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Climate Change

The Coming Plague

Rich benthic fauna and associated reef fish, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is expected to be one of the first places in the world to see prolonged, record-breaking heatwaves. Credit: Courtesy of Keoki Stender,

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 10 2013 (IPS) - A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions.

By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study.

"Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past." -- Nature study lead author Camilo Mora

“We don’t know what the impacts will be. If someone is about to fall off a three-storey building you can’t predict their exact injuries but you know there will be injuries,” said Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author.

“The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said Mora.

The “climate plague” is a shift to an entirely new climate where the lowest monthly temperatures will be hotter than those in the past 150 years. The shift is already underway due to massive emissions of heat-trapping carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

Extreme weather will soon be beyond anything ever experienced, and old record high temperatures will be the new low temperatures, Mora told IPS. This will affect billions of people and there is no going back to way things were.

“Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he said.

In less than 10 years, a country like Jamaica will look much like it always has but it will not be the same country. Jamaicans and every living thing on the island and in its coastal waters will be experiencing a new, hotter climate – hotter on average than the previous 150 years.

The story will be same around 2030 in southern Nigeria, much of West Africa, Mexico and Central America without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, the study reports.

“Some species will adapt, some will move, some will die,” said co-author Ryan Longman also at the University of Hawai‘i.

Tropical regions will shift first because their historical temperature ranges are narrow. Climate change may only shift temperatures by 1.0 degree C but that will be too much for some plants, amphibians, animals and birds that have evolved in a very stable climate, Longman said.

Tropical corals are already in sharp decline due to a combination of warmer ocean temperatures and  higher levels of ocean acidity as oceans absorb most the carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

The Nature study examined 150 years of historical temperature data, more than a million maps, and the combined projections of 39 climate models to create a global index of when and where a region shifts into novel climate. That is to say a local climate that is continuously outside the most extreme records the region has experienced in the past 150 years.

Canada’s climate won’t shift until 2050 under the business as usual emissions scenario the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls RCP8.5. The further a region is from the equator, the later the shift occurs. If the world sharply reduces its use of fossil fuels (RCP4.5), then these climate shifts are delayed 10 to 30 years depending on the location, the study shows. (City by city projection here)

Tropical regions are also those with greatest numbers of unique species. Costa Rica is home to nearly 800 species, while Canada, which is nearly 200 times larger in area, has only about 70 unique or endemic species.

Species matter because the abundance and variety of plants, animals, fish, insects and other living things are humanity’s life support system, providing our air, water, food and more.

“It’s an elegant study that shows timing of when climate shifts beyond anything in the recent past,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Donner, who wasn’t involved in the study, agrees that the new regional climates in the tropics will have big impacts on many species.

“A number of other studies show corals, birds, and amphibians in the tropics are very sensitive to temperature changes,” Donner told IPS.

The impacts on ecosystems, food production, water availability or cites and towns are not known. However, the results of the study confirm the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce those future impacts, he said.

Developed countries not only need to make larger reductions in their emissions, they need to increase their “funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries to minimize the impacts of climate change”, the study concludes.

Amongst the biggest impacts the coming ‘climate plague’ will have is on food production, said Mora.

“In a globalised world, what happens in tropics won’t stay in the tropics,” he said.

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  • Marysue5252

    So all should know this–so why are too many of us voting for rightwing nutbars who want more environmental ruin?

  • Newfie

    And Steven Harper wants to extract all the oil from the tar sands and burn it.

  • dennis

    We as a culture are bent on consumerism, convienence and creature comfort at the expense of other species

  • lightweaver1213

    I remember reading something about the earth shifting its axis whereby the tropical climate would see cold weather (North Pole), and those currently considered North Pole, would begin to experience tropical-like weather. It seems that even in the height of scientific and technologic information being higher than it ever has been, they still cannot grasp the mere understanding that men have caused the distress to the earth and likewise have never been (beyond American Indian tribes) responsible (or even good for that matter) “caretakers” of the earth. Our God gave man dominion over the earth and man has literally destroyed it little by little, bit by bit, until (as we are realizing now) we are seeing the effects of our corruption to our planet — almost as if once the Earth was destroyed, we could pull an identical one out of a hat to replace it. Man has never had any regard for anything other than for his own purposes.

  • waltinseattle

    Naturally, seeing the word “plague” I assumed he was actually talking about plagues. You know, Black Death, Hanta, Ebola, Marburg, Crimea-Congo et cet. What a pity to just talk about the same direct consequences. The changes of temperature, foods for animals, natural host changes …all will conspire to demand that bacteria and virus utilize (albeit not by willing choices, but demand in a statistical, blind manner) the phenomena of SPILLOVER. They will take to new hosts, they will find their way to a human population that is completely without the requisite immunities. Perhaps this will happen among the plagues with 90 to 100 lethality, among ones who are transmissible before the first symptoms are apparent and quarantine is of use.or among those possessing both…..

  • waltinseattle

    Wild Flavor is a conspicuous consumption growing in China. It is the eating of snakes, wild rodents…many hereto ungastronomic species. It’s already gaining a bad rep as these foods share their germs. but it is still growing. we call that “hubris” in the trade.

  • waltinseattle

    that dominion thing has certainly led to some “christians” acting as poor shepards of the garden intrusted to us all. as for pole shift. balderdash. on a slow scale yes, but as a fast overnight it is fantasy for movies. Yes there are mastadon flashfrozen with flowers in their stomaches. Read about the great plains in the 1880’s, and the childrens blizzards. a warm spring day when kids left the coat at home….found frozen to death a week later after the front hit, men at the barn dead before they could return to the house. So the mastadons can be explained by simple events and process we have also experienced, with no pole shift.

  • 350orbust

    We need to stop burning coal, oil, and gas and become caretakers of the earth, and our children’s future, again.
    It’s that or extinction. What the “economy is everything” folks haven’t yet realized is you can’t have an economy on a dead planet.

  • Independentview

    What a bunch of lies. Nobody wants or is trying to destroy the environment. 40 years ago leftist control freaks told us the Earth would run out of gas twenty years ago, that 75% of species on Earth would be extinct and civilization would end by the year 2000.
    Lies, lies and more lies.
    People don’t believe the whole ” We are doomed. Doomed I say !!! ” garbage because people have been screaming that lie for decades.
    The Earth has been warmer than it is now before and cooler than it is now before. We had these little things called Ice Ages before a single drop of gas was ever used. It’s called nature and it is never the same for long. Never has been and never going to be.

  • Mikal

    Why is it that almost NOBODY ever mentions ‘big beef’ as a cause of global warming? It is a fact that 18+% of all global warming is caused by large agricultural industries, while only 13+% is caused by fossil fuels. Even if we were to eliminate ALL fossil fuel usage, we would still hit the critical 2 degree C mark due to our meat rich diet. Eat beef once a week instead of almost every day and it will make a bigger impact than never driving a car again.

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