On Black Friday, as many Americans were shopping or spending time with family, the Trump administration published a major report on climate change.
The study, called the National Climate Assessment, is the fourth in an ongoing series mandated by a 1990 law. It looks at how climate change is affecting the US now and what the country might look like by the end of the century.
The findings are dire.
The researchers found that the average temperature in the US rose 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951-2010, and an additional 2 degrees more is inevitable by 2050. If we continue business-as-usual (and don’t change our energy or agriculture systems to emit less heat-trapping greenhouse gases), the average temperature could go up by as much as 11 degrees by the end of this century.
Sea levels on US coasts have already risen about 9 inches, but we could see as much as 6 feet in some areas by 2100. About $1 trillion of wealth in coastal real estate could be threatened.
Deaths from heat-related causes are projected to increase, as are the frequency and severity of allergic illnesses like asthma. Changing temperatures will also expand the geographic range of disease-carrying insects like ticks and mosquitoes, leaving more people at risk of getting Lyme disease, Zika, West Nile, and dengue.
All of these changes, and the many others projected — including more severe storms, changes in growing seasons, and impacts on infrastructure — could majorly hurt the economy.
“Annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many US states,” the report says.
What the data shows
Over 300 scientists and other experts from academia, government, non-profits, and the private sector helped write the assessment.
Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, worked on the chapter focusing on mitigation. What’s different about this report from the last one, he told Business Insider, is how much clearer and more precise scientists are able to get about the US-specific consequences of climate change.
“We can now say with more accuracy that by the end of the century, the difference between the United States in a world where we have achieved something like the goals that we undertook for temperature stabilization in the Paris agreement and one where we don’t is tens of thousands of lives lost annually and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars lost annually,” he said.
For example, the report predicts that in the years from 2070-2099, the US will see 20% more precipitation in winter and spring for the north central US, and a 20% decrease in the southwest in spring. The area burned by lightning-ignited wildfires each year is expected to increase by at least 30% by 2060.
The price tag associated with deaths from extreme temperatures deaths could be up to $140 billion in 2090. Almost two billion labor hours could be lost each year by then, costing an estimated $160 billion in lost wages.
But the report doesn’t just make projections about changes that may occur decades from now; it attributes trends and disasters that we’re already seeing today to climate change as well.
“With climate science now, we can tell you today how climate change is impacting the world and the United States in particular regions. We are better able to say that yes, particular extreme weather events, the wildfires that are going on in California — there is a climate change component to all of these things,” Light said.
For example, the heaviest rainfall from intense storms, including hurricanes, is 6% to 7% higher than it would have been a century ago. Sixteen of the last 17 years have been the warmest we’ve ever recorded.
Why publish this on Black Friday?
The report was originally slated to be published in December, but within the last week, the Trump administration decided to publish it on Black Friday instead — a day when many Americans are off work and spending time with family, and therefore paying less attention to news and politics.
Light said it’s impossible not to conclude that the timing is intended to hide the report from public view.
“Making an announcement on Friday is called taking out the trash. This is not just taking out the trash, it’s trying to burn it, bury it, scatter it to the four winds,” he said. “This administration does not want anyone to understand that this report is coming out. They don’t want people to come to the absolutely reasonable conclusion that it contravenes everything that this administration is doing on climate change. And that’s a shame, because this should not be a partisan issue. This is a public health crisis.”
With regard to human health, in fact, the report found that the annual health impacts and costs would be approximately 50% lower in a scenario in which we reduce emissions and limit global warming than they would in a business-as-usual scenario.
‘There is a growing and increasing market for getting on the right side’ of climate change
But despite these ominous predictions, Light said the report gives us reasons for hope as well.
“There is abundant evidence that this is not a negative-cost proposition, that you can make tons of money, that there is a growing and increasing market for getting on the right side of pricing the pollution and then selling the alternatives to high-carbon energy sources,” he said.
That evidence includes the fact that, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest growing professions in the US are in the renewable energy sector: solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians.
There is also growing interest in the tech community around ways to suck carbon dioxide out of the air. Y Combinator, the largest startup accelerator in Silicon Valley, put out a request in October for companies working on such technologies.
“This is where markets are going. This is the new set of technologies that people are starting to pay attention to,” Kate Gordon, a fellow at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told Business Insider last month. “Otherwise we’ll be buying it from somebody else, because someone’s going to do it.”