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The Multidimensional Reality of Climate Change

Inside the Latest Climate Report


A Federal Advisory Committee called the “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee” or NCADAC, was established under the Department of Commerce in December 2010 and is supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NCADAC now oversees the activities of formulating the National Climate Assessment (NCA), and is funded through a program established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

NCADAC has just issued a 1,146 page draft report on climate change in the U.S., which is now available (for 3 months) for public review and comment. Following review by the National Academies of Sciences and by the public, NCADAC will revise its draft report and submit it to the Federal Government for consideration as the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report. The first NCA Report was issued in 2000, and the second in 2009.

NCADAC describes the purpose of this draft NCA Report this way:

“The goal of this assessment report is to establish a scientific and credible foundation of information that is useful for a variety of science and policy applications related to managing risk and maximizing opportunities in a changing climate. The report also documents some societal responses to climate changes, and gives public and private decision-makers a better understanding of how climate change is affecting us now and what is in store for the future.”

The draft report covers every region of the US, and all significant systems in them: water resources, energy, transportation, agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, biodiversity, human health, land use, urban systems, infrastructure, tribal lands, rural communities and biogeochemical cycles. Four chapters near the end of the report discuss the crucial question of “what to do?” These are: chapter 26 “Decision Support: Supporting Policy, Planning, and Resource Management Decisions in a Climate Change Context,” chapter 27 “Mitigation,” chapter 28 “Adaptation,” and chapter 29 “Research Agenda for Climate Change Science.” The last chapter, 30, describes the future plans for the NCA process, and this is followed by two appendices, which address commonly asked questions, and describe the science of climate change.

You can most easily savor the benefit of all the work that went into this report by reading the introductory “Letter to the American People,” which is three lines past a single page, and then reading at least the first ten pages of the 23 page Executive Summary. The 11 conclusions of this massive report are described in the Executive Summary (on pages 8-10), and these are very briefly listed here (as 11 direct quotes):

1. Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the U.S. in a wide range of observations. The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. (U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1895, with more than 80% of this increase occurring since 1980.)

2. Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.

3. Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.

4. Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond. (Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment, and other factors – locally, nationally, and internationally.)

5. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water, and threats to mental health. (Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the U.S. and across the globe, and is affected by climate change.)

6. 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 is projected to rise an additional 1 to 4 feet in this century.)

7. 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.

8. Adverse impacts to crops and livestock over the next 100 years are expected. Over the next 25 years or so, the agriculture sector is projected to be relatively resilient, even though there will be increasing disruptions from extreme heat, drought, and heavy downpours. U.S. food security and farm incomes will also depend on how agricultural systems adapt to climate changes in other regions of the world.

9. 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.

10. Life in the oceans is changing as ocean waters become warmer and more acidic. (Warming ocean waters and ocean acidification across the globe and within U.S. marine territories are broadly affecting marine life.)

11. Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce emissions) is increasing, but progress with implementation is limited. (In recent years, climate adaptation and mitigation activities have begun to emerge in many sectors and at all levels of government; however barriers to implementation of these activities are significant. The level of current efforts is insufficient to avoid increasingly serious impacts of climate change that have large social, environmental, and economic consequences.)

The era of climate change denial is over. This report amply documents the multidimensional reality of climate change as a force requiring an extensive and sustained national response in order to protect the lives and maintain the livelihoods of Americans. That response must have two aspects:

“mitigation,” minimizing the amount of global warming in the future by minimizing the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases now; and

“adaptation,” devising alterations (or alternatives) to the many systems we depend upon, so they continue to sustain us in a future with a different climate from that of previous centuries during which our prior economies and modes of living were developed.

Practical planning requires a basis of factual data. This latest NCADAC draft report on climate change is a sterling example of that reality, and it makes evident that climate change is rapidly enveloping the horizons of government planners and forward thinking individuals.

Between January 14 and April 12, you can tell Uncle Sam directly what you think about climate change by submitting your comments on the NCADAC draft report.

Manuel García, Jr. is a retired engineering-physicist and has long been interested in energy, both natural and technological. He blogs at http://manuelgarciajr.com, and his e-mail is mangogarcia@att.net.