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Report Documents Climate Change Impact on U.S.

A recently released government report describes the impact global climate change is already having on U.S. farms, wildlife, forests and water supplies. One of the report's lead authors discusses its findings.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, a Science Unit update on climate change's impact in the U.S. For years, scientists have warned of the long-term dangers of a warming climate on the American landscape.

    But a new government report provides a detailed assessment showing how global warming is already damaging our forests, farms, wildlife and water supply.

    Some of the key findings include: growing threats of wildfires; drought and insect infestations to western forests; unpredictable and harmful rainfall patterns in regions of the country; and crop failure; and other agricultural problems.

    For more on this report, we turn to one of its lead authors. Anthony Janetos is the director of the Joint Global Change and Research Institute at the University of Maryland.

    And so often we talk about global warming as a far-off, future problem. How did you determine what was happening now?

  • ANTHONY JANETOS, Joint Global Change Research Institute:

    One of the things we did about 18 months ago, when we were chartered to do this report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, was assemble a team of about 35 authors from all over the country.

    We looked for the best scientists in the different fields that we could find. And the guidance we gave to them was to look at scientific publications that document and data that document what's happened over the last few decades, what's happening now, and what are our best expectations for what might happen in the next two or three decades.

    We don't mean to minimize the problems of longer-term changes, changes that will take 100 years or so to play out. What we specifically wanted to look at were consequences of changes in the climate system, and natural resources, and water resources, and agriculture, and forests that were relevant to today's planning horizon.

    We went through over a thousand references, over a thousand papers. We've drawn on the best available science, sort of the most comprehensive assessment of the science of climate change impacts that's been done for the U.S. pretty much over the last decade.

    And this is what we found, is that we're starting to see the impacts of changes in climate in our natural resources and ecosystems today. This is not just a problem for our children; this is a problem for us, as well.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And you found that, as with polar melting, everything is moving faster than the models had predicted?

  • ANTHONY JANETOS:

    I think we've seen these results kind of coming in the literature, but having them all in one place really does create, I think, a sense of urgency for us, for those of us who've been working on this issue for quite a long time.

    I think our sense is certainly that we're starting to see impacts more rapidly. They're more widespread. And their magnitude seems to be larger than we might have anticipated even 10 years ago.