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Global warming felt, report says

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 9:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Saying climate change has “moved firmly into the present,” a federal scientific panel released a report on Tuesday that catalogs the impacts of such changes, saying some would be beneficial “but many more are detrimental.”

The American Southeast and Caribbean region, for example, is “exceptionally vulnerable” to rising sea levels, extreme heat events, hurricanes and decreased water resources, the report said. Seven major ports in that region are vulnerable to sea level rise. And residents can expect a significant increase in the number of hot days — defined as 95 degrees or above — as well as decreases in freezing events.

“Large numbers of southeastern cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities and water supplies are vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise,” the report concludes. Among the cities most at risk: Miami and Tampa; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans; and Virginia Beach.

The findings, from the National Climate Assessment, were the result of a three-year project involving more than 300 experts and top administration officials, including President Obama's science and technology adviser. The report was called for under Obama's climate action plan.

“We want to emphasize to the public, this is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now,” Obama told “Today” show weathercaster Al Roker.

In the Midwest, the report says, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase the yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather.

In the Great Plains, rising temperatures are leading to increased demands for water and energy. That might constrain development and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture and energy production.

In the Southwest, which in the report includes California, snowpack and streamflow amounts are projected to decline, decreasing the reliability of surface water supplies and threatening the region's production of specialty crops. Warming, drought and insect outbreaks tied to climate change have increased wildfires as well as affected people and ecosystems.

In the Northwest, changes in snowmelt have been observed and will continue, reducing the supply of water. The combined impact of increasing wildfires, insect outbreaks and tree diseases has already caused widespread tree deaths and is “virtually certain to cause additional forest mortality by the 2040s and long-term transformation of forest landscapes.”

Still, it's not too late to prevent the worst of climate change, according to the report.

Skeptics of climate change attacked the report. The Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian research center, sent out its assessment Monday, saying the report “overly focuses on the supposed negative impacts from climate change while largely dismissing or ignoring the positives from climate change.”

It said the “bias toward pessimism” has implications for the federal regulatory process because the report is cited as a primary source for the science of climate change in justifying federal regulations.

Since the National Climate Assessment “gets it wrong, so does everyone else,” Cato's authors said.

The report lays out climate change scenarios that have affected or may affect different regions and sectors of the economy.

The state-by-state, region-by-region impacts are what White House officials said in a conference call might help move the climate change debate forward. Calling it “actionable science,” White House adviser John Podesta said that the report would give people information on observed climate changes in their parts of the nation.

“For decades we've been collecting the dots on climate change,” added Jerry Melillo, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory who led the committee that oversaw the report. “Now we are connecting those dots.”

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