Climate Change Is Here and It’s Worse Than Predicted

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Hey, to you 20 percent of Americans who still don’t believe in climate change, here’s a thought: Climate change, like gravity, doesn’t care whether you believe in it. It’s here, it’s real, and its effects are being felt even worse and faster than predicted — and that’s according to a draft of the quadrennial report from the National Climate Assessment. In fact, across the United States, climate change is causing floods, drought, fires, and more. All this should be obvious to anyone paying even moderate attention to current events, but seeing it laid out from an institution that’s been cautious in its pronouncements is sobering.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”

Among the findings in the report:

Reliability of water supplies is being reduced by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods in many regions, particularly the Southwest, the Great Plains, the Southeast, and the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the state of Hawai`i.

Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours, and extreme heat. Sea level rise and storm surges, in combination with the pattern of heavy development in coastal areas, are already resulting in damage to infrastructure such as roads, buildings, ports, and energy facilities.

Infrastructure associated with military installations is also at risk from climate change impacts. Floods along the nation’s rivers, inside cities, and on lakes following heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snowpack are damaging infrastructure in towns and cities, farmlands, and a variety of other places across the nation.

Extreme heat is damaging transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, and airport runways. Rapid warming in Alaska has resulted in infrastructure impacts due to thawing of permafrost and the loss of coastal sea ice that once protected shorelines from storms and wave-driven coastal erosion.

Warming ocean waters and ocean acidification across the globe and within U.S. marine territories are broadly affecting marine life. Warmer and more acidic waters are changing the distribution of fish and other mobile sea life, and stressing those, such as corals, that cannot move. Warmer and more acidic ocean waters combine with other stresses, such as overfishing and coastal and marine pollution, to negatively affect marine-based food production and fishing communities.

Climate change is increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of waterborne diseases.

Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the U.S. and across the globe, and is affected by climate change.

Natural ecosystems are being directly affected by climate change, including changes in biodiversity and location of species. As a result, the capacity of ecosystems to moderate the consequences of disturbances such as droughts, floods, and severe storms is being diminished.

The report lays out two familiar responses — mitigation and adaptation — and notes that both are under way, though to an extent far less than is necessary to meet the challenge.

Comments will be accept on the draft until April 12. Go here to voice your opinion.

Photo of Hurricane Sandy damage by Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

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