A team of researchers at ETH Zurich headed by Jean-Francois Bastin has produced a report that shows how a 2º C rise in temperature would affect cities around the world. “We wanted to know what’s the most conservative estimate of what the climate will be for 520 major cities in 2050,” said Tom Crowther, a researcher at ETH Zürich. “The changes we found are huge,” he says according to a report by National Geographic.
What is the purpose of this study? The authors believe people can better visualize and understand the impact of a warming planet if they can compare where they live now to another city they are familiar with. They say it does little good to demonize climate skeptics. It’s better to describe the predicted future in terms that are comprehensible to the audience.
[Note: The materials below and the graphic shown above are copyright Bastin, et als, and are taken from a study published by PLOS.org. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.]
The gap between the scientific and public understanding of climate change, referred to as the “Consensus Gap”, is largely attributed to failures in climate change communication [which is] Often limited to ad-hoc reporting of extreme weather events or intangible, long-term climate impacts such as changes in average temperature by 2100.
Despite an exhaustive list of risks associated to climate change such as heat stress, air and water quality, food supply, distribution of vectors of diseases, social factors, the intangible nature of reporting on climate change fails to adequately convey the urgency of this issue to a public audience on a consistent basis.
It is hard for most people to envision how an additional 2°C of warming might affect daily life. This ineffective communication of climate change facts, compounded by uncertainty about the extent of expected changes, has left the door open for widespread misinterpretation about the existence of this global phenomenon.
History has repeatedly shown us that data and facts alone do not inspire humans to change their beliefs or act. Increased scientific literacy has no correlation with the acceptance of climate change facts. A growing body of research demonstrates that visualization — the ability to create a mental image of the problem — is the most effective approach for motivating behavior change.
As iconic locations, cities are associated with distinct sets of environmental conditions. As such, shifts in the climate conditions of these urban areas could provide a unique opportunity for people to visualize the impacts of climate change, and to establish effective response strategies to address the effects.
Several studies and press reports have shown that the use of ‘cities geographic shift’ or “city analogues” can help to understand and visualize the effects of climate change. In particular, cities can serve as useful climate analog, enabling people to visualize their own climate future via comparison with other cities that currently experience those climate conditions.
Specifically, we aim to test three questions: (i) What proportion of the world’s major cities of the future most closely resemble their own current climate conditions vs. the climate conditions of other cities in different geographic regions? (ii) What proportion of cities will experience novel climate conditions that are outside the range experiences by cities today? (iii) If cities do shift their climate conditions, is this spatial shift uniform in direction across the planet?
Tom Crowther, one of the study authors, has created an interactive map that allows viewers to mouse over a city to see what other urban area today most closely approximates what that city will be like in 2050.
The study results suggest several things.
“77% of future cities are very likely to experience a climate that is closer to that of another existing city than to its own current climate. In addition, 22% of cities will experience climate conditions that are not currently experienced by any existing major cities.
“As a general trend, we found that all the cities tend to shift towards the sub-tropics, with cities from the Northern hemisphere shifting to warmer conditions, on average ~1000 km south and cities from the tropics shifting to drier conditions. We notably predict that Madrid’s climate in 2050 will resemble Marrakech’s climate today, Stockholm will resemble Budapest, London to Barcelona, Moscow to Sofia, Seattle to San Francisco, Tokyo to Changsha.”
Professor Bastin of ETZ Zurich says, “We want to help people visualize the impact of climate change in their own city, within their lifetime.” It should be noted that the calculations made by the researchers are based on a more or less optimum assessment of where average global temperatures will be by 2050 assuming a 2º C rise in average global temperatures by that date.
Many climate scientists believe up to 4º C is likely with some predicting an increase of as much as 7º C is possible. Using the best case scenario helps to offset the yapping of climate deniers like Andrew Wheeler, head of the EPA, that climate scientists are focusing only on extreme scenarios.
The likely temperature increases are quite similar regardless of which scenario is used, but after 2050 the increase in average temperatures sky rockets if the more aggressive scenario is followed to its logical conclusion according to preeminent climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University. That’s why the US government now limits all discussion of future temperatures to 2050 or sooner.
Will Antarctica Be The New Europe?
Regardless of which climate change model you choose — the best case scenario preferred by the current administration or the worst case scenario that some scientists argue is not extreme enough — a new study by NASA finds the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting faster than anyone predicted. Never heard of the Thwaites Glacier? Here’s a little perspective, courtesy of The Guardian.
Antarctica has nearly eight times more land-based ice than Greenland and 50 times more than all mountain glaciers combined. The Thwaites glacier alone contains enough ice to increase global sea levels by about 50 centimeters. Sea level rise linked to warming has already been linked with increased coastal flooding and storm surges. 50 centimeters, in case you live in the US and are not familiar with the metric system, is just about 19 inches — enough to endanger many world cities.
It is not possible to estimate the effect of rising sea and air temperatures on Thwaites because the land beneath it is impossible to study accurately as it has always been covered by ice in modern times. Yet studies show that if the entire West Antarctica ice shelf melts, sea levels will rise 16 feet, dooming many coastal cities. While it may take hundreds of years for that to happen, the point, NASA scientists say, is that Antarctica will soon reach a tipping point after which catastrophic melting will proceed no matter how much global carbon emissions are reduced.
Given that the world community has failed to reduce emissions significantly even knowing the emergency confronting it, the prospect of actually doing so in the future is unlikely at best. Another study published recently finds that melting of the Antarctic ice sheet suddenly picked up speed in 2014 for reasons no one knows. Since then, satellite data shows Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years.
Sea ice does not contribute directly to sea level changes, but when it melts, the dark water underneath absorbs more heat from the sun, heat that previously was radiated back into the atmosphere by the reflectivity of the ice. Warmer seas lead to more melting which lead to warmer seas. It is this feedback loop effect that many climate deniers do not understand.
Whether the discussion is about warming cities or rising seas, it is clear that something is going on with the world we live in. Evolutionary theory suggests that land creatures, including humans, evolved from aquatic species. If things continue as they are going, someday humans may need to grow flippers, fins, and gills again as the seas close over the land. Maybe that’s what Rex Tillerson meant when he said we will just adapt to changes in climate. The problem is biological changes require thousands of years to happen. We simply don’t have the luxury of that much time.