Federal report warns of disastrous human and economic impacts if no action is taken to curb global warming
The federal government has issued a 1,000-page report that states future human activities will pay a whopping economic price on continued global climate changes and lack of efforts to stop or adapt to what are documented stresses on the ecosystem.
The report, centered on the United States, warns that unchecked climate change could have devastating impacts on the economy in the billions of dollars—even shrink the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by 10 percent by the end of the century.
Rising sea levels, storm surging and floods will threaten infrastructure and $1 trillion held in real estate along the country’s coasts.
The report comes out of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which comprises 13 federal agencies. The Fourth National Climate Assessment came together with the help of around 1,000 people, including 300 scientists, about half of whom came from outside of government.
The federal Dept. of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was responsible for producing the Congress-mandated report.
Due in December, the Trump administration released the report the day after Thanksgiving during the long weekend of family get-togethers and shopping activities.
Findings in the report counter Trump’s claim that climate change is a hoax.
This report is the second of two parts— the first part was released a year ago.
Global climate change will kill thousands of humans based on impacts to health, according to the report. A comprehensive look at the impacts of climate change on human health finds that climate change is already affecting the health of Americans with consequences to become worse with additional change. Climate change adversely affects health through exposure to heat waves, droughts, food- and waterborne infectious diseases, changes in food, air and water quality and stresses on mental health and well-being.
Warmer conditions may facilitate the spread of common pathogen-carrying ticks and zika- and dengue-bearing mosquito populations. Increasing temperatures will double the West Nile virus by 2050, according to the report.
Water-related illnesses and deaths associated with warmer water temperatures may result from the altered seasonality of growth and range of harmful algae and coastal pathogens. Runoff from increased rainfall is projected to compromise recreational waters and drinking water sources by introducing toxic algal blooms. Heavy rainfall, high temperatures and flooding combined with inadequate water and sewer infrastructure may lead to increased diarrheal diseases and gastrointestinal illnesses, as well as increase other bacterial and parasitic infections such as leptospirosis, a bacterial disease in animals and humans.
Close to home, Alaskans and inhabitants of coastal villages already know first-hand one of the report’s main messages: “Alaska is on the front lines of climate change and is among the fastest warming regions on earth,” according to the report.
What happens with the Arctic environment has global consequences. The effects of climatic impacts on receding sea ice, land ice, snow cover, permafrost, surface temperatures and water temperature affect the amount warming, sea level change, carbon cycle impacts and weather patterns in the Lower 48.
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, scientists have documented. If it continues to warm at the same rate, Septembers will be nearly ice free in the Arctic ocean sometime between now and the 2040s, according to the report.
Global climate change “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” according to the document. Humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes “to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades,” goes the executive summary.
Indigenous people take climate changes seriously. That they are happening here is documented by accelerated studies of the effects of climate change on weather, marine resources, infrastructure and food sources. Scientists surveying rapid changes in the northern waters lapping Alaska’s 33,000 miles of coast say the same.
“This isn’t distance learning. We are experiencing shocking climatic changes around us right now,” Lyle Brit, NOAA fish biologist said, upon return from a bottom trawl survey.
Federal departments and science agencies have increased research surveys in northern waters motivated by drastic changes observed in fish distribution, water temperatures, food web composition and marine resource populations.
Adverse impacts on subsistence activities have already been observed. As climate changes continue, adverse impacts on culturally significant species and resources are expected to result in negative physical and mental health effects.
In parts of the United States, the report acknowledges that climate-related impacts are causing some indigenous peoples to consider or actively pursue community relocation as an adaptation strategy, presenting challenges associated with maintaining cultural and community continuity.
”While economic, political, and infrastructure limitations may affect these communities’ ability to adapt, tightly knit social and cultural networks present opportunities to build community capacity and increase resilience. Many Indigenous peoples are taking steps to adapt to climate change impacts structured around self-determination and traditional knowledge, and some tribes are pursuing mitigation actions through development of renewable energy on tribal lands,” says the report.
In Alaska, rising temperatures and erosion are causing damage to buildings and coastal infrastructure that will be costly to repair or replace, particularly in rural areas; these impacts are expected to grow without adaptation.
New and thinner ice may disappear by mid-century, ceasing to protect coastlines and increase the miles of risks to rural infrastructure.
Some fish, birds, and mammals are shifting where they live as a result of climate change, with implications for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related activities. These disrupt commercial activities in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and other areas occupied by northern indigenous people, these changes threaten peoples’ health and nutrition, availability of food and vitally needed resources.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. II. lists the following key messages for Alaska:
Alaska’s marine fish and wildlife habitats, species distributions, and food webs, all of which are important to Alaska’s residents, are increasingly affected by retreating and thinning arctic summer sea ice, increasing temperatures and ocean acidification. Continued warming will accelerate related ecosystem alterations in ways that are difficult to predict, making adaptation more challenging.
Alaska residents, communities, and their infrastructure continue to be affected by permafrost thaw, coastal and river erosion, increasing wildfire and glacier melt. These changes are expected to continue into the future with increasing temperatures, which would directly impact how and where many Alaskans will live.
A warming climate brings a wide range of human health threats to Alaskans, including increased injuries, smoke inhalation, damage to vital water and sanitation systems, decreased food and water security and new infectious diseases. The threats are greatest for rural residents, especially those who face increased risk of storm damage and flooding, loss of vital food sources, disrupted traditional practices, or relocation. Implementing adaptation strategies would reduce the physical, social, and psychological harm likely to occur under a warming climate.
The subsistence activities, culture, health, and infrastructure of Alaska’s indigenous peoples and communities are subject to a variety of impacts, many of which are expected to increase in the future. Flexible, community-driven adaptation strategies would lessen these impacts by ensuring that climate risks are considered in the full context of the existing sociocultural systems.
Climate warming is causing damage to infrastructure that will be costly to repair or replace, especially in remote Alaska. It is also reducing heating costs throughout the state. These effects are very likely to grow with continued warming. Timely repair and maintenance of infrastructure can reduce the damages and avoid some of these added costs.
According to the report, costs from infrastructure damage from climate warming are projected to be large, potentially ranging from $110 million to $270 million per year, assuming timely repair and maintenance.
Proactive adaptation in Alaska would reduce both short- and long-term costs associated with climate change, generate social and economic opportunity and improve livelihood security. Direct engagement and partnership with communities is a vital element of adaptation in Alaska.
A map included in the report shows that most villages along the western and northern coasts of Alaska from Unalaska to Nuiqsut are participating in webinars and workshops as well as climate change impact assessments, ready to take the next step to completing adaptation plans. It appears that Norton Bay, Shaktoolik and Stuart Island have adaptation plans completed.
Currently in the U.S., climate change outpaces adaptation planning, according to the report.
“Successful adaptation has been hindered by the assumption that climate conditions are and will be similar to those in the past. Incorporating information on current and future climate conditions into design guidelines, standards, policies, and practices would reduce risk and adverse impacts,” the report reads.
However, another key message on adaptation is that benefits of proactive adaptation planning exceed costs.
“Proactive adaptation initiatives—including changes to policies, business operations, capital investments, and other steps—yield benefits in excess of their costs in the near term, as well as over the long term. Evaluating adaptation strategies involves consideration of equity, justice, cultural heritage, the environment, health, and national security,” the report says.
The full report and informational graphics may be downloaded at: nca2018.globalchange.gov