2019 CEQ Annual Report

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Climate Notes

Climate Notes

This page explains how climate change affects the environmental indicators in this report.

Bald Eagles and Osprey: Climate change affects the survival of bald eagles on multiple levels, according to scientists. As climate change progresses, the Audubon Society's climate model projects that bald eagles will have just 26 percent of their current summer range by 2080. It is possible that the birds will adapt and reclaim summer terrain as new areas become hospitable, but it isn't known whether the birds will be able to find the food and habitat they need to survive.

Climate Changers: Greenhouse gases (GHG), including carbon dioxide (CO2), from human activities are the most significant drivers of observed climate change since the mid-20th century. Carbon dioxide is generated as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels and to a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities. As described in the most recent study released by the Governor’s Council on Climate Change, carbon dioxide is the GHG that represents the greatest warming potential, which has resulted in a temperature increase of 0.9°C between 1980 and 2018 in Connecticut. Warmer temperatures have also resulted in an increase in annual average precipitation.

Drinking Water: Extreme rainfall events lead to more runoff when the soil simply is not able to absorb the precipitation at the rate it is falling. In urban, suburban, and agricultural areas, this runoff will pick up pollutants from the landscape and carry them to nearby rivers and other waterways, ultimately affecting the quality of drinking water. In addition to more intense storms and flooding, more frequent or longer dry spells are also projected in many climate change scenarios.

Electricity at Home and Work: Increases in temperature will likely increase energy demand, as well as change our ability to produce electricity and deliver it reliably. In a warmer climate, more electricity will be used for air conditioning and less natural gas, oil, and wood for heating. A 2015 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science examines "contribution of air conditioning adoption to future energy use under global warming". As global temperatures go up, people may use air conditioners more. This creates a feedback loop of increased warming and increased air conditioner use leading to more electricity demand, more emissions and consequently, more warming.

Renewable energy is one of the most effective tools against climate change. The sun provides a tremendous resource for generating clean and sustainable electricity without toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Solar panels do not release any emissions as they generate electricity. Emissions are released during the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, operation, and demolishing of these solar energy systems; while these emissions are minimal in comparison to emissions created by burning petroleum or coal, they reinforce the point that efficient use of electricity is warranted, regardless of its source. Wasted electricity always has impacts.

Farmland: The extent of farmland in Connecticut depends greatly on farms' profitability. Climate change may benefit some plants by lengthening growing seasons and increasing carbon dioxide. However, other effects of a warmer climate, such as more pests, droughts, flooding, changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ground-level ozone concentrations will be less beneficial for agriculture. It is also noted in one report published by the U.S. EPA that warmer temperatures cause cows to eat less and produce less milk, negatively affecting agriculture: "that could reduce the output of Connecticut’s $70-million dairy industry, which provides 13 percent of the state’s farm revenue."

Forest Birds and Grouse: Climate change affects birds both directly and indirectly. As temperatures warm, some bird species will benefit from milder winters and extended breeding seasons. Others, such as northern birds associated with forest habitats, will likely decline in Connecticut. Increased frequency of droughts and extreme storm events may inflict higher mortality during the breeding seasons.

Climate change has led to declines in forest bird species that are closely associated with the ruffed grouse. This habitat loss will continue to reduce grouse populations overtime. Adequate snow cover can also be important for overwinter survival in grouse populations, as they burrow into deep snow during cold winter periods. Warming temperatures will likely change the quantity and characteristics of snow, making snow roosting more difficult for the grouse.

Good Air Days: The number of days with bad air is directly related to the number of days when the high temperature exceeds 90 degrees (F.), primarily as a result of the chemistry of ground-level ozone. Also, the extra use of air conditioners on hot days leads to more pollution from power plants. Connecticut is forecast to see more hot days as the earth's average temperature increases. Unless summertime emissions of air pollution are reduced, the number of bad air days is likely to increase.The correlation between hot days and bad air, especially in urban areas, is explained more fully in a document prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Invasions: Global warming threatens to increase the extent, frequency, and severity of invasive species. The milder winters and extended spring that comes with climate change are helping invasive species extend their ranges, pushing aside native species and transforming habitats. The removal of temperature or moisture constraints will allow species to move into and successfully invade new areas. Species range shifts will also lead to native species moving out of their current habitat, or becoming rarer. This creates ecological space for other species to increase in abundance and become invasive, or for non-native invasive species to move in. Invasive species are well adapted to thrive in environments with high resource availability, predicted under climate change scenarios. Climate change will in many cases lead to a future of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide availability, allowing some species to invade new environments. Research has shown that some invasive species show a greater response to increased carbon dioxide than non-invaders. In addition, invasive species have short life spans, strong dispersal abilities and high environmental tolerances, all of which lead them to adapt to rapid changes.

