Warming Predicted to Take Severe Toll on U.S.

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Climate change will exact a major cost on North America's timber industry and could drive as much as 40 percent of its plant and animal species to extinction in a matter of decades, according to a new report from an international panel.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which released its summary report on global warming's overall impact earlier this month, provided a more detailed assessment yesterday of the effects on North America. The report, written and edited by dozens of scientists, looks at how global warming has begun to transform the continent and how it is likely to affect it in the future.

The 67-page report, which examines everything from freshwater ecosystems to tourism, said North America has suffered severe environmental and economic damage because of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heat waves and forest fires. Without "increased investments in countermeasures," the authors wrote that they are at least 90 percent sure that "hot temperatures and extreme weather are likely to cause increased adverse health impacts from heat-related mortality, pollution, storm-related fatalities and injuries, and infectious diseases."

Kristi Ebi, an Alexandria-based consultant on public health and global warming who worked on a different chapter of the IPCC report, said at a news conference that "human health is already being affected by climate change, and the impacts will only increase."

North American forests will also suffer from a warming climate, the report says, and increases in wildfires, insect infestations and disease could cost wood and timber producers $1 billion to $2 billion by the end of the century.

The report also suggests that skiing and snowmobiling will suffer. The $27 billion snowmobiling industry is especially vulnerable because it is dependent on natural snowfall. By mid-century, the authors wrote, "a reliable snowmobile season disappears from most regions of eastern North America that currently have developed trail networks."

Megan Davis, spokeswoman for the Outdoor Industry Association, said its members have sought to lower their energy consumption in recent years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to the warming trend.

"Our members are certainly concerned about climate change because our members work with backcountry skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing," she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company