Draft Climate Change Assessment Warns Of 9°-15°F Warming for Most Of U.S.
The rule in Washington, DC is if you want to bury news, release it late on a Friday afternoon. So one can only assume the climate silence crowd prevailed in the release this afternoon of the draft U.S. Climate Assessment.
Perhaps it’s this chart they don’t want folks talking about, from the “Newer Simulations for Projected Temperature” in Chapter 2:
Projected rise in average U.S. surface air temperature 2071-2099 relative to 1971-2000. This is RCP 8.5, “a scenario that assumes continued increases in emissions,” with CO2 levels hitting about 940 parts per million. It is close to the emissions path we are currently on — but not the worst-case scenario and not where still-rising temperatures would end up post-2100.
The Assessment, put together by dozens of the country’s top climate experts, makes clear that if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are headed towards a devastating 9°F to 15°F warming over most of the United States (this century), with ever-worsening extreme weather, heat waves, deluges and droughts. As the report notes “generally, wet [areas] get wetter and dry get drier.” Future generations will be wishing for the boring “moist” and “cool” days of 2012 (when they aren’t cursing our names).
But if the administration were to give this news the attention it is due, then it would have to prioritize climate action above gun-control and immigration and deficit reduction (or, in the latter case, insist upon a carbon tax as part of any comprehensive deficit bill). For the Administration, climate action appears to always be the lowest of top priorities — and when the priorities above it (like health care, economic stimulus) are dealt with, new priorities take their place at the top of the list.
In a statement (bel0w), Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol M. Browner, former EPA administrator and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, said that the Assessment makes clear “The time to act is now” with “significantly steeper reductions in industrial carbon pollution” than we’ve seen to date — if we are to avoid the worst impacts. She notes the report makes clear, “no part of the nation is safe” from manmande climate change.
Here are the key points from the Assessment’s Executive Summary:
- Global climate is changing now and this change is apparent across a wide range of observations. Much of the climate change of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities.
- Global climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.
- U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since record keeping began in 1895; more than 80% of this increase has occurred since 1980. The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record. U.S. temperatures are expected to continue to rise. Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a naturally varying climate, the temperature rise has not been, and will not be, smooth across the country or over time.
- The length of the frost-free season (and the corresponding growing season) has been increasing nationally since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western U.S., affecting ecosystems and agriculture. Continued lengthening of the growing season across the U.S. is projected.
- Precipitation averaged over the entire U.S. has increased during the period since 1900, but regionally some areas have had increases greater than the national average, and some areas have had decreases. The largest increases have been in the Midwest, southern Great Plains, and Northeast. Portions of the Southeast, the Southwest, and the Rocky Mountain states have experienced decreases. More winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern U.S., and less for the Southwest, over this century.
- Heavy downpours are increasing in most regions of the U.S., especially over the last three to five decades. Largest increases are in the Midwest and Northeast. Further increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected for most U.S. areas.
- Certain types of extreme weather events have become more frequent and intense, including heat waves, floods, and droughts in some regions. The increased intensity of heat waves has been most prevalent in the western parts of the country, while the intensity of flooding events has been more prevalent over the eastern parts. Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense in the future.
- There has been an increase in the overall strength of hurricanes and in the number of strong (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes in the North Atlantic since the early 1980s. The intensity of the strongest hurricanes is projected to continue to increase as the oceans continue to warm; ocean cycles will also affect the amount of warming at any given time. With regard to other types of storms that affect the U.S., winter storms have increased slightly in frequency and intensity, and their tracks have shifted northward over the U.S. Other trends in severe storms, including the numbers of hurricanes and the intensity and frequency of tornadoes, hail, and damaging thunderstorm winds are uncertain and are being studied intensively.
- Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.
- Rising temperatures are reducing ice volume and extent on land, lakes, and sea. This loss of ice is expected to continue.
- The oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere annually and are becoming more acidic as a 36 result, leading to concerns about potential impacts on marine ecosystems.
Here is the full statement by Carol Browner:
The draft climate assessment released today confirms what the science says and what our eyes are telling us: It’s getting hotter, and that carbon pollution is driving climate change, fueling more violent and frequent weather events and threatening public health. Climate alarms continued to blare in 2012, which was the hottest year on record in the United States. And destructive superstorm Sandy was one of 11 storms, floods, droughts, and heat waves last year that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. The draft assessment warns us that the loss of lives and livelihoods will only get worse, and no part of the nation is safe.
Senior citizens, children, and middle- and lower-income Americans will experience increasing vulnerability to more frequent and ferocious extreme weather events. Residents and businesses in coastal towns will face more damaging storm surges and sea-level rise. Our aging roads, water plants, electricity generation, and other infrastructure will also face more climate-related threats.
We made some progress in reducing climate pollution since 2009 but the draft assessment is a reminder that we must make significantly steeper reductions in industrial carbon pollution. We all need the courage to stand up to the special interests and instead support immediate action to address carbon pollution and climate change. We can start with strict carbon pollution standards for power plants and we must significantly expand investments in community resiliency to protect people and the economy from the gathering storms—and floods, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves. The time to act is now.
Hear! Hear! Or perhaps, in the case of President Obama, Speak! Speak!
Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called "the indispensable blog" and Time magazine named one of the 25 "Best Blogs of 2010." In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 "people who are reinventing America." Time named him a "Hero of the Environment″ and “The Web’s most influential ...
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