Lobsters: There has been a significant decline in the lobster population in Long Island Sound since 1999. Researchers investigated several possible causes for the dramatic downturn in lobster populations since 1998 including disease, changes in water quality, changes in climatic conditions and other human impacts to the Sound such as the presence of insecticides. Scientists did not detect pesticides in lobsters collected in 2014, leaving the warming waters as the most likely problem for Connecticut's lobster.

Piping Plovers: Coastal-nesting birds such as the Piping plover are among the species most threatened by climate change. Rising sea levels will reduce nesting areas available for many coastal and nesting birds.

Preserved Land and Forests: The climate influences the structure and function of forest ecosystems and plays an essential role in forest health. Forests are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation and are greatly affected by fragmentation and land-use change, invasion by nonnative species, forest diseases and insect pests, and extreme weather events. One study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that climate also affects the frequency and severity of many forest disturbances. Land conservation can help to reduce the impacts of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.

Forests, farmland and other natural habitats are estimated to absorb more than 11 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. Land conservation offers a double benefit for the climate: it helps absorb greenhouse gases and it prevents significant GHG emissions that would result from development. In addition, research is showing that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits, both mental and physical.

Rivers and Streams: Rivers and streams are affected greatly by fluctuations in precipitation and evaporation patterns around the world. Changes in the timing and location of precipitation combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife species. Warming temperatures are altering the water cycle and shifting precipitation patterns. An increase in severe storms due to climate change will degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic floods. On the other end of the spectrum, frequent droughts, enhanced evaporation, and decreases in overall annual rainfall result in reduced water levels in streams, rivers, and lakes, which leaves less water to dilute common pollutants. It goes without saying that rising levels of pollution, whether from too much or too little precipitation, will create a major strain on any ecosystem that relies on the freshwater provided by streams, rivers, and lakes, threatening the survival of many fish, plant, and wildlife species.

Swimming, Clamming and Oystering: As the atmosphere warms, changes to the amount, timing, distribution, and intensity of precipitation will continue. Warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation of water into the atmosphere and increase the atmosphere's capacity to hold water. What evaporates will fall as excess precipitation in many regions. Over the past 50 years, the amount of rain falling during very heavy precipitation events has increased for most of the United States. As more intense precipitation leads to increased runoff, more pollution is washed into waterways, including sediments, nitrogen from fertilizers, disease pathogens and pesticides. The same factors that affect beaches present problems for shellfish beds.

Transportation - Driving and Riding: Burning gasoline and diesel releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Both nationally and in Connecticut, the transportation sector is the greatest contributor to climate change. Increased utilization of zero emission vehicles will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the combustion of fossil fuels.

Warming and Rising Waters: The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) recommended that Connecticut plan for and expect 50 centimeters (20 inches) of sea level rise by 2050 with further increases following that date. This much rise in water level is likely to have devastating effects on local coastal communities and ecosystems. The average number of warm-temperate fish species has increased significantly while the average number of cold-temperate species in Long Island Sound has decreased significantly. Many factors affect the number of species in the Sound and their abundance, and although the composition of the finfish community is changing in favor of species tolerant of warming temperatures, the overall diversity in the Sound remains high.

Waste Diversion: Recycling and waste reduction have many direct benefits; however, the indirect benefits are also significant. Recycling and waste diversion reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would be created by the production, transport, and disposal of municipal solid waste. Increasing recycling and source reduction has been identified as a key strategy for reducing GHG emissions in Connecticut’s Climate Change Action Plan.

Water of Long Island Sound: Climate change has a variety of direct and indirect effects on ocean ecosystems. Increasing temperatures have the capability to make coastal and marine ecosystems more vulnerable to hypoxic conditions, as well as drive the expansion of hypoxic environments. Temperature is an integral component of how ecosystems and organisms generate hypoxic conditions. In general, warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen than colder water. As the estuaries and oceans heat up, less oxygen is held; stratification of the Sound waters intensifies and deeper waters then lose even more oxygen. As temperatures increase, some marine animals require more, not less, oxygen to survive. In addition, the earlier arrival of summer results in the earlier development of hypoxia and the expansion of hypoxic environments. Precipitation also is important climate factor that can affect hypoxic rates and expansion. Changes in precipitation patterns affect nutrient and hypoxic dynamics in coastal ecosystems.