On the day after Thanksgiving this year the United States Government quietly released its Fourth National Climate Assessment. I spent the weekend digging through this fascinating, frightening, and damning report.
Clearly politics from the current administration did not dictate content. Content was left to the great scientists of the government and our country.
Climate Change is Primarily Caused By Humans
Despite the current climate change denialists in charge of the US Government, the very first sentence of the report is: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
The second sentence is equally direct: “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”
The other really significant sentence in the overview is: “Observations collected around the world provide significant, clear, and compelling evidence that global average temperature is much higher, and is rising more rapidly,than anything modern civilization has experienced, with widespread and growing impacts.”
A Regional View
The United States is a very large and geographically diverse country. The report takes a deeper look by region.
Being that I live in the Northeast region, which spans Maryland and West Virginia up to Maine, I read the analysis for my region intently and want to share those key findings with you today. The content is so rich, that I picked out some that stood out to me.
The Northeast United States
The Northeast United States includes the major cities of New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and more. It also includes a beautiful coastline which offers an economic and recreational mix of beaches, bays, commercial and recreational fishing/seafood, and biodiversity. Then there are the Appalachian Mountains. The Northeast stretches from the country roads of West Virginia to the foliage of Vermont, the iconic Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, up to Acadia National Park in Maine, and so much more.
The Northeast is truly a 4 season region in the US.
Northeast US and Climate Change
The biggest change to the Northeast over the next 50 plus years will be increased precipitation, both in volume and intensity, throughout the region, particularly in the Winter and Spring. Remember the flooding in West Virginia a few years ago? Or what Tropical Storm Irene did to interior New England? These events become more a norm.
The coasts will be hit by more frequent and intense storms and the effects of rising sea levels. Think about Superstorm Sandy.
The seasons will be less distinct, in particular less intense winters and earlier springs.
What Will Be Different by 2070
So many things will be different by 2070 due to climate change. I’ve listed a few here.
Threats to Human Health
Vector-borne diseases scares me the most.
- Vector-borne diseases. These are disease passed on by the likes of mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. Lyme disease, already a problem, is linked to moist conditions in the late spring and early summer so will get worse.
- Gastrointestinal illness from waterborne and food borne contaminants. A particular problem is that the Northeast has a lot of combined wastewater/storm water systems, so when these overflow we get sewage contamination.
- Increased respiratory illness from more mold in buildings and homes due to wetter conditions.
- A much longer allergy season.
- Degradation of air quality leading to more illness and death.
- Growing illness and death due to extreme heat, especially among the more vulnerable.
Vulnerability of Infrastructure
The Northeast has some old infrastructure and much like most of the United States, it has not been well maintained. What kind of effects does climate change have on infrastructure?
- More power outages – “Electricity for air conditioning is more likely to fail precisely when it is most needed.” Additionally we already experience power outages from lines going down in big storms.
- Flooding and major rain events, particularly around urban areas, can bring down transportation system, storm water management systems, and the power supply. These events can also bring down bridges, especially in Pennsylvania which is severely behind in bridge maintenance.
- Water Security. Being overcapacity in mixed use water management systems increases the potential of contaminating the drinking water.
- High tide flooding in low lying cities and towns. This can occur close to the coast but even in land a day or two after a major rain event – on a sunny day. Watch out.
Threats to Economies
The threats to the economy are broad and extensive.
I decided to call out some direct impacts on those who make a direct living off the earth.
Inland. Economies that depend on the forest and/or natural resources such as timber will be negatively impacted. The changing climate is already affecting the health of the forests. Additionally, some industries will be hit hard such as winter sports in this region. We are not the Rockies, but the Northeast has a significant number of winter/ski resorts. Global warming is not great for their business. For farming, while one might think a longer growing season will be beneficial, the excessive moisture is already a leading cause of crop loss in the Northeast.
Coastal Economies. Those who made a living off of the blue crab industry on the Chesapeake bay have already lived the economic collapse when we do not protect or manage our environment and resources. With global warming, coastal communities will not fair well without major adaption. Fishing, seafood, and tourism will all take major hits. Housing and development will need to move inland.
The report reviews what some regions, states, and local entities are doing now, but it is not prescriptive. It is however enlightening.
To read the full report go here:
We all need to continue to look at the choices we make and embrace the hard decisions. We also need to look at our leaders and hold them as equally as accountable for hard decisions as we do ourselves.