How The U.S. Is Already Feeling Climate Change

Photo: Nik Wheeler/ Getty Images.
This week, Paris has been hosting an international summit on climate change and how to slow it down. The leaders of 150 countries, along with 40,000 delegates from 195 nations, were discussing the future of the planet. "A political moment like this may not come again," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the conference on Monday. "We have never faced such a test. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity." During the COP21 climate summit in Paris on Monday, President Obama, along with leaders from 20 nations, called for their countries to double clean-energy research. A report from the Gates Foundation earlier this year found that the U.S. energy industry currently allocates less than 0.5% of spending for research. Now, Obama wants to double U.S. climate research within the next five years. Climate change affects the entire globe, but Americans don't need to search farther than the United States to see its consequences. The U.S. is already feeling climate change nationwide; here are some of the ways in which climate change is affecting the country.
1. Parts of the U.S. are in the midst of historic droughts.
California is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, and California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January. The state's been in a drought for four years, and this fall's rainstorms have only made a small dent in the problem. According to The Weather Channel, last year's snowfall levels in California were the lowest in 500 years. That's bad news for the drought, since melted snow helps provide water in warmer seasons. According to The New York Times, California's drought began when a ridge in the Pacific Ocean stopped storms from reaching California in the winter. Many scientists believe the ridge formed because of conditions that are the result of climate change. 2. Fire season in the West is deadly.
Lack of water isn't the only consequence of the West Coast's major drought. This August, the western United States saw a series of wildfires, including one near Los Angeles that burned more than 30,000 acres of California forest. And, in addition to decades of rising temperatures, Washington state is likely to surpass its 2014 record for this year's wildfire season, according to The New York Times. The recent historic season has also been deadly for firefighters who have attempted to put out conflagrations in the western United States and Canada. More than 7 million acres of land have been burned during the drought, and climate change is to blame. A study published in Geophysical Research Letters found that climate change may have increased the western United States' drought by as much as 15% to 20%. 3. Where there aren't wildfires, there are floods.
While the western United States has seen drought as the result of climate change, other parts of the country are experiencing the opposite effect: flooding. According to the Committee on Climate Change, rising sea levels will cause coastal flooding in major U.S. coastal cities such as New York, as well as in coastal cities across the globe, including London and Shanghai. Aside from effects like mold growing in houses, flooding can also increase the risk of diseases such as norovirus. Unclean water not only can carry diseases, it also can damage infrastructures. According to USA Today, for example, major flooding in New York, similar to what happened during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is likely to take place every 25 years — rather than every 500 years — thanks to climate change. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September found that flood heights have risen by about four feet from 850 C.E. to 2005, and climate change's rising sea levels are responsible.
4. Agriculture is changing radically.
As the EPA explains, climate change influences agriculture in addition to weather patterns. Droughts and flooding affect farmers and ranchers, but rising temperatures in general affect crops, too. For example, increased temperatures can disturb fish ecosystems, and they can alter crops and livestock, too. The EPA notes that temperature changes and varying levels of carbon dioxide can impact crop yields — which is a pretty big deal, since the United States accounts for 30 percent of the world's wheat, corn and rice production. Climate change and rising temperatures have also affected wine production. Thanks to climate change, many of the world's wine regions may not be able to continue producing wine, BuzzFeed explains — but new wine-growing locations are taking their place. For example, Ross Brown, chief executive of Brown Brothers, a wine producer in Australia, bought a vineyard in Tanzania, which was once too cold to make wine. Brown cited climate change as a reason for the 2010 purchase in a statement at the time. 5. It's undeniable: Rising sea levels are going to remake American cities.
Rising sea levels caused by climate change will lead to flooding, and the long-term effects will be enormous. Sea-level changes mean that saltwater could invade our natural freshwater resources — which are already dwindling. Thanks to climate change, as many as two-thirds of plant species and one-third of mammal species could lose their natural habitats, The Huffington Post reports. According to the Climate Institute, rising sea levels are an effect of ice sheets and glaciers melting around the world. A majority of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica have lost mass in the past few years, causing sea levels to rise. In addition to melting land ice, sea water also expands as it warms during climate change, which also causes sea levels to rise, NASA notes.
So, what's the answer? There's no one solution to climate change, but the COP21 summit is a step in the right direction. On Monday, leaders from China and the United States — the world's two biggest producers of greenhouse gases — met to discuss ways to reduce their environmental impact. And increasing clean energy research, as President Obama suggested, is a great start, too. Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that the Paris climate summit "is not a finish line, but a new starting point," according to CNN, and it's up to each nation to continue working to stop climate change after the summit ends.

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