Skip to Content

A new study details risks from a rapidly changing environment, including increased natural disasters.

A new study, published this week in the journal Science by a University of Virginia environmental scientist and colleagues at other academic organizations, has found that evidence supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2009 “endangerment finding” for greenhouse gases is even stronger and more conclusive in the changing climate of today.

The finding could strengthen challenges to proposed rollbacks of emissions standards and carbon emissions regulations in the United States. 

In the landmark 2009 endangerment finding, the EPA determined that excessive amounts of six so-called greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, endanger public health and welfare. This finding created a legal obligation for the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The new Science paper comes three months after a senior Republican senator said that the Trump administration may seek to repeal the landmark decision.

“The scientific case is clear and compelling: greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and ocean acidification, with a host of negative consequences for people, communities, the economy and the environment,” said study co-author Scott Doney, Joe D. & Helen J. Kington Professor of Environmental Sciences at UVA and a member of the UVA Environmental Resilience Institute.

“Climate change is a problem facing us today, not just an issue for the future,” said study co-author Scott Doney, a UVA environmental scientist.

The Science paper includes 16 authors from 15 different organizations. It assesses how the scientific evidence has changed in the nine years since the original finding was issued, with a specific focus on climate change impacts for public health, air quality, agriculture, forestry, water resources, sea-level rise, energy, infrastructure, wildlife, ocean acidification, social instability and the economy.

The new paper examines each topic covered by the endangerment finding and characterizes changes since 2009 in terms of evidence of links to anthropogenic climate change, severity of observed and projected impacts, and new risks.

“When the endangerment finding was issued, the evidence supporting it was extremely compelling,” said Woods Hole Research Center President Philip Duffy, lead author on the paper. “Now, that evidence is even stronger and more comprehensive. There’s no scientific basis for questioning the endangerment finding.”

The study expands the range of negative impacts from climate change beyond those listed in 2009 to include increased dangers from ocean acidification, negative effects on national security and economic well-being, and even threats from violence in the wake of increasing natural disasters.

“For each of the areas addressed in the [endangerment finding], the amount, diversity and sophistication of the evidence has increased dramatically, clearly strengthening the case for endangerment,” the researchers state in their paper.

“Climate change is a problem facing us today, not just an issue for the future,” Doney said. “Climate warming caused by elevated greenhouse gases is exacerbating droughts and wildfires in the western U.S., coastal communities are experiencing more frequent flooding due to sea-level rise, and storms bring more intense rainfall because of a warmer ocean and stronger water cycle.”