We don’t have to figure out what the future will look like to understand the consequences of global warming. We’re all living them as we speak. Recently, we’ve explored some solutions that are really easy to adopt in our daily life but now we want to go deeper into each of the effects that climate change has now and will have in the future in our routine too.
So we truly are on the same page regarding knowing how this is affecting our planet and, therefore, our lives.
The shifts that our planet is suffering in climate are in front of our eyes: we can see them, we can hear them, we can feel them. Temperature is getting higher and higher, ice caps are melting, oceans are warming, and sea level is rising.
All the changes that we’ve been experiencing since at least 1980, are going to be accelerated in the next decades if we don’t help reduce climate change. But what’s specifically happening now? Let’s delve into the 5 types of climate change effects 👇
What are the effects of global warming?
An impact that affects, for instance, the soil can also have an impact on other scenarios of our lives. For example, droughts can make food production harder and also do the same to human health. Floods can also affect human health by smoothing disease spread and can also have effects on infrastructures and ecosystems.
So how do we manage to have a full overview of what’s really going on with the consequences of global warming? We propose to divide the impacts of global warming into 5 main types of effects or categories: human health, species, nature, territories, and business.
We’ve chosen to follow this path because we understand that this is how we can have an entire perspective of how climate change can affect, maybe, just one aspect of the Earth but how this works like when you put domino blocks standing in a line: when one piece falls, the others do too.
Although, of course, climate change doesn’t affect us all in the same way. Social inequities that have been here for too long and those underserved groups that tend to be more exposed to hazards with the fewest resources to answer and recover from them will be more vulnerable than they already are.
1. Climate change effects on human health
The effects of global warming have a direct impact on human health. Before we get into them, consider this: the poorest people in the world are uninsured, nowadays health shocks and stresses cause 100 million people to fall into poverty each year, plus, more or less 12% of the people around the planet — more than 930 million people — spend at least 10% of their budget to pay for healthcare.
Territories that have a weaker health infrastructure will, of course, be the ones that struggle the most to deal with climate change effects on human health and respond to them properly and fast.
Shifts in weather are one of the effects that make health risks increase. Why is that? Picture this: the temperature is getting higher and so is the ocean’s, therefore hurricanes are getting stronger and wetter, and as we’ve witnessed in our history, this causes direct and indirect deaths.
On the other hand, dryness can boost wildfires, floodings can lead to waterborne diseases, injuries, and chemical hazards spreading, and mosquitoes and ticks, as they expand more and more, can also bring diseases to new places.
Of course, we’re all in danger but there’s a specific group of people that’s more vulnerable. As we’ve said before, some are the poorest ones, but we also have to include older people, children, outdoor workers, and people that have preexisting health conditions.
That’s happening now, so what’s going to be like in the future? The existing consequences of global warming on human health will be increased. We’ll experience changes in the impact of diseases and in the seasonal distribution of some allergenic pollen species or even a boosted range of viruses, pests, and disease distribution.
Plus, we’ll see how heat-related mortality and illnesses increase in summer while cold-related deaths and illnesses decrease in winter. As we’ve checked out before, there’ll also be increases in the risk of accidents and impacts because of extreme climate events like floods and fires.
But that’s not everything. Animal diseases will be a problem too because it’s expected that they emerge and re-emerge. Plant pests will emerge and re-emerge too. And we have to add one of the most obvious effects on human health: more risks due to less air quality and ozone changes.
Climate change has a direct impact on clean air, drinking water, food production, and secure shelter. Therefore, it has a direct impact on human health. Between 2030 and 2050, global warming is expected to cause 250.000 more deaths per year. What are the main causes? Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.
2. Global warming effects on animal species
Climate change is making key shifts in nature. The effects of global warming on the environment are also affecting the species that live on Earth, beyond humans. Many animals and plants’ cycles, like reproduction and migration, are regulated by environmental temperature, the amount of rainfall, the availability of resources, and other environmental factors.
