- Climate change is already happening, disrupting our lives faster and sooner than many had predicted.
- Many efforts are underway to slow down and halt the warming of the planet and adapt to the changes already happening, but they are generally too small in scale and scope to succeed on their own.
- Without more coordination and urgency from political and business leaders, climate change will generate even greater disruptions to human health and economic and social activity. Even with recent net zero commitments, the world will miss its targets to stop global warming and avert the worsening effects of climate change.
- Our best response to climate change is three-fold: 1) eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 and methane; 2) remove long-lasting CO2 from the atmosphere; and 3) establish community-level adaptation plans with support from all sectors of the economy and levels of government.
Climate change is happening now, impacting us faster and sooner than predicted. The increasingly frequent floods, wildfires, and extreme weather events are causing damage in a growing number of communities around the country that are just now realizing the meaning of climate change. The specific damage varies by region, but recent reports indicate the costly impacts of climate change are no longer only predictions of the future. Whether or not you believe in climate change, those predictions are now also descriptions of the present.
At a local and more individual level, climate change poses numerous threats to public health and to economic and community security. Warmer northern regions are becoming more hospitable to insects carrying infectious diseases; shortages of water for drinking and farming, already a problem in some areas of the country, are becoming an even greater and more frequent occurrence; droughts and floods are destroying or limiting the growth of some crops, threatening the financial health of farms and affecting what we are able to buy at the grocery store; and warming waters, wildfires, and changing landscapes are killing the marine species and wild game that we fish, hunt, and eat.
Nationally, climate change is a threat to national security as economies are disrupted, rising sea levels threaten military bases, and water and food scarcity within and beyond our borders create tensions over shared resources and the potential for violence and increased migrations of people.
Some state and local governments are taking on some of these climate challenges, as are some companies (where there is a problem for some, there is always an opportunity for others). For those who like to follow the money, Schroders, the global wealth management company, tracks climate change as “a defining theme” of the global economy. Some investors and consumers are putting their dollars to work in support of reducing emissions. Their impact has been surprisingly effective, although they are falling short of important emissions reduction targets. And the government’s National Flood Insurance Program has begun raising premiums in response to unprecedented losses resulting from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, and in anticipation of greater exposure to losses from increased heavy precipitation events and rising sea levels.
Still, the threats of a changing climate have not been acknowledged or accepted by political leaders in all states and localities nor by businesses in key industries like coal, oil, and gas. Without more committed leadership and significant action from business executives and elected officials at the state and federal levels, and in the international community, it is unlikely that the worst effects of climate change will be avoided.
Yet, urgent and coordinated action by the US can still serve as a model and exert positive influence both domestically and internationally.