03/07 - Climate Change and Louisiana: The Heat is On

What can or should the state be doing to prepare for some of the possible social and economic affects of global climate change?

The world is warming and governments, private institutions and businesses around the globe are trying to determine what they can do to mitigate or adapt to the coming changes. In North America, the Mississippi River delta [read: Louisiana] will be the area that will feel the greatest impact from global warming. Louisiana emits more greenhouse gases, per capita, than any other state. What can or should the state be doing to prepare for - or help avoid - some of the possible social and economic affects of global climate change? Find out on "Climate Change and Louisiana: The Heat Is On."

Panelists:

* Karen Gautreaux, Deputy Secretary, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
* Charles Reith, Ph.D., an Adjunct Professor at Tulane and serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Affordable Energy
* Barry Keim, State Climatologist & LSU Professor of Geography and Anthropology

Backgrounder

“We know the surface temperature of the Earth is warming … There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming … And the National Academy of Scientists indicates that the increase is due, in large part, to human activity.”
~ President George Bush

President Bush, considered by many to be a global warming skeptic, spoke those words in June, 2001. Since then, additional data have both bolstered the case for global warming and implicated human activity as the primary cause. The main contributors are the use of fossil fuels and (to a lesser extent) changes in land-use such as deforestation and agriculture.

Global Climate Change
The natural greenhouse effect traps heat from the sun and warms the planet enough to make it livable for plants and animals. But since the start of the Industrial Age [around 1750], man has added so much additional gas - especially carbon dioxide [CO2] - to the atmosphere, that the earth has begun to warm more than at any time in the past 1300 years.
This was one of many disturbing findings in the most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. The IPCC, through its global network of over two thousand scientists, has been studying climate change for 16 years. The report is based on a thorough analysis of the most-up-to-date, peer-reviewed scientific literature available worldwide.
The effects of this warming will be overwhelmingly negative – and sometimes contradictory. Some regions will become cooler; others will warm up; some will experience severe drought, while other area will get increased rainfall. The pattern and intensity of rainfall is likely to change, with rain falls becoming less frequent, but more intense. Warmer ocean temperatures will mean more intense tropical storms and hurricanes. Warmer weather may also increase populations of pests, spores and certain microorganisms.
More CO2 and higher temperatures [up to a point] could foster the growth of some plants, including food crops.
One of the biggest effects will be on the world’s oceans. Increased heat will expand the water, raising the sea height. Islands and coastal communities like those along Louisiana’s gulf shore will be especially vulnerable to flooding. The wildcard in trying to estimate the amount of sea-level change is the effect of global warming on the huge deposits of land ice at the northern and southern latitudes. Scientists currently do not have enough information to predict how these vast ice fields will react to climate change, but their melting would have the potential to significantly increase ocean height.

Other Voices

* Though virtually no one in the scientific community doubts that the planet is warming, there are some who question the degree to which man is the cause. Since this is an issue which may never be absolutely settled, proponents of mitigating the impacts of global climate change are concerned that such efforts – including significant reductions in greenhouse gas production – will be delayed, or not pursued at all.
* Those who question the IPCC’s findings say that there is not enough data to justify actions that will consume scarce resources and that may endanger global economic stability. They also question directing attention and effort away from more immediate and more addressable problems.
* Proponents for governmental action say that the heart of the “scientific uncertainty” argument is a judgment that it is worse to over-react to climate change than to under-react to it.
* Arrayed against these anti-mainstream voices are the IPCC and many national and international scientific bodies, including:

Joint science academies’ statement

* In 2005 the national science academies of the G8 nations, plus Brazil, China and India, three of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world, signed a statement on the global response to climate change. The statement stresses that the scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action [4], and explicitly endorsed the IPCC consensus.

