Economic Toll Already Adding Up
By Umair Irfan, Vox News
Federal scientists have once again contradicted the White House, this time in a major new climate change assessment that was rushed to release the Friday after Thanksgiving. The findings, however, should give even the Trump administration pause: Global warming could cause more harm to the US economy by 2100 than the Great Recession.
And the risks aren’t just down the road. The 1,600-page report directly connects climate change to ongoing issues like declining water levels in the Colorado River Basin and the spread of ticks carrying Lyme disease, phenomena that are currently costing Americans resources and lives.
“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” according to the new report, the second volume of the fourth National Climate Assessment.
The assessment comes from the US Global Change Research Program, a consortium of 13 federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, and NASA. It’s required by law and the latest report is the second installment of the fourth assessment.
That’s why a White House that is in denial about climate change has to continue publishing reports that say otherwise. Even when confronted with California’s deadliest wildfire on record, a disaster fueled in part by rising average temperatures, members of President Donald Trump’s administration — including Trump himself — have chosen instead to blame environmentalists rather than acknowledge climate change.
The first volume of the assessment was released about a year ago, highlighting the science of how global climate change is rippling throughout the US. Nothing in the latest volume is particularly surprising, but it includes new research that more directly highlights humanity’s role in extreme weather events and measures how future changes will play out at smaller scales, like cities.
The National Climate Assessment is more limited in scope than the October report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that explored what it would take for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But the latest report echoes the same basic themes about climate change:
- It’s already happening
- It’s going to get worse.
- It’s going to cost us dearly.
- We can still do something about it.
What was surprising about the latest installment of the National Climate Assessment was that it was rushed to release — surprising even many of the 300 scientists who contributed to it.
Trump told reporters Monday, he “didn’t believe it.”
Exhausted fisheries, declining crop yields, deteriorating infrastructure, lost tourism, and extreme weather damages all stemming from climate change will slice hundreds of billions of dollars out of the US economy. By the end of the century, climate change could cost the United States $500 billion per year.
But most striking is how the report highlights the incongruence of what the science says about climate change and what the Trump administration is doing about it. While the warnings about the destruction from rising seas, extreme weather, and forced relocation grow more dire, and while researchers warn that time is running out to limit warming, the White House is still trying to weaken rules governing greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so in the face of the overwhelming science has forced the executive branch to invoke bizarre rationales to continue to avoid doing anything to reduce emissions and to prepare for the effects of climate change.
The National Climate Assessment joins a long history of climate science at the White House. Benjamin Hulac at E&E News reported this month that every president since John F. Kennedy has been briefed or received warnings about the changes humanity has wrought on the global climate.
Compared to prior reports, the fourth National Climate Assessment goes further in estimating the economic damages from climate change. It also draws on a suite of new research published since the last report came out in 2014, highlighting advances in how we understand extreme weather, ocean circulation, melting ice, and humanity’s role in the climate. It shows that the impacts of climate change will be more extensive than previously thought, leaving no region of the country insulated from the consequences of warming.
Since the first report was published in 2000, the National Climate Assessment has become one of the most robust works in climate change science and the impacts of warming on the United States. The Executive Office of the President oversees the report. Some scientists were worried that the White House would tamper with the report’s conclusions, leading some researchers to leak drafts of the report. However, there’s no evidence that the White House has altered the assessment.
Trump has nonetheless made his disdain for climate change and the regulations around it clear. But a government agency can’t simply undo an environmental rule on a whim; they have to justify a rollback on the grounds that the existing regulation violates the law, that it isn’t supported by the science, or that its replacement will be better.
Here, the Trump administration has repeatedly tripped up. Since the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision, the Environmental Protection Agency has been required to regulate greenhouse gases. Changing this precedent would require a massive, years-long legal effort to overturn the decision, and the administration hasn’t shown much appetite to take up this challenge.
That means the government still has to come up with regulations around climate change to replace the rules they want to discard. To justify getting rid of rising fuel economy standards, a huge step toward limiting carbon emissions from cars and trucks, the Trump administration has cited safety. They’ve argued that new fuel efficiency rules make cars more expensive, thereby making it harder for people to buy newer, safer cars. But internal emails at the EPA showed that the agency found the proposed rollback would increase highway fatalities.
Buried in Trump’s fuel economy rollback proposal is a grim vision of the future under climate change. It projects carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reaching more than 789 parts per million, almost double current levels, leading to a drastically warmer world. The EPA used this projection to argue that the Obama-era fuel economy rules would do little to avert the amount of warming the Trump administration is expecting, so a weaker rule won’t make much of a difference to the global climate.
Similarly, the EPA’s assessment of its own proposal to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Affordable Clean Energy proposal, found that the United States would face 1,400 additional premature deaths each year due to increases in air pollution under the new rule. The replacement regulation would also serve as a bailout for aging coal power plants, some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases.
The National Climate Assessment, which is overseen by the White House, makes it even more difficult to argue for these changes since it shows just how dangerous climate change will be if the United States does nothing.
Read The Full Story About The White House Climate Report
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