A Big Day for Climate Change

White House, scientists release reports on challenges facing the U.S.

May 6, 2014
Outside Magazine

A new report says that up to 70 percent of the year may be considered "unhealthy air days" by 2050.    Matt Gush/Getty Images

A windfall of reports today highlighted current and future climate-related challenges, with just a few bright spots. 

Leading the way: a report from the National Climate Assessment (NCA). A panel of scientists overseen by the U.S. government spent years compiling the report, finally released today as the third of its kind.

A main takeaway is that all areas of the United States are already feeling the effects of climate change, from more torrential rain in the East to major droughts in the West.

Though things might not feel too extreme right now—and, in fact, agriculture has benefited from a longer growing season in the short term—the report warns that without action, consequences might be harsh. "There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced," the report says.

That brings us to a final point the NCA drives home. The report points firmly to human influences as a primary driver of recent climate change, with multiple lines of independent evidence in support.

The intention is to apply these findings to public policy and private-sector decisions. The White House will host a conversation on some of these action items, featuring representatives from the Weather Channel and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at 2 p.m. EST (see the livestream below).

Supplementing the NCA report are findings from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which predicts more smog, especially in summer months. (Ozone, one of the main ingredients of smog, forms more rapidly in high temperatures.) Using a supercomputer to simulate pollution levels alongside climate change, scientists warned that if pollutants remain at their current levels, 70 percent of the year might be considered unhealthy air days by 2050.

It's not all bad news. Another report evaluated 50 cities around the world for resilience, which it defined as a city's ability to adapt to climate challenges and four other risk categories. The ranking shows that many of the world's biggest cities are well equipped to handle these vulnerabilities—with three Canadian cities leading the way, followed by Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC, among others.

Closer to nature, National Geographic highlighted some climate-adaptation success stories in the animal kingdom. Butterflies and armadillos are moving north, corals are warming up to new homes, and certain snails are developing lighter-colored shells to cool down. Considering the warnings we've heard today, we might want to take note.

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