This week the United States government has finally released the long awaited report entitled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. This is the first report dealing with climate change impacts to have been released in nearly a decade (though Congress has mandated annual updates on the science of climate change and a comprehensive report every four years is required by federal law, none has been released during the Bush years), and is the most detailed and comprehensive to have ever been written by a US agency.
Commissioned by the US Global Change Research Program, it is a collaborative effort by experts from 13 US government science agencies as well as from several universities and research institute. The report, which uses the most up-to-date scientific findings, updates the latest IPCC reports and breaks climate change impacts – both current and expected – by US region and economic sectors.
I won’t go into the impacts mentioned in the report – those have been detailed in other places (see for example NOAA’s press release for the main findings, or more detailed breakdowns by regions and sectors), and are not new in themselves, as this is in essence a review of scientific publications similar to the IPCC reports. The exciting part for me is that for the first time Americans are presented with government sponsored, easy to read and detailed information about the impacts that will – and already are – affecting them directly. I don’t think that I am being too optimistic in hoping that this report – published just before an expected House vote on the Waxman – Markey bill next week – will be a beginning of a long overdue paradigm shift in the American public.
After all, there are reasons why most Americans don’t believe that climate change in happening, that it is man made, or that its consequences will affect them, and one of these reasons is that official information has been so sorely lacking from the public debate. Even when reporting natural disasters such as hurricanes and droughts, most newspapers have so far failed to make a connection to climate change. Now however, NGOs have been quick to pick up this report and rely on its clout to encourage their members to act, or just to remind them that climate change is real and it is about to affect us all.