Report Warns of a Much Warmer Northeast

If global warming maintains its current pace, the Northeast will be transformed, a new report says. The ski industry, such as that in Vermont, could disappear. (By Toby Talbot -- Associated Press)
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007

People in Philadelphia would swelter through as many as 30 days with temperatures higher than 100 degrees each summer. The Northeastern ski industry, except for western Maine, would probably go out of business. And spruce and hemlock forests -- as well as songbirds such as the Baltimore oriole -- would all but disappear from New Jersey to the Canadian border.

These are among the conclusions of a two-year study by the public interest group Union of Concerned Scientists on the effects of global warming in the Northeast if current greenhouse gas emission patterns worldwide continue unabated. Winters would be on average 8 to 12 degrees higher by the end of the century, and summers 6 to 14 degrees higher.

Given those conditions, the group said in a report released yesterday, the environment of the Northeast would be transformed, and cities such as Boston, Atlantic City and New York would be regularly subject to disastrous flooding.

"The bad news is that the character of the Northeast will change dramatically under the business-as-usual scenario," said Peter Frumhoff of the scientists' group and one of the report's lead authors. "But on the other side, we say that the worst of the damage can be mitigated if we act soon."

The report -- the work of more than 50 top university and government-based researchers -- is one of numerous efforts to localize the potential effects of global warming. Frumhoff was also the lead author on the impact and mitigation report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading group of climatologists.

Some have argued that the effects of global warming would be positive as well as negative, and Frumhoff acknowledged that there would be advantages to a warmer Northeast. Some farmers, for instance, would have a longer growing season, and residents in more northern areas might need less fuel in the winter.

But overall, he said, the effect would be overwhelmingly disruptive and costly. Even under the best-case emission-lowering scenario, global warming would cause unprecedented damage to the coastline and would result in enormous expenditures to maintain and replace roads and other infrastructure. In a worst-case scenario, apple orchards would wither, and lobstermen south of Maine and cod fishermen plying the Georges Bank would lose their livelihoods.

Because of the rising temperatures, the Northeast would be susceptible to longer and more severe droughts because of the increased evaporation of rainfall. In a similar finding, scientists wrote in the journal Science in April that long-term droughts would probably become common in the American Southwest as the planet warms.

Some of the changes are already inevitable, the report says, because greenhouse gases emitted today stay in the atmosphere for decades. Nonetheless, it says that a low-emission alternative is achievable and would leave the Northeast with a similar climate.

It would not be easy, because richer nations would have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century to 80 percent below 2000 levels, and developing nations would have to make deep cuts, too.

But the new report, which was peer-reviewed and will be published in the journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, points to efforts by many Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a sign that the worst scenarios can be avoided. Most have joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first multi-state, market-based plan to reduce harmful emissions from power plants, and have mandated increases in the use of alternative energy sources and reductions in automobile tailpipe emissions.

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