“Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase”

US Impact report I think I was around eleven years old when I last thought it would be good to be an American.  But I admit to a small twinge of envy as I read the report released yesterday by the Administration:  Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.  This is a scientific report, backed by the government, telling the general public what is now known of global warming and what it will mean for the US. The sort of thing one would have thought is a core function of democratic government. Meanwhile in New Zealand a select committee is required to solemnly consider submissions from climate science deniers, a PM wants us to be ready in case the science deteriorates and the sceptics are right, and a leading climate scientist is sacked for what sound like trivial offences against management policy.

The report is the first on climate science under the Obama watch and is, as Jane Lubchenco head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says, “good science, science that informs policy.”   Over thirty expert scientists made up the author team for the report, which was called for by the US Global Change Research Programme and subject to review and comment and subsequent revision.  The report has been designed for a general readership, clearly explained and well illustrated. It is long, but a 20-page booklet highlights its main features.

The report doesn’t say anything that those who have been following the science don’t already know.  But it says it plainly and without equivocation, as the following extract from the booklet demonstrates:

Climate change is apparent now across our nation. Trends observed in recent decades include rising temperatures, increasing heavy downpours, rising sea level, longer growing seasons, reductions in snow and ice, and changes in the amounts and timing of river flows. These trends are projected to continue, with larger changes resulting from higher amounts of heat-trapping gas emissions, and smaller changes from lower amounts of these emissions. The observed changes in climate are already causing a wide range of impacts, and these impacts are expected to grow.

The report follows the trends into greater detail, after first sketching the global picture and projecting continued temperature rises over this century, depending on the amount of heat-trapping gas emissions and the sensitivity of the climate to those emissions.

The impacts in the US are assessed first by sector.  The sectors covered include water resources, transportation, ecosystems, agriculture, society, human health, energy supply and use.  In discussing ecosystems, for example, there is a clear recognition of changes that have already occurred. Headings such as this are common: “Large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue”.  Examples follow under each heading.

The second form of impact assessment is by region, nine in all.  An example from the Great Plains geographical region:

“Significant trends in regional climate are apparent over the last few decades. Average temperatures have increased throughout the region, with the largest changes occurring in winter months and over the northern states. Relatively cold days are becoming less frequent and relatively hot days more frequent. Precipitation has also increased over most of the area.” 

The report then proceeds to indicate the likely problems ahead in terms of water resources, stressed farming and agriculture, changing human communities, and so on.

The concluding remarks speak of the scientific underpinnings of informed policy.  This is what the report seeks to provide.  The scenario projections leave it clear enough that the less is done to reduce emissions the more dire the consequences will be. The report also briefly discusses mitigation and adaptation and in doing so states that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary focus of mitigation strategies. These include improving energy efficiency, using energy sources that do not produce carbon dioxide or produce less of it, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and so on. Choices made about emissions reductions now and over the next few decades will have far reaching consequences for climate-change impacts. But this is about as far as the report ventures into the policy field.  Its major concern is to communicate the science accurately and usefully for policy makers and the general public.

The report is to be welcomed as yet another sign that the Obama administration is taking climate science seriously.  Those who continue to deny the need for action have also to deny the science. The previous US administration may have been prepared to do that for several long benighted years, but Obama’s White House is according science its proper place. The fact that the report is largely limited to the impacts of climate change on the US is probably helpful in terms of political action in the country whose actions matter more than any others at this crucial time.  No doubt vested interests will continue to pressure US lawmakers to ignore reality, but with reports like this that path must be looking more and more dangerous.

Extraordinarily the New York Times has buried the story, but the Guardian’s US correspondent Suzanne Goldberg provides an excellent coverage and a sense of the political importance of the report.

14 thoughts on ““Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase””

  1. “Climate change is apparent now across our nation” – after 333 years it is NOW apparent that the climate in the USA changes…. Right.

    But I want to ask you about your opposition to John Keys position of being ready for the eventuality of either, the current thinking “firms up considerably more or deteriorates, and the climate change sceptics are right”.

    Surely, this balanced approach that takes account of the thinking of all citizens thoughts is more what a democratic government is about?

    I think the first step to a proper debate is to admit the possibility that the pre-conceived view you have might be wrong. Then the two parties can investigate an issue and evaluate what the real picture is. It seems that you are unwilling to even acknowledge you may be wrong.

    Do you acknowledge the possibility that a marginal change in CO2 has only a small impact on climate at current concentrations? If you do, Key’s approach would be fine, whatever his own opinion on the issue was (skeptic or AGW believer). So this does not mean he doubts anyone, just that he is aware of the possibility of being wrong.

  2. R2D2 I don’t have a pre-conceived view. My views were informed by my reading of the science. In fact I wouldn’t even describe them as my views, just as respect for the findings of science.

    No, I don’t think the PM should be taking a so-called balanced appproach. He has a duty to take the warnings of science seriously, especially when they are as serious as those being issued about global warming. The protection of its citizens is one of the primary duties of government. Proper heed to science is fundamental to our civilisation.

    Scientific investigation is going on all the time. Scientists disagree often – it’s part of how science proceeds. You talk as if climate science has somehow bolted away without the restraint of debate and needs to be called to account. It hasn’t. It has proceeded by the normal paths of scientific method, which includes constant debate. If it has got something seriously wrong that will become apparent in due course.

