It’s a fault of humanity that we often don’t care about things until they personally affect us. Climate change, despite all the hand-wringing, is no different. But what if we told you that shifting temperatures are affecting you, impacting everything from your attention span to your chances of getting mauled by a bear? And if you think that’s bad, just wait: Climate change is also to blame for your less-than-impressive endowment. From shrinking willies to volcanic eruptions, disappearing hazelnut coffees to pithy brews, we celebrate Earth Day by reflecting on the all-too-human costs of climate change.
Liam Jamieson, Joshua Eferighe, Nick Fouriezos
feeling the pain
1. Shriveled Eggplants
Global warming first came for the birds and the bees — now it’s coming for the birds and the bees. According to leading epidemiologist Shanna Swan, penises are shrinking — and climate change is to blame. In fact, a host of reproductive problems in both sexes, from erectile dysfunction to infertility, are being spurred by pollution. Chemicals, particularly phthalates — components that create the elasticity found in many toys, detergents, cosmetics and food packaging — are contributing to our progenitive woes. The issue has become so stark that in some countries, Swan writes, the average 20-something is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35.
2. Sad Scientists
Climate change is leading to real feelings of loss, frustration and depression within the scientific community, as many feel like modern Cassandras with proof of impending doom that’s largely met with insufficient action. That anguish has led many to embrace a more emotive paradigm across academia and the research community, eschewing the traditional veneer of calm-headed scientific objectivity. And they aren’t the only ones feeling the pain: Climate homesickness is now both a term (solastalgia) and a well-documented phenomenon everywhere from Africa and Appalachia to Canada and China. Tomorrow’s doctors are studying the effects of climate change on our mental health, while Alcoholics Anonymous-style clubs are forming around those feeling the global warming blues.
3. Biased Climate Change
Even temperatures aren’t equitable. Women are 60 percent more vulnerable to mental health conditions caused by climate change, while racial minorities are more likely to die of environmental causes. These disproportionate outcomes are the result of errant human actions — more than half of the people living close to hazardous waste in America are people of color, which has led some to call environmental racism “the new Jim Crow.” Already facing economic and educational obstacles, such communities have fewer resources to respond to natural disasters. And as America continues to shift its toxic waste burden onto mostly poor, rural minority communities in the South, spiritual and physical ailments are likely to persist.
4. Lions and Sharks and Bears, Oh My?
Humans are not the top of the food chain, and climate change is leading to more hairy run-ins with wildlife. Last year, Australia recorded the highest number of fatal shark attacks in nearly a century, with eight fatalities after averaging around one a year for decades. Warming waters drive sharks into once-cooler territories … while warming climates drive more people to the beach, creating the perfect storm for a Jaws-worthyencounter. Global warming is also expanding the geography of the cow-killing tsetse fly beyond its typical African habitats. This could lead herders into new territories, increasing the likeliness of violent clashes between humans and lions that prey on cattle. Up north, polar bear attacks on humans are increasing as declining Arctic sea ice pushes the not-so-teddy bears onto land.
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Outside of the ozone, scientists don’t really know the environmental consequences of a rocket ripping through the atmosphere’s various layers. That’s partly because it wasn’t of much scientific interest until recently, since rocket launches were infrequent events. But they have become much more common, doubling in the past decade due to technological advances and the rise of private space companies. Now experts worry exhaust emissions — especially the accumulation of heat-absorbing black carbon in the stratosphere — will steepen our uphill battle against global warming.
Melting ice caps are sending tons of glacial meltwater flooding into the ocean, potentially redistributing the weight of the Earth’s crust from land to sea. That shift could cause more volcanic eruptions — evidence already exists in the fossil record — which could turn many more places into modern-day Pompeiis. One study that examined cores drilled off South and Central America found that Costa Rica saw five to 10 times as much volcanic activity during periods of glacial melting. Places where glaciers and volcanoes interact are most at risk, including southern South America and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. In fact, the 20 most dangerous American volcanoes are in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, California and Washington state.
