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I tried to get through it, I really did. But I stopped at page 62.

This morning I sat down with the A State of Knowledge Report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The Knowledge Report was recently put out by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (now the U.S. Global Change Research Program), which is sponsored by 13 federal agencies including the U.S. EPA.

The Knowledge Report is the so-far definitive climate change report/study put out by the United States government.

Most of us have probably never read the couple-year-old report put out by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I know I haven’t. It seems kinda stupid to be talking about climate change without actually having read the definitive studies.

So this morning I dove in to the Knowledge Report. I got to page 62 (of 190) and had to stop. I just couldn’t take it seriously.

Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices, and other activities. Warming over this century is projected to be considerably greater than over the last century. The global average temperature since 1900 has risen by about 1.5ºF. By 2100, it is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5ºF. The U.S. average temperature has risen by a comparable amount and is very likely to rise more than the global average over this century, with some variation from place to place. Several factors will determine future temperature increases. Increases at the lower end of this range are more likely if global heat-trapping gas emissions are cut substantially. If emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, temperature increases are more likely to be near the upper end of the range.

Human produced greenhouse gases have raised the average temperature by 1.5ºF over the last century and are poised raise it an additional 2 to 11.5ºF if emissions are not cut.

Climate-related changes have already been observed globally and in the United States. These include increases in air and water temperatures, reduced frost days, increased frequency and intensity of heavy downpours, a rise in sea level, and reduced snow cover, glaciers, permafrost, and sea ice. A longer ice-free period on lakes and rivers, lengthening of the growing season, and increased water vapor in the atmosphere have also been observed. Over the past 30 years, temperatures have risen faster in winter than in any other season, with average winter temperatures in the Midwest and northern Great Plains increasing more than 7ºF.

So, climate change will result in warmer air temperatures, heavier rain events and higher sea levels? The average winter temperature has risen 7ºF in the last thirty years.

But what are the side effects of that increase in temperature? What exactly will climate change do? How will our lives be affected? Longer growing seasons. Less ice on rivers and lakes.

So far, they’re just not scaring me. There must be something more.

Stabilization

The stabilization scenario is aimed at stabilizing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at roughly 450 parts per million (ppm); this is 70 ppm above the 2008 concentration of 385 ppm. Resulting temperature changes depend on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and particles and the climate’s sensitivity to those concentrations. Of those shown on the previous page, only the 450 ppm stabilization target has the potential to keep the global temperature rise at or below about 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels and 2°F above the current average temperature, a level beyond which many concerns have been raised about dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Re-read that last paragraph.

The goal of all climate change legislation should be to stabilize carbon dioxide concentration at “roughly 450 parts per million (ppm); this is 70 ppm above the 2008 concentration of 385 ppm.” A carbon dioxide concentration under 450 ppm should have very livable consequences for us.

Uncertainty

In projecting future conditions, there is always some level of uncertainty. For example, there is a high degree of confidence in projections that future temperature increases will be greatest in the Arctic and in the middle of continents. For precipitation, there is high confidence in projections of continued increases in the Arctic and sub-Arctic (including Alaska) and decreases in the regions just outside the tropics, but the precise location of the transition between these is less certain.

The report speaks in generalities because obviously its too difficult to make specific predictions about climate that far into the future. What they can fairly predicts goes something along the lines of:

  • Temperatures will rise all over, but it will rise more in colder climes than in warmer latitudes. Winters will warm further than summers will.
  • Heavy, as in 100-year-flood-heavy, precipitation events will increase. Think: One hundred is the new twenty. Twenty is the new five.
  • Even with more rain overall, there will be more periods of drought, especially in those areas that are already susceptible to it.
  • The parts of the globe that are currently thought of as “poor” are likely to see more significant changes which impact food and water than are North America and northern Europe.
Adaptation

Adaptation can include a wide range of activities. Examples include a farmer switching to growing a different crop variety better suited to warmer or drier conditions; a company relocating key business centers away from coastal areas vulnerable to sea-level rise and hurricanes; and a community altering its zoning and building codes to place fewer structures in harm’s way and making buildings less vulnerable to damage from floods, fires, and other extreme events. Some adaptation options that are currently being pursued in various regions and sectors to deal with climate change and/or other environmental issues are identified in this report. However, it is clear that there are limits to how much adaptation can achieve.

