The full lineup of disruptions to the world’s biological, agricultural and ecological systems reads like a murderer’s row of assaults on society’s ability to thrive and survive. The following list of consequences of climate change to the world’s health and welfare are only those which are presently obvious. Many surprises still remain hidden in the corners and depths of the world’s natural systems as greenhouse gas levels continue to rise. Nevertheless this list of the initial consequences now taking place because of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction should scare anyone into climate sobriety who has concern for future generations and a happy life into the future.
The following scenario of consequences demonstrates that world society is approaching a momentous crossroad. Citizens will either make the changes that are required to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from their lives, or we will create an end to the ability of earth’s citizens to live peaceful and prosperous lives. Our top scientists agree that the predicament we face is grave and urgent.
Over thirty years ago, in June, 1988, Dr. James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, announced before Congress that “global climate change is now upon us.” He declared, “What we are threatening to do to young people is irreversible; and it is irreparable harm…. This is something they didn’t cause, but will soon be out of their control…. Among top experts, there’s agreement that climate change is urgent. We can’t continue on this path hoping that emissions will go down [by themselves], and we have to take actions.”
As the reader tours through this list of earth’s present and emerging pathologies, remember that there are solutions. This is the emphasis of our Church. The consensus of scientists is two-fold: First, the world is changing and we will not be able to return to the former climate. Second, the use of clean renewable energy without fossil fuels is possible and solutions are now available. We can and will survive. But great intentionality is required. This means each person has to dedicate him or herself to making all of the energy and lifestyle changes that are required.
This also means that we need to take time and talk to clergy, to legislators and local, state and national officials. And please include family and friends. Let them know that no person has the right to destroy the opportunities of coming generations to enjoy happy and fulfilling lives, either now or in the future.
Earth’s Atmosphere Is Changing
The atmosphere of Earth is a thin layer that rises less than twenty miles above the planet’s surface. This can be seen in the thin blue-white band above the earth and below the black of space in this photo taken from the Discovery Space Shuttle while approaching the Japanese Island of Hokkaido at dusk.
Before the industrial revolution the concentration of atmospheric CO2 was about 270 parts per million (ppm). By 1900 this level had increased to 280 ppm. Now by fall, 2019 this level has risen to 414 ppm. Carbon dioxide is currently increasing by 2.1 ppm annually.
The rise of CO2 causes more of the sun’s warmth to be retained by the atmosphere. This increased warmth is changing weather patterns around the world. Scientists who study climate agree that the main cause of the current warming is human intensification of the “greenhouse effect” – warming that results from human burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. These are the primary drivers of the planet’s warming.
Heat Waves Are Intensifying
One hot day, or even a major heat wave, cannot be conclusively blamed upon climate change. However, the steady increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves and the other weather changes now taking place can indeed be blamed on climate change.
Hot days are becoming hotter and more frequent. Since 1950 the number of heat waves has increased and heat waves are lasting longer.
The effect of this warming is substantial. In the United States new record high temperatures now outnumber new record lows by 3:1. In Europe, global warming is now responsible for an estimated 29% of the new record high temperatures set annually. China has witnessed a major increase of hot days across its regions. Globally, extremely warm nights that used to come once in 20 years now occur every 7 to 10 years, and the pace of change is accelerating.
The Death Rate From Heat Waves Is Rising
As average temperatures climb, heat waves amplified by climate change will become the biggest health threat of the 21st century. It’s a threat that impacts us all — especially children, the elderly, low-income communities, and minorities. As temperatures climb, so does the incidence of illness, emergency room visits and deaths.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) finds that an average of 3,460 people now die from heat waves each year, making it the leading cause of U.S. weather-related mortality. The CDC defines heat waves as “several days of temperatures greater than 90EF; warm, and consecutive nights with higher- than-usual minimum temperatures.”
Deadly heat waves will be an even bigger problem in coming decades, becoming more frequent and occurring over a much greater portion of the planet because of climate change, according to a study by Nature Climate Change August 2, 2017). The states with the highest average annual hyperthermia- related death rates are Arizona, Nevada
and Missouri. But any state can have a heat wave. In Australia, heat stress is already its number one natural killer.
Heart Attack Risks Soar During Heat Waves
Extremes of heat can harm your heart. Climate change can kill. According to new research, the risk of heart attack increases measurably for every 5°C [9o F] leap in temperature differential.
