January 14, 2013
Draft Report Paints Grim Picture of Climate Change Effects
by Robert Kropp
The 1,200-page Third National Climate Assessment warns that some effects of climate change are
already underway, and insufficient response ensures that the effects will grow worse in coming
Last Friday, the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) published a
draft of the Third National Climate
Assessment (NCA). Established under the Department of Commerce in December 2010, NCADAC
conducts the NCA under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which requires a report to the
President and Congress evaluating the federal research program on global change every four years.
The 21 pages of the document's Executive Summary alone make for sobering reading,
and every one of the report's key findings imply that not enough is being done. "The climate change
of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil
fuels," the report unequivocally states. Furthermore, many effects of climate change, such as
extreme weather and other climate events—including high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and severe
drought—are already being felt.
On the issue of public health, "Climate change is
increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of
waterborne diseases," the report finds. "Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both
within the US and across the globe, and is affected by climate change. Large-scale changes in the
environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are also increasing the risk of the
emergence or reemergence of unfamiliar health threats."
Damage to the nation's
infrastructure, and a decreased reliability of freshwater supply, are happening already as well.
So what has been done thus far to address this most important sustainability issue of our
time? Not enough, the report finds. "In recent years, climate adaptation and mitigation activities
have begun to emerge in many sectors and at all levels of government; however barriers to
implementation of these activities are significant," it states. "The level of current efforts is
insufficient to avoid increasingly serious impacts of climate change that have large social,
environmental, and economic consequences."
As a result of inaction, "Heat-trapping gases
already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts
over the next few decades," the report warns. The draft report weighs in at 1,200 pages, and NCADAC
warns that downloading of the massive file will be slow. But Grist has
helpfully extracted 32 charts from the report, and the numbers warn of a near future much changed
from the world we live in today.
In the worst-case scenario—that is, if greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions are allowed to continue at their current trajectory—temperatures could rise as much
as 11 degrees F by the end of the century. Also according to the worst-case scenario, sea levels
could rise by over six and one-half feet in the same time frame.
The White House
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) responded to the publication of the draft report
by stating, "The document released today deserves credit already for setting a new standard of
scientific integrity, user relevance, and stakeholder inclusiveness."
However, OSTP also
stated, "The draft NCA is a scientific document—not a policy document—and does not make
recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change." OSTP said
that the Obama administration will review the document as part of the year-long process leading to
publication of a final draft.
According to NCADAC, the public is invited to review the
document and submit comments until April 12th, but a leading investor network has wasted no time in
addressing the issues raised by the draft. In a statement, Ceres president Mindy Lubber said, "Climate
change and more pronounced extreme weather are hurting businesses, are hurting the economy and are
hurting US taxpayers who oftentimes bear the biggest financial brunt."
"The report sends a
strong message that human activity is warming the planet and that fossil fuel use is the most
damaging contributor," Lubber continued. "Until actions are taken to reduce the burning of fossil
fuels, human suffering and financial losses will continue escalating."