The effects of climate change will impact every sector of society and the economy. They are difficult to read about, yet they are important to understand. There is no one on this planet who can avoid climate change, whether they live in a developing island nation or a in rich country 1,000 miles from the sea. However, climate change will impact low-income and marginalized communities the worst because of both geography and access to life-saving resources. Reading about the effects of climate change should serve as a catalyst for every person to seek solutions and action. Just because these are predicted does not mean they have to come to pass. Climate solutions can stop them, if we take immediate action.
The greenhouse effect is when a specific type of gas, greenhouse gases, traps heat in the atmosphere. The core of climate change is that humans are emitting more greenhouse gases, while unnaturally multiplying the greenhouse effect. From there, we can draw a clear line: more heat-trapping gases mean more heat.
Rising temperatures cause all of the effects listed on this page. That's because just a couple of degrees-higher temperature throws off the earth's balance. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that even just 1ºC of warming would lead to devastating and irrevocable effects.
Effects on Weather
Deluge and Changing Precipitation
Precipitation changes are different across the world, with higher latitudes experiencing greater rain due to warmer temperatures. Extreme rain, or deluge, has been happening across the world in increasing frequency, resulting in immense flooding. This flooding results in billions of dollars in damages and disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities.
Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Climate change exacerbates hurricanes by creating conditions better suited for them, resulting in a dramatic increase in the amount and severity of hurricanes. Hurricanes have tremendous impacts on communities, with the capacity to destroy entire cities or even countries, as seen in the Caribbean. Flooding from hurricanes results in billions of dollars in damages and impacts low-income and minority communities more because of a lack of resources and underdeveloped flood infrastructure.
Droughts and Heatwaves
As the average temperature increases across the world, heatwaves and droughts become more frequent and more intense. They harm crop yields, kill livestock, and destroy water supplies, hurting the economy in time. Droughts and heatwaves also disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities, namely minority communities, due to less access to healthcare and life-saving infrastructure.
Effects on Health and Water
From air quality to spreading disease, climate change is detrimental to human health. It creates conditions that are favorable to the spread of disease and makes it easier for respiratory issues to take hold. Even more relatable, climate change will expand pollen allergy seasons, affecting millions of people across the world. All of these effects also compound to affecting low-income and marginalized people the most since they don't have the same access to healthcare and treatment.
Limited Water Availability and Quantity
Climate change disrupts the water cycle by drying soil and causing the groundwater streams which are essential for drinking to dry up. Both drought and over-precipitation (deluge), the two sides of climate change's effects, harm the natural cycle.
Degrading Water Quality
Increased precipitation and warmer waters degrade water quality. As a result, it decreases access to freshwater and affects health, compounding the global water crisis.
Effects on Animals and Agriculture
Not only polar bears are affected by climate change's many dangers. Animals in all biomes and landscapes, from the tundras of the Arctic to the deserts of the Sahara and the forests of Brazil, are going to be endangered. In 2019, a small species called the Bramble Cay melomys became the first known species to go extinct exclusively due to climate change. Scientists say this is just the beginning, and climate change is hurtling the planet's animals toward the "sixth great extinction."
Flourishing agriculture is essential for the global food system. Already, 690 million people are hungry across the world (8.9% of the global population). Climate change will only make that worse by combining unfavorable climates with destabilizing weather events, as well as decreasing water supply. Warmer temperatures will also encourage the spread of pests and other insects that are damaging to crop production. In addition to the devastating impacts on crops, climate change also harms the livestock sector through both extreme heat and precipitation. At the same time as food production decreases, food demand is expected to increase by 70%, fueling the global food crisis.
Effects on Infrastructure and the Economy
Climate change has a profound impact on infrastructure, posing an acute economic risk. Transportation and electrical infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and rising temperatures because of the damaging effect of heat and extreme weather. Freshwater supply infrastructure will also be affected as storms destroy irrigation and filtration systems. Lower-income communities tend to be less prepared for infrastructure failure and face reduced healthcare access and food security. Rural communities are also more likely to be affected by the obstruction of access to infrastructure during these times, while urban communities withstand a higher likelihood of flood and storm damages.
Climate change poses disastrous effects on the U.S. and global economies. To start, research done by the Swiss Re Institute suggests that the global economy could lose 11-14% of its output, or as much as $23 trillion, by 2050 due to the climate crisis. For the U.S., economic losses are some of the highest in the world. A recent Columbia Climate School report on 22 sectors of the US economy estimates that if global temperatures rise 2.8°C by 2100 it would cost the U.S. $300 billion each year. If temperatures rise by 4.5°C, it would cost the U.S. $520 billion each year. The devastating economical effects of climate change can already be seen; in 2020 there were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the United States.