In a massive new report, federal scientists contradict President Trump and assert that climate change is an intensifying danger to the United States. Too bad it came out on a holiday.
On Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the federal government published a massive and dire new report on climate change. The report warns, repeatedly and directly, that climate change could soon imperil the American way of life, transforming every region of the country, imposing frustrating costs on the economy, and harming the health of virtually every citizen.
Most significantly, the National Climate Assessment—which is endorsed by nasa, noaa, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies—contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump. Where the president has insisted that fighting global warming will harm the economy, the report responds: Climate change, if left unchecked, could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and kill thousands of Americans to boot. Where the president has said that the climate will “probably” “change back,” the report replies: Many consequences of climate change will last for millennia, and some (such as the extinction of plant and animal species) will be permanent.
The report is a huge achievement for American science. It represents cumulative decades of work from more than 300 authors. Since 2015, scientists from across the U.S. government, state universities, and businesses have read thousands of studies, summarizing and collating them into this document. By law, a National Climate Assessment like this must be published every four years.
It may seem like a funny report to dump on the public on Black Friday, when most Americans care more about recovering from Thanksgiving dinner than they do about adapting to the grave conclusions of climate science. Indeed, who ordered the report to come out today?
It’s a good question with no obvious answer.
The report is blunt: Climate change is happening now, and humans are causing it. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares its first sentence. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”
At this point, such an idea might be common wisdom—but this does not make it any less shocking, or less correct. For centuries, humans have lived near the ocean, assuming that the sea will not often move from its fixed location. They have planted wheat at its time, and corn at its time, assuming that the harvest will not often falter. They have delighted in December snow, and looked forward to springtime blossoms, assuming that the seasons will not shift from their course.
Now, the sea is lifting above its shore, the harvest is faltering, and the seasons arrive and depart in disorder.
The report tells this story, laying simple fact on simple fact so as to build a terrible edifice. Since 1901, the United States has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves now arrive earlier in the year and abate later than they did in the 1960s. Mountain snowpack in the West has shrunk dramatically in the past half century. Sixteen of the warmest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000.
Read more: The Atlantic