4. Brewing Water Wars
The Osage Nation issued a permit to drill for water near one of its casinos — only for the state of Oklahoma to declare that the tribe doesn’t own the water beneath its feet. Increasing concerns about water, from Flint, Michigan, to the North Dakota Access pipeline, have sparked new conversations about water access and the climate. It’s a global issue that is prompting arid but oil-rich nations like the United Arab Emirates to search desperately for desalination strategies (such as creating giant mechanical jellyfish to filter saltwater into the fresh stuff). “There is a politics around water that wasn’t even around 10 years ago,” Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, told OZY. One organization, the Pacific Institute in Oakland, is tracking deadly global incidents around water access.
1. Goodbye Hazelnut Chocolate
Nutella lovers, take note: About 70 percent of the quickly approaching $10 billion hazelnut industry is produced in Turkey’s Black Sea region ... which is suddenly at risk due to extreme weather events. In June 2019, temperatures along that Turkish coast averaged 79 degrees Fahrenheit — significantly higher than the four-decade average of 66 degrees. On the plus side? Climate change may mean new geographies become ripe for cacao production, as tropical environments expand beyond equator nations to create new chocolatey climes.
The climate’s impact on diets goes far beyond chocolate. We could soon see the loss of zooplankton and small fish crucial to our seafood supply, a subject that Washington-based researcher Sonya Dyhrman has explored while showing how vulnerable our food chain is to climate change. Sushi is at risk too, with Japan’s seaweed industry affected by warming seas that lessen production of nori, the thin, delectable seaweed sheets used to wrap rolls for centuries.
3. Cry Into Your Beer
Yep, even your drinks are affected. The top three ingredients for good brewskis are water, barley and hops. Access to clean water is becoming more scarce, while barley crops have been damaged by heavy rains … and hops have been plagued by drought. A 2018 study showed that beer supplies will be greatly diminished as such trends continue in coming decades.
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One sorely needed gig? Urban farming to combat the urban heat island effect, which is leading coastal cities to see temperatures as much as 17 degrees warmer than rural areas. Cities need more trees and plants, so they’re calling in city farmers, experts in growing vegetation atop roofs and apartment fire escapes. Washington state just signed a law incentivizing tree-planting programs, and scientists recently discovered that simply painting buildings white could drastically dampen the heat. Professions like these will play a large role in ensuring cities like the Big Apple don’t rot under the scorching sun.
2. Privatized Firefighters
Wealthy Californians, including stars like Kanye West, are going to new extremes to protect their homes from climate change-fueled wildfires. One measure: enlisting private firefighters to stave off the flames … while leaving neighbors to their fates. The frequent California wildfires mean public fire patrols are spread thin, so the rich are turning to freelancers. But that also means fewer trained firefighting professionals are available to protect the public. Many have also turned to private security amid calls to defund the police. While the privatization of public services may be a hardcore libertarian’s dream, it underscores America’s growing inequality gap — a gap widened further by climate change.
3. Goodbye, Insurance
Surveys of insurance professionals consistently name climate change as their biggest risk. Already, home insurance companies are covering less and less, as events like the California wildfires or Iowa flooding make liabilities soar. But some companies see a market opportunity to provide coverage where others refuse to go. Whether homebuyers or renters can get insurance will likely affect where they choose to settle. Many companies charge exorbitant fees for flood insurance in Florida, for example, or refuse fire coverage in California — and going without coverage is a risk young homeowners are unlikely to take.
The debate is changing over whether to preserve historical sites authentically or rebuild them to better withstand climate change. Discussions are being had from the flooding squares of Venice to the wind-battered ancient city of Chan Chan, Peru. But these debates are also spurring greater engagement with stakeholders, particularly native communities, who are finding innovative ways to stave off the ravages of time — including 3D imaging that could preserve artifacts for centuries to come.
Forget competing outside in summer. The 2022 World Cup, hosted by Qatar, won’t be held in May, June or July for the first time ever. The tournament has been moved to November and December because of temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of migrant workers have died because of poor working conditions and heat stress while toiling to build the stadiums. Australian sports, including tennis’ world-famous Australian Open, have been canceled or delayed due to a mix of bushfires, severe droughts and intense rainfall. The trend extends to the U.K., where by 2050, almost 1 in 4 Premier League stadiums are expected to endure annual flooding. Hosting the Winter Olympics will also be tougher thanks to climate change: Researchers say just 10 of the 19 previous venues will be capable of hosting the Games by the mid-21st century.