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Policy Summary
Political controversy erupted this last black Friday, a day normally reserved for nonpolitical pursuits, such as bargain hunting and post-Thanksgiving family therapy. The controversy was instigated by the White House’s release of Volume 2 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. A product of 13 government agencies, the National Climate Assessment is congressionally mandated, its release therefore not left to the administration’s discretion.

The report paints a bleak picture of the impact climate change will have on the American economy and environment in coming decades of the twenty-first century. Extreme weather events—illustrated most recently in the intense 2018 hurricane season and California wildfires—are soon to become even more common and destructive. Heat-related deaths will become a greater threat as many  regions become nearly unlivable.

On the economic from, along with the obvious damage to real estate and infrastructure from sea-level rise and extreme weather, numerous other areas of the U.S. economy will be affected. Given the international supply chain of most major U.S. manufacturers, production could also be seriously hampered by extreme weather events. Agricultural productivity will likely also decline as each 1°C rise above pre-industrial temperature levels results in a 3-7% decline in crop yield.

The report also notes the potential for rising domestic and international political instability resulting from more varied and numerous environmental refugee crises.

The National Climate Assessment comes a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report predicting that severe humanitarian crises could be a dominant aspect of global politics as early as 2040.  Both reports were noted for their unusually direct language—a striking departure for the typically measured scientific community. As David Wallace-Wells notes in a comment on the I.P.C.C. report that could as easily apply to the new Climate Assessment, “[T]he real meaning of the report is not ‘climate change is much worse than you think,’ because anyone who knows the state of the research will find nothing surprising in it. The real meaning is, ‘you now have permission to freak out.’”

Yet, despite two of the most direct statements to date by the scientific community, both internationally and in the U.S., on the threat posed to human civilization by climate change, the Trump administration did its best to undermine and deny these findings. The release of the report on Black Friday seemed obviously intended as a news dump on a day when few Americans would be paying attention. A statement from the administration suggested the report was “largely based on the most extreme scenario.”

Climate advocates, such as Philip B. Duffy of the Woods Hole Research Center, attacked the administration, noting the “bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and [its] own policies.” Former vice president Al Gore said in a statement that the “President may try to hide the truth, but his own scientists and experts have made it as stark and clear as possible.”

Analysis
As climate expert Michael Mann noted on CNN on Friday, “[W]e don’t have to use our imagination anymore because we saw this play out over the past several months.” California’s 2018 wildfire season was unprecedentedly lethal and destructive. The 2018 hurricane season was similarly violent and destructive. But these are only the obvious effects of climate change. Most of its future impacts will be akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. It will be a slow-motion catastrophe, especially for the Earth’s nearly one billion slum dwellers and the hundreds of millions more who only recently escaped extreme poverty.

While the National Climate Assessment largely focuses on U.S. interests, this myopic focus probably fails to grasp just how desperate the global international order could become as these millions of people begin seeking refugee status in cooler and richer northern countries. Echoing a 2015 statement by the Pentagon, Stephen Cheney, former Marine brigadier general and CEO of the American Security Project, writes, “Climate change is what we in the military call a ‘threat multiplier.’ Its connection to conflict is not linear. Rather, it intensifies and complicates existing security risks, increasing the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions…. [Its] effects will be particularly destabilizing in already-volatile situations, exacerbating challenges like weak governance, economic inequality, and social tensions—and producing truly toxic conflicts.”

Engagement Resources

  • Greenpeace is “a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.”
  • The Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) is an organization whose “mission is to educate young people on the science of climate change and aid them in meaningful advocacy.”
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is a network of professional scientists who seek to bring the insights of science to bear on issues of public concern.
  • Citizens’ Climate Lobby is “a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.”
  • org “uses online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects, take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet, and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all.”

This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Jonathan Schwartz Jonathan@usresistnews.org

Photo by Jon Tyson

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