You might be wondering, “So what if there's a little climate change? What's wrong with a couple extra days at the beach?” Or maybe popular imagery has led you to believe that climate change is an issue just for polar bears and not humans.
Unfortunately, global warming doesn’t mean more fun in the sun – in many places, it could actually get way too hot for that – and it definitely isn’t just a polar bear problem. The climate crisis is real and it’s impacting people around the world today. From our well-being to our wallets, we’re seeing the effects of a world transformed by rising temperatures and changing climate patterns, and the outlook is about as far from a relaxing seaside escape as it gets.
(Oh, and while we’re on the topic, rising sea levels may already have their eye on your favorite seaside escape.)
Here are just a few ways that climate change impacts our everyday lives:
Climate Change Is Bad for Our Health
Climate change impacts human health in countless ways, but four are worth emphasizing here:
- Rising temperatures: As temperatures climb around the globe, we expect to see more heatwaves – and ever-more intense ones at that. Extreme heat can “overpower the human body” and cause dehydration, heatstroke, and major organ damage. And certain populations are more at risk from the impacts of heatwaves than others, including the elderly, children, and the poor.
- Air quality: Pollution from burning fossil fuels is bad enough for the air we breathe, but many impacts of climate change also impact air quality. For instance, climate change has been linked to more wildfires. Wildfire smoke carries fine particles that “can penetrate deep into your lungs.” Exposure has been linked to burning eyes, heart and lung diseases, and even death.
- Vector-borne diseases: Vector-borne diseases are illnesses spread by insects or arachnids like mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and ticks. As our climate becomes warmer, some insects will see their geographic ranges grow – bringing the Lyme disease and West Nile or Zika viruses they carry along with them to new regions.
- Extreme weather: While we go into more detail on this later, climate change has been linked to many types of extreme weather, including hurricanes and floods. Not only can these extreme weather events have immediate fatal consequences, but they can lead to major injuries and the spread of waterborne illnesses such as wound infections, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, and ear, nose and throat infections.
The short of it? Healthy people need a healthy climate.
>> Read more: Not A Pretty Picture: Climate Change And Health In Four Infographics <<
Climate Change Means More Extreme Weather
When we pollute the atmosphere by using dirty energy sources like oil, coal, and gas, we end up with dirty weather.
Climate change affects weather, in large part, by intensifying the water cycle. In short, water evaporates into the atmosphere from both land and sea and returns to Earth’s surface in the form of rain and snow. As the world warms, the rate of evaporation from our oceans seems to be increasing, powering ever-stronger storms.
Consider Hurricane Harvey, which moved across abnormally warm waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico before dropping unprecedented rain on Houston, Texas. Hurricanes and typhoons work like “giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel.”
Think about heating a large pot of water on your stove — the higher you turn the dial, the faster the water evaporates. Now, imagine a powerful cyclonic swirl sucking up all that steam, carrying it over land, and dropping it like a bomb.
So far, it sounds like the world is getting wetter, right? Not so fast!
We also know that climate change increases the risk of severe drought. But how does that work? Contrary to what you might expect, more intense rain doesn’t necessarily mean wetter or healthier soils. Quite the opposite. Rain that falls as a violent downpour doesn’t gently soak into the soil, and instead quickly runs off into rivers and is carried back to the sea, leaving the land to get drier and drier between periods of precipitation.
Climate Facts: Droughts and Floods
Have you ever wondered why #ClimateChange leads to more intense droughts, but also more flooding? (via Years of Living Dangerously)Posted by Climate Reality on Tuesday, January 2, 2018
The short of it? Climate change "loads the dice" and makes extreme weather more likely to happen.
Climate Change Is Bad for Water Security
Climate change poses a huge threat to something humans need above all else – water. We need it for drinking, of course, but also for growing food.
We’re seeing the dire consequences climate change can have on our water supplies right now in places like Cape Town, South Africa. Put simply? The city – and the four million people who call it home – could run out of water (and soon).
While many factors have led to Cape Town’s water crisis, climate change has undoubtedly made a bad situation much worse. We know that increasing global temperatures can lead to droughts, and Cape Town has been experiencing record drought for years – getting only about half of its average annual rainfall since 2015.
Many cities around the world could face a similar fate. We already know that the largest reservoir in the US – Lake Mead – contained less than half the amount of water in 2015 as it did in 2000.
The short of it? Everyone deserves access to water for their survival. And climate change is making our water supply much less secure.
Climate Change Is Bad for Our Agriculture and Food
Farmers around the world depend on a stable climate to grow their crops and put food on our plates. But as climate change leads to more droughts, floods, and extreme weather, we see harvests wither or wash away.
In 2011, during Mexico’s worst-ever drought on record, more than 2 million acres of crops were lost. Climate change also makes soil less suitable for farming, as nutrients key to plant growth are stripped out by these same droughts and floods.
Some deniers will argue that carbon dioxide is “plant food” and that more of it will help crops flourish. But this is a huge oversimplification of science. Plants also need water, but does that mean a flood is a good way to get it to them? Absolutely not. The same holds true for carbon. Experiments show that some plants may do better in a world with more carbon dioxide, but many actually show signs of damage.
Global Weirding: Plans and Animals Will Just Adapt to Climate ...
Carbon dioxide is just plant food, right? And animals will just adapt to climate change, huh? No — that’s a huge oversimplification of science. Here’s the full picture, from Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. (via Global Weirding)Posted by Climate Reality on Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Not convinced? Recent research has revealed that elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere can actually have a “junk food effect” on typically nutritious foods. As increasing CO2 speeds up photosynthesis, plants are producing more and more carbohydrates to keep up with their sped-up growth – at the expense of the minerals, vitamins, and proteins that take longer to build (and which we need).
The short of it? Carbon pollution and climate change mean both more floods and droughts – making it harder and harder for farmers to grow good quality, nutritious food.
Climate Change Is Bad for Our Economy
It may seem obvious, but it’s important to point out that the planet’s economies depend on, well, the planet.
In 2017, a team of scientists and economists mapped out the potential economic damages different counties in the US can expect as the climate continues to change. The researchers found “that if warming continues at recent rates, it could shave 3 to 6 percentage points off of the country's gross domestic product by century's end — the warmer it gets, the bigger the hit to the economy.”
Extreme weather linked to climate change also has huge economic repercussions. In fact, 2017 was the United States’ costliest disaster year on record. Between 2007 and 2017, the federal government spent an estimated $350 billion responding to extreme weather and fires.
On the other hand, climate solutions like renewable energy are fueling our economy and creating good, well-paying jobs. In 2016, renewable energy employed nearly 10 million people around the globe. This sector has offered hope to laid off fossil fuel workers in places like Alberta – where (during the 2015 oil price crash) “an estimated 100,000 Canadian oil workers were laid off, at some points causing Alberta’s unemployment rate to hover around 10 percent.”
The short of it? There are no jobs on a dead planet.
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Header image: ©2014 isnapshot/Flickr cc by nc 2.0
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