Humans will have to continue to adapt to their environment. Farmers will plant different crops or plant the same crops at slightly different times of year.

Building codes and local zoning ordinances will need to be updated to reflect the more likely occurrence of severe weather.

Humans have adapted to changing climatic conditions in the past, but in the future, adaptations will be particularly challenging because society won’t be adapting to a new steady state but rather to a rapidly moving target. Climate will be continually changing, moving at a relatively rapid rate, outside the range to which society has adapted in the past. The precise amounts and timing of these changes will not be known with certainty.

This is a ridiculous statement. Absolutely ridiculous fearmongering that is completely blind to the facts. Adapting to changing climate conditions in the modern age, with all of our technology, will be much easier than it has been for humans for the last 10,000 years.

Ridiculous. Fear. Mongering.

More Heat Waves

Scientists are sometimes asked whether extreme weather events can be linked to human activities. Scientific research has concluded that human influences on climate are indeed changing the likelihood of certain types of extreme events. For example, an analysis of the European summer heat wave of 2003 found that the risk of such a heat wave is now roughly four times greater than it would have been in the absence of human-induced climate change.

In a warmer future climate, models project there will be an increased risk of more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting heat waves. The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event that is likely to become much more common. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the 2040s more than half of European summers will be hotter than the summer of 2003, and by the end of this century, a summer as hot as that of 2003 will be considered unusually cool.

Okay, so global warming will bring more heat waves….

Rain, Rain Go Away

One of the clearest precipitation trends in the United States is the increasing frequency and intensity of heavy downpours. This increase was responsible for most of the observed increase in overall precipitation during the last 50 years. In fact, there has been little change or a decrease in the frequency of light and moderate precipitation during the past 30 years, while heavy precipitation has increased. In addition, while total average precipitation over the nation as a whole increased by about 7 percent over the past century, the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1 percent of rain events increased nearly 20 percent. During the past 50 years, the greatest increases in heavy precipitation occurred in the Northeast and the Midwest.

More rain overall. More rain in shorter periods of time. More periods of no rain. Seems to me like something that can be planned for. If only we had more than a fifty to hundred year time frame to do it…

If only…

Drought

Like precipitation, trends in drought have strong regional variations. In much of the Southeast and large parts of the West, the frequency of drought has increased coincident with rising temperatures over the past 50 years. In other regions, such as the Midwest and Great Plains, there has been a reduction in drought frequency.

Its unfortunate that so little of the nation’s food stock is grown in the Midwest and Great Plains….

Although there has been an overall increase in precipitation and no clear trend in drought for the nation as a whole, increasing temperatures have made droughts more severe and widespread than they would have otherwise been. Without the observed increase in precipitation, higher temperatures would have led to an increase in the area of the contiguous United States in severe to extreme drought, with some estimates of a 30 percent increase.

Read that paragraph again. As predicted by climate change theory, increasing temperatures have resulted in more rain. If this additional rain had not occurred, there would have been more drought!!

But there hasn’t been more drought. There’s been more rain.

In the future, droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions. The Southwest, in particular, is expected to experience increasing drought as changes in atmospheric circulation patterns cause the dry zone just outside the tropics to expand farther northward into the United States.

So, more drought in the desert Southwest? More rain and longer growing seasons in the breadbasket…

Water Resources

Key Messages: Climate change has already altered, and will continue to alter, the water cycle, affecting where, when, and how much water is available for all uses.

  • Floods and droughts are likely to become more common and more intense as regional and seasonal precipitation patterns change, and rainfall becomes more concentrated into heavy events (with longer, hotter dry periods in between).
  • Precipitation and runoff are likely to increase in the Northeast and Midwest in winter and spring, and decrease in the West, especially the Southwest, in spring and summer.

  • In areas where snowpack dominates, the timing of runoff will continue to shift to earlier in the spring and flows will be lower in late summer.

  • Surface water quality and groundwater quantity will be affected by a changing climate.

  • Climate change will place additional burdens on already stressed water systems.

  • The past century is no longer a reasonable guide to the future for water management.

I think the last bullet point is the kicker. Not just for water management but for all of the aspects of life that we are addressing here: The past century is no longer a reasonable guide to the future for….

