Two Degrees Can Change Your Life: 5 reasons why a 2° C increase in global temperatures would suck for the average American.

With the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) winding down at the end of the week, it makes sense that our first post here at Science Over Everything addresses this historic summit.  Leaders from over 190 different countries gathered to discuss how we as a planet can avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Going into the start of the talks last week, hopes were high that someway, somehow, countries across the globe could agree on binding policies to keep the Earth from warming by 2°C by the end of the century.  However, the odds of us staying below the 2°C threshold is getting increasingly grim.

So what’s the big deal with temperatures going up by 2°C? I live in Ohio and the winters here are awful. Wouldn’t an extra a couple degrees be nice around February? We all remember the Polar Vortex, right?

Outside the depressing possibility of losing 1 in 6 species to extinction, most folks can’t say how climate change will affect their daily lives. To better educate you on what is in our very near future and why is so important, here are 5 ways that climate change is going to have a real impact your life.

1.) Food costs are going to go way up.

This is probably how climate change will affect your daily life the most. Crop production is going to take a huge hit from increasing temperatures and droughts. Large swaths of land will no longer be fertile due to them literally turning into deserts. The graph below is from a 2011 study from the National Academy of Sciences and shows how corn and wheat look to take a around 30% decrease in yields with a 2 degree temperature change.

While that might not sound like much, it’s more than just having to fork over a little more at the roadside stand for sweet corn. Think of all the food products in today’s supermarkets that contain wheat or corn (see:high fructose corn syrup). While this definitely hurts folks in poor countries a lot more as they spend a larger part of their income on food, imagine if every American household was paying an extra 30-40% more to feed their families.

crop yields.png
Percent change in yields by crops (Source: Wikimedia)

2.) Your air conditioning bill is going to skyrocket.

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater… than central air. It’s a well-needed respite from the unforgiving summer heat, but get ready to keep the air on a lot longer. The same 2011 NAS study found that most western states will experience heat waves between 7 and 10 days longer than historical averages. This could mean electric bills upwards of $300-400/month and well over $1000 for the summer.  

There’s also the potential that with so many more households using their air conditioning at the same time putting major stress on the nation’s power grid. Our power grid is notoriously weak , and a surge in demand for energy during a heat wave has a very real possibility of overloading the grid. And while it would be annoying to not have modern conveniences like a cell phone for a few days, heat waves are dangerous for those in ill health, with the elderly being the most vulnerable.

3.) Vacations are going to get a lot more lame.

If you are an outdoor adventurer like I am, start planning your bucket list trips now. Rain and snowfall are likely to decrease by 15% over the next century, with the western part of the country being especially hard hit. This is a double whammy because many western states rely a lot on tourism to generate direct revenue (tax dollars) and to maintain a healthy economy. Not too many folks are going to be planning white water rafting trips during a three month drought.

To date, the ski industry has already taken major hits. The $67 billion dollar industry provides about 900,000 jobs, but with less snowfall and more warm days during the year, that could cripple cities and communities. It would also mean much higher costs for skiers – resorts would need to increase prices on the days they can operate just to cover fixed costs and remain in business.

Oh, and if you are a scuba enthusiast, book your trip to the Great Barrier Reef now. It’s already half gone thanks to ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the air. Bummer.

4.) Floods and fires are going to burn up your insurance.

As we mentioned earlier, droughts will have a heavy impact on the tourism economy. However, there are consequences for homeowners as well. In recent years, the number of forest fires have increased in the western part of the United States. And while fires are a natural part of the a forest ecosystem, in a country of large suburbs that sprawl into the wilderness, this can cause problems.  As sprawl has occurred, the natural fire consumption cycle has been stopped. What should have a been a series of natural, manageable fires over the past 2 decades has been abated (not mitigated) through fire prevention measures and are making areas extremely prone to large, out-of-control fires as fuel sources are plentiful, water sources are non-existent, and heat is on the rise.

For one, there’s the risk of having your home burned to the ground by a run-away fire. Aside from the terrifying possibility of losing loved ones in a natural disaster, there’s economic consequences as well. There’s the chance you could lose your home and all of your life savings, but most people who could afford a home would be able to get homeowner’s insurance.

As any actuary will tell you, insurance rates are calculated based on risk. If global temperatures continue to rise, there are some parts of the country that could have up to a 400% increase in conditions that are favorable to forest fires. And when it does happen to rain, trees with extensive root systems that hold together the soil will be gone, causing devastating flooding. Households out west could see their insurance rates skyrocket.

5.) You Dasani water bottle isn’t going to be a $1.19 any more.

Projected_change_in_annual_average_precipitation_for_the_21st_century,_based_on_the_SRES_A1B_emissions_scenario,_and_simulated_by_the_GFDL_CM2.1_model.png
Source: Wikipedia

If aliens came down to Earth tomorrow and asked “What is the most important liquid for mankind?”, we would probably say that it is water. You can’t live without it, even if you tried. However, if those same aliens were on a tour of the planet, they would be pretty confused by how we allocate the liquid of life. Imagine one saying to the other, “Look here, Zaltar! The humans have giant holes in the ground to hold water by which to sit when their sun is out. On rare occasions they will even venture into them. They call them ‘pools’.”

We use water in a lot of dumb ways other than pools. Some of us have even gone as far as to install miniature plumbing systems in our yards to ensure that our lawns are better hydrated than we are. But the worst is bottled water. Plastic bottled water is one of the worst ways we allocate one of our most precious resources (water bottles are to cars as tap water is public transit).  

There have already been several severe droughts across the world, and if temperatures increase, we will have a hard time meeting demand. Though we might not have Mad Max-like wars, states have already disputed over access to fresh water. Even so, one can’t help but reach of a bottle of water on a warm summer day. Just know that in a few years, you may be paying a lot more for than you do now.

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