Earth's climate is changing. In the past 50 years, the average temperature in the United States has gone up by 2 degrees F, precipitation has increased by roughly 5 percent, and extreme weather events have become more frequent and intense, according to a recent report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Global warming doesn't just impact nature; your daily life is affected, too. (See References 1, page 27)
Food prices are rising as climate change makes it trickier to maintain the specific conditions crops need to thrive. As the climate warms, the air holds more moisture and rainstorms become more intense, damaging crops. Overall precipitation patterns are also changing, bringing droughts to some areas of the world and floods to others. A recent study published by Stanford University showed that global wheat production decreased by 5.5 percent as a result of an unstable climate, and world corn production was down by nearly 4 percent. So far, North American farmers haven't seen the same drop in productivity, but that is expected to change. (See References 2) The EPA reports that an additional increase of 3.6 degrees F in the global temperature could decrease production of American corn by 10 to 30 percent (see References 3).
Fresh water is becoming scarcer in some regions. Many mountainous states rely on snowmelt to replenish their water sources, and snowpack is declining as well as melting earlier in the season. Severe droughts, increased evaporation and changes in precipitation patterns are impacting water levels in streams, rivers and lakes. Nearly 18 percent of the world's fresh water is found in the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to a large region. Scientists expect lake levels to drop as the climate continues to warm up. Lake Superior --- the largest of the five Great Lakes --- is 4.5 degrees F warmer than it was in 1980, and water levels in all of the Great Lakes have generally declined since 1986 (see References 5).
Rising ocean levels will cover some of the coastline used for recreation and human habitation. Sea ice is melting at an accelerated rate, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Arctic sea ice has shrunk by 30 percent since 1979. As it melts and ocean levels rise, coastlines and low-lying areas like New Orleans, Miami and New York are threatened. If the Earth's climate warms by 2 or 3 more degrees by 2100, global sea level will rise 3 feet, displacing almost 56 million people around the world. (See References 6)
More wildfires are breaking out as droughts become increasingly common. Fires that go through drought-stricken land spread more quickly and burn longer, destroying forests and homes, public recreation spaces and grasslands. The University of Arizona reported that from 1987 to 2003, seven times more forested land burned in the western United states than during the preceding 17 years, and large fires were four times as frequent. (See Resources 1) The EPA predicts that if the earth warms another 3.6 degrees F, wildfires in that part of the country will burn four times more land than they currently do (see Resources 2).
- U.S. Global Change Research Program: "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States"; 2009
- Stanford University: U.S. Farmers Dodge the Impact. . .
- U.S Environmental Protection Agency: Global Climate Change --- See the Impacts
- U.S Environmental Protection Agency: EcoRegion --- The Great Lakes
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Water Levels of the Great Lakes
- National Wildlife Federation: Global Warming Homepage
Suzanna Didier's work appears in online publications including the National Geographic website, SFGate and Local.com. She is an avid cook who lives on a hobby farm, direct-markets organic produce to local restaurants and has taught at the preschool, elementary and college levels. Didier holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Oregon.
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