Ever come down with Lyme disease? Do you suffer from asthma? Think climate change might have something to do with it? Before you write off this thought as crazy consider the numbers.
The World Health Organization estimates that a minimum of 140,000 people currently die each year around the globe from the effects of climate change. That number does not include the millions more who are made ill from diseases such as asthma, heatstroke or malaria nor does it account for those that are otherwise physically harmed, for example from extreme weather events.
As if these numbers aren’t bad enough, Americans are largely unaware of the impact climate change is already having on their health. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conducted a nationwide survey this spring asking respondents to give, “their best estimates of the impacts of global warming on human health worldwide – currently and 50 years from now. The largest proportion of respondents (38% to 42%) simply said, ‘I don’t know.’ The next largest proportion (27% to 39%) said either ‘no one’ or ‘hundreds’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming each year, either now or 50 years from now.”
“Only 18% to 32% of Americans said, correctly, that each year either ‘thousands’ or ‘millions’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming, either now or 50 years from now.”
One look at the conclusion of the health chapter of the recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment demonstrates that hundreds of climate experts see the danger from the global warming review they conducted over the past four years, “Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States.”
We need to begin making the realization that global warming is here, it’s already killing some of us and there is no time to lose in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Americans are especially prone to think that technology will save us. Perhaps, but perhaps not. A new study argues that climate engineering may not be the answer to averting a climate change catastrophe. You know what will definitely help? Reducing what you can and offsetting the rest. Let’s get to it posthaste.
Global warming and extreme weather caused by climate change are costing companies millions finds a new report from CDP released this month. The white paper titled, Major public companies describe climate-related risks and costs says, "Each year, CDP requests climate-change-related disclosures from public companies on behalf of a growing number of institutional investors. In 2014, the request for disclosure was sent on behalf of 767 institutional investors with $92 trillion in assets. This report presents key findings and responses provided by S&P 500 companies across economic sectors to the risk-related questions in CDP's annual disclosure requests from 2011 to 2013."
Companies reported risks such as damage to facilities, reduced product demand, lost productivity and necessitated write-offs, whose totals run into the millions of dollars.
The paper goes on to say, "Findings show that S&P 500 companies assess physical risks from climate change to be increasing in urgency, with physical disruptions and cost impacts already being felt.
45% of risks were described by companies as current or predicted to fall within the next 1-5 years in 2013, up from 26% in 2011
50% of the risks disclosed were described as more likely than not to virtually certain in 2013, up from 34% in 2011
68% of the disclosed physical risks were direct to operations in 2013, up from 51% in 2011"
This is not merely theory either. Approximately 60 companies gave examples of current and potential future risks and their associated costs in the research, including:
Wildfires in San Diego caused Sempra Energy’s costs to exceed its $1.1 billion of liability insurance coverage
Consolidated Edison’s costs related to Superstorm Sandy topped $431 million.
Gap reported higher material costs for cotton arising from precipitation changes and drought in China
Companies are poised to make a real difference in the fight on climate change while strengthening their bottom line. Mitigating the risks from climate change simply makes good business sense considering a study by Business for Social Responsibility published last month which says the exposure to the risks from climate change are on the rise. Some estimate the cumulative global cost could be as high as $4 trillion by 2030. The time to act is now. These costs are only going to increase the longer we delay investing in a low-carbon future.
The National Climate Assessment was released this week, which summarizes climate change's impacts on the United States, now and in the future. Produced by a team of more than 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, the study was also extensively reviewed by the public, federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.
The report finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, global warming could exceed 10 degrees by the end of the century. A quote from the study's overview says, "This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country."
This scientific report is mandated by Congress and is the pinnacle of years of work by hundreds of the nation's leading climate experts. They reviewed the scientific literature and summarized how climate change is affecting our country. The two main conclusions are:
The planet's climate is changing; it is apparent across the U.S. and the last 50 years' worth is chiefly due to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
Extreme weather is on the rise in recent decades and new, stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are human-caused.
Our homes, food, water and the very air we breathe are being affected.
Global warming is more than something that our children and future generations will face. It is our reality now. Climate change is already affecting our country and economy. Now that the situation is hitting home, perhaps we will start to make the changes we must make to reduce our carbon footprints and fund clean energy projects.
