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DARA International, representing 20 nations, has released a new report on climate change estimating 6 million annual deaths and 3.2% of GDP lost from climate change by 2030. The news is lighting up with reports about this study, some critiquing it as alarmist, some welcoming it as speaking truth. Granted, these numbers seem pretty outrageous, but the numbers are not the most important part of this report. What'€™s most important is the general relationship of impacts to each other, the approximate magnitude of those impacts, and what those two things mean for global health.

Let's talk a bit about models like the one used to create this report. Models don'€™t predict the future, and they don'€™t purport to. What they do show us is a potential, even likely, future given the set of assumptions the model uses. Model operators are looking to put in the assumptions that best describe the system (the earth, the economy, etc), in order to get the most informative results. What is important and useful is when multiple groups independently develop and run models trying to capture the same phenomena. Where the results of all (or most) models agree is where you can have the most certainty in the impact or change being described.

Methodology certainly still matters, and the report comes with a 100 page document detailing their methods. I have not been through all of it yet, but everything I have seen so far indicates the authors knew what they were doing. This study in particular was a fingerprint study —€“ a study that attempts to assign causal factors to incidents already in progress by determining deviation from a baseline and accounting for other variables. These are incredibly helpful in parsing out where climate change is already happening and validating past predictions.

Regarding the numbers, let'€™s look at the approximate magnitude of the impacts. This report predicts 6 million annual deaths attributable to climate change —€“ and notes that this would make it one of the leading single causes of death worldwide. It also gives a 3.2% loss in GDP. Both of these are significant, but those exact numbers aren't particularly important. What'€™s important is that we are facing a future with a new suite of issues that affect global health and poverty, and that it'€™s likely to occur – and already is – at measurable levels that are surprisingly large. Even if we were talking about only 1 million annual deaths, that'€™s still more than the annual number of deaths today from malaria. The same goes for GDP. The fact that climate change will have a measurable and significant impact on GDP should be enough, whether it's 1% or 5%. The U.S. economy is currently growing at about 1.5% and we call it bad, so a depression of 3% — or even 0.5% — is something I think we can agree is best to avoid when we can see it coming decades out, especially when conservative estimates of climate change legislation show it performing better.

The other important factor is the relative relationship of these impacts to each other and to other issues in the world. Take a look at the map shown below (from there report) and think for a moment about what you see in the map.

Vulnerability to Climate Impacts map from the report. Red indicates acute vulnerability and green indicates comparative resilience. Picture Credit: DARA

Personally, I see a map of global wealth. There are some notable exceptions €— I'€™d expect India to be a little more toward the green for wealth, among a few other countries —€” but generally, it follows the pattern of current wealth. Really, this map is the expected vulnerability to climate change impacts of each nation. Again, whether or not any one country is vulnerable is not what'€™s important. Instead, it'€™s crucial that we understand that the countries that are currently the most impoverished —€” and least able to handle instability and climatic change — are going to experience the most detrimental effects. In part, their inability to handle the changes is what makes them vulnerable, sure, but I think what this map shows is that the disparity is significant. That is, the damage experienced by those in the developing world is far higher than they can afford.

Ok, so the impacts are going to be huge. And they're going to disproportionately affect those who least can handle it. You have probably heard that before, but this study helps provide a sense of scale to that information. It also helps provide another convergence point for similar studies that come along. This isn't the first fingerprint study to call out existing damage as being related to climate change, and won'€™t be the last. Each one helps us hone in on what is happening and what to expect.

One final thing. It would be irresponsible for me to not mention what you can do about climate change. You have likely heard this before. First, you can stay informed on the science. Then you can get involved in the political side with or your favorite group. Finally, you can take it into your own life by reducing your carbon emissions —€“ my own organization, Environmental Consumer, can help you with that.

This story was originally posted on PolicyMic

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Comment Preferences

  •  My guess without reading is the vulnerability (6+ / 0-)

    in south Asia is due to the changes that are being seen in the glaciers of the Himalayan plateau which supply much of the water to those countries.  In years past, the monsoons come, dump water up there, and then the water flows down through India, Bangladesh and the rest through the year.  It also flows down through China, so I'm not sure why China is better protected than south Asia.