On a hot summer day twice as many heart attacks occur when the temperature soars up to 35° to 40°C [95o to 104o F] than when there is no such elevation. Medical doctors have repeatedly warned of the dangers of intense and frequent heat extremes as average temperatures increase.
That elevated heat is dangerous is not a surprise: Heatwaves over the last thirty years have risen three times faster than average temperatures.Whatever the average temperature, it’s hotter in cities, because of vehicle traffic, business, heating, air conditioning, cooking, lighting and what is known as the urban heat island effect. What makes this worse is that asphalt, stone, brick, glass and tile absorb the sun’s radiation, but inhibit the ground evaporation as a natural cooling device. These studies linking heat and health matter, because the past decade in North America is confirmed as the hottest in over 11,000 years.
Cities Are Becoming Sweltering Hotspots
Tina Johnson lives in the same small New York apartment that her grandparents once occupied. A mix of poverty and aging infrastructure make her neighborhood in Harlem one of the most vulnerable regions in New York City. Climate change will further stress Johnson and the 110,000 people that call her neighborhood home. The biggest threat is rising temperatures.
As carbon pollution turns up the planetary heat, the impact is clearest on what’s happening on extremely hot days: They’re becoming more intense. New York averaged three days above 95o F over the past 20 years. If carbon pollution continues on its rising trend, by 2075 that number is likely to increase to 31 days over 95o degrees.
Many cities will be far worse off. Atlanta will see 69 days above 95o F. Dallas is on track to have 140 days above 95o F. Phoenix may face 163 days above that level. Salton City, California could have 203 days of temperatures over 95o F. The biggest factor determining the number of future hot days is how fast the world reins in carbon pollution today.
New Heat Records Are Set More Frequently
The next time you toss and turn at night because of sweltering heat, be thankful you don’t live in Quriyat, Oman. On Tuesday, June 27, 2018, the nighttime low temperature remained up at a steamy 109 Fo. This means the daily minimum temperature — the coldest time of day—never dropped below 109o F in Quriyat, a small village in Oman, located next to the United Arab Emirates and across the Gulf from Iran.
According to weather records expert Maximiliano Herrera, this sets a new record for the hottest nighttime temperature ever reported. During the day, the high temperature peaked at 121.6o F, about 2o F short of the all-time heat record for Oman of 123.4o F.
This is one of many heat records that have been set recently, said the Washington Post’s Weather Gang. They noted that this is our “warming planet where new, unprecedented heat milestones keep occurring.” Another record is that NASA confirms that “each of the last five years have been the hottest on record” (New York Times, February 6, 2019). This shows we’re no longer talking about a situation where global warming is off in the future. It’s here. It’s happening now. This is a red screaming alert that we have to end our use of fossil fuels.
The Glaciers Are Melting
Dawn strikes the mountains on St. Mary’s Lake in Montana’s Glacier National Park. When the park was created in 1910, it had over 150 glaciers. Now in 2019 only a few glaciers remain, and these are significantly reduced in size. Within another twenty years, all of them will likely be gone.
On Mount Hood near Portland, Oregon, photos taken in late August, exactly 17 years apart, show the rapid decline of its glaciers. Around the world mountain glaciers store about 70% of the world’s fresh water. Glaciers on every continent are now in rapid retreat.
Climatic conditions that normally happen over geologic spans of time are now happening during the span of a single human lifetime.
The Gulf Stream Is Slowing
The Gulf Stream that keeps Britain from freezing during winter is slowing down now more than at any previous time in the past millennium.
Scientists believe that this slowing is caused by the huge volume of freshwater flowing into the North Atlantic from the rapid melting of the Greenland ice cap. This has slowed down the ocean “engine” that drives the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean Sea up towards northwest Europe, bringing a warming equivalent to the output from a million power stations.
Meltwater from Greenland’s massive ice fields is increasing due to global warming. This freshwater is reducing the salinity and density of the current. If this current ceased to flow, Europe would experience a far colder climate. As of September, 2018, the Gulf Stream has slowed by up to 20%.
How close the world is to a catastrophic collapse of giant ocean currents is unknown. Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, says, “We have to avoid disruption [of this Gulf Stream] at all costs. This is one more reason why we should do everything possible to stop global warming as soon as possible.”
Sea Levels Are Rising
This aerial photo shows the city of Male, the capital city of the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. Its existence is threatened by sea level rise.
