In a recent report, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the world’s top scientists, broke down the tangible impacts of climate change now, and what it could look like in the future if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. To say the least, the world’s top scientists are concerned.
Contrast this concern with that of the general public’s as shared in a recent Gallup poll. The poll asked Americans about their top worries, and found that while more than three out of four Americans (77-88 percent) said they worry a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about the economy, the federal deficit, and healthcare availability, climate change was near the bottom with 49 percent reporting similar levels of worry.
This isn’t so surprising considering research shows people tend to worry about things that feel closer to home, are imminent, and easy to understand, such as the economy and healthcare. But before jumping to the conclusion that Americans don’t care about climate change and its impacts, as some news stories suggest, we should consider that the real problem is setting up a false dichotomy by asking about climate change independently when in reality it impacts all of these priorities.
Climate change may not immediately come to mind when people consider the economy, debt, and healthcare- but it should, and it is already hitting close to home.
The economy is at the top of Americans’ minds
What many people may not realize, however, is that extreme weather such as Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 Midwest drought, Typhoon Haiyan, and the current California drought are estimated to cost $65 billion, $35 billion, $14 billion, and $5 billion (so far), respectively. These are not insignificant economic impacts. The recent IPCC report projects that similar extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent and/or more intense, which will increasingly burden our economy.
Federal spending and debt are close behind
Climate change is inextricably linked to federal spending and debt, as government programs simply cannot handle the costs they have incurred from recent extreme weather events, events that are expected to increase in frequency and/or intensity. As a result of storms including Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, the National Flood Insurance Program is estimated to be $24 billion in debt, and the federal budget to fight wildfires has had to borrow $1 billion from other programs in the last two years (including from wildfire prevention efforts) because of intensifying wildfires. Changes to the climate are contributing to debts that are now shouldered on the backs of taxpayers.
Caring about health care is caring about climate change
There is also no doubt that climate change is and will continue to hurt human health. As numerous medical associations have recognized, climate change may bring worsened air quality and asthma rates, increased transmission of infectious diseases from insects, and more heat related illness. These health impacts can affect our daily lives, productivity, and our pocketbooks.
The issues we care about are fundamentally interconnected. The economy and our health are already being affected by how we treat the planet, and the recent IPCC report shows that by taking action, including the ambitious Climate Action Plan, we can avoid the worst impacts on our climate and way of life.