Climate change, the South, and the disadvantaged poor

Your wallet is affected too.

Story and research by Chad White, who works in the 11Alive digital department and can be found on Twitter sometimes. Opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily representative of others at 11Alive.

The annual G20 Summit is this Friday, July 7th. The world is abuzz over what will happen at the storied climate conference now that the United States is out of the Paris Climate Accords. President Barack Obama’s administration said it tried to dampen the ramifications of climate change. Those ideas and plans have since been reversed. 194 countries signed on in 2015 to provide a sort of honor system to keep other countries responsible for their own environmental care. England, for instance, could stop trade with China because of their regulatory issues with smog. Or Canada may like France’s lack of car use on Sunday. These are just examples and in no way actualities.

The South

You may think that your actions don’t do anything in the case of climate change. And you may also believe you won’t be hit with any dramatic climate change. You could be wrong on both counts. Per a recent study in the journal Science, Solomon Hsiang – a professor at the University of Berkley, -- Robert Kopp and other researchers found that the South is in for major heat waves in the coming future.

Between 2080 and 2099, southern states like Alabama, Georgia and Texas could face intensely hot days, the study said. Florida is said to have some of the worst cases of heat related deaths in the summer and rising sea levels damage coastal properties. Other states in the Midwest would see heat deaths too, the study indicates.

The North, meanwhile, would barely see a change. For instance, states in the Northeast and West may see milder winters. California is already seeing damages as mass rainfall overtakes the once always sunny state for days at a time. Hsiang and the researchers accumulated data from around the nation surrounding “six economic sectors to short-term weather fluctuations.”

Not only will Georgia be hit with terrible heat, the change could also hit your wallet. The researchers estimate the US’s gross domestic product (GDP) might grow 1.2% per 1 degree Celsius (0.7% loss for every single degree Fahrenheit) thanks to global warming. Hsiang’s study goes as deep as the county level. The group found that counties in Texas and Arizona could face GDP losses of up to 20%. Hsiang’s simple explanation to the New York Times regarding the GDP hit is if you live in an area where it’s already hot, it has a higher chance of taking on damaging effects.

Your Wallet

With GDP taking a percentage gain per every tick upward in Fahrenheit, communities are suggested to ban together in order to curb global warming. NYT writers Bard Plumer and Nadja Popovich predict, by the turn of the century, the number of heat-related deaths could equal that of the number of Americans killed in auto related accidents.

If none of this makes sense to you, just know that a high GDP without growth for the country’s income is bad in general. According to Hsiang’s study, a mean sea level rise (MSL) and copious number of cyclones in the Atlantic coast situated counties will create their largest losses. An ascension of MSL creates an increase in annual economic damage from 0.6 to 1.3% of South Carolina and Louisiana’s GDP while Florida’s will go from 0.7% to 2.3%.

Your air conditioner use is also a major factor on the climate change topic. Running air costs money. Running air for a longer time costs a lot of money. An adversity to productivity is also a possible factor. People are less motivated to go outside if the hot weather is unfavorable.

The Poor

Beyond the Southern states, a subsection of people in the US and around the world are more than likely to lose from climate change. Scientists have been writing about how the poor have been affected by heat waves for years. Gabe Bullard wrote a fascinating article for the National Geographic examining developing country’s relationships with global warming.

A majority of the impact is said to hit food crops. Bullard cites the World Bank as they chart poverty’s place in this. Two scenarios are set up to compare with one another: “prosperity” and “poverty.” The former predicts economic growth, basic services improvements and less impoverished people. The latter suggests poverty to grow from 2015’s 702 million to a billion people by 2030 with a fraction of them entering the section thanks to rising food prices. Poor citizens of some countries already spend 60% of their income on food. This contrasts with those that are wealthy, spending less than 10%. Losses in crop yields could be as high as 5% in 2030, reaching up to 30% by 2080.

Droughts would make land infertile, floods too while also destroying homes.

Diseases are a major repercussion too. The World Bank, Bullard points out, says other risks include malnutrition, malaria (up to 5% by 2030) and diarrhea (up to 10% by 2030). Water would become rare which would in turn effect hygiene. Speaking of, poor countries are also said to spend 50% of their health bills out of pocket.

The Department of Defense went so far as to suggest climate change could have “threat multipliers” which would in turn create more terrorism. Resource competition – among other issues with economies, and governments in the world – are said to enhance “stressors” like poverty as well as social and political tensions overseas which could lead to violence.

Poor countries are the least responsible for carbon emissions and the subsequent global warming but suffer the most from it.

People of Color

Air pollution is killing thousands of US citizens every year. This comes from a recent study done by The New England Journal of Medicine who reports the news even though our air gets cleaner thanks to new standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here’s how Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health biostatistics professor Francesca Dominici et al performed the study. Using data from the federal air monitoring stations in conjunction with satellites, they were able to create a kind of map for air pollution to the low scale of zip codes after which they examined correlations in mortality and low levels of air pollution.

The culprit: fine particulate matter -- otherwise known as a mixture of extremely small particles (think rock specks and dirt) and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once they’re inside of your body, they can forge diseases in the heart and lungs. Sadly, fine particulate matter is said to be a major factor in killing blacks – who are three times as likely to die from the particles, -- men and poor people writes NPR’s Rob Stein in an All Things Considered segment. Why is it that people of color are more at risk of breathing in fine particulate matter? They tend to live in areas with more pollution and have less access to health care.

What next?

Climate change is still a hotly contested debate. There are some who believe it’s not real, as farfetched as a never ending story. But we’ve seen firsthand what it could be doing to our planet. At this point, mankind may not be able reverse it; only slow it down. Just be better. Recycle, drive less, treat the Earth as you treat your home.

Until we find a solution, we have to live with the damages we wrought. 


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