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Climate Assessment Looks at Rural Effects

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 05/07/2014 @ 10:12am Business Editor

The White House released its National Climate Assessment Tuesday, breaking down by regions and sectors of the economy the current and expected effects of climate change.

The report, mandated by federal law since 1990, generated plenty of news coverage and online comments from climate change deniers as well as those who see doom and gloom. The USDA's director of the climate change program office, William Hohenstein, was more even-handed.

"Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate," Hohenstein writes in his blog, "however, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with climate change over the next 25 years."

The report is similar to previous climate assessments, he says, and its 240 authors find that climate disruptions to farming have increased over the past 40 years.

"By midcentury and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock," Hoenstein says.

"Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change-induced stresses.  Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented," he says.

The changing climate also makes U.S. forests more vulnerable to fire, insect infestation, drought, and disease outbreaks. Currently, U.S. forests act as a carbon sink, using about 16% of all carbon dioxide created by burning fossil fuels. A changing climate could be a factor in making those forests less effective at absorbing carbon.

Unlike previous reports, this one goes into more detail on how climate change will affect people, including those who live in cities. The full report is available here.

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