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Expert Voices

This is What Global Warming Looks Like — 2013 Edition (Op-Ed)

Dan Lashof is chief operating officer of NextGen Climate America Inc. and a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior fellow.This Op-Ed was adapted from one that first appeared on the NRDC blog Switchboard. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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After a long drought of media coverage about climate change, an ambitious series on Showtime, "Years of Living Dangerously," is off to a tremendous start. All nine hours focus, as the creators say, on the biggest story of our time — told through the eyes of people experiencing the effects of our changing climate first-hand.

In 2010, NRDC launched its first edition of "This is What Global Warming Looks Like." The segment features impacts that were foreign to most Americans — the Pakistani flood and the Russian heat wave. By last year's video, those impacts had hit home big time — with 25,000 broken heat records, drought, floods and storms in the United States. NRDC's latest edition shows how climate change is affecting everyone, everywhere, featuring extreme heat from America to Australia, punishing drought in the U.S. West, unhealthy wildfire smoke blanketing much of the country and skittish Olympic athletes in Sochi.

Here are some examples of what we've seen in the last year:

  • One of the top-10 hottest years worldwide with 600 daily records broken in the U.S.
  • Warm weather in Sochi prompted some athletes to withdraw from Olympic events because mushy snow created dangerous conditions.
  • Californians endured their driest year ever, pushing produce prices higher across the country.

A growing number of scientists are publishing reviews that this, indeed, is what global warming looks like. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently declared, "The evidence is overwhelming: Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying."

The World Health Organization followed, saying that air pollution killed about 7 million people in 2012, and reducing carbon pollution could help save lives.

Then came the comprehensive report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning of drastic effects ahead, including food shortages and civil strife in countries already struggling to meet the basic needs of their people.

Due next is the U.S. National Climate Assessment report to be released in early May. Expected in the definitive report from 300 U.S. scientists are findings showing that climate change, once viewed as a far-off problem for the future, is here, today.

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The news will continue to get worse, fast, if Americans don't act.

Let's be absolutely clear: Carbon pollution is why our planet is getting hotter. The thickening layer of carbon dioxide around our planet is acting like an electric blanket. [No More Free-Pass for Carbon Pollution (Op-Ed )]

The Earth is sending us a message that the dial on the blanket is turned up too high.

There are solutions we can pursue to reduce the carbon pollution overheating all of us, but time is running out.

Despite the U.S. Congress acting like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot — and doing nothing despite the obvious danger — the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is listening. It has taken some needed steps by enacting clean-car standards, proposing emissions standards for heavy trucks and rolling out a common-sense climate action plan to cut carbon, reduce other greenhouse gases and prepare communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

U.S. emissions of carbon pollution have fallen in recent years, but a much steeper drop is needed. The main problem stems from the fact that the nation's electric power plants have no limits on how much carbon pollution they pump into the sky. That's wrong and it's dangerous.

Fortunately, the Obama administration is on track to propose and finalize — by the end of its term in office — the first-ever federal standards to end unlimited dumping of power-plant carbon pollution .

We all have a role to play. As individuals we can use energy more efficiently with modern appliances and devices that will cut our electric bills while reducing carbon pollution. As community members we can organize to put solar panels on our schools and libraries. And as citizens we can join together, raising our voices to speak out for limits on dangerous carbon pollution driving climate change.

This Op-Ed was adapted from the post "This is What Global Warming Looks Like - 2013 Edition" on the NRDC blog Switchboard. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google +. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.