Contrary to popular thinking, the United States government is not in complete denial on the subject of climate change. Case in point: In July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA — an agency attached to the U.S. Department of Transportation) released a 500-page environmental impact statement on a new proposal to roll back Obama-era rules and standards improving fuel economy for cars, SUVs, and light trucks and lowering harmful emissions — so-called CAFE standards — in favor of the current administration’s SAFE (Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency) Vehicle Rule. The new proposal freezes any new efforts imposed on automakers to improve fuel economy and polluting emissions after 2020. (The current CAFE standards prod companies to make improvements until 2026.) In its statement, NHTSA accepts the current scientific consensus on climate change, devoting an entire chapter on the effects greenhouse gases have on the planet’s climate system, including (beginning on page S-21):
- Impacts on freshwater resources[…]
- Impacts on terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems[…] increases in the occurrence of forest fires and pest infestations, and changes in habitat productivity due to increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
- Impacts on ocean systems, coastal regions, and low-lying areas[…]
- Impacts on food, fiber, and forestry[…]
- Impacts on rural and urban areas[…].
- Impacts on human health could include increases in mortality and morbidity due to excessive heat and other extreme weather events, increases in respiratory conditions due to poor air quality and aeroallergens, increases in water and food-borne diseases, increases in mental health issues, and changes in the seasonal patterns and range of vector-borne diseases. The most disadvantaged groups such as children, the elderly, the sick, and low-income populations are especially vulnerable.
- Impacts on human security could include increased threats in response to adversely affected livelihoods, compromised cultures, increased or restricted migration, increased risk of armed conflicts, reduction in adequate essential services such as water and energy, and increased geopolitical rivalry.
All of these profound climatic changes are already occurring, putting human lives, economies, and ways of life at tremendous risk. This fact is indisputable (though some may still try). What is stunning, however, is NHTSA’s admission about the path humanity is currently taking regarding impacts from anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. Chris Mooney explains:
Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees by the end of this century.
A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.
But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
Let’s try and wrap our heads around this for a moment. The U.S. government readily accepts that climate change is real, is already damaging the health of Earth’s ecosystems and most impactful inhabitants, and is going to get worse (much worse by the end of the century, when your children should be enjoying their retirements and their grandchildren). But if you are looking for solutions from the current crop of leaders in government today, or even a glimmer of hope that smart, evidence-based policies might put the brakes on this “runaway train” we call the climate crisis, you are looking in the wrong place. The fact is, NHTSA’s proposed SAFE rule pretends there is nothing to see here. The increased CO2 emissions predicted in the new rule will not make the situation any better; in fact, it will make our predicament worse.
Look your children in the eyes and tell them the planet’s fate — their fate — is already sealed.
Tomorrow on The PediaBlog, we will look at another important way the SAFE rule, if adopted, will negatively impact the health of your children.