Part III– How does Climate Change Affect Daily Life?
Provided by the Fort Independence Environmental Climate Change Working Group
Chair: Dennis Mattinson
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. 1
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. 2
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. 3
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. 4
Energy plays an important role in many aspects of our lives. For example, we use electricity for lighting and cooling. We use fuel for transportation, heating, and cooking. Our energy production and use is interconnected with many other aspects of modern life, such as water consumption, use of goods and services, transportation, economic growth, land use, and population growth. Changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and the frequency and severity of extreme events will likely affect how much energy is produced, delivered, and consumed in the United States. Increases in temperature will likely change how much energy we consume, as well as our ability to produce electricity and deliver it reliably. A warmer climate may reduce the efficiency of power production for many existing fossil fuel and nuclear power plants because these plants use water for cooling. The colder the water, the more efficient the generator. Thus, higher air and water temperatures could reduce the efficiency with which these plants convert fuel into electricity. 5
Energy and water systems are connected. Energy is needed to pump, transport, and treat drinking water and wastewater. Cooling water is needed to run many of today’s power plants. Hydroelectricity (electricity produced by running water) is itself an important source of power in some parts of the United States. Rising temperatures, increased evaporation, and drought may increase the need for energy-intensive methods of providing drinking and irrigation water. For example, desalinization plants can convert salt water into freshwater, but consume a lot of energy. Climate change may also require irrigation water to be pumped over longer distances, particularly in dry regions across the western United States.6
More frequent and severe heat waves will likely increase the demand for electricity in the Southeast and Southwest. At the same time, these areas are likely to experience reduced water supplies due to decreased rain and/or increased temperature and evaporation. Since water is necessary for electricity production, these combined effects could stress water resources.
Our production and use of energy (most of which comes from fossil fuels) also contributes to climate change, accounting for more than 80% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. 7
2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
3. National Wildlife Federation
4. Stanford University
5. USGCRP (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.
6. CCSP (2007). Effects of Climate Change on Energy Production and Use in the United States.
7. EPA (2010). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2008.