    Looking at this map, I can see why the denialists don't see impacts worthy of action here in the US.  The hot summer and drought worry me greatly, and I don't think we're as immune to the effects as that map seems to indicate.

    Why the issues in South America?

    •  map legend says: "comparative resilience" (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jbob, ColoTim, UltraAyla, Joieau

      It will likely be worse in the red than the green, but still bad in the green, is my reading. East Africa has climate related food crises already. I think south America has similar issues to south Asia, melting glaciers => undependable water supplies.

      An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

      by mightymouse on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 09:57:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  exactly. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mightymouse, ColoTim

        That's the way to read the map. Green still has impacts, but they're likely more able to mitigate them (wealth-wise) and possibly have fewer impacts than the tropics. The color scheme is a bit deceptive since green doesn't mean "good" so much as "less bad" than the baseline they established. It's all relative.

        For south america, I'd imagine that it's both glaciers, as you said, and adaptive capacity. I haven't looked into the estimated impacts recently, but I'd imagine they are very susceptible to changes in precipitation.

    •  An article in Nature last month (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      UltraAyla, ColoTim

      ... summarized work that's been done on glacier impacts in the Himalayas since the (single justified) criticism against the last IPCC report was lodged, in reference to one sentence in it about those glaciers.

      It turns out that only about 2% of the water in the major Indian rivers derives from glacier melt, another 3% from annual snowmelt.  Most of it is due directly to the rains from any current year's monsoons.  (Impact on Chinese rivers wasn't discussed.)

      So there will be some fresh water problems on the subcontinent - especially for the coasts of India and Bangla Desh, where sea rise is exacerbated by continental subsidence, and fresh water drinking wells will be exposed to salinization. But it won't be driven to massive levels of deprivation by disappearance of the glaciers.

      The same review notes that the eastern Himalayas are losing glaciers at about the average global rate; but the western glaciers are actually growing (so far), because the more intense monsoons have been increasing snow fall.

      I've kept a sharp eye out for any good news on the climate change front. This story, and studies over the last few years showing that the thermohaline circulation (the North Atlantic conveyor) is more resilient to Greenland melt than scientists realized a decade ago, are pretty much the whole lot.  All the other vectors seem to point to accelerated nastiness.

      •  thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        thanks for the info. It's always good to see well-researched information and even admission of successes. I think it makes the whole movement look better when we actually admit that there are bright spots in the midst of the major catastrophe.

  •  Surprised to see Australia and NZ in dark green. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Joieau, sfbob

    Australia's a water-limited country, and an island nation like NZ surrounded by vast ocean could be ravaged by intensified storms.

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 10:14:00 AM PDT

    •  money provides for mitigation (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, UltraAyla, Joieau

      I think the trick is that wealthy countries have enough money to mitigate the damage, while poor countries just suffer.

      Australia is certainly water limited, but they are able to afford water from desalinization. And if that doesn't work, they can afford to import food from other parts of the world. Sure, food gets more expensive for them, but nobody starves to death.

      •  Makes sense. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mightymouse, Ashaman

        I'd be most worried about Southern India - in a planet that experiences several Celsius degrees of heating, that and other places like it could become seasonally uninhabitable.

        Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

        by Troubadour on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 10:30:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  right on. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        That's the way to read this. Green doesn't mean good. I can list off dozens of scary, GDP-crushing climate impacts in the U.S., but many of even those impacts will be felt worst by the rest of the world. If California agriculture takes a hit, food costs more money in the U.S., but exports decline and the rest of the world starves - exactly like you said. Adaptive capacity is the key, along with the set of experienced impacts.

    •  Australia could become virtually uninhabitable (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      They've been hit by severe drought over and over again over the past ten years and things don't seem as though they're likely to get better.

      •  They'd have to invest in expensive systems (0+ / 0-)

        such as desalination and very long water pipelines, but I'm not worried they'd become uninhabitable like some of the hot/humid places in the world might.  Still, "resilient" seems a bit optimistic given their situation.  

        Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

        by Troubadour on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 03:00:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  6 million deaths / year = scale of the Holocaust. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ashaman, UltraAyla, mightymouse, sfbob

    It's commonly said that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, and if you add in gays, Roma (Gypsies), disabled, and other targeted populations, you might get to somewhere between 7 - 10 million victims.  

