The greenhouse gas emissions of direct greenhouse gases in the U.S. inventory are reported in terms of equivalent emissions of carbon dioxide, using teragrams of carbon dioxide equivalents (Tg CO2 Eq.). The relationship between gigagrams (Gg) of a gas and Tg CO2 Eq. can expressed as follows:

Quantities of emissions are provided in Chapter 4.

Environmental Effects

Much uncertainty surrounds global climate changes. The global climate is a massive and highly complex system with many interrelated subsystems. Evidence indicates that there have been times in Earth's history when the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been higher and lower than today, but it is difficult to determine the causes and effects of those situations, and the data from those time periods are limited and imprecise [53].

One important cause for uncertainty in the area of global science lies in feedback loops. Complex climate change models have been developed, but the various modelers consider different feedbacks to be more important, so markedly different predictions regarding the Earth's climate are obtained [53]; however, many of the undisputed facts have not changed over the last decade. For example, based on samples of air trapped in arctic ice, scientists have determined that, prior to the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been stable at a level of around 280 to 290 ppmv. When people started to burn fossil fuels, the concentration of carbon dioxide began to increase and is now at approximately 370 ppmv [53]. This correlation indicates that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have likely increased the amount of heat from the sun that stays within the Earth's ecosystem, thereby contributing to increased global temperatures. The Goddard Institute for Space Studies has reported that the average temperature at the Earth's surface has risen approximately 2°F from 1870 to 1998 [55]. Studies project that globally averaged surface temperatures will increase by 2.5 to 10.4°F between 1990 and 2100 at current rates of increase under a business-as-usual scenario [53].

Potential environmental impacts of global warming include effects on agriculture production, forests, water resources, coastal areas, species, and natural areas [56,57]. Warmer temperatures can lead to more intense rainfall and flooding in some areas (e.g., U.S. Pacific Northwest and Midwest), with more frequent drought-like conditions in other areas such as the western United States. Predictions of the agricultural effects of climate change remain uncertain, but models indicate potential changes in cereal grain production and irrigation demands in the United States. Models also predict that rising temperatures could affect current land use such as the reduction of coffee growing areas in countries such as Uganda. Predictions indicate forest areas could be affected. As temperatures increase, the forest composition could change, with warmer climate varieties moving into traditionally colder climate areas. Forest health and productivity could be impacted.

The effect of global warming on freshwater resources is uncertain. Some studies indicate that global water conditions will worsen, while others suggest that climate change could have a net positive impact on global water resources. Impacts on water supply, water quality, and competition for water are predicted. Coastal areas are predicted to be subject to erosion of beaches and inundation of coastal lands, as well as increased costs to protect coastal communities. Current rates of sea-level rise are expected to increase 2 to 5 times due to both thermal expansion of the oceans and the partial melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps. Low-lying areas along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and estuaries such as Chesapeake Bay are especially vulnerable. Bangladesh is the country most vulnerable to sea-level rise, while the Nile Delta, Egypt's only suitable agriculture area, would be flooded.

Changes in temperature and water availability could decimate non-intensively managed ecosystems, such as forests, rivers, and wetlands. For example, global warming could dry out the wetlands that support over 50% of North American waterfowl. Arctic and northern latitudes are likely to experience above-average warming and are especially vulnerable to its effects, including thinning of the arctic sea ice, and this disruption may affect fisheries, human structures built on permafrost, and northern ecosystems.

Health Effects

Human health is also predicted to be impacted by global climate change [56]. This includes increases in weather-related mortality, infectious diseases, and air-quality respiratory illnesses. Small increases in average temperatures can increase the spread of diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, and lead to a significant rise in the number of extreme heat waves. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to heat stress. Heat waves could also aggravate local air quality problems, which pose threats to young children and individuals with asthma.


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