After reading the US Climate Report from late 2018, the reality of our current status sent a wave of shock and awe across the globe, especially in the USA. This year, we experienced more fires in California and other parts of the west coast, and even more devastating hurricanes in the east and south. According to the report, the future is rather dismal if we continue to go on as usual. The implications are real and backed by hundreds of scientists, but unfortunately, the current administration and a handful of climate-deniers still retain their misinformed opinions — to the detriment of society.
The following breaks down the most shocking findings in the report, piece by piece, into a digestible narrative, as well as provides ways in which we can stop and even reverse the progression. Maybe you’ll want to trade in your car for a hybrid, maybe not… but it’s worth a shot.
The 1,600 page report was pretty clear that we are on the path to not only increasing the amount of destruction as a result of natural disasters and aggressive weather patterns, but also bound for a rise in climate-related diseases. If you’ve been living in a bubble and figured you were far enough away from the most affected areas, think again. The level of ozone pollution is one thing, but the report explains that “rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events are expected to increase exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, affecting food and water safety.” With the changing atmosphere comes the increase of hungry little mosquitos and other pests distributing their unwanted gifts of viruses like Zika and West Nile. Dengue aprés dinner, anyone?
Certain communities will be affected more so than others. The privileged classes of the world will fare better, as damage to infrastructure will have a bigger impact on vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, low income, and some communities of color. These groups are less resilient to the economic, infrastructural, and health impacts of climate change. It’s easy to say you agree with the fiscal policies of conservative politicians, but at what cost to the rest of the world who find themselves in less stable financial situations? Essential benefits will be cut off, and so will resources that allow underdeveloped areas to grow, thrive, and evolve.
The economy —
Remember the recent fires? Multi-million dollar Malibu homes were burned to a crisp, not to mention the devastation north in Paradise, California that resulted in staggering deaths and the loss of many non-residential buildings. According to the report, “rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property and labor productivity.” The growth of climate dependent industries — be it tourism or fisheries — will also be extra sensitive to change. To make matters worse, “rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation, while increasing energy demands will result in higher electricity costs.” With higher emissions come bigger losses (which are predicted to hit billions of dollars come the end of the century).
Water, aka: that super important element that sustains life and helps us get through our spin classes without passing out. With climate change comes heavier droughts, downpours that result in floods, less snow-capped mountains to trickle down their crystal clear bounty, and so on. “Future warming will add to the stress on water supplies and adversely impact the availability of water. Changes in the relative amounts and timing of snow and rainfall are leading to mismatches between water availability.”
The implications seem pretty obvious when it comes to US agriculture. Higher temps, drought, wildfires, flooding, and the like will aggravate already strained agricultural productivity and will present unique challenges to livestock health, leading to smaller crop yields, worse quality, and threats to sustainable food security and price instability. We all love our organic apples, but they will get a lot more scarce and expensive in the coming years. The aforementioned lack of water, as well as soil erosion and heat stress amongst livestock, will put on added pressure that we may not be ready for.
Oceans and coasts —
Summers on the coast are swell, but factor in rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, retreating arctic sea ice, sea level rise, high-tide flooding, coastal erosion, higher storm surges, and heavier precipitation to the mix. Already, the damage has been done, and coastal properties have proven themselves defenseless against the strength of the sea. The potential for damage is tangible; just look at the recent hurricanes in Florida. Unfortunately, “even if significant emissions reductions occur, many of the effects from sea level rise over this century — and particularly through mid-century — are already locked in due to historical emissions, and many communities are already dealing with the consequences.”
How to stop it (or at least slow things down) —
The report goes on to detail how a lack of action will only put the US — and the rest of the world — in a state of distress and danger. “While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages,” it explains. They stress that the decisions we make today will change the course of history for future generations, and that policy actions at every level of government that focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will help in curbing long term effects.
For starters, that means you need to vote with climate change in mind. This can also translate into donating to organizations that benefit the environment and supporting those lobbying for more climate-friendly initiatives and policies. Smaller, but equally effective techniques such as reducing the amount of meat you consume and your use of plastic waste will also make a difference. And finally, the most important thing you can do to educate others is to remember that just planting the seed, pun intended, can have a bigger impact than you might expect.
Charlotte Farrell is a freelance writer and editor who loves nothing more than a piping hot matcha latte — with almond milk, of course — and subjects like wellness, fashion, self-care, food, climate change, feminism, beauty, fitness, and travel. She graduated with honors in Communications and English Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and is now based in NYC where she enjoys reading, writing, exploring, and dreaming about gluten-free croissants.