National Assessment: Impacts of Climate Change Already Widely Felt

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

And thus begins the latest National Climate Assessment, which examines present and future impacts on the United States from human-induced warming. The gist of the report is that the future has arrived – with more heat, with more drought, with more fire, with more flooding, with more severe coastal storms. And that by the end of this century, unless greenhouse gases can be seriously dialed back, it will be far worse.

Colorado, for the purposes of this study, is organized into the Southwest region, the nation’s hottest and driest, along with Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. The bottom line for the region, as of 2014:

“Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.”

The report was prepared by a large panel of scientists and other experts under the auspices of the federal government, and extensively reviewed by many, including members of the public and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. Critics have already responded with cries of “scare tactic” and “war on coal.”

However, much of the report deals with current conditions and things that have already happened. The predictions and forecasts are in there, too.

In Colorado, for example, where the Rockies drew a healthy winter snowpack and spring has arrived in fits and starts, normalcy might seem the current order. But the assessment points to the ferocious fires of the last two years and last September’s epic floods.

And the southeast quadrant of the state along with most of New Mexico, much of Texas and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska are entering their 4th year of devastating drought. California experienced its driest year on record in 2013.

According to the National Climatic Center, the 1991-2012 average temperature in Grand Junction was 3.2 degrees warmer compared with the 1901-1960 average.

“Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region, affecting 56 million people – a population expected to increase to 94 million by 2050 – and its critical agriculture sector,” the report predicts. “Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and ecosystems for the region’s most precious resource. ”

There’s not a lot of lighthearted reading in the report. But it’s easy enough to check out.

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