New Report: Global Warming Undeniable, Extreme Weather Getting Worse

Chris Carnevale | January 14, 2013 | Climate Change, Extreme Weather

This post was coauthored by SACE Policy & Communications Director, Jennifer Rennicks.

The draft of the newest National Climate Assessment (NCA) report was officially made available today, and the findings for this third climate assessment aren’t comforting:

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

From the report’s Executive Summary

From the report’s first sentence, the findings are made very clear: Climate change is happening now and it is hurting people.  This is a warning that the scientists and climate action advocates, like SACE, have cautioned about for some time.  In fact, we have an extensive blog archive about the effects that global warming-fueled extreme weather is having on our communities in the Southeast.

Even though we have known about these impacts for some time, this version of the NCA report is particularly significant for a couple reasons:

1) Scientists are more confidently linking the extreme weather we’ve seen in our daily lives to climate change.  Linking specific weather events to climate change has always been approached with caution, but because of the frequency and the trend of weather events we’ve seen in recent years, the link is becoming more and more clearly significant.

2) The report is one more piece of evidence blowing the climate denial argument and culture out of the water.  This report was a joint collaboration of hundreds of industry leaders, scientific institutions, and government agencies.  Even two of environmentalists’ most-disliked corporations fed into the process: Monsanto and Chevron.  If even these titans of industry are helping the nation prepare for climate change, it must be conceded that global warming is in fact of concern to conservatives and liberals, big businesses and eco-types alike.

Behind the Scenes: NCA’s History and Process

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) is conducted under the auspices of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which requires a report to the President and the Congress that evaluates, integrates and interprets the findings of climate science every four years.  The first two reports were completed in 2000 and 2009. This latest report draws from many researchers in a wide range of scientific fields to yield the best available data on climate change and its effects on humanity.  The team that assembles the report, the NCA and Development Advisory Committee, is made up of representatives from leading scientific universities, influential businesses, and various federal government agencies.  In putting together the current version of the report, they engaged more than 240 authors, representing a wide sampling of the scientific community.

Some important highlights from the report:

  • “Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.  This evidence has been compiled by scientists and engineers from around the world, using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.
  • The United States average temperature has increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, 80% of which has been since 1980.  We can expect an additional 3 – 10 degrees depending on how dramatically we curb our greenhouse gas emissions.
  • “While some changes will bring potential benefits, such as longer growing seasons, many will be disruptive to society because our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future.”
  • Sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm-surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities, especially along the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic seaboard, and Alaska. In the Southeast, coastal infrastructure including roads, rail lines, energy infrastructure, and port facilities including naval bases, are at risk from storm surge that is exacerbated by rising sea level.”
  • Climate change will influence human health in many ways; some existing health threats will intensify, and new health threats will emerge. Some of the key drivers of health impacts include: increasingly frequent and intense extreme heat, which causes heat-related illnesses and deaths and over time, worsens drought and wildfire risks, and intensifies air pollution; increasingly frequent extreme precipitation and associated flooding that can lead to injuries and increases in marine and freshwater-borne disease; and rising sea levels that intensify coastal flooding and storm surge.”
  •  The NCA highlights water stress as perhaps the main impact of climate change on the Southeast in years to come: “Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, is causing increased competition for water.”  This projection highlights the imperative that our region switch from water-intensive energy production sources, like coal and nuclear, to water-free resources, like wind and solar.

The NCADAC is seeking comments on its draft report.  Please submit comments here by April 12 (requires free account creation).  If you live close enough to one of the public town hall meetings the NCADAC is hosting, please consider attending.  The Southeast’s town hall meeting will take place February 19 in Tampa, Florida.  More information can be found here.

Chris Carnevale
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Chris is SACE’s Coastal Climate and Energy Manager and South Carolina State Affairs Liaison. His work focuses on building a critical mass of support for…
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