National Academy of Sciences Stress the Impacts of Climate Change & Call for a National Adaptation Actions
Last week the National Academies of Sciences released its most comprehensive report on climate science, declaring that: “Strong Evidence on Climate Change Underscores Need For Actions to Reduce Emissions and Begin Adapting to Impacts”. The conclusions of the “Adaptation ” report stress that climate change is impacting the U.S. today and therefore the U.S. needs to begin taking serious steps to adapt to those and future impacts.
As my colleague discussed, the report was very clear about the science of climate change. And its conclusions on the impacts of global warming on the US are also clear. It states:
Across the United States, impacts of climate change are already in evidence. Some extreme weather events such as heat waves have become more frequent and intense, cold extremes have become less frequent, and patterns of rainfall are likely changing. For example, the proportion of precipitation that falls as rain rather than snow has increased across the western United States. Arctic sea ice has been reduced significantly over the past 30 years.
The best “adaptation” strategy, of course, is to reduce the pollution that drives global warming. The best way to avoid a car accident is to drive safely – not put the pedal to the metal. On that front, the National Academy of Sciences is also very clear (as my colleague discussed): “We thus conclude that there is an urgent need for U.S. action to reduce GHG emissions.”
But some climate impacts are now unavoidable. So in addition to recommending fast action to cut emissions, this report catalogues the impacts of global warming on the U.S. and calls for a comprehensive National Adaptation Strategy to insure against the range of consequences of climate change.
The impacts of global warming on the US stressed by the report include:
- Hotter average temperatures and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events. In the past 50 years, temperatures have already risen more than 2º F in the United States and will continue to increase. The report provides an astounding map of the United States blanketed in red, demonstrating that most of the country will experience extreme heat waves every 1-3 years by the end of this century. (We couldn’t add the image here – but encourage you to get the report and check it out on page 27).
- Extreme rainfall and flooding will affect all regions in the United States. Light rains have become less common and heavy rain events have become more frequent, interestingly the total amount of rain falling in the last 50 years was 5% more than average.
- “Sea level increased along most of the U.S. coast over the past 50 years, with some areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts experiencing increases of greater than 8 inches.” Global sea level rise is in the range of 3-4 feet by the end of the century if emissions remain high, but communities in the United States have already moved or are planning to move to protect their lives and livelihoods from higher seas and more intense coastal storms.
The National Adaptation Strategy will allow us to recognize and plan for a future which may include:
abrupt changes that push the climate system across thresholds […], creating novel and potentially irreversible conditions such as ice-free arctic summers or extreme rises in sea level.
Our leaders need to dedicate technical and scientific resources to enable communities to generate locally relevant information about the risks of climate change. The federal government should also incentivize local and state adaptation planning and facilitate the exchange of data, methodologies, and lessons learned. Finally communities must implement locally specific adaptation actions.
The report cautions that the time has come to consider adaptation measures which are viewed as “unacceptable, or at least very difficult [...] such as large scale retreat of populations from at-risk areas”. Already in the United States people and communities are planning to uproot to escape the threat of rising sea level and coastal inundation.
Alaskan coastal and river communities are experiencing greater erosion and flooding because of increased storm activity and windiness; reduced sea-ice extent, which increases the intensity of storm surges; and thawing of permafrost, which increases susceptibility to erosion. Traditionally, many of these communities were semi-nomadic, moving inland during periods of severe storms, and had little permanent infrastructure. During the past 100 years, however, their mobility has been reduced by the building of houses, schools, airports, and other permanent facilities—changes that have increased vulnerability to climate change.
Six Alaskan communities are now planning some type of relocation. However, no funds have been appropriated to begin the relocation process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified 160 additional villages in rural Alaska that are threatened by climate related erosion, with relocation costs are estimated at $30-50 million per village.
Despite the enormity of the threats posed by climate change impacts, superior planning and investing in climate solutions can strengthen communities for the long term. In the case of major heat waves, communities like Philadelphia have found that investing in its Hot Weather-Health Watch/Warning System has saved 117 lives in its 3 years of operating. The benefits of adaptation are echoed in the recent release of the White House Interim Report on Adaptation, which lays the groundwork for a National Adaptation Strategy.
But we have a long way to go before these influential recommendations are implemented in a comprehensive way at the local, state and federal levels enabling communities to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. Congress must act to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation and it must dedicate resources to protect communities in the United States and around the world from the devastating impacts of climate change.
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