Worldwide many heavily populated areas, including Florida in the U.S., are looking to their coastlines with growing concern as sea levels rise. But perhaps none have taken it so seriously as Male. With a maximum elevation of 8 feet, any rise in sea level will engulf currently inhabited land. In response to this impending threat, the city is building a great seawall around the capital.
The ocean level has already increased by one foot over the last century. As climate change accelerates, the oceans will warm and continue to rise. A three-foot rise in sea level will cause large areas of the State of Florida to disappear (see the red areas on the map). Storms will reach much further inland and have greater impact on cities and coastal areas.
Storms Are Growing More Powerful
This is one of thousands of hurricane- flooded towns along the coast of New Jersey. Across the New York-New Jersey area tens of thousands of homes were destroyed and residents displaced following Hurricane Sandy. Climate change is leading to more powerful, more devastating and more frequent floods.
Hurricanes have always plagued the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Global
warming is now making these storms much worse. As sea levels rise, storm surges reach higher and move further inland. Even minor tropical storms can now cause severe coastal flooding and result in evacuations of residents with huge damage to seashore properties.
New scientific evidence shows a clear link exists between warmer oceans, stronger hurricanes and global warming. As oceans warm, they produce more intense storms, higher wind speeds, and much more rainfall. Huge storms, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Florence have increased during the past 35 years while smaller storms are less common.
The Oceans Are Becoming Acidic
As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, about one-third of the CO2 is absorbed into the oceans. Carbon dioxide, when mixed with sea water, produces carbonic acid. This is why ocean water is becoming more acidic.
The corals in this photo are highly vulnerable to carbonic acid. So are clams, oysters and most shellfish; crabs and lobsters; plankton, and some fish species. All are harmed by higher ocean acidity. The big danger is that the corrosive effect of acidic oceans is triggering a dramatic shift in marine species and jeopardizing shellfish stocks, and major sections of the ocean food chain.
Scientists are calling for drastic measures to avert massive bleaching and death of the world’s coral reefs. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a marine scientist and past director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has called ocean acidification global warming’s “equally evil twin.” The only way to avert an ocean disaster is to limit the rise of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This means society must shift away from dirty polluting fossil fuels to clean renewable energies.
Wind Patterns Are Shifting
As the Arctic warms, the jet stream is weakens and slows down. This is because the temperature differential between the cold Arctic and warmer southern regions drives the planet’s wind circulations, especially the high altitude jet stream.
The consequence of this slowing is that high and low pressure fronts are getting stuck and weather is less able to moderate itself. What would have been a short-term heat wave is now sticking around for a longer time. This is exacerbating extreme weather events and causing them to remain in place for longer than normal. Research scientists warn this could lead to “extreme extremes,” which occur when abnormally high temperatures linger for an unusually prolonged period, turning sunny days into heat waves, tinder-dry conditions into wildfires, and rains into floods.
As an example, in 2017 Hurricane Harvey had a devastating impact on Texas because it was parked for an unusually long time on the coast, where it kept drawing up moisture from the sea and dumping it in the form of the greatest deluge ever recorded in the US.
Tropical Diseases Are Spreading
Global climate change with an accompanying rise in floods, droughts and unpredictable weather is fueling the spread of epidemics in areas unprepared for new diseases, say health experts worldwide. Mosquitoes, ticks, mice and other pathogen carriers are surviving through warmer winters and expanding their range north, bringing health threats with them.
Malaria is climbing the mountains to reach populations in higher elevations in Africa and Latin America. Cholera is growing in warmer seas. Dengue fever and Lyme disease plus other more exotic tropical diseases are moving north. West Nile virus, never seen in North America until 2000, has already infected more than 21,000 people in the U.S. and Canada. West Nile disease has already killed over 800 people.
“The evidence of global warming on human health is everywhere,” says Dr. Paul Epstein, MD, from Harvard Medical School. “Patterns of diseases are shifting in unexpected ways. Over thirty diseases new to medical science have emerged in just the last 30 years. This is unprecedented in the annals of medicine. This could cause overwhelming damage, especially in developing countries, with already over-stretched physical and human infrastructures.”
Forests Are Dying
In British Columbia and in other boreal forests pine bark beetles are spreading north as temperatures increase. They now live in places where in colder times they could not survive. The result is massive insect infestations and spreading forest death. Scientists with the Canadian Forest Service say the average winter temperature has risen by more than 4o F. over the last twenty years.
