By Rosaly Byrd, edited by Sarah Howard.
Climate change is the most threatening human-caused global phenomenon mankind has ever faced. For some perspective, just two weeks ago U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it the “world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” However, it seems that many Americans still have a difficult time grasping climate change’s insidious nature.
To be fair, in some cases, this knowledge gap in public understanding makes sense. Climate scientists have failed to adequately demonstrate how climate change will have significant impacts on the average middle-class American. Meanwhile, many policymakers spin climate change science as some bogus pillar of the liberal political agenda. Research has shown that many people won’t internalize or act on an issue unless it has a direct impact on their life or within their community. The aim of our piece is to bridge the knowledge gap and show in measurable and relatable ways just how climate change will affect the average American.
PUBLIC HEALTH, FOOD SECURITY, COST OF LIVING
Increased CO2 means more favorable growing conditions for allergy inducing weeds. For example, rageweed’s pollen season has been lengthening as first frost episodes in the fall have been occurring later and later in the season. In general, more CO2 and warmer temperatures means that plants are active and shedding pollen more months out of the year. This translates to more misery for allergy suffers.
Allergy sufferers are not the only ones that will be negatively affected by increased temperatures, people with asthma will also be at greater risk. Ozone pollution is created when Nitrous oxide gases (NOx) and Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from internal combustible engines burning gas or coal (uh, um… CARS) undergo a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight. So sunny, hot summery months will experience higher rates of air pollution and thus, higher rates of asthma related health problems and hospitalizations.
Food for thought: the Union of Concerned Scientist recently published a paper estimating that ‘The United States will pay an estimated 5.4 BILLION dollars extra in health impact costs associated with increased ozone levels due to climate change.’
You know who else loves warm weather? BUGS. They just can’t get enough of it. That means you can expect lovely critters like cockroaches, termites, wasps, bees, mosquitos, fleas, and ticks to not only expand their ranges but to be active more months out of the year. Who needs to hibernate when it is 75F in February?! (sorry East Coast, CA has been baking this winter)
Although flood insurance is currently covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the U.S., homeowners in coastal areas (especially on the Eastern Seaboard) are already seeing higher insurance rates as the federal government abandons the policy. Increases in storm surges and sea level rise will result in more flooding of these coastal regions. Anyone left with a house on the beach after Sandy knows finding a private insurer to protect their beach front property is now impossible.
Increased rainfall will be disastrous to other flood prone areas in the U.S. such as the Great Lakes, parts of the Northeast and the Great Basin. The recent UK floods have already stirred some debate over insurance premiums.
Expect to spend more money on keeping your house comfortable. If you already found yourself turning on the AC or heater on at home, this will only increase with more drastic summers and winters. Northeasterners in the U.S. already have jumped on the trend with this year’s polar vortex, where customers’ utility bills for the month of February 2014 are predicted to be 20% higher than that of last year.
Increased Commodity & Service Prices
Consumers may end up paying more for products and services from companies that do not have climate risk management plans in place yet. Companies that don’t acknowledge climate risk exclude this risk mitigation from their practices and may pass along the increased costs that result from increased droughts, floods, water scarcity, etc., to the consumer.
For those of you who like your fruits and veggies (as well as your wine, coffee and seafood), climate change will have different impacts on different types of produce, depending on where it is harvested. Oranges and citrus that depend on mild winters and springs could see decreased yields, resulting in higher prices. Climate change is altering the growing conditions in wine-producing areas, while also threatening the quality and quantity of coffee beans in various regions. Recent drought in Brazil has resulted in poor coffee bean harvests and the fastest rise of coffee prices in more than 13 years. A scallop producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia also just lost three years’ worth of scallops, a result of high carbon dioxide levels.
Although some crops will see higher yields due to warmer climates, many researchers are already looking into genetically modified foods in order to adapt to climate change. All you anti-GMO activist, we are talking to you. It’s likely that climate resilient seeds will be used more often in order to ensure high production levels. Mexico is already breeding a new avocado to be able to deal drier conditions due to climate change and engineering an avocado that needs less water.
Intense water conservation will be a norm (but shouldn’t it already be?). California is suffering now, as it is experiencing the state’s worst drought in 100 years. With limited water supply and greater water demand, higher water pricing is likely. Also, droughts in California, which is the top agricultural producer in the U.S., means that produce prices will increase due to yield and revenue losses.
Watch for Part 2 of our climate change series next week, “Why You Should Care About Climate Change: Outdoor Sports and Leaving a Legacy.”