the recent recession, according to The New York Times.
The report, which contrasts heavily with the Trump administration’s ongoing deregulatory agenda, was issued just two days after the president mocked the very idea of climate change during a climate-change inspired cold snap that affected the American Northeast last week. “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?,” tweeted President Trump.
Many experts and officials questioned why the report was released on Black Friday — much earlier than the originally planned release date of mid-December. Even journalists couldn’t get an answer.
Federal officials refused to answer my questions on climate report in press conference about timing of report & why it contradicts President Trump? Other reports try again, they still dodge those questions. NOAA pr person not allowing experts to talk
— seth borenstein (@borenbears) November 23, 2018
But others said they knew exactly why the report was issued the way it was. Steve Milloy, publisher of the climate-denying website JunkScience and a member of Trump’s EPA transition team, told The New York Times that the strategy was to release the report “on a day when nobody cares, and hope it gets swept away by the next day’s news.”
Did that strategy backfire? The National Climate Assessment ended up being the lead story on many newspapers the next day, and may continue to do so.
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) November 23, 2018
Meanwhile, others in government pledged to stand up to Trump’s attempts to minimize or further bury this report. “No matter how hard they try, the Trump administration can’t bury the effects of climate change in a Black Friday news dump — effects their own federal government scientists have uncovered,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D—RI) said in a statement. Others from the incoming “blue wave” of new elected officials echoed that sentiment.
People are going to die if we don’t start addressing climate change ASAP.
It’s not enough to think it’s “important.” We must make it urgent.
That’s why we need a Select Committee on a Green New Deal, & why fossil fuel-funded officials shouldn’t be writing climate change policy. https://t.co/bn6NloGlaY
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 23, 2018
Adapt or Die?
As to the actual content of the National Climate Assessment, the report, like the United National climate report issued earlier this year, says we must continue efforts to mitigate the release of greenhouse gases causing climate change and remove what’s already there.
That won’t be enough on its own, though, as the effects of the emissions we have already placed into the atmosphere will be felt for many years to come. “It is very likely that some physical and ecological impacts will be irreversible for thousands of years, while others will be permanent,” the report warns. Those permanent risks include the extinction of species and irreversible damage to the land.
That’s why a big section of the report is about adaptation — the changes we’ll need to make “at the individual, local, regional and national levels” in order to deal with the effects of climate change.
Some of those adaptations are relatively simple. For example, individuals in flood-prone areas can seal their basements, elevate their furnaces, water heaters and electric panels, and start to keep supplies of food, drinking water and candles.
Most others are much more complex and may require public-private partnerships to address the specific needs in each community, such as anticipating the future flow of water supplies for hydropower and irrigation. The report contains a framework for conducting these assessments by examining risk, allocating resources, and monitoring and adjusting efforts over time.
Of course, many adaptation steps are already increasingly underway around the country, but the report warns that climate change is already outpacing them, putting too many communities behind the eight ball. Taking things to the next level will be costly, but the report says adaptation “can generate significant benefits in excess of its costs,” including hard-to-quantify benefits “such as economic revitalization and other social benefits.”
Many states and cities are already taking on the challenge of addressing climate change, but will the recommendations made in this report fall on deaf ears on the federal level? It seems unlikely that much mitigation or adaptation will take place under the current administration, which is already trying to discredit the report by saying, incorrectly, that it is based only on “the most extreme scenario.” The report actually models the future based on all available scenarios, including the potential development of new sustainable technologies.
I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios, from those where we go carbon negative before end of century to those where carbon emissions continue to rise. What WH says is demonstrably false. https://t.co/aTkrBNh9IL
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) November 24, 2018
Even more telling: President Trump on Monday responded to questions about the report by saying “I don’t believe it.”
Regardless of the president’s denial, what’s obvious from this and numerous other reports and studies is that immediate action is necessary on all fronts if we hope to avoid both short-term and long-term disaster. As noted ocean conservationist Sylvia Earle put it last week, “The next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years in terms of shaping a future where humans can have a hope for an enduring place within the natural systems that keep us alive.”