US National Research Council, 2001

* In 2001 the Committee on the Science of Climate Change of the National Research Council published Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions [5]. This report explicitly endorses the IPCC view of attribution of recent climate change as representing the view of the scientific community:
* The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability. Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century... The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue. [6]

American Meteorological Society

* The American Meteorological Society (AMS) statement adopted by their council in 2003 said:
* There is now clear evidence that the mean annual temperature at the Earth's surface, averaged over the entire globe, has been increasing in the past 200 years. There is also clear evidence that the abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased over the same period. In the past decade, significant progress has been made toward a better understanding of the climate system and toward improved projections of long-term climate change... Human activities have become a major source of environmental change. Of great urgency are the climate consequences of the increasing atmospheric abundance of greenhouse gases... Because greenhouse gases continue to increase, we are, in effect, conducting a global climate experiment, neither planned nor controlled, the results of which may present unprecedented challenges to our wisdom and foresight as well as have significant impacts on our natural and societal systems. [7]

Federal Climate Change Science Program, 2006

* On May 2, 2006, the Federal Climate Change Science Program commissioned by the Bush administration in 2002 released the first of 21 assessments that concluded that there is clear evidence of human influences on the climate system (due to changes in greenhouse gases, aerosols, and stratospheric ozone) [8]. The study said that observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, though it did not state what percentage of climate change might be anthropogenic in nature.

Other organizations

* Other scientific organizations have made position statements on climate change.
* American Geophysical Union position statement on greenhouse gases and climate change (also endorsed by the American Institute of Physics[9])
* Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, National Academy of Sciences, Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources, (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001).
* Joint statement on the Science of Climate Change, issued by the Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society (UK).
* A position paper of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London.
* Position Statement on Global Climate Change adopted by the Geological Society of America
* Policy Statement on Climate Variability and Change by the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC)
* Australian Medical Association statement on climate change
* American Chemical Society statement on Global Climate Change
* The only major scientific organization that rejects the finding of human influence on recent climate is the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.[10]
*

Louisiana and Global Climate Change
What does all this mean for Louisiana? The state lies squarely in the North American zone which will be most severely affected by global climate change, according to the IPCC. State-specific climate change models do not exist, but information from global models can be used to project plausible climate futures at the regional level. Here are some climate projections for the Southeast section of the country, which includes Louisiana. They are derived from models produced by the Canadian Climate Centre and the U.K.’s Hadley Centre. [The following is excerpted from “Confronting Climate Change In the Gulf Coastal Region”, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America. Full report available at http://www.ucsusa.org ]
· Temperature: Maximum summer temperatures could increase by 3-7°F, with the July heat index—a measure combining temperature and humidity to represent the temperature actually felt—increasing by 10–25°F. Minimum winter temperatures could increase from less than 3° to about 10°F. The freeze line is likely to move north.
· Precipitation and runoff: In the immediate coastal regions of Louisiana, rainfall is likely to decrease along with soil moisture. In upland areas, one model projects the area to get wetter; the other, drier—so the impacts of both scenarios should be assessed. Where drought conditions increase, so does the risk of wildfires.
· Sea-level rise: Sea level is projected to rise at a faster rate over the 21st century. By 2100, ocean levels could be 21–44 inches higher than today, based on a continued average subsidence rate of 8–31 inches per century and a mid-range sea-level rise scenario.
image
Effect of 1 meter [39 in.] sea level rise. Area in red would be under water. Note large areas of Calcasieu Parish, including Lake Charles, would be affected, as well as E. and W. Baton Rouge and Livingston Parishes.
Image courtesy Weiss and Overpeck, The University of Arizona

· Tropical storms: Hurricane intensity (maximum wind speeds, rainfall totals) could increase slightly with global warming, although changes in future hurricane frequency are uncertain. Even if storm frequencies and intensities remain constant, the damages from coastal flooding and erosion will increase as sea level rises.

NOTE: Additional global warming impacts on Louisiana are listed at the end.

From “What If?” to “What Now?”
A number of the world’s governments have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by setting specific targets. The general framework was set forth in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, and is known as the Kyoto Protocol. The US wanted to stabilize emissions rather than specify reductions. The European Union wanted a 15% cut. In the end, industrialized countries committed to overall reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases to 5.2% below 1990 levels for the period 2008 – 2012. [The IPCC had said in its 1990 report that a 60% reduction was needed.]

