democracy is a work in progress

Key Takeaways

  • CO2 levels spiked in the late 1800s and have continued to rise.
  • US emissions reduction targets are insufficient to achieve the 1.5°C temperature increase targeted by the Paris Agreement.
  • States and local communities have made good progress on emissions reduction, almost achieving the US target agreed upon in Paris – despite the lack of support from the federal government.
  • The insurance industry and other industries are taking steps to respond and adapt to the risks and opportunities of climate change.


Climate change is happening now, impacting us faster and sooner than scientists had predicted. It is already proving to be disruptive, causing damage to whole communities, destroying lives, and increasing migration as people are displaced by floods, fires, and deteriorating economies. The specific damages vary by region of the country, but recent reports indicate the costly impacts of climate change no longer only predict the future. Whether or not you believe in climate change, those predictions now also describe the present.

  • Climate change is an umbrella term that describes two main problems:
    • Global warming that has been accelerated by the increased emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide and methane, produced by industrialization.
    • The multiple impacts of global warming on climate, including but certainly not limited to an increase in extreme weather events that destroy communities and disrupt agriculture and commerce, rising sea levels and the resulting coastal flooding, warmer air temperatures that foster, among other things, the spread of infectious diseases, and changing ecosystems that produce mass migrations and extinctions of species.
  • Man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue largely unabated.
  • Earlier climate models were too conservative in estimating the effects of climate change. The economic impacts of climate change are already being felt. For example, since 1991, the cost of damages from severe weather in the US has tripled, averaging $75 billion per year for the last 10 years.
  • At a personal level, climate change poses a threat to public health, the availability of water for drinking and farming, the food we can buy in the grocery store, the marine species and wild game that we fish and hunt, the safety and insurability of our homes, the stability of our communities, and more.
  • Nationally, climate change is a threat to national security as economies are disrupted and water and food scarcity within and beyond our borders create tensions and the potential for violence and increased migrations of people.
  • State and local governments are taking on the climate challenge, as is the marketplace, with several industries taking steps to protect their interests and others striving to seize the market opportunities being created by climate change.
    • A coordinated federal response can greatly enhance our ability to limit and adjust to the impacts of global climate change. Such a response can more effectively position the United States to
    • Conduct research and development of emissions reduction policies and carbon sequestration technologies that can limit the magnitude of future climate change by reducing the pace and extent of global warming and limit the loss of lives and the financial costs of its impacts.
    • Develop and commercialize alternative energies and adaptive technologies that will help replace jobs lost in traditional energy fields and improve the nation’s leadership in key industries relative to China and other nations.

Related Problems: National Debt, Infrastructure, Immigration

Contributors: George Linzer

Reviewed by Lisa Palmer

Published: November 5, 2019

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