The New York Times reports that most Americans believe that our climate is changing, and a majority of them feel that the combustion of coal should be scaled back. But, what lags in public opinion is the motivation to do very much else about climate change. Most people don’t think climate change will matter to them.
Let me offer some arguments that should alert even the most apathetic of readers.
Sea level Rise: A warmer climate will cause ice caps on mountains, Greenland, and Antarctica to melt, putting additional water into the oceans. Sea level is expected to rise five inches during the next 20 years, flooding coastal cities such as New York, Washington, Miami, Houston and others worldwide at storm surge. About 40% of Americans live at or near the coast. The cost of protecting coastal cities from the rising seas will be extraordinary, and no coast is immune, since the ocean functions as a single bathtub.
Farming and Food: There is no better predictor of where crops grow than climate. When climate changes so will the distribution of agricultural activity and productivity. One recent study suggests an annual decline of 2-4% in crop productivity in the United States at a result of anticipated changes in climate, returning us to the crop yields of 40 years ago. Expect to pay more for bread, cereal and beef as climate change unfolds. And remember that agricultural commodities are traded in a global market, where the Chinese have great demands.
Health and Disease: Similarly, there is no better predictor of the occurrence and virulence of insect-borne diseases than climate—especially temperature and precipitation. Expect a greater occurrence of dengue, Zika, and other mosquito-borne diseases in the Southeast. Expect an expansion in the occurrence of tick-borne disease, such as Lyme disease, in the Northeast. And if you are allergic to poison ivy, note that it grows faster and with more virulence at high CO2.
Immigration: Following my arguments for agricultural productivity, expect a greater global migration of people leaving Africa and the Middle East as a result of drought, crop failures, and famine in these regions. This will put increasing pressure on European countries and the United States to resolve their policies regarding immigration. Do we simply let these people starve due to changing climate in their homeland? For a poignant description of the ongoing immigration pressures, watch Tom Friedman’s upcoming documentary: Years of Living Dangerously.
Drought and Forest Fires: Warmer temperatures cause greater amounts of evaporation, drying out the land surface. Expect a greater occurrence of forest fires and rising expenses to fight them in a hotter, drier climate of the future. This trend is also likely to increase the price of forest products and housing.
Hunting: If you are a hunter (or a bird-watcher), look to lower populations of game species as climate change reduces favorable habitats, on top of the unrelenting pressure that land development puts on nature. Hunters, if you are worried that environmentalists are amongst those who want to outlaw firearms, remember that without decent habitat, there will be nothing to shoot at.
Business and Profits: If you are in the business of producing maple syrup, fishing for lobster, running a ski area, or producing wine (and perhaps a host of other businesses), look to the oncoming changes in climate to reduce your yield and perhaps change the regions in which you can function to other regions where you are not now located.
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