Dramatic US Government Report on Climate Change

by: Heather on 06/22/2009
Posted in: Climate Change

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, operating under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee, has released a landmark climate change report entitled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Weighing in at nearly 200 pages, this exhaustive document summarizes the science of climate change and its impacts on the United States, both now and in the future. This report does not pull any punches. It makes for some pretty frightening reading, with stark declarations about the impact of global warming and extreme weather on everything from water resources, transportation and energy to agriculture, ecosystems, society and human health. Just the sort of thing that makes you want to curl up with a nice cup of hemlock tea.

These are the report's key findings:

  1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
    Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. (p. 13)
  2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
    Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. (p. 27)
  3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
    Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (p. 41-106, 107-152)
  4. Climate change will stress water resources.
    Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies. Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation, and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage. (p. 41, 129, 135, 139)
  5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
    Agriculture is considered one of the sectors most adaptable to changes in climate. However, increased heat, pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production. (p. 71)
  6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
    Sea-level rise and storm surge place many U.S. coastal areas at increasing risk of erosion and flooding, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific Islands, and parts of Alaska. Energy and transportation infrastructure and other property in coastal areas are very likely to be adversely affected. (p. 111, 139, 145, 149)
  7. Threats to human health will increase.
    Health impacts of climate change are related to heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts. (p. 89)
  8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
    Climate change will combine with pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. (p. 99)
  9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
    There are a variety of thresholds in the climate system and ecosystems. These thresholds determine, for example, the presence of sea ice and permafrost, and the survival of species, from fish to insect pests, with implications for society. With further climate change, the crossing of additional thresholds is expected. (p. 76, 82, 115, 137, 142)
  10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.
    The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and adapting to the changes that are unavoidable. (p. 25, 29)

While this is depressing news by most standards, the fact that the White House is taking scientists seriously, and in fact officially launched the report is cause for some optimism in my opinion. Compare and contrast their current response with the news (from less than a year ago today) that the White House "refused to accept the E.P.A.'s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened". A New York Times story last June included a scathing condemnation of the Bush administration's failure to support the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act or other environmental laws - the same story stated that E.P.A. officials accused the White House of pressuring the agency to water down and eliminate large portions of their original recommendations, which argued for tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions.

I strongly encourage you to download the full report and read it for yourself. We'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on it and any other issues regarding the government's response to climate change in the comments section below.


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