Climate change often seems a far-off problem, but with threats to how we live every day, it’s about to get personal.
Very few people doubt that climate change exists. There’s a difference, though, between acknowledging a problem and doing something about it. It can be difficult to get our heads around the idea that the effects of something as global as climate change can threaten our everyday living standards, but threaten it does.
It may not seem it, but the planet rising by a few degrees in temperature does immediately affect how we live. Rising temperatures causes thermal expansion and melting sea ice. The sea is rising about 3.2mm per year because of it, but it could rise up to one metre by 2100. We’ve all seen the dramatic shots of icebergs falling into the sea, but these shots don’t exactly say ‘this will happen to you’. The problem is, the effects are right at your front door. 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast, so when the sea level rises, 85% of the population will see themselves living underwater.
Australians love summer, but there is a limit of how hot a day can become before it’s not fun. Have you noticed how early summer came this year, and how warm winter remained? Between 1951 and 1980, only 2% of months were classed as “very warm”, but in the past 15 years, that figure has shot up to 10%. Just the other day, Adelaide threatened to reach 54 degrees. Luckily it was a false alarm, but the prediction that one in six days in Western Australia this summer will be over 40 degrees is still going strong. This is not the future; this is happening right now.
In the past few years, weather events have already become more extreme than we’ve seen in the past. The Queensland floods over the past few years, once called ‘once in a century’ events, have been happening every couple of years, but it’s set to get a lot worse. An Australian study found that for a mid-range sea level rise of 50cm, the extreme weather events we see now happening every few years will happen every few days by 2100.
If you have allergies and asthma, life is about to get worse. Dirtier air increases atmospheric ozone (which is responsible for decreased lung function) up to 10 parts per billion, which means asthma is set to rise 10%. With the pollen count also set to double from 2000 rates, we can expect more air-based allergies, too.
Most worrying for myself is the effect this extreme rising has on foods like coffee, tea, and chocolate. All the beans and leaves that go into making these gems only grow in tiny areas where the temperature is just right, and any minuscule change can decimate an entire crop.
Cocoa is grown only within 300km of coastal areas, which are set to shrink considerably. They already have; a couple of years ago there was a cocoa shortage, which is only now recovering.
Tea is susceptible to both drought and flooding, events that are set to get more common in the near future. It’s because of these events that tea yields are expected to fall 40% by 2050. Coffee bean yields have already fallen 30% between 2002 and 2011 in India. Even half a degree affects how coffee beans grow. If that’s not bad enough, warming temperatures expand the habitat of the coffee berry borer, a notorious coffee predator, and coffee fungus.
The scale of the main effects climate change are so immense, it’s no surprise people don’t pay as much attention and take as much action as we know we should. But when we think about what climate change does to our everyday lives, making a change to stop it becomes a lot more important, and I for one do not want to live in a world devoid of chocolate.
By Kate Oatley