We are more worried about climate change than ever before.
We’ve been digesting the Fourth National Climate Assessment report over the past week — it was released by the Trump administration on Black Friday when many of us were shopping, watching football or enjoying time with family — looking at how it will affect us here in the Northeast, and hopefully, finding some nugget of good news.
We found it in “Chapter 18: Northeast.”
“Studies suggest that Northeast agriculture, with nearly $21 billion in annual commodity sales, will benefit from the changing climate over the next half-century due to a greater productivity over a longer growing season.”
Unfortunately, that is followed by a disclaimer that increased intense precipitation in the Northeast, leading to delays in planting and reduction in the number of days when fields are workable, will prevent farmers from reaping the full benefits of the longer growing season.
That’s about as good as it gets for us. The conclusions for the rest of the United States are far more bleak.
The report is a dark assessment of the economic impact that climate change will have on the country and the world. Climate change will not only affect our quality of life, it will also be catastrophic economically.
- Climate change is expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity and the vitality of our communities. The increased intensity of rain in the Northeast is already testing the capacities of aging drainage and sewer systems that will need to be repaired and replaced at enormous expense.
- Regional economies such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change. The waters off New England have been warming, forcing many species of fish farther north or deeper into the Atlantic. That will have a profound effect on the fishing industry. The Maine lobster will soon be a rarity and the great white shark a regular visitor to Cape Cod.
- The average temperature in New England has increased 3 degrees F since 1901. Those higher temperatures — notably in the big cities of the East — will lead to significant increases in premature deaths, hospital admissions and emergency room visits.
- Rising temperatures and drought in other parts of the country — the Southeast and Southwest — are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation (hydroelectric) while increasing energy demands and making electricity more expensive.
- Beyond our borders, climate change is expected to affect trade, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.
- Annual losses in some economic sectors are expected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.
If you’ve read any of our past editorials on this subject, you know that climate change is settled science.
It is here.
It is getting worse.
We consider it the most dangerous problem facing the world — and our country — today, and our politicians should have addressed it yesterday.
Note to our great-great-grandchildren reading this from 2075: We want you to know we tried to sound the alarm. We are hoping this latest government report will finally lead to outrage from the American public and significant action to address the crisis.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration served as the lead agency of the report. A team of more than 300 federal and non-federal experts — including individuals from federal, state and local governments, tribes and indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities and the private sector — volunteered their time to produce the assessment.
There were regional engagement workshops with more than 1,000 individuals participating in over 40 cities while listening sessions, webinars and public comment periods provided valuable input in a report mandated by Congress that runs over 1,500 pages.
It opens with this information:
“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 the global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of the future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”
It seems to be telling us there still may be hope, or maybe just pleading for us to pay attention.
What is clear from reading even just some of the report is how small shifts in temperature dramatically affect plant life, wildlife and insects, and in turn, our personal and professional lives.
The Northeast is expected to see shorter winters, impacting winter tourism. The temperature increases will lead to more tree pests that threaten our forests, a greater incidence of Lyme disease from a longer tick season and more car collisions with deer.
The other good news is that the Northeast has been more active than other parts of the country in preparing for the crisis ahead.
What is lacking now is national leadership.
When Middle East countries cut off our oil supply in the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon led a campaign to make America self-sufficient when it came to oil.
Those of us who lived through it remember the “50 is thrifty” slogan for driving on the highways, the introduction of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and turning down the thermostat during the winter months.
We remember how the government addressed cigarettes as a health hazard by putting warnings from the surgeon general on cigarette packs and banning tobacco ads from television.
There were also national campaigns against littering and “to buckle up” when driving.
It made a difference.
It saved lives.
It got us to do the right thing.
That’s what we need now — to save the planet.
The irony is not lost on us that General Motors is closing some of its plants because there is more of a demand for gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.
That’s on us for not accepting that larger cars are not in our best interest.
There are millions already doing their part. They are investing in solar energy projects for their homes and businesses, driving electric or hybrid cars, switching to energy-efficient appliances and bulbs in their homes and recycling.
But the report concludes we need to do much more:
“While Americans are responding in ways that can bolster resilience and improve livelihoods, neither global efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change nor regional efforts to adapt to the impacts currently approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”
We need the federal government to act in a big way now. We can pay now or pay later.