Now, even our federal government admits that the world is tumbling recklessly downhill toward catastrophic — perhaps irreversible — climate change.
And this isn’t just about sea levels rising and increasingly powerful hurricanes with wind and rain knocking out entire cities, whole parts of states and entire island territories of the United States. This isn’t just about historically deadly wildfires reducing California to ash or large lakes, reservoirs and rivers serving large populations in the Intermountain West going bone dry. As if all of those calamities were not disruptive enough, this report helps frame the discussion more squarely on the survival of civilization as we know it.
No hype. No China hoax, President Trump. Just scientific realities written into an equation predicting the future. We had best pay attention and re-focus our lens on the present so that we can fix the future.
This most recent report — issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday — presents the starkest warnings to date. Interestingly, the report sizes up the effects on the U.S. economy, and here is what the scientists predict — as reported by various news organizations — in their 1,656-page assessment: If significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.
Noteworthy, the report leans on agriculture and trade to paint a dystopian picture of our future. Global warming will increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the U.S. with challenges to livestock health and a decline in crop yields and quality.
In short, less good food to go around — for a population on the rise.
Closer to home, the report predicts more frequent wildfires to become common in the Southeast, spoiling the air we breathe and exacerbating our health to say nothing of changing the landscape as we know it. By way of example, the researchers point to the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires of 2016, which killed 14 people and burned more than 17,000 acres in Tennessee, saying it may have been just a harbinger of our future.
Trade, too, would face serious disruption.
The report says weather-related disasters will have the potential to temporarily close factories both in the U.S. and abroad. That, the scientists foresee, will cause price spikes for products from fruit to vegetables to automotive parts to computer chips.
But it’s not as though we have not been aware of the toxic witches’ brew being stirred by human hands. We have been at this awhile — ever since the dawn of the industrial age with the fire beneath the cauldron being fed by fossil fuels.
Former Vice President Al Gore long ago was sounding the alarm. In 1976, after joining the House of Representatives at the age of 28, Gore held the first congressional hearings on climate change. And in the 40-plus years since, we have done little to change the narrative arc of this story.
This most recent report was preceded last year by the U.S. Global Change Research Program special report that found Earth had entered the warmest period “in the history of modern civilization.” In October, a United Nations report issued a warning that world governments must cut global emissions in half over the next 12 years to avoid warming of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, beyond which climate change is forecast to cause $54 trillion in damages.
And then on Friday, our own government spelled out in great detail the sort of staggering reality the Donald Trump administration seems quick to belittle, minimize, discredit and dismiss with nothing more than another off-handed comment from his considerable bag of conspiracy theories and lame, uninformed observations.
Just this past week, mocking the science of climate change because of a cold snap in the Northeast, our president tweeted, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
That is not the ruminations of a serious thinker, of a concerned leader who is bothered by our tilt toward worldwide catastrophe.
These reports are not merely warnings, but fact-based, scientific assessments that say the planet is headed toward dire consequences — this century — during our lifetime and those of our children and grandchildren.
The scientists insist that there is great urgency in our collective response. We must pivot on a dime and turn away from the Trump administration’s drive to dismantle environmental policy that allows more planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks. We must not withdraw from the Paris Agreement, under which nearly every country in the world pledged to cut carbon emissions.
Scientists suggest three main solutions: Putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, establishing government regulations on how much greenhouse pollution can be emitted and spending public money on clean-energy research.
That is a start — an ambitious list of objectives to pursue in government policy and private sector practice. Above all, Americans must grasp the realities of our wanton behavior and turn swiftly and decisively to take action to mitigate global warming.
Or we can let our arrogance and selfish ways get the better of us.