We often talk about climate change as a far-off problem that will affect our children and grandchildren, but climate change is already affecting Americans right now, according to a US government report published on Tuesday by The New York Times. In fact, the US is already experiencing rising temperatures, more flooding in coastal zones, and an increase in the number of extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rain.
The report was drafted by scientists in 13 federal agencies such as NASA and NOAA as part of the National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by Congress every four years. The results are based on thousands of scientific studies documenting incidents of climate change from around the world, and are at odds with what members of the Trump administration have often said about climate change.
“human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible.”
“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes in the industrial era, especially over the last six decades,” the report says. If we don’t heavily reduce these emissions, average global temperatures could increase by 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more by the end of the century, the report says. That would be catastrophic: most scientists see a temperature increase of just 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit as the threshold beyond which climate change is irreversible and apocalyptic.
But we don’t have to wait for the end of the century to witness the consequences of pumping huge amounts of CO2 into the environment. Here are some instances of how Americans are already witnessing climate change firsthand, according to the report:
- It’s getting hotter. Average annual temperatures in the US have increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit between 1901 and 2016.
- Cities are bearing the brunt. Urban areas are experiencing an increase in daytime temperatures of up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as an increase in nighttime temperatures of up to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s especially true for humid regions in the Eastern United States.
- There is more extreme heat. Cold waves have become less frequent since the early 1900s, while heat waves have become more frequent since the 1960s. Heat waves can destroy crops, cause power outages, and they are dangerous for your health.
- It’s getting rainier. Average annual rainfall has increased by about 4 percent since 1901 in the US. While the Northern and Southern Plains, the Midwest, and the Northeast are getting wetter, much of the West, Southwest, and Southeast are getting drier.
much of the West, Southwest, and Southeast are getting drier
- There’s more extreme rain. Heavy rainfall events have become more frequent and more intense since 1901 in most parts of the US, and that’s particularly true for the Northeastern US. Heavy rain can cause deadly flash floods, and carry more nutrient runoff to our lakes and oceans, affecting water quality and shutting down fisheries.
- Tornadoes have become more variable. Particularly over the 2000s, there’s been a decrease in the number of days with tornadoes, but an increase in the number of tornadoes on those days.
- The trees are burning. Large forest fires have become more common in the Western US and Alaska since the early 1980s.
- Sea levels are rising. Average sea levels around the world have risen by about seven to eight inches since the beginning of the 20th century, with about three of those inches occurring since 1993. That has caused the number of tidal floods in several US coastal cities to increase five to tenfold since the 1960s.
- Alaska is hit hard. Temperatures in Alaska (and the Arctic) have risen twice as fast as the global average in the past 50 years; permafrost is thawing; and glaciers have lost ice. Each year since 1984 has seen a lower average mass of ice in Alaska’s glaciers than the previous years.
The draft report released by The New York Times hasn’t been approved by the Trump administration for public release yet, but it has been signed off by the National Academy of Sciences. It’s unclear whether the administration will try to suppress the report, but the scientific community is watching.
“This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University, told the Times. “Scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”