The National Climate Assessment released last week was not merely a salvo in the ongoing debate about climate change. No, it was a call for governments and citizens to recognize the truth about global warming and the need for action.
The report is a congressionally mandated review that receives input from 13 federal agencies. It involves hundreds of experts within the government and academia, is peer-reviewed, and is regarded as the United States’ most comprehensive assessment of the climate. The conclusions? Evidence of global, long-term warming is “unambiguous” and there is “no convincing alternative explanation” other than human activity contributing to that warming.
This runs counter to the specious arguments President Donald Trump has been making. Years ago, Trump declared that “global warming” was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese for their economic benefit. Earlier this year, Trump withdrew the United States from the 195-nation Paris climate accord, an act that now aligns this country with only Syria. If it is true that one can be judged by the company they keep, this does not speak well of our nation.
The administration’s efforts to obfuscate evidence of climate change extend well beyond Trump. Scott Pruitt, whom Trump appointed to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has long been a denier of climate change, and his agency has scrubbed its website of scientific data relating to the subject. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry last week asserted that “the science is out” on whether humans contribute to climate change. And Robert Phalen, who last week was appointed to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, has come under fire for saying in 2012 that, “Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.”
While last week’s report is not necessarily the definitive word on climate change, it must not be dismissed in a quest for ideological purity. As Gov. Jay Inslee said in 2015: “Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state. Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn’t acted to protect them.”
Therein lies the crux of the issue. Even if one does not believe that human production of carbon dioxide is causing the earth’s temperatures to rise, the benefits of working to reduce those emissions outweigh the costs. Suggesting that air can be too clean for optimum health is absurd.
The costs of a warming climate have been evident in expansive wildfires, intense hurricanes and flooding, and persistent droughts in many parts of the United States. Globally, rising temperatures can contribute to famines and a migration of millions of people to more temperate climates.
The need to prepare for these possibilities runs counter to the preferences of an administration that is intent upon denying them. As Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told The New York Times: “This profoundly affects our ability to be leaders in developing new technologies and understanding how to build successful communities and businesses in the 21st century. Choosing to be dumb about our relationship with the natural world is choosing to be behind the eight ball.”
In other words, the United States can decide to act upon climate change now, or get burned by it in the future.