Climate change is unleashing “far-reaching and worsening” calamities in every region of the United States, and the economic and human toll will only increase unless humans move faster to slow the planet’s warming, according to a sprawling new federal report released Monday.
“The things Americans value most are at risk,” write the National Climate Assessment authors, who represent a broad range of federal agencies. “Many of the harmful impacts that people across the country are already experiencing will worsen as warming increases, and new risks will emerge.”
The congressionally mandated assessment, last issued under the Trump administration in 2018, comes as world leaders gather this week in Egypt for a U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, aimed at prodding nations to tackle the problem with more urgency.
Its authors detail how climate-fueled disasters are becoming more costly and more common, and how the science is more clear than ever that rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to slow the profound changes that are underway.
The draft report, which likely will be finalized next year after a period of public comment and peer review, finds that in a world that has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, the situation in the United States is even more extreme.
“Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has warmed 68 percent faster than the planet as a whole,” the report finds, noting that the change reflects a broader global pattern in which land areas warm faster than the ocean, and higher latitudes warm more rapidly than lower latitudes.
Since 1970, the authors state, the continental United States has experienced 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, well above the average for the planet.
“The United States — exclusive of Alaska — is warming about two-thirds faster than the planet as a whole,” said Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth.
That shift means significant parts of the country now must grapple with growing threats to safe drinking water, housing security and infrastructure. A hotter atmosphere creates a litany of health hazards, makes farming and fishing more difficult and unpredictable, and imperils key ecosystems.
“There is no known precedent for a species changing its own climate as quickly as we are changing ours, and there are many uncertainties associated with a rapidly warming world,” the document states.
Scientists have documented with increased clarity how human-caused emissions are heating the planet. But Monday’s assessment underscores how those changes are deepening impacts on the health and pocketbooks of average Americans.
John Podesta, senior adviser to President Biden on climate change, said the report “underscores that Americans in every region of the country and every sector of the economy face real and sobering climate impacts.”
The study highlights how the frequency of billion dollar disasters has now increased from once every four months in the 1980s to once every three weeks in the present. It finds that the United States is experiencing some of the most severe sea level rise on the planet.
And it details the ever greater certainty that rainfall and heat extremes are proliferating, as are damaging wildfires and crippling floods.
“Substantively I think the report does a remarkably good job of connecting the dots between climate change and the things that really matter to folks,” said Brown University climate scientist Kim Cobb. “The economy, jobs, justice. These things are what people need to be reading about to be understanding how these physical impacts are going to change our lives.”
In the short term, the assessment finds, communities must do more to adapt to the changes that already are here — and some are doing just that. But over the long term, the only real solution is for humanity to muster the political and technological will to stop polluting the atmosphere.
“We’re past the point of incremental changes,” Cobb said. “That era has passed us by, and the magnitude of the challenges we’re facing right now going forward are going to require transformative changes.” [Continue reading…]