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January 2013, Week 3

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Wed, 16 Jan 2013 12:14:21 -0500
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New Report Outlines Our Future: Climate Change
Set to Make America Hotter, Drier and More
Disaster-prone

    The National Climate Assessment was just
 released and provides the fullest picture of the real-
 time effects of climate change on US life, and the
 most likely consequences for the future.
 
 By Suzanne Goldenberg
 The Guardian (UK)
 January 11, 2013

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/11/climate-change-america-hotter-drier-disaster?amp;buffer_share=98d2f

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.

The National Climate Assessment, released in draft
form on Friday , provided the fullest picture to date
of the real-time effects of climate change on US life,
and the most likely consequences for the future.

The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than
300 government scientists and outside experts, was
unequivocal on the human causes of climate
change, and on the links between climate change
and extreme weather.

"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."

The report, which is not due for adoption until
2014, was produced to guide federal, state and city
governments in America in making long-term plans.

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.

The report will be open for public comment on
Monday.

Environmental groups said they hoped the report
would provide Barack Obama with the scientific
evidence to push for measures that would slow or
halt the rate of climate change - sparing the country
some of the worst effects.

The report states clearly that the steps taken by
Obama so far to reduce emissions are "not close to
sufficient" to prevent the most severe consequences
of climate change.

"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.

A heatwave swept across the US in 2011, with
temperatures reaching over 110F (43C). Photograph:
Timothy A Clary/AFP

Some of those changes are already evident: 2012
was by far the hottest year on record, fully a degree
hotter than the last such record - an off-the-charts
rate of increase.

Those high temperatures were on course to continue
for the rest of the century, the draft report said. It
noted that average US temperatures had increased
by about 1.5F since 1895, with more than 80% of
this increase since 1980.

The rise will be even steeper in future, with the next
few decades projected for temperatures 2 to 4
degrees warmer in most areas. By 2100, if climate
change continues on its present course, the country
can expect to see 25 days a year with temperatures
above 100F.

Night-time temperatures will also stay high,
providing little respite from the heat.

Certain regions are projected to heat up even
sooner. West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware can
expect a doubling of days hotter than 95 degrees by
the 2050s. In Texas and Oklahoma, the draft report
doubled the probability of extreme heat events.

Those extreme temperatures would also exact a toll
on public health, with worsening air pollution, and
on infrastructure increasing the load for ageing
power plants.

This 8 November 2011 image shows a storm bearing
down on Alaska. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images

But nowhere will see changes as extreme as Alaska,
the report said.

"The most dramatic evidence is in Alaska, where
average temperatures have increased more than
twice as fast as the rest of the country," the draft
report said. "Of all the climate-related changes in
the US, the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice cover in
the last decade may be the most striking of all."

Other regions will face different extreme weather
scenarios. The north-east, in particular, is at risk of
coastal flooding because of sea-level rise and storm
surges, as well as river flooding, because of an
increase in heavy downpours.

A flooded farm along the Mississippi River is seen in
Cairo, Illinois. Photograph: Stephen Lance
Dennee/AP

"The north-east has experienced a greater increase
in extreme precipitation over the past few decades
than any other region in the US," the report said.
Between 1958 and 2010, the north-east saw a 74%
increase in heavy downpours.

The midwest was projected to enjoy a longer growing
season - but also an increased risk of extreme
events like last year's drought. By mid-century, the
combination of temperature increases and heavy
rainfall or drought were expected to pull down yields
of major US food crops, the report warned,
threatening both American and global food security.

The report is the most ambitious scientific exercise
ever undertaken to catalogue the real-time effects of
climate change, and predict possible outcomes in
the future.

It involved more than 300 government scientists
and outside experts, compared to around 30 during
the last such effort when George W Bush was
president. Its findings were also much broader in
scope, Jacobs said.

There were still unknowns though, the report
conceded, especially about how the loss of sea ice in
Greenland and Antarctica will affect future sea-level
rise.

Campaign groups said they hoped the report would
spur Obama to act on climate change in his second
term. "The draft assessment offers a perfect
opportunity for President Obama at the outset of his
second term," said Lou Leonard, director of the
climate change programme for the World Wildlife
Fund. "When a similar report was released in 2009,
the Administration largely swept it under the rug.
This time, the President should use it to kick-start a
national conversation on climate change. "

However, the White House was exceedingly cautious
on the draft release, noting in a blogpost: "The draft
NCA is a scientific document-not a policy
document-and does not make recommendations
regarding actions that might be taken in response to
climate change."

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