The Human Costs of Climate Change

April 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Past reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have focused on the negative effects of climate change on the Earth and the natural world. One of the key “take home messages” from the latest IPCC report is the immense impact of climate change on human beings—now and even more so in the coming decades. As we emphasized in the special issue of Revolution, State of EMERGENCY! The Plunder of Our Planet, The Environmental Catastrophe & The Real Revolutionary Solution, the health, well-being, and even continued existence of humanity is linked to and dependent on healthy, vibrant, and intact natural ecosystems.

If the build up of greenhouse gases continues on its current course, the IPCC report warns, everyone on the planet will be affected—but the impact on the majority of world humanity living in the poor countries of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, will be devastating.

Let’s look at, and really think about what climate change is causing for people in the world right now, and what the future will look like for human beings if this is not combatted and things turned around.

More Severe and Destructive Weather

In 2010, one of the hottest summers on record caused higher temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, fueling torrential monsoons. In Pakistan these intense storms brought unprecedented flooding, an estimated one-fifth of the entire country was under water. Thousands of people were swept into the flood waters to drown and 15 million were displaced from their homes. That same summer, Russia suffered the worst heat wave in recorded history, killing thousands and sparking massive wildfires that burned entire villages to the ground. Last year Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit the Philippines with wind speeds that were the highest ever recorded in human history. Its power was likely enhanced by the warming oceans and its storm surge was made worse by already heightened sea levels from global warming. More than 10 thousand people were killed and whole villages were swallowed up by the ocean. Think about Bangladesh, where rains and storm surges from powerful cyclones have already caused massive flooding of large parts of the country, spreading death and destruction. Think about Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Now think about a future world where these kinds of storms, already fueled by the warming planet, are made even more intense and more frequent.

Effects on Availability of Basic Human Necessities

What will the IPCC predictions of the future really mean for basic survival? Basic necessities of life—food, clean air, clean water, etc.—will be harder to procure, possibly unattainable for growing numbers of people. Fish that whole nations rely on for survival will be vastly depleted, possibly many species gone. This means growing suffering and starvation for untold numbers of people. There will be more deaths from heat waves. Killing droughts in certain regions will become “the new normal” and increasing suffering and death caused in some regions by powerful storms, more intense rainfall, flooding along rivers and for whole island nations and along coastlines. All of this, already terrible, will take place on a vastly larger, horrific global scale—and again, all this will hit Third World countries hardest.

All the people who have the worst conditions already, the least protection in terms of housing, health services, food safety, infrastructure, personal security, and community services will suffer on a much higher level. Worsening climate change will affect the whole fabric of human society—exacerbating displacement and forced migrations of large numbers of people, conflicts and wars between different sections of people, battles over shrinking resources. The disproportionate effect between countries will also be disproportionate inside all countries—the poor will suffer the most in urban and rural areas all over the planet.

Danger of Tipping Points

With the “business as usual” predicted global mean temperature rise of four degrees C or more—the IPCC Summary report says the risks include “severe and widespread impact on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year.” It continues to say that with rising temperatures, there is the uncertain but real risk of crossing multiple tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) “in the earth system or in interlinked human and natural systems.”

In a piece written for Australia’s The Conversation, IPCC contributors Colin Butler, Helen Louise Berry, and Anthony McMichael say, "Human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to well-being, health and perhaps even to human survival."

There is growing opinion in scientific circles that the four degrees C (seven degrees F) or higher temperature rise predicted under the current emissions trajectory could be incompatible with the continued existence of human civilization.

At the time of the Warsaw UN Climate Talks in December 2013, Alice Bows and Kevin Anderson, climatologists with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, England, said that a predicted global temperature rise of 4 degrees C would mean the hottest days on earth would be 6-12 degrees C (11-22 degrees F) hotter. This would cause large-scale sea level rises and huge drops in production of food crops. Dr. Bows said, "Those sorts of things would be absolutely devastating—they would be catastrophic.... There's a widespread view that four degrees could be incompatible with organized global community and would inevitably lead to conflict and disruption and could potentially be beyond adaptation. Ecosystems are already being threatened—at four degrees we have irreversible impacts on ecosystems."

Think about this: the climate crisis has been brought on principally by the economic patterns of functioning of the richest capitalist countries that dominate the planet. This is who is responsible for the vast majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, and who is continuing to do this despite the incredible threat. But who suffers the most are the people who have done the least to create this problem. This is a tremendous indictment of the system of capitalism-imperialism and the way it twists and perverts human life and well-being in the current world, and in the way it threatens the very survival of all of us.

We face perhaps the most daunting threat ever in human history—possibly to the continued existence of human civilization and humanity itself, and the entire natural balance of world ecosystems.

Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.