//
you're reading...

Climate Change

Envisioning a better world with climate impact modeling

Article: Martinich, J. and A. Crimmins. Climate damages and adaptation potential across diverse sectors of the United States. 2019. Nature Climate Change, 9, 397-404.

This article was originally posted in April 2019. It has been re-posted here following a server issue in which the original post was accidentally removed.


After October 2018, the global perspective on climate change started to shift.

It was at this time that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a body of experts dedicated to assessing the latest climate research – published a special report that warned of our urgent situation. They stated that we have until just 2030 to drastically reduce our global carbon emissions – by nearly 50% – to avoid catastrophic damage from warming that would exceed the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C by 2100. Half a degree Celsius more warming could mean permanently destroyed ecosystems and hundreds of millions of lives in immediate danger. As our current policies stand, we’re on track to reach 3.3°C of warming by 2100. Meantime, many vulnerable communities around the world are already profoundly suffering from the consequences of global temperatures hovering around just 1°C above pre-industrial times.

Figure 1: Categories of climate impacts addressed by the study.

On November 23rd, 2018 – about a month after the IPCC report was published, and a day after Thanksgiving – the Trump Administration released the Congress-mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), written by researchers from U.S. federal agencies, to outline climate-driven risks for the country in the next century. Region by region, they predicted how our environments and infrastructures will become increasingly vulnerable to more severe and compounding climate impacts – such as extreme weather, drought, loss of ecosystems, and much more. One of the key sections of this report – Chapter 29 – summarizes our options for mitigation, and states that if we fail to take drastic action, we could expect “substantial [and likely irreversible] damages on the U.S. economy, human health, and the environment,” with annual losses growing to hundreds of billions of dollars by 2100.

Some fear that the scale of effort deemed necessary to avoid this global catastrophe will devastate our economy, which currently relies heavily on industries that contribute to the majority of emissions (such as fossil fuels, transportation, and agriculture). However, it is just about impossible to estimate with any certainty how much it will actually cost to mitigate climate change, and no solutions have yet been demonstrated on a global scale. In a new study published last month in Nature Climate Change, two of the U.S. EPA scientists who contributed to the NCA4 report, Jeremy Martinich and Allison Crimmins, asked an alternative question: how much will it cost if we do not take any action at all?

Impact models: uncertainty and intrigue

Martinich and Crimmins used ten climate models (also known as general circulation models, or GCMs) from the IPCC’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5), running two emissions scenarios called RCP8.5 and RCP4.5 (representative concentration pathways), to model how the climate would look if we took very little action to reduce our carbon emissions (RCP8.5), or if we took substantial action (RCP4.5).

Because GCMs resolve climate conditions once every 60 to 90 miles, they downscaled the results using statistical methods to assess what the climate would look like in each region of the contiguous U.S. Results from the GCMs (such as temperatures and weather conditions) were applied to 22 socioeconomic impact models – observation-driven simulations of climate-induced changes to health, infrastructure, and ecosystem conditions that could impact our economy (not to mention life as we know it).

The models were developed under the Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis (CIRA)  project from a number of published studies that aimed to reproduce patterns and behavior of biological, physical, and technological systems. How will electricity demand change in a warmer climate? How will coastal property suffer under more devastating extreme weather and sea level rise? What will coral reefs look like if they still exist? These are what impact models are designed to answer. The authors note that there are still significant constraints and uncertainties to these models, and many climate impacts have not yet been included in this type of analysis. Just like GCMs, impact models could benefit from more research. But while the uncertainties of this analysis must be acknowledged, the goal is intriguing nonetheless – combined, these models can help describe the complex, small-scale damage climate change is capable of causing, allowing us a glimpse into a world that looks very different from anything we have ever seen before.

What is the cost of climate change?

Figure 2: Maps of projections for the year 2090 from climate impact modeling using RCP8.5.

In Figure 2, sixteen climate impacts from the study are shown for RCP8.5 in the year 2090. The most striking result is that no region of the contiguous U.S. is left untouched by climate change, and many regions experience compounding impacts.

The results stand in contrast to a 2017 climate study that performed a similar regional analysis of the U.S., which showed severe negative impacts across the South while the Pacific Northwest and Northeast saw weaker impacts (or even benefits). The analysis in the present study, which was much more comprehensive, saw no potential for benefits anywhere. For example, the current model results showed that the Northeast saw degraded air quality, extended pollen seasons, and extreme heat waves, potentially all at once. The Northwest saw a rise in electricity  demand and increased flood vulnerability.

The story was much different in the emissions scenario RCP4.5, for which we would take substantial action to reduce carbon emissions. In this scenario, models predicted that by 2090, we could avoid anywhere from millions to tens of billions of dollars annually as compared to the RCP8.5 scenario, depending on the impact. The most significant avoided impacts under RCP4.5 included extreme heat death, labour accessibility, and damages to coastal property and roads.

Envisioning a better world

What I like most about this study is that it gives us the tools to grasp the all-encompassing nature of climate change. It enables us to become more aware of the inevitable uncertainty and insidious effects of climate change, but also of our ability to adapt. It might be easier to envision what climate adaptation and mitigation could look like if we were more present in the reality of the crisis. Although this study (as well as the NCA4 report) came out of our own federal government, current U.S. policies do not reflect the urgency with which the results were written. To take meaningful action on climate change, it is the hope that research like this can be used to inform policy decisions to change the course of our future.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 3 weeks ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com