Monday, July 4

The climate crisis will create two classes: those who can flee and those who cannot | Peter gleick

TO A few years ago, after giving a talk on water and climate change, a rancher from Arizona came up and asked if there would be enough water in the future for his cattle or if they should sell and move north. This week, I received an email from a retiring physician who, recognizing both his privileged financial situation and the personal nature of the decision, nonetheless asked if “it would be more advantageous / safer to consider moving to the Oregon or Washington coast. instead of staying in Southern California ”due to rising sea levels, extreme heat and the growing threat of wildfires. At an Independence Day party this weekend, a couple asked me if they should move from Colorado to Michigan due to increasing drought and water shortages in the western United States.

I receive these questions regularly and am encouraged and appalled by them. Encouraged because it suggests that the message about climate risks is finally getting out and people are beginning to reflect on the personal implications of those risks. Dismayed by the realization that the climate crisis will produce two classes of refugees: those who have the freedom and financial resources to try, at least for a time, to flee the growing threats in advance, and those who will be left behind to suffer. the consequences in the form of disease, death and destruction.

And I can’t answer you. Decisions about where to live, when we are fortunate enough to have the ability to choose, are deeply personal: a function of family, friends, work, wealth, and idiosyncratic preferences about community, health, the environment, and , yes, the climate and the weather. But, from a scientist’s point of view, certain facts about our changing environment are now patently unequivocal. Sea levels are rising and the risks of flooding and coastal storms, already extremely high in some places, are rising rapidly. Rising temperatures are already causing more extreme heat episodes, which have always been lethal and are increasingly so. Wildfires are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration in many parts of the world, threatening communities with death and destruction and causing severe air pollution for millions of people. The severity of droughts and floods is increasing in some regions, with consequences for the availability and quality of water and public health.

Worldwide, nearly 700 million people now live in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels and coastal storms. That number could hit 1 billion by 2050. Island nations like the Maldives, Seychelles, Kiribati and others could be completely wiped out by rising sea levels and storms. Even a rise of just one meter (39 inches), almost certainly inevitable now, will displace millions of people in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, causing trillions of dollars in property damage and loss.

The unprecedented heat waves that hit the planet recently are harbingers of the heat waves of the future. Temperatures above 49 ° C (120 ° F) swept across the Middle East a few weeks ago, sooner than ever. Death Valley reached 53.3 ° C (128 ° F), just shy of the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. Last week, the small town of Lytton, British Columbia, experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded in Canada, and was then ravaged by a brutal and rapid wildfire. And the World Meteorological Organization this week confirmed a new high temperature record for Antarctica.

The U.S. National Climate Assessment indicated that the period since 1950 in the southwestern United States has been hotter than any comparable period in the past 600 years, and temperatures continue to rise. Heat stress is already the leading cause of climate-related death in the United States, worse than hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods. In Europe, more than 20,000 people, mostly elderly, are already it is estimated that he dies annually from exposure to extreme heat. This problem is most severe in poorer communities that lack shade trees, air conditioning, and cooling shelters.

Each of these changes shows the fingerprints of man-made climate change. In response, humans who can move will move. Just as millions migrated over the past half century from the colder north to sunny and warm communities in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California, we will certainly see massive reverse migration in the next half century away from the coasts, hot extreme and water scarcity in places considered more favorable. We are already seeing refugees on the southern border of the United States fleeing countries suffering from droughts and disasters. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, some models suggest that more than a million climate refugees can move from Central America and Mexico to the United States. In April, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a report showing that climate and weather-related disasters already displace more than 20 million people a year, and a report from the Australian Institute of Economics and Peace suggests that more than 1 billion people could be displaced by climate and weather disasters by 2050.

How bad will it get? I don’t know because I don’t know how long our politicians will hesitate before finally tackling the climate crisis. I don’t know because there are natural factors that could slow down a bit or, more likely, enormously accelerate the rate of change, causing a cascade and accelerating disasters faster than we can adapt. But now we know enough to invest in reducing climate-changing gas emissions and begin to adapt to those impacts that we can no longer avoid. These changes are coming and the costs, especially for those left behind, will exceed anything our disaster management systems have had to deal with in the past.

  • Peter Gleick is a co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a hydrologist and climatologist, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.He lives about 30 meters above sea level, but only 900 meters from an extremely dangerous earthquake fault.

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