The Trump administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment on Friday November 23, which concluded: “Time is running out” to correct a coming climate catastrophe. Make no mistake about it: The only reason they released it at all is because publication was mandated by law.
The conclusions in Climate Assessment #4 are, to say the least, frightening. In the absence of global mitigation, the U.S. will experience regular extreme fires like the Thomas and Camp fires; more storms, hurricanes, and flooding; sea-level rise; decline in freshwater resources (due to drought); destruction of food production; disruption of energy and transposition systems; fuel shortages; public-health threats (related to air-quality and insect-spread diseases); disruption of international trade and increased threats to national security; and ecosystem decline. Economically, by the end of the century, unchecked climate change is predicted to cost the U.S.$500 billion per year annually.
President Trump’s response to his administration’s report was, “I don’t believe it.” He also insisted on a G20 statement reiterating his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords, sent the administration’s energy and climate advisor to the follow-up climate forum in Poland to hold a side event to promote fossil fuels, announced his intent to end subsides for electric cars and renewables, and nominated a coal-industry lobbyist to head the EPA. (Yikes!)
November 23, of course, was “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving — a day when people (and the press) would predictably be distracted with holiday thoughts and bargain shopping. And, given the string of outrageous Trump-inspired stories since then (tear-gassing migrants, including children, at the southern border; Paul Manafort breaking his cooperation agreement with the Muller investigation; Michael Cohen confessing to lying to Congress about the president engaging with Russia during the 2016 campaign over a business deal; the president’s denial regarding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi; and more) reporting on the Climate Assessment passed out of the news cycle like a vanishing burst of wind. This is incredibly dangerous.
The Climate Assessment was authored by 13 federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and NASA, with so many prominent climate scientists contributing (300) that it would take the entire column to list them all. So, what we have here is a President of the United States denying science to the peril of not just 327,753,850 Americans, but the entire world. As frightening as this is, the climate discussion to date has ignored the elephant in the room — population.
Population growth has been taboo in relation to discussions of global climate change. At present the world’s population is estimated to be 7.669 billion. According to UN predictions, it could, at its present pace, reach 9.7 billion by 2050, and more than 11 billion people by 2100. While there is no consensus regarding Earth’s actual carrying capacity, some scientists believe we are already consuming the Earth’s renewable resources at one and a half times the sustainable rate, even with billions of people consuming virtually nothing. On the other hand, there is scientific unanimity that 11 billion people consuming and emitting greenhouse gases consistent with American and European lifestyles is not sustainable. At the rate we are going, Earth’s temperature will far exceed the tipping point of an additional 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century, causing our ecosystems to collapse. This literally would be an existential threat to life on Planet Earth as we know it.
If we were honest about it, we would need to admit that the 200 countries focused on climate change are moving far too slowly. America (which ranks second behind China in greenhouse-gas emissions) should be leading the charge to reverse climate change globally. We must find the courage to admit that population growth is an integral part of the climate change discussion. And recall that Mother Nature, whose superhuman powers we must surely respect and fear by now, warned us in a 1977 commercial, “It’s not nice to fool [with] Mother Nature.”