Read the most recent National Climate Assessment's Overview here.
Earth Day is here! It's a great day to plant trees and here is your chance to enter a drawing for a $500 Restaurant.com eGift card and also we'll plant 100 trees on behalf of the winner. For every $25
donation to plant 25 trees, you'll receive an entry into the contest. So if you donate $50 to plant 50 trees, you'll receive two drawing entries!
Please use this link - https://carbonfund.org/plant-trees-dine-free?partnercode=ED14Contest
Participants receive a dining rewards eGift card through Restaurant.com, which is good on over 50,000 deals nationwide and never expires. Select from three simple tree-planting options:
- Plant 25 Trees for $25, Receive a $50 eGift Card
- Plant 50 Trees for $50, Receive a $100 eGift Card
- PLANT 100 TREES FOR $100, RECEIVE A $500 eGIFT CARD!
Our goal is to plant 10,000 trees in Haiti for Earth Month. Haiti has faced significant natural disasters of late, primarily earthquakes and landslides. The worst effects of these natural disasters are linked to deforestation and unsustainable land management.
Also, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, whose history is marked with political instability and poverty. When you plant trees in Haiti, your donation helps us provide agricultural techniques and 400,000 seedlings to 800 farmers over the next year. Additionally, you'll be entered into our contest for a $500 Restaurant.com eGift card!
Choose to make a difference and plant trees on Earth Day.
You would think that out of all the industries in the world, the one that would be most concerned with climate change would be the insurance industry. Take a look at the costs for Superstorm Sandy alone. The extreme hurricane caused damage estimated at nearly $75 billion. According to a press release last month by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, 2012 cost insurers $35 billion in privately insured property losses, which is $11 billion more than the average over the last decade.
Insurers, and the reinsurance companies that shoulder much of the ultimate risk in the industry, heavily rely on scientific thought and not which way the political wind is blowing on global warming. They are comfortable with the scientific consensus that the rampant burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of climate change. Despite their confidence, the question remains, what is the insurance industry doing about global warming considering the problem directly impacts their own interests?
Surprisingly, the answer is not much. Insurers mainly focus on zoning regulations and disaster alleviation since the industry is disinclined to enter energy policy’s controversial fray. Furthermore, insurers are more insulated from climate change’s devastation than at first meets the eye. The federal government covers flood insurance, which is an enormous risk during extreme weather. Additionally, insurers adjust to higher risks by raising premiums or dropping coverage. So successfully that despite Superstorm Sandy and the protracted drought that ravaged the Midwest Corn Belt, property and casualty insurance in the United States was more profitable in 2012 than in 2011.
However, there are signs that the insurance industry is looking increasingly favorably on a carbon tax. The true costs are placed on the polluters with a carbon tax rather than being passed on to the rest of us. Also, they’re encouraged to pollute less. Most insurers would prefer a carbon tax over a host of additional regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Although the industry is warming to the idea of a carbon tax, they’re still hesitant to throw all of their weight behind it. Again, money talks; insurers haven’t yet experienced heavy losses from climate change. The exception is 2004 and 2005 when a series of hurricanes including Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, caused damage worth more than $200 billion.
So the bottom line is that if these storms continue to hit people and businesses in the wallet, then eventually even the staunchest global warming disbelievers will admit the obvious. However, we need to do what we can in the meantime to avert global disaster. We don’t want to pass the point of no return.
In a previous blog post about The Art of Climate Change Communication, I covered the six American publics and how they perceive climate change. The Dismissive is one of the smallest groups, making up a mere eight percent of the American public. They do not believe climate change is happening, nor do they believe it is human caused or a serious problem. Although small, they are very vocal. Sometimes it’s easy for climate change communicators to be discouraged by this group. Nonetheless, now there is evidence that more than half of Americans (58%) say, “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.”
The Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. These two organizations interviewed 1,045 adults between April 8 and 15, and found that “many Americans believe global warming made recent extreme weather and climatic events ‘more severe,’ specifically: 2012 as the warmest year on record in the United States (50%); the ongoing drought in the Midwest and the Great Plains (49%); Superstorm Sandy (46%); and Superstorm Nemo (42%).” The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.
