Diseases prefer sticky, hot climates. Bacteria flourish in wet, moist environments, from salmonella emerging in left-out meat to cholera outbreaks in the developing world in the summer. This poses a significant threat to public health, as the global temperature gage continues to crank.
Planetary warming scrambles our habitats to the full, helping to spread disease to previously unaffected areas. Only take malaria, which kills one million people every year at the moment, mainly in tropical regions. As warming accelerates and tropical areas of the World develop, more and more countries are becoming breeding grounds for malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit it.
Another well-known pest which carries disease is the tick. Responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, as the world warms up and its natural environment expands this little parasite has a major future ahead of it. As the author Mary Beth Pfeiffer states in Lyme: The First Climate Change Outbreak, Lyme disease in 2010 was non-existent in Japan and South Korea. Those countries have seen a increase in case numbers since then, including hundreds of South Koreans per year.
You may feel like pausing at this point and taking a deep breath. But this might not be a smart idea, depending upon where you live. We are currently in the midst of a global crisis in air quality and some countries suffer much more than others. But even the lucky ones with cleaner air won’t stay lucky much longer, because toxic air becomes the new standard and chokes more people to an early grave.
There is still a serious air crisis in today. 98 per cent of cities in the developing world are above the protection mark of the World Health Organization (WHO). Only breathing in the air of New Delhi in 2017 was the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day.
And those statistics are not even close to demonstrating the size of the issue today. At the moment, air pollution causes one in six deaths in the world-more than 10,000 people die every day from air pollution. These are absolutely preventable.
But perhaps the most cruel effect of air pollution is that it injures indiscriminately; children and pregnant women do not get any special care from New Delhi smog or from China’s smokestacks.
And it’s not just our bodies that are hurting-it ‘s even our minds. One research published in 2016 strongly associated pollution with increased mental illness in children; another recent study found it raised the risk of developing dementia in old age. And then there are the other mental effects of carbon dioxide concentration.
When this greenhouse gas is produced in large amounts, for example in stuffy environments, our brains are less successful in functioning. That is why after a brisk stroll, after a day spent working indoors, we feel awake and alert. Cognitive capacity decreases by 21 percent when carbon dioxide exceeds 930 parts per million. This is twice the amount in our atmosphere at the moment, but it is likely that we will reach this level before the year 2100. A brisk walk outside will reduce our brain capacity by a quarter if that happens.
Similar to bodily damage from foul air, this decline in mental performance doesn’t just live in the land of the “possibles” and “coulds.” It’s happening right now.
One 2018 study revealed that if Chinese air pollution was reduced to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) minimum standard for clean air, the nation’s verbal test scores would improve by 13 percent and its math scores by 8 percent.
So, climate change has a clear impact on our air. But what about water, the other essential element for human life? We live on a blue planet. Water covers 71 percent of the globe and is quite literally the essence of our existence. We use it to grow our food, stay hydrated and keep ourselves clean. It was in water that life first developed, and from which the majority of our bodies are made.
Freshwater is the most essential form of water for humans, by far. Yet it only accounts for 2 per cent of the supply of our planet – the remainder is saltwater. Moreover, only 1 percent of freshwater is available, with much of it being locked in glaciers or underground.
Believe it or not, that is not an problem. National Geographic once estimated that to grow the crops and quench the thirst of seven billion people, only 0.007 percent of Earth’s water is required. Much of this – between 70 and 80% – is directed at food production, with only a small amount being used for hydration.
Yet, in the coming decades , water shortage will become a core aspect of climate change. Global demand for freshwater is projected to reach 40 per cent availability by 2030. This increased demand would mainly come from agricultural production and may result in food shortages, causing even more farming – another example of a disruptive feedback loop. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that water demand from global food production is projected to increase by 50 percent in the next 30 years , largely due to rising populations.
At the same time, freshwater supplies are going to be strangled. In the last century, many of the world’s largest lakes started to dry up. Lake Chad in Africa, once as large as the Caspian Sea, has lost 95 percent of its volume since the 1960s; the Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the world’s fourth largest lake, has lost 90 percent.
Also, half of the world relies on spring melts from high-altitude snow for their freshwater. Global warming poses a huge threat to these snow deposits, threatening to turn snow-capped peaks into barren and dusty hills.
