Amid the weather dynamics of record hot temperatures in the Southeast and devastating tornadoes and flooding elsewhere in the country, TV pundits this past week were again speculating and questioning guests about climate change as the cause.
Though the answers being offered generally reflected a “we don’t know” assessment, that didn’t stop a shift in focus of the conversation to the Trump administration and President Donald Trump in particular.
Rather than looking at the weather patterns causing the present conditions, emphasis turned to the 2018 U.S. Climate Assessment, a quadrennial report from 13 U.S. federal agencies with input from hundreds of government and non-governmental experts.
The 2018 report, released Nov. 23, describes how the impacts of climate change affect the U.S. now and in the future. The report begins, “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 impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”
The report warns “climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century” unless we take stronger action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to severe storms, flooding and other climate impacts that are already a reality.
In the South, there is particular reason to pay attention to the new climate report, as not all regions of the country are affected equally by global warming.
The report makes four key points about the Southeast:
• Public health in Southeastern urban cities is highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as increased heat, flooding, and vector-borne disease.
• Coastal and low-lying regions are growing more vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise and increasingly intense rainfall.
• The Southeast’s natural ecosystems will be transformed by climate change impacts including changing winter temperature extremes, wildfire patterns, sea levels, hurricanes, floods, droughts and warming ocean temperatures.
• Rural communities and agricultural and forestry economies will face dangerous extreme heat exposure, along with the associated health impacts and economic losses.
Asked then about the report’s findings that annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, Trump replied, "Yeah, I don't believe it."
Again this past week, that presidential quote was used, only this time making it appear that climate change indeed is a factor in present weather conditions and the president is the denier in chief willing to sacrifice the planet. In the other corner are those believing that any and every policy pertaining to economics and life should be predicated on global warming.
As usual, somewhere in the middle is the right approach. There is too much evidence to deny that climate change is reality and its effects potentially devastating. The evidence must not be ignored and actions are necessary.
But the world economy cannot be sacrificed on the altar of making every policy focus on fighting it no matter the consequences. The future is important but there must be protections in the present as well.
Americans should demand that our leaders approach global warming with an eye toward formulating policies that can be implemented with support across the board. Full cooperation on a package of the most effective policies in fighting global warming would be better than continuing to debate all or nothing and speculate on climate change’s impact when extreme weathers affects us.