Lost in the shuffle of health care politicking, Iran election drama, and David Letterman apologies, a giant multi-agency federal report
was released yesterday on the current and future impacts of climate
change in the United States. While it's widely understood that
Lost in the shuffle of health care politicking, Iran election drama, and David Letterman apologies, a giant multi-agency federal report was released yesterday on the current and future impacts of climate change in the United States. While it's widely understood that developing nations will suffer first and foremost from global warming, the study -- conducted by the U.S. Global Change Research Program -- predicts that rising temperatures could have serious consequences for how Americans live and work. Released just as the House of Representatives prepares to take up the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the Obama administration hopes the new data will influence the Congressional debate. "This report is a game-changer," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Jane Lubchenco told Grist yesterday. "This report demonstrates in concrete scientific information that climate change happening now, and it’s happening in our backyards."
Because the research is broken down by region, the paper highlights in detail the ongoing impact of climate change on the Midwest. Already, average temperatures have risen in the past few decades, with the largest increases in winter. Heavy downpours are now twice as frequent as they were a century ago (as the recent weather in Illinois has demonstrated). And large heat waves have become more frequent than anytime in the last century -- other than the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Without action to curb our carbon use, the report notes that precipitation and temperature changes are projected to grow.
What does that mean for the state residents?
For one, we can expect poorer air quality and more frequent and severe heat waves, similar to the crisis that hit Chicago in 1995, killing over 700 people. Significant reductions in Great Lakes water levels will hamstring businesses that rely on the waterways for shipping, as well as the people that rely on them for drinking water and local ecosystems that rely on them for survival. Furthermore, the combination of precipitation growth in winter and spring, more heavy downpours, and greater evaporation in summer will lead to more frequent flooding and water deficits. Last year, floods devastated towns along the western border of the state, as well as in Iowa and Missouri.
Springfield blogger Will Reynolds brings up another great point in his first reaction to the report. While Democratic lawmakers from agricultural-heavy states -- including Reps. Debbie Halvorson and Jerry Costello -- have suggested they might derail the Waxman-Markey climate change bill because it might raise prices on supplies, farmers should probably look at the bigger picture:
While the longer growing season provides the potential for increased crop yields, increases in heat waves, floods, droughts, insects, and weeds will present increasing challenges to managing crops, livestock, and forests.
Spring flooding is likely to delay planting. An increase in disease-causing pathogens, insect pests, and weeds cause additional challenges for agriculture. Livestock production is expected to become more costly as higher temperatures stress livestock, decreasing productivity and increasing costs associated with the needed ventilation and cooling equipment.
While the report is heavy on the doom and gloom, Environment Illinois' Max Muller says in a statement that the crisis can be partially diverted if policymakers take affirmative steps to green the economy. "The good news in this report is that the future isn’t written yet," he says. "By repowering America with clean energy, we can not only avoid the worst impacts of global warming, but can also recharge our economy, and put Americans to work at millions of clean energy jobs."
Last legislative session, state lawmakers passed a major bill to improve Illinois' energy efficiency and promote renewable energy production. Will the congressional delegation follow their lead?
Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user Simonds.