There’s a big difference between short-term weather phenomena and long-term climate patterns, and too often people don’t make this distinction when they’re considering the effects of climate change.

While there’s considerable controversy over the motives behind climate change research and findings, it’s worth noting that the Department of Defense has figured climate change into long-range defense planning and geopolitical stability for almost 30 years. In fact, the Navy War College published a paper on rising sea levels and other effects of climate change back in 1990.

What Are the Effects of Climate Change?

Scientists have noted many effects of climate change and global warming, and one of the most pronounced has been a rise in sea levels. On average, global sea levels have seen an eight-inch rise since 1880, but the rise in sea levels is happening much more quickly along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Communities like Galveston, Norfolk, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C. have all experienced sea level increases that are far above the norm in other parts of the country. This means enhanced flooding risks to tidewater communities and other low-lying areas, as well as coastal properties that have become so desirable (and are backed by generous flood insurance).

More Powerful Hurricanes

Hurricanes have always been a fact of life for people living in coastal areas, but evidence points to these storms becoming more frequent and more powerful since the 1970s. Storms like Irma, Maria, Katrina and Sandy wreaked billions of dollars’ worth of damage in the last 20 years, with higher wind speeds and more rainfall than many other hurricanes of the past. The financial impact of these storms is huge, especially when considering the number of refineries, seaports, chemical plants, and other facilities that are situated near coastal cities. Scientists believe that the trend toward stronger hurricanes is heightened by sea level rise, as they continue to refine their studies on the link between global warming and hurricane activity.

Longer Wildfire Seasons

Wildfires have always been a force of nature. Climate change, though, is exacerbating wildfire season in many parts of the country. Earlier spring snow melts in mountainous areas, droughts that dry out the understory of forests and hotter temperatures in spring and summer all add up to prime conditions for wildfires.

Records show that temperatures in the American West have increased 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, which is about twice the global average. As a result, wildfire season is now seven months, compared to about five months in the 1970s, and the number of fires has grown by 75 percent.

The cost of fighting these fires continues to escalate, having exceeded $1 billion annually every year since 2000 (after adjusting for inflation). The “collateral damage” from these fires is more and more costly as well, as businesses and neighborhoods now occupy wildfire-prone areas. This is especially a problem in Texas, Colorado and California, all of which have seen expansive development in these areas.

More Severe Risk of Droughts

Throughout the West, the South and the Midwest, summertime often comes with a drought. As other areas of the country experience flooding, drought-affected areas are seeing streams and rivers dry up, and even groundwater supplies and underground rivers can begin to fail. This obviously puts a huge stress on city water supplies, with some areas issuing mandatory water rationing orders in the summer months. When it comes to the point where there isn’t enough water available for irrigation, food supplies and prices can quickly be disrupted.

Solutions to Global Warming

While politicians and pundits continue to rage over whether global warming and climate change exist, the search for global warming solutions continues:

  • Energy innovation continues to be studied at national laboratories, universities and government bodies like the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and NASA. Along with familiar technologies like wind, solar and geothermal power, there’s exciting research into biofuels for aircraft and even electric-powered planes. Innovations in vehicle design are moving ahead as well – think of the advances from a 1980s-era car vs. today’s vehicles, then think 30 years ahead to what’s possible.
  • Carbon sequestration involves offsetting the effect CO2 from the atmosphere. Peat bogs are an important sink for carbon, with the amount of partially-decomposed biomass that peat bogs hold. Reforestation can help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce more oxygen, with the trees eventually turned into biochar for energy production. Some studies point toward “seeding” the ocean with iron or urea to encourage phytoplankton growth, which helps remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Climate change and global warming may be a source of controversy, but science shows that action is needed. Hopefully, mankind can rise to this challenge like with hundreds of other challenges in the past.