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What Happens Post-Climate Change?

rainforest

"Climate departure" will be the next phase as extreme weather becomes normal.

One of the challenges with changing people’s views and behaviors in regards to climate change is that it’s difficult to see how scattered weather and environmental anomalies fit into the bigger picture. However a team of researchers organized by Camilo Mora, a University of Hawaii biogeographer, is hoping to catalyze a sense of urgency by showing that, in many of our lifetimes, we will experience a transition from climate change to "climate departure."

Mora explains, “The timing of climate departure is an index that calculated the year after which the climate will become like something that we’ve never seen ... At the broadest [average] scale, we calculate that year, under a business as usual scenario, is going to be 2047. Basically, by the year 2047 the climate is going to move beyond something we’ve never seen in the last 150 years.”

The researching team analyzed five billion data points and came up with two sets of projections for climate departure—one based on current emissions numbers and one based on stabilized greenhouse gas emissions. They then applied these to both cities around the world as well as various flora and fauna which will have to rapidly adapt or face extinction. For instance, in the U.S., if you live in Phoenix, climate departure will arrive in 2043 assuming we continue at the current rate of emissions. If emissions slow, then it’s delayed until 2073. For coral reefs, climate departure will take effect in 2034 assuming there are no environmental efforts to slow changes and 2070 with environmental improvements.

One of the more counterintuitive points they found was that the tropics will be hit hardest (not the poles where a lot of focus on melting has typically been). That’s because temperatures in the extreme north and south change more throughout the seasons, whereas weather in the tropics is relatively constant throughout the year. This stability leaves less room for species to adapt as climate starts to fluctuate more dramatically.

Additionally, the study looks at the affects climate departure will have on humans, particularly for those in the developing world where it will likely have the most impact. These regions will be susceptible to food insecurity, disease, economic challenges, and even conflict.

Mora adds, “These results should not be reason to give up.  Rather, they should encourage us to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change. This can buy time for species, ecosystems, and ourselves to adapt to the coming changes.”

Photo by Tim√, licensed under Creative Commons.