U.S. Report Says Act Now on Climate Change

Dick writes about Earth and planetary science for Science magazine.

With the U.S. Congress set to take up climate change legislation next week, Obama Administration officials today joined with leading climate scientists to emphasize that global warming is real, it’s going to get worse, and that action is needed sooner rather than later.

The occasion was the release of a report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program titled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. But the report goes beyond the usual litany of current and future U.S. impacts to argue that limiting the emission of greenhouse gases now would avoid a lot of damage down the road.

Administration officials only amplified that message. “Climate change is a reality,” the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren told an audience assembled next door to the White House. “It’s not just a problem for the future; we’re beginning to see the impacts in our daily lives. Decisions now will determine whether we get big changes or small ones. It’s not too late to act; if we take immediate action, we can avoid the most severe impacts … [We can] now move ahead smartly after many years of dithering and delay.”

The report spelled out what those impacts might be for the United States. The Southwest will suffer greater water supply problems than other regions. Warming could drive the maple syrup industry out of the Northeast and into Canada. Warming freshwater in the Northwest will eliminate cold-water fish in many streams and rivers. Sea levels could rise more than a meter by the end of the century, flooding large parts of Florida.

The scientific authors also spoke of the urgency that the report’s findings should inspire. “The observed climate changes we report are not opinions, they are facts,” said report co-chair Jerry M. Melillo, director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “How severe these impacts will be is largely in our hands. We can act now to avoid the worst impacts.”

Asked whether the climate bill before the House of Representatives was the right response to these looming impacts, Melillo replied that “I’m not a Waxman-Markey expert. But the idea that it’s trying to move action forward is a good thing.”

Posted in Climate, Policy