Climate Primer #33: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 16. Rural Threats and Deepening Poverty

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, food insecurity, deteriorating health, and urban threats. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

Just as posts before the most recent had already addressed many climate crisis-driven threats to urban centers, so too have many previous posts already outlined phenomena that threaten rural communities around the globe – phenomena which AR5 glosses as follows:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

Taken together, these multi-faceted threats to urban and rural communities globally are very likely to cause radical deterioration in the quality of life of billions of people, with the poor and socially marginalized at greatest risk of losing livelihoods, shelter, access to education, etc., etc. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic – with its rolling social, economic, and political impacts – can be seen as a modest dress rehearsal of what climate crisis may bring, even in optimistic scenarios, as class divisions are exacerbated and the world’s poor suffer disproportionate harm from catastrophe. In short, progress towards the the reduction of poverty (itself, often enough, a specious artifact of arbitrary definitions set by multilateral agencies) is likely to be reversed. Here’s another AR5 excerpt:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 73)

Giving myself permission to briefly editorialize, I fear that – in spite of all the numbing Hollywood disaster films and sensationalized news coverage of recent decades regarding (climate) apocalypse – few of us are prepared for the scope, scale, speed, intensity, and duration of trauma that is already largely “baked in” to our future. What is happening now on the west coast of the US (and in the Amazon, where the fires are as bad or worse as they were last year), what happened last winter in Australia – these are obviously not anomalous events, or once-in-a-century occurrences, but they are also not a culmination so much as they are a new beginning: The dawning of a very frightening era on planet Earth. The collective loss we stand to suffer – which, again, will be unevenly distributed in the extreme – is quite hard, and overwhelmingly sad, to comprehend, and yet, part of our task today is to understand what is more or less inevitable so we can avert what remains avertable of the harm. In a US context, Miami, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and perhaps even Los Angeles are not likely to thrive beyond the middle of this century as, variously, megadroughts, megastorms, floods, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, fires, heatwaves, infectious disease, toxic contamination, and extreme water shortages increasingly undercut the appeal of “the Sun Belt” – leaving some places increasingly unlivable, while making others simply unpleasant – in the process making obvious what always should have been clear: That building major population centers in the middle of deserts or in coastal floodplains subject to regular tropical storms is not a good idea. New York, and the Northeast broadly, may enjoy a longer grace period as the effects of climate crisis intensify, but it’s hard to imagine that the corridor from DC to Boston won’t likewise face existential challenges by the end of this century.

Climate Primer #32: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 15. Urban Threats

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, food insecurity, and deteriorating health. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

Although droughts, floods, heat waves, and water scarcity have all already been addressed in previous posts, given that more than 50% of the human population globally already lives in urban areas (with the UN projecting that nearly 70% may live in such areas by 2050), the specific threats that climate crisis poses for cities merit just the sort of specific attention that AR5 gives them:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

I live in New York City, so, of course, such urban particularities are of personal interest to me. Thankfully, New York is not particularly menaced by landslides or water scarcity (though the vulnerability of our water infrastructure could, at some point, put us into the position of being surrounded by water without having any uncontaminated water to drink), but all of the other threats outlined above by the IPCC apply here. To quote from the City’s own Environment & Health Data Portal: “Over the past century in New York City, average temperatures have increased by 0.25°F per decade, precipitation by 0.72 inches per decade, and sea levels by 1.2 inches per decade. By the 2020s, a projected 25-30 days above 90°F are expected in a typical summer, resulting in more frequent and intense heat waves.” These figures, in turn, were culled from the 2009 report “Climate Risk Information” from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and things have only grown worse in the ensuing decade, nor would I say that New York is doing a particularly worse job than its peer cities globally in (not) meeting the growing challenge of climate crisis.

