Implications of Climate Change

Implications of Climate Change

Many resources describe the implications of climate change. Some present information on historically observed changes (e.g., temperature, precipitation) while others project changes into the future based on alternative scenarios (e.g., frequency of intense storms in the future). The U.S. National Climate Assessment synthesizes the best available scientific information on climate change for the country, and additional resources are available for more fine-grained geographic scopes.

ERIT focuses on helping communities adapt to the changes as documented in the U.S. National Climate Assessment, with a particular emphasis on the Midwest. The Environmental Resilience Institute’s broad mission of helping the region prepare for environmental change is reflected throughout ERIT’s content.

Information about the implications of climate change is provided below.

Climate Impacts

Visit the links below to see how climate change can affect our everyday lives.

  • Indoor Air Quality – Climate change can increase the growth of indoor fungi and mold.
  • Outdoor Air Quality – Climate change can increase ground-level ozone and particulate matter.
    • Particulate Matter – Climate change may increase the levels of particulate matter which may increase public health risk. Worsening of wildfires and droughts may further exacerbate airborne particulate matter and may lead to public health risk, as well.
    • Ground-Level Ozone – With increasing temperatures, metropolitan and suburban areas will likely see higher ozone levels. Because emissions can travel long distances, high ozone levels can occur in remote areas as well. 

  • Climate Impacts on Energy – Climate changes affect how energy is produced, delivered and consumed.  
    • Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources – The impact of climate change on wind and solar power production is a developing area of research, and no conclusive findings exist at this time. 
    • Distribution Mechanisms – Much of the infrastructure used to obtain, refine and produce fossil fuels for energy consumption is located in coastal areas and inland waters, which are prone to sea level rise, more frequent storm surges and flooding.
    • Energy Efficiency – Higher average temperatures may reduce the efficiency of power production from fossil fuel and nuclear sources. 

  • Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply – Agricultural production is directly related to the conditions of a region’s climate. 
    • Food Distribution and Access – Food transportation systems, reliant on roads, railroad lines, airports and navigable waterways, are vulnerable to extreme weather events and flooding. 
    • Rural Agriculture – Higher average temperatures, an increasing number of heat waves, more pests and changes in soil moisture, season arrival times and precipitation frequency affect the quality and success rates of crop yields. 
    • Urban Gardens and Farms – Higher temperatures, changes in the first and last frost dates and more frequent and severe heavy precipitation events have a substantial and direct impact on food production and profitability.

  • Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response – The challenges posed by climate change, such as heat waves, droughts and more intense storms and frequent flooding can change the hazards for which a community and its emergency response professionals need to plan. 
  • Greenhouse Gas Inventories and Mitigation – Higher average temperatures and more extreme precipitation events and heat waves can increase the energy consumed in a community, which leads to increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Resilience Planning – Climate change impacts are already impacting communities across the U.S., and many local governments are developing adaptation and resilience plans to better prepare, reduce long-term costs and protect residents’ safety, health and livelihoods.
  • Risk and Vulnerability Assessments – Government agencies, scientists and nonprofits have released reports on the impacts of climate change at the national, and in some cases, statewide level. Before developing an adaptation or resilience plan, a community needs to consider their most relevant climate vulnerabilities.
  • State and Local Policies – When existing national, state and local policies were developed, policy makers may not have considered how climate change would impact the legislation.

