While surveying the devastating damage caused by the deadly California fires, President Donald Trump was asked last week whether the experience altered his views on climate change.
“No. No. I have a strong opinion: I want great climate, we’re going to have that,” he responded—as if one can command “great climate” by ordering it on Amazon Prime.
He also—wrongly—suggested raking leaves from the forest floor might help.
It would seem laughable if only the consequences weren’t so dire. On Friday, the US government released the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which warns about the potential long-lasting impact of climate change if we don’t make major changes.
The report, like many before it, stresses the importance of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy technology before it’s too late.
“The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country,” the report says. “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.”
The health risks are also real: With changes in temperatures come poor air quality, increased exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, and a decrease in water and food. Extreme weather directly causes both cold and heat-related deaths. The report even outlines how climate change is expected to affect the distribution of disease-carrying insects, exposing populations to Lyme disease ticks and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, and dengue.
And in what might be the only angle that might appeal to Trump, it outlines how the issue could cost the economy billions of dollars, perhaps more than 10% of the GDP by the end of the century. For example, regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions—agriculture, tourism, and fisheries—are at risk. Rising temperatures increase energy demands, meaning higher electricity costs.
CNN reports that the 1,600-page assessment was composed by a team of 13 federal agencies by way of the US Global Change Research Program. It was a collaboration of 1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, half of whom are from the government.
The first volume, released in November 2017, found that this period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. And mankind is to blame: “It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” reads the report. “There is broad consensus that the further and the faster the Earth system is pushed towards warming, the greater the risk of unanticipated changes and impacts, some of which are potentially large and irreversible.”
The second volume’s release comes just one day after President Trump tweeted, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2018
The tweet demonstrates a common misconception about global warming–that it literally means only warmer weather, instead of evaluating extreme weather as a whole and larger ongoing climate trends. Thousands of studies attest to dramatic changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures. This includes melting glaciers, rising sea levels, as well as an increase in forest fires, storms, and intense heavy rainfalls.
The report stresses that immediate action is imperative.
“Decisions made today determine risk exposure for current and future generations and will either broaden or limit options to reduce the negative consequences of climate change,” reads the report. “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.”