Climate change is becoming an issue of rising importance to Americans. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 46 percent of Americans view climate change as a serious issue, up from 33 percent in 2013. Over the past few years President Obama has dedicated much of his time to addressing climate change, calling it a threat to national and global security, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called it one of the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. However, it still seems that many Americans still have a difficult time grasping climate change's insidious nature.
To be fair, in some cases, this knowledge gap in public understanding makes sense. Climate scientists have failed to adequately demonstrate how climate change will have significant impacts on the average middle-class American. Meanwhile, many policymakers spin climate change science as some bogus pillar of the liberal political agenda. Research has shown that many people won't internalize or act on an issue unless it has a direct impact on their life or within their community. The aim of our piece is to bridge the knowledge gap and show in measurable and relatable ways just how climate change will affect the average American.
PUBLIC HEALTH, FOOD SECURITY, COST OF LIVING
Increased CO2 means more favorable growing conditions for allergy inducing weeds. For example, rageweed's pollen season has been lengthening as the first frost episodes in the fall have been occurring later and later in the season. In general, more CO2 and warmer temperatures means that plants are active and shedding pollen more months out of the year. This translates to more misery for allergy suffers.
Allergy sufferers are not the only ones that will be negatively affected by increased temperatures, people with asthma will also be at greater risk. Ozone pollution is created when Nitrous oxide gases (NOx) and Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from internal combustible engines burning gas (a.k.a. cars) or coal undergo a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight. So sunny, hot summery months will experience higher rates of air pollution and thus, higher rates of asthma related health problems and hospitalizations.
Food for thought: In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientist published a paper estimating that "the United States will pay an estimated 5.4 billion dollars extra in health impact costs associated with increased ozone levels due to climate change."
You know who else loves warm weather? BUGS. They just can't get enough of it. That means you can expect lovely critters like cockroaches, termites, wasps, bees, mosquitos, fleas, and ticks to not only expand their ranges but to be active more months out of the year. Who needs to hibernate when it is 75F in February?!
Although flood insurance is currently covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the U.S., homeowners in coastal areas (especially on the Eastern Seaboard) are already seeing higher insurance rates as the federal government abandons the policy. On April 1st 2015, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 went into effect, phasing out federal subsides for buildings in high-risk flood areas and including annual surcharges. Increases in storm surges and sea level rise will result in more flooding of these coastal regions.
Increased rainfall will be disastrous to other flood prone areas in the U.S. such as the Great Lakes, parts of the Northeast and the Great Basin. Last year's floods in the UK have already stirred some debate over insurance premiums.
Expect to spend more money on keeping your house comfortable. If you already found yourself turning on the AC or heater on at home, this will only increase with more drastic summers and winters. Northeasterners in the U.S. already noticed this trend with 2014's polar vortex, where customers' utility bills for the month of February 2014 were 20 percent higher than that of 2013.
Increased Commodity & Service Prices
Consumers may end up paying more for products and services from companies that do not have climate risk management plans in place yet. Companies that don't acknowledge climate risk exclude this risk mitigation from their practices and may pass along the increased costs that result from increased droughts, floods, water scarcity, etc., to the consumer.
For those of you who like your fruits and veggies (as well as your wine, coffee and seafood), climate change will have different impacts on different types of produce, depending on where it is harvested. Oranges and citrus that depend on mild winters and springs could see decreased yields, resulting in higher prices. Climate change is altering the growing conditions in wine-producing areas, while also threatening the quality and quantity of coffee beans in various regions. Recent drought in Brazil has resulted in poor coffee bean harvests and the fastest rise of coffee prices in more than 13 years. In 2014, a scallop producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia lost three years' worth of scallops, a result of high carbon dioxide levels.
Although some crops will see higher yields due to warmer climates, many researchers are already looking into genetically modified seeds in order to adapt to climate change. To those that are skeptical of GMOs, we are talking to you. It's likely that climate resilient seeds will be used more often to maintain high production yields. For instance, since avocados are a water-intensive crop, some avocado farmers might find an avocado seed that needs less water appealing, in order to adapt to drier conditions that are a result of climate change.
California has been suffering one of its worst droughts ever recorded. With limited water supply and greater water demand, higher water pricing may be a possibility in the future. Also, droughts in California, which is the top agricultural producer in the U.S., means that produce prices will increase due to yield and revenue losses. Fortunately, intense water conservation is becoming a norm, and at the end of August 2015, California had seen a drop of 31.3 percent in water use.
Watch for Part 2 of the "Why You Should Care About Climate Change" series, "Outdoor Activities," as well as Part 3, "Leaving a Legacy and What You Can Do"