    This is convergent with my estimates going back a few years: that climate change would have a death toll somewhere in the range of the Nazi Holocaust every year.

    "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

    by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 10:31:53 AM PDT

    •  Look at total world population drop over time. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Look at it from the other side, we've got 7 Billion people on the planet now, and it's expected to hit 9 Billion sometime soon (like mid-century?). But that number isn't sustainable, it has to drop, and might drop fast.

      Suppose the population falls by a Billion people over 50 years, that's 20 million per year if we do it gradually, which is twice the Holocaust. Of course, we might easily drop twice that far, and it might not take a full 50 years to get there if violence breaks out (and it probably will). And on our current path of maximum damage at full speed, we might easily lose 3-4 Billion over a generation.

      A century from now, Hitler will be considered an absolute saint when compared to the likes of Inhofe. And advocating Republican principles will be equated to genocide.

      •  that 9 billion figure is looking...Enronesque (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        UltraAyla, G2geek

        As each new study is published, the date of catastrophe moves inexorably closer. we have never, in my memory, had a study proven too pessimistic by later analysis. In fact, quite the opposite.
        I think the population projections of 9 billion by 2050 are way off due to this factor. There are already limiting effects occurring (drought, anyone?), and the incentives to bear more children are lessening, both from a cultural perspective and from an agricultural one. Who needs more fieldhands when the fields aren't producing?
        A drop in population is coming, but it may not all be in the form of starvation in the streets. Life expectancy in the US is already dropping for certain demographics, as is the birth rate in almost all Western nations.
        We are approaching a limit, in the mathematical sense. That implies that forces that right now mean each person of child rearing age having 2.4 offspring (or whatever the number) will gradually drop, for the reasons above, and more. That lessens the rate of population growth, how much remains to be seen. Externalities like new disease pandemics, resource wars, and megastorms will definitely take a horrific toll, too.
        A decade or two from now, the current all-important debate over whether or not to rescind the Bush tax cuts or turn Medicare into a coupon program will gain a certain amount of perspective, I'm sure.

        R-Money/R-Ayn, the ENRON Ticket, is not a campaign; it's a hostile takeover bid.

        by kamarvt on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:18:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You touch on it later in your comment, but I'm not sure that we won't reach 9 billion. The rate that we went from 6-7 was astoundingly fast, and so all of the causes you mention need to eat away at the rate of growth before we can stabilize or decrease. Still, it remains to be seen where we settle. Whether it's 8 billion or 9 billion, that's a whole lot of people.

          •  we'll settle at 2 billion and then.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            .... grow back to 3 billion.  By that point humanity should have "learned its lesson" and not engage in reckless reproduction or conspicuous consumption.  

            From here down to 2 billion is going to be hell on skids.  From 2 billion back up to 3 billion is going to seem like paradise by comparison, and for that matter it may well be:  a period of rebuilding with optimism, as in Europe after WW2 when things just kept getting better.

            What I find intriguing in a morbid sort of way, is that this roughly matches the time table that the religious right talks about for the tribulation and the rapture and the kingdom of heaven and so on.   So it looks like we get to live through the tribulation, and a century or two later comes the kingdom of heaven.  Or something that would have looked like that, from the perspective of people 2000 years ago with a heck of a lot of insight into human affairs and patterns in nature.

            "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

            by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:52:41 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'd like to believe you're correct however (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              1. That kind of loss...possibly as much as 75% of peak population...would be emotionally devastating and might take several generations to recover from.

              2. Humanity has proven over and over again that it is able to take precisely the WRONG lessons away from negative experiences.

              3. The implosion of a world economy based on the current population would itself create enormous amount of collateral damage the nature of which we'd have a hard time guessing at.

              •  yes, but carts and horses.... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                You say "I'd like to believe you're correct but ...(it) would be emotionally devastating..."

                The fact that it would be emotionally devastating is the effect, not the cause of whether it happens or not.  

                Just because it's horrible, doesn't mean that the horribleness of it will prevent it happening.

                Bottom line is, "only you can prevent forest fires."  

                Only us, all of us acting in concert, can prevent the climate catastrophe that will trigger a dieoff on the scale of 200 - 300 times the Nazi Holocaust.  

