The Biden-Harris Administration released the Fifth National Climate Assessment this week, a federal effort to comprehensively document the impacts of climate change and assess the state of climate science across the United States.
The report, the first in four years, was authored by experts and researchers from across the country, including Mark Brunson and Peter Howe from the Quinney College of Natural Resources.
The message from the report isn't necessarily easy to hear — global warming is raising average temperatures in the United States more quickly than the rest of the globe. Every region and nearly every aspect of human life, from average daytime temperatures to water quality, is now under varying degrees of threat from cascading consequences of change. Communities aren’t responding quickly enough to adapt or reverse trends.
Howe, author for the section on human health, and Brunson, author for the section addressing issues in the Southwest, including Utah, were among a team of hundreds of expert authors who evaluated thousands of academic studies, worked through multiple intensive reviews, and refined the document to be as accessible as possible to a wide audience. The final product will be distributed to world leaders before the annual United Nations climate talks in the United Arab Emirates in late November.
“Climate change is now affecting everybody in really specific and difficult ways — but not necessarily everybody equally or with the same level of impacts,” Howe said.
Historic inequities are magnified in marginalized populations, for rural populations and in Indigenous communities, he said. Regional power-grids are experiencing stress and damage. Dangerous heat emergencies are impacting more people and becoming more frequent and severe.
Utah isn’t avoiding harm either, Brunson said. Human-driven warming is intensifying wildfires across the region and exposing almost everyone to unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke. Longer and more severe droughts have reduced forage for grazing cattle, changed the way rain and snowstorms behave. Droughts have also affected the quality of existing water supplies.
But as dire as the message is, they said, there are silver linings. Communities are learning to adapt, and the science around climate change has progressed significantly in the last four years. More people are talking about practical ideas to address specific issues.
“There is increasing motivation for leaders to learn from Indigenous traditions about how to better adapt — how to build structures in hotter environments when electricity isn’t always reliable, how and when to use fire on natural landscapes, and how to build resilient social networks under stress and change,” Brunson said.
Cost-effective tools and technologies to reduce the country’s contribution to global warming exist right now, and options are increasing for protection of the natural places that store carbon away from the atmosphere — like forests and wetlands, they said.
Brunson and Howe will be presenting on their experience participating in the report process, and they will be giving insider insights from the final product during a seminar at 4 p.m. Nov. 29 in Room 133 of the Noelle E. Cockett Life Sciences Building on the USU Logan campus. They’ll address gaps they see in the science for the region that still need to be filled and opportunities for Utah to strategically embrace adaptation and mitigation.
Brunson is a professor of human-environment interactions whose research and teaching focuses on the dynamics of social-ecological systems, especially in rangelands and deserts. Howe is an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist with roots in human-environment geography and geographic information science. His research focuses on the intersection of human decision-making with climate change and environmental hazards. Both are from the Department of Environment and Society in the Quinney College of Natural Resources.
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources
Department of Environment and Society
Department of Environment and Society
TOPICSEnvironment 250stories Climate 147stories
Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.