Report Details Climate’s Effect on Key Sectors in Region’s Economy

Wildfire, warming waters and reduced snowpack to hit Montana with force

With wildfires raging in California and President Donald Trump doubting global warming’s legitimacy, a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains the consequences of climate change in dire terms — temperatures are steadily rising as the result of human activity.

Released the day after Thanksgiving by the Trump administration, as congressionally required, the Fourth National Climate Assessment presents a dire warning about the warming world’s potential to deliver devastating impacts to the economy, including key sectors in Montana’s outdoor economy like skiing and fishing.

In Montana and the northwestern United States, residents list the inherent qualities of the region’s natural environment among the top reasons to live in the region, a trend that is reflected in the economy.

The region is known for clean air, abundant water, low-cost hydroelectric power, vast forests, extensive farmlands, and an array of outdoor recreation that includes hiking, boating, fishing, hunting, and skiing. Warming and related changes in climate are already affecting aspects of the area’s identity such as its natural resource economy and its cultural heritage that is deeply embedded within the natural environment.

“The continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts,” the report states, adding that failing to respond to the problem could trim 10 percent off the U.S. gross domestic product by the end of the century, including $141 billion from fatalities related to heat. “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”

David Easterling, director of the Technical Support Unit at the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, said there was “no external interference in the report’s development” by the administration, despite Trump tweeting on Thanksgiving: “This is the coldest weather in the history of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, and one of the coldest Thanksgivings on record!”

The day prior, the President tweeted, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Easterling said the climate change the Earth is experiencing is unprecedented, and Trump’s tweets appear to muddle the differences between climate and individual weather events.

“The global average temperature is much higher and is rising more rapidly than anything modern civilization has experienced, and this warming trend can only be explained by human activities,” Easterling said.

In 2017 alone, disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and wildfires in the West led to more than 3,000 fatalities and caused $306 billion in cumulative costs — a new record.

This year could top it again.

Climate change also poses risks to seasonal and outdoor economies in communities across Montana and the United States, including impacts on economies centered around winter recreation and inland water-based recreation.

Projected increases in wildfire smoke events are expected to impair outdoor recreational activities and visibility in wilderness areas. Declines in snow and ice cover caused by warmer winter temperatures are expected to negatively impact the winter recreation industry in the Northwest, Northern Great Plains, and the Northeast. Some fish, birds, and mammals are expected to shift where they live as a result of climate change, with implications for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related activities.

“These and other climate-related impacts are expected to result in decreased tourism revenue in some places and, for some communities, loss of identity,” the report states. “Proactive management strategies, such as the use of projected stream temperatures to set priorities for fish conservation, can help reduce disruptions to tourist economies and recreation.”

Still, the report says warming waters will shift Montana’s fishing identity from a tradition of cold-water trout fishing to a future of fishing for warm-water species, shrinking the industry by up to $66 million annually by the end of the century.

Residents of the Northwest U.S. list its inherent qualities of the natural environment among the top reasons to live in the region.

Warming and related changes in climate are already affecting aspects of the Northwest’s identity such as its natural resource economy and its cultural heritage that is deeply embedded within the natural environment.

Andrew Light, who helped edit the report and formerly taught at the University of Montana, said the findings are distressing not only because it paints a dire picture, but also because it is so at odds with the Trump administration’s policies to deregulate fossil fuels and champion the energy industry.

More than three years in the making, the report includes the work of more than 300 scientists from more than a dozen federal agencies. Congress requires such a report from the presidential administration every four years.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.