According to the UN, five billion people could have inadequate access to freshwater by 2050. And, as with any scarce resource, there are always groups willing to fight for control over them. The next decades of warfare will certainly contain water-driven conflicts, and in the next blink, we’ll look at the relationship between human conflict and climate change.
As if the disasters described in the previous blinks weren’t terrifying enough already, climate change can also negatively influence human behavior. Climate change plays a key role in driving human conflict. This can be small-scale and interpersonal, or widespread and international.
Hotter temperatures were related to a number of different events on a personal level. Heat makes car drivers honk their horns longer and raises the likelihood that a baseball pitcher with their throw will hit an opposition hitter. On a more troubling note, police officers performing hot-condition training drills are more likely to shoot at suspects.
Pollution is a big force driver too. Researchers found that high air pollution correlates with increased car theft, abuse, rape and murder in one study of 9,000 US cities. Another research estimated additional 22,000 murders and 3.5 million assaults in the US will result from climate change.
Trying to calculate the impact of global warming on wider human conflicts is more complicated. To say that a certain war is the direct result of heat or pollution would be unfair and inaccurate – all hostilities are complex, with a host of different causes and motives. But one thing is clear: Hotter temperatures increase the chance of armed conflict.
This happens for a variety of reasons. For example, climate-induced drought leads to reduced agricultural yields, putting pressure on food resources and increasing competition for them. Also, more natural disasters will increase the number of refugees and forced migrants, sparking social and political tensions.
For every half degree of climate warming, the chance of an armed conflict erupting anywhere in the world increases by 10 to 20 percent. This could be direct, from competition over scarce freshwater resources, or indirect, where existing tensions boil over in the heat.
And like many of the disasters we’ve explored so far, this one is happening today. Climate change has already increased African countries’ chances of conflict by over 10 percent; one study led by Stanford academic Marshall B. Burke argued that, by 2030, predicted temperatures on the continent would cause an extra 393,000 deaths in battle.
Things don’t look perfect, as you’ve been noticing by now. Unfortunately, increased misery is inevitable and we always feel helpless because of that. But we are also the writers of this sad tale and how violently it ends we can change. With such a bleak future facing us, it is normal to ask: What will you do to repair it?
There is good news and bad news in the answer to that question. Good news: We already have the infrastructure to make our environment clean. Bad news: They are impractical at the moment.
If we wanted to improve on our current best-case scenario of 3 degrees, it’s not enough to cut our emissions. Instead, we need something more aggressive – something which reduces the amount of carbon in the air. This approach is called negative emissions and comes in two forms.
The first is called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This works by burning biomass – waste material from plants, such as wheat stalks or corn cobs – to produce bioenergy.
Biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its lifetime, so on its own, the production of bioenergy would still emit carbon into the atmosphere. That’s why it is being combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. These involve capturing the carbon emitted from burning biomass and transporting it to storage sites, usually underground.
So by growing and burning biomass and capturing and storing the carbon emitted, we can actively reduce carbon levels in the air. The second negative emissions approach would also use CCS technology, but instead using machines to suck the carbon from the air. Luckily, these machines already exist. They’re about as complex as a modern car and cost roughly the same: $30,000.
The bad news is these solutions aren’t working on the scale we need them on. One research team concluded that, for BECCS to operate, it would take a third of the world’s farmable land, which is unlikely given the world’s food demand. Another study indicated that there is also a possibility that BECCS will add emissions to the atmosphere if applied incorrectly.
The other way-constructing large plants with carbon-sucking machines-is incredibly costly. If we were to create a tiny deficit of carbon by sucking out more than we generate every year, we would need 100 million machines. That would cost $30 trillion-40 % of the world ‘s GDP.
Both of these solutions are likely to decrease in price and increase in quality, but time runs out. How long will we wait? Every day that ticks, gives us the hope of greater suffering.
The condition is a great deal worse than we thought. Many numerous climate-related disasters endanger humanity’s well-being, some of which act as mutually reinforcing cascades, causing more warming and human suffering. Even our best chance of averting catastrophe, zero emission technology, is still a pipe dream. Time has run out but we still have a choice as to how serious the climate change consequences would be.
Check out my related post: How does a circular economy and retail economy go together?