5 Everyday Ways Climate Change Is Already Affecting the US
LAST WEEK, IT WAS REPORTED THAT for the second year running, the Iditarod, the famous Alaskan dogsledding race had needed to ship in snow for the event. It was a strange and disturbing moment, to see a race that has a reputation for sub-zero temperatures and horrible winter weather given artificial snow brought in by train, and it helped underscore the fact that climate change, which is so often framed in terms of what it will mean to future generations, is happening right here and now.
The Iditarod is a small example, though. Here are some of the really big ways that climate change is already causing problems in the United States.
1. It’s screwing up ski season.
The negative effects of climate change (much like the negative effects of virtually everything else) disproportionately hurt the poor. So it’s worth pointing out that skiing, one of the most one-percenty sports, is getting messed up by climate change as well. Because while climate change has led to a spike in snowstorms, it has also led to a rise in temperatures, which means that the snow melts quicker. It has also resulted in a lower overall snowfall. This, mixed with the droughts in the American west, has meant that ski quality has dropped in the US as a result of climate change.
2. It’s making it suck a little bit more to be old or asthmatic.
You’ve probably heard that 2015 was the hottest year on record, but what you might not have heard is that this had led to an uptick in what are called “heat stress” events. This is a medical emergency that can happen to people who have respiratory problems like asthma or cardiovascular problems. The hotter weather, in short, means that more people, especially the elderly, are likely to die during heat waves. While people die during heat waves pretty much whenever they happen, this increased number of heat waves simply means more people are going to die.
3. Snorkeling’s getting a bit more boring.
Snorkeling’s kind of a blast, especially if you’ve got a good reef to snorkel on. But American snorkelers — and indeed snorkelers everywhere — are going to find it getting harder and harder to find good reefs. Because climate change, mixed with overfishing and ocean acidification, is killing off coral reefs, which not only makes the ocean a little less beautiful of a place, but also deprives the oceans of their most robust ecosystem, which makes them a less healthy of a place.
4. Our beaches are getting smaller.
Aside from the damage done by hurricanes and superstorms — which is a pretty big thing to set aside — climate change and the sea level rise that comes with it is eroding our beaches at much higher than usual rates. For those of us who live by the shore (such as myself), this is visible on a daily basis, as we watch rock jetties which used to be firmly, constantly connected to land, more frequently become islands that are no longer connected to the shore.
While it’s not unusual for beaches to expand or contract over time, they are disproportionately contracting in the United States, meaning that beaches are getting smaller, that it’s getting expensive to keep them at a certain size, and that the homes and businesses just a bit inland are getting a few inches closer to the sea, little by little.
5. It’s throwing more wrenches into our travel plans.
Climate change has a real impact on travel. The first (and most obvious) example is extreme weather. Part of the curse of climate change is that, while it has lowered overall snowfall, it has increased the incidences of extreme weather like blizzards. As a result, when it does snow, there’s a much larger chance that it’s going to disrupt travel plans. The same thing can happen as a result of flooding and hurricanes.
A more recent example is the outbreak of Zika. While the recent outbreak of the Zika virus is not necessarily a direct result of climate change, it is part of a larger pattern: As areas of the globe warm up, they become more hospitable habitats to mosquitoes like the ones that transmit Zika. Which means we’re likely to see an increased incidence of outbreaks like Zika as time goes on, which can lead to travel disruptions for the types of people who might be at risk when it comes to those viruses (which, in the case of Zika, applies specifically to pregnant women).
A similar pattern exists when it comes to global conflict: climate change is known to have the capability to exacerbate global conflict. So while it might not be a direct cause-and-effect, climate change does make areas a little more unstable, which could also throw wrenches into your travel plans.