Jul 20 2009
Climate change is visible and occurring throughout the U.S., but the choices we make now will determine the severity of its impacts in the future, according to a Texas Tech University climate scientist who served as a lead author on a report released this June by the White House.
Katharine Hayhoe, a research associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, was one of 31 scientists from 13 U.S. government science agencies, major universities and research institutes that produced the study. In 2007, she was invited to serve as the lead author for the Great Plains chapter of the report, which includes Texas.
“During the next decade or two, we are likely to see an increase of 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit across the United States,” Hayhoe said. “How much temperatures rise after that depends primarily on our emissions of heat-trapping gases during the next few decades. Under lower emissions, temperatures could increase 4 to 7.5 degrees. With higher emissions, we can expect 7 to 11 degrees, with the greatest increases in summer.”
Using projections such as these, authors crafted what they call the most comprehensive, plain-language report to date on national climate change. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States provides the most current information on how climate change is likely to impact key economic sectors and regions of the country. The report spans both the Bush and Obama Administrations.
“Water is gold – here in Texas and across the Great Plains,” she said. "Farming and ranching are already under pressure from expanding human development and limited water supply. Climate change will exacerbate these and other existing stresses on our natural environment and our society.”
Rising temperatures likely will shift the areas where certain crops are grown and allow pests currently confined to the southern parts of the region to expand northward. Rising temperatures also will add to the pressure on the regions grasslands and playa lakes – unique habitats the Great Plains region offers to migrating and local birds as well as other wildlife.
The report emphasizes that the choices we make now will determine the severity of climate change impacts in the future. Earlier reductions in emissions will have a greater effect in reducing climate change than comparable reductions made later.