Global climate change has already left observable effects on the planet. Glaciers have shrunk, trees are flowering sooner, plant and animal ranges have shifted, and so on. Many effects of climate change that scientists had predicted in the past are now occurring. The loss of sea ice, intensifying heat waves, and accelerating sea level rise are some examples.
According to a new study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate change is going to affect humans earlier, harder, and more widely than previously projected. The research team found that one billion people will be either displaced or endure insufferable heat for every one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures.
Under a worst case climate scenario, land that one third of the world’s population currently calls home will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara desert within 50 years. Even under a more optimistic climate outlook, 1.2 billion people will still be exposed to temperatures outside the climate niche in which humans have thrived for at least 6,000 years.
The majority of the human population has always lived in regions where the average annual temperatures were between 43 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. These are ideal temperatures for human health and for food production. But this temperature range is shrinking and shifting as a result of climate change.
The study’s authors predict there will be more change in the next 50 years than there has been in the past 6,000 years. They hope their findings will convince policymakers to accelerate their plans for emissions reductions and other climate mitigation strategies.
Future of the human climate niche
One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
Photo, posted November 22, 2008, courtesy of Ronnie Finger via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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