Climate Change Is About People

On the heels of new reports uncovering potentially massive economic losses due to climate change, we at Climate Dads return to our series reviewing the basic topics of climate change. This post, republished from our friends at Crowdsourcing Sustainability, reminds us that the impacts will be more than financial or environmental.

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, or about all of the animals and plants that are becoming extinct. No, at its core climate change is about people. It’s about our safety and having what we need to get by. You know, the basics that so many of us take for granted today.

The reality is that climate change around the world will result in an unbelievable amount of suffering, death, and change like humans have never seen before. Unfortunately, that is not hyperbole and I don’t say it lightly.

Climate change attacks us from all angles. It decreases the supply of our most basic necessities: fresh-water, food, health, and safe places to live. Natural disasters will become more commonplace. Mass migration and instability will occur more often due to more frequent crop failures, water scarcity, destruction of basic infrastructure, power outages, sudden storms, and consistently extreme weather around the world. When people can no longer support themselves in the places they live, they are forced to leave their homes.

This is already happening to millions of people around the world today. They are in this situation through no fault of their own. Many were born into it. The desperation of their situation is revealed by the questions they must likely ask themselves: Should we leave our home? Where else can we go? Will it be safe there? How will I provide for my family? Will we ever be able to come back home?

As I mentioned earlier, 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes each year since 2008 due to sudden, extreme weather events linked to climate change (UN Refugee Agency). This figure does not account for people affected by the non-sudden or “slow-onset climate change impacts” such as decreasing crop productivity, water shortages, or sea level rise. The World Bank published a study in March 2018 saying that over 143 million people in just three regions of the world could become internal climate migrants by 2050. The number of potential refugees could be reduced by 100 million if GHG emission reductions are ramped up aggressively.

According to the UN, 600 million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level and 2.4 billion live within 60 miles (100 km) of the coast. The last time Earth was 2℃ warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, the sea was 16 to 32 feet higher (5 to 10 meters) than it is today. The general consensus is that we’re not expected to reach that level anytime soon, but it should serve as a warning because it has happened before, so such extremes are possible. Already 90 U.S. communities are dealing with chronic flooding. That number is expected to rise to 170 in the next 20 years.

In 2050, the world's projected population of 2.5 billion people is 33% more than the 7.5 billion today. The majority will be born in low-income countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change – the same countries that have contributed the least to the climate change.

The global supply of water will be 40% short of demand by 2030. And by 2050 we will need 60% more food than we are producing today (UN). Climate change poses serious risks to each of these vital resources.

More people + less resources = not good

The World Health Organization (WHO) “conservatively estimates that climate change will cause some 250,000 additional deaths per year by the 2030s”.

The US Department of Defense has called climate change a “threat multiplier." They see it causing instability in regions around the world. According to the Pentagon, “climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.”

In 2017 a group of retired military officers wrote in a letter to top White House officials, “Climate change poses strategically significant risks to U.S. national security, directly impacting our critical infrastructure and increasing the likelihood of humanitarian disasters, state failure, and conflict.”

US military officers don’t mess around. Those are very strong words. Our modern civilization is more fragile than most of us realize. Climate change is exposing its weaknesses. As the military officers explained, humanitarian disasters, state failure, and conflict become more likely.

Stopping climate change matters because doing so keeps people safe and well. Millions of people are having their lives turned upside down by climate change today. Even more will suffer going forward. Even if you live in a particularly wealthy region, not expected to experience many dramatic impacts, I hope you can start to get an idea of how climate change will affect you. Climate change's impacts will pervade the global web of people, resources, infrastructure, geopolitical relationships, civility, and trade that makes the world tick.

Crowdsourcing Sustainability, founded by Ryan Hagen, is a community of people from around the world united by the need for climate action. Whether you want to learn about climate change and sustainability, share your knowledge and stories with others, get inspired, or connect with people who share your vision of a better world, get started by connecting with Crowdsourcing Sustainability.

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