* The U.S. was openly hostile to the treaty, in part because developing countries were not subject to the same restrictions as industrialized nations. American businesses felt this would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Despite being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, the US has never signed the Kyoto Protocol.
* But as extreme weather and more and more data about climate change has been emerging, a large number of multinational companies have reversed their previous positions, or raised their voices on this issue. In the summer of 2005, thirteen of Britain’s most powerful companies urged their government to take action to avoid the dire consequences of climate change. The companies said they were “unable to take their investments in low carbon solutions to scale because of lack of long-term policies."
* In the US, large companies such as General Electric, Dupont, Alcoa, Lehman Brothers and Caterpillar have joined together to call on the US federal government to increase its efforts to fight global warming.

State Action

* Many states have decided that the federal government had been too slow to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California has established an economy-wide emissions cap for the whole state. Twelve states have or are in the process of adopting California’s emissions standards for cars and light trucks. Texas and Maryland will consider such legislation in 2007.
* States have created climate change commissions; climate action plans, and greenhouse gas reporting [voluntary and mandatory].
* Louisiana is one of several states that have either mandates or incentives promoting the use of biofuels.
* Although Louisiana produces more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than any other state, it currently has no comprehensive plan for dealing with climate change.

Additional possible impacts from global climate change:

Agriculture and Forestry
· In the delta region, where drier conditions are projected, rice production is likely to decrease, given its high sensitivity to increased salinity.
· Under the drier conditions additional irrigation will be required to maintain the production of cotton, soybean, sorghum, hay, sugarcane, and vegetables. (Note: The fertilization effect from elevated levels of CO2 will increase productivity only with sufficient irrigation.) If sufficient irrigation water is not available, production cannot be maintained at current levels.
· The (shortleaf and loblolly pine tree) forests are vulnerable to drought and fire in areas that could become drier. As temperatures rise, the capacity of trees to absorb and store carbon decreases.
· Savannas and grasslands would expand at the expense of forests, particularly in areas further inland from the coast, if the drier climate scenario were to play out. Wetter climate conditions, on the other hand, would increase the productivity of hardwoods at the expense of softwoods, but also favor forest pests such as Southern pine bark beetle.
· Increased fire frequency under drier conditions would require that forest managers change their forest and fire management practices, including changes in tree species, stand density, fertilization, and rotation length. Extreme, long-lasting droughts would seriously damage forests in the long-term.

Human Health
· The July heat index is projected to increase most in the southern United States. Metropolitan areas such as Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport are particularly vulnerable to more heat waves. They could increase the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths.
· Higher temperatures will also lead to increased production of ground-level ozone, which, when combined with higher concentration of air pollutants and higher pollen counts, could seriously compromise air quality. Cities, such as Baton Rouge, already in non-compliance with federal air quality standards, are likely to face even greater problems.
· Along Louisiana’s coast, viral and bacterial contamination of shellfish has repeatedly caused illness (neurotoxic poisoning etc.) and closed important fisheries. The protozoan Perkinsus marinus is the most important pathogen threatening the Gulf ’s significant oyster industry. Prevalence of P. marinus has been related to salinity and temperature, with low temperatures and salinities usually limiting infection and higher temperatures and salinities typically increasing it. Climate change is likely to produce conditions that would make P. marinus become more common.

Fisheries
· If runoff from the Mississippi River increases, as some climate models project, the risk of the formation of an oxygen poor (hypoxic) zone off the coast increases, as could the size of this area, sometimes called the “dead zone.” If this occurs, the state’s fisheries would be negatively impacted. Shrimp yields, for example, decreased during past hypoxia events.
· Both climate models used in this report project that freshwater input from local rivers flowing into estuaries and bays will decrease in the future. In addition demand on scarce freshwater resources will increase. The combination is likely to result in problems with extreme salt concentrations; less will either be aggravated by decreases in rainfall or slightly alleviated if rainfall increases.
· As global warming proceeds, more extreme rainfall events—a trend already detected—will lead to more frequent extreme runoff events, which can overload sewage systems and result in septic contamination of surface and coastal waters. · Higher water temperatures will alter aquatic ecosystems by changing aquatic food webs and species communities, and impact water quality by reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

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