Climate report: Rough weather ahead for Tennessee

WASHINGTON -- Get ready Tennessee: Climate change means more heat stress and violent storms -- but less water overall -- immediately ahead.

And by the way, your state pours into the atmosphere a lot of carbon, the element responsible for all this.

Those were among the messages this week in the Obama administration's third -- and most comprehensive yet -- National Climate Assessment.

It comes at a time when climate change and global warming remain contentious political issues, and some say a heated scientific dispute as well.

It also comes two years after Tennessee enacted an "academic freedom" law that encouraged public school teachers to discuss both sides of the climate-change debate.

In releasing state-by-state and regional looks at what to expect in the near future, the report predicted this for Tennessee and the Southeast:

-- A continuing increase in average annual temperatures that will likely harm dairy and other livestock production. By 2060 average temperatures will have risen 9 degrees since 1990.

-- Decreased water availability due to rising temperatures that cause increased evaporation.

-- More harm to transportation systems due to "severe precipitation events" such as floods and hail storms.

-- More stress on trees and forests from heat increasing "the extent and virulence of some insects and pathogens."

The administration called for better land-use planning, improved building design and construction, steps to protect infrastructure, more use of clean energy and increased energy efficiency. It also called for improving emergency response and recovery capabilities.

"In 2012, power plants and major industrial facilities in Tennessee emitted more than 50 million metric tons of carbon pollution; that's equal to the yearly pollution from more than 11 million cars," the report said.

Some climate experts said the report drove home the real-life consequences of climate change -- and that those in the middle of the country can't ignore rising sea levels on the coasts, another prospect it mentions.

"We are a totally integrated economy. What happens globally affects us all," Kathleen Miller of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. said in an interview. "The whole global community needs to get on board. We can't just sit back and wait."

Kelsey N. Ellis, a climate expert at the University of Tennessee, said the report "shows people why climate change matters to them specifically, and what they can do about it."

She added, "When teaching climate change one of the largest challenges is keeping people from feeling helpless, and instead empowering them to act."

The Climate Reality Project, founded by former vice president and U.S. senator Al Gore of Tennessee, also welcomed the report.

"As we pay more for groceries in the midst of record-breaking droughts, or rebuild after increasingly extreme weather events, or foot the healthcare bill for worsening air quality, it is clear that the cost of carbon pollution is real and growing," Ken Berlin, president of the group, said in a statement.

But the idea that climate change is human-driven, rather than naturally occurring, still has plenty of skeptics.

"Claims that human-caused global warming is already causing major climate disruptions in all parts of the country is contradicted by the facts," said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

Even the reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Ebell said, "backed up by a lot of scholarship (show) there are no significant trends in hurricanes, droughts, floods, heat waves, blizzards or other extreme weather events. Economic damage from severe weather has increased because population, buildings and infrastructure have increased, especially along the Gulf and Southeast Coast where hurricanes land."


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