Terrifying insights into climate change could build legislative momentum for emissions cuts, researchers argue

August 7, 2018 by Christine Clark, University of California - San Diego
Credit: University of California - San Diego

New research in climate science indicates that extreme events, such as heat waves, the collapse of major ice sheets, and mass extinctions are becoming dramatically more probable. Though cuts in rising emissions appear unlikely with the stalled 2015 Paris agreement, University of California San Diego scientists argue that new developments present an opportunity to shift the politics around climate change.

For the first time, scientists can make a strong case that no one is exempt from the extreme and immediate risks posed by a warming world.

The findings were recently published in a Foreign Affairs piece led by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and co-authored with David Victor, a professor of political science at UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. They collaborated with Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences members Msgr. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Partha Dasgupta, and Joachim von Braun.

In the article, the authors outline a variety of grim impacts scientists predict will have on and food supply in the near future. But this does represent an opportunity: These same consequences from climate change on developing economies may give rise to the political capital needed to make deep cuts in carbon emissions.

Wealthier economies feeling the heat

Scientists long believed that because wealthier societies had the resources to adapt to a warmer world, that poor countries would suffer more, even though the wealthiest one billion people around the world are responsible for more than 50 percent of emissions. However, Ramanathan and Victor point out that new studies show that the rich are far more exposed than anyone realized—especially to deadly heat.

"Massive fires in Sonoma and Napa, the richest wine-growing areas in the United States, may have a larger political impact than distant crises—just as in Japan and super-fires in Europe are having a political impact there," the authors noted.

The opinion piece originated in a meeting organized in November 2017 at the Vatican by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Ramanathan, Sanchez Sorondo from the Vatican, and Dasgupta of Cambridge University. A declaration from the event urging governments and other stakeholders to take the scalable and practical solutions was signed by several Nobel laureates, the late physicist Stephen Hawking, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Rep. Scott Peters, and mayors of several major European cities.

A hot planet is bad for human health

Today, scientists can also more clearly convey the rising risk of that will have major consequences for human welfare. For example, researchers forecast that beyond 2050, as much as 44 percent of the planet's land areas will be exposed to drying. This will lead to severe drought conditions throughout southern Europe, North America, much of southeast Asia, and most of the Amazon—affecting about 1.4 billion people. There is also a heightened risk of more extreme rainfall which will expose an additional two billion people to floods.

If realized, these disastrous predictions will have major impacts on human health in a variety of ways.

"Beyond 2050, there is a 50-percent probability that about half of the world's population will be subject to mean temperatures in the summer that are hotter than the hottest summer on record unless the world takes immediate and large-scale action," the authors wrote. "In the most highly populated regions of the world, by the end of the century, there are 10- to 30-percent chances of heat waves greater than 130 degrees Fahrenheit."

They added that heat and droughts threaten regions that produce much of the world's food. Food prices are expected to rise 23 percent by 2030, making food markets more volatile, and under heat stress, the nutritious content of food crops is declining.

"Extreme weather disasters also have negative impacts on mental health. When heat is over 130 degrees, whole societies can come unglued," the authors wrote.

And, to make matters worse, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects, such as malaria and dengue fever, seem likely to proliferate as the habitats of mosquitoes expand, thanks to climate change, indicating the worst is yet to come.

A silver linings playbook

Victor and Ramanathan urge, however, that there's still time to act and the scientific community can lead the effort: "To communicate these new findings, scientists also need to think about how they influence society, in particular, they should build new partnerships with groups that shape how societies frame justice and morality, including religious institutions."

In the years to come, it is expected that more than half of the population may be exposed to extreme heat waves and perhaps one-third to vector-borne diseases. With few immune to these negative effects, the authors recommend that activists along with the scientific community should seek alliance with faith leaders, health-care providers, and other community leaders as part of the strategy on combating climate change.

"In particular, even when they do not share the same notion of God, faith leaders should act both together and separately in their own communities to preserve human dignity and our common home." They added, "the silver lining in all of this, if there is one, is that a recognition of the nasty and brutish new normal may yet mobilize the political support needed to make a dent in global emissions."

Explore further: Climate change-driven droughts are getting hotter, study finds

Related Stories

Science Says: Record heat, fires worsened by climate change

July 28, 2018

Heat waves are setting all-time temperature records across the globe, again. Europe suffered its deadliest wildfire in more than a century, and one of nearly 90 large fires in the U.S. West burned dozens of homes and forced ...

Recommended for you

Ocean acidification may reduce sea scallop fisheries

September 21, 2018

Each year, fishermen harvest more than $500 million worth of Atlantic sea scallops from the waters off the east coast of the United States. A new model created by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), ...

12 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MikeDanger
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 07, 2018
Then of course there is evidence to the contrary...

Jan Esper of Esper et al (2012, 2013) demonstrates recent temperatures easily falls within the range of normal temperatures when viewed against a mean established from a 2,000 year timeline. Both Roman and Medieval periods were as warm or warmer than recent temperatures without catastrophic climate but rather longer growing seasons and increased agricultural production.

How is this article not an example of scar-mongering by political activists masquerading as scientists in pursuit of federal funding?
julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 07, 2018
Admitting the cause of conditions can be crucial and almost no one wants to admit it's really "chemtrails".
They began in the early '50's and were invisible then, but they caused the number of tornadoes per year to go from a nearly constant 180 to eight or none times that number now. Many refuse to admit that the number of tornadoes per year has risen. They try to say, for example, there are more tornadoes reported now because there are more people. The population rose 250% since the '505's, but the number of tornadoes rose 700% to 800%! Also, the population more than doubled from 1900 to 1950, but the number of tornadoes remained constant. Chemtrails also caused the development of the first new cloud since the founding of the Cloud Atlas, cirrus intortus, and the only December hurricane on record, Alice, in 1955.
julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 07, 2018
By 1997, the atmosphere had become so saturated with weather modification chemical spread by chemtrails that new contributions precipitated out. That's when chemtrails became visible. 1997 is also the year manifestations associated with climate change began! Like the worst hurricane season; the worst "el Nino" event; accelerated melting of glaciers; the warmest years on record; the disappearance of bees; the Northwest Passage becoming open; tornadoes forming where they used to be unknown, like Brooklyn; the first new cloud species since cirrus intortus, undulatus asperatus. The increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air since 1997 is not necessdarily big enough to explain the massive manifestations since then.
But trust the "scientists" to decided to whip up deliberate scare mongering propaganda to try to make people think the way they want them to.
howhot3
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 07, 2018
As much as we all would like global warming to go away, its here to stay. Its a consequence of the industrial revolution and like toads being slowly boiled, we began by using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for the pollution of industrialism. Now that pot is starting to warm up and people are taking notice, we have a situation where a small group of toads wants to keep warming the pot, and the majority is trying to jump out, reach for the burner nob and turn the flame off.

The scientist have warned us about global warming for a while and the message should be obvious by now about how just adding a few degrees to the average and inflate normal weather into severe, and severe into catastrophic. When the Arctic ice cap is gone, the amount of change to climate is hard to imagine. But the apocalypse is at the door knocking right now.
Care to let him in?
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
Jan Esper of Esper et al (2012, 2013) demonstrates recent temperatures easily falls within the range of normal temperatures when viewed against a mean established from a 2,000 year timeline. Both Roman and Medieval periods were as warm or warmer than recent temperatures without catastrophic climate but rather longer growing seasons and increased agricultural production.

Can you point to the papers that make this claim? The ones I can find do not. It's usually considered courteous to link to the papers your discussing so we're on the same footing. A likely source is "Orbital forcing of tree-ring data" (https://www.blogs...eCC6.pdf ). However, it only looks at northern Scandinavia, so obviously says nothing about global warming over the last 2000 years. It's very well known that the MWP was only a regional event.

(Cont.)
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
In fact, Esper is clearly aware that, globally, the current warming greatly exceeds all warming for the last 2000 years since he is an author of "Continental-scale temperature variability during the past two millennia" (http://210.72.92....nnia.pdf ) which does look at the global temperatures. From that paper's abstract:
Recent warming reversed the long-term cooling; during the period AD 1971–2000, the area-weighted average reconstructed temperature was higher than any other time in nearly 1,400 years.

So 1971-2000 completely reversed any cooling trend and that doesn't even include the > .3C that the earth has warmed since 2000. Doing that makes the current warming > at least the last 7000 years, and likely further than that.

(Cont.)
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
But none of this really matters because what you're really ignoring is that there is always a reason for the climate to cool or warm. Something must cause the change in the climate, whether that something be the sun, our orbit, volcanoes, continental movement or, yes, changes in greenhouse gases. The causes of the warming since ~1970 are quite well understood and by far the primary cause is due to humans. And, since greenhouse gases are still increasing, the recent warming is going to continue.
doogsnova
1 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
"Destruction of the environment as the consequence of overpopulation"
https://billymeie...tion.pdf
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2018
For those who admire the abortion mill doctors and would prefer that late-term and live abortions continue for the sake of eliminating as many generations of babies who will grow up to be adults with mouths to feed, perhaps you would also like to eliminate your own future children and those of your family, friends and neighbors in the same way. Some may want to use the aborted carcasses of beautiful babies as dogfood additives to avoid cattle and other meat products being raised on farms where such animals emit CO2 and Methane. Yes, there are a number of ways to slow Global Warming/CC, but the best is to kill off the human population until only the Elite are left to enjoy the fruits of the Earth. Isn't that right, howhot?
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
For those who admire the abortion mill doctors and would prefer that late-term and live abortions continue for the sake of eliminating as many generations of babies who will grow up to be adults with mouths to feed, perhaps you would also like to eliminate your own future children and those of your family, friends and neighbors in the same way. Some may want to use the aborted carcasses of beautiful babies as dogfood additives to avoid cattle and other meat products being raised on farms where such animals emit CO2 and Methane. Yes, there are a number of ways to slow Global Warming/CC, but the best is to kill off the human population until only the Elite are left to enjoy the fruits of the Earth.

So I have SEU on ignore, but sometimes I like to see what the crazies comment. This has got to be one of the most bizarre straw man logical fallacies I've seen. Something is clearly wrong with SEU's mind.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2018
...which obviously means that either you approve of late term and live birth abortions or you don't follow the news very often. The murder of innocent babies through abortion is within the realm of eugenics, which is one of the ways that the Global Warmists condone to rid the populations of excess humans.
zz5555
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2018
Ok, so you're a troll. No one is mind boggling stupid enough to claim that understanding science (i.e., your "global warmists") is equivalent to approving eugenics. You're just commenting here to get a rise out of people.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.