While you were sleeping off the turkey or just taking a well-deserved break from the relentless news churn, the government published an extremely ominous assessment of our current climate situation and possible/probable future. According to the Atlantic, the report brims with "information that every human needs," and yet the administration chose to release it on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day on which most people probably aren't keeping close tabs on their phones or on government dispatches.
Coincidence? Personally, I think not.
At every turn, the Fourth National Climate Assessment highlights the wildly irresponsible, even imminently dangerous, nature of President Donald Trump's policy and positions on the environment. The implications of our current course are clear, and in many cases, likely irreversible. The changes we will—not might, not could—see will not "change back," as the president has stated. The authors did not split hairs, but rather, drop kicked the reader into the trenches with a chilling lede, one that sets the tone and the pace for what follows: "Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future."
Unless, of course, we take swift and immediate action, something the administration flat-out refuses to do. With these obvious contradictions in mind, I will leave you to ruminate on why they quietly published this catastrophic report two weeks early, as if they intended it to be buried in a post-holiday news dump.
The assessment's conclusions, drawn from the extended efforts of over 300 experts across 13 federal agencies—NASA, NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Defense among them—who've spent the past three years poring over the available data on climate change: "The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans' physical, social, and economic well-being are rising."
Now, 1,600 pages of doom forecasting is admittedly a lot of doom forecasting to absorb in one sitting or several, so let's run through the banner takeaways. Many will be familiar: For one, if we do not take steps to slash our greenhouse gas emissions before 2040, we will not avert the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming that portend catastrophe. In case your memory needs a jog, that disaster includes shrinking habitats for Arctic wildlife as sea ice melts; rising sea levels that drive mass migration from island and coastal communities; dying crops, coral reefs, and animals; hot hot unrelenting heat; and creeping droughts that may eventually engender water wars. Indeed, if we continue to beat this path of destruction unchecked, which seems like the Trump administration's plan, we may warm the atmosphere by as many as 9 degrees by 2100.
In addition to the obvious toll this trend would take on human populations, plus plant and animal species, there's a financial cost associated with such willful ignorance: The assessment estimates $500 billion in damages to crops, infrastructure, homes, and the national labor force, all wrought by extreme weather.
And people will also die! With heat wave seasons continuing to lengthen, as they consistently have over the past 50 years, the health burden will grow ever heavier. Heat waves, and their associated escalation in pollution, tend to create immediate impact (including fatalities, especially among children, elderly adults, pregnant women, those experiencing homelessness, and those who lack the resources to access things like water, which, again, is not becoming more abundant), as well as long-term consequences, including cardiovascular and respiratory problems. While deaths related to cold weather may decrease in frequency as winter becomes warmer, the report notes that, "In most regions, the increases in heat-related deaths are expected to outpace the reductions in cold-related deaths."
At the same time, we'll have to confront the fallout from a proliferation of wildfires and coastal flooding. Wildfires, as the entire West Coast can already tell you, generate particle pollution that lingers in the lungs, creating pernicious health problems that could stick around far longer than the flames themselves. The report also notes that "rising temperatures are expected to reduce electricity generation capacity while increasing energy demands and costs," resulting in blackouts and power outages. That chaos will likely ratchet up as more and more people, faced with ever-encroaching tides and fire-ravaged landscapes, flee the coasts for the country's interior, further straining resources.
That is just a tiny taste of the hell that awaits us should we fail to do everything we can to curb our greenhouse gas emissions. And according to the report, there are things we can do right now. To start, pivoting to more sustainable energy options: Wind, solar, even natural gas but for the love of God, not coal, Trump's most beloved energy source of all. Another boon would be shifting reliance away from fuel-burning cars, i.e., leaning instead on lower-impact forms of transportation, like bikes and electric vehicles, wherever feasible. Also, and I'm just spit-balling here, recommitting to the Paris Climate Agreement and keeping our word might help.
Additionally, we're going to need to be proactive about adapting to the climate we've already spent some time ruining, and start taking action on items like infrastructure improvements, shoreline protections, and bolstering healthcare safety nets.
Because, again, this scenario ceased to be hypothetical long ago. This report is not the first but the fourth of its kind, and for those who believe they somehow know more than 300 climate scientists speaking as one—ahem, POTUS—let us end on this little piece of precedent:
— Marc R. Masferrer (@MRMasferrer) November 26, 2018