Others Say 6/20

It’s time to deal with climate change reality

Tens of thousands of studies on global warming have been published in recent years, enough to discredit the idea that human-caused climate change is not real — or that it can safely be ignored until it gets much worse.

Now, the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive federal review of climate change to date, says the effects are having increasingly severe consequences in every region of the United States. That includes Oregon, where changes in snowmelt are drawing down water supplies; where rising sea levels, erosion and increasing ocean acidity are damaging infrastructure and compromising ecosystem; and where forests are under assault by intense wildfires, insect outbreaks and fast-spreading tree diseases.

The report, recently released by the White House, says these and similar changes across the country have been caused by an average warming of less than two degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. If greenhouse gases generated by burning fossil fuels continue to accumulate at the current rate, temperatures could rise by 10 degrees by the end of this century.

Let the scientists speak for themselves: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” they wrote. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”

Mandated by Congress and published every four years, the assessment is a rigorously researched and peer-reviewed resource intended to help public officials, business leaders and everyday Americans make more informed decisions — not, as critics claim, a conspiratorial attempt to scare Americans and cripple the economy.

And, yes, the report duly notes there are benefits from warmer temperatures, but in most cases those benefits eventually will be negated by the ratcheting effects of climate change. For example, the report finds that some parts of the country are enjoying longer growing seasons. But it warns that food production in those areas eventually will decline as temperatures continue to rise and as water becomes more scarce.

In the absence of action from Congress, President Obama recently has taken a series of measures to counter climate change. He has created “climate hubs” in Oregon and other states to work with farmers, industry groups and federal agencies to help prepare them for climate disasters ranging from wildfires to flooding to droughts. He has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to develop tougher fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks. The administration has announced plans to reduce emissions of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. And soon, the EPA is expected to issue controversial new rules to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases spewed by power plants.

They’re all long-overdue measures. But even tougher steps will be needed, and those will require the same kind of powerful public support that helped force the changes producing cleaner water and air in the 1960s and 1970s. It will require cooperation and leadership from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. And it will require the kind of sacrifices and cooperation Americans have made in response to past crises — actions they are fully capable of taking once again when they understand that climate change is already happening and that the stakes are high for future generations.

— The Register-Guard


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