America is already feeling the impacts of climate change across every region, and the rising temperature will increasingly impact human health, water supplies, coastal communities and agriculture, according to a 10-year report released today by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.
"This report provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now, and it's happening in our own backyards, and it affects the kind of things people care about," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters.
The report, compiled by scientists from the NOAA and other federal agencies, clearly states from its opening paragraph that the climate is changing due to human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels.
The observations are not opinions, "they are facts to be dealt with," said author Jerry Melillo, a biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.
Melillo and his co-authors compiled the data from dozens of studies conducted by the CCSP, NOAA, IPCC and other agencies. They focused on how climate change is already influencing lives in America and what those people are likely to experience in the next century if the world continues pumping out greenhouse gases as usual.
Figuring out how to stop the problem and deal with the mess, the report leaves to Congress.
After eight years of federal officials brushing aside the facts of climate change, the report puts the United States on record acknowledging the science. The study arrives just as the House is debating major action in the form of the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill, and just as the fossil fuels' industry and its congressmen are attempting to derail the bill with arguments that there is no proof.
Here's a snapshot from the report of what we're already seeing and what we can expect to experience as the climate changes. It promises uncomfortable conditions and worsening resource conflicts ahead for many regions of the country if nothing is done:
Going to Extremes
The average U.S. temperature is already rising, and it will only get worse. From the 1960s to 2000, most areas of the United States warmed 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and they could see an additional 11 degrees by the end of the century if no efforts are taken at mitigation.
Rainfall has increased in the Northeast and Midwest and decreased in the Southwest, with droughts becoming more severe, a trend the authors expect to continue.
Storms have become more intense, as well, with the amount of rain in the heaviest downpours increasing 20 percent on average in the past century.
The storms will only get more intense in the Northeast and Midwest – unhappy news for towns like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Iowa City, still recovering from deluges that flooded their streets a year ago this week. Storms that meteorologists today would classify as 20-year downpours will be happening every 4 to 15 years by the end of the century, and they'll be even heavier.
Count on more unusually hot days and nights, and fewer unusually cold days and nights.
"Parts of the south that currently have about 60 days per year with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit are projected to experience 150 or more days a year above 90 by the end of the century under a high emissions scenario."
By the end of the century, extreme heat wave days will be 10 degrees hotter, the report says. In Chicago, the average number of heat deaths will quadruple by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at his pace.
In California and the Northwest, warmer temperatures over the past 50 years have already reduced the mountain snowpack that feeds streams and reservoirs that drier cities rely on for water, a problem likely to continue.
In fact, water shortages are such a concern that the Bureau of Reclamation has identified several areas in the West that are "already at risk for serious conflict over water."
The report also cities a few cities that are being proactive.
It lauds New York City for beginning to factor in the future effects of climate change, such a sea-level rise and higher temperatures on the city' water supply.
Why Energy Companies Should Pay Attention
For the same energy companies that have been fighting climate action, the report holds valuable early warnings.
Big oil, because of its locations, will face a greater threat from rising sea levels and the threat of increasingly powerful hurricanes as the temperature rises. The report notes that one-third of the nation's refining and processing capacity is in the low-lying coastal plains along the Gulf of Mexico, and more powerful hurricanes could mean more damage to off-shore oil platforms and infrastructure.
Alaska's energy industry is already feeling the heat. Oil and gas exploration has a shorter season during which extraction equipment can be operated on the tundra. Ice roads aren't as stable for as long, and thawing permafrost increases the danger of damage to pipelines and other infrastructure.
In fact, the temperatures in Alaska have risen twice as much as the rest of the nation, the report found. Retreating sea ice is already turning one small Alaskan community into climate refugees.
The report holds warnings for renewable energy as well. In the West, the loss of snowpack and its once reliable stream flow suggests potential troubles – as well as conflicts with agriculture, wildlife conservation and cities – for hydropower.
On the flip side, the rising demand for air conditioning in increasingly toasty regions also suggests a valuable role for solar power, which is at its best when demand is highest.
The report also warns of outbreaks of forest insect pests that are sensitive to changing temperatures. The mountain pine beetle, for one, has infested lodgepole pines in over 33 million acres of British Columbia and 1.5 million acres of Colorado. The heat and dryness have contributed to the frequency and length of fires season has increased in recent decades. Invasive weeds have spread. And humans need to worry about the impact on agriculture, livestock and their own health, as well.
Asked what he would like to see happen next, Melillo told reporters that the nation should "act sooner rather than later," adding, "I'd like to avoid another New Orleans."
Sierra Club Director Carl Pope cited the report in calling on Congress to pass the ACES climate bill.
"This report confirms much of what we already knew, that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real, is happening now, and will have severe consequences if left unchecked."
Key issues for each region, according to the report:
*Longer summers and higher temperatures are causing drier conditions, and lakes are declining, challenging the ecosystems.
*Wildfires and insect outbreaks are increasing with warmer temperatures.
*Coastal communities are threatened by erosion and the loss of sea ice, which serves a protective buffer.
*Climate change is altering the marine ecosystems, affecting fisheries.
*Thawing permafrost limits transportation and damages roads and infrastructure.
*Rising sea-levels and storm surges will affect low-lying communities and ecosystems.
*Dead zones lacking enough oxygen are likely to increase, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.
*Changing currents will affect coastal ecosystems, including worsening dead zones off the Northwest coast.
*Island communities will face threats to their fresh water reserves from rising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns.
Midwest & Great Plains
*The length of the frost-free growing season has lengthened, but heavier downpours that can delay spring planting and destroy crops are twice as frequent as they were a century ago.
*Water resources, already a concern, will continue to deplete as withdrawals from the High Plains aquifer outpace its recharge.
*Rising temperatures will shift crop growing zones, and pests and invasive species will continue to spread northward with milder winters and earlier springs.
*Winter temperatures are up 4 degrees on average since 1970, a pattern that is expected to continue. Hotter summer days and declining air quality will pose increasing health risks, particularly in urban areas.
*Temperature-sensitive commodities such as fruit and maple syrup would struggle with increasing temperatures.
*Lobster beds, already shifting northward, are expected to continue their move and cod fisheries will likely be diminished.
*The average temperature has already risen 2 degrees since 1970 and the region has experienced several years of drought conditions. Hotter weather will stress humans, plants and wildlife.
*Increasing temperatures increase water demand and reduce reservoirs, creating the sort of conflicts the Atlanta area already knows well.
*More severe storms and rising sea levels could bring abrupt changes to vital ecosystems. Ecological thresholds are likely to be crossed throughout the region
*The Southwest has warmed faster than the rest of the nation in recent decades, which has driven declines in the mountain snowpack and Colorado River flow. Water supplies will become increasingly scarce.
*Higher temperatures and droughts will increase the wildfire danger and, along with the spread of invasive species, threaten the region's biological diversity.
*The region is already seeing changes in reduced snowpack and stream flows, which reduce water supplies.
*Warmer water will stress salmon and other coldwater species. Studies suggest about a third of their current habit will be unsuitable by the end of the century.
*Forests are at risk from pests and greater wildfire danger due to rising temperatures.
*Coastal cities, including Seattle and Olympia, will be vulnerable to rising sea levels.