Energy & Environment

Five major takeaways from the federal climate change report

A new federal climate report released by the Trump administration a day after Thanksgiving issues a dire warning about climate change.

The report’s message: Climate change is real, it is intensifying, and it will devastate the way human beings live day-to-day if U.S. leaders at all levels don’t take drastic action.

The latest congressionally mandated report, dubbed the Fourth National Climate Assessment, finds that the effects of climate change are rippling out across the globe, negatively affecting people’s health and well-being.

{mosads}More than 300 federal and nonfederal scientists worked on the report, the first of its kind under the Trump administration, with its final draft reviewed by 13 federal agencies. 

Here are five things to know about the report’s findings.

The report directly contradicts statements made by Trump 

President Trump in recent months has doubled down on his skepticism surrounding climate change, accusing scientists of harboring political agendas.

Climate scientist Phil Duffy in an interview with The Hill said the report is “remarkable” because it presents a “parallel universe” within the administration — on the one hand, there are the “federal agencies … who are with the mainstream scientific consensus,” and on the other, Trump says he isn’t sure if climate change is “man-made.” 

The report estimates that about 92 percent of climate change can be attributed to the harmful effects of human actions. “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 reads. 

Confronted by Axios reporters earlier this month on the issue, Trump acknowledged there is climate change. 

“Will it change back? Probably, that’s what I think,” he told reporters. 

But Gary Yohe, an economics professor and environmental studies professor who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report, told The Hill that the climate will not “change back.”

“The president is wrong,” he told The Hill.

The report concludes that the effects of climate change cannot be reversed, but says that its worst effects can be mitigated through aggressive action at all levels. 

Its recommendations are at odds with Trump’s deregulatory agenda

The Trump administration has pursued a largely deregulatory agenda, reversing and rolling back standards that put limits on vehicle and power plant emissions, dismantling the application of the clean water standards in some places, and often giving preference to oil and coal over alternative energy sources. 

Meanwhile, the report warns that climate change will result in worsening water quality conditions and the highest temperatures ever recorded, emphasizing the need to reduce carbon emissions drastically.  

“While the fourth national climate assessment doesn’t offer policy recommendations by design, the findings certainly make a convincing case that the White House should stop rolling back climate policies and recognize that a much larger-scale response is required to essentially keep people safe,” Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the report’s authors, told The Hill.

Derek Walker, vice president for U.S. Climate at Environmental Defense Fund, slammed the administration’s agenda as “malpractice.”

{mossecondads}”It’s kind of like a doctor who diagnoses a patient with a very serious disease where the cure is known and the doctor refuses to provide treatment,” Walker told The Hill. “It’s just malpractice.”

Dozens of environmental groups released similar statements following the report’s release, with many dubbing it a “call to action.”

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement that the report is “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends.”

Katherine Hayhoe, one of the authors of the report, pushed back on that statement, calling it “demonstrably false.”

“I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios, from those where we go carbon negative before end of century to those where carbon emissions continue to rise,” she tweeted.

Some claim the report’s Black Friday release was intended to bury its findings 

The Trump administration came under fire on Friday for releasing the climate change report one day after Thanksgiving, when fewer Americans are likely to read the news.

The report was originally slated for a December release, but it was ultimately moved up with little explanation.

Yohe said representatives from the National Academy of Sciences told him on Wednesday that the report would be released this week. He alleged that the Trump administration decided on the release date as part of a political strategy aimed at burying the report’s findings.  

“This report gets submitted to the administration and they get to decide what to do with it,” Yohe pointed out. 

“This is truly a Black Friday, but for all the wrong reasons,” said Aimee Delach, senior policy analyst for climate adaptation with the Defenders of Wildlife.

The White House did not respond to The Hill’s questions about the timing of the report’s release. In a statement, Walters touted the United States’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and pointed out the report was assembled in part during the Obama administration. The assessment has been in the works for three years. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement that the report’s findings could not be buried “no matter how hard they try.”

“Serious consequences like collapsing coastal housing prices and trillions of dollars in stranded fossil fuel assets await us if we don’t act,” he said. 

Climate change could slash up to 1/10th of America’s GDP by 2100

The report assigns specific expenses to the monumental effects of a warming planet, finding that climate change could slash up to a 10th of America’s gross domestic product by 2100. 

Damaging weather alone, it says, has cost the U.S. nearly $400 billion since 2015, and those costs are only expected to increase. 

“Annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states,” the report says. Rising sea levels and damaging storms will lower property values. Floods, hurricanes and wildfires will cost record amounts to recover from. 

Extreme heat could result in the loss over a half a billion labor hours by 2100 just in the southeast. 

“If we went a lower [carbon] emissions pathway in the labor sector, we could cut those costs by nearly a half,” Ekwurzel said.

The report predicts that heat-related deaths could cost up to $141 billion, sea level rises could cost $118 billion and infrastructure damage could cost $32 billion by the end of the century. 

“The report concludes that these climate-related impacts will only get worse and their costs could mount dramatically if carbon emissions continue unabated,” Ekwurzel said.

Climate change will have devastating impact on marginalized communities

Climate scientists have said for decades that marginalized populations, particularly those in low-income communities and often people of color, will be the first and hardest hit by climate change’s effects.

Communities with little money and few resources are the most vulnerable to the risks associated with increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, worsening air and water quality, and infrastructure damage.

Climate change does not affect everyone equally, the report says. 

“Risks are often highest for those that are already vulnerable, including low-income communities, some communities of color, children, and the elderly,” the report reads. “Climate change threatens to exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities that result in higher exposure and sensitivity to extreme weather and climate-related events and other changes.” 

“Climate change is really bad if you’re young, old, elderly and sick, or very poor,” Yohe said. “Because you’re more sensitive to the manifestations of climate change and you have much smaller ability to protect yourself.” 

He added that human beings who are able to, will often attempt to adapt to dramatic weather conditions.

“Those investments are sometimes expensive, sometimes require a degree of sophistication and knowledge, and an ability to take some time off to figure out what you’re going to do to protect yourself,” Yohe said. 

But, when they cannot adapt, people may be displaced by extreme weather scenarios, leaving them acting as “refugees in their own country,” Walker said.

Though it does not lay out policy recommendations, the report says the worst-case scenarios don’t have to transpire. According to the report, such possibilities can be mitigated or even prevented if leaders work to direct their attention toward the existential threat.

“People should take away that what we have now is not the new normal but it is a snapshot of a pathway to what will ultimately become the new normal,” Yohe said. “And there’s still plenty of time to pick which new normal we want.” 

Tags Donald Trump Sheldon Whitehouse

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