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6 Compelling Reasons Climate Change Might Be a National Emergency

Weather and climate disasters (Credit: NOAA/NCEI) Click to Enlarge.

There is talk of a national emergency declaration.  The National Emergencies of 1976 spells out the broad powers and limitations of such an executive declaration.

If a precedent is being set for national emergencies, there is a compelling argument for a future leader to consider climate change.  Here are six reasons why.

National security.  Numerous reports by military entities note the immediate threats of climate change to national security.  The American Security Project website compiles a good list of recent reports and articles on this topic.  A 2019 Defense Department report stated:

The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations.

Public Health.  An array of public health concerns can be linked to climate change: increased heat related illness, vector-borne diseases in places they have traditionally not thrived, water-borne disease in flood waters, cardiovascular stress, injuries from extreme weather events, respiratory problems, and so forth.

The Centers for Disease Control website says:

Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways.  Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge.  Not everyone is equally at risk.  Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location.

Sea Level Rise.  According to NOAA, nearly 40% of the U.S. population lived in counties bordering shorelines in 2010.  By 2020 that number could be closer to 50%.  A NOAA Ocean Services website is clear:

Scientists have determined that global sea level has been steadily rising since 1900 at a rate of at least 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year.  Sea level can rise by two different mechanisms with respect to climate change.  First, as the oceans warm due to an increasing global temperature, seawater expands—taking up more space in the ocean basin and causing a rise in water level.  The second mechanism is the melting of ice over land, which then adds water to the ocean.

Food supply and agricultural productivity.  Scientific studies suggest that agricultural productivity is extremely vulnerable to climate change.  The executive summary of a 2013 U.S.Department of Agriculture report led with the following statement:

Increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity.  Increases in temperature coupled with more variable precipitation will reduce productivity of crops, and these effects will outweigh the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide.  Effects will vary among annual and perennial crops, and regions of the United States; however, all production systems will be affected to some degree by climate change.

Infrastructure.  This is an area where there is likely potential room for bipartisan collaboration in the political world.  Everyone recognizes the importance of roads, bridges, electrical grids, railways, and buildings.  However, the 2014 National Climate Assessment offered a dire warning:

Sea level rise, storm surge, and heavy downpours, in combination with the pattern of continued development in coastal areas, are increasing damage to U.S. infrastructure including roads, buildings, and industrial facilities, and are also increasing risks to ports and coastal military installations.  Flooding along rivers, lakes, and in cities following heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snowpack is exceeding the limits of flood protection infrastructure designed for historical conditions.  Extreme heat is damaging transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, and airport runways.

 Changes in the Colorado River (1994 to 2014) (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.

Water.  We can’t survive without water.  Period.  It is that simple.  This is arguably the greatest threat of all.  Much of the world is already water-stressed and in recent decades, this problem has not been restricted to the developing world.  Parts of the southern and western United States are struggling with water issues.  The EPA website suggests that:

In many areas, climate change is likely to increase water demand while shrinking water supplies.  This shifting balance would challenge water managers to simultaneously meet the needs of growing communities, sensitive ecosystems, farmers, ranchers, energy producers, and manufacturers.  In some areas, water shortages will be less of a problem than increases in runoff, flooding, or sea level rise.  These effects can reduce the quality of water and can damage the infrastructure that we use to transport and deliver water.

Read more at 6 Compelling Reasons Climate Change Might Be a National Emergency