Climate change won’t heat the planet equally

By Thomas Gaulkin | May 31, 2018


You’ve probably heard what happens when there’s a snow flurry in Texas. Things get weird. The roads aren’t built for it. Highways close, kids stay home from school, people panic. 

In places closer to the equator that usually see only slight variations in temperature, the consequences of global warming are likely to be far more extreme. The outsize vulnerability of the world’s poorest people to damaging effects of climate change like droughts and floods is well established. It’s harder for people to overcome disasters in regions without the resources and infrastructure that are plentiful in wealthier parts of the world. 

Now, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters adds insult to injury. By mapping economic and social development to  climate models’ “signal-to-noise ratio”—which compares normal local temperature fluctuation (noise) to overall increases to average local temperatures (signal)—the authors determined that the poorest populations on the planet will experience more perceptible climate change than the richest. In other words, in places with already fragile social and ecological systems, climate change won’t just be harder to deal with, it will actually be more noticeable, and worse.

Not to be outdone, climate researchers at Oxford University offered their own insults this week. Analyzing vehicle use in Scotland, they concluded that top-down efforts to transition society to electric vehicles and phase out vehicle emissions aren’t enough. Without radical changes to lifestyles and increased demand for less harmful transportation systems, the authors say, there’s no chance of hitting the targets set in the Paris climate agreement.

In light of all that, it’s a nice distraction to gaze at photos of an iridescent metal called bismuth, whose recently discovered “magic” properties can turn harmful CO2 into renewable fuel. It might even make you feel like it’s snowing in June.

Publication Name: Geophysical Research Letters
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