Long-overdue release of national climate assessment draws praise

After five years of slow-walk, scuttle, and delay by the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration is letting global warming science speak for itself with the release today of Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, a synthesis of years of peer-reviewed climate research conducted by 13 federal agencies beginning more than a decade ago.

“This long-overdue national assessment of climate science provides definitive evidence that global warming is real, it is caused by human activity, and it has the potential to wreak havoc on every region of the country and every sector of U.S. society,” said William H. Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society. “The report released today raises a science-based alarm that we ignore at our peril. We need to reduce global warming pollution quickly and dramatically, or the costs of inaction will be devastating.”

The report, a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is the first comprehensive nationwide overview since 2001 of U.S. vulnerability to climate change. It predicts far-reaching and costly impacts — unless action is taken to quickly and significantly cut global warming pollution. These impacts include extreme heat waves, floods, devastating hurricanes, the spread of disease, water shortages, threats to the nation’s transportation infrastructure and food production, and disruptions to U.S. energy supply. Climate change, if unaddressed, will cause a catastrophic economic burden.

Among the many sectors affected by these impacts are:

  • The $7.6 billion winter recreation industry in northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine . With shorter winters and more precipitation falling as rain than snow, the length of the winter snow season would be cut in half.
  • The coastal energy infrastructure of the Southeast. Refineries, processing facilities, and coastal ports in the Southeast are all considered particularly vulnerable to disruption dut to sea-level rise and the high winds and storm surge associated with hurricanes and other tropical storms.
  • The wine and food growing industries of California. Changes in climate are likely to compromise crops like almonds, apricots, olives and walnuts that require a minimum number of cool days to set fruit for the following year.
  • The agriculture and ranching industries of the Great Plains. Already plagued by unsustainable water use and greater frequency of extreme heat, farmers in this region face reduced crop yields — or failure — due to extreme heat and increasing frequency of drought.
  • The fisheries of Alaska. The state’s fishing industry provides most of the nation’s salmon, crab, halibut and herring. Alaska Native communities rely on harvests of fish, walruses, seals, whales, and other marine species. All are threatened because melting sea ice is changing the timing and extent of blooms of plankton, a nutrient in the marine food web on which all marine life depends.

“While the impacts predicted by this report are indeed dire, the ending of the global warming story is ours to write,” Meadows noted. “As the science in this report makes clear, future climate change and its impacts depend on the the choices we make today.”

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