This is why we say that animals and plants also suffer from the effects of global warming, experiencing movements in the timing of their lifecycle events. Plus, storms, drought, heat waves, increased sea levels, warming oceans, and melting glaciers are disappearing and altering the places where they live. Let’s see some of the most affected places and species.
Have you ever heard about the Coral Triangle? It’s a marine area in the western Pacific Ocean — those waters are from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands. Its name comes from the number of corals that are there: almost 600 different species of reef-building corals alone.
Why is that important? Well, it nurtures more than 2000 species of reef fish and six of the Planet’s seven marine turtle species. Furthermore, more than 120 million people live in the Coral Triangle and it means not only food but also income and protection from storms. The Coral Triangle nowadays suffers from warming, acidifying, and rising sea levels and its reefs are experiencing severe mass coral bleaching and mortality events because of increasing temperatures.
Let’s go with animal species. There are 1,864 giant pandas in the wild around the world and their extinction risk is high. Climate change doesn’t help. Actually, global warming kills bamboo, which represents 99% of the pandas’ diet. Plus, it’s said that its habitat might disappear by the end of the century and half of it will be gone by 2070. Protecting pandas also means protecting animals that live around them, such as the golden monkey, and the communities that benefit from them via ecotourism.
A more known type of animal that suffers climate change is the polar bear. The images of polar bears standing on a small piece of ice with nowhere to go are, sadly, pretty familiar to us. Because of global warming, the Arctic is getting warmer twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth. This makes the sea ice cover 14% smaller per decade.
Climate change effects on the life of polar bears are related to:
Polar bears having fewer opportunities to eat. Now bears have to move longer distances to deal with receding ice, and when they touch land they rely on fat stores and wait until they can go back hunting again. For this, the ice has to refreeze. Which is harder now.
Polar bears suffering from habitat fragmentation. Plus, as the Arctic ice melts, more shipping activities arise, shipping that uses fossil fuels. Do you remember that we speak about them in one of our blog posts? If you don’t check it out here.
3. Global warming effects on nature
The changes we’ve talked about before, when we discussed the effects on animal species, are moving fast. We’ll see the global warming effects on environments in four categories: high temperatures, drought, fresh water scarcity, and floods.
The fact that climate change has increased the global temperature is no news. This is driving more and more heatwaves which lead, as we’ve seen, to increased mortality risks and less productivity. We say that it leads to less productivity because the capacity of ecosystems to provide key services and goods can be severely affected. For example, we might experience reduced lands and viability of agriculture and livestock.
On the other hand, low-temperature extremes like cold spells and frosty days will be less frequent in, for example, Europe. But there won’t be a single truth to follow, because climate change affects the chance of predicting events, and, for that reason, we’ll be less ready to answer back properly.
Drought will also cause trouble. Actually, it’s causing them already. The lack of water availability and lack of precipitation can lead to consequences on transport, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, water, and biodiversity. Plus, it can also pave the way for pest attacks and fuel wildfires increase. Note that only in Europe, experiencing a global average temperature that’s 3°C higher droughts will happen twice as much and generate annual losses that will increase to 40 billion euros each year.
Fresh water will be affected too with a climate that keeps on getting higher, evaporation that increases, rainfall patterns that change over and over again, glaciers that melt, and sea levels that rise. The availability of fresh water will be more difficult to find because, for example, all those factors contribute to the growth of toxic algae and bacteria, therefore the water scarcity issue will be significantly boosted.
Let’s check out an example. 40% of Europe’s freshwater comes from the Alps, so the changes in snow and glacier dynamics, added to the patterns of rainfall ones, might cause temporary water shortages around Europe.
Floods are another aspect we wanted to address here. Climate change also generates more rain in some parts of the world. But increased precipitation is not good. In the long term, it can lead to river flooding, actually in Europe it’s a pretty common natural disaster that has already resulted in fatalities and affected millions of people. In the short term, we can suffer from pluvial foods, that’s mainly about extreme rainfall generating flooding without any body of water, like a river, overflowing.
