US cli­mate re­port points to height­ened risk of fu­ture threats

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRAD PLUMER AND HENRY FOUN­TAIN


Global warm­ing is now af­fect­ing the United States more than ever, and the risks of fu­ture dis­as­ters – from flood­ing along the coasts to crop fail­ures in the Mid­west – could pose a pro­found threat to Amer­i­cans’ well-be­ing.

That’s the gist of Vol­ume Two of the lat­est Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment, a 1,656-page re­port is­sued Fri­day that ex­plores both the cur­rent and fu­ture im­pacts of cli­mate change. The sci­en­tific re­port, which comes out ev­ery four years as man­dated by Con­gress, was pro­duced by 13 fed­eral agen­cies.

This year’s re­port con­tains many of the same find­ings cited in the pre­vi­ous Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment, pub­lished in 2014. Tem­per­a­tures are still go­ing up, and the odds of dan­gers such as wild­fires in the West con­tinue to in­crease. But re­flect­ing some of the im­pacts that have been felt across the coun­try in the past four years, some of the re­port’s em­pha­sis has changed.

Pre­dicted ef­fects: More and more pre­dicted im­pacts of global warm­ing are now be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

For in­stance, the 2014 as­sess­ment fore­cast that coastal cities would see more flood­ing in the com­ing years as sea lev­els rose. Sci­en­tists have now doc­u­mented a record num­ber of “nui­sance flood­ing” events dur­ing high tides in cities like Mi­ami and Charleston, S.C.

“High tide flood­ing is now pos­ing daily risks to busi­nesses, neigh­bor­hoods, in­fra­struc­ture, trans­porta­tion, and ecosys­tems in the South­east,” the re­port says. As the oceans have warmed, dis­rup­tions in U.S. fish­eries are un­der­way.

Tied to­gether: The re­port sug­gests a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to as­sess­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change, by con­sid­er­ing how var­i­ous im­pacts – on food sup­plies, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, for ex­am­ple – in­ter­act with each other.

“It is not pos­si­ble to fully un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of cli­mate change on the United States with­out con­sid­er­ing the in­ter­ac­tions among sec­tors and their con­se­quences,” the re­port says.

It gives sev­eral ex­am­ples, in­clud­ing re­cent droughts in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where that, in com­bi­na­tion with pop­u­la­tion changes, af­fect de­mand for wa­ter and en­ergy.

Be­yond bor­ders: The U.S. mil­i­tary has long taken cli­mate change se­ri­ously, both for its po­ten­tial im­pacts on troops and in­fra­struc­ture around the world and for its po­ten­tial to cause po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in other coun­tries.

The re­port cites these in­ter­na­tional con­cerns, but goes far be­yond the mil­i­tary. Cli­mate change is af­fect­ing U.S. com­pa­nies’ over­seas op­er­a­tions and sup­ply chains, it says, and as these im­pacts worsen it will take a toll on trade and the econ­omy.

Adap­ta­tion: Since 2014, de­tailed eco­nomic re­search has es­ti­mated that cli­mate change could cause hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in an­nual dam­age, as heat waves, coastal flood­ing and an in­crease in ex­treme weather take their toll. To limit harm, com­mu­ni­ties will need to take steps to pre­pare.

The pre­vi­ous as­sess­ment warned that few states and cities were tak­ing steps to adapt to the im­pacts of cli­mate change. That’s slowly chang­ing, the new re­port finds.

Air qual­ity: The re­port puts a re­newed em­pha­sis on the im­pacts of other at­mo­spheric pol­lu­tants such as ozone and smoke, which can cause res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and lead to pre­ma­ture death. The re­port notes with “high con­fi­dence” that cli­mate change will in­crease ozone lev­els.


A vol­un­teer guides a res­cue boat down a flooded street in Septem­ber in Wilm­ing­ton, N.C. A re­port is­sued Fri­day ex­plores cur­rent and fu­ture im­pacts of cli­mate change.

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