John Youngbear/Northern Cheyenne Tribal Health
Sun shines through a haze of wildfire smoke as Mother Earth heats up.

The 7 Most Alarming Effects of Climate Change on North America, 2013 Edition


The subject of climate change figured prominently in President Obama’s State of the Union address on February 12. The President called for Congress to “pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.” All well and good, but waiting for Congress to fix climate change is like waiting for Congress to resolve, say, its budget debates. It’s the kind of gridlock that will just send more CO2 pouring into the atmosphere.

While it’s clear to just about everyone at this point that Mother Earth is out of balance, perhaps it is difficult to galvanize mainstream Americans (and the U.S. Congress) with bureaucratic-sounding terms such as climate change. There are better ways of describing what it will be like to have eight feet of water flooding your first floor—such as describing what it has been like to actually have eight feet of water flooding homes. If the past is any guide, we have a lot to look forward to on Turtle Island in 2013—none of it good. Here are the Seven Most Alarming Effects of Climate Change on North America, 2013 Edition.

Wildfire photo - Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, May 2012 (USFS Gila National Forest)

1. More Wildfires

The year 2012 was the hottest on record in the contiguous United States since satellite recordkeeping began in 1979, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). January has continued the trend.

Last summer, two-thirds of the contiguous United States was gripped in the most severe drought since the 1950s. January 2013 proved warmer and wetter than 20th-century averages. Average temperature was 1.6 degrees above the average for last century and tied with 1958 as the 39th warmest January on record, NOAA said on February 14. And precipitation totaled 2.36 inches nationwide on average, 0.14 inch above the long-term average, NOAA said.

“The January precipitation average masked both wet and dry extremes across the nation,” NOAA said in a statement on February 14. “Drought conditions remained entrenched across the Southeast, Great Plains, and the mountainous West.”

On the ground, it means harder times for farmers and ranchers. It could also mean higher food prices for the rest of us.

The hotter temperatures are contributing to a plethora of wildfires, more and more of which we can expect to see, especially in the western United States and throughout Indian country. This means longer fire seasons, drier conditions, more forest-fire fuel (caused partly by widespread beetle infestations that have created dead, highly combustible trees ready for a spark) and increased lightning frequency due to more severe thunderstorms, according to the World Wildlife Federation.

Wildfires swept the U.S. West and Southwest in 2011 and 2012, the worst seasons on record. In Indian country that translated into damage or outright devastation on several reservations, including the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, where the 2,000-population town of Lame Deer, the tribal hub, was briefly evacuated in August 2012 after a fire in southeastern Montana made its way onto the reservation. In New Mexico, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire—the largest wildfire in that state’s history—destroyed the habitat of the Gila trout, which had to be relocated. Other fires in the state threatened the San Carlos Apache and Fort Apache reservations. In all, hundreds of thousands of acres were destroyed.

What will this year bring? It’s too dreadful to contemplate, but tribal forestry agents from Arizona and New Mexico to the Canadian border are on alert.

2. Less Water in Great Lakes

white streaks on a steel break wall show the normal water level on Portage Lake at Onekama, Mich., which is connected to Lake Michigan. (John Flesher/AP)

Last summer the Mississippi River had to be closed to shipping for days because the water was too low to allow barges to pass.

Now, two of the Great Lakes that border the U.S. and Canada, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, are lower than ever recorded, according to a new study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is doing everything from wreaking havoc on the tourism industry and other economic ventures that depend on the waters, to causing concerns about the fate of freshwater reserves in the future, as National Public Radio reported recently. The other Great Lakes are below average as well. Warmer temperatures and less ice coverage both cause the water to evaporate, said Alan Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resource Institute, to Public Radio International.

"Lower precipitation overall has contributed as well," he said. "A lot of people have suggested that it may be because we're taking more water out of the lakes, but that's really a very small percentage of the total water budget, it's more associated with climate."

Less water in the North Country can prove disastrous to traditional ways of life. Last year, for only the second time in 10 years, the manoomin (wild rice) harvest of the Ojibwe Bad River Reservation in northern Wisconsin was canceled, as was the harvest of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa near Duluth, Minnesota. Factors related to climate change were thought to be at least part of the culprit in both harvests, said Peter David, wildlife biologist at the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) to ICTMN at the time. “It seems that we are having more bad years for rice,” he said.


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Robert Schreib's picture
Robert Schreib
Submitted by Robert Schreib on
Why not have the United Nations create 'The Global 50/50 Lottery', the world's first honest and global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy the vast arrays of wind, solar, ocean and water clean electricity generating systems, to replace the electricity from the coal burning electric power plants that are emitting the carbon dioxide which is causing global warming?

Patricia Erwin's picture
Patricia Erwin
Submitted by Patricia Erwin on
Thank you for the information about climate change it was very enlightening.

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
The reason the American government has to be drug kicking and screaming, to realize and admit that global warming is happening and is real. our federal and state governments are nothing but shells filled with bribed, or past, present or future employees of the corporations and industries that are doing the polluting contributing to the global mess. They have investments, personal and other professional relationships with the ones they're supposed to regulate, including the judges who legalize those deregulations and new laws crafted by industrial hacks. Our leaders refuse to make one utterance about the conflict of interest and collusion that goes on in the government, even when their people are being targeted for theft of their resources and lands. Like they made it a career to stay quiet while holding their hands out for money.