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The Staggering Human Cost Of Climate Change
A new study shines a light on what is to come
If you suffer from climate anxiety, you might want to skip this one. You see, a recent study has painted a grim picture of how horrific climate change will really be. It found that by 2030, over 2 billion people will be exposed to local climates too hot for human habitation. These people will either stay and perish from heat exhaustion, droughts or starvation, or have to migrate to cooler climes. Sounds simple to solve, right? People simply need to migrate. Well, most of these people are from the world’s poorest countries, leaving them no option but to become climate refugees. In other words, in seven years, climate change will cause a refugee crisis 33 times larger than anything we have ever seen before!
Before I carry on, I feel obligated to state that this is not an optimistic article. If you do suffer from anxiety, I highly recommend putting this down, and reading something else.
Humanity is lagging far behind its climate goals. The Paris Agreement was meant to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or at the very least 2 degrees Celsius. We have failed spectacularly, as we will likely break the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark by 2027. As such, current emissions put us on course to see 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century.
That might not sound like much, but it is catastrophic! As you will soon see.
A recent paper looked at what average temperatures countries will face from now until the end of the century with this 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming. They then compared this to what temperatures humans can survive in to try to calculate the humanitarian impact of climate change.
They found that, by 2030, over 2 billion people will be exposed to annual average temperatures above 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 Fahrenheit). But it only gets worse. By 2090, 2.7 billion people will be exposed to these insanely hot annual average temperatures.
To those that don’t see climate data regularly, an average annual temperature of 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit) might seem like quite a pleasant climate. But to give some context, Death Valley in the USA, which has recorded some of the hottest-ever temperatures on Earth, had an annual average temperature in 2022 of 26.9 degrees Celsius (80.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Needless to say, this is not a climate that is friendly to humans at all. In fact, the researchers found that the climate niche for humans (in other words, what are the minimum and maximum annual average temperatures that humans can survive in) was between 13 degrees Celsius, to 25 degrees Celsius average annual temperatures. Anything outside this range is associated with an increased death rate, and the further away you get away from this range, the higher the death rate.
This is because climates hotter than 25 degrees Celsius experience extreme droughts, regular crop collapses, heat waves hot enough to kill, and even stronger storms, cyclones, and hurricanes. Humans, and our complex societies, simply didn’t evolve to cope with these situations.
This means that in just seven years, nearly 2 billion people will be living in climates that aren’t habitable for humans. Were they from wealthy countries, they could import water and food, use technology to cool themselves and even afford to immigrate to cooler climes. But the vast majority of these 2 billion people come from comparatively poorer countries, like India, Pakistan, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. Their only choice will be to stay, and risk death, or flee the hostile conditions and become climate refugees.
So, in just seven years, we might see a refugee crisis of up to 2 billion refugees. The largest-ever refugee crisis was World War II, which caused just over 60 million people to be displaced. Meaning this upcoming crisis could be up to 33 times larger than anything we have ever seen before.
To say the global political scene isn’t ready for such a crisis would be an understatement. Many of the countries afflicted here have compromised governments, civil wars, or are cosying up to regimes that are being denounced by many Western nations. So, global cohesion on launching a biblically vast humanitarian effort to ensure these at risk people are safe is, sadly, not likely.
Let’s also not forget, that global warming doesn’t end after 2030. By the end of the century, places like Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Northern Australia will reach annual average temperatures of over 29 degrees Celsius. This crisis will only get worse.
There is one silver lining, though. The paper found that if dramatic action can be taken to keep global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, this crisis can be reduced by 80%, as only 400 million will be exposed to average annual temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius. This could still cause an unprecedented refugee crisis 6.7 times that of World War II, but at least the suffering will be reduced.
As a species, we must brace for this. We either need to prepare for this colossal humanitarian crisis, or take the drastic action required to stop it. Sadly, I see little evidence of either in any climate summit or government. Oil companies still rule over these meetings, dragging their heels, influencing policy and delaying progress. I want to remind you that the technology to save the world exists. We can’t quite reach net-zero just yet, but we don’t need to. If we can just curb our rampant carbon emissions, even by a fraction, we can literally save millions of lives. But as it stands, we are walking into a climate apocalypse, and no one is ready for it.