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Bringing climate change home

Buteo over the Bronx

Last week, while the city's parks were teeming with birders watching the spring migration and the lilac and wisteria were just starting to bloom, the National Climate Assessment report was issued. A comprehensive work prepared by a team of 300 scientists and climate experts and extensively reviewed, it makes an imposing trilogy with the earlier reports by the International Panel on Climate Change and the American Association for the Advancement of Science .

The IPCC and the AAAS reports were global; the National Climate Assessment report is local. It evaluates and analyzes the impact of present and future climate change on health, infrastructure, food and water supplies, and plant and animal life in the U.S. As in the previous reports, we're reminded that climate change is already in progress, and not only have the original predictions been confirmed, but some changes have occurred earlier than predicted.

So that we can better grasp the situation, the report offers analysis of climate change by region. Here in the Northeast we may grimly note that our anecdotal observations are valid. Yes, the summers have been getting hotter, there are more extreme weather events, and heavier downpours of rain are more common.

Those of us who were around 50 or 60 years ago remember the New York climate as gentler, more temperate. In those days, no one thought much about the weather and no one talked about it (that was for the British, not us). We didn't have dramatic rain storms or endless snowfalls and spring was a slow transition unfolding with crisp balmy days, not an abrupt shift from cold to hot. Now we know those memories aren't just nostalgia for our youth; there's been a real change.

Of particular interest to birders will be the rapid changes to the ecosystem caused by rising temperatures. These changes may lead to the extinction or disappearance of species that we traditionally associate with particular regions and we are in danger of ending up with an unfamiliar landscape at home. At the very least, those migratory birds we watch so avidly in the spring may suffer from declining populations as they arrive at their summer breeding grounds to find reduced food resources.

Some species will succeed in adapting to the new climate. Ours probably will, albeit with major migrations and social tensions. But since we humans are the primary cause of global warming, we can do more. We can reduce the pollution from greenhouse gases and at the same time, slow climate change. Mitigation (the term used by the report) will require serious economic, political, and lifestyle changes, all which can be done.

For a start, read the report at:

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