What’s in the Climate Report the Trump Administration Doesn’t Want You to Read?
As families across the U.S. gathered together to enjoy Thanksgiving weekend, the government released an urgent report on climate change Friday, warning that human-caused global warming could have dire consequences for American lives and livelihoods.
"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 report begins. "The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur."
The report marks volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the work of 1,000 people, 300 top scientists and 13 federal agencies operating under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, CNN reported. The report's clear and urgent message on climate change runs counter to President Trump's climate denialism and decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement to keep global temperatures "well below" two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Director of the Technical Support Unit at the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information David Easterling told CNN there was "no external interference in the report's development," but some speculated the report's content was why the administration chose to release the report on Friday, when Americans would be distracted by the biggest shopping day of the year, as EcoWatch reported.
The report was originally scheduled to be released in December at a large scientific conference, and its early release took its authors by surprise, The Atlantic reported. But Climate Central reporter John Upton tweeted that any attempt to bury the news "backfired."
"The news is everywhere," Upton wrote Saturday. "After details of the plan leaked, the government confirmed the release in advance, giving outlets time to prepare. And yesterday was a slow news day."
The Trump admin's attempt to bury news of somber climate findings on Black Friday backfired. The news is everywhere… https://t.co/B1ubmA60JR— John Upton (@John Upton)1543066933.0
So what's in the report that the Trump administration doesn't want you to read? Here are some key takeaways.
1. Climate Change Kills
The report found that in the Midwest, the region projected to see the biggest temperature increase, 2,000 more people could die a year by 2090 because of heat waves, CNN reported. Any decrease in deaths due to warmer winters will be offset in most regions by an increase in deaths due to warmer summers, Vox reported. Other health hazards that will increase due to climate change include mosquito and tick-borne diseases and air pollution due to an increase in wildfires.
The report's findings on wildfires, which it says could burn up to six times more forested area by 2050, are especially timely in light of the Camp Fire that has now killed at least 85 people in Northern California, as USA Today reported Sunday.
Of immediate relevance, the report quantifies the extent to which climate change has increased the area burned by w… https://t.co/NgebKnGkto— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@Prof. Katharine Hayhoe)1543003193.0
2. It's the Economy, Stupid
Trump's argument for withdrawing from the Paris agreement centered around the idea that it would hurt the U.S. economy, but climate change could cost the U.S. more than 10 percent of its GDP by 2100 in the worst-case-scenario, CNN reported. Climate change will devastate agriculture and fisheries. Some Midwest farmers will grow less than 75 percent of the corn they produce today, and the shellfish industry could see a $230 million loss by 2100 because of ocean acidification. On the flip slide, rapidly reducing fossil fuel use could actually raise the country billions of dollars in benefits.
The latest #NationalClimateAssessment tells us that the cost of doing nothing today to solve #ClimateChange will co… https://t.co/OFKX1QNlWv— Randy (@Randy)1543119078.0
3. Environmental Injustice
As usual, the report found that low-income and marginalized communities would suffer the worst health and economic impacts from climate change, The Guardian reported. This includes indigenous communities, as the report explained in its summary of key findings:
Many Indigenous peoples are reliant on natural resources for their economic, cultural, and physical well-being and are often uniquely affected by climate change. The impacts of climate change on water, land, coastal areas, and other natural resources, as well as infrastructure and related services, are expected to increasingly disrupt Indigenous peoples' livelihoods and economies, including agriculture and agroforestry, fishing, recreation, and tourism. Adverse impacts on subsistence activities have already been observed. As climate changes continue, adverse impacts on culturally significant species and resources are expected to result in negative physical and mental health effects.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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