The president, politicians and the public suddenly re-discovered climate change when superstorm Sandy tore into the East Coast in 2012—but the impacts of climate change have been affecting us for decades, and are getting worse.
Sea Level Rise
Warmer temperatures will cause glaciers to retreat and Arctic sea ice to completely disappear in the summer. The melting of permafrost in the tundra will cause erosion and landslides. Global warming will also worsen wildfires and insect outbreaks in Alaska's forests, while rising sea levels threaten its coast.
Sixty-five percent of low-lying areas in the Hawaiian Islands could be inundated by rising sea levels by the end of the century. Greater overall storm intensity and the bleaching of Hawaiʻi's coral reefs from ocean acidification and rising temperatures spell danger for the islands' endemic species.
Although more rain may fall on the Midwest leading to flooding, rising air temperatures will result in overall drying for much of the region. This means fewer wetlands for migrating birds. Lower lake levels may also degrade water quality and lake shore habitat. Tornadoes are expected to increase in severity.
The Northeast will continue to face increasing extreme weather events, such as ice storms and heatwaves. Rising sea levels will make hurricanes even more threatening as low-lying, heavily populated urban centers cope with flooding and saltwater intrusion. Rising temperatures are already changing New England's tree composition while allowing pests to spread.
Rising temperatures are projected to increase ocean surface temperatures by up to 3°C, threatening coral reefs. Warmer ocean waters increase acidification and change the way nutrients cycle through the oceans, which could reduce the ability of some areas to support life. Less sea ice also leads to a drop in phytoplankton, the base of the ocean food chain.
The Rockies' alpine meadows and glaciers are beginning to disappear. Precipitation will trend toward more rain and less snow in winter, which aggravates landslides and flooding. A warmer climate will also contribute to more lightning storms, drought, wildfires and insect outbreaks.
Rising sea levels threaten the Southeast's fragile coastal and wetland areas, especially in the low-lying Everglades. Entire coastal forests are dying due to saltwater intrusion, while coastal fisheries are being seriously impacted. Global warming may contribute to more intense hurricanes, heavy rains and flooding, while the region's coral reefs decline due to rising temperatures and acidification.
The Southwest's limited water supply will shrink even further, leading to drought and desertification in many areas. Global warming is also worsening destructive wildfires and insect infestations. More rain may fall in the winter, causing flooding and soil erosion.
Snowpacks in the mountains of the West will decline, leading to earlier melting and lower stream flow for people and wildlife. Early snow melt also triggers heavier spring floods, while drier summers create conditions for drought, insect infestation and wildfire. Rising sea levels will also cause landslides and erosion along the coast.
This chart presents the most pressing impacts and is not intended to be an exhaustive list. A version of this chart was first published in the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, Winter 2012 issue.