May 29, 2008 -- Today, the White House finally released an overdue report on the comprehensive impact of global warming on the United States. It is the first such report from the Bush administration since it took office more than seven years ago.
Starting to catch up with the understanding long agreed on by the world's climate scientists, the report says, "It is likely that there has been a substantial human contribution to surface temperature increases in North America."
With recent U.S. wildfires, downpours, drought and smog, the report paints a sobering picture of threats to America's food, water and energy supplies -- stressed in an ever hotter country.
Integrating federal research efforts of many agencies and literally thousands of scientists, it reports that the global climate disruption now under way is already damaging U.S. water resources, agriculture and wildlife and is expected to keep doing so -- often worsening -- for "the next few decades and beyond."
There is no part of the country that escapes some sort of consequence," said Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Institute
Temperatures are expected to continue rising by about 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit before the century is out. The report says that in the West grain harvests and vegetable and fruit crops are more likely to fail because of rising temperatures. It also points out that weeds -- of concern both to farmers and those who suffer from pollen allergies -- are growing more rapidly due to elevated levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the air.
"These are consequences for forests in our backyard, for agriculture on which we depend, for the water resources that we depend on, both for agricultural production and household use and manufacturing, that this is the basis of a good quality of life for everybody," Janetos said.
The report projects a likely increase in frequency and severity of heat waves and other extreme weather events, including storms and floods, stating that "cold days and cold nights are very likely to become much less frequent."
It also projects that because of worsening weather and heat the nation's transportation systems face "significant challenges." Coastal and river flooding and landslides are hitting roads, rails and ports, and heat spells buckle or soften roads.
Forests in the West, Southwest and Alaska will be assaulted by more frequent forest fires and decimated by insects that no longer die off in winter because winters are generally warmer. In the middle of the country are reports increasing drought.
Janetos warns that these dire effects are already under way, not lurking the future.
"These are things that are happening today. They're not just things that will happen 30, 40, 50, 100 years from now," he said. "We wanted to be within the planning horizon that land managers and conservation planners and farmers actually have to deal with."
Rick Piltz at Climate Science Watch worked on the report for the administration before quitting in 2005, protesting the White House was rewriting the science. He and other administration critics charge the White House delayed this report for years and is taking credit for it now while passing any decisions about action to the next president.
"Here we have an administration that has one foot out the door. They have run out the clock on taking any really meaningful action on climate change." Piltz said.
During a teleconference with reporters, White House associate science director Sharon Hays said the report "communicates what the scientists are telling us."
But Piltz points out that the scientific community has been articulating these findings for years and says that the subsequent action on the report is what will count.
"This is something that has been well understood in the scientific community and the government for some time now," Piltz said. "Even after we lift the hand of censorship off this climate science communication, we still need the political leaders to embrace it and learn from it and act on it."