MORE INFORMATION: Climate Change Affecting Our Surroundings

March 4, 2009

What are the environmental effects of climate change?
Climate change affects all areas of God’s creation from your front lawn to the polar ice caps to the Saharan desert. It is important to look at the unique effects upon all resources to understand the full scope of global warming’s influence upon the planet. The ability to adapt to these changes will fall hardest on those with the lowest incomes and least resources.

Agriculture: Human activity can cause changes in atmospheric characteristics such as temperature, rainfall, levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and ground level ozone that impact agricultural productivity in the US and around the world. While food production may benefit from a warmer climate, the increased potential for droughts, floods and heat waves will pose challenges for farmers. Additionally, the enduring changes in climate, water supply and soil moisture could change the types of crops grown in certain regions. Farmers in developed countries will be better equipped than those in developing countries to adapt to these changes. Management practices, the opportunity to switch crop selection from season to season, and technology can help the agricultural sector cope with and adapt to climatic variability and change.

Forests: Climate change is expected to diminish forest health and productivity and cause changes in the geographic range of certain regionally important tree species, such as New England sugar maples and boreal forests in Alaska. Factors that affect forests include changes in air temperature, precipitation, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, pollution levels, and the frequency and severity of wildfires. These effects can in turn alter timber production, outdoor recreational activities, water quality, wildlife and rates of carbon storage.

Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Over time, ecosystems and organisms have adapted to their regional climate. Any changes, therefore, have the potential to alter ecosystems and the many resources and services they provide to each other and to society. Even small environmental differences will result in changes that will alter the structure, reduce biodiversity and perturb functioning of most ecosystems, and compromise the services they currently provide.

Sea Levels and Coastal Areas: Sea levels are rising along most of the U.S. coast and around the world. In the last century, coastal lands have eroded as Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast sea levels have risen 5 to 6 inches more than the global average. Higher temperatures are expected to further raise sea levels by expanding ocean water, melting mountain glaciers and small ice caps, and causing portions of Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets to melt. Rising sea levels inundate wetlands and other low-lying lands, erode beaches, intensify flooding, and increase the salinity of rivers, bays, and groundwater tables.

Water: All regions of the world show an overall net negative impact of climate change on water resources and freshwater ecosystems. (IPCC, 2007) These negative impacts affect water availability, quality and streamflow because they are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. Other important factors affecting water supply include increased demand for water caused by population growth, changes in the economy, development of new technologies, changes in watershed characteristics and water management decisions.

Public Lands: Many National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are valued resources designated to protect rare natural features or particular species of plants and animals. Changes in climate could create stresses on these environments through species migration or extinction in the absence of adaptation.

Extreme Weather Events: The type, frequency and intensity of weather events are part of earth’s natural climate pattern. Human-induced climate change, however, has the potential to alter that pattern, including the prevalence and severity of extremes such as heat waves, cold waves, storms, floods and droughts. Understanding vulnerabilities to such changes is a critical part of estimating vulnerabilities and future climate change impacts on human health, society and the environment. Since 1950, there have been increases in the number of heat waves, regions affected by droughts, extent of flooding, tropical storms and hurricanes.

The best way to slow climate change is by reducing our, our community’s, our country’s and the world greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the ways that the world, the US, and the Episcopal Church are addressing climate change.

World Forums on Climate Change

Kyoto Protocol: In the mid 90s, the Kyoto Protocols were developed and went into effect in 2005. The Kyoto Protocol calls for mandatory targets on greenhouse-gas emissions for the world's leading economies which have accepted it. Commitments under the Protocol vary from nation to nation, but there is an overall 5 per cent target for developed countries. To ease the burden of meeting each country’s individual targets, the agreement offers flexibility in how countries may meet their targets by methods such as increasing forest area or by paying for efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Bali Climate Change Conference: In December 2007, countries from all over the world met to discuss climate change and ways to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. To read more about this international dedication to a global solution, click here.

United States: In February 2002, the United States made a commitment to a comprehensive strategy to reduce the greenhouse gas emission intensity of the American economy by 18 percent by 2012, setting America on a path to slow the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions. The US has given $500 million to the Global Environmental Facility to help developing countries address environmental problems, including global climate change. The GEF is the financial mechanism under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Current Bills in Congress include:

H.R. 890, American Renewable Energy Act. This bill would establish a Federal renewable energy standard for electric utilities with a goal of having America generate one-quarter of its energy from clean energy sources by 2025.

S. 231, A bill to designate a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. This bill amends the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 to designate a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System under the Wilderness Act.

Episcopal Church:

The 2006 General Convention recognized the importance of addressing the issues of global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the Church to use its resources to promote a sustainable global evironment, to push companies that are paricularly large contributors to global warming to change their policies, and to inspire all Episcopal communities to incorporate environmentally friendly habits into worship and church life.

The Episcopal Church Executive Council has urged the President and Congress to provide financial support and leadership for developing nations to control their emissions of greenhouse gases in order to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and severe weather disasters. It also has urged the President and Congress to provide funds and leadership in an effort to encourage renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation.