The National Climate Assessment released a lengthy draft report last week on the developing impact of climate change on the country. It is the work of 240 scientists brought together by the federal government a decade ago. The report includes an analysis of how Ohio and other parts of the Great Lakes region are likely to be affected.
Make no mistake, climate change already has arrived. Among other indicators, scientists point to the increasing presence of weather extremes, the accumulating greenhouse gases bringing turbulence to long stable weather patterns.
They cite China experiencing its coldest winter in 30 years, a record heat wave triggering fires across Australia, a pattern of flooding in Britain, eight inches of snow in Jerusalem and Brazil coping with prolonged high temperatures. Each episode on its own reveals little. Together, they begin to represent a disturbing trend, scientists noting that each of the past 35 years has topped the average global temperature of the 20th century.
What is the forecast for Ohio and surroundings? The National Climate Assessment highlights a bundle of stresses, including the forest cover changing, agriculture altered and air quality degraded. Among the extremes will be more frequent heat spells and heavy rainfall, leading to flooding and associated problems.
The report warns about the vulnerability of the Great Lakes. In many ways, familiar problems would be aggravated, from a widening presence of invasive species to expanded algae blooms. All of it jeopardizes a natural treasure and an economic engine, especially in the realms of fishing and tourism.
For policymakers, one required path is adaptation, responding effectively to the instability and extremes. Part of what made Hurricane Sandy so devastating is that the sea level is a foot higher than a century ago, water spreading more extensively inland. What happens if the Atlantic Ocean plays less of a moderating role on temperatures in Europe and the Middle East?
The National Climate Assessment report isn’t something to sit on a shelf. It offers one more reason to mobilize, not just to adapt but to curb greenhouse gases, slowing the rise in the average global temperature. Again, that requires the United States taking the lead in shaping an international response.