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3 big takeaways from the government's bleak climate report

Frequent destructive weather events, deteriorating health, and a stunted economy.

by Emma Ockerman
Nov 26 2018, 4:53pm

A new government climate report outlines the planet’s path toward environmental crisis in the darkest terms: frequent destructive weather events, deteriorating health, and a stunted economy.

In the most recent National Climate Assessment — a congressionally mandated report that dropped on Friday, during the holiday weekend — scientists across 13 federal agencies outlined the serious environmental threats facing the United States in more than 1,500 pages. They clearly state that climate change has already had adverse effects on the country and considered the ways those effects could multiply.

By 2050, for examples, the contiguous United States might see temperatures warm at least 2.3 degrees, according to the report, which would lead to more heat-related deaths, higher coastal flooding, and economic damage from the resulting loss of agricultural productivity.

“The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur,” scientists wrote in Friday’s report.

A hellscape of environmental disaster

The United States is certain to see more wildfires, stronger hurricanes, and more intense flooding, according to the report. In some parts of the country, wildfire seasons will destroy up to six times more forest area every year by the middle of this century.

Such extreme weather events will further stress the country’s infrastructure and economy by disrupting energy, agricultural, and transportation systems. That could also cripple recovery efforts after severe weather events even more, too. Parts of the country will see longer-duration power outages, for example.

“Many places are subject to more than one climate-related impact, such as extreme rainfall combined with coastal flooding, or drought coupled with extreme heat, wildfire, and flooding,” the scientists wrote. Coastal flooding will also impact those living in the Northeast and western Gulf of Mexico.


Already, the United States has incurred costs of nearly $400 billion since 2015 in addressing weather and climate disasters, according to the report.

Americans’ health will suffer

Extreme weather events and rising temperatures will leave more Americans more exposed to foodborne and waterborne illnesses, according to the report. Heat-related deaths will also rise.

Due to climate change, more people will also be diagnosed with asthma and other allergy-related respiratory conditions and saddled with polluted air. As disease-carrying insects migrate, more people might be exposed to things like Lyme disease and Zika viruses.

Mental health will suffer amid environmental and economic changes — particularly among Indigenous populations — especially as people are forced to evacuate their communities because of coastal damage. The scientists note in their report that large-scale evacuations are already happening to people in the Louisiana tribal community of Isle de Jean Charles.

“Unless counteracting efforts to improve air quality are implemented, climate change is expected to worsen ozone pollution across much of the country, with adverse impacts on human health,” the scientists write.

And those health impacts will have economic consequences. For example, thousands of additional heat-related deaths in 2090 carry a projected cost of $140 billion in a worst-case scenario, and a cost of $60 billion in a best-case scenario.

The economy will shrink

With a sick and shrunken workforce, higher commodity prices, and declining crop yields, the scientists warned that “the potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century.” Ultimately, poor people and people of color will see the greatest economic impact.

In a worst-case scenario, climate change could cost the U.S. economy more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product by the end of this century, according to the report. In the best-case scenario, the cost of climate change would still be more than $100 billion in 2015 dollars each year.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures and flooding could send Midwestern corn fields reeling as agricultural productivity declines. Some farms may be able to produce less than 75 percent of their current yields, scientists predict. Soybean farmers, meanwhile, could also lose more than 25 percent of their current yields.

Cover image: A firefighter battles a fire along the Ronald Reagan Freeway, aka state Highway 118, in Simi Valley, Calif., Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)