Typically, climate scientists avoid making a connection between climate change and the day-to-day weather. Their stance used to be that no single weather event is caused by climate change. In recent years, however, climate science has advanced to the point where researchers can see climate change’s impact on individual heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and other storms. At the very least, many are ready to admit that climate change makes extraordinary weather worse. And most of the American public agrees.
The report released this week also highlighted that, “overall, 85 percent of Americans report that they experienced one or more types of extreme weather in the past year, most often citing extreme high winds (60%) and extreme heat (51%).” It is part of The Psychology of Climate Change that humans need to tangibly experience phenomena in order to connect with it on a deeper level. We comprehend global warming is a serious threat more easily when we see the effects of extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy.
While it is vindicating to climate change communicators that our country is beginning to make the important connection between climate change and extreme weather, I am hoping the knowledge coalesces into further global warming realizations and ultimately stimulates a grass-roots movement that engenders meaningful change. Knowing there is a problem is an important first step. Doing something about the problem is an even more important next step.
Regular readers of this blog are all too aware of the dangers that are starting to manifest regarding global warming. Given the reality of 2012 being the hottest year on record, and other climate change related disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, why isn’t more being done domestically and globally to avert this crisis? The answer is in our psychology as humans.
Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a Research Scientist at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, specializes in human behavior, in particular the psychology of risk perception and decision making as it relates to global warming. He is an expert on U.S. and international perception of climate change risks, support and opposition for climate policies, and willingness to make individual behavioral change. Leiserowitz points to humans’ needs to tangibly experience phenomena in order to connect with it on a deeper level. The first problem with the issue is that we cannot see carbon dioxide. Perhaps if we could see blue smoke, for example, billowing around us we would be more motivated to immediately tackle global warming.
The climate change problem is further complicated by its faceless nature. There isn’t one country or person we can point to as causing global warming. We are all responsible on a daily basis. Then add to that there’s the fact that climate change is not an immediate threat. It’s certainly becoming one, but it takes time for the planet to heat up and we are fast approaching the point of no return.
Many people do not understand how a few degrees one way or the other will make a difference to the planet. Leiserowitz likened it to a fever in an episode titled, “Encore: Ending the Silence on Climate Change” this month on Bill Moyer & Company. “People often will say, ‘Wow, you know, four, five degrees, that doesn't sound like very much. I mean, I see the temperature change more from night to day.’ But it's the wrong way to think about it. I mean, think about when you get sick and you get a fever, okay. Your body is usually at, you know, 98.7 degrees.”
He continued to say, “If your temperature rises by one degree you feel a little off, but you can still go to work. You're fine. It rises by two degrees and you're now feeling sick, in fact you're probably going to take the day off because you definitely don't feel good. And in fact, you're getting everything from hot flashes to cold chills, okay. At three you're starting to get really sick. And at four degrees and five degrees your brain is actually slipping into a coma, okay, you're close to death. I think there's an analogy here of that little difference in global average temperature just like that little difference in global body temperature can have huge implications as you keep going. And so unfortunately the world after two and especially after three degrees starts getting much more frightening, and that's exactly what the scientists keep telling us. But will we pay attention to those warning signs?”
My next blog post will discuss how to effectively communicate about climate change to overcome some of the psychological challenges humans face outlined in this post. There are ways to get the public to pay attention to, and in fact, engage on the issue of global warming. However, there is an art to it.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) delivered the yearly update of the High-Risk Series report to Congress this week, which officially elevated the threat of climate change. The report contains the greatest threats the government faces in carrying out federal programs, and the GAO is responsible for identifying items such as flaws in the defense contracting process and health care program fraud.
This year the GAO believed it had to highlight the risk from climate change despite some members of Congress’ dismissal or outright denial of global warming. Regardless if some in Congress do not like the move, the GAO is supported by the information coming from the National Academy of Sciences and even from the federal government's own global change research program. The GAO did, however, sidestep the issue of what is causing climate change. Instead they focus on urging lawmakers to prepare, and most of all, budget for more disasters.
