WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 - A lead author of the National Climate Assessment released in Washington Tuesday says that only time will tell if the major floods and droughts in recent years are the result of climate change, but the models that track changing climate conditions have predicted the extreme weather episodes seen in the Midwest since 2008.
Iowa State University climate scientist Gene Takle told a media teleconference last week that it takes about 40 years of data to establish a climate change trend. But he also said the floods of 2008, 2010 and 2011, the droughts of the past two years, abnormally high tornado outbreaks and delayed planting seasons the past two years are likely the result of climate change.
“I say that largely because climate models have predicted all this would happen,” Takle told reporters.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, an effort coordinating research and policy development from 13 different federal agencies, including USDA, released the Third National Climate Assessment, which the authors say “is the most comprehensive, authoritative, transparent scientific report on U.S. climate change impacts ever generated.”
Federal officials say the latest assessment – the first was published in 2000 and the second in 2009 “confirms that climate change is affecting every region of the country and key sectors of the U.S. economy and society,” including agriculture, “underscoring the need to combat the threats climate change presents and increase the preparedness and resilience of American communities.”
In a statement issued Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the assessment for the first time examined the effects of climate change on rural communities.
“Rural communities are tremendously resilient but will face particular obstacles in responding to and preparing for climate change risks,” Vilsack said. “In particular, physical isolation, limited economic diversity, and higher poverty rates, combined with an aging population, increase the vulnerability of rural communities.”
The agriculture secretary listed a number of steps USDA is taking to address climate change, including the creation of seven regional research hubs charged with providing information to producers on ways to mitigate risks, and a research agreement with the dairy industry aimed at cutting that sector’s GHGs by 25 percent by 2020.
In a media call from the White House Tuesday morning, presidential adviser John Podesta said the assessment provides “actionable science” that can be used at the federal, state and local level to address the impact of a changing climate.
“There is a wide variety of actions that can be taken,” said Podesta. “It isn’t just a matter of sitting around wringing our hands, wondering what we can do.”
John Holdren, director of the White House Office on Science and Technology, told reporters the assessment is the “loudest and clearest alarm bell to date calling on us to take immediate action.” He said the document offers definitive steps that help the administration pursue climate change solutions, including improving vehicle and appliance energy efficiency, siting more renewable energy facilities on federal lands and reducing emissions from power plants and other sources.
EPA is expected next month to propose a landmark rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. While congressional Republicans say they intend to modify EPA regulations with amendments to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill headed to the Senate floor this week, Podesta said Senate Democrats will fend off those efforts, or, if necessary, the president will veto a GOP-amended bill.
The assessment follows by five weeks the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which also says changing conditions, including extreme weather and rising temperatures, will reduce crop yields.
ISU’s Takle said Tuesday at the White House event that Midwest ag producers are adapting to later springs and heavy rainfall, citing the installation of more drainage tile and the use of larger equipment to get the most out of shrinking windows for planting and harvesting. Noting the last four years of corn yields dropped well below a long-term trend line that peaked at 164.7 bushels per acre in 2009, Takle said Iowa growers are experiencing a 40-year trend in which rainfall is increasingly concentrated in the first half of the year. The trend delays planting and increases soil erosion, and “is likely to continue with wet regions getting wetter and more humid,” he said. Takle said that by 2050, adaptation will not likely be sufficient to avoid negative impacts.
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