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New IPCC Report Connects Extreme Weather to Climate Change--and Forecasts More

Frances Beinecke

Posted November 3, 2011 in Solving Global Warming

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This week, a draft of a comprehensive report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was circulated. The extensive survey of scientific data found that climate change is causing more extreme weather events than in the past and these devastating floods, droughts, and heat waves will increase in the coming decades.

Americans already know the heavy toll extreme weather can take on our communities.

The heat wave that gripped the nation this July caused the death of scores of Americans. In September, more than 1,550 homes were consumed in the wildfires that raged across Texas, and the fires and drought combined to cost Texas farmers and ranchers $5.2 billion in losses. By October, leaders in New York were still trying to figure out how to pay for $1 billion worth of damages Tropical Storm Irene did to state-owned infrastructure and buildings.

Meanwhile, NRDC scientists have documented the threat climate change poses to Americans’ health. Hotter temperatures, for instance, make smog pollution worse and increase the number of “bad air days” when it’s hard to breathe—especially for young children, the elderly, and anyone with asthma or other respiratory conditions.  (Click here for a map of the US that breaks down the health threats by region.)

But judging from the new IPCC report, this is only the beginning. The findings show that the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves will increase over most of the world’s landscapes.  Dr. Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder explained it this way in a great NBC Nightly News story:

Just as steroids make a baseball player stronger and increase chances of hitting home runs, greenhouse gases are the steroids of the climate system. They increase the chances of record-breaking heat to occur compared to record-breaking cold.

This is what persistent climate denial and political paralysis has brought us: extreme weather events that endanger our families and push the limits of already strained budgets.

It’s not too late to act. We still have time to shield ourselves from worse impacts, but we have to start cutting carbon pollution now.

President Obama has made an impressive start. The clean car standards he announced in July will cut carbon emissions from vehicles in half and save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump. But cars and trucks are only one piece in the puzzle.

Power plants account for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, yet there is no limit on how much global warming pollution these plants can release. The Obama administration is expected to set limits on carbon pollution. Together with the clean car standards, these new safeguards would cover two-thirds of the nation’s global warming pollution.

If we combine that with a full-throttled effort to embrace clean renewable power and greater energy efficiency, and if we reject projects like the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil, we can make a significant down payment on the reductions we need to make to stabilize the climate and reduce extreme weather events in the future.

The Texas farmers who have watched their crops dry up and the Chicago mothers who have taken their children to the emergency room for asthma attacks know how punishing these extreme events can be. The latest IPCC findings are indicating once again that unusually intense droughts and heat waves are linked to climate change.  Now is the time to act on this knowledge and cut dangerous carbon pollution.

 

 

 

 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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