New White House report highlights sectors, regions of U.S. bracing for impact over the next few decades

By Adam Freedgood

At Third Partners we believe that responsible and enlightened business — not politics or technology — is the strongest way to guard against the scariest of the climate change scenarios that will play out in our lifetime.

Our political system was shaped to protect the best interests of the majority, yet today it fails to generate the will to combat the biggest, costliest threat ever to impact people in the U.S. and around the world. Technology can help us adapt to our changing climate at a local level but it cannot reverse planetary-scale effects such as ocean acidification and glacial melt. These are now locked-in after a century of fossil fuel based business.

The White House just released updated predictions on the effects of climate change which give renewed urgency to the role that business must play. Climate change threatens all facets of life in the U.S. — from agriculture to coastal living and recreation. The interactive report presents best case data showing sea level rise between one and four feet by the end of this century.

The data indicates that the effects of climate change are reshaping economies and cities all over America. Wildfires, flooding, drought — there is an impact affecting nearly every region and every facet of our economy. The most ominous takeaway from the report is what we should expect over the next few decades.

The message from the White House is: if you think the past few years have been bad, you have not seen anything yet.

The U.S. has warmed 1.3 to 1.9 degrees (F) since 1895 and sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1880. However, most of that rise has occurred in just the past few decades. We are now on pace to warm another 2 to 4 degrees over the next few decades. Predictions by the end of the century call for 3 to 10 degrees and 1 to 4 feet of sea level rise.

If we achieve rapid reductions in GHG emissions, the U.S. has already “locked in“ temperature increases more than two times greater than we have seen since record keeping began in the late 1800s.

The more ominous and likely direction we are heading is a scenario with continued emissions increases, resulting in extreme temperature change across the entire country. The consequences on U.S. business and society will be extreme but these charts alone fail to show the big picture. The effects that will be felt throughout the global economy and planetary ecosystem must not be understated.

Chart Source

On the low end of that huge range we will experience more crazy climate events, more consecutive days without rain across the U.S., more heavy rain in the northeast, more wildfires and higher average temperatures in places that are already hot and dry. On the high end of the range, 5 to 10 degrees, areas of our country that are stressed today will become disaster zones. Catastrophic water shortages, food insecurity, unprecedented fires, devastating flooding along our coastlines and in floodplains will occur with regular frequency.

This level of change is uninsurable. The White House report reminds us, in vivid interactive form, of the urgency and rationale behind what we do.

At Third Partners our mission is to help one organization at a time make the critical shift to conducting business in ways that, when propagated across the entire economy, result in a climate that stays on the manageable end of the climate change spectrum. This is a model of sustainability that is not only possible given current technology but also profitable when implemented without delay.