Today, the U.S. government released the first detailed report from the new administration on the impact of climate change on the U.S.. “Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.” confirms UNFCCC findings, and states that temperatures in the U.S. have risen 1.5 degree F over the past 50 years. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said at a White House press conference: “Climate Change is happening in the U.S. now, and in our backyards.” Furthermore, Lubchenco added the report proves the science, and now the science offers a real foundation for policy decisions.
“Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.” provides a view on worst case scenario impacts, assuming no action is taken to cut emissions. According to the Guardian (UK), these worst case scenarios include: “floods in lower Manhattan; a quadrupling of heatwave deaths in Chicago; withering on the vineyards of California; the disappearance of wildflowers from the slopes of the Rockies; the extinction of Alaska’s wild polar bears in the next 75 years.”
The report outlines a number of key findings, including: climate change is unequivocal and human-induced; climate changes are already occuring in the U.S.; impacts from climate change are occuring and will increase; climate change will stress water resources; crop and livestock production will be challenged; coastal areas are increasingly at risk; threats to human health will increase; climate will interact with social and enviromental stress in new ways; threshholds will be crossed, leading to major changes in ecosystems; and future impacts depend on changes today.
The report also outlines regional impacts. According to a summary provided by the Guardian (UK), for the Northeast, “the winter snow season could be cut in half in southern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — maybe as short as a week or two, under the higher emissions scenario. This would destroy winter traditions like skiing and skating and outdoor ponds. Native cranberries and blueberries would disappear; dairy herds, the biggest agricultural industry, would decline under the higher emissions scenario.” In the Southeast, “summer temperatures in Florida could rise by 4.1C (10.5F), with the heat effect multipled by decreased rainfall under the higher emissions scenario. There would be increased hurricane intensity and rising sea levels leads to loss of wetlands and coastal areas. It would lead to a severe decline in quality of life.” In the Midwest, Chicago would be particularly hard-hit. “Frequent, severe and longer lasting heatwaves in cities – as many as three a year in Chicago under the higher emissions scenario. Water levels in the Great Lakes could fall by up to two feet by the end of the century under the higher emissions scenario.”
The Guardian also outlines the costs of climate change, summarized from the report:
“Human health: Rise in deaths due to heatwaves, decline in health because of poor air quality and increase in water borne and insect borne diseases.
Agriculture: Although some crops will benefit from the longer growing season, heavy downpours could wreak havoc on others. Farmers will be forced to use more pesticides and weed killers against invasive plants. Poison ivy will bcome more abundant and more toxic. Higher emissions scenario would cause a 10 percent decline in dairy herd in Appalachia.
Energy: Rising heat index will increase demand on electricity for air conditioning. But water shortages could restrict electricity generation. Oil infrastructure, along coast of Louisiana and Florida, is also vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensifying hurricanes.
Transport: Storm surges and rising sea levels could block the use of ports and coastal airports, roads and rail lines. Six of the top 10 freight gateways are threatened by rising sea levels. Entire road networks on the Gulf Coast could be at risk.
Ecosystems: Large-scale shifts in species likely to continue. Deserts will become hotter and drier, oceans more acidic. Salmon and trout populations will contract.”
U.S. government researchers say the extent and timeline of precise effects are still not known, and depend on the extent to which Co2 emissions can be reduced in the U.S. and globally. Additionally, a number of areas, including the effect of the increasing acidification of oceans, and effect of climate change on water resources more broadly, require additional research.
Watch the White House press conference, and read the full report from the U.S. Global Climate Policy Research web site