A new report on the impacts of human-caused climate change across the United States shows current efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change risks are insufficient.
As the U.S. Global Change Research Program reported earlier this month in its Fifth National Climate Assessment: “…. Current adaptation efforts and investments are insufficient to reduce today’s climate-related risks and keep pace with future changes in the climate.”
The report found that climate change impacts are increasing for all Americans and showed that, to prevent a ramping up of the worst impacts of climate change — more extensive wildfires, longer-lasting droughts, heat waves, flooding, stronger hurricanes and a depletion of our food and water sources — the U.S. must do more to reach net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.
“The report details the far-reaching effects of human-caused climate change on the U.S. and concludes that every additional increment of warming that we avoid — every action to reduce warming — matters for reducing harmful impacts, Rick Spinrad, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said recently.
Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, and author of the Fifth National Climate Assessment, said climate change is not impacting every realm of life in the U.S.
“The National Climate Assessment clearly shows us all the ways that climate change is affecting Americans right now in the places where we live,” Hayhoe said. “It matters because it clearly illustrates how climate change is not only an environmental or a science issue; it’s an everything issue. Climate change is affecting every part of our lives today.”
She added: “Today, most Americans have been personally affected, or know someone who has been affected, by climate change and weather extremes. That was not the case when the last national assessment was released in 2018, so (the Fifth National Climate Assessment) content is even more relevant now.”
The Nature Conservancy scientist said we know what needs to be done to ensure a healthy future free from the devastation of climate change.
“We need to cut our carbon emissions as much as possible and as soon as possible,” she noted. “We need to invest in nature to take carbon out of the atmosphere as well as providing a host of other benefits for our health and biodiversity. And we need to build resilience to the impacts that are already here today.”
Ensuring that we do enough, fast enough will take a massive shift in thinking from our city, county, state and federal officials.
Luckily, some of these officials are already ahead of the curve.
This week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $6 billion worth of investments meant to strengthen our nation’s climate change resilience, including $3.9 billion to modernize electric grids across the nation and $50 million for water conservation and hydropower upgrades in the West.
We also are fortunate to live and work in Washington state, where legislators this year passed House Bill 1181, which requires governments throughout the state to incorporate climate change resilience and emissions-reduction plans into their comprehensive growth management plans.
Camas is currently in the process of updating its comprehensive plan and the cities of Camas and Washougal are currently considering joining an interlocal agreement with Clark County and smaller cities within Clark County that would provide better data on emissions within each jurisdiction and help guide climate resilience planning.
The bill was supported by the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that has tried to, in their own words, “bring attention to the climate crisis as one of the greatest threats to human survival, and thus, human health” and is working to “support a rapid and responsible transition away from fossil fuels towards 100% renewable energy; engage the healthcare community to act on climate; (and) communicate the health risks of the climate crisis and the benefits of taking action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.”
Of House Bill 1181, the group noted that “smart growth is essential to curb the climate,” which is why Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility “stands firmly behind this bill and the goals it will achieve.”
As we begin to see true climate planning in our own local governments, we must also be wary of those who still deny the dangers of climate change or argue that governments shouldn’t dictate mandatory changes to stave off the worst of these dangers.
This wariness extends to the Heritage Foundation’s transition guide for an incoming Republic president, known as Project 2025, crafted by more than 300 rightwing authors, including several former Trump administration officials.
As reported in July by The Guardian, “the $22m endeavor, Project 2025, was convened by the notorious rightwing, climate-denying thinktank the Heritage Foundation, which has ties to fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch.”
The document calls for dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, pulling its focus away from climate change prevention and resilience and, according to a Politico report on Project 2025, “could be used to purge climate action from the federal government.”
Politico warned in July that Project 2025, “if enacted, could decimate the federal government’s climate work, stymie the transition to clean energy and shift agencies toward nurturing the fossil fuel industry rather than regulating it.”
We are all living at a critical time in the history of humankind. Will we band together and believe the scientists who have been trying to sound the climate-change alarm for decades? Or will we succumb to rightwing propaganda and allow groups like the Heritage Foundation or people like Donald Trump to enrich the wealthiest among us while leaving the rest of us to clean up from the next round of “natural” disasters?