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Sea-level rise is already eating our coasts

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The Story Group

Editor’s note: We’re publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

“We are a coastal country,” says Susanne C. Moser, a convening lead author for the National Climate Assessment’s Coasts chapter. The U.S. has 94,000 miles of coastline and more than $1 trillion in coastal infrastructure. Coastal lifelines, such as water and energy infrastructure, and nationally important assets, such as ports, tourism, and fishing sites, all are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise, storm surge, erosion, flooding, and related hazards.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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So shellfish

Ocean acidification slurps up oysters

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The Story Group

Editor’s note: We’re publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

“The ocean is so acidic that it is dissolving the shells of our baby oysters,” says Diani Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash. She and her cousin Brittany are fifth-generation oyster farmers, and are grappling with ocean waters that are more acidic and corrosive than their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers knew.

Ocean acidification is one planetary response to humans’ burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the oceans. According to the National Climate Assessment, oceans currently absorb about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification that will alter marine ecosystems in dramatic yet uncertain ways.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When it rains, it pours: Climate change brings droughts and floods alike

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The Story Group

Editor’s note: We’re publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

“This is really a call for America to find out, ‘What does climate change mean for where you live?’” says Paul Fleming, a convening lead author of the National Climate Assessment’s Water Resources chapter.

Fleming talks about how climate change will challenge the reliability of water supplies in the United States in multiple ways. Alterations in precipitation patterns and reduced snowpack are some of the climate-related changes that will affect the quality and quantity of water available to Americans.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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It’s dry and getting drier in West Texas

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The Story Group

Editor’s note: We’re publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

Texas rancher Clay Igo sums it up: “It seems like it is doin’ nothing but getting hotter, and drier, and less rain, yearly.” Clay and his father Kevin have watched as many of their neighbors around Plainview have lost their herds, the local meatpacking plant closed, and the tax base shrank. As Kevin puts it, “these communities are drying up.”

Scientists can put some numbers behind the Igos’ experience. In 2011, many places in Texas and Oklahoma recorded more than 100 days over 100 degrees. Heat and drought contributed to more than $10 billion in agricultural losses alone. According to the National Climate Assessment, “communities that are already vulnerable to weather and climate extremes will be stressed even further by more frequent extreme events.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Climate-changed oceans will mess with life above and below water

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The Story Group

Editor’s note: We’re publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment. “If the average temperature of a large body of water increases, that’s an enormous amount of heat content,” says Andrew Rosenberg, one of the convening lead authors of the National Climate Assessment’s Oceans chapter. Seas are becoming warmer and more acidic as they absorb atmospheric heat and CO2, which broadly affects ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life; ocean acidification is already starting to dissolve the shells of small marine organisms. Rising …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Drought is just the start of climate change’s toll on the Southwest

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The Story Group

Editor's note: We're publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

“The story in the Southwest is the story of water,” says Greg Garfin, one of the convening lead authors of the National Climate Assessment chapter on the region, already one of the driest parts of the United States.

Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and health impacts in cities due to heat will take their toll, especially in populous desert cities like Las Vegas, where water management is already a game with small margins of error. Flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When climate change hurts crops, everyone suffers

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The Story Group

Editor's note: We're publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

“This isn’t just about plants and animals. It’s about people, it’s about societies,” says Gene Takle, a convening lead author of the National Climate Assessment’s Agriculture chapter.

Climate disruptions to our food system have already increased in the last 50 years, and will continue to do so. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change-induced problems.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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How climate change is already threatening human health

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The Story Group

Editor's note: We're publishing a series from The Story Group that shows Americans on the front lines of climate change. The videos put faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment.

"Climate change and health are connected right here, right now, in our backyards all across the United States,” says Kim Knowlton, a convening lead author of the National Climate Assessment’s Human Health chapter.

Global warming threatens our well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfires, decreased air quality, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. And those effects will hit the poor and people of color the hardest. 

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Meet the firefighters on the front lines of wildfire-ravaged America

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Editor's note: Over the next week, we're publishing videos from The Story Group that show Americans on the front lines of climate change. The series puts faces to the warnings in the latest National Climate Assessment. 

Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin has firsthand experience of the spread of wildfires throughout the western United States. In 2012, his teams fought the Lower North Fork Fire in Colorado, an unusual early-season fire that kicked off the most destructive fire season in Colorado's recorded history -- until 2013 eclipsed that record.

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, higher average temperatures are drying out forest fuels, increasing the length of the fire season, reducing snow cover, and generally increasing the vulnerability of western forests to more wildfire. The fire season in Southern California is already off to an early start. "Climate change is very real," Chief McLaughlin says, "It's changed my entire life."

Read more: Climate & Energy