Dr. Kaushik Sridhar

Threat to the Ecosystem and “Human System”

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Threats to the Ecosystem

The public often learns about the potential impacts of climate change through “photogenic species such as coral and polar bears,” but scientists know the damage to ecosystems is much more far-reaching in its potential impact. A 2°-3°C [3.6°-5.4°F] rise in temperature puts nearly one-third of all plants and animals at “high risk for extinction.” New analysis shows ground-dwelling species are moving to more elevated land and to higher latitudes at rates of 11 meters [36.09 feet] and 17 kilometres [10.56 miles] every 10 years, respectively – except for those who search lower ground for scarce water. As ocean temperatures climb, expect disruptions to sea life: Western US trout habitats will decline, and many types of coral will become extinct. The more carbon emissions, the higher “ocean acidification” climbs and the greater the loss of mollusks and crustaceans, which will no longer be able to form and re-form their shells.

Forests store enormous quantities of carbon in plants and soil, and trees absorb “atmospheric carbon.” Deforestation seriously affects carbon levels, and climate change – by influencing precipitation levels – raises the risk of wildfires, leading to further deforestation. Even areas not historically prone to forest fires, such as the US Southwest, Northern Europe and Siberia, may see more fires and less trees and vegetation if climate change continues.

Threats to Humans

As a result of climate change, scientists expect “human systems” to suffer from damage to health and living conditions. Agriculture can anticipate lower yields due to changes in temperature, water availability and carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Developing countries could see “yield losses” of 20% to as much as 50% in some African regions.

Close to 40% of all the people in the world live in coastal areas. Rising sea levels mean more frequent and more severe flooding that could cause mass inland migrations, as “storm surges pose a significant risk” to those who reside within 100 kilometres [62.14 miles] of a shore. The cities most at risk of inundation include New York, Miami, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo and Amsterdam.

Climate change will affect human health as malnutrition becomes more prevalent. Scientists project that deaths from “heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts” will increase, as will the incidence of infectious illnesses. In Bangladesh, scientists already blame “ocean atmospheric variability” for cases of cholera, while rising sea levels have added salinity to potable water supplies, resulting in a rise in “hypertension during pregnancy.” Global warming allows disease-carrying mosquitoes to expand their territories; parts of the world that now do not see incidences of dengue fever will have to contend with a new disease.

Rising air temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable for humans – they’re dangerous. A 7°C [12.6°F] increase in mean global temperatures would render some parts of the world inhospitable without air conditioning; a 12°C [21.6°F] rise would make some currently population-dense regions unliveable. Economists project that this would decimate the global economy. Climate change is making wet areas wetter and dry areas drier, exacerbating problems for regions already at peak stress from either too much water or too little. Climate scientists expect that, if nothing more happens, the globe will experience a 4.2°C [7.56°F]temperature increase by the end of this century. Food production will decline, weather patterns will intensify and sea levels will rise, resulting in more disease, injury and death. Children will suffer these consequences.

While the global nature of climate change means we are all in the same boat, some of us have much nicer cabins than others.

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