Horowitz: National Climate Assessment Highlights Need for Action

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


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The Trump Administration’s own National Climate Assessment serves as a sharp rebuke to its ill-advised policy of rolling back federal actions and regulations designed to curb climate change. Released by the White House over the holiday weekend in a transparent effort to bury its findings, this report spells out in detail the prohibitively high costs to our health, economy, environment and communities of failing to act to reduce the production of greenhouse gases and as a result bringing about the worst impacts of global warming.

As the report prepared by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in coordination with 12 other federal agencies, including EPA, The Defense Department and NASA, states, “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”

The report plainly states that “changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming.”

It also predicts that--- if not limited through stepped-up action-- this warming will do major economic damage:  With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, 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 U.S. states.”

The National Climate Assessment reaches similar conclusions to a recently released report from an international panel of distinguished scientists convened by the United Nations, which predicted that without greatly accelerating the reduction of greenhouse gases there is a strong risk that some of the more dire consequences of climate change could result as early as 2040.

Unfortunately, instead of stepping up action as the science calls for, President Trump continues his full retreat on the issue of climate change, refusing to veer from his damaging head in the sand approach.   A tweet he sent out just before the report was released conveys his willful ignorance: "Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS - Whatever happened to Global Warming?”  When asked about the National Climate Assessment, a White House spokesperson dismissed it as containing ‘extreme scenarios.”

 State and local elected leaders as well as businesses and foundations who understand the sound factual basis of the science, however, have stepped into the vacuum created by the Trump Administration. Taken together, the actions of thousands of local leaders in their own communities and states may well enable the United States to meet our Paris commitment as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg often asserts, ‘no matter what Washington does.”

But national leadership still counts to produce even better results here at home.  Even more damaging, with the Trump Administration’s declared intent to withdraw from the Global Climate Change Agreement reached in Paris, we have abandoned the global leadership that helped gain meaningful commitments from China, India, Brazil, and other large carbon emitters.

There is still time for us to limit global temperature increases and avoid the worst consequences of climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment. But we don’t have much time to waste.  Since there is little or no chance, President Trump will change course, it is essential that states, local governments, and businesses do even more. And that the rest of us build the political will from the bottom up for a comprehensive and aggressive approach that restores our needed global leadership under our next president.


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Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


Related Slideshow: 7 Ways RI and Northeast Will Be Impacted By Global Warming According to New Fed’l Report

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Emergency Room Visits

In Rhode Island, maximum daily temperatures in the summer have trended upwards over the last 60 years, such that residents experienced about three more weeks of health-threatening hot weather over 2015–2016 than in the 1950s.

A recent study looking at visits to hospital emergency rooms (ERs) found that the incidence rate of heat-related ER visits rose sharply as maximum daily temperatures climbed above 80°F. 

The study estimates that with continued climate change, Rhode Islanders could experience an additional 400 (6.8% more) heat-related ER visits each year by 2050 and up to an additional 1,500 (24.4% more) such visits each year by 2095 under the higher scenario. 

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More Deaths Due to Heat

Increases in annual average temperatures across the Northeast range from less than 1°F (0.6°C) in West Virginia to about 3°F (1.7°C) or more in New England since 1901. Although the relative risk of death on very hot days is lower today than it was a few decades ago, heat-related illness and death remain significant public health problems in the Northeast.

For example, a study in New York City estimated that in 2013 there were 133 excess deaths due to extreme heat. These projected increases in temperature are expected to lead to substantially more premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency department visits across the Northeast.

The northeast can expect approximately 650 additional premature deaths per year from extreme heat by the year 2050 under either a lower or higher scenario and from 960 to 2,300 more premature deaths per year by 2090, according to the reports.

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Colder and Wetter Winters

The recent dominant trend in precipitation throughout the Northeast has been towards increases in rainfall intensity, with recent increases in intensity exceeding those in other regions in the contiguous United States.

Further increases in rainfall intensity are expected, with increases in precipitation expected during the winter and spring with little change in the summer. Monthly precipitation in the Northeast is projected to be about 1 inch greater for December through April by end of the century (2070–2100) under the higher scenario.

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Impact on Winter Tourism

The Northeast winter recreation industry is an important economic resource for rural areas, supporting approximately 44,500 jobs and generating between $2.6–$2.7 billion in revenue annually. 

Like other outdoor tourism industries, it is strongly influenced by weather and climate, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Even under the lower scenario, the average length of the winter recreation season and the number of recreational visits are projected to decrease by mid-century.

Under the same scenario, lost time for snowmaking is expected to delay the start of the ski season across southern areas, potentially impacting revenues during the winter holiday season. Activities that rely on natural snow and ice cover are projected to remain economically viable in only far northern parts of the region by end of the century under the higher scenario.

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Impact on Fisheries

Rising ocean temperatures have also affected the productivity of marine populations. Species at the southern extent of their range, such as northern shrimp, surf clams, and Atlantic cod, are declining as waters warm while other species, such as black sea bass, are experiencing increased productivity. Some species, such as American lobster and surf clam, have declined in southern regions where temperatures have exceeded their biological tolerances but have increased in northern areas as warming waters have enhanced their productivity.

The productivity of some harvested and cultured species may also be indirectly influenced by changing levels of marine pathogens and diseases. For example, increasing prevalence of shell disease in lobsters and several pathogens in oysters have been associated with rising water temperatures; other pathogens that infect shellfish pose risks to human health.

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Coastal flood risks from storm-driven precipitation and surges are major drivers of coastal change and are also amplified by sea level increases.

Storms have unique climatological features in the Northeast—Nor’easters (named for the low-pressure systems typically impacting New England and the Mid-Atlantic with strong northeasterly winds blowing from the ocean over coastal areas) typically occur between September and April, and when coupled with the Atlantic hurricane season between June and September, the region is susceptible to major storms nearly year-round. Storm flood heights driven by hurricanes in New York City increased by more than 3.9 feet (1.2 m) over the last thousand years.

When coupled with storm surges, sea level rise can pose severe risks of flooding, with consequent physical and mental health impacts on coastal populations.

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Aging Infrastructure

Northeastern cities, with their abundance of concrete and asphalt and relative lack of vegetation, tend to have higher temperatures than surrounding regions due to the urban heat island effect. During extreme heat events, nighttime temperatures in the region’s big cities are generally several degrees higher than surrounding regions, leading to higher risk of heat-related death.

Urban areas are at risk for large numbers of evacuated and displaced populations and damaged infrastructure due to both extreme precipitation events and recurrent flooding, potentially requiring significant emergency response efforts and consideration of a long-term commitment to rebuilding and adaptation, and/or support for relocation where needed. Much of the infrastructure in the Northeast, including drainage and sewer systems, flood and storm protection assets, transportation systems, and power supply, is nearing the end of its planned life expectancy. Climate-related disruptions will only exacerbate existing issues with aging infrastructure. Sea level rise has amplified storm impacts in the Northeast (Key Message 2), contributing to higher surges that extend farther inland, as demonstrated in New York City in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Service and resource supply infrastructure in the Northeast is at increasing risk of disruption, resulting in lower quality of life, economic declines, and increased social inequality.17 Loss of public services affects the capacity of communities to function as administrative and economic centers and triggers disruptions of interconnected supply chains (Ch. 16: International, Key Message 1).


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