The outbreak of bark beetle in British Columbia’s forests has been one of the highest profile forestry issues in recent years. Since 1997, bark beetle outbreaks have killed over 80 million trees stretched across more than one million acres. The damage increases the risk of wildfires.
“It’s pretty gut-wrenching,” said Allan Carroll, a research scientist at the Pacific Forestry Centre in Victoria, B.C., which tracks the connection between warmer winters and the spread of the beetle. “People have said climate change is something for our kids to worry about. No. It’s happening right now.”
Catastrophic Wildfires Are Increasing
Rising temperatures are drying forests across the West. This is causing more large wildfires as spring comes earlier, mountain snows melt sooner, and forests become tinder dry. The changing climate is the most critical factor driving a four-fold increase in the average number of large wildfires. Before 1970 the fire season in California was late summer and fall. Since then the fire season has expanded by 78 additional days and is becoming year round.
Researchers report almost seven times more forested land burned during the 17 years between 1987 and 2003 than during the previous 17 years. If regional temperatures continue to rise, as is predicted, wildfires will intensify. As more forests burn, the fire destruction will release massive amounts of carbon dioxide, further accelerating the increase of greenhouse gases.
“It all fits together,” says climate researcher Anthony Westerling at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “The fire seasons now start earlier and run longer. This is all consistent with a warming climate.” Longer droughts lead to more forest fires—as we have already observed across the Western United States this past year.
Arctic Temperatures Are Soaring
Scientists are worried. The winter of 2018 was the warmest ever seen in the Arctic. Scientists who are studying the climate crisis express dismay at the region’s warmest winter since researchers began documenting the climate.
“We long ago anticipated that warming would be greatest in the Arctic owing to the vicious cycle of melting ice and warming oceans,” reported climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann. “But what we didn’t anticipate is the way that changing wind patterns could accelerate that process.”
Mann, who won the 2018 Public Engagement with Science award, explained that those surprises include “a slowing down of ocean currents, and whacky weather patterns across North America associated with weather extremes and superstorms.”
“We are seeing what scientists have predicted for years,” professor of thermal sciences John Abraham said. “Temperatures in the Arctic are off the chart. This is the time of year when Arctic ice should be growing. But it isn’t. This means there will be less ice and more open waters which will lead to more warming.” “If this isn’t a clarion call to take action, I don’t know what is.”
Droughts Are Lasting Longer
Billions of people will be at increased risk from droughts in the years ahead. The expected climatic changes in this century will intensify the hydrological cycle with rainy seasons becoming shorter and more intense in some regions, while droughts will grow longer in other areas. This will endanger food and agriculture. Starvation will become more common.
“Droughts are already more severe and widespread,” says The World Water Council. “Up to 45% of reported deaths from natural disasters between 1992 and 2012 resulted from droughts and famines. The most vulnerable communities are impoverished peoples.
Africa’s recent unprecedented droughts signal widespread climate change. Australia too is entering long-term climate change which may cause longer and more frequent droughts. The on-going drought could leave the City of Sydney’s dams dry in just two years. California and the Western U.S. will also face water shortages and some communities may run out water.
Exotic Species Are Proliferating
A woman holds a warm water barracuda caught off the Seattle waterfront. Ocean sunfish have been spotted off the coast of Oregon and Washington states, an area where they have never before been seen. Tropical lizard fish and even barracuda have been landed by fishermen inside Puget Sound. Other southern natives, including sardines and striped bass, have made the northward migration.
“From just these small little teases of El Niño… there has been major disruption,” said Steve Jeffries, a marine mammal expert with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The surface of the world’s seas has already warmed since the late 1800s. Even slight changes in temperature can alter the complex weave of the marine food web.
Worldwide, many bird, fish, insects and other animal species are now on the move, trying to find more hospitable climate conditions.
America’s Arid West Is Invading The Fertile East
The 100th meridian (solid grey vertical line) has commonly been understood as dividing the moister eastern U.S. from the dryer west. Climate change is drying out the central US and pushing that divide eastward.
The geologist John Wesley Powell first observed this transition zone back in 1878. As he traversed the prairie he noted the changing terrain. “On the east, luxuriant growth of grass is seen, and gaudy flowers make the prairie landscape beautiful…. Passing westward, luxuriant grass and brilliant flowering plants disappear. The ground gradually becomes naked, with ‘bunch’ grasses here and there; now and then a thorny cactus is seen.”
