While one-at-a-time disasters fueled by a rapidly warming planet have become commonplace in recent years—with the ongoing and deadly wildfires in California just one example—new research shows that by century's end the frightening new normal could be cities and states facing multiple extreme climate events all at once.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii found that without keeping the warming of the planet below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, major cities like New York, Sydney, and Rio de Janeiro could soon face up to five catastrophic weather events in a single year—including wildfires, hurricanes, storm surges, and droughts.
The phenomenon has already taken place, the report notes, with Florida experiencing more than 100 wildfires, drought, and the severely destructive Hurricane Michael in the past year—but with most news reports and climate researchers focusing on one disastrous weather event at a time, the current reality has been obscured.
"The costs of inaction greatly outweigh the costs of taking action on climate change. We can still reduce future damage and suffering if we act quickly and dramatically to reduce carbon emissions." —Michael Mann, climatologist
"A focus on one or few hazards may mask the impacts of other hazards, resulting in incomplete assessments of the consequences of climate change on humanity," lead author Camilo Mora told the Agence France Presse.
The report only bolsters the argument of those forced to issue urgent action demands in the wake of whatever climate-related disaster has most recently struck. In the U.S. right now, that means the unprecedented wildfires that have ravaged California in recent weeks.
"The costs of inaction greatly outweigh the costs of taking action on climate change," Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, told the AFP. "We can still reduce future damage and suffering if we act quickly and dramatically to reduce carbon emissions."
At least 80 people have been killed in the fires, with nearly 1,000 unaccounted for as of Tueasday morning, according to NBC.
"An untold number of people lost their lives due to the Camp Fire wildfire in California, many are missing and communities have been destroyed. Last week, the air quality in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay were the worst on the planet," said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, in a statement.
"The increasing risks make it clear that this nation must deepen its commitment to stemming climate change now. We cannot accept the tragic loss of life and displacement from these wildfires as the new normal," she continued. "We must honor the victims now by fighting for a better and safer tomorrow for their families and communities."
One far-reaching solution was the subject of direct actions in lawmakers' offices across the country on Tuesday, as the youth-led climate action group Sunrise Movement demanded that Democrats back the Green New Deal—a bold set of proposals modeled on the Depression-era New Deal and aimed at investing in carbon-free energy infrastructure and the millions of jobs it would create.
Real climate leadership means a #GreenNewDeal that can actually secure a livable future for all of us against the climate emergency.@RepRaulGrijalva @RepJayapal@repmarkpocan, will progressives step up with young people for the bold action we need? https://t.co/vl6ImX9xR1 pic.twitter.com/1NS9v6qWP8
— Sunrise Movement DC (@SunriseMvmtDC) November 20, 2018
— Anna McDevitt (@AnnaMcDevitt1) November 20, 2018
"It's these kinds of social movement actions that we know can change the zeitgeist," May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, told The Real News last week. "And we can't always be talking about what we don't want. That is why the Green New Deal is so essential, because it's about the future we need to build...and that is, I think, a way of really capturing that we can do better."
— The Real News (@TheRealNews) November 16, 2018
Proactive measures to combat the climate crisis will have far-reaching effects on the quality of life enjoyed by people all over the world, said Jonathan Patz, one of the authors of the University of Hawaii's study—not just the effect of avoiding destructive wildfires, hurricanes, and floods.
"Our health depends on multiple factors, from clean air and water, to safe food and shelter," Patz told the AFP. "If we only consider the most direct threats from climate change—heatwaves or severe storms, for example—we inevitably will be blindsided by even larger threats that, in combination, can have even broader societal impacts."