Hope For The Next Generation
My children were born in 2009 and 2012. By 2050 my kids will be 41 and 38 years old. By then, they might have kids of their own, and I could have grandchildren. Parenting is full of worries and things to do, so I won’t add to your list. I’m optimistic about the global efforts to curb climate change, but I’m also insatiably curious and maybe a tad bit morbid. I think the best way to solve problems is to bring the dark into the light, so I decided to list a few of the problems my kids might face in 2050 and beyond, and then list just a few of the many reasons I’m optimistic that their future won’t be filled with floods and starvation. Here we go.
“Portions of the East and Gulf coasts have faced some of the world’s fastest rates of sea level rise. These trends have contributed to loss of life, billions of dollars in damage to coastal property and infrastructure, massive taxpayer funding for recovery and rebuild- ing, and degradation of our prized shores,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
120 million Americans live along the coast. That’s about 40% of the US population. The below video shows the effect that coastal flooding is already having on the East Coast.
A couple good graphics…
If you’re curious, you can see what your favorite coastline might look like based on different sea level rise scenarios using the Sea Level Rise Viewer from the Office For Coastal Management.
Then there’s food insecurity
When I go to the grocery store I’m overwhelmed by choices, never a lack of them. There’s so much food our society is obsessed with staying thin. 40% of food is wasted from farm to fork in the US. None of today’s problems seem consistent with food insecurity, but a changing climate can drastically effect farmers abilities to grow the food we eat.
“Climate change is very likely to affect global, regional, and local food security by disrupting food availability, decreasing access to food, and making food utilization more difficult,” according to the Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System report by the USDA. “The effect of climate change on crop productivity is projected to be mixed in the near term, with detrimental effects becoming more pronounced and geographically widespread over the longer term and with higher emissions rate.”
For families this would mean an increase in prices and a decrease in the availability of select foods. A lot of factors go into determining food prices, such as transportation costs and advertising, so only a small percent of the money we spend on food actually goes to the food itself. However, the USDA report states “The continued changes expected between 2050 and 2100 under high-emissions scenarios are expected to have overall detrimental effects on most crops and livestock.” Under such a scenario either consumers will pay more for food, or government will need to further subsidize farmers. Either way, families pay more.
If food insecurity isn’t enough to scare you, how about wine insecurity?
“The changing climate would even shrink the $50 billion Californian wine industry by up to 70% by 2050,” according to the Global Solutions Network.
If the land suitable for growing wine grapes decreases by 25% – 73% that means a big increase in wine prices and a big decrease in wine production. I think we can all agree we need easy and affordable access to decent wine! Seriously. I can’t loose wine!
“It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur throughout the 21st century on a global scale. It is very likely, 90 per cent to 100 per cent probability, that heat waves will increase in length, frequency, and/or intensity over most land areas,” according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A 2003 heat wave in Europe caused 35,000 deaths. Heat waves are called silent killers because extreme heat can lead to dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion and is especially dangerous for children. On the other end of the extreme weather spectrum is extreme rain which can lead to flooding, property damage and dangerous driving conditions. Neither scenario is one that I want my kids or grandkids exposed to.
The Tipping Point
Then there’s the tipping point. Nobody really knows when a tipping point will occur, but it’s certainly the scariest part about climate change for me.
“Exceeding one or more tipping points could potentially result in abrupt changes in the climate or any component of the climate system,” according to the US Dept of Transportation report on Climate Tipping Points.
So basically, a tipping point can cause a reaction in the environment that is much more intense than the slow increases in temperature and changes in weather pattern that we are currently trending for. A tipping point would be an extreme change that happens as a result of many, many years of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.
“Human impacts on the climate system through greenhouse gas emissions may change the climate so much that it is impossible (or extremely difficult and costly) to return it to its original state – in this sense the changes are irreversible. Some irreversibility will almost certainly occur,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report from 2007.
On to the Hope
Despite all this, I’m optimistic about my children’s future. There’s actually a lot we can do to minimize the impact of climate change and to protect our children and grandchildren. Part two of this article will focus on solutions, but for now, I’ll focus on hope.
In 1965, 42% of American adults smoked. Due to public education, increased taxes and other restrictions on smoking and cigarettes, in 2014 only 16.8% of American adults smoked according to the CDC. It’s not perfect, but certainly a huge improvement.
I have to believe that public education, a carbon tax or cap and trade and innovation can have the same effect on climate change. (More on this to come).
In November, 42 US mayors issued an open letter to President Elect Donald Trump asking for his “partnership in our work to clean our air, strengthen our economy, and ensure that our children inherit a nation healthier and better prepared for the future than it is today.”
I won’t worry about whether or not these mayors get the support they’re asking for. What matters is that the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, San Jose and Phoenix etc are all united in their mission to curb climate change and keep their residents safe. That gives me hope.
So I’ll leave you with thoughts of grand kids playing by a clean and pristine coastline, picking shells and throwing rocks into the break. I don’t believe that we are doomed to lives effected by flooding, wine insecurity and an eminent tipping point. I believe there are real solutions to these problems and that the love for our children and grandchildren will prevail.