The immediate thoughts most people have when “climate change” comes to mind – assuming they aren’t a denialist bathing in conspiracy theories – are ones of environmental destruction, sea-level rise, and stronger hurricanes. However, the social and economic impacts of the wide-reaching man-made phenomenon are rarely thought of.
Studies have been conducted on the socio-economic impact of climate change before, but a new review published in Science hopes to highlight the damage we our doing to our own species, and not just every other one. Analyzing many pre-existing, cutting-edge studies, the team from the University of California, Berkeley, conclude that even with our technological prowess and ingenuity, famine, economic collapse, and war will hang like a specter over our heads long into the future.
“During the modern warm period, hotter conditions increase collective violence in settings as diverse as insurgency in India, land invasions in Brazil, and civil war intensity in Somalia,” the authors write. “This relationship [between temperature and conflict incidences] is linear.”
Agriculture, for one, is in dire straights. Although new crop breeds appear all the time, they simply are not able to keep up with the pace of temperature change. As a result, maize crop yields in the US will, by 2100, have dropped by up to 82 percent. Globally, between 1981 and 2002, trends in temperature have cost the world $5 billion a year in lost crop yields.
Crops will fail faster in the future. sorayut/Shutterstock
Speaking of the economy, it’s not looking good. High temperatures disrupt low-skill work like manufacturing and agriculture. As these industries drive much of the higher economy, a detriment to them is a detriment to us all. In addition, more powerful natural disasters directly rob nations of their cash.
At present, this is causing the global economic growth rate to shrink by nearly 0.3 percent per year. By 2100, the global GDP will have shrunk by 23 percent of its present value. One study suggests the US alone will lose $2 trillion by 2030.
Perhaps most shocking is how climate change will affect warfare. Areas that lack basic food and water resources, along with having distinctly uneven distributions of wealth, tend to exhibit a higher propensity towards conflict. This review notes that between 1981 and 2006, warfare in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by more than 11 percent, and by 2030, annual incidence of war will have jumped up 54 percent.
Violent crime also correlates with increased temperatures. Although the underlying causes are highly complex, temperature-induced stress will, according to one study in the review, contribute towards an extra 180,000 rape cases, 22,000 murders and 1.2 million aggravated assault cases in the US by the end of the century.
“In a thought experiment where we hold all other factors constant,” the authors write, “these recent findings directly suggest that hotter locations with more extreme rainfall patterns and more major disturbances, such as tropical cyclones, will generally face additional health costs, lower productivity, and additional economic costs, greater population movement, and higher rates of violence.”
There is hope, of course. The groundbreaking Paris agreement has just been ratified by the world’s most prolific greenhouse gas emitters, the US and China, paving the way for other sizable nations around the world to officially join the pact. It’s not enough to stop us breaching that hallowed (if arbitrary) 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit, but many think that it will gradually be strengthened over time.
A recent review by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed that the oceans absorb up to 90 percent of our carbon emissions. Without them, the rate of temperature change over the last century wouldn’t be just 10 times above a naturally expected average, but a remarkable 360 times. Already, humanity is facing climate change disasters like never before, even with a vast blue carbon sink shielding us against our worst nightmares.
This carbon sink is filling up quickly, though – and so we face a choice. Cut emissions and change the future, or go full steam ahead and watch the world burn.
If it weren't for the oceans, we'd be literally doomed right now. clarkography/Shutterstock