Closer to home

My previous column described how it can’t be any clearer that we are in the midst of global climate change. Those observations were based on work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which collected input from the international scientific community all around the globe.
It can be difficult for Iowans to relate to the melting Arctic ice cap, decreasing numbers of polar bears, or water shortages in Africa. If the IPCC report is too remote or of too large a scale to grasp, a new report “Climate Change Impacts on the United States” has been released within the last month and brings the issue close to home.
This brand new set of findings came out of our Executive Branch Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report culminates a three year analytical effort by over 300 experts from industry, government and our most prestigious universities. It specifically identifies impacts on all parts of the country from the global climate change phenomena.
Each section of the US has been analyzed individually to bring the findings down to a local level. For the Midwest, some of the key messages of the report include:
• Heat wave intensity and frequency will increase, and increased humidity, degraded air quality and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.
• The composition of the region’s forests will change as rising temperatures drive habitats for many tree species northward.
• In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide will increase yields of some crops (a benefit of climate change), though these benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events.
• Extreme rainfall and flooding have increased during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality, and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health, and infrastructure. Recent flooding in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Ames were cited in the report as specific examples of the devastation that can be expected to occur with increased frequency.
• Climate change will exacerbate a range of risks in the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species, harmful blooms of algae, and declining beach health. On the positive side, ice cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season.
Similar analyses and conclusions are presented for each of the other geographic regions of the country. All areas are impacted and the net results of these impacts are far ranging and detrimental to our health, well being and economic interests.
There is no equivocation in this report about the reality of climate change. The 800 plus pages are crammed full of data, observations and science. Deniers may continue to deny but their weak arguments look increasingly ridiculous in the face of the mounting weight of evidence.
We have the facts. We can clearly see happenings close at hand and all around us that tell us changes are real. Seeing the evidence and recognizing the problems does not inevitably lead to solutions. Nevertheless it is a first step and a step we must all take together if we are to come to grips with the world of the next generation.

Muscatine Journal column 5/24/14