The draft report of the Third Climate Assessment by 240 scientists, business and academic leaders was released Friday. The LA Times story on it began: "The impacts of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a federal advisory committee.
"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."
NPR's printed report added:
Temperatures will continue to rise in America, "with the next few decades projected to see another 2 degrees [Fahrenheit] to 4 degrees [Fahrenheit] of warming in most areas," according to the latest National Climate Assessment, which came out Friday afternoon.
That means we can expect to see more "extreme weather events," according to the report, such as heavy precipitation — particularly in the Northeast and Midwest — and intense Atlantic hurricanes. Other parts of the U.S. will experience heat waves and droughts, especially in the West.
By 2100, U.S. temperatures are projected to rise 3 to 5 degrees, under the most optimistic estimates — and 5 to 10 degrees if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase."
The report says that evidence for climate crisis effects is now strong:
"Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation."
The Guardian story noted this:
"Future generations of Americans can expect to spend 25 days a year sweltering in temperatures above 100F (38C), with climate change on course to turn the country into a hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone place.
"Climate change is already affecting the American people," the draft report said. "Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense including heat waves, heavy downpours and in some regions floods and drought. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting."
By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, and mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.
"Proactively preparing for climate change can reduce impacts, while also facilitating a more rapid and efficient response to changes as they happen," said Katharine Jacobs, the director of the National Climate Assessment.
"As climate change and its impacts are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices," the report said. "Beyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by the choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Higher emissions would mean more warming and more severe impacts."
As the report made clear: no place in America had gone untouched by climate change. Nowhere would be entirely immune from the effects of future climate change."
Here's the White House summary of this report, which is now open to public comment.
Outside of this report, the reality of U.S. rising temperatures in 2012 is quantified here. Note that temperatures were higher than normal for 16 months straight.
But North America is hardly alone in feeling the effects. A New York Times report Friday notes that "Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.
"China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.
Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. “Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. " [Note: photo is of the Australian fires from space.]
In the UK, the Times reports, "The Met Office, Britain’s weather service, declared 2012 the wettest year in England, and the second-wettest in Britain as a whole, since records began more than 100 years ago. Four of the five wettest years in the last century have come in the past decade (the fifth was in 1954). The biggest change, said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met Office, is the frequency in Britain of “extreme weather events” — defined as rainfall reaching the top 1 percent of the average amount for that time of year. Fifty years ago, such episodes used to happen every 100 days; now they happen every 70 days, he said. "
There is more excellent reporting in the Times piece, but it comes on a day with bad news for the future of such much needed reporting. A few days ago, the New York Times setting up a dedicated beat on the climate crisis and the environment was hailed as one of the bright spots in journalistic coverage of the topic in 2012. Now comes word that the Times is closing its Environment desk. The paper issued the standard reassurances that this won't affect coverage, but that's a very hard sell.
The weakening and the demise of real news gathering organizations like the New York Times as well as the slipshod reporting on the climate crisis up to now is only one of the debilitating factors in the necessary attention to this crisis, now and in the near future. An active media goading government and helping to spread information is part of what's needed. And the decline of that capability and focus is yet another reason to doubt that we're adequately addressing these challenges.
What should be happening now is that a sufficiently informed and motivated public is supporting a very informed and motivated U.S. government in a two track effort: to prepare for and deal with the present and near future effects of global heating, and to go after the causes of global heating in the farther future by severely reducing the greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere.
In particular, the U.S. should be using the current economic situation--relatively high unemployment and very low borrowing costs--to make substantial investments in both efforts, which would employ more Americans and stimulate economic activity as well. Use the fact that infrastructure is neglected and aging to replace it with energy efficient and low-carbon infrastructure. Help regional and state entities prepare for their specific challenges, like sea level rises or the physical effects of extreme weather. Invest in public health to deal with outbreaks of diseases when and where they haven't occurred much before, due to temperature changes that affect disease-bearing insects as well as plant ecologies and even atmospheric changes that are unprecedented challenges but could have very sudden effects. And so on.
And of course, investing in energy efficiencies, waste reduction, new technologies and new energy sources and technologies as part of reducing greenhouse gases.
(As for sea levels, also this week, RealClimate posted a two part assessment of where the science now is on sea level rise. Its general conclusion is that "The recent improvements in understanding have confirmed the concerns of many sea-level experts, namely that the 4th IPCC report has understated the risks of future sea-level rise because the projection models used were not mature." )
Some cities, states and regions are taking this seriously, within their resources. What the federal government is doing in these areas is being done largely sub rosa, and though a rosa by any other name still helps, it's not sufficient. But with the federal government gridlocked by an increasingly extreme minority, possessed of a Dark Ages mentality, such sensible commitment seems unlikely in the near future. Their paranoid fantasies of needing to defend themselves with arsenals of automatic weapons in a chaotic country is pushing us towards that self-fulfilling prophesy.
We'll soon see just what President Obama has in mind for the near term. The beginning of the end of ruinous military commitment in Afghanistan helps to lessen the unnecessary drain. But the apparent necessity of fighting political battles of a century ago or more, rather than really facing the future as a society, does not inspire a lot of confidence in adequate government response. But we can still hope, and make that hope real in what we do.