  • Public Health – Climate change affects public health in a variety of ways.
    • Air Quality – As droughts lead to wildfires and warming temperatures stimulate ground-level ozone production, state and local governments find it more and more challenging to achieve and maintain national air quality standards. Indoors, flooding produces conditions favorable for the growth of mold and fungi. These impacts are worse for communities with fewer resources and for communities that are already marginalized.
      • Outdoor Air Quality – Climate change is expected to result in greater risks of unhealthy outdoor air. 
    • Extreme Heat – Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves, affecting public health.
    • Mosquitoes, Ticks and Vectors – As average temperatures increase, the presence of these vectors is spreading to new areas of the country. 
    • Water Quality – An increase in average temperature and the increase in the frequency and intensity of storms can affect drinking and recreational water quality.
      • Chemical Exposure – More frequent and intense storms can increase the likelihood of flooding, causing chemicals held in underground storage tanks, landfills and storm debris to leak or spread to previously unsoiled areas. Melting of permafrost in Alaska can also cause chemical releases.
      • Recreational Water – Climate change may affect recreational waters as a result of an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and warmer air temperatures.

  • Climate Change Impacts on Transportation – existing transportation systems may not be designed for changing weather patterns.
    • Alternative Fuels – The production and distribution of alternative vehicle fuels, and of typical transportation fuels, will be impacted by climate change.
    • Multi-modal Transportation – Existing transportation systems, including roads, on-road and off-road bike paths and public transit systems, may not be designed for changing weather patterns. 
    • Walkable Communities – Climate change impacts create an additional challenge for sidewalk maintenance.

  • Waste Management – Contaminated site management and emergency response efforts are complicated by climate change.
    • Contaminated Site Management – The management of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes will become more difficult due to flooding and drought.
    • Disaster Debris Management – To ensure state, tribal, local and regional resources are not overwhelmed, clean-up efforts require advanced planning and coordination among individuals at levels of government and the private sector with expertise in waste management. 
    • Waste Reduction and Recycling – Recycling, composting and other waste reduction efforts may be thwarted during and after extreme weather events. 
    • Wastewater Treatment – Climate change creates uncertainty for wastewater treatment facilities. 

  • Water Management – Climate change can negatively impact water utility operations, water quality, and ecosystem protection efforts.
    • Algal Blooms – Algal blooms are more likely to occur when higher air temperatures increase water temperatures and increases in precipitation lead to stormwater runoff filled with nutrients. 
    • Drinking Water – Climate change may affect drinking water quality and quantity as a result of an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms, warmer air temperatures and drought.
      • Source Water – Climate change threatens the quality of source water through increased runoff of pollutants and sediment, decreased water availability from drought and saltwater intrusion, as well as adversely affecting overall efforts to maintain water quality.
      • Water Utility Operations – Climate change can complicate water utility operations through more frequent and intense drought events and storms, more rapid sea-level rise, salt water intrusion, and impacts on source water quality.
    • Drought – Climate change is projected to intensify short-term drought risk across most of the U.S., as well as intensify long-term droughts in large areas of the Southwest, southern Great Plains and Southeast. 
    • Erosion and Sedimentation – Climate changes, such as more frequent and intense rain events, can increase erosion and result in greater amounts of sediment washing into rivers, lakes and streams. 
    • Flooding – Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of storms in all regions of the U.S. These storms can lead to extreme flooding and increased stormwater runoff.
      • Stormwater Runoff – Climate changes, including more frequent and intense storms and more extreme flooding events, can increase stormwater runoff. 
    • Green Infrastructure –  Depending on the designed water capacity of the green infrastructure project and the heat sensitivity of the plants, climate change impacts such as heavier rain events and heat waves may stress the installation.
    • Saltwater Intrusion – Rising sea levels, drought and changes in water demand and availability can increase the salinity of both groundwater and surface water sources of drinking water.
    • Sea Level Rise – Climate change is causing sea levels to rise more rapidly across the country. Sea level rise poses numerous risks to residences, buildings and infrastructure located in vulnerable areas.
  • Water Quality – Climate changes, including more frequent and intense droughts and storms, threaten to affect water quality in inland bodies of water.

Regional Climate Impacts

Explore the links below to learn more about the regional implications of climate change.

  • Regional Impacts – Includes the most recent summary of climate impacts by the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
  • Sector Impacts by Region – See a brief summary of the impacts of climate change on key sectors by region. Information in this section is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.