The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change today released its second summary report of the year, this one detailing the observed impacts of global warming on humans and the natural environment.
The news is not good.
The report documents a host of problems related to a pattern of warming temperatures across the globe: Avalanches in the mountains. Declining water quality due to warming rivers and lakes. More forest fires. The spread of infectious diseases. Crop damage. Riverine and coastal flooding.
The warming climate is expected to have an especially devastating impact on people living in poverty, the report notes:
Poor communities can be especially vulnerable, in particular those concentrated in high-risk areas. They tend to have more limited adaptive capacities, and are more dependent on climate-sensitive resources such as local water and food supplies.
Most at risk are residents of coastal and river flood plains, those with economies tied to climate-sensitive resources, and those living in areas prone to extreme weather, especially where rapid urbanization is taking place, the report states. And while climate change is a global phenomenon, it's having specific impacts on various geographic regions -- including the U.S. South.
"The IPCC confirms that here in the Southeast we are particularly vulnerable to rising seas and hotter temperatures," says Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "We are already experiencing the impacts of global warming with just a few degrees of warming."
SACE points out that New Orleans, South Florida and North Carolina's Outer Banks are among the areas of the United States most vulnerable to coastal flooding due to warming-related sea rise. The first IPCC working group report issued this year found that sea levels could rise between 7 and 23 inches by 2100, which would devastate communities in these and many other coastal areas.
According to the IPCC, continued reliance on fossil fuels will likely result in a temperature rise of more than 7°F by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences. Meanwhile, though, utility companies across the South continue to push ahead with plans to build more highly polluting coal-burning power plants. Today, the South produces most of its power by burning coal -- 64 percent in Georgia, 63 percent in North Carolina and Tennessee, and 35 percent in Florida.
To avoid warming's worst effects, SACE says, we have to reduce global warming pollution by 80 percent before 2050. But one wonders how we will we do that while building more coal-fired power plants.
"The window to act is closing," Smith warns, "and we have wasted too much time already."