23 november 2018

Federal report: Climate risks, damage rising across U.S.

Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter, Climatewire: November 23, 2018

Flooding during last year’s Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas. Researchers say climate change is increasing the risks of hurricanes. Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez/South Carolina National Guard/Flickr

The lives and safety of Americans are already being hurt by climate change, and consumption of fossil fuels will increase the risks in the coming decades, according to a major new summary of climate science released by the Trump administration today.

The administration released the report — on the Friday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when politicians traditionally dump news they don't want to be widely distributed — even as it has sought to downplay and cut funding for climate science across a number of federal agencies. The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which by congressional mandate must be prepared every four years by scientists from 13 federal agencies.

The report makes clear that climate change will harm more Americans, cut into the economy and weaken the social fabric of American life. It was written by more than 300 authors, including federal researchers as well as those from state governments and the private sector.

"The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country," the report says. "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."

The report shows the burden and risks of climate change will disproportionately affect low-income and other vulnerable communities. Climate change will place additional strain on American infrastructure and will impede the rate of economic growth this century.

It will also threaten social systems that Americans rely on to stay secure. It could shrink the economy by as much as 10 percent by century's end and reduce agricultural yields to the levels of the mid-1980s. Global warming will increase wildfires of the sort that have ravaged California and destroy more infrastructure, especially in the South.

"Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security," the report states.

President Trump has continually rejected climate science, even as he stood in the smoldering ruins of California communities made more vulnerable by wildfires that burn longer and are more extreme as a result of climate change. On Wednesday, when record cold temperatures descended upon much of the United States, Trump issued a denial of global warming as he has many times in the past.

"Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?" he tweeted.

Contrary to the president's assertions, the report shows climate change hitting the U.S. economy hard.That includes $141 billion in heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea-level rise and $32 billion in infrastructure development.

The report found that the United States has already warmed an average of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit during the last century. The nation will warm at least 3 more degrees by 2100 without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change will also foul the air, destroy fisheries and other ecosystems Americans need for food and make storms stronger and deadlier, David Reidmiller, director of the National Climate Assessment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, told reporters today.

"Extreme weather events are expected to be more intense and more frequent in a warming world," he said.

The report states that some of the worst effects of climate change can be mitigated by global efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Environmental groups and other nongovernmental organizations immediately seized upon the report as a powerful example of the need to cut emissions.

"No region of the country and no sector of the economy is immune," said Dan Lashof, U.S. director of the World Resources Institute, in a statement. "We must use all tools and pursue all policy levers to turn the tide. The NCA report makes it clear that we need a rapid and decisive shift to a low-carbon economy to achieve inclusive, long-term economic prosperity across the United States."

>>> Back to list