Imperceptibly, decades of climate change have shifted the boundary between the dry west and the fertile farmlands of the eastern states by roughly 140 miles, according to a new study by US agricultural scientists. In effect, what was once marked by the 100th meridian is now at 98 degrees longitude.
Researchers predict that drylands will continue to move east as temperatures rise, and eventually trigger large-scale changes. None of this should be a surprise. Scientists have repeatedly warned that the climate is changing with ever-greater risks of climate extremes, including devastating droughts and increasing risks of forest fire.
A Sea Lane Is Opening Over Asia
As global temperatures rise, the impact is greater in some regions than in others. Nowhere is the impact more apparent than in the Arctic. In this photo the once impassible sea ice has melted so much that German ships have pioneered a Northeast.
The good news for ship owners is that the Arctic passage slashes time and money for mariners. This development could cause an economic boom for Russia. Ship owners say they plan to use this new route on a regular basis as it saves ten days and $3 million over the normal 11,000 nautical mile voyage from Korea through the Indian Ocean to the North Atlantic.
The bad news is this feat is only possible because the Arctic icecap is melting at an alarming rate, leaving vast stretches of open water where solid pack ice frustrated earlier attempts at navigation. Since 2009 thru 2019, each year has seen lower levels of Arctic sea ice. This is what allows the recently initiated navigation of the Arctic.
Insect Explosions Are Threatening Crops
Locusts swarm over a field in the Canary Islands. As a result of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, biologists have found that the numbers of leaf-eating insects will surge at a time when crop production will need to be boosted to feed an extra two to three billion people living at the end of 21st century.
The anticipated 4o C rise in global temperatures caused by a likely doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels will send insect numbers soaring and cause potentially major disruptions to agriculture.
Dr. Ellen Currano of Pennsylvania State University, lead author of the study, reported “Our study shows [that] … when temperature increases, the diversity of insect- feeding damage on plant species also increases.” This means food supplies will likely shrink precisely at a time when worldwide populations are growing.
Pollen, Mold And Allergies Are Increasing
Climate change will increase pollen levels, mold and poison ivy. More pollen increases the risks for asthma and allergy attacks. Climate change can also make air pollution worse. This increases the risk and severity of asthma attacks.
As carbon dioxide concentrations increase, more pollen releases into the environment. This means more allergies. “My allergies are much worse than they used to be,” says Amanda Carwyle, a mom of three in Pontiac, Illinois. “I used to be able to take a Claritin and be fine.” Now, despite allergy shots and three medications that make her feel like a zombie, she says her eyes are watery and her head stuffy. “I get so miserable.”
Rising levels of carbon dioxide are to blame. Tests show that the more CO2 increases in the atmosphere, the more plants grow and the more pollen they produce. The chart at the right shows that as CO2 levels climb, so do the levels of pollen and ragweed in the atmosphere.
Deer Ticks And Lyme Disease Are Spreading
Cases of Lyme disease first appeared in 1976 in the woodsy suburb of Lyme, Connecticut. At that time, deer ticks were found only in a small area encircling Long Island Sound, plus a small area in Wisconsin.
Since that time, deer ticks have extended their reach. Deer ticks now roam the eastern coastal states from Maine to Florida, across the Midwest and the
West Coast. Lyme disease is now the most common disease transmitted by an insect — a mosquito, tick, or other bug — in the U. S.
Dr. Ben Beard, deputy director of the federal CDC’s climate and health program, says warming is the prime culprit in Lyme’s spread northward. CDC’s research suggests the deer tick, sensitive to temperature and humidity, is moving farther into northern latitudes as warm months grow hotter and longer. Across the U.S. tick and mosquito borne diseases, some potentially lethal, are emerging in places where it has not previously been found. Climate change almost certainly is to blame, according to a 2016 report by 13 federal agencies that warned of intensifying heat and infectious diseases.
During 2017, a coalition of academic and government groups
tracking climate-related health hazards worldwide, found these new hazards are “far worse than previously understood,” jeopardizing half a century of public-health gains.
Fire Tornadoes Are Appearing
“This is serious,” said former California Governor Jerry Brown. “The predictions that things would get drier and hotter later in the century, by 2040 or 2050, those conditions are occurring now.”
“No one expected a fire tornado,” he said. “We’re getting a new phenomenon and that tells us that we’re in a new climate-weather era, and so we have to learn to adapt.”