                Agreed, humanity often gets the wrong lessons.  The wrong lessons from this one would be that human life is cheap everywhere, but that lesson will be reversed once we hit bottom and start recovering:  the Plagues in Europe cost them 1/3 of their population and the outcome of that was a labor shortage that led directly to the rise of the medieval middle class.

                Yes, econo-splat also has horrific consequences.  It's one of the immediate factors in the dieoff, along with war, famine, pestilence, and plague.  Gee, those have a familiar ring to them, don't they?

                Bottom line: reckless reproduction and conspicuous consumption are the direct causes of what may turn out to be a 300-Hitler holocaust.  It's on us to stop having excess babies and excess baubles, or those babies are going to grow up in a world where they may very well die off in the dieoff.

                "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

                by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 12:56:06 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  yep, exactly. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        7 billion = twice the sustainable population at Western European standards of living.

        So we're already in overshoot, and eco lags being what they are, we can keep going a bit further before the crash hits hard.

        At that point we'll probably head back toward 2 billion, also due to system lags continuing the high death rates for a while past the equilibrium point.

        My only quibble is that your comparison at the end is just a bit far on the hyperbole scale:  

        I would never use the "saint" comparison, but I'd say that "Hitler was the dress rehearsal" or something along those lines.

        Or:  Hitler will be seen as the supreme monster of the modern era through the 20th century, and Inhofe will be seen as the supreme monster of the 21st and 22nd Century.  

        Bottom line is, it's going to be pure distilled essence of evil H-E-L-L for most of the people on Earth for the rest of this century and into the next.  It's going to be pretty bad in the US as well.  And the risk of various forms of mass violence breaking out, in addition to the "natural" dieoff, is extremely high.  

        All so that we can have more and bigger baubles.  Isn't that something?

        "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

        by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:36:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  interesting sense of scale (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That analogy is interesting for providing a sense of scale that we lack when talking about future events - or current events whose cause can't be easily linked in people's minds. It certainly won't convince deniers, who will dismiss is as scare tactics, but for those looking for scale for something they already understand, historical events are so much more tangible.

      •  i'm already looking out to the consequences.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... one or two billion years from now.

        Bottom line: if civilization crashes, and technology goes with it, we may never be able to recover technology to the point of being able to get back into space.   In which case the best we can hope for is a modest existence until the Sun starts expanding and Earth becomes uninhabitable about a billion years from now.

        We will have foreclosed the future for our distant descendants, bringing about the end of all life on Earth at that point, as the predictable consequence of our actions today.  

        And that is the ultimate sin.  

        So in purely moral terms, solving climate change, reducing population and consumption, etc., and thereby preserving our technological capabilities and the ability to spread into space and to other star systems: these points are moral imperatives for our age, and we cannot count on humanity ever getting a second chance if we screw up badly enough.

        "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

        by G2geek on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:56:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Patting the First World on the back (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My, aren't those smart white people in America and Australia resilient!

    I think those subsistence farmers in New Guinea are going to be a lot less vulnerable than the cartographer with the crayons.  They have less to lose, because they don't have much to begin with.  Many of them can do just fine without cars and fossil fuels and imported feedstocks because that is exactly where they are right now.  Oh, if their climate changes to a drier one, they may have to change crops from sweet potatoes to millet, but on the whole, I imagine them to be pretty resilient.  

    People living in the Florida Keys and the Outer Banks of NC, I think climate change is going to try their resilience.  Same with the red state farmers of OK, KS, NE, SD, and ND.  They better get used to coping with the floods of 2011 followed by the droughts of 2012, because the models have more of that in store.

    •  good point (0+ / 0-)

      That's an interesting perspective on this and one I'm not sure if the report captures. I'll have to go take a look. This map may be as accurate an illustration of the metrics they chose that we have, but I don't know if they captured that type of resilience. I think as globalization increases though, situations like the one you described begin to disappear since we become part of one big food pool.

  •  Thanks for this diary and heads-up. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    From my own googling around, the crude death rate worldwide is 8.37 per 1000 according to the current CIA World Factbook. Some countries suffer higher overall death rates annually than others, of course. But rounding out the world population to 7 billion, that's 58,590,000 deaths per year overall. Or, again rounding, let's call it 58.6 million. According to CDC (and again rounding), the U.S. crude death rate - all causes - is right about 2.5 million per year. Of course these figures fluctuate quite a bit in any given year, so these are rounded averages.

