“The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”
— Fourth National Climate Assessment: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States,
Nov. 23, 2018
The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) was released by the government last week, specifically at 2 p.m. EST on Black Friday. It was then revealed in Monday’s newspapers and on broadcasts and telecasts.
Because of the timing of the publication, some administration critics have opined that it was an attempt to bury a study that draws conclusions that are contrary to the view of the White House.
However, the report has been produced by 13 federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and so forth, along with 300 renown scientists, half within the government and half at major universities across the country. Even NASA and the Defense Department were involved in preparing the document.
The study is required to be reported to Congress every four years, the last one having been produced in 2014. The current edition is 1,656 pages that demonstrate the connection between climate change and ongoing observable and reliably reported issues like the declining water levels in the Colorado River Basin and the spread of ticks that carry Lyme disease.
Although our nation seems to be divided into shirts versus skins (or Red halter-tops versus Blue halter-tops) with regard to the whole concept of climate change, the report makes it clear that:
1. It is already happening,
2. It is going to get worse as we continue with present policies,
3. It is going to be extremely expensive, and
4. It is still possible to do something about it.
For a governmental report, it is presented in surprisingly direct language that depicts the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health, and environment. It includes events like crop failures in the Midwest, a crumbling infrastructure in the South, and the record-setting wildfires in our own state. Moreover, the concept of “fire season,” long understood and experienced in the West, could spread to the South, where firefighters and officials are not familiar with counter measures that can be taken or strategies used to fight the blazes.
The authors of the report also state precise costs of climate change on the United States economy: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from rising sea levels, and $32 billion from infrastructure damage and quite a bit more by the end of the century. According to Coral Davenport and Kendra Pierre-Louis, writing for the New York Times, “The findings come a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations, issued its most alarming and specific report to date about the severe economic and humanitarian crises expected to hit the world by 2040.”
NCA4 covers all parts of the United States and indicates that recent observations of climate change are omens of things to come. Davenport and Pierre-Louis state, “No area of the country will be untouched, from the Southwest, where droughts will curb hydropower and tax already limited water supplies, to Alaska, where the loss of sea ice will cause coastal flooding and erosion and force communities to relocate, to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where saltwater will taint drinking water.”
The scope of the project is daunting. Therefore, the study group was divided into 10 regional workshops: Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho), Southwest (California to the eastern borders of Colorado and New Mexico), Northern Great Plains (Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas), Southern Great Plains (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas), Midwest (Great Lakes, Minnesota, Iowa, and Arkansas), Northeast (New England and points south, including West Virginia and Maryland), South (the states below the Masson-Dixon line, including Tennessee and Kentucky), Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and the U.S. Caribbean.
Members of the team studied the past four years of national overviews on the effects of climate change as well as regional reports on water, energy, ecosystems, air quality, health, and other key indicators. Having gathered the information, team members then concentrated on responses to climate change. These included near-term adaptations that are occurring or may occur. They also include natural and developing resiliency, as well as strategies for mitigating, avoiding, and reducing long-term risks.
After years of study, the team leaders gathered to review the findings and write the report, which includes a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, on which many environmental rules rely. Umair Irfan, writing for Vox, says the report shows that “climate change places a huge economic burden on the United States, which undermines the government’s efforts to ignore or downplay the issue.”
The political climate
Reactions to the study typify the shirts v. skins mentality that we Americans have recently adopted. For example, as reported in The Week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told journalist Michael Grunwald that “he’s not in the pews of the Church of Global Warming Leftists,” a very 2018 way of expressing opposition to carbon regulations, renewable energy subsidies, and other forms of climate action. He wasn’t disputing that the planet is getting hotter, or questioning the scientific data on the dangers of fossil fuels. He was clarifying which team he’s on, and more specifically which team he isn’t on: the team of tree-hugging scolds who look down on ordinary Americans for eating bacon and using plastic straws.”
In the political climate that has developed over the past few decades, Americans seem to choose which team they’re on and then interpret the facts to fit their partisan views. The report makes it clear that it is time to put an end to this practice.
Next week, I’ll report on the 12 specific aspects of our society that are addressed in the document: communities, economy, interconnections, actions to reduce risks, water, health, indigenous people, ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure, oceans and coasts, and tourism and recreation. Perhaps if we understand the findings reported in NCA4, we’ll join together on the same side.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.