White House unveils dire warning, calls for action on climate

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The Obama administration today released an updated report on how climate change requires urgent action to counter impacts that touch every corner of the country, from oyster growers in Washington State to maple syrup producers in Vermont.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report said. Some environmental and public health groups hailed the National Climate Assessment as a possible “game changer” for efforts to address climate change, in part because it makes the impact less abstract to many Americans. “It will help put their own experiences in context, and we think that is important in generating interest and action on the issue,” said Lyndsay Moseley, director of the American Lung Association’s Healthy Air campaign.

The extensive report detailed how consequences of climate change are hitting on several fronts, including health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially in more frequent severe weather such as floods and droughts. The impacts are also broken down by region – from storm surges in the Northeast to wildfires and water shortages in the southwestern United States. An earlier draft, released in January 2013, was reviewed by the National Academies of Sciences and attracted more than 4,000 public comments.

The advisory committee behind the report was established by the U.S. Department of Commerce to integrate federal research on environmental change and its implications for society. It made two earlier assessments, in 2000 and 2009. Thirteen departments and agencies, from the Agriculture Department to NASA, are part of the committee, which also includes academics, businesses, non-profit organizations and others. More than 240 scientists contributed. John Podesta, an adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Monday that the report includes “a huge amount of practical, usable knowledge that state and local decision-makers can take advantage of as they plan on or for the impacts of climate change and work to make their communities more resilient.”

The focus on solutions, not just warnings, is key, said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center of Georgetown University. “You really can’t just provide a report that paints this dark picture of all these impacts. You have to couple it with a message of what our government can do about it, what you can do about it and what our communities can do,” she said. Podesta said the administration hopes that conveying the warnings contained in the report can help the administration implement the president’s Climate Action Plan, which was unveiled in June 2013 and focuses on executive actions Obama can use to rein in polluters.

Among the key findings in the report are that the past decade was the country’s warmest on record, and that some extreme weather events have increased in recent years. That severe weather and other impacts of climate change also increase the risk of disease transmission, decrease air quality and can increase mental health problems, among other effects, the report said. Also featured was an ongoing sea-level rise, which increases the risk of erosion and storm surge damage and raises the stakes for the nearly 5 million Americans who live within four feet of the local high-tide level. The entire report can be viewed at www.globalchange.gov.

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