There are many examples of climate change’s
real and present impact. For one, the 20 hottest years since
record keeping began in the 1880s have all occurred since 1983,
and until this year, 2005 was the hottest year ever. Now, according
to a new U.S. climate report, 2006 is well on its way to taking
the top spot.
If you like New England’s maple syrup, you’ll be
dismayed to know that producers report seeing global warming’s
effect on their seasonal harvesting cycles. Farmers are tapping
their trees a month earlier than their ancestors did, and some
fear that global warming will eventually reduce the trees’ ability
to produce high-quality sap. “I think the sugar maple industry
is on its way out,” says University of New Hampshire Professor
Barrett Rock, who led research on regional risks related to climate
Some ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest blame global warming
for the warm weather that shut down the 2004-2005 season before
it even began. University of Washington Professor of atmospheric
sciences Cliff Mass reports that less snow has been falling in
Washington State for the last 20 years. “Global warming
is occurring,” he concludes. Also in trouble due to declining
snow are New England and Midwestern resorts.
The loss of sandy beaches due to climate-aggravated sea level
rises is also troubling, and the problem is accelerating. The
National Science Foundation’s Metro East Coast report says
that beach erosion will likely double by the 2020s, increase
from three- to six-fold by the 2050s and by as much as 10-fold
by the 2080s. Already, sand loss has led to large beach replenishment
efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers.
And keep plenty of calamine lotion on hand. Researchers at Duke
University found that some vines—including poison ivy—may
thrive exponentially in a warmer climate. Experiments showed
that poison ivy growing in a carbon dioxide-rich environment
grew about three times larger than normal and produced significantly
more urushiol, the allergenic substance that causes rashes.
Another indicator of increased warming is the retreat of glaciers
across western North America. This troubling phenomenon is especially
noticeable in the Waterton-Glacier park complex on the U.S.-Canada
border. Several major glaciers there have shrunk by half or more
in recent decades. On the U.S. side of the border, the number
of glaciers in Glacier National Park has dropped from 150 in
1850 to 35 today.
Wildlife is also feeling the heat. A 2004 study by the Wildlife
Society, a 9,000-member group of wildlife professionals, found
that global warming is affecting many North American species
and could cause major shifts in ecosystems. The group concluded
that caribou, polar bears, migratory songbirds, and other species
have already responded to climate change by shifting habitat,
altering their breeding patterns, or changing their migration
Finally, stronger storms like Hurricane Katrina in recent years
may be partially explained by global warming. Researchers have
found that both the intensity and number of category 4 and 5
storms have greatly increased in the past 35 years, and have
linked that phenomenon to warming ocean temperatures.
CONTACT: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, www.ipcc.ch.
Send environmental questions to: email@example.com.