|November 26, 2018|
Trump's dire climate report hands ammunition to Democrats
|Federal scientists warned in a new report Friday that changes in the climate will disrupt the economies of every region in the country in the coming years, with costs threatening to reach hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the middle of this century.|
The message, echoing decades of sobering conclusions from the world's leading climate scientists, is at odds with President Donald Trump's repeated scoffing at the idea of global warming. And the administration chose to release it on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day and one of the slowest news days of the year.
But despite the timing, the report is bound to energize the new class of progressive Democrats set to take control of the House in January. Many of them, led by incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, are already pushing for an expansive "Green New Deal" as one of the rallying cries the party would take into the 2020 campaign.
Democrats wasted no time in pouncing on the report.
"Rather than hiding the facts, President Trump should heed the message of our nation's preeminent climate scientists and experts," said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who is in line to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He added: "The days of denial and inaction in the House are over as House Democrats plan to aggressively address climate change and hold the Administration accountable for its backward policies that only make it worse."
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, who is set to take the gavel at the House Science Committee, said it's time to start addressing the causes of the wildfires, devastating storms, coastal flooding and toxic algae blooms that plagued much of the U.S. this year. "That is why I have made climate change one of my top priorities for the Committee going in to the next Congress," she said in a statement.
The report, which runs more than 1,600 pages, is the latest scientific work to warn that the planet is due to undergo devastating changes in the coming years that will permanently alter the coastlines, worsen droughts and storms and foster the outbreaks of dangerous diseases as temperatures climb. And while the report said quick action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution could dramatically affect the state of the planet by the end of the century, many of the impacts the U.S. will see in the next two decades appear irreversible.
"Because several greehouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, reside in the atmosphere for decades or longer, many climate-influenced effects are projected to continue changing through 2050, even if GHG emissions were to stop immediately," said the Fourth National Climate Assessment Vol. II.
"While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades," the report said.
The government officials who oversaw the report said there had been no political influence over its findings, but they sidestepped questions about whether the White House sought to bury the report by releasing it in the middle of a long holiday weekend.
"We hope you will focus on the content of the report," David Reidmiller, the director of the National Climate Assessment, told reporters. "We think the report speaks for itself."
Progressives are pushing House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to bring back a special committee on climate change and empower it to craft new legislation. Some senior Democrats have opposed that move as an erosion of existing committees' powers.
Ocasio-Cortez pressed that case in a tweet, taking her Democratic colleagues to task.
"People are going to die if we don't start addressing climate change ASAP. It's not enough to think it's 'important.' We must make it urgent," she wrote. "That's why we need a Select Committee on a Green New Deal, & why fossil fuel-funded officials shouldn't be writing climate change policy.
Even before its release, Trump was attacking climate change science this week as cold temperatures bore down on the East Coast, tweeting on Wednesday, "Whatever happened to Global Warming?" (Weather and climate are different things, scientists frequently point out.)
The White House tried to downplay the new report's conclusions Friday, claiming that they are "largely based on most extreme scenarios." The White House also noted that U.S. greenhouse gas pollution has declined 14 percent since 2005 --- although the causes of that drop include trends that Trump opposes, such as a shift away from coal-fired power plants.
The new report, which Congress requires to be issued every four years, was released by U.S. Global Change Research Program. It is the product of 300 scientific experts under the guidance of a 60-member federal advisory committee, and it was open to review by the public, 13 federal agencies and a panel at the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists who worked on the report, such as Andrew Light, a fellow at the World Resources Institute and professor at George Mason University, said it was the most comprehensive look at what various regions and economic sectors could expect to see.
"There is essentially no sector of the economy that will not suffer if we don't get a handle on climate change," told a conference call with reporters.
The report also makes it clear that the changing climate will cause the most suffering to poor areas, minority communities and indigenous people, said Brenda Ekwurzel, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"While the report doesn't offer policy recommendations, 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 keep people safe," she said.
It's the first climate report that is wholly a product of the Trump administration. A previous volume, the Climate Science Special Report published a year ago, was started under the Obama administration but published under Trump.
Last year's report said the 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures since 1901 had lifted temperatures to their highest level in the history of modern civilization, and that it was extremely likely human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, were the dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century.
The new federal report lays out grim scenarios for each part of the country, including how changes in the amounts and timing of snow and rainfall is leading water stress.
For example, hydropower production in the Southwest and the Northwest will be under threat, even as groundwater depletion is worsening drought risk in many parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains. Dependable and safe water supplies for U.S. Caribbean Hawaii, and Pacific Island communities are threatened by drought, flooding, and saltwater contamination due to sea level rise.
The frequency and severity of allergic illnesses, including asthma and hay fever, are expected to increase as a result of a changing climate, it said, and warming temperatures are projected to alter the geographic range of disease-carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile and dengue.
"Communities in the Southeast, for example, are particularly vulnerable to the combined health impacts from vector-borne disease, heat, and flooding," the report said.
Agriculture will be particularly affected, it said, with new challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and extreme weather will threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security and price stability.
"Increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture," the report said.
The Northeast will suffer from flooding from heavy rainfall, storm surge and rising high tides, which will compound issues with aging infrastructure in the Northeast.
Fossil fuel producers are likely to feel the changes too, it predicted, with Increased drought risk expected to hurt oil and gas drilling and refining, as well as electricity generation from power plants that rely on surface water for cooling.
"Even if significant emissions reductions occur, many of the effects from sea level rise over this century --- and particularly through mid-century ---are already locked in due to historical emissions, and many communities are already dealing with the consequences," it said.
Still, the report offered some modest hope that communities could stem some of the harm by acting now to adapt to changes, such as by protecting shorelines and conserving coastal ecosystems to guard against increased coastal flooding. "More than half of the damages to coastal property are estimated to be avoidable through well-timed adaptation measures," the report said.
But even if Democrats put climate change at the top of their agenda, it will be difficult for them to overcome the Trump administration's aggressive rollbacks of the Obama administration's climate policies, from its weakening of controls on power plants' and vehicles' greenhouse gas pollution to its withdrawal from the nearly 200-nation Paris climate change agreement.
Even the Paris agreement's voluntary pledges are too modest to prevent many of the catastrophes that are on the way, according to a report issued in October by the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change. That report said countries would need "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented" actions to prevent massive changes, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reducing net emissions to zero by mid-century. No plans for such severe cuts are even remotely in the works.
Kristiane Huber, a fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said the report's focus on regional impacts will help give communities a sense of what they are likely to face in terms of rising temperatures or intensifying disasters.
"We hear from cities we work with ... that uncertainty about climate data is a real barrier to decision-making," she said.
In an email Friday, the White House said the report took a particularly pessimistic point of view.
"The report is largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that, despite strong economic growth that would increase greenhouse gas emissions, there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population," a White House spokesperson said in the email.
The next report --- due out in four years --- would look more closely at climate modeling and projections, the spokesperson said, which would "provide for a more transparent and data-driven process that includes fuller information on the range of potential scenarios and outcomes."