“We’re in for a really rough ride,” Brown continued. “It’s going to get expensive; it’s going to get dangerous; and we have to apply all our creativity to make the best of what is going to be an increasingly bad situation.” With these new intense fires, “we are moving into uncharted territory.” He predicted that destructive fires would probably continue and cost the state billions of dollars over the next decade.
These fire tornadoes create “dangerously erratic conditions,” said Dr. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “As super-hot smoke ascends, it creates a wicked updraft — so strong it begins to rotate. Winds in a fire tornado were so intense that they ripped trees out of the ground and threw them to the side.”
Traditional Life Styles Are Disappearing
In Barrow, Alaska, an Inuit family displays traditional dress. In this northernmost U.S. town 350 miles above the Arctic Circle, the 1,800 residents of this Eskimo village do not see the sun from late November until January. The Arctic is now warming at a rate much faster than the rest of the planet. Average temperatures in Barrow have increased by over 6EF during the last 30 years.
In western Canada and eastern Russia, average temperatures are up from 4o F. to 8o F. over the past 50 years, a rate more than double the global average. The warming temperatures in Siberia will dry out peat bogs, which are natural carbon sinks that help to offset fossil fuel emissions.
Scientists have found that ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting so rapidly that most of it could be gone within twenty years. The results could be catastrophic: Low-lying lands would be inundated by rising sea levels. If present trends continue, the Arctic will be ice- free by 2030. The impacts of dwindling Arctic ice are far-reaching, from species endangerment to enhanced global warming, to the weakening or shut-down of global ocean circulation.
Animal Species Are Becoming Extinct
A polar bear walks across bare rocky ground near Wager Bay, Canada. Perhaps the Arctic’s most charismatic large mammal, polar bears face serious threats from global warming. The bears depend on sea ice as a platform from which they can hunt seals, their main prey.
As more sea ice melts and polar bears are left with rocky ground like that shown in this photograph, hunting for food becomes increasingly difficult for these large mammals. Many are already dying from food shortages; others are drowning as the sea ice melts.
Like many other species, including walrus and the great white shark, polar bears are now moving northward as temperatures increase. Whether these species can outrun warming temperatures is unclear, as some scientists say that global warming will lead to the extinction of millions of species, including polar bears and many birds and amphibians over the next 50 years.
Worldwide biologists predict that over 35% of all plant and animal species in the world will likely perish.
Climate Refugees Are Increasing
The cause might be drought or food shortages, rising seas or flooding from torrential rains. The consequences of climate change will dramatically increase the number of refugees forced to flee their ancestral homelands.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that the single greatest impact of climate change might be human migration — with millions of people forced into relocation by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, excessive heat and agricultural disruption. Their studies indicate that climate change is poised to become a major driver of global population displacement, a monstrous crisis in the making.
U.N. officials estimate that a third of Bangladesh’s coastline could be flooded if the oceans rise by just one meter, something projections anticipate. This will create 20 million displaced Bangladeshis. Where will these people go?
Southern Florida will experience a similar need for relocation as storm surges will inundate coastal areas. Boston, New Orleans, New York and other coastal areas are also in jeopardy. According to the World Bank, 140 million people worldwide will be displaced by 2050.
World Food Production Is Declining
Climate change is causing declines in food production in many locations around the world. The amount will vary depending upon soil conditions, rainfall, and growing seasons.
In this map, produced by Columbia University and the UN IPCC, yield changes are projected on corn production. This data applies to production of most other grain and major food commodities.
The U.S. is projected to experience a drop in food production of between 5% to 10%. Farmers will bear the brunt of this reduction which will likely mean higher food prices for consumers and higher levels of world hunger.
Mexico is expected to experience a decline of between 10% to 20%. The combination of a growing population with a declining food supply is already causing food shortages and hunger in parts of East and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh, and far northern Europe. These areas are expected to experience a substantial 20% to 30% drop in
crop yields. This data helps to project which parts of world are most likely to produce climate refugees. A few countries may find some increases in yield from climate change. These include Japan and Canada.
As CO2 Levels Rise, Crops Lose Nutrients
Plants need carbon dioxide to live, but its effects on food crops are complicated. As carbon dioxide levels rise because of human activity, scientists are finding that many key plants lose nutritional value at higher CO2 levels.
