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People & Society

Society will likely experience shifts in the ranges of disease-carrying insects, changes in allergy seasons, changes in food harvests, impacts on coastal infrastructure, and displacement of populations living along coasts.


Changing Energy Demand

Warmer summers and more frequent and severe extreme heat events will likely increase worldwide demand for cooling energy, particularly for air conditioning. Winter demand for heating energy will tend to decrease.

Adaptation
Increase energy efficiency. Develop emerging technologies that adapt to changing energy availability and demand through the use of an integrated smart transmission grid.

Locations
Global, especially Southwestern United States

 

Saltwater Intrusion of Freshwater Aquifers

Rising sea levels can cause salt water to intrude into freshwater aquifers, contaminating groundwater with salt. This reduces freshwater supplies in coastal areas.

Adaptation
Restore or create coastal wetlands, barrier islands, and other natural or artificial barriers.

Locations
Coastal areas

 

Reduced Crop Yields

Crop yields of U.S. corn, African corn, and Indian wheat are estimated to decrease by 5–15% for every 1.8°F (1°C) of global warming. U.S. corn crop losses are estimated to be roughly 25% for 3.6°F (2°C) of warming, all other things being equal.

Adaptation
Adjust sowing dates, change crop varieties, increase fertilization and irrigation, and develop new seeds that can better withstand water and heat stress and better utilize elevated CO2 levels.

Locations
Corn belt regions of the United States and Africa, wheat growing region of India

 

Shift in Range of Disease-Carrying Insects

Climate change will shift the geographic range of insect-transmitted diseases like malaria and dengue fever by impacting the temperature, humidity, and rainfall that are optimal for mosquitoes and other vectors. Increases in some areas will likely be accompanied by decreases in others.

Adaptation
Employ preventive strategies to reduce or eliminate insect breeding grounds. Prevent the spread of disease by increasing the use of insect netting and using insecticides to reduce insect populations.

Locations
Global

 

Expanded Range of Crop Pests

Many weeds, plant diseases, and insect pests benefit from warming (sometimes more than crops) and are therefore expected to expand their ranges as temperatures continue to rise. Weeds also benefit from elevated CO2 levels. Moreover, higher CO2 levels appear to make some herbicides less effective.

Adaptation
Apply integrated pest management practices to curb crop pest expansion. For example, develop pest-resistant crop varieties, use herbicides and pesticides, and maintain habitats for natural pest predators.

Locations
Global

Change in Allergy Season

Shifts in growing seasons, mean temperatures, and atmospheric CO2 levels affect the length of the pollen season and alter the characteristics of plants. Some of these alterations may increase the pollen-producing capacity and toxicity of some species.

Adaptation
Follow medical advice, such as staying indoors and utilizing medications including antihistamines.

Locations
Global

 

Loss of Coastal Infrastructure

Rising sea levels could destroy homes, roads, and other infrastructure in coastal areas through flooding and coastal erosion.

Adaptation
Eliminate public subsidies for future development in high hazard areas along the coast. Build sea walls to protect existing infrastructure. Design future public works projects to take into account rising sea levels.

Locations
Global

 

Decreased Freshwater Availability

Challenges to meet water resource demands that face many western states will get worse as a result of global warming. For example, stream flow is expected to decrease by 5–10% for every 1.8°F (1°C) of warming.

Adaptation
Restructure existing reservoirs and conduct water transfers to adapt to changing needs. Enhance reservoir and aquifer storage capacity. Employ vegetation management to improve water storage and timing of watershed runoff. Encourage water conservation.

Locations
Arkansas and Rio Grande river basins

 

More Heat Waves

The frequency and severity of heat waves in Europe and North America are expected to increase.  It is estimated that with a 5.4°F (3°C) warming, 9 out of 10 summers will be warmer than all but about 1 of the 20 summers in the last decades of the 20th century.  These changes will increase the risk of heat-related illness and death.

Adaptation
Implement early warning systems and emergency response plans for heat waves. Improve building design to reduce heat loads during summer months. Develop urban design that reduces the urban heat island effect by planting trees and increasing green spaces.

Locations
Europe and North America

 

Increased Coastal Flooding

A rise in sea level of 1.6 ft (0.5 m) would increase the number of people annually at risk from coastal flooding by 5–200 million. As many as 4 million people could be permanently displaced.

Adaptation
Relocate people living along vulnerable coasts.

Locations
New York, Miami, Nile Delta, Ganges Delta, Mekong Delta

 

Reduced Air Quality

Warmer temperatures increase the production of ground level ozone, which affects respiratory health. The number of days with ozone pollution levels above the defined safety standard is projected to increase.

Adaptation
Design and implement warning systems that recommend those at higher risk stay indoors.

Locations
Densely populated areas in the United States, China, and elsewhere around the world with warm summers.

 

New Sea Routes

Decreasing sea ice in the Arctic could open the Northern Sea Route, making it easier to transport goods between Asia, North America, and Europe. New sea routes will introduce new geopolitical dilemmas and impact national security.

Adaptation
Engage in international dialogue and coordination regarding the newly-opened waterways.

Locations
Arctic

 

Increased Permafrost Warming

By 2050, the depth of permafrost thaws is projected to increase more than 50% in some regions. Thawing may lead to loss of infrastructure such as roads and homes. Furthermore, warming permafrost releases large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Adaptation
Identify vulnerable areas and infrastructure. Where vulnerable, revise design criteria and standards for roads, bridge foundations, runways, and rail lines to reflect loss of permafrost.

Locations
Siberia, Northern Canada

Next: Impacts on Weather