While most of us were still recovering from our Thanksgiving excesses last Friday, the Trump administration released a major new climate change assessment late in the afternoon that contradicts the president’s stance on the global crisis.
The long awaited Fourth National Climate Assessment concludes that the impacts of global climate change are already affecting the US, as clearly evidenced by the growing number of intense wildfire seasons, droughts, heatwaves, and floods that the country has been experiencing, and that these impacts will only get worse in the future unless urgent action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It notes that annual average temperatures across the US have risen by 1.8°F since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The 1,600-page report directly connects climate change to ongoing issues that are impacting human lives and resources in the US, such as this month’s devastating wildfires in California, declining water levels in the Colorado River Basin, and the spread Lyme disease and other vector-borne diseases like West Nile and Zika. In other words, no part of the country is immune to the impacts of a warming world.
Of course, all of these impacts are felt more intensely by the most vulnerable among us — children, the elderly, the poor, and communities of color. Climate change has also had a big impact on traditional subsistence livelihoods of indigenous peoples, some of who are even being forced to consider relocation.
And in what might give even climate change denying Republicans some pause, the report notes that climate-related disasters have already cost the US billions of dollars every year in economic losses. For example, rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria, is estimated to cost $17 billion; flooding in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins in 2011, triggered by exceptionally heavy rainfall, caused an estimated $5.7 billion in damages; and the federal cost of fighting fires across the US ranged from $809 million to $2.1 billion per year between 2000 and 2016. By 2100, these costs could rise to hundreds of billions of dollars a year and could affect the US economy worse than the Great Recession did, the report says.
The assessment — which is required by law and is released in installments over four years — was compiled by the US Global Change Research Program, a consortium of 13 federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as a group of independent scientists from across the country. It's the second of two volumes. (The first, released in November 2017, concluded that human activity, “especially emissions of greenhouse gases,” was the key driver of climate change.)
The new report was scheduled to coincide with the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in Washington, DC in about two weeks. The rushed release of the assessment at a time when most Americans were in holiday mode was clearly an attempt by the Trump administration to bury the findings. Meanwhile, true to style, a White House spokesperson tried to downplay the report’s significance, telling the BBC that it was “largely based on the most extreme scenario.” And today our president told reporters he does not “believe” the findings.
But, as the report itself notes: “Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond.”
Indeed, word about the report’s premature release began to circulate among media, science, and environmental circles on Thanksgiving Day itself, and once the assessment was made public, it was followed by a flurry of news articles and analysis across media platforms.
Clearly, what Trump and his cohort fail to understand is that silly tweets like “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” and press statements downplaying the real impact and causes of climate change can only go so far. Ultimately, the truth will out, by bitter, lived experience if we don't wake up to the urgency of this crisis.