The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released a scientific report today that confirms well-known points about climate change:
- Yes, the world is still warming.
- Yes, human activities are the dominant cause.
- Yes, climate change is amplifying some weather disasters and wildfires.
- Yes, we must cut pollution from fossil fuels to limit future warming.
So, if this report confirms what we already know, why does it matter?
For one thing, it reconfirms the alarming pace of climate change, underlining anew the critical need to curb carbon pollution—a stark message the Trump administration should take to heart instead of aggressively promoting fossil fuels.
For another, the report is a review by 50 leading experts of more than 1,500 scientific studies, many of which were published in the last few years. One of the critical tasks of bodies like the USGCRP is to ensure that our fundamental understanding of the basics has not changed in the light of new research. (Hint: It hasn’t. Even though the Trump administration regularly and wrongly claims that scientists aren’t sure what causes climate change.)
Another critical task of the USGCRP is to give decision makers and the public a careful assessment of advancements in scientific understanding and where gaps in knowledge remain. You probably won’t be surprised to know that most of the updates are bad news. For example, the USGCRP’s 2014 climate assessment found that the global sea level could rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100, but that as much as 6.6 feet was possible. The current report concludes that the global sea level is very likely to rise 1 to 4.3 feet by 2100, but as much as 8 feet is possible. Today’s report also finds with high confidence that many U.S. communities are seeing 5 to 10 times more tidal floods each year than in the 1960s. That’s not some ivory tower statistic in a dusty report. It’s real life for people in places like Miami; Norfolk, Virginia; and Nueces County, Texas.
Today’s final report is the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), a Congressionally-mandated product intended to help the United States deal with the impacts of climate change. The review draft of Volume II of the NCA4, which will be open for public comment, is also coming out today. Once the NCA4 is final, it will head to the desks of Congress and President Trump. It might even be reviewed by the President’s science adviser … if he ever appoints one.
It’s essential that our federal leaders in Congress and the Executive Branch take seriously the dire conclusions from the painstaking and authoritative work in the NCA4—and more importantly, to urgently act on the findings. We have the solutions: cleaning up power plants and vehicles, expanding clean energy, and improving energy efficiency in buildings and homes. We just need the will to get the job done, before it’s too late.