Climate Change is the Biggest Threat Humanity Faces Today. It's About PEOPLE!

Exploring the effects of climate change on humans and society.

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, or about all of the animals and plants that are going extinct. No, climate change is absolutely about people too! It’s about our safety and having what we need to get by. You know, the basics that so many of us take for granted today.

The reality is that around the world there will be an unbelievable amount of suffering, death, and change like humans have never seen before because of climate change. Unfortunately, that is not hyperbole and I don’t say it lightly.

Climate change attacks us from all angles. It decreases the supply of our most basic necessities: fresh-water, food, health, and safe places to live. Natural disasters will become more commonplace. Mass migration and instability will occur more often due to more frequent crop failures, water scarcity, destruction of basic infrastructure, power outages, sudden storms, and consistently extreme weather around the world. When people can no longer support themselves in the places they live, they are forced to leave their homes. Not because they want to, but because they have to in order to survive and improve their chances of a decent life.

This is already happening to millions of people around the world today – real, live people just like you and me. They are in this situation through no fault of their own. Many were born into it. If you put yourself in their shoes you’ll realize how desperate the situation is by the questions you would be forced to ask yourself: Should we leave our home? Where else can we go? Will it be safe there? How will I provide for my family? Will we ever be able to come back home?

Climate migrants by 2050 - World BankAs I mentioned earlier, 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes each year since 2008 due to sudden, extreme weather events linked to climate change (UN Refugee Agency). And this figure does not account for people affected by the non-sudden or “slow-onset climate change impacts” such as decreasing crop productivity, water shortages, or sea level rise. The World Bank published a study in March 2018 saying that over 143 million people in just three regions of the world could become internal climate migrants by 2050. Importantly, they also said that number could be reduced by 100 million if GHG emission reductions are ramped up aggressively.

According to the UN, 600 million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level and 2.4 billion live within 60 miles (100 km) of the coast. The last time Earth was 2℃ warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, the sea was 16 to 32 feet higher (5 to 10 meters) than it is today. The general consensus is that we’re not expected to reach that level anytime soon, but it should serve as a warning because it has happened before, so such extremes are possible. In the US there are already 90 communities dealing with chronic flooding. That number is expected to rise to 170 in the next 20 years.

In 2050 we’re expected to have 2.5 billion more people, which is 33% more than the 7.5 billion today. The majority will be born in low-income countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change – the same countries that have contributed the least to the climate change.

The global supply of water will be 40% short of demand by 2030. And by 2050 we will need 60% more food than we are producing today (UN). Climate change poses serious risks to each of these vital resources.

More people + less resources = not good

The World Health Organization (WHO) “conservatively estimates that climate change will cause some 250,000 additional deaths per year by the 2030s”.

Other organizations have estimated much higher numbers. Pollution alone kills millions each year (a more direct linkage to fossil fuels killing), but let’s stick with the WHO’s 250,000 estimate. To put this in perspective in what I intend to be a respectful and eye-opening manner, think of what a tragedy 9/11 was. 2,996 people lost their lives as a result of a brutal terrorist attack. The world, and especially the US, mourned that event for a long time and actually united because of it. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to see so many lives lost and families suffering unnecessarily. As awful as 9/11 was, the magnitude of death and destruction on that day pales in comparison to what climate change will bring.

According to that highly conservative WHO estimate, climate change will be like 9/11 happening every 4.4 days by 2030.

For these reasons, climate change is recognized as a national and global security issue around the world. What else could bring 200 nations together to agree on something?

The US Department of Defense has called climate change a “threat multiplier”. They see it causing instability in regions around the world. It’s been on the DoD’s radar since the early 2000’s, at least. According to the Pentagon, “climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.”

In 2017 a group of retired military officers wrote in a letter to top White House officials, “Climate change poses strategically significant risks to U.S. national security, directly impacting our critical infrastructure and increasing the likelihood of humanitarian disasters, state failure, and conflict.”

US military officers don’t mess around. Those are very strong words. Our modern civilization is more fragile than most of us realize. Climate change is exposing its weaknesses. It will reduce the supply of the basic needs we’re used to having. Having those basic needs met are the building blocks of a stable society, so once removed, as the military officers explained, humanitarian disasters, state failure, and conflict become more likely.

Stopping climate change matters because doing so keeps people safe and well. Millions of people are having their lives turned upside down by climate change today and even more will going forward. Even if you are one of the few lucky ones living in a particular region of a high-income country that hasn’t experienced too many dramatic impacts yet, I hope you can start to get an idea of how climate change will affect you going forward as it pervades the global web of people, resources, infrastructure, geopolitical relationships, civility, and trade that makes the world tick.


Read part 5 of this series to see other ways climate change could affect you personally.

Climate Change: The 5 Things You Need to Know series:

  1. Overview
  2. Climate Change is Happening NOW
  3. We Do Not Have Climate Change Under Control. A Sense of Urgency is Needed!
  4. Climate Change is the Biggest Threat Humanity Faces Today. It Unquestionably Affects PEOPLE.
  5. Climate Change Will Affect YOU
  6. We are the Cause, and Therefore, We Must be the Solution to Climate Change

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