Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A new U.S. federal report on climate change has found that the effects of climate change are profound, global and coming closer to home than ever before. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, issued a synopsis of that report, outlining how climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories.

The report comes out against a backdrop of records: 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, according to the NASA and NOAA. The earth is on a global, persistent and apparently long-term, warming run: 2018 ranks just behind 2016, which was the warmest year on record. The second warmest year was 2015, and 2017 was the third warmest year in NOAA’s 139-year history. In separate global temperature measurements, Europe and the globe reached the same heat rankings.

Thirteen different federal agencies, including NOAA and NASA, contributed to Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA), which was formally released by the United States Global Change Research Program. As the report shows, the cascading impacts of climate change threaten the natural, built and social systems we rely on individually and as a country.

While the report points out societal efforts to address climate change have been expanding over the past five years, it concludes that efforts underway are not nearly on the scale that is required to avoid substantial damage to the economy, the environment and to human health. Already scientists and economists predict that to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more substantial and sustained global efforts will be required than anything done to date. Without these efforts, say the experts, there will be growing losses to American infrastructure and property, and a slowing rate of economic growth as we move further into the 21st century.

Climate change, say the scientists are bringing climate fluxations: rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought and rangeland wildfires juxtaposed with heavy downpours and storms. This will increasingly affect the quality and the quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods.

While Chaffee County is far from any ocean, major disruptions in ecosystems will stretch from the oceans to the mountains by mid-century. Those changes will affect not just surface fresh water sources, but as polar ice melts, seas rise and the intensity of storms grows, this will transform coastal regions. Projected ripple effects on other regions and sectors, including higher costs and lower property values on the coasts. At the same time, extreme weather is likely to change air quality and contribute to the spread of new diseases, insects and pests.

Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. Climate change presents added risks to interconnected systems that are already exposed to a range of stressors such as aging and deteriorating infrastructure, land-use changes and population growth.

Climate change is already affecting biodiversity, ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society. These impacts include the migration of native species to new areas and the spread of invasive species, something already being experienced at higher elevations.

Agriculture will not be spared. In fact, the report predicts that rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation will have a direct impact on crops and livestock. Impacts include intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack and declines in surface water quality, with varying impacts across regions.

Projected increases in extreme heat conditions are expected to lead to further heat stress for livestock, which can result in large economic losses for producers. Climate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world.

While much of the findings are grime, it is important to note that the effects of climate change are likely to land more heavily on economically-stressed populations. People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have a lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.

The report is not without hope – in fact, it includes two chapters on societal response strategies.