Heat Waves, and Floods, and Droughts, Oh My!

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report concluding that climate change will make heat waves, floods, droughts and other natural disasters not only more common, but more intense, in the coming decades. These impending disasters will (hopefully) force nations to rethink the way they deal with natural disasters not only as they occur, but taking preventative measures that could save lives, money and resources.

The IPPC report notes that on a global scale, frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes will be seen in the coming century. Meaning that it is very likely the length and virulence of heat waves will also increase. Imagine those historically hot days that come around once every few decades, and visualize them happening once a year.

Though the IPCC report found greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have “likely” caused more extreme heat waves and storm surges, it is less sure about the link between man-made climate change and increased floods as river flood causes are complicated to begin with. It’s no secret, however; global carbon emissions rose a record amount last year.

The IPCC report states it is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase in the coming decades, and though the report doesn’t concretely link man-made climate change with increased floods, I would bet heavier precipitation would lead to increased flooding, especially in low lying areas and areas built in floodplains. Furthermore, a recent study in Nature found that the increased greenhouse gases from human actions are driving heavier rainfall patterns in the high latitudes and tropical regions. Though tropical cyclones may hold steady or even decrease in their frequency, those that do form are likely to be more virulent and mixed with rising sea levels could make for disastrous consequences for low lying island states.

Perhaps the biggest fear with worsening climate predictions might undoubtedly be droughts. With a steadily growing population to feed, 7 billion to be exact, food scarcity might become problematic…to say the least. And with the population expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050, flooding might look trivial compared to millions of starving people.

Of course, critics and skeptics question the IPCC models used to make climate change predictions. But the proof is in the pudding: from Hurricane Katrina, to historic droughts in Moscow and Texas, to rising sea levels swallowing islands whole, I say it doesn’t matter what the skeptics crow. We can see these changes with our naked eyes.

Since anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions aren’t going to disappear overnight, and these climate changes are going to rage along despite our deepest hopes, what can be done?

A preemptive strike is probably our best bet at this time: spending time and money taking action now, instead of waiting til the damage is done. Beef up defenses in vulnerable areas–early warning systems, better land use planning, protecting and restoring buffer areas (like wetlands and marshes), weather proofing infrastructure–and continue taking measurable steps to reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

It would be foolish not to anticipate and act in accordance with the changes we know are coming. Instead of criticizing the IPCC, we should be thankful we even have the opportunity to plan defensive, and preventative strategies, lest we incur worldwide devastation.

Hope Sign