In many plants, higher CO2 produces faster growth and bigger crops. But there’s a problem. Some food crops lose nutritional value under higher CO2 conditions. Across different types of rice, they observed average decreases of 10% in protein, 8% in iron and 5% in zinc. Four important B vitamins showed decreases of between 13% and 30%.
Higher carbon dioxide levels are not just affecting rice. The range is much bigger. Harvard University’s Sam Myers has tested CO2’s impact on a number of staple crops. “Most of the food crops that we consume showed these nutrient reductions,” he said. As nutrient levels drop, “There’s high global vulnerability to these effects, and we’re likely to see really significant health and hunger impacts from these nutrient changes,” he adds.
More Intense Rainfalls Are Coming
America’s summer thunderstorms are getting wetter and stormier. Later this century, the thunder storms of middle America will not just darken US skies: they will dump as much as 80% more water on farms, highways and cities.
Climate scientists warn that climate change, caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, will bring higher levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This in turn will bring ever greater extremes of heat and rain.
The combination of higher humidity and warmer temperatures means more intense rainfall. “The spreading of heavy rainfall over larger areas will cause communities to face higher flood risks than previously predicted,” said Andreas Prein of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Thunderstorms already cost the U.S. around $20 billion a year in flash floods, landslides, debris flows, high winds and hail. Dr Prein and his colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that “observed extreme daily precipitation” increased in all parts of the US between 1958 and 2012. This is because rising temperatures mean increased evaporation and a greater capacity of the atmosphere to hold higher moisture levels. A major implication is that “The floods of the future are likely to be much greater than what our current infrastructure is designed to handle.”
Atmospheric Rivers And Bomb Cyclones
New weather patterns are appearing. The image below shows a long line of clouds coming from the southwest (bottom left) and heading northeast (top right).
The warm colors represent moist air and cool colors represent dry air. The pink and red areas depict a stream of intense moisture from the Hawaiian region into California. The “atmospheric river” phenomenon is aptly named because these moisture superhighways bring intense rainfall from the tropics into temperate zones. During February of 2019 an atmospheric river delivered intense rainfall to California bringing floods and landslides.
“Bomb cyclones” are appearing. The first appeared in 1980 but these are now appearing every year. A bomb cyclone is defined as an extreme drop in atmospheric pressure in under 24 hours. That means the storm will pack a powerful punch with winds that could whip at hurricane-force strength. The Scientific American reported (Jan. 3, 2018) that climate change is probably involved, but science does not yet understand this well enough to link these superstorms to the global rise of greenhouse gases.
Polar vortex conditions are also appearing. These normally belong up in the polar regions, but climate change is bringing new wind patterns and dislodging frigid Arctic air masses and bringing them down into temperate zones, and with it below-zero temperatures.
Climate Change Is Causing Major Insect Loss
Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of beneficial insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis.
Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread insect collapse would cause major disruption to life on Earth, scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with key pollinators like bees particularly affected.
The new research is analyzing the impact of different levels of climate change on 115,000 different species. It found that plants will also be heavily affected, but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, will suffer less.
“We showed that insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the 2018 study. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play a critical role in the food chain. The disruption to ecosystems would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she continued. “People should be concerned, because humans depend on functioning ecosystems.”
Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Expected
Scientists warn that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than at any previously recorded time. The planet’s largest ice sheet is now losing over 240 billion tons of ice every year ― a six- fold increase from the rate less than 40 years ago. The accelerating pace of melting means rising sea levels could threaten coastal communities much earlier than scientists previously expected. North America, particularly the East Coast of the U.S., could be hard-hit.
“We gathered the estimates across all the different measuring techniques, and we arrived at this consensus,” Isabella Velicogna, an Antarctic ice expert at the University of California, Irvine, told The Washington Post. Scientists warn that Antarctica’s rapid melting could mean countries now have even less time to take action against climate change if they hope to protect vulnerable communities from rising sea levels.
This startling evidence of Antarctic ice sheet melt poses a grave threat to humanity. We have the tools to solve the climate crisis, we need the will to act. The solution to halt the melting, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is no surprise: Stop the burning of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This latest study was published January 14, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Toxic Algae And More Intense Red Tides
Red tides are killing Florida’s southwest coastal waters. Fish, manatees, sea turtles, even dolphins have washed up dead on the beaches. All of them have been poisoned by a toxic algal bloom.
