By David L. Brown
There is more evidence of climate change, this time from an authoritative study released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The subject of their report, “Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast,” is the result of a two year investigation by a team of leading scientists. The findings are summarized in this excerpt from a news release issued Wednesday:
CAMBRIDGE, MA — Global warming is poised to substantially change the climate in the Northeast if heat-trapping emissions are not curtailed. The extent and impacts of the change depend on the choices that governments, businesses and citizens make today. So concludes the first study released today by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent scientists from universities across the Northeast and the nation. To read the full report, visit www.climatechoices.org/ne.
“The very notion of the Northeast as we know it is at stake,” said Dr. Cameron Wake, Research Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Climate Change Research Center and co-lead of the report. “The near-term emissions choices we make in the Northeast and throughout the world will help determine the climate and quality of life our children and grandchildren experience.”
The two-year study, Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast, employs state-of-the-art science to project the regional consequences of continued reliance on energy sources such as coal and oil that produce high levels of heat-trapping emissions versus shifting to clean and renewable energy to power our economy. The climate report is the first NECIA product, with additional analyses underway to assess the impacts of global warming on forests and agriculture, coastal and marine resources, human health, and urban centers across the Northeast, as well as options for mitigation and adaptation. A major synthesis report of these findings is expected in early 2007.
The projected effects on regional temperatures are truly significant. Under the higher emissions scenario, temperatures are expected to increase by 6.5 to 12.5 degrees F. by the end of the 21st Century. A lower emissions scenario predicts warming of 3.5 to 6.5 degrees F. in that same time period. Either of these would be catastrophic to the ecology and weather patterns of the Northeast. The report predicts 25 to 50 percent less snow, more frequent droughts, and confoundingly, more frequent and heavy rainfall events with subsequent flooding and erosion.
The news release puts what I think is too positive a spin to the statistics, something we have observed many times in scientific reports. I have posited that there is a tendency to underplay the predicted results in order not to be branded as fear-mongers — an entirely reasonable reaction considering the number of climate change deniers and naysayers. For example, the temperature changes are expressed in terms of the increased number of 90 degree and 100 degree plus days in Northeastern cities (i.e., “Currently Northeast cities experience one or two days per summer over 100 degrees F. This number could increase to three to nine days under lower emissions and 14 to 28 days per year under higher emissions.”) Cities aside, up to four weeks of 100 degree days would wipe out farm crops and lead to widespread human suffering and death.
The report also takes a sanguine view of prospects to avoid the possible warming. For example, this statement:
“The Northeast’s economy and lifestyle is built around the seasonal cycles—pleasant summers, winter recreational opportunities, and iconic fall foliage,” said report co-lead Katharine Hayhoe, Research Associate Professor in the Dept. of Geosciences at Texas Tech University. “Fortunately, the worst consequences of global warming can be avoided by reducing our emissions starting today.”
The news release goes on to say that while “global warming is a global problem, the Northeast has a central role to play,” and continues to add the seemingly contradictory statements that the region is “the seventh largest emitter of carbon dioxide” when ranked against the nations of the world, and that “historically, the Northeast has been a leader in clean air policy…” Hmm, it seems to me that if the New England region were doing such a great job in the past they shouldn’t be ranked No. 7 among the world’s worst polluting nations. For one thing, they aren’t even a nation, but only a 10-state area of the U.S. (which, of course, ranks No. 1).
How do the scientists behind this study propose to reduce the threat of warming? There doesn’t seem to be much if anything new in their conclusions, which are summarized as follows in the news release:
As a recognized innovator on many levels, from policy to technology, the Northeast region is poised to lead the way on emissions reductions, nationally and globally.
Reducing heat-trapping emissions is the most important step to curbing the rate and extent of climate change. Increasing industrial and building efficiency, switching to renewable energy sources such as wind, and driving more efficient vehicles are clear steps the Northeast can take.
“Lowering emissions provides a tremendous opportunity for the Northeast,” said Dr. Peter Frumhoff, Director of the Global Environment Program at UCS and Chair of the NECIA synthesis team. “We can use our intellectual capital to lead the world in innovative technologies and practices that we will all need to leave a healthy climate for future generations.”
Sorry, but these words seem fatuous and ring hollow to me. It will certainly take a far more aggressive effort than just some comforting words to address global climate change, and no matter how many Harvard professors switch to hybrid cars and put extra insulation in their houses, it will make little impact on the overall world scene.