Global Warming Imperils U.S. Future If We Don't Stop 'Risky Business'

By Terrell Johnson
Published: June 24, 2014

If you don't like hot and humid weather, you're not going to like what the future feels like in much of the United States.

That's because in many parts of the country, the number of days that reach 95 degrees or higher each year will double or even triple as in Georgia, where the number of days over 95°F will jump from a few weeks today to as much as a third of the year by the end of the century.

What will that mean? Besides being unbearably hot for some people, it will change what crops can grow there as well as what people can and can't do outside (and when they can do it), which will have potentially massive impacts on industries like farming, transportation and construction.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Waves break in front of a destroyed amusement park wrecked by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 in Seaside Heights, N.J.

But that possible future isn't inevitable. Americans can take action now to prevent it from coming to pass, a bipartisan group of the nation's top business and political leaders said in a new report on the economic risks of climate change that lays out those risks in unsparing detail, region by region and state by state.

(MORE: It's Official: May 2014 Was World's Hottest on Record)

Called "Risky Business," the report is the work of some of the biggest names in American politics and business, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert E. Rubin, former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned philanthropist and environmentalist.

“With the oceans rising and the climate changing, the Risky Business report details the costs of inaction in ways that are easy-to-understand in dollars and cents -- and impossible to ignore," said Bloomberg in a press release announcing the report.

“Climate change is the existential issue of our age -- it is cumulative and irreversible, and its impacts are potentially catastrophic and pose enormous threats to our country’s economic and fiscal health,” added Rubin, who served as Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

The Risky Business co-chairs and contributors based their report on both the U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in May, and their own analysis of climate change in America by the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm that specializes in global trends for investors and companies, largely in the energy industry.

What they found is that the American economy is already starting to feel the first effects from human-caused global warming, due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

(MORE: Will 2014 Be the World's Warmest Year Ever?)

How? The most obvious example is sea level rise, which already today swallows up roughly a football-field-sized patch of the Louisiana delta every hour. And by mid-century, sea level rise -- along with heightened storm surges -- could put tens of billions of dollars' worth of coastal property underwater.

That's not just beach houses on stilts, the report authors add. Also lost will be critically important infrastructure now located on or near the coasts, like airports, oil and gas refineries, shipping ports, and the drinking water and sewer systems for entire cities (most notably Miami).

Because so much of the nation lives along the highly vulnerable coast -- in the Northeast, the report points out, 88 percent of the population lives in coastal counties and 68 percent of the region's economic output is generated there -- taking action on climate change today isn't a cause; it's an emergency.

Donna Shalala, the president of the University of Miami and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, said in a press release that the time for that action is now:

“Will we sit by and watch as many of our coastal cities face an ever-rising sea, and as severe heat strains our electric grids and hobbles our workers? Or will we act now to help reduce the risk that these impacts will spiral out of control in the future? It’s time for us all to step up.”

Read the full report at the Risky Business website.

 

MORE: Greenland's Rapidly Changing Landscape

Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting

Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting

Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Fjord are shown above during an Operation IceBridge survey flight in April 2013. Sea ice coverage in the fjord ranges from thicker, white ice seen in the background, to thinner ice and leads showing open ocean water in the foreground. (Photo by NASA/Michael Studinger)

  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Telltale Signs of Climate Change on Greenland
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting
  • Where the World's Second Largest Ice Sheet Is Melting

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