4. Global warming effects on business
The workforce availability will be affected because of some of the human health issues we’ve discussed in the beginning. Plus, workers and companies will have to deal with higher additional occupational health constraints such as warmer temperatures at work, and natural hazards that make workers unable to get to their workplace.
The businesses that have a more direct connection with climate conditions, like agriculture businesses, will suffer from production shifts. But every single company will have to invest money in adapting to climate change, such as creating buildings and green infrastructure, water management, relocation of any exposed settlement, and reinforcing coastal defenses. This will create more employment and also income opportunities, but there are some concerns about the net job generation effects of it.
The truth is that climate change will affect all businesses but the most vulnerable ones are the small and medium-sized enterprises. They’ll have to face disrupting business operations and supply chains, property damage, and shifts in their infrastructure. This will generate extra costs of maintenance and materials and, therefore, higher prices.
Tourism is another sector that will be affected by climate change. For example, the suitability of southern Europe for tourism is likely to strongly decline during summer months but be better in other seasons. Those places that are attractive to tourists because of snow, will also suffer because winter sports are going to be harder and harder to do under climate change conditions.
The good news is that businesses have on their hand one of the keys to reducing the impact of climate change: they can make all of their operations go green and reduce emissions.
5. Global warming effects on territories
Bridges, roads, ports, broadband internet, and electrical grids. Those are just some of the parts of our communication and transportation systems that are and will be affected. Despite the fact that they’re made to last for decades, note that they’re made to last for decades under certain circumstances which don’t often include the shifts produced by global warming. Even the newest infrastructures can suffer from climate change effects.
Coastal infrastructure like roads, bridges, and water supplies are at an increased risk. Why? Remember that we talked about a rise in sea level, well, this can affect coastal infrastructure and also drive coastal erosion and high-tide flooding. And there’s one more fact to be more concerned about: by 2100 some communities like Dhaka in Bangladesh, Lagos in Nigeria, and Bangkok in Thailand, are projected to be under the sea.
Urban cities will have to face flooding, heat waves, and droughts. One example is the urban drainage flood that took place in Copenhagen in 2011, it’s just a little sneak peek of how vulnerable cities can be to extreme weather events.
Think about this: extreme weather that drives more rains, floods, wind, snow, or temperature shifts contributes to stressing infrastructure and facilities, for example, if we’re experiencing higher temperatures, indoor cooling is also expected to grow too, and this affects the energy grid. Another good example is what happens with sudden, heavy rainfalls: unexpected floods that make it impossible to drive on highways and move through key areas of the cities.
Plus, the actual urban land takes, growth, people concentration, and aging won’t help make the cities stronger, actually, it’s quite the opposite. So, sustainable urban design and management, and adopting a more green infrastructure are just some of the solutions that cities should tie to support reducing climate change effects.
After checking our global warming causes and effects — we have explored some causes in a blog post but will dive deep into them soon in a new blog post — you might note that there’s a need to act that’s getting more and more urgent. The actions are mainly around reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. Of course, there’s a good side: this will need more investment in new technology and infrastructure that’s resilient, which is likely to expand the labor market by creating more job opportunities.
Yes, by lowering emissions we’ll be saving lives and dollars in health-related expenses, and supporting the reduction of damaging impacts on human health. But there’s also a need that we should address in order to be able to address all the challenges that global warming comes with.
That one is the need of broadening resilience education that’s key for each person that plays a role in society. Educators, city planners, emergency managers, communicators, doctors, and public servants. We should all sit in the classroom of resilience education and learn how to prepare and help reduce climate change.
We have the solution at the tip of our fingers. Being curious, learning, and exploring, are the three keys to being part of the change and making a difference in the challenges that we’re facing now and that we’ll face in the future.