I am surprised that so many people I know do not seem to take climate change seriously. When I read about the devastation our planet will likely suffer over the next few decades, and then consider our collective reluctance to make substantive changes to avoid these events, I don’t understand it. But recently I found a statistic that explains a lot. “Although 61% believe climate change will impact people in the United States, only 43% think it will affect them.” That’s less than half the population. So, what gives?
Using a climate risk report produced by Twenty-Four Seven, a company that assesses climate risks for financial markets, the NY Times reported that many people, despite the warnings, believe climate change is something “far away in time and space”. As an example, consider how an Ohio resident might react to a story depicting arctic glacier melting. “Tough for the polar bears but pretty far away from me.“ Or how a Nevada resident might think about the impacts of a hurricane in the gulf. “Sad, but pretty far away.” Even in Houston, which suffered massive flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey, not everyone in Houston was flooded. In fact, less than 9% of the population’s homes and apartments were affected by Harvey. So, perhaps the other 91% of folks could legitimately say “lot of rain, inconvenient, but it didn’t really affect me – what’s the big deal?”
It’s true, all parts of the U.S. will not experience the same climate change events – but the truth is that all parts of the country will be impacted by some climate change events. Take the gulf coast and the Atlantic – more hurricanes and flooding; the west coast – more wildfires; mid-America – more extreme heat, especially worsened by higher humidity; the east – more extreme rainfall; and the western half of the U.S. – more droughts and water stress. All of these events will affect quality of life and, because of climate change, the effects will continue to get worse over time. Without significant actions by policy makers and individuals, the situation will become irreversible; i.e., our environment will be what it is (or worse) instead of ever getting better.
This map illustrates the types of climate change impacts expected. The pink/red areas represent wildfires; tan/brown are water stress; orange represents extreme heat; blue represents extreme rainfall; and green represents hurricane areas. If you go to this link, you can examine an interactive version of this map and get more specific information.
While flooding, heat waves, hurricanes and droughts have been with us throughout history, we know that global warming and climate change are making these event occur more often, with more severity, affecting more people. In fact, a huge portion of the U.S. population is now at risk from various extreme weather impacts:
- 169 million people have a high risk of water stress;
- 104 million people have a high risk of hurricanes;
- 94 million people have a high risk of extreme rainfall;
- 92 million people have a high risk of heat stress;
- 22 million people have a high risk of sea level rise; and
- 7 million people have a high risk of wildfires.
Many individuals face multiple risks! Consider the San Francisco Bay Area – home to almost eight million people. It’s under multiple climate threats, including sea level rise, wildfires, water stress and excessive rainfall.
And in addition to the actual devastation to homes and property, Columbia University published a report outlining 10 Climate Change Impacts That Will Affect Us All. Climate change is already impacting homeowner’s insurance rates – which have increased more than 50% between 2005 and 2015. Many insurance companies are withdrawing from certain markets or revising their policies to contain separate (and higher) deductibles for certain types of losses. Similarly, homeowners will continue to see increases in their electric bills or even experience blackouts as things “heat up”. As cities and states intensify their mitigation efforts to protect against climate change, taxes will inevitably go up.
People are also experiencing more health risks, e.g., allergies, as the pollen season grows longer and air quality declines. Food prices are expected to continue to rise as growers realize lower yields as a result of increased flooding and droughts. Water quality will suffer as a result of increased contaminants associated with higher runoffs. Outdoor activities (working, recreation, exercise) will become more difficult due to the heat, and other changes in the environment (e.g., less snow in certain areas).
Bottom line, all of these conditions affect our quality of life, as we know it today. All of us will be impacted – initially, some more than others, and some more severely. But we all have a stake in our world and we need to do more personally, and also direct our policy makers to take significant steps to protect our future. If we choose not to take climate change seriously, it will become serious – too serious – before we know it. As illustrated in Sir David Attenborough film, A Life On Our Planet, our current trajectory for temperature increases will reach 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 and our species will be entering the 6th mass extinction of life on our planet.