The toxic algae (Karenia brevis) is now moving up the coast where high concentrations of algae have been measured. The water off other beaches has contained elevated concentrations of red tide far beyond a normal “background” state. Why is this happening?
Some of this is from the nitrogen-rich fertilizer that helps sugar cane, tomatoes and corn grow in the Sunshine State. This same fertilizer fuels algae growth when it reaches the ocean. The more basic answer is more CO2 causes more plant growth. Just like land plants, algae breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen. The more carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the more the algae can grow and multiply. According to the EPA, rapid algae growth occurs with higher levels of CO2, “especially toxic blue-green algae.
Researchers find that K. brevis can tolerate higher temperatures and grow faster if given additional carbon dioxide. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million in 2015 and will continue to rise as society burns more fossil fuel.
National Security Is Jeopardized
When the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees were wrapping up details on the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, a bipartisan report emerged calling climate change “a direct threat to U.S. national security.”
This assessment is no surprise. Countless reports have highlighted the destructive impact of climate change on global stability. In the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review,
Defense Department officials called climate change a “threat multiplier” that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – “conditions that enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”
In its latest assessment, U.S. intelligence agencies laid out the security challenges posed by climate change to the U.S. Congress on January 29, 2019. They declared, “Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, acidifying oceans and soil degradation are intensifying, and threatening health, infrastructure, and water and food security… and will undermine the economic benefits they provide.”
The Financial Costs Are Soaring
Whether the impact is floods or drought, wildfires or sea level rise, “global warming will exert huge costs upon society,” writes Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economics professor and The World Bank’s former chief economist. He concludes that the fossil fuel-based system of energy “is causing imminent, significant, and irreparable harm” to the youth of the future and to society generally.
“If we act on climate change now by imposing a carbon tax and cutting fossil fuel subsidies, the challenge is still manageable and would have net-negative costs.” If the government pursued clean energy sources and energy smart technologies, he says, “the net benefits of a policy change outweigh the net costs of such a policy change.”
In 2014 The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a major report on the economic costs of not immediately acting to curb global warming. This report found that the longer Congress waits to take action, the more staggering will the costs become.
Hurricanes Are Stronger And Wetter
As ocean temperatures rise and atmospheric moisture levels increase, hurricanes are responding by raining harder and growing more powerful. They are also becoming more destructive and more expensive.
Hurricanes are powered by heat. In late August, 2017, before Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, Texas, ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico reached record high levels. Dr. Kevin Trenberth, author of a 2018 study in the
Journal Earth’s Future, found that the amount of heat in the ocean is directly related to how much rain a storm will unload. Harvey dumped over 60 inches of rain in parts of Southeast Texas, the most ever recorded from a single storm in U.S. recorded history. The study also found ocean heat content not only increases a storm’s rainfall, but “invigorates and enlarges the storm,” turning it into an even greater rain-producer.
Dr. William Lau, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, says that rainfall totals from tropical cyclones in the Atlantic have risen at a rate of 24% per decade since 1988. Dr. Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at MIT, measures the total energy expended by hurricanes. In 2005, he showed that Atlantic hurricanes are now 60% more powerful than they were in the 1970s.
The Economy Will Suffer
Climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American property and infrastructure and it will impede economic growth during this century – unless substantial adaptation efforts are instituted. This is the conclusion from the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment. This report was assembled by thirteen federal agencies and 300 leading scientists.
Rising temperatures, sea level rise, and extreme storm events will disrupt labor productivity and the vitality of communities.
Regional economies and industries that depend on favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Human caused climate change will impact millions of lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
These changes will occur because rising temperatures will reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. Trade will decline. Continued warming will damage the economy, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. We can stop climate destruction, but only if we act quickly to end the use of fossil fuels.
The Risks Continue To Increase
In the image at right, a home is overshadowed by towering smoke plumes in the small rural town of Paradise, California.
The influence of climate change is being felt across the US with increases in disastrous wildfires in the West, flooding on the East Coast, soil loss in
the Midwest and coastal erosion in Alaska, according to the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment. A major conclusion from this 2018 report is that climate change is already harming American lives with “substantial damages” set to occur as global temperatures threaten to surge beyond internationally agreed limits.
The report concludes that “impacts from climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic wellbeing are rising.” Climate related risks “will continue to grow without additional action.”
Global temperatures could be limited to 2o C above the pre-industrial era level if greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, but “without significant reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by up to 9o F (5oC) or more by the end of this century.”