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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Federal Report: Climate Change Is Disrupting Americans’ Lives

Bryant Hofer harvests a field of corn on October 2, 2013 near Salem, South Dakota. During last year's drought Hofer averaged about 85 bushels of corn per acre. Although he has just started to harvest his fields, this year Bryants corn has averaged 180 bushels-per-acre. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A new federal climate report says corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The new National Climate Assessment, released Tuesday, concludes that the harms of global warming will become more and more disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.

The report emphasizes how warming and its all-too-wild weather is changing daily lives, even using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

But the 840-page report says it’s not too late to prevent the worst of climate change. The White House is highlighting the science and effects of warming as it tries to jump start often-stalled efforts to curb heat-trapping gases.

Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University who wrote the Northeast chapter of the report, discusses report’s findings with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

The introduction to the report reads:

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience. So, too, are coastal planners in Florida, water managers in the arid Southwest, city dwellers from Phoenix to New York, and Native Peoples on tribal lands from Louisiana to Alaska. This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country.

The National Climate Assessment comes out every four years; this is the third report.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.

And coming up, it is the Tea Party versus the GOP establishment in primaries around the country today.

YOUNG: But first, a federal government report released today concludes what many Americans have already concluded. Extreme weather events influenced by climate change have grown more frequent and intense, disrupting lives and damaging the economy. The National Climate Assessment is mandated by Congress. It comes out every four years with the review of the latest science. Radley Horton is a lead author of the Northeast chapter of the report. He's a climate scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Radley, what's the overarching message from this report?

RADLEY HORTON: The overarching message is that climate change is already happening. We've seen about a foot of sea level rise over the last century in the Northeast. That's already leading to more frequent and damaging coastal flooding. In the Northeast we've also seen the heaviest rain event become about 75 percent stronger. So climate change is already here and now, and it's already impacting all Americans. And we expect those impacts to just get worse as the century progresses.

YOUNG: Well, what are some of those projections when it comes to heat or rainfall, which you just talked about?

HORTON: We expect that as the atmosphere continues to warm, it's going to be able to hold more moisture. We're going to see more of these very heavy rain events of the types that overwhelm our sewer systems in the cities of the Northeast and elsewhere, fouling the coastal waters. They damage infrastructure, and as we've seen in some of these events in Florida in the last couple weeks, these heavy rain events are deadly.

We also know that as sea levels rise, we're going to see dramatic increases in the frequency of coastal flooding. And when individual storms come along, like Sandy, the storm surge is going to penetrate further inland and cause more damage simply because average sea levels are rising.

YOUNG: Well, and when it comes to heat, if I'm reading this correctly, the report says that if nothing is done to cut emissions, U.S. temperatures could rise about three to five degrees by the end of the century. And that means that New Hampshire would be like North Carolina.

HORTON: So as temperatures rise, we're going see huge changes in ecosystems. We're already seeing tree species moving further north, moving higher up in elevation. We're seeing pests spreading further north as well. We're seeing changes in the distribution of things like lime disease, West Nile Virus, big impacts on agriculture due to changes we've already observed. And changes are expected to accelerate in the future.

It's going to mean more deaths among vulnerable populations, the children and the elderly in our cities. Huge impact on agriculture potentially as well. That's why it's so critical that we take steps now to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically.

YOUNG: Well, as you know, there are people who deny that climate change and human involvement in climate change even exists. But they're increasingly in the minority. A recent Gallop Poll shows that a majority of Americans believe climate change is happening and there is human involvement. But still, there report addresses the claim that global warming is caused by solar activity or by volcanic eruptions and discounts that.

What do you do, though, with the people who polls show believe that climate change is happening, absolutely accept it, but aren't that worried about it? That's - the polls shows that they're in the majority as well.

HORTON: So that's a great point. I would say that it's really critical to have efforts like the National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive effort to bring together scientists, communicators, members of the private sector, members of the public sector.

And another critical message of the report is if there are a lot of solutions that are out there today that have positive outcomes, decisions we need to make now about where we'll live, what types of infrastructure we want to have, so we can build a positive future no matter what your background or political perspective.

YOUNG: Well, given what you're seeing, Radley Horton, in this report, what should people be thinking about where they live and how they build?

HORTON: You look at a place like New York City - for several years now they've been looking at their vulnerability to sea level rise, considering a range of strategies. For some places it may be possible to invest in things like shoreline protection in addition to other strategies like green infrastructure.

We're seeing towns in Maine, for example, increasing the size of their culverts. These are these sort of mundane sounding pipes that sit underneath our roads, but they're critical for dealing with heavy flood events. Those culverts are now being made bigger to account for these heavier rain events.

We're also seeing cities embracing this climate information, developing plans that will help them to elevate critical homes, critical infrastructure.

YOUNG: But, you know, we have - we're hearing that a transportation bill that has money for rebuilding and strengthening the country's infrastructure is being held up. There's no money. We're seeing roads collapse in Florida, embankments collapse in Washington State. There's a disconnect.

HORTON: I absolutely agree with you. One of the messages from the Northeast Chapter is that we have some of the oldest infrastructure in the country. And it's critical that we provide those investments and critical infrastructure and do it in a way where we plan for the higher sea levels and higher temperatures of the future.

YOUNG: Radley Horton, climate scientist at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, lead author of the Northeast Chapter of the Third National Climate Assessment, the report on climate change released by the Obama administration today. Radley, thank you.

HORTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Chris

    They put this out but drag their feet on the Keystone XL decision? Who’s running things, Tom Steyer?

  • Rick

    Why does anyone believe this garbage?
    Obama presents us with some doomsday scenarios, and the only solution is… big surprise. .. a bunch of government spending and more regulations (many of which are counter productive).

    Remember when, last fall, the government’s computer models predicted an abnormally warm winter for the Midwest and East Coast? LOL…. turned out to be the coldest winter in over 2 decades.

    Remember when Al Gore’s movie blamed Hurricane Katrina on “global warming” and said that there would be increased hurricane activity every year after? And then the next few years, we had some of the lowest hurricane activity in several decades.

    You know it’s a bunch of BS when Obama promotes the new “scientific” report by doing an interview with Al Roker. LOL.

    Extreme weather events are nothing new. The same old lies and propaganda are getting old.

    • S David H de Lorge

      Was it the coldest winter in Sochi, Russia? In California?

      Computer models aim for a certainty level of what? 95%? 99%? 99.9%? What did they predict for president in 2012? What did you believe would occur in that election?

      I didn’t see it. Did Al Gore really say “increased hurricane activity *every* year after?”

      How does Obama become the focus of discussions about meteorology and models of future trends?

    • Sarah

      um this “garbage” needs to get out there so people can finally realize that hey this is real. we need to wake up and freakin do something about it. it will hurt us in the long run. You can deny that human contribute to it but you can’t deny that it is happening. Droughts in the west, torrential rains in the northeast. and that cold winter was the result of melting polar ice caps slowing down the current in the Atlantic which caused the Jet Stream to stay put. The cold winter was the result of the Jet Stream dipping far south.

  • andyk1985

    Did you see the graph that purports to show the human influence on temperature? According to the graph, there would have been no trend in temperature since 1900 without the human influence. Looking at the historical record, that there would be no other 100 year period in the history of the world that could claim no trend in temperature. But there would have been no trend in the 20th century without the human influence? A six grader can see the problems with this science. This report is nothing more than global warming propaganda.

    • S David H de Lorge

      Six graders are well trained in science, and in analyzing statistical trends. You got ‘em there.

  • Mina

    Even if you do not believe in climate change why do you refuse to act responsibly to take care of the Earth? I know it might be a big concept for small minds to grasp but when I see comments like those below…. I can see we have some educating to do.

    • andyk1985

      To whom are you referring? Are you familiar with others responding to this piece of fiction?

    • Rick

      I actually do believe in taking care of the earth, conserving resources, recycling, protecting wildlife, etc. But I refuse to buy into the “global warming” hysteria. So don’t make assumptions that I do not act responsibly to take care of the earth. It has been my observation that the people yelling the loudest about what everyone else should do are usually the worst offenders. Al Gore likes to fly around on private jets and was ratted out for having a $1200 a month electric bill (at just one of his houses). Talk about being a hypocrite.

  • andyk1985

    The next question is why are they interviewing someone from the Earth Institute on the show? They make money from the alarmist claims. At the very least, a disclaimer is required before interviewing this clown.

  • bust_a_gut

    What we should do is have every family chip in $5.00 for a stainless steel monument. The monument would be dedicated to OK senator James Inhofe, and the Koch bros. and all of the rest of the major climate change deniers. This monument would exist, in perpetuity, for all of the ancestors of those dedicated to enjoy. If they are right – they get bragging rights, and if they are wrong – then we have a permanent record of what these people stood for.

    • S David H de Lorge

      Monuments of coal last a long time too, if you bronze them.

  • S David H de Lorge

    The point is that it’s now now, not in some years or decades hence.

  • Bob Bingham

    Only in the USA is climate change a political event. In the rest of the world it is a scientific calculation. The are real and serious threats to our lifestyles. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/climate-threats.html

  • jennylingpo

    According to a comparison of actual satellite and surface temperature
    observations vs. what was predicted by 90 different climate models, 95
    percent of models overestimated actual temperatures. Nothing says
    “Science” like predicting stuff incorrectly over and over and over again. If this were real science, these models would never be wrong. The scientific method demand that such models be accurate in their predictions in order to form the basis of a valid scientific theory. Climate change is nothing but another unproven hypothesis, certainly nothing to form the basis of national policy.


  • jennylingpo

    And for you climate change religion believers and those who lack an education in science, here are the basic tenets of all valid scientific discovery, otherwise known as the Scientific Method. As you can see, the failure of climate change models to correctly predict future climate change data and events means they are invalid according to the Scientific Method:

    The Scientific Method has four steps

    1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.

    2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the
    hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical

    3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to
    predict quantitatively the results of new observations.

    4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent
    experimenters and properly performed experiments.

    If the experiments bear out the hypothesis it may come to be regarded as a
    theory or law of nature (more on the concepts of hypothesis, model, theory and
    law below). If the experiments do not bear out the hypothesis, it must be
    rejected or modified. What is key in the description of the scientific method
    just given is the predictive power (the ability to get more out of the theory
    than you put in; see Barrow, 1991) of the hypothesis or theory, as tested by
    experiment. It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only
    disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new
    experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory.


  • Bob Bingham

    The natural world is going to have a hard time adapting to the changes, http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/blog.html

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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