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Catastrophic Climate Change: How It's Going to Kill You (or your kids or grandkids).


2019.01.28

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
- Donald Rumsfeld

Here's the thing: we're so adjusted to 'normal' on the planet, we don't even understand how much we take for granted and how much and what things will shift. In short, we don't even know how much we don't know about the effects and impacts of Catastrophic Climate Change. We've never been here before as a species, so we have no relevant history or memory. We're going to experience a LOT of surprises. Let's call it putting the Change in Catastrophic Climate Change. So, let's consider some of the impacts of Catastrophic Climate Change which you might not have thought about which are going to kill people (or already are killing people).

Had you contemplated that the aspect of catastrophic climate change that might kill you is alligators or crocodiles swimming up to your front door and thinking you smell like a meal? Things are doing to be different, and the changes may happen very quickly. Still, this probably won't be the case for most of us. Climate change will likely kill us in more mundane ways: disease, resource wars, drought, floods, starvation, heat stroke, dehydration, hyperthermia, forest fires, mudslides ...

Until such time as I can come back to this page and do it justice, please start with this article We Are Destroying Our Life Support Systems (2019-01-29) by Dahr Jamail.

For a human health-focused summary, a number of Canadian health organizations call for action on climate change.

Air Turbulence

Put more energy into the atmosphere, and speed up air currents, increase atmospheric convection currents, and there's a recipe for increased air turbulence. If you fly a significant amount, you may have noticed that air turbulence is becoming more common and severe, and the stories about it in the news are more frequent. It's a real thing: Turbulence is Getting Worse, but Airlines Have a Plan. (Travel and Leisure 2017.12.05) But here's the attention-grabber headline: Mid-air turbulence set to triple due to climate change, scientists warn (The Telegraph 2017.10.04).

Just alarmist stuff, right? Won't really happen, right? Sure.

February 2019 - ‘We did a nose dive, twice’: Three sent to hospital after Delta flight makes emergency landing. (Washington Post)

No worries, you can take the train.

Train Derailments

As polar vortexes extend their reach further south for longer, there will be increased problems with frozen switches, black ice on rails, frozen parts on trains, and rails will contract creating larger gaps for train wheels to span while moving from rail to rail. As temperatures increase during summer heat waves, rails will expand, causing deflection issues, and some components may fail due to overheating.

Or perhaps a nice ocean cruise would be a relaxing way to cross the ocean instead.

Ocean Storms Will be More Frequent and More Intense

March 2019 - 'Extreme gust of wind' causes Norwegian cruise ship to list, injuring passengers (USA Today)

Maybe we should just stay home. But that won't protect us from the storms and other things climate change is going to bring to our doorsteps, like new ranges for invasive species which may weaken trees to fall on our houses due to stronger winds, or diseases which will expand into areas which are warming (like West Nile virus and Lyme Disease).

Disease Vectors

November 2018 - Humanising health and climate change (The Lancet)

The June 2019 Easac Report notes a number of modes by which climate change is already affecting human health, including disease vectors, droughts and floods affecting crops, mental health issues and more. They also note short-term benefits to be derived from climate change mitigation measures including cleaner air, water and related health benefits. The report also notes that solutions are within reach and some produce direct financial benefits, but the biggest barrier remains a lack of political will. It IS necessary for citizens to force their elected leaders to move on climate change.

June 2019 - Climate change puts health at risk and economists have the right prescription.

Food Security

'Global warming' sounds so comforting and attractive, especially on a cold late winter day as I write this thinking the cold will never end and the snow will be still be here come the start of summer. And the carbon dioxide cheerleaders assure us that more CO2 and warmer average temperatures will lead to longer growing seasons and more bountiful crops. However, the evidence already shows otherwise. The 'change' part of climate change includes increasing volatility in temperature and weather patterns. That means - along with more virulent crop pests - that damaging frosts can occur later in the spring, and earlier in the fall - shortening the growing season for most crops. Add to that hotter summers to wilt the plants, and changes to rainfall patterns which are expected to lead to flash floods and droughts more often, and our bountiful agriculture practices based on over 10,000 years of climate stability will likely produce less food than in the past. That means food insecurity. And hungry people are unhappy and prone to acting out to express their frustrations and fears.

Drinking Water

Droughts may lead to local water shortages, including those which provide drinking water. Floods from more powerful storm systems will lead to contamination of wells. Warmer weather may lead to faster incubation of bacteria in stored water. Storm surges can lead to saltwater contamination of reservoirs and wells. Storm systems and floods can lead to damage to water delivery and sewage system infrastructure.

And it isn't just humans at risk. Had you contemplated that climate change may cause octopuses to go blind, making it harder for them to find food? Climate change is going to bring a lot of surprises, and most of them are likely to be unpleasant, because we're very dependent on a 'normal' climate such as we have had for the past 12,000 years.

The short list above is just a sampling. I don't pretend to know all the things which will shift ouf of balance because the temperature is changing, or various natural cycles move out of the synchronization they have developed over millennia, or how extirpation or extinction of one species may affect others, or how interdependent different parts of nature and weather systems are. We humans are not good at prediction. We can't forecast what trivial item may cascade to major effects, as we reinforce with stories like For Want of a Nail or The Butterfly Effect. The Precautionary Principle advises us to avoid making changes where we don't understand the consequences.

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