As the federal government releases its Fifth National Climate Assessment, the meaning is clear.
“It’s important for us to recognize that how much climate change we will be experiencing in the future depends on the choices that we make now,” said L. Ruby Leung, a climate scientist at the Richland-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and one of the report’s authors. Extreme weather events “are tied to the global warming level, to how warm the earth becomes. And that depends very much on the level of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.”
Those conclusions have long been recognized by climate scientists, and even critics now are begrudgingly accepting them. But the remaining questions surround what we should do about it. In that regard, economics can be influential.
The National Climate Assessment is a congressionally mandated report that comes out roughly every five years. Combining work from 14 federal agencies, it tallies damages from climate events and outlines what is expected in the future. As detailed in the latest report, that future includes a vastly altered economy.
This year, there have been a record 25 weather-related disasters — floods, wildfires and storms — that have caused at least $1 billion in damage. Climate risks are altering the housing market in terms of skyrocketing homeowners’ insurance rates, with insurers pulling out of high-risk states. And warming temperatures have an impact on crops and livestock, which can increase food prices.
In another example, researchers calculate that hotter weather could lead to a 25 percent reduction of physical work capacity for agricultural workers during summer months, decreasing supply and increasing prices.
All of that is already having an impact on the economy, and experts expect that to increase.
This should not be viewed as a threat, but as an opportunity. For a nation, reducing carbon emissions that lead to climate change is a moral imperative. For the state, establishing Washington as a leader in green energy and carbon reduction will be an invitation to the industries and innovators of the future.
A quickly shrinking portion of the American populace would prefer to deny that climate change is occurring or to point out that the United States produces only 14 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. But asking, “What about China?” neither solves the problem nor positions this nation for a prosperous future.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden directed $6 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act toward initiatives to make the United States more resilient to climate change.
“It lays out the threats and the dangers, but most experts would acknowledge that it also shows solutions are within reach,” Biden said of the report. “It takes time for the investments we’re making to be fully materialized, but we just have to keep at it. We need to do more and move faster.”
That stands in sharp contrast to the previous climate assessment, which the Trump administration released in 2018 on a holiday weekend — as if burying it will make it go away.
Climate change is not going away and does not depend on our acknowledgement. It already is impacting the daily lives of Americans in all regions of the country.
As Katharine Hayhoe, a co-author of the report, said: “Too many people still think of climate change as an issue that’s distanced from us in space or time or relevance. … The risks matter and so do our choices.”