Sunday, June 28, 2009

Report on Climate Change Impacts in the US

On June 16, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the NOAA-led study, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" - which it describes as a "state of knowledge" report about current and project impacts of global warming on the US.  Climate-impacts-report  full copy PDF  The report is based on the accumulated body of scientific information from 21 US synthesis and assessment reports as well as the IPCC assessments.Executive-summary of climate impacts report   The report includes separate assessments of various US regions (regional analyses) as well as various aspects of society such as human health, transportation, energy supply and use, water resources, agriculture and ecosystems (sector analyses).

The key findings of the report as described by the government are:

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.

Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. (p. 13) 

2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.

Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. (p. 27)

3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (p. 41-106, 107-152)

4. Climate change will stress water resources.

Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies. Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation, and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage. (p. 41, 129, 135, 139)


5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.

Agriculture is considered one of the sectors most adaptable to changes in climate. However, increased heat, pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production. (p. 71)

6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.

Sea-level rise and storm surge place many U.S. coastal areas at increasing risk of erosion and flooding, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific Islands, and parts of Alaska. Energy and transportation infrastructure and other property in coastal areas are very likely to be adversely affected. (p. 111, 139, 145, 149)

 7. Threats to human health will increase.

Health impacts of climate change are related to heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts. (p. 89)


8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.

Climate change will combine with pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. (p. 99) 

9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.

There are a variety of thresholds in the climate system and ecosystems. These thresholds determine, for example, the presence of sea ice and permafrost, and the survival of species, from fish to insect pests, with implications for society. With further climate change, the crossing of additional thresholds is expected. (p. 76, 82, 115, 137, 142)


10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and adapting to the changes that are unavoidable. (p. 25, 29)

June 28, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Haiti and the environment

The first thing that anyone learns about Haiti and the environment is that Haiti is the most deforested country in the world, having shifted from 60% forest cover to less than 2% forest cover.  And the immediate image in one's mind is that of desert.

Well, that's not exactly true.  At least not in a lot of the country.  Here are a few of my Haiti picutres:                                                                                                                                              Zabriko - Copy Farmers plowing land by hand in Zabriko, Haiti (Susan L Smith)

This is a remote mountain area called Zabriko or Z'briko in Creole.  The name is roughly derived from the French words meaning  place of the apricots (i.e. oranges).  Its name on the map is " Apricot."  You will read alot in the next few months about Zabriko because that's the location of the first new water, sanitation, and hygiene education project of Haiti's indigenous farmer collective organization, the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP).  I've worked with several groups here in the States to raise money for that project -- and its first phase is scheduled to be completed before Christmas.  It will capture and pipe a pure spring down to community taps at two schools in the center of the Zabriko area.  Those taps will provide clean drinking water for roughly 2,000 people -- at a cost under $ 13,000.  More on that later....

The part of Haiti I saw was between the capital of Port au Prince, pronounced "Praprin, " and the eastern interior of the Central Plateau.  Most of the Central Plateau is separated from the capital by two sizable mountain ranges with the Artibonite Valley in between.  That is the valley that was changed forever by construction of the Peligre dam and Peligre Lake some 35 or 40 years ago.                                                                       
Haiti 340 Early summer in the Artibonite Valley, Haiti (Susan L Smith)

At least at this time of year, the beginning of the rainy season, most of the territory I saw is green.  The land is mostly covered with crops of various types such as maize, pastures for many goats and a few cattle, hedgerows of "rackets," a particularly nasty type of cactus used to prevent livestock from wandering, and occasional fruit trees (bananas, coconut, and mango) as well as fuelwood trees.

However, as the picture below attests, there are certainly areas closer to the capital that have been totally denuded.  And, in much of the country, the deforestation combined with primitive farming techniques has led to a dramatic loss of top soil, damaging crop productivity, seriously impairing water quality in both streams and the ocean, and leading to devastating floods and mudslides.  So, although the pictures are prettier than I expected, the environmental catastrophe caused by massive deforestation is no less.
Haiti 360
View coming into the coastal plain adjoining Port au Prince (Susan L Smith)

Over the last 40 years, about 60 million trees were planted in Haiti.  Many were planted as part of international aid projects by the Pan American Development Foundation and other non-govermental organizations (NGOs), designed to produce fruit or fuelwood.  However, I am not aware of any serious, large-scale attempt to reforest Haiti with indigenous trees to produce sustainable forests or, as my friend the agronmist Mark Hare would say, to let God reforest Haiti.  Land is scarce in Haiti.  With a population approaching 8 million in an area the size of Maryland that is largely dependent on subsistence farming, using land for sustainable forests may be a difficult proposition.  But it can be sold with a well-designed effort that incorporated selectively harvested hardwoods (available within a generation to pay for annual school tuition, medical expenses, or retirement), immediately productive fruit trees for domestic consumption and export revenue, and some limited conservation reserves, all financed by carbon offset payments that can be used to improve agricultural practices, provide irrigation, and increase crop productivity.  I am currently exploring that possibility with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the founder of MPP, who received the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for MPP's reforestation efforts, and MPP.  I'll keep you posted. 

And to repeat what I said at Chico, I encourage all of my colleagues to advocate on behalf of carbon neutrality at their universities and law schools by 2012-2015, even though neutrality for a decade or two will require real carbon offsets.  Those offsets must be acquired by real, verifiable, and sustained reforestation or afforestation in order to be meaningful.  We at the universities who understand the dimensions of the global warming crisis must lead our governments  and show that carbon neutrality is not just necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change; it is achievable in the not very distant future.

June 27, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

I'm back

My last post was from before my early summer travels.  Since then, I spent 10 days going to and from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation's Natural Resources Law Teacher's conference in Chico Hot Springs, Montana.  But perhaps more importantly, I took my first 10 day trip to Haiti.

I'm going to start with notes from the last trip first....because its fresher in my mind.  Then I'll cover the Chico conference.  Then I'll try to reintegrate into the everyday life of a law professor.  I'm not promising much, but here goes.....

June 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)