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US Climate risks are rising – a scientist looks at the dangers her children will have to adapt to, from wildfires to water scarcity
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US Climate risks are rising – a scientist looks at the dangers her children will have to adapt to, from wildfires to water scarcity

Three adults and two young children wade through flood water carrying suitcases.


I took my 6-month-old daughter to Yellowstone National Park when I was a young researcher researching how forested ecosystems recover following wildfire. These forests are Amazingly resilient to wildfire because they’ve been adapting to it for 10,000 years. As I began my research career, I found their story of resilience inspiring. It was also the story that brought me and my children into this complex world.

Fast forward to today: My daughter is now in college and we face a different fire regime in an even hotter and drier world. The western U.S. is characterized by the The area that was destroyed by wildfires doubledComparing to natural levels, the rates of wildfires have increased since the mid-1980s. Wildfires are more common in the tundra and tropics. The United States is experiencing fires all year.

A New report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Feb. 28, 2022, shows that the extent and magnitude of many climate change impacts like wildfires are now larger than previously expected. Some animals or plants are vulnerable Limits in their ability adapt. Droughts can be Crop productivity is affectedAnd power generation. Flooding and excess heat are two of the most common causes of flooding. Spreading diseasesAgriculture, wildlife, people. People who live near the coast or work outdoors are particularly vulnerable. The Economic and social impactsThey are also increasing, which has consequences for critical infrastructure, transportation networks and health, as well as food security.

My third child is now nine years old. His future is estimated to include approximately Four times as many extreme situations compared to the experience of someone in their 60s today – and that’s if nations reduce fossil fuel use enough to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. It’s even more dangerous if they don’t.

Three adults and two young children wade through flood water carrying suitcases.
Rising sea levels increase the risk of coastal flooding in Louisiana, and other states.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

Adapting to a changing world

The report warns that humanity is in a very short window of opportunity to create a sustainable, livable future. Climate change will have different impacts on different regions, but those most vulnerable will face the greatest dangers.

It is important to ensure that they are heard in decision-making and planning. For example, Indigenous peoples They are at the forefront climate-driven catastrophesYou can also become partners in their solutions. In Alaska, Where I am currently conducting researchThe next storm could cause sewer systems to collapse, and the melting permafrost is causing severe damage to underground food storage areas as well as roads. I’ve seen homes set on coastal cliffs there that are eroding into the sea.

Two children play on an eroding hill with a house now at the edge of an eroded cliff that stands about one-story high.
Thawing permafrost has been eroding the hillsides in Alaska and causing ground sink. This is putting homes, roads, and pipelines at risk.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Water and food security

The report discusses how North America’s ideal climates are shifting northward. This is causing a decrease in productivity for key crops and livestock. The thermal Habitat for trout and salmon could be reduced by 5% to 31%The ocean acidification will lead to shifts in lobster and crab distributions and a decline in shellfish harvests.

Although the impacts of climate change are different depending on where you live, research has shown that they have generally decreased. Productive agricultureGrowth by around 12.5% in North America since 1961, Particularly in drought-prone regions. Rising global temperatures are The snowpack can be reducedWater is a vital resource for cities and farms. Groundwater pumpingAs a result, access to freshwater is being restricted in certain areas, especially in the western U.S.

Adapting could be defined as planting different cropsOr Water conservation. Falling water levels on the Colorado River have triggered water use limitsSeven states have agreed to it.

A family looks over the edge of a viewing area at the Colorado River, now far below.
Lake Mead’s ‘bathtub ring’ shows how far the giant reservoir on the Colorado River had dropped by mid-2021.
David McNew/Getty Images

Urban and coastal economies

Storms can cause severe damage to the coastlines of the U.S. and urban areas. sea level risePossible causes of disruptions in trade and transport networks and, Significant social and economic changeThe report states that. Coral reefs account for up to 99%If temperatures rise only a half-degree Celsius further, natural storm protections like the sandbars in the Gulf of Mexico, along the coasts of Florida and on the Yucatan Peninsula will be gone by the end of this century.

There are many adaptation techniques Other than building seawalls. Green infrastructureFloodwater can be managed by planting vegetation, which is usually found in flood-prone regions. Some communities are also looking into Managed migration to help move residents out of harm’s way.

Another risk is Heat-related illnesses and deathsIt is particularly high among urban workers and poor residents. It will depend on how much it rises in the future. How people and countries respond.

Worsening wildfires

Last year, I was backMy 9-year-old son and I visited Yellowstone together. We also revisited places that I was a young researcher. Rather than a scene of resilience, wildfires had returned in just 18 years, burning landscapes that under natural conditions weren’t supposed to burn again for 150 years.

My colleagues and me saw the same thing that our research showed: the Potential for the transformation of Yellowstone’s landscapeBy fire. It also demonstrated how these changes can be made in a matter of days.

Small pine trees sprout up in a landscape recovering from fire, with burned tree trunks on the ground and standing nearby.
Large fires are more frequent than ever before. The photo was taken by the author, who is also part the Science Moms group climate scientists.
Erica A.H. Smithwick, CC BY -ND

Wildfire frequency increases with rising temperatures Prognosis: An increase of around 30%Globally, the century will end if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at a high pace. Fires will Carbon dioxide should be released moreThey will be released into our atmosphere, where they further accelerate climate change. worsen air qualityFor billions of people.

There are strategies to help prevent the worst. Megafires can be avoided by restoring fire-adapted ecosystems and using prescribed burning and forest thinning where appropriate. Steps can be taken by communitiesTo Reduce the fire riskFollow construction codes and build firebreaks

Wildfires pose a threat in the East as well. Video by Penn State.

A window of opportunity

The IPCC report concludes unambiguously that climate change has already caused disruptions in natural and human systems, and that it poses a threat to human well-being. It also reminds us of the possibility to make it better.

Many reports have described pathways to these destinations. reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach a “net zero” emissions economy to avoid the worst harm and help communities adapt.

We also need Talk about climate changeEach other. If people don’t talk about it, they don’t act. A Yale surveyIt was found that 72% of Americans believe global warming is occurring, while only 35% are discussing it. Talking about climate changeTo spark action, it is important to connect with our communities, our friends, and our children in the appropriate ways.

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