A report mandated by the US Congress about the global impact of climate change and assembled by 13 federal bodies has painted a striking picture of the potentially cataclysmic effects it will have on life on Earth if it continues unmitigated.
The staggering 1656-page report, the second volume of the fourth National Climate Assessment, outlines the ways in which climate change is expected to affect life on our planet on virtually every level. And among the more alarming findings of the report is its insidious economic toll.
If left unchecked, climate change could result in the loss of 10 per cent of the American economy over the course of the current century, with industries like agriculture, tourism, and fisheries particularly affected.
As for the humanitarian costs of global climate change, the evidence of which the report noted has already manifested, a warming planet will only further exacerbate existing stresses in vulnerable populations by affecting economic inequality, infrastructure, as well as other areas of life.
“Impacts within and across regions will not be distributed equally,” the report states. “People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalised communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.”
The report outlines the ways in which health and well-being is expected to be impacted, including increasingly limited access to quality water, a spike in wildfire frequency, poor air quality, increased exposure to foodborne and waterborne diseases, mental health consequences resulting from extreme weather and climate-related incidents, and an increase in deaths resulting from heat waves, among other alarming effects.
The report also states that in spite of initiatives from governments, communities, and businesses to reduce their impact, we are failing to meet the necessary scale of what is needed to avoid catastrophic outcomes. The report specifically pointed to the energy sector as needing a significant overhaul and called for a shift to renewable and natural gas from coal, an industry heralded by US President Donald Trump in spite of its environmental toll.
The report also arrived amid a series of concerning comments from the US president regarding climate change. Trump has repeatedly neglected to openly admit that climate change was a major contributor to the worst wildfire activity in California’s history in recent weeks.
Additionally, just days ahead of the report’s public release, the US president (again) conflated weather behaviour with climate. Pointing to record low temperatures, he tweeted: “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
Philip B. Duffy, President of the Woods Hole Research Center, was quoted by the New York Times as saying there was “a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies.” The Times also noted the report’s curious publication time of 2pm on a Friday, with the paper noting it “appeared designed to minimise its public impact.”
One of the more poignant considerations evidenced by the report was the widespread interconnectedness of climate change’s effects. Droughts, as just one example, impact not only communities but power plants that depend heavily on access to water for operations. They impact crop health and natural ecosystems, which in turn affect humans.
This report, having brought potential catastrophes faced by humanity together in one place, underscores the need for immediate action and holds up a mirror to our future should none be taken.
At that future looks very, very dark.