    I’m not sure what you understand by a marginal change in CO2 levels. 30% since the industrial revolution got under way is hardly marginal, it has not had only a small impact on climate and its full impact is yet to be felt. The scientists who work on these questions are not silly. Do some reading, and you’ll soon see why any significant rise in CO2 levels must affect global temperature. There’s nothing in the current picture which makes Key’s approach fine. I hope he’ll change it.

  3. By marginal i mean, additional, as in the difference between marginal cost and total cost.

    By preconceived, i meant before today. I used the word incorrectly.

    My point of view is that a marginal change in CO2 from current levels will not have a large affect on temperature. I admit this view might be wrong, but for now i believe it to be probably correct. I would not be able to enter debate in a healthy manner if I did not first accept the possibility that I may be wrong and that you may be right.

  4. It’s an uninformed point of view, R2. Presumably you wish to remain uninformed out of a desire to not change a view that grew out of unscientific motivations, combined perhaps with a degree of plain old intellectual laziness.

    Bryan (and others), this may be of interest.

  5. R2D2 the following paragraph from the now available synthesis report of the Copenhagen Congress of scientists in March serves to underline why it is wrong for any politician to continue to delay engagement with climate change action. It is one of six key messages.

    Society already has many tools and approaches – economic,
    technological, behavioural, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not vigorously and widely implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies will not be achieved. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to achieve effective and rapid adaptation and mitigation. These include job growth in the sustainable energy sector; reductions in the health, social, economic and environmental costs of climate change; and the repair of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.”

  6. I herd that was written before the conference and never actually formally agreed to by all the scientists there. Further more some scientists came out afterwards and disagreed with the synthesis report? (sorry I cant find link)

    Steve Bloom: What an insulting and ridiculous link you have posted.

    But this just goes to show that you are in fact the denier.

    I, when confronted with an important question such as the AGW one, look at both sides of the argument and continue to do so.

    You, when confronted with an opposing point of view, choose not to investigate the merits of that view, but instead deny it is thoughtful view at all. And try to brush it away with opinion on, what makes someone a denier.

    OK, I’m going to give up.

    Steve Bloom, after reading the article I see now that the only reason I doubt AGW is because I mistrust government.

    Yes, I don’t believe AGW because I am a suspicious person. I shamefully choose to not be content to take this or that scientists word as end of discussion, instead researching things for myself.

    However my tiny brain is not equipped to research things for myself, and when I come across contrary opinions I become confused, and I lose faith in the AGW theory. My mistrust for government leans me towards the alternate theory – that – wait for it its kind of crazy – climate changes by itself.

    Now if only I took every thing TV1 news and the Herald told me as fact, and never doubted anything, or researched them for myself, I would be more like you, and I would know the truth. Thank you for the helpful link.

  7. R2, even better would be for you to put the needed effort into understanding the science, which I seem to recall we have established you are unwilling to do. So, as the shoe has been demonstrated to fit, you should be happy to wear it.

  8. R2D2: “when I come across contrary opinions I become confused, and I lose faith in the AGW theory”

    This is exactly the intention of the denialist noise machine. It raises a series of objections to AGW, all spurious to a greater or lesser degree. People whose mistrust of governments, or experts, or the UN, or environmentalists, makes them not want to accept AGW see the noise as debate and decide the science is not settled (which of course it isn’t in some respects).

    R2D2: “climate changes by itself”

    What does “by itself” mean? The climate system clearly supports fluctuations. However, as far as we can tell, variations in larger-scale properties like global mean temperature on time scales of decades to centuries are produced by definable forcings.

  9. R2D2
    “I heard that was written before the conference and never actually formally agreed to by all the scientists there. Further more some scientists came out afterwards and disagreed with the synthesis report?”

    You’re confusing this synthesis report with a short statement put out at the end of the congress and discussed by Gareth here . I think there was someone who demurred at the process and was taken up enthusiastically by the denialist community.

    The synthesis report explains in its preface that it “has been critically reviewed by representatives of the Earth System Science Partnership (explained below), by the parallel session chairs and co-chairs, and by up to four independent researchers from each IARU university (the Universities who organised the congress).”

    (The Earth System Science Partnership is a partnership of the international research programmes World Climate Research Programme, International Geosphere Biosphere Programme , International Human Dimensions Programme for Global Change Research and DIVERSITAS, an international programme of biodiversity science)

  10. Mark H: You seem to miss the point that when I say

    “However my tiny brain is not equipped to research things for myself, and when I come across contrary opinions I become confused”

    I was being satirical of the exact believers opinion you have explained to me! You obviously don’t need to re-explain it to me! Lol

    Obviously I know that believers think anyone who is doubtful of AGW has been conned by a clever tactic of the “denialist noise machine”.

    The double think is very ingenious. You claim in a single breath that I must be a paranoid conspiracy theorist, then claim a denialist conspiracy!

    (the denialist noise machine has the intention of confusing people who mistrust the government or “experts”)

  11. I didn’t pick up the irony, sorry.

    I don’t recall accusing you of being a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

    I know several people, one or two quite closely, who don’t understand the scientific basis for the concern about AGW in any depth, but who can quote talking points they’ve picked up: there are no SUVs on Mars, the natural flux of CO2 is much larger than the human one, the sea level is not rising, etc. I think “noise machine” is a pretty good term for the people who generate and disseminate these talking points.

  12. “People whose mistrust of governments, or experts, or the UN, or environmentalists”

    Mark H:
    Sorry if you were not calling me a paranoid conspiracy theorist, Steve Bloom had posted an insulting link, that associated my comments with people who “deny AIDS”. I presumed this comment was along the same lines. My apologies.

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