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Chapter 1 - Why we should care
What I think is missing from our conversation are real solid reasons for people to really care about global warming today. We mentioned a few, but those are things people find a way to live with. Powerful people have always been the ones to make the decisions and the average person just has to learn to live with it. There is really nothing new there.
And, it seems like the climate scientists are always talking about what is going to be happening decades or centuries from now. That sounds like it isn’t anything we need to worry about today.
Tom, can you give us some real reasons why a typical person should be concerned with climate change today? I mean, things that happening to them right here and now, not something that may, or may not happen 50 years from now.
You both make good points. The scientific community has to get better at communicating with the public. And, we really do need to care about it today. Climate change isn’t something that is going to happen next century, it’s already happening and it’s affecting everyone’s lives right now. Let me give an example of something going on right now.
What people really don’t get is that climate change comes down to water management. Like I said earlier, droughts and floods are going to be worse, as are storms. This is already affecting water distribution all over the globe. In some areas, reservoirs are going dry and crops, livestock and even forests are dying due to the lack of water. Other areas are getting too much water and are experiencing massive floods resulting in billions of dollars in damages. Water management is changing due to climate change and is something that is already affecting nearly everyone on the planet, one way or another.
That’s a pretty good reason for people to be concerned about climate change right now. How about another?
The expenses from climate change are going to be passed down to the consumer, just all expenses always are. When food is more expensive, the cost is passed on. When storms result in more insurance claims, the insurance companies will pass it on. Hurricane Sandy caused $75 billion in damages.[i] That comes out to about $250 for every person in the United States. On average, a family of four will be stuck with a bill for $1000 from Hurricane Sandy. I know there is an argument about climate change’s role in this case, but the evidence is mounting that Arctic warming was a major factor at work.[ii] We might not be completely able to point at a specific storm and say just how much climate change is responsible, but we can look at that total picture and see there is an overall change. So, we know that climate change is, right now, resulting in more severe weather and the cost of that weather is being passed on.
Not to mention the extra money I have to spend to pay the air conditioning bill every summer. It seems like it keeps going up every year. Hitting the pocket book is something we all are concerned about. If climate change is costing us money then I would think people would be interested.
Something else hitting close to home is food. One of the real hazards of climate change is food production. We have seen that climate change in the past has disrupted food supplies resulting in mass famines that have killed millions and even brought down cultures. Remember that we saw drought was one of the contributing factors for the fall of the Mayan civilization. Drought is also attributed as a factor causing the fall of the Ming Dynasty in China. But, drought isn’t the only concern. Incredible floods in Europe in the 14th century resulted in massive crop losses and the collapse of the economy in many nations. The climate change we are experiencing today is greater than anything any of those previous cultures ever experienced.[iii]
That sounds like doomsday scenarios, Tom.
Let me give you something on topic but less dire. There are some studies showing increased food production is possible in the short term, but we really aren’t seeing that as much as expected. While the warmer average temperature will help with increased production, other factors work against it. Increased droughts, heat waves, hail storms and other forms of severe weather all destroy crops. So, even if climate change results in new areas for growing crops it works at the same time to destroy them.[iv]
Food production between 1980 and 2008 has not increased as much as it could have without rising temperatures. Corn and wheat crops have been getting larger, but not as much as they could have. Because of rising temperatures, corn production is down 3.8 percent and wheat production is down 5.5. It is estimated that this has caused the price of corn to go up 6.4 percent and wheat to go up 18.9 percent.[v]
That isn’t the end of the world, but it takes money right out of the average person’s pocket.
One of the things we are seeing is increased droughts, not the end of the world type, but still big ones. For instance, the 2011 drought in Kenya left 2 million people and 20 million heads of livestock in emergency need of food and water. Drought isn’t new to that region, but they had already experienced a severe drought just two years earlier.[vi] As much as that may be a terrible tragedy, it isn’t the end of the world.
Another example comes from Australia, which just went through a massive, 10-year long drought that resulted in widespread wild fires and dust storms. The size of sheep herds dropped by 50 percent and rice and cotton production collapsed in some years. The drought affected tens of thousands of farm families across Australia before it ended in 2010. And, as is often the case, it ended with torrential rains and flooding. The evidence is piling up that climate change may have been responsible for that drought. At the very least, it severely aggravated it. The American southwest may be in a similar situation with long-term rainfall decreasing across the area.[vii] Again, not doomsday, but still a terrible tragedy. And, as I said before, the costs from these events are being passed on to consumers.
