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Climate report: Worse to come Study released by the White House contradicts Trump on global warming.

Byline: Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney The Washington Post

The federal government on Friday released a long-awaited report with an unmistakable message: The effects of climate change, including deadly wildfires, increasingly debilitating hurricanes and heat waves, are already battering the United States, and the danger of more such catastrophes is worsening.

The report's authors, who represent numerous federal agencies, say they are more certain than ever that climate change poses a severe threat to Americans' health and pocketbooks, as well as to the country's infrastructure and natural resources.

And while it avoids policy recommendations, the report's sense of urgency and alarm stand in stark contrast to the lack of any apparent plan from President Donald Trump to tackle the problems, which, according to the government he runs, are increasingly dire.

The congressionally mandated document -- the first of its kind issued during the Trump administration -- details how climate-fueled disasters and other types of worrisome changes are becoming more commonplace throughout the country and how much worse they could become in the absence of efforts to combat global warming.

Already, western mountain ranges are retaining much less snow throughout the year, threatening water supplies below them. Coral reefs in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Florida and the United States' Pacific territories are experiencing severe bleaching events. Wildfires are devouring ever-larger areas during longer fire seasons. And the country's sole Arctic state, Alaska, is seeing a staggering rate of warming that has upended its ecosystems, from once ice-clogged coastlines to increasingly thawing permafrost tundras.

The National Climate Assessment's publication marks the government's fourth comprehensive look at climate-change impacts on the United States since 2000. The last came in 2014. Produced by 13 federal departments and agencies and overseen by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the report stretches well over 1,000 pages and draws more definitive, and in some cases more startling, conclusions than earlier versions.

"We are seeing the things we said would be happening, happen now in real life," said another co-author Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University. "As a climate scientist it is almost surreal."

And Donald Wuebbles, a co-author and University of Illinois climate scientist, said, "We're going to continue to see severe weather events get stronger and more intense."

The authors argue that global warming "is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us." And they conclude that humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes "to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades."

"The impacts we've seen the last 15 years have continued to get stronger, and that will only continue," said Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report. "We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be."

That urgency is at odds with the stance of the Trump administration, which has rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations and incentivized the production of fossil fuels. Trump also has said he plans to withdraw the nation from the Paris climate accord and questioned the science of climate change just last month, saying on CBS's "60 Minutes" that "I don't know that it's man-made" and that the warming trend "could very well go back."

Furthermore, as the Northeast faced a cold spell this week, Trump tweeted, "Whatever happened to Global Warming?" This shows a misunderstanding that climate scientists have repeatedly tried to correct -- a confusion between daily weather fluctuations and long-term climate trends.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday's report. However, the administration last year downplayed a separate government report calling human activity the dominant driver of global warming, saying in a statement that "the climate has changed and is always changing."

Given that history, some of the hundreds of scientists and federal officials who spent months working on the detailed document were frustrated, but not surprised, that the administration chose to release it on the day after Thanksgiving -- typically one of the slowest news days of the year. Several people involved in the report said its release originally had been planned for early December, but after a behind-the-scenes debate in recent weeks about when to make it public, administration officials settled on Black Friday.

Several federal experts who participated in a media call after the release of the report on Friday were repeatedly asked about the timing of its release on a day when the country's attention is likely elsewhere.

For the most part, they demurred, saying that in part the report was finished early and that they wanted to make sure it was out ahead of both an American Geophysical Union gathering next month, as well as a major international climate conference in Poland around the same time. Rather, they implored reporters to focus instead on the contents of the report, which they said had not been tinkered with by administration officials.

"This report has not been altered or revised in any way because of political considerations," Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told reporters. She said the decision on when to release it had been made during the past week, but added, "It's not as significant as the content of what's in the report."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the report shows how climate change will affect all Americans.

"No matter how hard they try, the Trump administration can't bury the effects of climate change in a Black Friday news dump - effects their own federal government scientists have uncovered," he said in a statement. "The president says outrageous things like climate change is a hoax engineered by the Chinese and raking forests will prevent catastrophic wildfires, but serious consequences like collapsing coastal housing prices and trillions of dollars in stranded fossil fuel assets await us if we don't act."

That report is striking in its clear statement that climate change is not only already affecting the U.S., but that the effects are getting worse.

"This report draws a direct connection between the warming atmosphere and the resulting changes that affect Americans' lives, communities, and livelihoods, now and in the future," the document reads, concluding that "the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans' physical, social, and economic well-being are rising."

The report finds that the continental United States already is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was 100 years ago, surrounded by seas that are on average nine inches higher and being racked by far worse heat waves than the nation experienced only 50 years ago.

But those figures offer only the prelude to even more potentially severe impacts. The report suggests that by 2050, the country could see as much as 2.3 additional degrees of warming in the continental United States. By that same year, in a high-end global-warming scenario, coral reefs in Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territories could be bleaching every single year -- conditions in which their survival would be in severe doubt. A record-warm year like 2016 would become routine.

Key crops, including corn, wheat and soybeans, would see declining yields as temperatures rise during the growing season. The city of Phoenix, which experienced about 80 days per year over 100 degrees around the turn of the century, could see between 120 and 150 such days per year by the end of the century, depending on the pace of emissions.

And those who face the most suffering? Society's most vulnerable, including "lower-income and other marginalized communities," researchers found.

In another major step, the authors of the new report have begun to put dollar signs next to projected climate damage, specifically within the United States.

In a worst-case climate-change scenario, the document finds, labor-related losses by the year 2090 as a result of extreme heat - the sort that makes it difficult to work outdoors or seriously lowers productivity - could amount to an estimated $155 billion annually. Deaths from temperature extremes could take an economic toll of $141 billion per year in the same year, while coastal property damage could total $118 billion yearly, researchers found.

Of course, mitigating climate change would also mitigate this damage, by as much as 58 percent in the case of high-temperature related deaths, the report finds.

The categorical tone of the new assessments reflects scientists' growing confidence in the ability to detect the role of a changing climate in individual extreme events, such as heat waves and droughts.
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Title Annotation:Nation_
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Nov 24, 2018
Words:1481
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