This past Friday, the UT Science Forum hosted Professor Edmund Perfect, who delivered a presentation on the Fourth National Climate Assessment entitled “The Impacts of Climate Change: Exploring the Latest Assessment Report.”
Perfect, a prolific researcher, scientist and professor in the UT Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, taught an undergraduate seminar course analyzing the assessment during the 2019 spring semester.
In the presentation, he sought to inform the audience on the risks and impacts of climate change in the United States in general, with specific emphasis on the southeastern region of the country.
He began the presentation by noting the credibility of the report and the level of expertise that was involved in creating it.
“Approximately 1,000 people, of which 300 were leading scientists from both government and academia worked on this report with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric being the leading agency working in coordination with many other agencies,” Perfect said.
While delving into the report, Perfect first addressed how the assessment has arrived at its current conclusions about the impacts of climate change.
He explained that the scientific community has settled on four Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), or greenhouse gas concentration trajectories. These trajectories are dependent on how much greenhouse gas emission humans release or are predicted to release into the atmosphere by the end of the 21st century. The RCPs are helpful in that they allow us to model and predict changes in climates, sea levels and temperatures in the years to come.
As Perfect pointed out, we have already surpassed one model regarding greenhouse gas: the RCP2.6 trajectory, which predicted peak emissions by the year 2020 followed by decreased emissions. Due to humans failing to adopt the environmental policies and practices necessary to combat increasing emissions of greenhouse gasses, this trajectory is no longer viable.
The three other trajectories are RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5. RCP4.5 is currently the next best trajectory, and it gives us 20 years to tackle climate change and bring greenhouse emissions under control.
The RCP6.0 trajectory likewise shows a significant rise in greenhouse gas concentrations, which in turn means increased climate pattern variations, accelerated global warming and rising sea levels, but with bold action, it may still be attainable for humans to reverse and contain some of the effects of climate change and the associated global warming.
It is RCP8.5 that is most concerning, though.
Under this trajectory, regions around the U.S. will experience a temperature increase between 7 and 9° Fahrenheit, with the average region experiencing 8° F increase in temperature. That combined with rising sea levels, significant variations in weather patterns and increased intensity of weather phenomenon will strongly impact the lives of millions around the country.
For the Southeastern part of the US specifically, an RCP8.5 trajectory points to an average temperature increase of about 8° F.
Additionally, due to the accelerated melting of glaciers in the Arctic, sea level is expected to increase between 4.9 and 8.2 feet. Many of the coastline and gulf communities in the Southeastern will experience frequent flooding, and in some instances, a number of cities will experience daily flooding.
Perfect points out that the effects of climate change are not limited to physical changes in our environment, though.
Economically speaking, the effect that global warming can have on crop yields and other agricultural businesses can be detrimental to the livelihood of rural communities. Additionally, as the intensity of storms and other natural weather phenomenon increase, the cost of recovery is also something that communities have to consider and bear.
Perfect emphasized the fact that it is not too late for us to avoid these dire consequences, but at the same time, he highlights that drastic action must be taken to address the causes of climate change, namely combatting greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, he pointed out the importance of educating people about the effects of climate change.
When asked about how to approach individuals that are climate change skeptics or individuals that deny the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change, Perfect explained that it comes down to trying to educate them about the effects of climate change using the statistics and science that we have.
“Well, I think education is the answer. That’s why I wanted to do the seminar. The more that people realize the effects [of climate change], it provides the grounds for political change and redirection of resources towards alternatives,” Perfect said.
Amanda Womac, the president of the UT Science Forum, also reflected on the importance of education in tackling climate change as well as the importance of discussing and debating climate change and other important topics.
“UT is home to numerous faculty engaging in research to solve the world’s problems, including climate change,” Womac said. “As a leader of research and education in our state, we have an opportunity and duty to engage in discourse about what we can do to create a more sustainable future.”