That is a good example of things that are going on right now that we need to be concerned about, but aren’t the end of the world. If we take steps we can get through that, but we need to get busy.
Adapting is the big key and is why we need to be concerned today. Africa, in particular, can expect to see more frequent and more severe droughts in years to come. They need to start adapting now.[viii]
Weather in general is getting more extreme and we can expect more violent and extreme weather events.[ix] According to data on weather events, floods, droughts, wildfires, windstorms, blizzards and tornadoes are all becoming more frequent and more severe.[x] According to NOAA, the U.S. had at least 12 weather disasters in 2011, each of which caused more than $1 billion.[xi] That comes out to at least $40 for every person in the U.S., or about $120 for a family of four. This is happening today, not some distant point in the future.
These are still big, scary changes. Can you list some changes that aren’t so scary, but still going on right now?
Allergies are getting worse. Plants are producing pollen earlier and making more of it so people are having worse allergies.[xii]
I know some people would consider that to be a doomsday scenario. And, they would probably confirm that their allergies have been getting worse.
We can expect to see more and more changes to the ecosystems of the world and we live in those ecosystems which mean there are already lots of changes that are affecting us right now. This is already occurring, but it will happen more quickly in the future. Almost half of the world’s land area can expect to see its ecosystem change. Tundra, forests, grasslands will all turn into something different. Again, this isn’t the end of the world, but it will have a big impact and we will need to adapt.[xiii]
It’s pretty obvious that there will be lots of changes occurring and some of it is already happening. We really do need to make plans to adapt. There will be winners and losers. The winners will be the ones that make plans and the losers will be the ones that don’t. Kind of like the Eastman Kodak company. They were at the top of their industry but didn’t adapt when digital cameras came along. They are even the ones that invented the digital camera.
The problem with your statements, Tom, is that they don’t prove global warming is real. These are all good reasons for every one of us to be concerned with global warming, but if it isn’t real, then these problems won’t occur. I think most people would be concerned about these things you listed, but if they don’t believe the climate is changing, then they don’t believe these things will ever be a problem.
She makes a good point, Tom. We need to prove global warming is real. And, I don’t mean prove it to the scientists, but prove it to the person in the street.
It sounds like we have a job on our hands. Where do you want to start?
[i] Maxfield, John, Hurricane Sandy, one year later: Assessing the economic cost, Huffington Post, http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/hurricane-sandy-anniversary-economic-cost/, Oct 26, 2013
[ii] Romm, Joe, Superstorm Sandy’s link to climate change: ‘The case has strengthened’ says researcher, Climate Progress, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/28/2843871/superstorm-sandy-climate-change/, Oct 28, 2013
[iii] Biello, David, Climate change has helped bring down cultures, Scientific American, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/01/30/climate-change-has-helped-bring-down-cultures/, Jan 30, 2012
[iv] EPA, Climate impacts on agriculture and food supply, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/agriculture.html
[v] Strain, Daniel, Warming dents corn and wheat yields, Science News, vol. 179, no. 12, June 4, 2011, pg 15
[vi] Telewa, Muliro, Kenyon drought means no school rations, BBC News Africa, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12371130, Feb 8, 2011
[vii] Gleick, Peter H, and Matthew Heberger, Devastating drought seems inevitable in American west, Sci. Am., http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-coming-mega-drought, Jan 5, 2012
[viii] Than, Ker, Africans must adapt to drought in warming world: Report, Nat. Geo, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/12/111216-africans-adapt-rainfall-shortages-warming-world/, Dec 16, 2011
[ix] Parry, Wynne, Fierce heat waves and stronger storms coming, climate report warns, Live Sci., http://www.livescience.com/17111-extreme-weather-climate-change-report.html, Nov 18, 2011
[x] Rosen, Meghan, Tornado intensity climbing in the United States, Sci. News, Jan 25, 2014, pg 14
[xi] Morello, Lauren, NOAA Chief: 2011 Weather was “Harbinger of Things to Come”, Sci. Am., http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=noaa-chief-2011-was-harbi, Dec 8, 2011
[xii] Live Science, Top 10 Surprising results of global warming, http://www.livescience.com/11350-top-10-surprising-results-global-warming.html, Aug 16, 2011
[xiii] NASA, Climate change may bring big ecosystem changes, http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-387&cid=release_2011-387&msource=11387&tr=y&auid=10010673, Dec 14, 2011