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Going it alone and blinded from science

Jennie Young, Community Voices • Dec 30, 2018 at 7:30 AM

It must be admitted at the outset that studies such as the Fourth National Climate Assessment are dry reading, regardless of importance. The summary, though a high-level synthesis, is less so and worth the effort. You can download the summary provided by the 18 United States government agencies — not some “suspicious UN conspiracy“ — whose job it is to pay attention to science and what scientific evidence portends for our futures.

The assessment addresses new risks and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities to our communities.

It presents challenges to human health, safety, and quality of life. It outlines expectations of growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impeded economic growth without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts. It speaks of how climate related impacts affect interconnected systems, like water resources, food production, industry, recreation, and the environment.

Another scary focus is the impact on our health, related to air quality, transmission of disease through pests and insects, and food and water, particularly among already vulnerable populations.

There are 12 areas of concern which spell bad news for our country unless we listen to our own federal agencies to not only continue the direction implemented under President Obama but to double down with even more directed and forceful leadership, based on best current knowledge. The study also addresses tourism and recreation, the oceans and coasts, ecosystems and ecosystem services, indigenous peoples, with special attention given to agriculture, of which we should be reminded every time we enter a grocery store.

The report makes clear that future risks from climate change depend primarily on decisions made today. The Third National Climate Assessment in 2014 had a positive impact and the integration of climate risk into decision-making and the implementation of adaptation activities have increased significantly. Much has been done in the areas of financial risk and capital investment planning. I assume that is, in part, reference to the $8 trillion dollars divested from the fossil fuel industry, compared to the $6 trillion I referred to in my last climate article. Progress is reported in the development of engineering standards, military planning, and disaster risk management. There have been transformations in the energy sector, including the displacement of coal by natural gas and increased deployment of renewable energy. There are policy actions at the national, state, and local levels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

While whatever progress we’ve made can help reduce damages in a number of sectors, the 2018 assessment shows that far more immediate and substantial reductions of greenhouse gases have to be implemented to avoid the severe consequences facing our country — and the world. This is language from our own government and it directly challenges the position of its so-called leader, Donald Trump, who operates in collusion with fossil fuel giants and three autocratic oil-producing countries, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and has been thus far tolerated by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. At the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires, 19 countries, without the United States, reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement while a pouting Trump loomed over the proceedings.

Wells Griffith, Trump’s White House Advisor on Energy and Climate, represented the U.S. “officially” at the Climate talks that began two days later in Katowice, Poland, where envoys from 200 countries gathered for a minimum of two-weeks to work on a plan to enable the world to cement and improve the Paris agreement which, before Trump, included the U. S. Mr. Griffith was able to attract 200 people for his pitch from the fossil fuel industry for “clean coal,” but ended up heckled by most of the audience. Again, America is the odd one out. Someone aptly compared the administration’s position to promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.

Officialdom aside, present and integrally involved with the best minds in the world was Governor Jerry Brown’s climate coalition, made up of 200 countries, cities, and towns, who listen to the objective voice of science. Dozens of American businesses, like Walmart and Microsoft, were on site representing the real America and helping to form the rules and guidelines so they could better understand how they should move forward. Mars Candy Company has pledged a billion dollars demonstrating the company’s determination to be a responsible player because they and other candy companies contribute greatly to climate change because of their need for sugar, the production of which results in massive deforestation. These companies are pushing for a rulebook, so to speak, because it’s important for them to have support for ambitious climate goals from policymakers. Whether or not they get that in as strong a language as they want, many, like Mars, are pushing ahead with their own climate-savvy rulebook. The message, though, is that the consequences of global failure will be dire.

It’s beyond sad, beyond humiliation, that the Trump administration, as we increasingly feel the full force of climate change, rejects objectivity and pushes priorities out of step with both national and global majority opinion. We’ll have opportunity soon with a very different House of Representatives where facts, and the urgency, and our voices, will matter.

Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.

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