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National Climate Assessment describes impacts of climate change

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On May 6, 2014, the National Climate Assessment (NCA), a 1300-page report by 300 scientists and experts, was released. It is expected to be a large factor in the remaining two years of President Obama's environmental agenda. In June, he will begin the next phase of his climate mitigation plan -- reducing emissions from the current generation of power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country.

The report describes both current and future impacts of climate change, both on the whole country and on given regions. There will be more extreme weather events; they will happen more frequently, and they will be more severe. The report also explains the consequences of even mild changes. For instance, the NCA states the average temperature of the U.S. is expected to increase 2° F (1.1° C) to 4° F (2.2° C). On the face of it, that sounds negligible. So a typical summer day might be 87° F (28.3° C) instead of 83° F (30.6° C).

The problem isn't the averages; it's the extremes. Hotter temperatures mean hotter air, which will result in more precipitation, that will take increasingly take such extreme forms as blizzards and torrential rain. Heat waves will also become increasingly common and severe.

Such events will tax our infrastructure. A heat wave, for example, will lead to increased use of air conditioners, which will lead to an increased demand for electricity. That can put stress on the electrical grid, leading to blackouts and brownouts.

The NCA comes in two forms, a full report and a "highlights" section. Both forms include an overview, descriptions of how climate change will affect given regions in the U.S., and descriptions of how climate change will affect different aspects of our lives, like agriculture, health, or the oceans. The full report also includes a section on strategies for dealing with climate change, which fall into two broad categories. "Mitigation" involves reducing carbon emissions in order to lessen future climate change. "Adaptation" refers to strategies intended to help people cope with the results of existing climate change. These strategies can be on a federal, state, regional, or local level. Since different areas face different problems, the strategies will vary from place to place.

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