Floodwaters course through Odo Ona in Nigeria's Oyo State in 2011. At least 102 people were killed when a dam burst during torrential rain. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

By Bill Richardson
31 March 2014

(CNN) – "Nothing poses a bigger threat to our water, our livelihood and our quality of life than a warming climate." Those are my words from 2006 upon the signing of an executive order on climate change for New Mexico when I was governor.

Almost a decade later, this statement still holds true. But now we have even more information about climate change, both the risks and solutions.

The just-released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collection of more than 800 leading climate scientists, reaffirms that climate impacts are already occurring and having a dramatic impact on society. Climate change is driven by our dependence on fossil fuels and is expected to get worse. In order to shift directions, we need nothing less than to rethink how we power our country.

Here's what we know:

The climate science is settled. The IPCC report is the latest addition to a staggering body of scientific research connecting our energy choices to costly climate disruption. The report is consistent with several other authorities -- such as the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- that bring stronger language and greater certainty about climate change and its risks. Just as we know that smoking causes cancer, we understand that human activity causes climate change.

Climate change is happening now and we are all feeling the effects. Earlier this month, the American Association of Advancement of Science reminded us that "climate change is happening here and now."

We are now witnessing how it is changing our world: The past winter was the eighth-warmest on record. For 348 consecutive months -- 29 years -- global temperatures have been above average.

The latest IPCC report finds that impacts from climate change are "widespread and consequential" and they are being felt on every continent and in our oceans. The world last year experienced 41 weather-related disasters that caused damages totaling at least $1 billion. Over the past decade, the western United States experienced seven times more large-scale wildfires than it did in the 1970s. Climate change has made it much more likely that we will suffer severe droughts like the one that recently swept across Texas and my home state of New Mexico.

Finally, without action, things will get a lot worse. As climate impacts mount, they will bring more damage to our economy and communities. Even 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global temperature rise could cut yields of crops like wheat, rice and corn, driving up food prices. Unless greenhouse gases are reined in, many more people will be at risk from devastating flooding, similar to what residents faced in Boulder, Colorado, last year. Overall, economic losses from climate change will cause a significant blow to the global economy, even at the lower end of climate projections.

So what can we do in the face of a changing climate? [more]

Wake up to the reality of climate change



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