The Slatest

U.S. Government Report Warns Climate Change Will Shrink Economy, Contradicting Trump

Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California on November 11, 2018.
Flames from the Camp fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California on November 11, 2018.

President Donald Trump may act like climate change is no big deal as he insists the way to boost the economy is to push deregulation. But his government clearly disagrees. A landmark report issued by 13 federal agencies and released Friday issued “the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States,” as the New York Times puts it. In the worst case scenario, climate change could cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars leading to a loss of more than 10 percent of GDP by the end of the century. It will also lead to more premature deaths, particularly in the Midwest, which is expected to experience the steepest increase in extreme temperature.

The 1,656 page report makes clear that there is little climate change won’t affect for the worse. And there is no doubt about who is mostly to blame. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” notes the report. Climate change will adversely affect the health and general well-being of Americans through extreme weather and changes in air quality. Plus, new diseases will spread and water will be less available. “Climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” the report says.

Extreme weather disasters, including hurricanes and wildfires, are also likely to become more common and last longer, according to the report. Damaging weather in the United States has already cost the country almost $400 billion since 2015. “There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Despite the dire warnings, the report also says things may not be so bad if action is taken and greenhouse gas emissions are slashed sharply. “Future risks from climate change depend primarily on decisions made today,” it said.

So far though, there are no signs the White House is eager to take the report seriously. In fact, the Trump administration seemed to try to make sure the report didn’t cause too much of a splash. It was scheduled to come out in December but ended up getting released in the middle of the Thanksgiving holiday. The White House unsurprisingly dismissed the report’s findings with a spokeswoman saying that it was “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that…there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.”

The move to release the report on Black Friday amounts to “a transparent attempt by the Trump Administration to bury this report and continue the campaign of not only denying but suppressing the best of climate science,” said one of the co-authors of the study. Yet even if it doesn’t receive as much attention as it would have in a non-holiday weekend, the report could still provide a reference point for those hoping to challenge administration policies. “This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations, and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.