Chapter 9

Evolution of our understanding of climate impacts

Spencer Weart addresses describes how we know what we know about impacts in a great article in the Sept. 2015 issue of Physics Today. 


If you want to know more about how climate will impact the U.S., check out the U.S. National Climate Assessments: The latest one was published in 2017; the previous one was published in 2014. These reports are Congressionally-mandated assessments of the science of climate impacts, written by hundreds of scientific experts. It is our best estimate of what the U.S. faces from our changing climate.  

In 2018, the Texas Observer put out a 9-part series about water on the US-Mexico border in a warmer world. It’s well worth a read & it shows how difficult adaptation will be.

The impacts of sea level rise

Read this great Rolling Stone article about the challenges facing Miami when it comes to sea-level rise. Here is the 3-word summary: Miami is toast.   This New Yorker article concurs with RS's assessment of Miami's future.  And here's a South Florida is doomed article.

Apropos of this, here is a nice series of Reuters articles about the slow-motion disaster of sea level rise.  It documents the schizophrenic relationship that government have with development along the water.  On the one hand, they like the development, on the other hand, these developments have a large chance of being destroyed by a severe storm, with severe costs being imposed on our economy.  The third part talks about how hard it is to protect the Houston/Galveston area from severe hurricanes β€” both scientifically and politically.

This Texas Tribune article is a slick multimedia presentation of the depressing lack of preparation of Texas for the next big hurricane.  

ocean acidification

This is the other impact on the ocean: absorbed carbon dioxide is converted to carbonic acid in the ocean, leading to the ocean becoming more acidic.  This fantastic COMET module (registration required) goes over the details of this important process.

Health effects

Climate change may have a large effect on human health.  Read this U.S. Gov't report on health impacts on the U.S.

EXTREME weather

Scientists are working hard on determining the extent to which climate change is affecting extreme weather events.  This NAS report concludes that scientists have reached point where we can identify human influence on climate in weather events.  This IPCC report describes the impacts that extreme events will have on the things we care about.

The terrific website CarbonBrief has put together a summary of how climate change is changing extreme weather around the world.

Extinction risk

Here is a paper describing the risk of extinction due to climate change.  The upshot is that 1 in 6 species in the study could face extinction.  See also this summary of the article.  

economic impacts of climate change

What are the economic risks of climate change to the U.S.? Glad you asked! You can read about it in this 2014 report, Risky Business: The economic risks of climate change in the United States. This is a report by three succesful businessmen that span the political spectrum, and it argues that climate change is already costing the U.S. a ton of money. 

National security implications of climate change

There are also important national security implications of climate change. Kurt M Campbell et al., Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies), 2007.  The U.S. Dept. of Defense has also put out a report detailing the challenges. 

To see data on climate vulnerability, check out NOAA's climate explorer.

other impacts of fossil fuel combustion

Fossil fuel combustion has environmental impacts besides climate change.  One of the most important is air pollution, which kills millions of people every year, including thousands in the U.S.  This paper talks about the lives saved by regulations that will reduce coal combustion.  See also this International Energy Agency report

For a dramatic interpretation of the London killer smog event, there is an episode of The Crown (Netflix) that focuses on the event (recap).

Sadly, India is now experiencing some of the worst air pollution in the world.  Read one story here.