How divided are we on climate change? The past week provided an answer.
On Tuesday evening, President Trump spoke for more than 80 minutes in his State of the Union address. He didn’t say a word about the subject. Why would he? He wants to pull the country out of the Paris climate agreement. He tweeted during the recent visit of the polar vortex: “What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!” (Yes, he typed “Waming.”)
That tweet echoed his disdain for the National Climate Assessment, the most recent volume released in November, describing the country as increasingly vulnerable to the mounting effects of climate change.
Then, on Thursday, a contingent of Democrats unveiled the outline of a wildly ambitious “Green New Deal.” Among the many ideas is building out high-speed rail “at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” New York to LA? Akron to Miami? At least, the outline points to the immense challenge. Recall the U.N. panel on climate change warning last fall that to meet current goals for limiting warming requires global action for which “there is no documented historic precedent.”
What would be helpful now are modest steps to bridge the divide, setting a foundation for action and reasserting American leadership.
Some folks at the Brookings Institution have been thinking along these lines, aided by the Climate Impact Lab. The lab is a collaboration of scientists, economists and other researchers who have modeled and mapped the projected fallout from a steadily warming planet through the end of the century. Check out their work at impactlab.org.
Those at the lab see a widespread impact from climate change, affecting all regions of the country. At the same time, the distribution is uneven. The analysis looks at agricultural yields, mortality rates, coastal damage and the supply of high-risk labor (mostly those who work outside). Which areas face the most harm? The Southwest, Southeast and Florida, with the fallout moving north into central and coastal portions, west and east of the Mississippi River.
The analysis measures the cost as a share of metro income. For instance, in the final two decades of this century, the Lakeland and Winter Haven, Fla., area is looking at climate-related costs of 17.5 percent of income. None is hit harder. The Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Fla., area faces a similarly steep 16.8 percent. Among the top 15 for climate-related costs are Miami, Orlando, Tucson, Phoenix, San Antonio and Memphis.
Some metro areas see a net gain, due, for instance, to lower mortality rates and reduced energy costs. They include Seattle, Portland, Ore., Colorado Springs and Buffalo.
Ohio communities mostly face net losses, including the Akron area with climate-related costs at 0.45 percent of median income, Cleveland at 1.5 percent, Columbus, 2.7 percent and Cincinnati, 3.1 percent. Worth adding is that the average temperature in the summer months here would climb from 72 degrees in 1981 to 2010 to 82 degrees toward the end of the century.
What the Brookings analysts highlight is that those areas on a path to the highest climate costs tend to elect candidates who oppose policies to mitigate climate change. Exhibit A is President Trump. Of the 16 states facing the most harm, 15 sided with Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The pattern held in the November congressional races, Republicans prevailing in red-state House districts with greater exposure to climate-driven costs.
Brookings sees an opportunity to get away from the abstract quality of the climate debate that makes it easy to put off what seemingly can wait for many tomorrows. Climate change is here, evident in such effects as heat waves, stronger storms, acidic oceans and expanding droughts, 18 of the 19 warmest years on record coming in this century. The scientific modeling has been accurate, past projections coming true, even understating the pace and harm.
Now that modeling warns about the precise cost to cities and regions, the detail providing a framework for consensus around the simple concept: Act or else.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.