In the conversation around climate change and climate policy in 2018, perhaps the best word used to describe it would be “conflict”.
The Trump administration has been under a lot of scrutiny regarding its climate change and public health policy, and it has aggressively taken actions throughout the year to make it clear where it stands.
However, its own reports about climate change findings appear to fly in the face of the decisions they are making.
2018 ended with stark warnings.
Thirteen federal agencies recently released a major report showing grave warnings on how climate change will affect the future of the United States.
According to the report, unless there is a major overhaul of domestic climate policy, global warming will spiral out of control.
The ensuing damage could mean a 10% knock on the size of the American economy by the end of the century.
This story is, essentially, 2018 in a nutshell.
Power your home with clean energy, today.Check availability
On the one hand, this report was mandated by Congress. The White House themselves released it. It is precise. It is calculated. And it is blunt. Every effort seems to be made to present the findings as clearly as possible.
On the other hand, the findings conflict with President Trump’s current climate change policy.
The U.S. climate change policy: taking an opposing stance.
Since his days on the campaign trail, President Trump has taken a hard stance against most environmental regulations in favor of economic growth.
At various times in the past year, the President has pushed against climate-focused initiatives.
He’s relaxed regulations on vehicle tailpipes and power plants. He famously pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He often publishes tweets mocking the science of climate change.
Trying to make sense of this is a hallmark of 2018.
The recent climate report contained over 1,600 pages that lays out evidence for the devastating effects that changing climate has and will have on our economy, as well as our health and the environment.
Such effects include crop failures in the Midwest, wildfires in California, and even the crumbling infrastructure in the South. And those are just the current effects.
In the future, we could see supply chains disrupted and American exports stalled. Crop yields would suffer. Wildfires may even spread to the Southeast according to this report.
These changes and damages could cut up to a tenth of GDP by the year 2100.
Disagreement, but no tampering.
According to scientists who worked on the report, there were no efforts by administration officials to change the findings or even suppress them. The findings were independently verified and free from tampering from anyone with a political agenda.
This report - part of the National Climate Assessment - is the second volume released by the White House. The first was issued last year.
The science is getting clearer.
The previous report was issued in May 2014.
At the time, the report reached the same conclusions, though scientific advances in recent years have led to more concrete and certain results, with much more precision than in the past.
It was this report that became the basis for the climate policy initiative established by then-President Obama. That administration put together the Clean Power Plan, attempting to cut emissions. Obama was also a key player in the Paris Agreement.
However, President Trump has described these policies about climate change as a “war on coal”, vowing to remove the United States from the Paris deal. They’ve rolled back many environmental regulations.
An expensive rollback.
According to the 2018 report, projected costs of the increasing climate change could be as high as $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from the rise of sea levels, and $32 billion from infrastructure damages by the end of the century.
This report is not unique, either: a month earlier, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its own report. This group of scientists assembled by the United Nations, claims there will be severe economic and humanitarian crises that would occur by the year 2040.
From all directions, the evidence is mounting that climate change initiatives need to be a part of policies moving forward, yet the current administration seems to be undermining these policies.
Closing 2018 on a positive note.
The report did wrap up the year with a lot of negative results and warnings. However, there is optimism that we can hold to moving into 2019.
The new report stated that the severity of outcomes as it relates to global warming really depends on how quickly the United States and other countries establish new and more aggressive initiatives to combat global warming.
The authors of the report suggested three main areas to focus on.
First, setting a price on greenhouse gas emissions to deter its growth. This generally means taxes or fees that are charged to companies that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Second, going hand-in-hand with the first initiative, setting government regulations on how much greenhouse pollution can be emitted legally. Putting these limits in place would then create a benchmark to follow for keeping these in line.
Finally, spend public money on clean energy research. The other two initiatives cannot succeed without this one. The United States needs to chart a clear path to establishing renewable energy as the mainstream choice for energy consumption.
Why is this a positive note? Because it means that there is still time to take action and mitigate a lot of these disasters. Perhaps we won’t be able to completely eliminate climate change in any foreseeable future, but we can do things to cut its severity and its impact on our lives.
And because there is time to take action, we are in the driver’s seat. We have the responsibility as a nation to make changes, and if we are able to get control over some of these policies and change them for the better, we can have a better handle on the consequences.
The truth is: there are no areas in the United States that won’t be impacted by the rise in climate change. Deaths and disease rates will both increase. Trade and agriculture will be impacted.
But if we can work together to pursue new climate policy initiatives, we stand a chance to improve the health of the world and prevent our citizens from overwhelming catastrophe.