© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Faces 'Immediate Threat' From Climate Change, Report Says


The United States is facing an immediate threat from climate change. That is according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date. It was released by the Trump administration on Friday. And it warns repeatedly that climate change could eventually kill thousands of Americans and cost the country's economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of this century.

Andrea Dutton is an associate professor of geology at the University of Florida and an expert on rising sea levels, and she joins me this morning. Professor, good morning.

ANDREA DUTTON: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So it's a pretty grim picture of America's future in this report. I mean, heat-related deaths, intensifying droughts - talk to me more about what you see our country looking like at the end of the century if climate change is left largely unchecked.

DUTTON: Well, to me, the real important message from this report is not just what the country will look like at the end of the century but what it already looks like today. So this report really helps us to connect the dots and draw a direct connection between the warming that we see in the atmosphere and the changes that we see in our lives, in our communities and in our livelihoods because climate change can be very abstract for a lot of people. Two degrees Celsius of warming doesn't really mean a lot.

GREENE: Doesn't sound like that much, yeah.

DUTTON: No, it doesn't sound like a lot. But if you think about it, the analogy I often use is if you have a child who has a fever and their temperature is a couple degrees higher, if it stayed that way permanently, then they'd be pretty sick, and you would be worried about it.

GREENE: Wow, that's quite a metaphor to use. So you're saying that a lot of what we're seeing - I mean, in terms of these fires and other natural disasters - I mean, that that's a sign that we are experiencing consequences right this moment.

DUTTON: Absolutely. So this report shows us that climate change has a profound effect on the health and the wealth of the American people, that Americans are already paying for climate change as it's making storms more damaging, heat waves more deadly, the wildfires more common, like we see in California...

GREENE: Right.

DUTTON: ...And diseases more widespread.

GREENE: So is it too late to do anything about it, if we're already seeing all this now?

DUTTON: Absolutely not. And so that's one challenge, is that people see this as a black-and-white issue. Either we, you know, completely solve the problem, or it's a complete doomsday. And that's not true at all. Basically, the message is that the sooner that we fix it, the better, and that we - faster that we reduce those emissions, the less we risk and the cheaper the adaptation will be.

GREENE: So President Trump has said that he's not willing to, quote, "sacrifice the economic well-being of the United States in order to fight climate change." I mean, does he have a point? Do environmental regulations that would confront climate change cost American industries in a significant way?

DUTTON: No, quite the counter to that. So there may be some cost upfront, but what this report really does to a much greater degree than previous reports is it includes a much broader and systematic quantification of how climate change impacts will affect us in terms of our economy.

So one obvious thing is that regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources or a favorable climate such as agriculture, tourism or fisheries - they would be the most vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change and could cost - the cost could reach hundreds of billions of dollars annually just in some sectors alone.

GREENE: Can I ask you - I mean, you might not have felt it so significantly in Florida, but there was some really cold weather across the country in recent days. I mean, I was in Michigan for Thanksgiving and felt it. And this led President Trump to tweet basically that there is this record-breaking cold. And he was suggesting, where is global warming? Should we be interpreting this cold weather in the way that the president seems to be?

DUTTON: Absolutely not. And so there is a difference between climate, which is looking at the long-term trend that we're experiencing, and day-to-day weather, which is what he's commenting on.

GREENE: And are you optimistic?

DUTTON: I am optimistic because I go - I talk to a lot of people about this issue. And when I look around, there's actually already a lot of action taking place. There's a lot happening at the local level and at the state level as well.

GREENE: Andrea Dutton is an associate professor of geology at the University of Florida talking to us about this big new climate change report. We appreciate your time this morning, professor.

DUTTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

More from Hawai‘i Public Radio