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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

U.S. Climate Action

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey has details on the adaptive strategies included in the Bush administration’s recently released report on climate change. For the first time, the administration blames global warming on human actions, but falls short of calling for reduced emissions.


CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The Bush administration has a new position on global warming. For the first time, the White House admits rising temperatures are largely the result of human activities. This news came in a report the State Department filed with the United Nations and was originally posted on the EPA’s website three links in. Still, it’s being viewed as a sea change, so much so that just days after its release, President Bush made remarks that appeared to distance himself from the document. We’ll have more on that in a moment.

First, Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey has some details on the report that lays out, in stark language, the possible impacts climate change will have on the U.S. and how the nation might adapt.

TOOMEY: To determine the degree of impact, the administration assumed midrange values for increases in temperatures and sea level. But it pointed out, because of uncertainties in the responsive society and the environment, these impacts were likely but not certain.

In any event, it went on to say, "The persistence of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere means the climate will continue to change in this century, resulting in impacts and the need to adapt to them." The Climate Change Assessment focuses on potential effects to land cover, agriculture, forest and water resources, as well as on coastal regions and human health.

For instance, the government says it’s especially urgent to consider sea level rise and its accompanying loss of coastal wetlands and beaches, as well as the storm surge risk it presents to coastal communities, especially in the Southeast. The administration advocates the use of so-called rolling easements, which give naturally migrating beaches and wetlands the right of way over private property owners wishing to hold back the ocean with sea walls. Although it might be decades away, rolling easements mean eventually these properties must be abandoned.

Another impact concerns water shortages. The anticipated reduction in snow pack is very likely to lead to water shortages in the West, an area of the country particularly dependent on snow pack as a water reservoir. Strategies put forth to mitigate this shortage include building new dams, although the government admits these structures are no longer viewed as environmentally acceptable.

The report also makes mention of using market forces to encourage conservation. In other words, raise the price of water. This might be especially difficult as the government tries to balance the interests of everyone from owners of suburban lawns, to consumers of hydroelectric power, to farmers, whose price of water has been kept relatively low through irrigation subsidies.

On both the issue of water shortages and coastal effects, the administration contends that the role of the federal government will be limited, since things like water rights and coastal planning are the responsibility of state and local governments. For Living on Earth, I’m Diane Toomey.



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