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Rural Blog: Report says climate change already happening; can help, harm agriculture

Special to KyForward

Climate change is already happening throughout the entire U.S., according to the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday by a scientific panel overseen by the government. Justin Gillis reports for The New York Times that the panel found “water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.”

(KyForward file photo)

(KyForward file photo)

“One of the report’s most dramatic findings concerned the rising frequency of torrential rains,” Gillis writes. “The proportion of precipitation that is falling in very heavy rain events has jumped by 71 percent in the Northeast, by 37 percent in the Midwest and by 27 percent in the South, the report found.” The report also found that “severe, long-lasting heat waves were likely to become much more common,” and “bitterly cold winters will continue to occur, even as they become somewhat less likely.” (Read more.)

Climate change can help and harm agriculture, the report says. The length of growing seasons could increase, allowing more diverse crops, but an increase in the number of dry days, especially in the West and South, could negatively affect both crops and livestock. “The trend toward more consecutive dry days and higher temperatures will increase evaporation and add stress to limited water resources, affecting irrigation and other water uses.”

“Warming, climate volatility, extreme weather events and environmental change are already affecting the economies and cultures of rural areas,” the report says. “These changes will progressively increase volatility in food commodity markets, shift locations where particular economic activities can thrive, alter the ranges of plant and animal species and—depending on the region—increase water scarcity, exacerbate flooding and coastal erosion and increase the intensity and frequency of wildfires across the rural landscape.”

“Rural America has already experienced impacts of climate change related weather effects, including crop and livestock loss from severe drought and flooding, damage to levees and roads from extreme storms, shifts in planting and harvesting times and large-scale losses from fires and other weather-related disasters,” the report says. “These impacts have profound effects, often significantly affecting the health and well-being of rural residents and communities, and are amplified by the essential economic link between these communities and their natural resource base.”

The report also found that “hunting, fishing, bird watching and other wildlife-related activities will be affected as wildlife habitats shift and relationships among species change” and that areas that rely on winter tourism, especially in the West, Northeast and Southwest, could be hurt by warming temperatures.

The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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