The just-released National Climate Assessment confirms that growing impacts from climate change, predicted by scientists, are already hitting the U.S. They include significant shifts in precipitation patterns, melting permafrost, longer fire seasons, severe and sustained drought especially in the Southwest, storm and erosion impacts from rising sea level, and much more.
The report, released by the White House on Tuesday, looks at the difference in regional impacts. Particularly hardest hit is Alaska, with small communities already having to move inland due to permafrost melting, coastal erosion and the more rapid increase in average temperatures in the Arctic. The Southeast, though it has observable impacts, shows the least changes thus far due to global warming. Some areas of the Midwest will have longer growing seasons, at least in the short term, but areas dependent on snow pack melting for water are already facing earlier springs with earlier melting of the snow, causing serious problems for agriculture in the late summer.
Unless there is a shift away from still-escalating greenhouse gas emissions, the report warns, U.S. average temperatures by the end of this century could reach 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The impacts could be catastrophic.
Already, growing stress on water resources is causing conflicts between urban dwellers, farmers, other agricultural interests. The drought currently experienced in California is just a taste of longer and more severe droughts in that region, already significantly water-stressed.
In the eastern U.S., the number of extreme weather events, including very heavy rain events, has increased already. The number of extreme rain events has already increased over 70 percent in the Northeast.
These varying impacts are being seen across many industries. The report notes, "Corn producers in Iowa, oyster farmers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate related changes."
The report concludes:
"Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods."
Also noted is the impact on human health:
"... increasingly frequent and intense heat events lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths and, over time, worsen drought and wildfire risks, and intensify air pollution. Increasingly frequent extreme precipitation and associated flooding can lead to injuries and increases in waterborne disease. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases. Rising sea levels intensify coastal flooding and storm surge, and thus exacerbate threats to public safety during storms."
The National Climate Assessment report, the third in the last 14 years, implicitly rejects the anti-science approach of the climate change deniers and the climate "confusionists." It insists upon an evidence-based observation of reality as we are already experiencing it:
"Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years. The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and other human activities add to the atmospheric burden of heat-trapping gases."
While Republicans and coal-state Democrats have obstructed all efforts to develop a national response to climate change, many cities and states are beginning to make policy shifts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and to adjust to the changes now upon us.
While this assessment focuses on the science, on the observed changes in process, and on public policy changes for policy makers to consider, it does not deal with the many different and growing struggles taking place on environmental and climate issues.
The struggle against the Keystone XL pipeline is bringing together unique coalitions such as the Cowboy and Indian Alliance that recently sponsored a week of actions in Washington D.C. Farmers, Native American tribes, and environmental groups are uniting to oppose the interests of the big energy corporations, which propose to trample on the land these groups depend on.
Anti-fracking struggles are taking place in many parts of the country, opposing the threats to our drinking water systems, the increases in earthquakes due to fracking, and the devastation wreaked on nearby communities.
The movement to demand that cities, states, pension funds, and university endowment funds divest from fossil fuel companies got a boost from the decision this week by Stanford University to withdraw all of its funds from fossil fuel "investments." The divestment movement, already successful at several major universities and cities such as Seattle, is growing internationally. 350.org is coordinating these efforts here in the U.S. and working with many organizations worldwide to put the fossil fuel companies on notice that they will pay political, public relations, and economic prices for their profit-taking on production destructive of our common future.
The assessment says, "Adaptation and mitigation are closely linked; adaptation efforts will be more difficult, more costly, and less likely to succeed if significant mitigation actions are not taken." Action must be taken on the individual, city, regional, national, and international levels if humanity as a whole is to avoid the worst consequences of global warming which will occur if there isn't a change from business as usual. The sooner we act, the cheaper and more effective our policy responses will be.
As millions or people around the world engage in struggle on climate issues, they are bringing democratic pressure to bear on those who want to confuse us, who want to delay collective action so their private interests can continue to make excess profits.
Photo: U.S. National Climate Assessment cover. U.S. Global Change Research Program Facebook page