6 Ways Global Warming Is Already Affecting The World That You Might Have Missed

I submitted this as a pitch to www.cracked.com and it was rejected for being too obvious to everyone, so I figured I'd post it here since I'd already written it.

We often hear about how bad global warming will be, but that’s not really a big deal because that’s a problem for future humans to deal with. Wouldn’t it suck though if previous generations thought that also and we’re their future humans. Well…there’s bad news…

6. It already costs us a bunch of money and lives

So the Earth might be warming already and that might cause some problems, but at least it doesn't cost us anything. Maybe we just run the AC a little more and colder regions run their heaters a little less and everything balances out? Maybe we just lose some coral? Just to make sure, a bunch of governments got together and commissioned a study through DARA and confirmed that is the case...it doesn't cost a thing. That, or that in 2010, it already cost ~1% of total GDP and killed ~400,000 people. It's actually the latter.

It's not a flat amount that hits everyone equally. The US hasn't seen very many issues (I'll touch on a few later) while things are pretty bad in places like Bangladesh (I'll talk about how they're worse later). In the words of Bangladesh's prime minister:

"One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10 per cent productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about four million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about US $2.5bn. That is about 2 per cent of our GDP. Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3-4 per cent of GDP. Without these losses, we could have easily secured much higher growth…" (source)

Wait...did she say that it's hurting food production already?

5. It's already getting harder to grow some crops

Humans need food and we grow a lot of it [citation needed]. Anything that negatively affects our ability to do that is problematic. Temperature changes and extreme weather are two things that can disrupt it, and global warming has apparently already changed temperature and weather patterns enough for us to notice it in crop yields.

Many studies have been carried out so far, and luckily, the drops in yields so far are only in exotic crops that no one cares about. Wait…sorry…they’re actually in crops like wheat, maize, and coffee. There is some benefit to crop production from increased CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s been outweighed by losses due to temperature increases and extreme weather events, and those are unfortunately only going to get worse. We can always just go outside and grow more stuff though, right? About going outside…

4. Temperatures have already increased by a really significant amount

Global temperatures have risen steadily over the past couple hundred years and are 1 to 1.5 degrees (Celsius) hotter now, depending on when you set your reference point. This might not seem like much, but it’s a pretty big deal. A 0.5 degree (Celsius) temperature increase is enough to increase the risk of heat-wave caused mass mortality events in India and a 1 degrees (Celsius) change is enough to significantly affect crop output, precipitation patters, and wildfire risk. Given that we’re already beyond that globally, the temperature increases are already an issue. XKCD provided my favorite way to explain this by noting that we’ve warmed about a quarter of an ice age so far. There are a lot of ways to capture what this means.

One is to look at temperature trends in cities. I wrote a tool a while back for looking at changes in summer high temperatures in various US cities that shows how the distributions in temperatures shift as overall temperature increases. Certain areas have also done analysis and found that they’re already seeing more extremely hot days than they’d projected for 15 years from now.

Another way is to look at heat waves. Many regions have shown an increase in heat waves in the past few decades (Table 2.13). and they are leading to larger numbers of deaths. The US is seeing an increase in massive heat waves while simultaneously seeing a drop in record cold days. Extreme heat events might already be 10 times more likely in Europe.

A final way to look at it is to note that people from my generation (I was born in the 80's) have never experienced a colder than average month.

Surely none of this is having a massive effect on something like our ice levels, right?

3. We've lost a lot of ice

Dammit. I guess ‘a lot’ is subjective so what does that mean? Ice levels fluctuate throughout the year so there’s not a single, obvious number to compare, but working with yearly averages, we’d lost ~8 Germanys worth of northern hemisphere sea ice by the end of 2016 (as compared with the average from 1981-2000). I think that counts as a lot. To make things worse, the loss is accelerating (~4 Germanys at the end of 2011 and ~3 at the end of 2006).

This is bad for a number of reasons, one being that sea ice acts sort of like an air conditioner for the world by reflecting massive amounts of sunlight and cooling the air around it (ice reflects ~10 times as much light as open ocean water). It’s no surprise then that temperatures have been hot at weird times in the arctic lately.

It isn’t just sea ice though. We’re losing land ice so quickly that it’s forming rivers in Greenland. We’re also losing permafrost. Luckily losing permafrost won’t do anything crazy like make the earth open up or release more greenhouse gases. About swallowing things [think of sweet joke about someone’s mom to put here] …

2. The Earth is swallowing things

The ocean is swallowing Miami. Seriously. They’re installing big pumps and trying to lift the city to deal with it, but it’s unclear if that will work long-term. There’s even a fun term called ‘sunny day flooding’ that describes floods that happen on sunny days. They’re in particularly bad shape because they can’t just build a sea wall to block it since the water is coming from underneath as well as outside the city.

Two effects described above are the primary causes of this: temperature increase and ice melt. Ocean water expands as it warms, and the ocean has more water if land ice melts and runs into it. Both are occurring.

The Earth is apparently swallowing roads and military installations. It's trying to swallow a freaking runway. It’s swallowing the largest naval base in the world. It’s swallowing a NASA facility. It’s swallowing entire Indonesian islands.

It’s a good thing that people can live underwater, though right?

1. The climate refugee crisis has already started

Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh) is currently going through a refugee crisis. It’s estimated that ~5 million of the ~7 million people living in slums there are climate refugees. Bangladesh is at particularly high risk for many reasons, and a big one is that much of it is prone to flooding with very small levels of sea level rise. This is already a massive issue and will only grow going forward.

One that you probably did hear about but is worth mentioning is the Arab spring and subsequent collapse of Syria (and maybe also Yemen). We can’t say that global warming caused the Arab spring as there were many causes that all worked together in the same way that we can’t say global warming caused a specific storm. Think performance enhancing drugs…no single home run can be pointed to as due to steroids, but they become more likely when used by already skilled players.

The general thought with the Arab spring is simplified as massive drought and heat waves in wheat exporting countries led to a drop in available wheat on the global market, droughts in the Middle East led to a need for more food from the global market, and this food shortage led people to flock to cities, riot, etc. A good write-up is here.

The downstream effects of all of this are well-covered in the news and were discussed constantly in this election cycle in the US (Syrian refugees, ISIS, etc.).

Finally, I forgot to answer my question earlier. Humans can’t live underwater (yet?) and it wasn’t asked, but Waterworld was a great movie and Kevin Costner is a great actor and this is a hill that I’m prepared to die on.

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