Consequences of Inaction

A recently released major scientific report, by federal agencies, declares that climate change is taking an increasing toll on the nation’s health, economy and environment. It also says the damage will intensify over the century without swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Congressionally mandated report by 13 federal agencies, the first of its kind under the Trump administration, found that climate change is already being felt in communities across the nation. The report projects wide spread and growing devastation as increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, worsening wildfires, more intense storms and other cascading effects harm our infrastructure, society and ecosystems.

The assessment found climate change already affecting California and the Southwest through extreme drought, rising sea levels, heat-related deaths and increased wildfire risk. According to analyses cited in the report, the area burned across the western U.S. from 1984 to 1915 was twice what it would have been if climate change had not occurred.

The report paints a dire picture of the worsening effects of global warming as nearly every part of the U.S. grows more at risk from extreme heat, more devastating storms, droughts, wildfires, reduced snow pack and other threats to critical infrastructure, air quality, water supplies making more and more communities vulnerable. By century’s end, the report projects thousands of additional deaths annually from worsening heat waves and air pollution, as well as declining crop yields and the loss of key coral reef and sea ice ecosystems.

Some $1 trillion in coastal real estate is threatened by rising sea levels, storm surges and high tide flooding exacerbated by climate change, according to the report.

The report also warns of the economic consequences of inaction. Without substantial global emission reductions and local adaptation measures “climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over the century. If emissions continue to climb, economic losses will be in the hundreds of billions annually in some sectors by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states, the report says.”

Harold Hill is a retired civil engineer and has supervised design of several infrastructure projects for the City of Santa Barbara.