NRDC Warns the West is Warming Faster

The American West is heating up more rapidly than the rest of the world, according to a new analysis of the most recent federal government temperature figures. The news is especially bad for some of the nation's fastest growing cities, which receive water from the drought-stricken Colorado River. The average temperature rise in the Southwest's largest river basin was more than double the average global increase, likely spelling even more parched conditions.

"Global warming is hitting the West hard," said Theo Spencer of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "It is already taking an economic toll on the region's tourism, recreation, skiing, hunting, and fishing activities. The speed of warming and mounting economic damage make clear the urgent need to limit global warming pollution."

For the report, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization analyzed new temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 western states. For the five-year period 2003-2007, the average temperature in the Colorado River Basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the historical average for the 20th Century. The temperature rise was more than twice the global average increase of 1.0 degree during the same period. The average temperature increased 1.7 degrees in the entire 11-state western region.

"We are seeing signs of the economic impacts throughout the West," said study author Stephen Saunders of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. "Since 2000, we have seen $2.7 billion in crop loss claims due to drought. Global warming is harming valuable commercial salmon fisheries, reducing hunting activity and revenues, and threatening shorter and less profitable seasons for ski resorts."

The Colorado River Basin is in the throes of a record drought, shrinking water supplies for upwards of 30 million people in fast-growing Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Most of the Colorado River's flow comes from melting snow in the mountains of Wyoming, Utah, and Wyoming.

Governors of Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington have signed the Western Climate Initiative, an agreement to reduce global warming pollution through a market-based system, such as cap-and-trade. The agreement calls for states to reduce their global warming emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Conservationists say the states should commit to meeting these targets and that there should also be a firm target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

A growing chorus of leaders across the political and economic spectrum says more aggressive action is needed at the national level. Supporters say the Lieberman-Warner bill, "America's Climate Security Act" (S. 2191), is the strongest global warming bill moving through Congress. The bipartisan bill is the first climate legislation ever to be passed out of a Senate committee. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill by summer, by which time supporters are optimistic about strengthening the bill even further.

The "Warming in the West" report is available at

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