MISSOULA, Mont. - A new report released by the White House warns that climate change is already a clear and present threat in the U.S.
The National Climate Assessment was put together by 300 scientists and a federal advisory committee. It warns that floods, fires, and drought will be more common as the century goes on, but the impacts can be reduced if there is a dramatic change in how the world gets its energy.
Critics call the report "alarmist" and say it's an excuse to expand government influence.
One of the many authors of the report is a professor at the University of Montana. Dr. Steve Running is a forest and climate expert and won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with the other members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Running is one of the lead authors on a chapter covering climate change's impact on our forests. "We'll see bigger wildfires, a longer wildfire season, and an unprecedented bug epidemic. Those are the two disturbance vectors at this end of our country; and we see them all the time in Montana."
These impacts all go back to evidence that water will be scarce during the summer months. Computer models of future climate predict an average of 10 percent less rainfall in the Pacific Northwest by the end of the century.
One model that simulates a "worst-case scenario" predicts 30 percent less rain. Warmer average temperatures would change weather patterns and lengthen the growing season, but a longer, hotter summer could mean farmers won't be able to take advantage of it.
Dr. Running notes that the snowpack is now melting nearly 2 weeks earlier than 50 years ago.
The glaciers in Glacier National Park are often used as a posterchild for a warming world. Since 1850, 125 of the 150 recorded glaciers in the park have melted away. Some studies state that the park will have no glaciers by 2030.
The scientists in this report conclude that burning fossil fuels is the primary reason for global warming. The report also says that we will feel impacts even if we stopped all carbon emissions immediately -- not a reasonable scenario.
"If we don't get serious about this soon", says Dr. Running, "we will have a much bigger hole to dig ourselves out of."
The National Climate Assessment is a long read -- 829 pages to be exact. Below are links to the full report, a shorter summary report, and information about the receding Glaciers in Glacier National Park:
National Climate Assessment
Climate Assessment Summary