A congressional field hearing convened on May 27 in Seattle heard about threats to American food and water supplies through the release of a new scientific report. The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States presents the likely effects of climate change on the United States’ lands, waters and farms over the next half-century.Produced by the United States Department of Agriculture, the report represents the work of 38 scientists and researchers from universities, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations and government agencies and the synthesis of more than 1000 individual studies.

Some of the reports key findings include:

  • Climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so.
  • Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.
  • Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.
  • Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
  • Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increase fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.

Because of climate disruption of agriculture, consumers can count on higher food prices, researchers said in a news conference. They cited this spring’s unusually wet weather in Eastern Washington as an example.The weatherdiscouraged bees from flying which led to fewer cherry trees being fertilized through pollination, resulting in a smaller cherry harvest — and higher prices.

The congressional hearing also heard from Christopher Sabine, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. He was co-leader of a study released last week showing the waters off the West Coast are becoming increasingly more acidic — and much closer to shore, much faster, than anticipated.

Washington congressional representative Jay Inslee responded to the report with the statement, “From an acidification standpoint, the ocean is on fire.We need to respond as if it is on fire.”