Federal Climate Assessment Panel Releases Dire Report for Public Comment

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By Glynn Wilson

CAMP MCDOWELL, Ala. — How should Americans adapt to a changing climate in a hotter world?


If there’s no such thing as global warming, how do you explain this spring iris blooming in December? [Click on the image for a larger view]

A federal advisory panel released a draft report to the press on Friday that will be open for public comment Monday on how Americans can adapt to a changing climate. The report leaves little doubt that climate change is occurring due to global warming, which is being caused by the impacts from human development and pollution of the planet. It leaves no political wiggle-room anymore in this debate.

The draft of the third National Climate Assessment warns that with the current rate of global carbon emissions, these impacts will intensify in the coming decades — even if significant public policy proposals are passed immediately to reverse the warming trend. [See the full report here].

According to the breaking news story in the Washington Post, the 1,000 page report sums up the best available knowledge about climate change and concludes what we have known and reported for the past two decades. The country and the world are hotter than ever, rainfall and storms are becoming more intense and erratic, and rising seas due to melting polar ice is causing more storm surges that critically threaten coastal areas around the United States more each year.

The report’s executive summary indicates that not only have extreme weather and climate events become more frequent in recent years, “there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.”

In addition, these changes are exacting an economic toll on infrastructure across the country as well as the economy itself.

In a quick response to the report, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, indicated the group welcomes the release of the National Climate Assessment report, but indicated there is more work to do during the public comment period.

“Our 2.1 million members and supporters are ready to support and amplify these findings,” Brune said. “This report underscores what many of us already know — climate disruption is here and it is exacting real, human and economic costs.”

The year 2012 was the hottest year on record, he pointed out, again.

“It was a year rife with droughts, wildfires and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy,” he said. “In addition, the number of weather catastrophes driven by climate disruption across the world has tripled since 1980, with the greatest increases in North America. The situation is dire and requires nothing short of bold, decisive action by President Obama and our leaders to cut our addiction to fossil fuels and build a clean energy economy.”

The report’s authors did not include specific policy recommendations for how to begin reversing the warming trend. It’s designed to practically guide policy-makers on the federal, state and local level on how to prepare for a warmer world.

In a joint statement issued Friday, White House science adviser John P. Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that it is aimed at Americans “who need information about climate change in order to thrive — from farmers deciding which crops to grow, to city planners deciding the diameter of new storm sewers they are replacing, to electric utilities and regulators pondering how to protect the power grid.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Democratic Party-controlled Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, issued a statement saying the draft report “sends a warning to all of us: We must act now in a comprehensive fashion to reduce carbon pollution or expose our people to continuing devastation from extreme weather events and their aftermath.”

Rick Piltz, who heads the group Climate Science Watch, said the report offers President Obama a rare opening.

“He’s said he wants to lead a national conversation on climate change,” Piltz said. “He should start the national conversation.”

Of course congressional Republicans are expected to disagree with the report and oppose doing anything about it, even though the report squarely addresses the effects of these trends on human health and the economy.

Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who heads the Republican Study Committee, said in a statement that it is clear Americans will not tolerate any new climate policies: “Even President Obama acknowledged that our focus right now should be on putting folks back to work and growing the economy — not climate change.”

But according to the best science available on the subject, human health is likely to suffer as a result of higher temperatures. Studies show that a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature could boost the number of premature deaths by 1,000 each year due to more smog and fine particle pollution.

Some sectors of the economy face immediate threats from a changing climate more than others, according to the report. Even though some sectors of the agricultural economy might actually benefit from more rain and a longer growing season, for example, farmers can expect increasing disruptions from extreme heat, drought and heavy downpours. But over the long term, the next 100 years, “crops and livestock are likely to suffer significantly.”

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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