Weather patterns will transform over decades but planning must begin now.
Elected officials must start planning for what many climate scientists say will be an altered US landscape in coming decades. Disruptive weather and rising seas, if they happen, are events too big for governments to ignore.
Fortunately, the National Research Council, a scientific body set up to advise the US government, has taken a valuable step in that essential process. It released a report March 12 with nine recommendations on how the federal government can help local governments, businesses, and citizens begin to cope with the changes expected later in this century.
First, the report offers this warning: "As a result of human activity, the average temperature of Earth will soon leave the less-than-1 degree Celsius range that it has maintained for more than 10,000 years." The US climate "is no longer stable, but will continue to change in new and often surprising ways," it adds. It calls for deeper research into how specific regions will be affected and on ways to lessen or adapt to changes.
Though federal leadership will be "essential," the report does not recommend a central agency to deal with the effort. It suggests a need to support existing governments in adapting to climate change.
Americans may already be seeing early signs of a warming climate, including a northward shift of the migration of bird species and agricultural growing seasons.
In California, more than $100 billion worth of homes, businesses, and public facilities are at risk from extreme coastal storms if sea levels rise as anticipated. Nearly a half-million people along its Pacific Coast could be affected, according to another report.