I am in the business of finding better ways to prepare for the catastrophic, largely irreversible risks posed by climate change. The risks are so bad that most of us avoid talking about them at the dinner table. They include ocean acidification, “rain bombs” that cause massive flooding, wildfires that burn up our forests and scorch the dirt that sustains them, droughts that reduce our water supplies, heat waves that ramp up “wet bulb temperature” to heights that can kill humans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases that we wish we had never heard of (Chikungunya) and that we thought would never infect us (Dengue).
These were the emerging threats I was working on before President Trump pulled the plug on the Paris Agreement. My work just increased—big time—because without the Paris Agreement, we are moving ever closer toward climate hell.
Climate change is obviously a global problem, but as the second-largest carbon emitter in the world, the U.S. is a disproportionate contributor to it. The international commitments made in Paris gave us at least a fighting chance of keeping the globe under the line experts agree is too dangerous to cross: a 2-degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels. With Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the US has not only bowed out as captain but also dropped its baton in the biggest relay race of all time—the race to cut carbon emissions to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. In doing so, it has also signaled to the rest of rest of the world that they needn’t stay in the race either.
There is no such thing as American exceptionalism when it comes to climate change impacts, and by shredding the U.S. commitment to cut emissions, Trump has left all of the country in harm’s way. Climate change impacts will affect every speck of American soil and virtually every American and many of the consequences will be negative. For example, we will suffer increased respiratory issues and heat-related illnesses. More acres of land will burn; more algae will bloom in our lakes; heat will buckle more roads and train tracks and melt the asphalt; floods will enter more homes, schools, and hospitals; residents along our coasts and rivers will move inland and to higher ground just to escape the waters; and whole coastal communities will start slipping into the ocean. This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. It is happening already, right here in the United States. It just gets worse—a lot worse—the more carbon we send up into the atmosphere.