Climate change is costing us money and lives right now. The humans causing that change need to do something about it right now.
Such are the undeniable conclusions of the United States Global Change Research Program, a combined effort not of hippies but of the Departments of Defense, State, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services, Energy, and Transportation; the National Science Foundation, NASA, the EPA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. While we were finishing up our turkey, USGCRP released Volume 2 of its Fourth National Climate Assessment last week, Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.
Chapter 22 focuses on impacts in the Northern Great Plains—North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and Wyoming. It’ll get warmer—fewer days below 28°F, more days over 90°F—so we’ll get to wear shorts more often while we’re out cleaning up from increased floods and then watering our plants during increased droughts. (Yes, we get both.) More CO2 may mean healthier plants, but those plants will fight bigger hail:
Temperature increases of 2°–4°F projected by 2050 for the Northern Great Plains under the lower scenario (RCP4.5) are expected to result in an increase in the occurrence of both drought and heat waves; these projected trends would be greater under the higher scenario (RCP8.5). The amount, distribution, and variability of annual precipitation in the Northern Great Plains are anticipated to change, with increases in winter and spring precipitation of 10%–30% by the end of this century and a decrease in the amount of precipitation falling as snow under a higher scenario (RCP8.5).54 Summer precipitation is expected to vary across the Northern Great Plains, ranging from no change under a lower scenario (RCP4.5) to 10%–20% reductions under a higher scenario (RCP8.5).54 Further, the frequency of heavy precipitation events is projected to increase, with an increase of about 50% in the frequency of two-day heavy rainfall events by 2050 under the higher scenario (RCP8.5). The amount falling in single-day heavy events is projected to increase 8%–10% by mid-century depending on scenario.54 Although fewer hail days are expected, a 40% increase in damage potential from hail due to more frequent occurrence of larger hail is predicted for the spring months by mid-century under a higher scenario (RCP8.5).55 Even with increases in precipitation, warmer temperatures are expected to increase evaporative demand, leading to more frequent and severe droughts.56 Some of the negative effects of drying in a warmer climate are likely to be offset by elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, which directly stimulate plant growth and increase plant water-use efficiency3 [USGCRP, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. 2, Ch. 22, Nov. 2018].
A combination of warmer temps evaporating higher precip and farmers putting more land into crop production to adapt to climate uncertainty will mean we lose more wetlands in the prairie pothole region, meaning fewer ducks and geese to shoot.
Heat waves, flooding, and decreasing water availability will all make our energy cost more:
Energy infrastructure vulnerabilities relate to how fuel is transported and how energy is produced, generated, transmitted, and used. For example, railroads and pipelines are vulnerable to damage or disruption from increasing heavy precipitation events and associated flooding and erosion.13 Summer heat waves also damage railroad tracks and are expected to reduce thermoelectric power plant and transmission line capacity,13 though estimates of the likelihood, timeframe, or magnitude of such impacts are limited. Higher temperatures are likely to lower the yields of crops used for biofuels while shifting northward the range in which certain biofuel crops (such as corn) can be cultivated.13 Biorefineries are vulnerable to decreasing water availability during drier summers and periods of drought.13 Declining water availability in the summer would likely increase costs for oil production operations, which require freshwater resources.13 These cost increases will lead either to reduced production or be passed on to consumers. Finally, higher maximum temperatures, longer and more severe heat waves, and higher overnight lows are expected to increase electricity demand for cooling in the summer, further stressing the power grid.13 Increasing demands for electricity in response to increasing temperatures are projected to increase costs to the power system by approximately $13–$18 million per year by 2050 under the higher scenario (RCP8.5) and $42–$80 million per year by 2090 under the same scenario (in 2015 dollars)81 [USGCRP, Ch. 22, 2018].
Science is getting too good to permit any further denial of climate change. We can even pin down the role climate change is playing in amplifying the damage done by specific weather events:
SHAPIRO: We’re also often told that a particular extreme weather event can’t be blamed on climate change. How do you balance that statement with the statement that extreme weather events are happening more often and to a greater degree because of climate change?
EKWURZEL: Well, one of the things you’ll see in this report and others – in the past few years, scientists have made extremely big advances in understanding extreme weather events, such that we can study in events such as Hurricane Harvey and figure out that it’s three times more likely in the year that it occurred than if it happened a century ago.
SHAPIRO: So you’re saying that line that we cannot attribute a specific extreme weather event to climate change might now be obsolete?
EKWURZEL: You’re right. As scientists, we now no longer say that. It’s more about the probability of risk. In fact, when Hurricane Florence was coming, scientists were looking at the background conditions. And they can figure out how much more likely Hurricane Florence was at its severity if you have the climate change we have today with heat-trapping gases. We can also remove those heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere and see would it have been as severe. It would not have been [Ari Shapiro, interviewing climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, “Understanding the Impacts of Climate Change,” NPR: All Things Considered, 2018.11.23].
Forget the argument that we’ll hurt the economy by taking action against climate change. Climate change already has us in the soup, and we’ll cost ourselves hundreds of billions more if we do nothing:
Climate change is impacting every sector of our lives and every sector of our economy. There’s a huge national security cost. We have to defend the new coastline and Arctic coastline as the Arctic sea ice disappears. There’s increased conflict around the world as a growing global population competes for less food and water and space. There is a real cost when it comes to agriculture. We’ve seen devastating impacts on the breadbasket of the United States – California, one of our most important agricultural states, that’s been hit very hard by extreme heat and drought. The health care cost – people who are suffering the health consequences, whether it’s infectious diseases or the impact of exposure to extreme heat. And you can go on down the list.
The cost of inaction is reaching into the tens of billions of dollars. And, as this report makes clear, we will be talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in the future. So what is now maybe a 1 percent tax on our economy from climate change impacts will become a 10 percent tax on our economy [Michael Mann, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist, interviewed by Michel Martin, “National Report Confirms Climate Change ‘Is Affecting Every Sector,’ Scientist Says,” NPR: All Things Considered, 2018.11.24].
Because we’ve been willing to choose an idiot President and consumerism over science and responsibility, we’re going to lose hundreds of billions a year in labor, lives, coastal property, air quality, road damage, and other economic impacts throughout this century. But if we come to our senses and use cleaner and less energy, we can reduce those damages.
Related: Congresswoman-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is calling on the House to draft a Green New Deal by the end of 2019. Ocasio-Cortez wants the Green New Deal to achieve the following goals within ten years of enactment:
- 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
- building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
- upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
- decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
- decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
- funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
- making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Select Committee for a Green New Deal,” campaign website, downloaded 2018.11.25].
Hmmm… I’m not seeing any planet-saving plan like that on the website of South Dakota’s Congressman-Elect.