It’s Time to Stop Arguing About Reports and Get to Work on Solutions
By Helen Taylor, state director for The Nature Conservancy's Michigan Chapter.
If you think that humans always make rational decisions when presented with facts, think about this: billions have been spent over the last 20 years to educate the American public about the dangers of smoking and roughly 38 million Americans still smoke regularly. Even when given factual information, people will still make a choice that will harm their health and maybe even kill them.
So maybe it is not surprising that some people persist in ignoring the facts about climate change, including a recent Congressionally mandated study that marshals information from 15 different federal agencies and the expertise of more than 300 experts from every sector of society. Its sobering conclusion: climate change is already having significant, costly impacts on American life.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment shows we’re already paying a high price for our failure to act -- high tide flooding in coastal communities has increased by a factor of five to 10 since the 1960s, heat stress has already reduced U.S. dairy production by over a billion dollars, and the wildfire season has extended by more than two months over the past two decades, and grown much deadlier.
Here in Michigan, we are seeing real and costly consequences, even though the impacts may not be quite as dramatic yet as in other parts of the country. This spring, we saw intense rainfall events around the state, with damages such as ruined roads and crops in Saginaw and Bay Counties. And, later in the summer, we witnessed an increase in severe storms, which washed out roads in the Keweenaw Peninsula that will take several years to repair. In Detroit, flooding from storms is increasing, damaging private property and sending more runoff into the rivers and lakes near the city.
Ignoring the need for climate action presents very real risks to our economy and communities. Left unchecked, the climate change caused by increased carbon dioxide and other pollution will have even more dramatic impacts. More parts of the country will see more days over 100° F, resulting in increases of heat stroke and lost productivity. The amount of land burned in deadly wildfires is predicted to increase six-fold in the future. The cost of adapting to sea level rise could be more than $3 trillion by 2030. (As a point of reference, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2017 was just over $19 trillion, according to the World Bank.)
The implications for human health are also grim. More than 100 million people in the U.S. already live in communities with compromised air quality, and global warming will make things worse. Hotter days mean increased ground-level ozone level and stagnating weather patterns, and in some locations, the escalation of wildfires will increase the concentration of particulate matter and other airborne pollutants. This will result in marked increases in asthma and other respiratory illnesses, with children and the elderly being particularly vulnerable.
What’s so mystifying about the climate “do nothing” attitude is that the actions we’re not choosing to take today could, if implemented, create the future Americans time and again say they want. The renewable energy and energy efficiency sector, which is growing jobs all over our country offers cleaner options to power our economy. Better land management practices increase productivity and reduce carbon dioxide pollution. Using natural infrastructure in our cities, such as green stormwater infrastructure, can make places more resilient to climate impacts and offer natural spaces for the community to enjoy.
The best information we have tells us that doing nothing about climate change is not a viable option. A person who chooses to smoke despite the risk gambles mostly with their own life, but those who would ignore climate change and its impacts are risking the future of the entire country, indeed the planet. They are gambling with your future and mine, and most importantly the future of our children. It’s time to reject the “do nothing" attitude and act now on climate.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.