News The White House sneak-releases report on the looming horrors of climate change

The White House sneak-releases report on the looming horrors of climate change

global warming
The sun pours its bountiful energy onto our ailing planet, but Australian coal keeps on burning. Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump has taken a leaf out of Scott Morrison’s sneak playbook – releasing a devastating report on climate change while the country was distracted by the busiest shopping day of the year.

In September, the Morrison government was accused of trying to sneak-release the latest depressing greenhouse gas emission figures by making them public on the eve of the footy finals.

The White House similarly chose Black Friday – the somewhat frenzied opening of the US Christmas shopping season, and part of the extended Thanksgiving  holiday weekend – to release the latest National Climate Assessment, a mandated document that must be published every four years by law.

Hundreds of thousands of lives to be lost every year

The report concludes that hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost if climate change isn’t met with direct action. As the crisis wears on, those losses will occur year after year.

Aedes aegypti mosquito
Climate change in the US is changing the range of disease-carrying insects. Photo: AAP

The report – which has been immediately acclaimed as a “huge achievement” by American science – rings a loud bell from its opening sentences.

“Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilisation, primarily as a result of human activities. The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”

Due for release in December, the report is endorsed by the Department of Defense, and 12 federal scientific agencies including NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that sits within the United States Department of Commerce.

The report is presumably an embarrassment for President Donald Trump as it contradicts every position he has taken on the phenomenon.

Trump still calls climate change a Chinese hoax

He either shrugs off climate change as a Chinese hoax, whines that fighting climate change will wreck the US economy – or makes declarations on Twitter that are meant to mock climate science.

He does this confusing weather (the immediate atmospheric conditions) with climate (the long-term trend).

On Wednesday, as cold weather descended on the US, he smugly tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

One of Mr Trump’s thought bubbles includes the idea that the climate will “probably change back”.

This, too, is in stark contrast to the report’s conclusion that the effects of climate change will reverberate for thousands of years, and that much of the planet’s animal and plant life will never recover.

A biblical plague

The summary report at times reads like a forensic analysis of a biblical plague. Here is some of what it says about the existing and emerging risks to personal health.

“Changes in temperature and precipitation are increasing air quality and health risks from wildfire and ground-level ozone pollution. Rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events are expected to increase exposure to waterborne and food borne diseases, affecting food and water safety…

More fires to come with climate change – such as those that devastated the Californian town of Paradise. Photo: Getty

“The frequency and severity of allergic illnesses, including asthma and hay fever, are expected to increase as a result of a changing climate. Climate change is also projected to alter the geographic range and distribution of disease-carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, and dengue, with varying impacts across regions.”

Brits to aim for zero emissions

Scary stuff. But as Time magazine noted: “Trump seems unlikely to be persuaded by the evidence, and his repeated misrepresentations and denial of the science of climate change thrust the document into a political fight even before it was published.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, 50 Conservative MPs have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to adopt the target of cutting carbon emissions to net zero before 2050, to show international leadership on climate change and protect British jobs.

In Australia, the Coalition has abandoned an emissions-reduction target, purportedly in order to protect our way of life. And Labor leader Bill Shorten is mocked in some quarters by campaigning to cut our emissions in half.

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