In the midst of Black Friday, where there was the usual endless sales and massive crowds, the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was release. The assessment comes from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a coalition of 13 federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. It’s required by law, and is being released in segments over four years.
The first volume of the assessment was released about a year ago, highlighting the science of how global climate change is moving throughout the U.S. Nothing in the latest volume is particularly new or earth-shattering, however 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, such as on U.S. cities.
The 1,600-page report directly relates climate change to several ongoing issues such as declining water levels in the Colorado River Basin, and the spread of ticks carrying Lyme disease. These are all severe phenomena that are currently costing Americans resources and lives.
The scientists that contributed to the report projected that air quality will suffer as well. The pollution we breathe in is already one of the biggest killers in the world, taking years off of people’s lives. Rising average temperatures worsen ground-level ozone, which can harm breathing. It can also exacerbate sources of pollution like wildfires, which have created some of the worst breathing conditions in the world this month in California.
Not only are the environmental ramifications costly, but the economy is projected to suffer as well. Climate change could cause more harm to the U.S. economy by 2100 than even the Great Recession did, according to Vox. By the end of the century, warming on our current trajectory would cost the U.S. economy upwards of $500 billion a year in crop damage, lost labor and extreme weather damages, as estimated in the report.
A White House spokesperson downplayed the report’s significance, telling the BBC that it was “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that… there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.”
Originally, the report’s release was scheduled to coincide with the American Geophysical Union’s December meeting in Washington, D.C., a large gathering of scientists. It’s not exactly clear why it was rushed out last week instead, but many scientists and observers speculate that it is an attempt to bury the findings, according to Vox.
The United States National Climate Assessment is more limited in scope than the October report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which took measures even further and explored what it would take for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The United Nations is preparing to meet in Katowice, Poland next month to discuss putting the Paris Agreement into action. However, its aims might be much more difficult to achieve with the United States pulling out of the accord.
“Future impacts and risks from climate change are directly tied to decisions made in the present,” the assessment stated.
We already have most of the resources we need to aggressively limit carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the rise in global average temperatures. According to the report’s scientists, we must utilize these resources to the fullest extent to ensure that this planet will sustain future generations. We are better off doing something now rather than later, or else we could reach the point of no return.