A recently released EPA study shows that climate change threatens American lives and the U.S. economy.
Global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could prevent annually 13,000 deaths from bad air quality, 1,700 deaths from extreme heat and cold in 49 major U.S. cities, a loss of 360 million labor hours and between $507-$700 million from poor water quality, according to the study. This is not shocking information, according to Dr. Robert Lawrence, director at the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
"I think it's a big step forward," Lawrence said. "It's not quite as forceful as I would like to see, but I think it's an important step forward."
Though climate change issues have not proved a major platform for candidates seeking the 2016 presidency, Lawrence said he hopes they will become a focal point as the race heats up. Gallup and Pew data show the matter is not at the forefront of most Americans' minds, but the new study could be a step toward changing that, as it focuses on tangible threats to day-to-day American life.
One such issue is food production, which the Center for a Livable Future focuses on. Previous research indicated there might be trade-offs as climate change progresses, allowing producers to salvage the situation. This latest EPA study contradicts that finding.
"Whatever gain we might have of longer growing seasons in, say, Canadian and Syberian land mass area will not compensate for the major increase in property loss in areas closer to the equator," Lawrence explained.The study also comes at an crucial stage in American perception of the issue, said Dr. Brian Schwartz, co-director at the Program on Global Sustainability and Health at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"We are at an interesting crossroads for climate policy in the U.S.," Schwartz said. "On the one hand, Americans are increasingly worried about and paying attention to climate issues. Polling data demonstrate this concern. Americans are noticing the strange and extreme weather patterns, long and severe droughts, and reports that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising repeatedly to higher and higher unprecedented levels, now over 400 ppm as a worldwide average. On the other hand, the U.S. Republican Party continues to be the only major political party in the industrialized world that questions the amazingly extensive body of climate science and argues against both the existence of climate change and the need to do anything about it."
That skepticism is likely to keep U.S. policy on climate change ineffective for the next few years, Schwartz added.
The study also comes out as the United Nations approaches a December conference in Paris on climate change. But the conference is ambitious.
"The aim is to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies," the conference website reads.
However, this may prove too ambitious.
"Such an agreement would require ratification by the U.S. Senate," Schwartz said. "This seems like an unlikely proposition."
But the further climate change progresses, the more it becomes a moral issue, Schwartz argued. As dramatic changes sweep the Earth, those most affected will be poor communities -- in the U.S. and elsewhere. Those wealthy enough to affect -- or block -- climate policy will be those least affected by the changes.
And as policymakers continue to waffle on the matter, America -- and the planet -- continues to get closer and closer to running out of time.
"If we can't pass the policies and regulations that are going to prepare future generations of Americans, literally and figuratively, we are toast," Lawrence said.