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White House Issues Strong Warnings in Environmental Report

June 17, 2009

The effects of global warming are here and are causing major damage, stated the first climate study from Barack Obama’s administration in the strongest stance on climate change ever to be issued from the White House.

Global warming has caused heavy rainfall, increased temperatures, higher sea levels, melting glaciers and has even changed the ways rivers flow, says the document released Tuesday by White House science advisers and others.

“There are in some cases already serious consequences,” said co-author Anthony Janetos of the University of Maryland to The Associated Press. “This is not a theoretical thing that will happen 50 years from now. Things are happening now.”

The document, a status report ordered occasionally by Congress, has no new research. However, it paints a larger, more comprehensive and scarier picture of global warming in the U.S. than in the George W. Bush years. Bush was eventually forced by lawsuit to release a draft report in 2008, which was the basis for the current one.

Administration official Jane Lubchenco hailed the new report as something that will change policy.

“This report provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now and it’s happening in our own backyards and it affects the kind of things people care about,” Lubchenco stated at a White House briefing. Her group, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was one of the key contributors to the paper.

The “major disruptions” already in place will only grow as warming persists, the authors wrote. They predict that the standard U.S. temperature might rise by 11 degrees by the end of the century.

“Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems,” the study said in one of its main discoveries, noting that it may touch on the survival of several species.

For instance, in the past decades, winters in the Midwest have gradually warmed by a few degrees, according to the report. Briefer winters have some good consequences, like longer growing seasons, but they still require some adjustments.

“We’re already seeing impacts across the nation,” said co-author Virginia Burkett, coordinator of global change science at the U.S. Geological Survey, to AP News. “The evidence is much stronger than it has been.”

White House science adviser John Holdren said in a statement that the discoveries prove the need for action on reducing global warming. The need is here for both shrinking car emissions globally and accepting changes that “are no longer avoidable.”

“It tells us why remedial action is needed sooner rather than later,” Holdren said.

Jerry Melillo, an author who worked on the report, said at a White Tuesday briefing that if steps are taken to cut the heat-trapping gases, there is a chance for eventual improvement.

“There are a lot of things that are potentially possible if we don’t bring climate change under control, and we would like to see them avoided,” said Melillo, a biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

The practically 200-page report reviews the effects of global warming in each US area, from coastal sea levels to Midwestern planting seasons.

Federal law calls for a widespread report on global warming’s effects every four years. An environmental group forced the Bush administration to release a first draft of the report in the summer of 2008 because one had not been complied since 2000. Since then, the warnings have increased, but mainly because of newer research, scientists said.

“The emphasis has shifted from just looking at the physical climate science to adapting to change,” Burkett said in an interview.

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