A flurry of recent reports and scientific studies has underscored the urgency of taking carbon pollution seriously.
• Despite the economic downturn, The Guardian recently reported the disturbing news that carbon dioxide emissions hit an all-time record in 2010 – now reaching a point where it will be increasingly difficult to avoid a 2-degree-Celsius- increase in temperature. Keeping carbon pollution and average global temperatures below this level is considered crucial to avoiding “dangerous” climate change.
Those of us in the U.S. still recovering from a long, hard winter are ready for warm weather. But how warm? It’s been too hot already, with much of the Northeast U.S. and Britain experiencing record spring heat waves.
Looking at the very long-range forecast, we may be in for more.
• By the time this year’s high school seniors are pushing 40, tropical regions in Africa, Asia and South America could see “the permanent emergence of unprecedented summer heat,” according to a Stanford University study to be published this month in the journal Climatic Change Letters. And, within 60 years, according to the researchers, the middle latitudes of Europe, China and North America – including the United States – are likely to experience elevated average temperatures in which even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the late 20th century.
Meanwhile, turning to the effects of climate change on vulnerable people around the world, several recent reports focused on food security, humanitarian aid and disaster response.
• Researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security examined regions at risk of crossing “climate thresholds”— such as becoming too hot to grow maize (corn) or beans — that could reduce food production within 40 years. The report, “Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics,” identified regions where hotter, drier growing seasons may overlap with populations already struggling with food security, what lead author Polly Ericksen called “a troubling combination.”
According to the report, populations in West Africa and South Asia (India), but potentially also in China and Latin America, are “highly-vulnerable” to disruptions in crop yields on which local people depend.
• Another study, “An Ounce of Prevention,” by Oxfam America and CAN (a nonprofit research organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research) found that disasters like floods and tropical storms, as well as gradual problems like desertification, will weaken already unstable countries and require an increase in U.S. military assistance. The authors suggest the U.S. government should seize a window of opportunity to address problems in the aid delivery system before the frequency and severity of disasters intensifies.
• And the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, a collaboration between Columbia University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reported that the number of climate-related disasters worldwide rose from an average of 224 annual events in the 1990s to 347 disasters a year between 2000 and 2009 (financial losses rose from $50 billion to $72 billion a year). Better disaster preparedness measures, such as seasonal climate forecasts, can reduce costs and protect lives, according to the report.
From this recent spate of sobering climate news, you can see the progression: higher emissions … hotter temperatures … bigger threats to life, health and prosperity.
The news about climate change can be overwhelming – perhaps why we are prone to close the newspaper (or the Web browser) with a sigh and go on about our day.
• One bright spot: 71 percent of Americans say global warming should be a very high (13%), high (27%), or medium (31%) priority for the president and Congress. The survey, Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in May 2011, was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
So, we can’t give up. We all need to act (click here for tips on what you can do today) and to speak out. Tell us what you’re doing to prepare for climate impacts in your area.
And let your leaders know you care about your air, water, soil and climate. They clearly aren’t hearing us yet.
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and feature writer for The Nature Conservancy.
Photo by: Neil Palmer (CIAT) International Center for Tropical Agriculture (Photos of people in the Mount Kenya region, October 2010, for the Two Degrees Up project, to look at the impact of climate change on agriculture).
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