    Our major killers in the U.S. are, in order of appearance:

    • Heart Disease
    • Cancer
    • Chronic lower respiratory disease
    • Stroke
    • Accidents
    • Alzheimer's
    • Diabetes
    • Influenza and Pneumonia
    • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (kidney disease)
    • Suicide

    Now, I don't know if CDC counts getting blown away by a tornado or hurricane, drowned by tidal waves, crushed by earthquakes and mud slides, etc. as "accidental death" or not, but as you can see natural disasters and individual bad luck against critters large and microscopic are not listed among the biggest killers.

    Overall, given the rather large fluctuations in annual crude mortality - depending on how bad the influenza that year is, who's at war with whom, and what governments are at war with their own citizens and such - an "extra" 6 million might not be noticed very much until the overall averages rise significantly. That could take a decade or more.

    So. I'd be curious as to what this study's authors are listing as causes of those "extra" 6 million annual deaths worldwide, and whether the recordkeepers (like CDC and CIA) will be able to - or WILL - cite them AS due to global climate change. So we can keep accurate count on that, because I think it'll be important for everyone and every group attempting to make the case to government officials. So action can be taken as if there were a real problem, since too many governments don't seem to believe so.

    Meanwhile, I agree wholeheartedly with your suggestion that we all take steps ourselves to do whatever we can to reduce our own carbon footprints. As ee cummings once said (very succinctly), tread lightly on the earth.

    •  Great points (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I think you're right, though 6 million added to 58.6 is still a 10% increase (at a time where the population increases less than that). This is exactly what studies like this are trying to get at though. They are trying to attribute deaths and losses to climate change, as appropriate, so that the signal doesn't get lost. If you see page 4 of the executive summary (, you'll see how they arrive at those numbers and where the deaths come from. Only 7,000 annual deaths by 2030 come from an increase in natural disasters. The rest comes from air pollution, malaria/vector-borne diseases, etc. These are exactly the kinds of things where the climate impact can be lost as fluctuation unless we really look into what causes the fluctuation.

      •  Sigh. I'll need to set aside (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        some time to really pour over the study, so thanks again for linking it.

        Just thinking (as I sometimes do, FWIW) that most people are not expecting humans who live in low-lying coastal areas to hang around watching the water rise until they finally drown, and how easy it really is to de-emphasize to the point of hiding any increases that really can be attributed to climate change.

        Those will be increases in tropical disease mortality (including malaria) as the range of vectors moves north and south from the equatorial regions. Increasing droughts and floods that lead to crop failures and starvation. Worsening storms that have higher death tolls wherever they strike. Etc., etc.

        The way things stand now - and the reason I've got links to check on this kind of stuff - CDC, WHO and other national/international recordkeepers are now firmly predicting cancer rate increases to the 2 in 3 range (or higher) by 2050 in every industrialized nation. And cancer is primarily an environmental disease - caused by carcinogens in our air, water and food supply that have been building up for longer than there has been a singularly ineffective "War On Cancer." Or perhaps more appropriately, "War on Medical Care for Those Who Need It."

        Doing something concrete about carbon emissions and farm policy stupidity could go a long way towards dampening that increase in cancer. So dealing with climate change realistically could cut even current crude mortality figures. People have been dying en masse due to our short-sighted reliance on fossil fuels and insane agricultural practices for quite a long time already.

  •  weather girl is on it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    UltraAyla, Neighbor2

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:22:04 AM PDT

    •  India has billionaires, but low wealth per cap (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      I see a map of global wealth. There are some notable exceptions €— I'€™d expect India to be a little more toward the green for wealth...
      Actually, India is ranked 140 of 183 nations in per capita GDP by IMF.

      Some prominent latter day maharajahs, but much of the population is still in subsistence agriculture, with hardly any money income or marketable wealth.

      There's no such thing as a free market!

      by Albanius on Mon Oct 01, 2012 at 11:12:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Thanks for the clarification - that's a good point and one I missed. I always think of India as a rapidly rising economy, forgetting the perspective that it has a lot of people to raise.

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