Proper planning prevents poor performance.

Energy Supply and Use

Key Messages:
Warming will be accompanied by decreases in demand for heating energy and increases in demand for cooling energy. The latter will result in significant increases in electricity use and higher peak demand in most regions.

  • Energy production is likely to be constrained by rising temperatures and limited water supplies in many regions.
  • Energy production and delivery systems are exposed to sea-level rise and extreme weather events in vulnerable regions.

  • Climate change is likely to affect some renewable energy sources across the nation, such as hydropower production in regions subject to changing patterns of precipitation or snowmelt.

The upshot here I think is that it is easier to generate renewable electricity than it is to generate carbon free heat. To that extent, global warming is in some sense self-correcting.

Moreover, it is consistent with the line of thought that I subscribe to which is that the best way to reduce carbon emissions is to put everything on the electrical grid.

Agriculture

Key Messages:

  • Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields.

  • Extreme events such as heavy downpours and droughts are likely to reduce crop yields because excesses or deficits of water have negative impacts on plant growth.
  • Weeds, diseases, and insect pests benefit from warming, and weeds also benefit from a higher carbon dioxide concentration, increasing stress on crop plants and requiring more attention to pest and weed control.
  • Forage quality in pastures and rangelands generally declines with increasing carbon dioxide concentration because of the effects on plant nitrogen and protein content, reducing the land’s ability to supply adequate livestock feed.
  • Increased heat, disease, and weather extremes are likely to reduce livestock productivity.

The impact of climate change on food production systems throughout the world is still being investigated. It is mostly unquestioned that the initial, near-term effect of increased carbon dioxide concentrations would result in an increase in agricultural production. Plants consume CO2, so more CO2 should be good for plants.

Researchers are now studying to determine at what temperatures the confounding effects of climate change (e.g., heat stress, changing precipitation patterns, increasing weather variability) would counter-act those initial gains and result in reduced agricultural production.

It can now be stated with higher confidence than before that climate change is likely to challenge food security among the world’s poorest people located in the low latitudes. It will be less troublesome to agricultural systems in the mid- to high latitude nations (like the USA), at least in the early stages of warming. Adaptation effectively maintains cereal yields in the mid- to high latitudes at or above current levels through moderate amounts of warming (~+4-5 C), but it only protects low latitude cereal yields for a few degrees of warming (~+3 C). The direct effects of rising atmospheric CO2 levels on crop growth will offset some of the deleterious effects and enhance the beneficial effects of climate change. (Morehere and here.)

Transportation

Key Messages: Sea-level rise and storm surge will increase the risk of major coastal impacts, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, roads, rail lines, and tunnels.

  • Flooding from increasingly intense downpours will increase the risk of disruptions and delays in air, rail, and road transportation, and damage from mudslides in some areas.

  • The increase in extreme heat will limit some transportation operations and cause pavement and track damage. Decreased extreme cold will provide some benefits such as reduced snow and ice removal costs.
  • Increased intensity of strong hurricanes would lead to more evacuations, infrastructure damage and failure, and transportation interruptions.
  • Arctic warming will continue to reduce sea ice, lengthening the ocean transport season, but also resulting in greater coastal erosion due to waves. Permafrost thaw in Alaska will damage infrastructure. The ice road season will become shorter.

So, less Ice Road Truckers.

Human Health

Key Messages:

  • Increases in the risk of illness and death related to extreme heat and heat waves are very likely. Some reduction in the risk of death related to extreme cold is expected.

  • Warming is likely to make it more challenging to meet air quality standards necessary to protect public health.
  • Extreme weather events cause physical and mental health problems. Some of these events are projected to increase.
  • Some diseases transmitted by food, water, and insects are likely to increase.
  • Rising temperature and carbon dioxide concentration increase pollen production and prolong the pollen season in a number of plants with highly allergenic pollen, presenting a health risk.
  • Certain groups, including children, the elderly, and the poor, are most vulnerable to a range of climate-related health effects.

The “Key Messages” of the last two sections of the report have
discussed ice road trucking and hayfever and I have lost interest. I’d rather take a few extra Clariton every fall allergy season than spend a few trillion dollars over-hauling our entire energy and transportation infrastructure.

But hey, that’s just me.