US faces huge costs from climate change, report says

Climate change could cost the American economy around 10 per cent of gross domestic product through the turn of the century, according to a new United States government report. John Dyer reports from Boston.

The White House has come under fire for trying to bury a key report on climate change. (Image credit: Matt Howard via Unsplash)

“Climate change presents added risks to interconnected systems that are already exposed to a range of stressors such as ageing and deteriorating infrastructure, land-use changes, and population growth,” said the 1,656-page Fourth National Climate Assessment released on 23 November.

The report envisions $141 billion lost due to heat-related deaths, $118 billion from rising sea levels and $32 billion from damage to roads, bridges, train lines, water treatment, utilities and other infrastructure.

Climate change is happening now

The report’s authors noted that their findings were released a few days before fire fighters contained one of the worst wildfires on record in California, the so-called “Camp Fire”, which resulted in a documented 85 deaths and the destruction of 14,000 homes. Nearly 300 people in the fire’s path are still missing. It also comes as crop failures in the American Midwest have hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

“This report makes it clear that climate change is not some problem in the distant future. It’s happening right now in every part of the country,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a report author who is also director of climate science at the Union of Concerned. “When people say the wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves they’re experiencing are unlike anything they’ve seen before, there’s a reason for that, and it’s called climate change.

The report said wildfires could spread to the American South and agricultural yields could decrease to levels seen in the 1980s in the next 30 years unless governments and industry take action to blunt climate change and its effects.

The report recommends three actions to prevent catastrophe: officials should tax or impose fees on businesses that emit carbon and use those revenues to address climate change, impose strict limits on emissions despite the economy costs of those regulations, and invest significant public funds in clean and green technology to facilitate an energy revolution.

White House downplays report’s findings

The White House downplayed the report’s findings.

“The report is largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that, despite strong economic growth that would increase greenhouse gas emissions, there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population,” said a spokesman in a statement.

Indeed, the report comes as President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans appear to be ignoring many of its suggestions.

“The findings certainly make a convincing case that the White House should stop rolling back climate policies and recognize that a much larger scale response is required to keep people safe,” said Ekwurzel.

A Manhattan real estate mogul and ex-reality television star, Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord and has been slashing environmental regulations designed to fight climate change. He has reversed curbs on methane, a greenhouse gas that increases global warming more than carbon dioxide, weakened vehicle emissions standards and permitted coal-burning factories and power plants to emit more carbon.

After a recent period of subzero temperatures in the Northeast, he mocked climate change on twitter. “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” Trump wrote.

Gore accuses Trump of burying climate report

Former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for their work in publicizing the dangers of climate change, released a statement blasting Trump for releasing the report on the day after Thanksgiving, a national holiday in the US.

“Unbelievably deadly and tragic wildfires rage in the West, hurricanes batter our coasts — and the Trump administration chooses the Friday after Thanksgiving to try and bury this critical U.S. assessment of the climate crisis,” Gore said in a statement. “The president may try to hide the truth, but his own scientists and experts have made it as stark and clear as possible.”

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