The Scorched Earth

Business-as-Usual means we're creating a planet you wouldn't recognize, within just a few decades.

Climate change could bring severe drought to much of the world within decades

A new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research warns that based on current projections of global-warming pollution, vast swaths of the world's most populated areas could begin suffering from extreme drought within decades. The increasingly dry soil would threaten water and food for hundreds of millions.

Using 22 computer models of the climate, the study indicates that the extent and severity of droughts could soon be unprecedented. While some areas of the northern latitudes may grow wetter, much of the U.S. and Latin America – along with central China and most of Europe, Africa and Australia – could be hit by extreme and prolonged drought. “If the projections come even close to being realized,” says climate scientist Aiguo Dai, who conducted the study, “the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous.”

Notice that most of the inhabited landmass will be much drier than the Sahara is now. What a terrifying transformation! Californians know it's already begun. But people don't realize drought will expand exponentially and last tens of thousands of years. We keep imagining the new drought is temporary.

Tags: worldwide drought

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Replies to This Discussion

Or we don't imagine anything different... food will remain as available and affordable as it is now.

Related, from Tim McDonnell at Mother Jones:

How many brutally hot days you will suffer when you're old

... and how often it will be UNSAFE to be outside:

Thanks for the maps. Wet bulb temperature is very serious. In the chart above, the light green for one day every year means that healthy people would die from heat stroke after being outdoors in the shade after one hour. The brown means such lethal outdoor temperatures 45 days a year. Such areas are completely unliveable, even for wildlife.

I have difficulty imagining living through such a heat emergency even once. It would be so many orders of magnitude worse than what happened in Europe in 2005, like a sci-fi catastrophe movie. One can only guess what percentage of the affected population would survive that first lethal wet-bulb day, perhaps half?

The tens of thousands of fruit bats who dropped dead in Australia is a contemporary foretaste of what would happen to all mammal wildlife on that first day.

These maps show how many brutally hot days you will suffer when you...

As we've no experience with these conditions, someone should make a time travel movie. People need concrete images and to see and hear the trapped people responding.

I'm lucky that I'll be old and dead before those times arrive! And it's appaling what will be left for the living!

I'm glad I won't have to live through these extremes too. But rising wet bulb temperature isn't an not all or nothing issue. Already thousands of people have health problems from wet bulb temperatures being too high too often. There's an epidemic of chronic kidney disease in Central America, mostly from too much heat and dehydration.

The epidemic of chronic kidney disease in Central America

I read a study about it a few years ago. The start of this epidemic was traced to areas where wet bulb temperatures were frequently high. It said that where humidity is high, like river valleys, when it gets hot people outdoors have difficulty drinking enough to protect themselves from dehydration. Also the salt content of the water they drink matters.

Notice that when the temperature is 95°F, relative humidity of 50% is enough to cause heat stroke if you're exposed for a long period or engage in physical activity. These charts are for shade. If you're in the sun, it's like an extra 15°F. Healthy adults who work outdoors are repeatedly stressed, and it only takes about a decade for this to cause chronic kidney damage.

The disorder, known as CKDnT, is not related to traditional causes such as hypertension and diabetes, and mainly affects young male agricultural workers, the highest mortality being in El Salvador1 and Nicaragua (figure).2, 3 However, CKDnT also affects women and non-agricultural workers living in farming communities. Mortality estimates from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) show that chronic kidney disease coded as N18 in WHO's International Classification of Diseases revision 10—a proxy for CKDnT—in men younger than 60 years has been responsible for thousands of deaths in the past decade in Central America.

You don't have to live in the tropics to get kidney disease from high temperatures. Kidney stone emergencies "reflect and foretell a warming planet’s impact on human health".

Climate change may bring more kidney stones

As daily temperatures increase, so does the number of patients seeking treatment for kidney stones. In a study that may both reflect and foretell a warming planet’s impact on human health, a research team found a link between hot days and kidney stones in 60,000 patients in several U.S. cities with varying climates.

"We found that as daily temperatures rise, there is a rapid increase in the probability of patients presenting over the next 20 days with kidney stones,"...

The study team analyzed medical records of more than 60,000 adults and children with kidney stones between 2005 and 2011 in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, in connection with weather data. Tasian and colleagues described the risk of stone presentation for the full range of temperatures in each city. As mean daily temperatures rose above 50 F (10 C), the risk of kidney stone presentation increased in all the cities except Los Angeles. The delay between high daily temperatures and kidney stone presentation was short, peaking within three days of exposure to hot days.

Higher temperatures contribute to dehydration, which leads to a higher concentration of calcium and other minerals in the urine that promote the growth of kidney stones. A painful condition that brings half a million patients a year to U.S. emergency rooms, kidney stones have increased markedly over the world in the past three decades. While stones remain more common in adults, the numbers of children developing kidney stones have climbed at a dramatically high rate over the last 25 years.

When stones do not pass on their own, surgery may be necessary. [emphasis mine]

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