A Student’s Guide to the National Climate Assessment

We are currently in the midst of a 90-day comment period for a defining government document on the climate, the draft National Climate Assessment. The 1,000-page report is available online for the general public to review and, importantly, to submit comments. Two-hundred-forty authors and sixty advisory committee members from all corners of the scientific community compiled the report, divided into more easily digested sections by region and topic, so you can focus on “Water, Energy and Land Use” or climate impacts in the Great Plains, for instance. The Executive Summary lists eleven general themes of the NCA, including the following:

  • Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.
  • Natural ecosystems are being directly affected by climate change, including changes in biodiversity and location of species. As a result, the capacity of ecosystems to moderate the consequences of disturbances such as droughts, floods and severe storms is being diminished.
  • Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce emissions) is increasing, but progress with implementation is limited.

The NCA is a premier collection of climate science that can be used to inform policy decisions, and is especially important because it’s yet another vessel (in addition to recent extreme weather events) carrying home the point that our climate is changing right now, as a result of human behavior. It is one more piece of proof that climate science is not something you can choose to “believe in” and that urgent action at all levels is vital to maintaining some semblance of normal on this planet.

The comment period for the NCA presents us with an opportunity to share with the government our own expertise and experiences—as much as the scientific studies may show us, we often know our own backyards best, and could possibly add a comment about something the NCA missed (I’m sure you’re probably asking how anything could be left out of a 1,000-page document but hey, Citizen Scientist, you never know).

In addition to writing a comment on your own, there are numerous ways you can share the NCA with your campus and community and really spread this climate science goodness around! Read on for just a few ideas from NWF Campus Ecology.

  • Host a forum on your campus. View the list of the 60 Federal Advisory Committee members, or open any chapter of interest for a list of authors to find one affiliated with your college or university, or an institution nearby. Ask that person to speak about the effects of climate change on your particular region, or their topic of expertise. Organize a follow-up action with the attendees—coordinated letters to the editor of the local paper, signatures on a petition to your college president to transition from fossil fuels on campus, or agree on another educational event to hold in the future.
    • Make sure you have several laptops at your event and encourage attendees to submit comments online before leaving the event. Prior to the event, write a few draft comments on various issues that attendees can personalize and submit. (Note that each person will have to create an account to submit his or her comment—but it’s quick and easy!)
    • If you need help contacting a climate expert in your area, email us at campus@nwf.org! We’re happy to help.
  • Hold tabling sessions in your student union building or other high-traffic area and talk to your classes to encourage students at your university to submit comments to the NCA.
  • Organize a “Climate Adaptation Work Day” on your campus—build a community garden, plant native plants along a stream, promote alternative methods of transportation—all in the name of climate science and changing our behaviors to slow climate change! This NCA is different than the previous two in that this report discusses the need for mitigation as well as adaptation—cutting carbon pollution while also preparing for the impacts from our previous climate-altering behaviors. College and university campuses nationwide are leading the way in reducing their carbon footprints. Check out our Campus Sustainability Case Study Database for ideas and inspiration.

So tell your friends and tell your neighbors about the National Climate Assessment comment period. There’s no better time for civic engagement than the present! Remember that the comment period closes April 12.

Will you host a forum or a work day on your campus? Take photos and share them with us on Facebook or Twitter, or better yet, send us an email (campus@nwf.org) and maybe we’ll feature a guest blog post about your NCA event! 

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