New climate report spells trouble for the Tampa Bay area

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Although not exactly a major surprise, the gravity of the deleterious effects that climate change may cause in Florida have never been depicted as stark as in the section of the National Climate Assessment report issued this morning regarding the Southeastern U.S. The report was produced by a large scientific panel overseen by the government.

According to the report:

Temperatures across the Southeast and Caribbean are expected to increase during this century, with shorter-term (year-to-year and decade-to-decade) fluctuations over time due to natural climate variability.

Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa have already had increases in the number of days with temperatures exceeding 95ºF, during which the number of deaths is above average. Higher temperatures also contribute to the formation of harmful air pollutants and allergens. Ground-level ozone is projected to increase in the 19 largest urban areas of the Southeast, leading to an increase in deaths. A rise in hospital admissions due to respiratory illnesses, emergency room visits for asthma, and lost school days is expected.

The report also says that because income is a key indicator of climate vulnerability, people with limited economic resources are more likely to be adversely affected by climate change impacts, such as sea level rise. In the Gulf region, nearly 100% of the “most socially vulnerable people live in areas unlikely to be protected from inundation,” bringing equity issues and environmental justice into coastal planning efforts.

Dr. Patricia Romero-Lankao, a research scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and a contributor to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said in a conference call today that the wealthy may also be disproportionately affected, because many live in coastal areas, which is extremely vulnerable due to sea level rise. 

The report says that "large numbers of cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities, and water supplies are at low elevations and potentially vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. New Orleans (with roughly half of its population living below sea level), Miami, Tampa, Charleston, and Virginia Beach are among those most at risk."

And hotter temperatures mean more energy use:

The Southeast has the existing power plant capacity to produce 32% of the nation’s electricity. Energy use is approximately 27% of the U.S. total, more than any other region. Net energy demand is projected to increase, largely due to higher temperatures and increased use of air conditioning. This will potentially stress electricity generating capacity, distribution infrastructure, and energy costs. Energy costs are of particular concern for lower income households, the elderly, and other vulnerable communities, such as native tribes. Long periods of extreme heat could also damage roadways by softening asphalt and cause deformities of railroad tracks, bridge joints, and other transportation infrastructure.

But some people and groups refuse to acknowledge the reality of climate change, or this report specifically.

“This laughably misleading report is the predictable result when hard-core environmental activists are chosen to write up a climate assessment for, and subject to the approval and revisions of, the Obama administration," said James M. Taylor, Senior Fellow for Environmental Policy with The Heartland Institute. 

"It is like the punch line to a bad joke: ‘How many environmental activists does it take to put together an alarmist global warming report?’" he went on to say, claiming that "leading authors of this report include staffers for activist groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, Planet Forward, The Nature Conservancy, and Second Nature."

A Gallup poll in March found that 34% of respondents think climate change, called global warming in the poll, posed a "serious threat" to their way of life, compared to 64% who responded "no." At the same time, more than 60% of respondents believed global warming was happening or would happen in their lifetime.

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