"If current trends continue, the weather and landscapes of the future will be nearly unrecognizable compared to what we are used to."
Jonathan Hoekstra, former director of climate change for The Nature Conservancy
What will temperatures be like in your state in 100 years? If current trends continue, chances are they’ll be much hotter than they are today — especially if you live in the American Midwest.
A new analysis of U.S. climate projections from The Nature Conservancy finds that temperatures in the worst-hit states could be up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than present-day levels by the year 2100.
Kansas, Nebraska and other Great Plains states would be the hardest-hit by climbing temperatures, according to the analysis. But temperatures everywhere could rise by 3 degrees Fahrenheit or more, meaning all of us would feel the heavy impacts of climate change:
- Hot summer temperatures could arrive three weeks earlier and last three weeks longer in the Northeast, with more days averaging above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In the Northwest, higher temperatures could contribute to earlier spring snowmelt, increasing the risk of forest fires and summer drought.
- Water could become more and more scarce in the Southwest as temperatures climb and spring snowmelt declines.
- Rising sea levels and increased storm surges could threaten low-lying coastal areas in the Southeast.
“If current trends continue, the weather and landscapes of the future will be nearly unrecognizable compared to what we are used to,” says Jonathan Hoekstra, former director of climate change for The Nature Conservancy.
And these changes would have significant impacts on people, nature and industries across the United States.
“If we don’t take strong action to confront the causes and consequences of climate change, the nation’s natural resources, economic stability and way of life will face serious threats in the coming years,” warns Hoekstra.
Impacts to Agriculture, Public Health and Wildlife
America’s heartland stands to suffer the most from climate change, according to the analysis — and with it, the nation’s food security and $200 billion agricultural industry:
- In the agricultural states of the Great Plains, rising temperatures could cause shifts in the optimal zones for growing certain crops;
- Milder winters and earlier springs could exacerbate outbreaks of insect pests; and
- Water sources could become taxed as aquifers are depleted and soil moisture declines.
There and elsewhere, people would be at a greater risk of public health problems related to thicker smog and poorer air quality. Heavier rainstorms could overwhelm aging sewer systems, increasing the risk of disease outbreak and fouling streams and rivers.
Wildlife and plants will also feel the heat:
- A 2.7 to 4.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperatures threatens to put 20 to 30 percent of the Earth’s plant and animal species at greater risk of extinction.
- Many U.S. states could lose their official birds as they move out of state in search of cooler climates — including the Baltimore oriole of Maryland, black-capped chickadee of Massachusetts and the American goldfinch of Iowa.
- Species like the rare Canadian lynx could become at risk of extinction because the snowpack where they hunt hares would melt away, while the cold clear waters of blue-ribbon trout streams could overheat.
If average temperatures increase more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), many scientists say that impacts to the Earth’s lands, waters, wildlife and human communities may be irreversible.
Is There Any Hope?
Yes — if we take immediate and strong action to confront the causes and consequences of climate change.
The Nature Conservancy is working across the United States and around the world to ensure that nature plays an essential role in the urgent search for climate change solutions. We are:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by protecting, restoring and sustainably managing forests and other ecosystems. The Conservancy’s Noel Kempff forest carbon project in Bolivia is keeping 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. Projects in Indonesia, Brazil, California and Mississippi will do even more.
- Helping people and wildlife to be less vulnerable to climate impacts by making the natural systems they rely on more resilient. From fishing villages in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, to the Hudson River Valley in New York, the Conservancy is bringing people together and applying our science-based conservation methods to ensure that essential habitats will be there for people, despite likely climate changes.
- Building the political and social will to address the threat of climate change and to make nature part of climate change solutions. Achieving strong emissions reductions from all emitters is critical to protecting biodiversity and the natural places that support human well-being. The Conservancy is working with others to promote practical policies that use market-based incentives to spur innovation and meet emissions reductions goals at the lowest possible cost.
“By immediately and significantly lowering our carbon emissions, and protecting and strengthening our natural resources so they can survive the impacts of climate change,” says Hoekstra, “we can ensure nature continues to provide us with the food, water, shelter and income we all rely on for survival.”
February 17, 2011