The number of disasters in 2012 was above 90, a record number. The federal government’s exposure to the increasing number of disasters from extreme weather brought about by global warming includes owning hundreds of thousands of buildings, the operation of defense installations, financial disaster assistance to local governments, and managing crop and flood insurance programs.
Even if the lawmakers cannot agree on climate change, the fact is that a wide variety of disasters are on the increase and Congress has not planned or budgeted for them. The time for ignoring the issue is past. Hopefully Congress will heed the warnings and begin addressing our country’s part of global warming in a meaningful way. If they do not, the issue may be taken out of their hands. President Obama said in this week’s State of the Union address that, “I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed this week that 2012 was officially the warmest year on record in America’s contiguous 48 states, based on 118 years of temperature records dating back to 1895. Despite this fact, news coverage of climate change actually declined in 2012. According to The Daily Climate, worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, which represented the fewest number of published stories since 2009.
Last year the US was experience droughts in more than just rainfall. During the presidential election there were accusations of a “climate silence” until Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast in the days leading up to the election. In President Obama’s acceptance speech he said, “We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
However, President Obama’s statement has not reassured everyone that he and Congress are going to make any meaningful efforts to tackle carbon pollution and climate change. In fact, the League of Conservation Voters and a coalition of 70 environmental organizations recently wrote an open letter to President Obama, which encouraged him to spotlight climate change during his second term. A quote from the letter includes, "Cutting carbon pollution at home and rejecting dirty fuels will establish America’s leadership and credibility, enabling [President Obama] to create clean energy jobs in the United States while forging an effective international coalition to cut global carbon pollution."
Whether or not President Obama and Congress heed the global warming warning signs, the bright spot is that local governments are undertaking real strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change right now. ICLEI USA, a network of local governments working to address climate and sustainability challenges, recently highlighted 20 communities across the continental US that are leading the efforts to plan for the future and respond to extreme weather. Some particularly prominent examples by local governments include:
- Atlanta, GA – Urban heat island effects worsened by hotter seasons. Addressing the problem with a climate action plan, including cool roof/pavement standards and 10,000 new planted shade trees.
- Chicago, IL – Responding to extreme heat and flooding with the milestone Chicago Climate Action Plan and the most installed green roof square footage in the country.
- Eugene, OR – Ravaged by major wildfires and mega-dry conditions. Mitigating these issues by increasing water conservation, reducing hydroelectric power demand and planting drought-resistant trees.
- Miami Dade Count y, FL – Known as the most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise as demonstrated by severe flooding. Urban planning now addresses sea level rise and disaster response, and they’re also investing millions in flood mitigation projects.
- New York, NY – Suffered $19 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy. Taking positive action with a $2.4 billion green infrastructure plan, restoring barrier wetlands, and initiating a climate risk assessment requirement for new developments.
It’s wonderful to see these steps being taken towards a more sustainable future. It would be even better if federal leadership ensues, taking their cues from local governments. Media silence or not, climate change is here and further delayed action will only result in catastrophic results. The time is now to secure a low carbon global economy and thereby the planet for current and future generations.
This year offered several events that shone a spotlight directly on the important and urgent issue of climate change, but the question remains, “Was it enough to bring about meaningful efforts to reduce climate change?”
June of 2012 presented the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which disappointed many as international representatives hemmed and hawed instead of establishing true endeavors to tackle global warming. Meanwhile the continental United States embarked on summer heat waves that were some of the hottest in its history.
This year also saw drought cover more than half the country; farmers suffered as their crops and animals died.
Then October of 2012 brought superstorm Sandy, this year’s biggest example of extreme weather and a deadly harbinger of the devastating effects of climate change. Can we continue to sit idly by in the face of all these signs that global warming is making broad changes to our planet? Should we leave these environmental problems for our children to face as we continue down an unsustainable path?
The close of the year is a time to reflect on the previous events of the year and make resolutions for the coming year. Let’s pledge to make 2013 the year where we confront climate change in every possible way. We can all embark on energy efficiency efforts; reducing what we can and lowering our carbon footprints. Every bit helps. Then it is a powerful combination to offset the rest of our carbon emissions. It would be a genuine shame to let the lessons of this past year slip from our consciousness while there is still time and so much that can and should be done to address climate change.