Climate Primer #31: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 14. Deteriorating Health

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, and food insecurity. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

There are many ways in which climate crisis will undermine (and is already undermining) human health, a number of which have already been touched upon in previous posts, but this AR5 excerpt does a nice (which is to say, terrible and alarming) job of summarizing:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

Here in New York City, the mosquitoes have been noticeably worse in recent years, even with the City’s extensive eradication efforts (which include the use of a number of toxic substances), and I’ve never seen mosquitoes as bad here as they have been this summer. As one would expect, New York’s mosquito season also starts earlier now and lasts longer than it used to (last year, into December), and as novel diseases (West Nile, Zika, chikungunya) spread and old diseases (malaria, dengue, EEE) re-emerge as threats, residents of the Northeast of the United States can expect vector-borne infectious diseases to resume a dread character in our consciousness that, during the 20th century, was widely imagined had been relegated to the annals of a pre-Modern history – although, of course, vector-borne illness is only one of the multiple human health threats outlined above.

As is broadly the case with respect to climate crisis and climate action, every day that passes is a day during which collective resources dwindle and collective threats mount. Basically, there’s always no time like the present for climate action, and it will take remarkable, lasting, mass movement to drive the necessary public action to address climate crisis, so I hope you’ve committed yourself to being part of the struggle.

Brief bonus material today on the roots of the CDC in malaria control efforts in the US South. We can hope that someday soon, the institution is restored to some semblance of serving its mission.

Climate Primer #30: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 13. Food Insecurity

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, and water scarcity. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

Multiple previous posts have referenced or related to the risk of crop failures, reduction of arable land, and other threats (like the collapse of fisheries globally) to food security, but from a human standpoint, few concerns are more immediate than not having enough to eat, and, under climate crisis, the longstanding – and currently pandemic-exacerbated – global crisis of hunger stands, as AR5 outlines, to get much worse:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

The IPCC take is, admittedly, a little dense. As a plant lover and urban agriculture enthusiast, I think a lot about food, food systems, and what it takes to grow things, so I’m taking the opportunity now to share a number of different food-related resources, including: This Nature Climate Change article from December 2019 entitled “Changing risks of simultaneous global breadbasket failure”; this U.S. Right to Know piece entitled “Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry” (and this related Columbia Journalism Review piece on the undue influence of the Gates Foundation on the media); this new study entitled “Glyphosate-based herbicide residues in manure fertilizers decrease crop yield” on another threat related to the growing (corporate-driven) ubiquity of synthetic toxins in the biosphere (and, on the same tip, a new PNAS opinion piece entitled “Neonicotinoids pose undocumented threats to food webs”); and, finally, to round it out, this piece – entitled “Neoliberalism ‘colonized the palates’ of Mexicans, left high levels of obesity” – from the Mexico Daily News.

In thinking about our current warming trend and what it will mean for, among other things, food security, some bonus material courtesy of Axios and drawn from a recently released DNV GL report:

Source: https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-generate-7f41944b-ae99-4c63-8aab-5370b4276173.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosgenerate&stream=top

Climate Primer #29: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 12. Water Scarcity

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, and deforestation. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

A previous post highlighted freshwater consumption as a key planetary boundary; unfortunately, multiple intersecting aspects of climate crisis are now converging to reduce the availability of safe drinking water across much of the world, including in heavily populated parts of South Asia, North Africa, and western North America. As AR5 puts it:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 67); obviously, there’s a cruel irony in simultaneously increasing risks of both water scarcity and major floods.

And further:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69); note, that, unfortunately, most of Earth’s human population does not live at high latitudes.

At the risk of redundancy, this sentence from the second excerpt above stands out: “The interaction of increased temperature; increased sediment, nutrient and pollutant loadings from heavy rainfall; increased concentrations of pollutants during droughts; and disruption of treatment facilities during floods will reduce raw water quality and pose risks to drinking water quality”; although New York City is fortunate to enjoy access to ample freshwater for even its massive population, events in recent years have shown how aging infrastructure combined with negligence and lack of public funding (lead), corporate malfeasance and regulatory capture (PFAS), and extreme weather events (Superstorm Sandy) can threaten access to safe drinking water even in a place like New York. As I’ve noted previously, I think it’s correct to claim that all 14 of NYC’s wastewater treatment facilities are at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges.