Climate Change Is Impacting the United States Now, Says New Gov’t Report

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Melting Arctic Ice in Summer
Image of Arctic sea ice melt in the summertime.
Source: NASA, “Global Climate Change,” climate.nasa.gov (accessed May 7, 2014)
The National Climate Assessment, a report produced by a group of more than 300 experts and a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, concluded that human-induced “climate change is happening now.”

The report, released on May 6, 2014, details how climate change “impacts are visible in every state,” including increased heat, drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfires in the Southwest, receding glaciers and thawing permafrost in Alaska, increased coral bleaching and disease outbreaks in Hawaii, coastal flooding, intense rain and snow events in the Northeast, and increased risk of extreme events such as hurricanes in the Southeast.

According to the 2014 report, US average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since 1895, and is projected to rise another 2°F to 4°F over the next few decades. Specific examples of climate change impacts from the report include a 70% increase in the amount of rain falling in heavy storm events in the Northeast between 1958 and 2010, and the possibility that Arctic summer sea ice may “virtually disappear before mid-century.” In Puerto Rico, the coastline near Rincòn is eroding at a rate of 3.3 feet per year, and coastal areas in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas already have average annual losses that total $14 billion due to hurricane winds, land shifting, and sea level rise.

Under a 1990 Congressional mandate, the National Climate Assessment report is to be published once every four years. The conclusions of the 2014 National Climate Assessment provided support for President Obama’s Climate Action Plan released in June 2013. In an interview about the assessment report, Obama stated that climate change “is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now. Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires — all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.”

Some members of congress criticized the report and its conclusions, including US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who stated that the “climate assessment seems conveniently timed for the week the Senate could be debating the need to approve the Keystone XL,” and that the “President and my colleagues are jumping at opportunities to sideline critical domestic energy opportunities for the United States.” He went on to state that “we can all agree that natural variations in the climate are taking place, but man-made global warming still remains a theory.”

According to an Oct. 2013 survey by the Pew Research center, 66% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans believe human-induced climate change is occurring. According to a separate Pew survey, 40% of Americans believe that climate change is a “major threat” to the country. A 2013 meta-study by John Cook of the University of Queensland published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that 97% of climate scientists believe human-induced climate change is occurring. 

Sources:   

Alister Doyle, “Scientists Say United on Global Warming, at Odds with Public View,” reuters.com, May 15, 2013

Justin Gillis, “US Climate Has Already Changes, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods,” nytimes.com, May 6, 2014

Kathleen Hennessey and Neela Banerjee, “Climate Change Is Already Affecting All of US, Report Says,” latimes.com, May 6, 2014

Jim Inhofe (R-OK), “Inhofe Statement on President’s National Climate Assessment,” inhofe.senate.gov, May 6, 2014

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “GOP Deeply Divided over Climate Change,” people-press.org, Nov. 1, 2013

Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, “Climate Change and Financial Instability Seen as Top Global Threats,” pewglobal.org, June 24, 2013

US Global Change Research Program, “Legal Mandate,” globalchange.gov (accessed May 7, 2014)

US Global Change Research Program, “National Climate Assessment,” globalchange.gov, May 6, 2014