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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Across the globe

“Global climate change has a profound impact on the survival and development of mankind. It is a major challenge facing all countries.” — Hu Jintao

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The environmental and economic changes wrought by shifting climate patterns not only affect us here in the United States; they impact countries across the globe. All regions are affected, but not in the same way.

This piece offers a quick look at the impact of climate change already being felt on ecosystems, economic sectors, and people’s health and wellbeing in Europe, Asia, Australia, the Arctic, and South America.

ASIA-PACIFIC is the most disaster-prone region in the world. While poorer communities of this region contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, they are the ones feeling the consequences of climate change the most. With extensive coastlines, low-lying territories, and many small island states, its geography makes it highly susceptible to rising sea levels and weather extremes. Heat waves, floods, and droughts affect every aspect of life, from nutrition and health, to safety and income.

In Bangladesh, nearly 18 million people living in coastal areas will lose their homes if the sea level rises by three feet. Indonesia is already planning to move its heavily populated capital, Jakarta, inland to protect its residents from dangerous flooding.

Ocean acidification and coral bleaching, results of climate change, directly affect the biodiversity of marine ecosystems. As a result, food webs are altered and fish stocks collapse, putting millions of lives and jobs in this region at risk.

AUSTRALIA is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of its extensive arid and semi-arid areas, an already warm climate, high annual rainfall fluctuations, and existing pressures on water supply.

In recent years fires burnt across most of Australia with an intensity, extent, and duration not previously experienced. The devastating fires caused the burning of 50 million acres, the deaths of 34 people, the destruction of thousands of buildings, and the loss of millions of animals and their habitats.

At the same time, recent sea levels have risen in and around Australia at a faster rate than at any time in the 20th Century. Most of the population lives along the coast. The area is likely to see increased flooding and erosion of low-lying coastal areas. Higher storm surges will affect coastal communities, infrastructure, industries, and the environment.

Severe weather events such as bushfires and droughts, salinization of fresh water supplies, and coastal erosion are all having significant consequences on the natural environment and ecosystems, resulting in a loss of bio-diversity.

EUROPE is being affected by climate change in various ways, depending on the region. Some of the more widespread changes include biodiversity loss, forest fires, decreasing crop yields, and higher temperatures. It is also affecting people’s health; deaths have occurred as a result of flooding, heatwaves, and of hypothermia from blizzards.

Europeans are not only exposed to direct effects from climate change, but also vulnerable to indirect effects from infectious disease, many of which are climate sensitive. Climatic conditions have contributed to a geographic range expansion of tick vectors that transmit Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. Extreme precipitation events have caused waterborne outbreaks and longer summer seasons have contributed to increases in foodborne diseases

In the ARCTIC things are warming faster than the rest of the planet, and in a region where ice and snow are so present, this has deep impacts. Data has made it increasingly clear that the Arctic as we know it is being replaced by a warmer, wetter, and more variable environment.

Reductions in snow cover change the availability of habitat for microorganisms, plants, and animals. Winter thaws and rain-on-snow events can damage vegetation, while refreezing creates a layer of ice over the vegetation that affects the conditions for grazing animals such as caribou, reindeer, and musk ox. The thinning and loss of sea ice has many impacts on Arctic life, including disrupting the feeding platforms and life cycles of seals, polar bears and walruses. And in ANTARCTICA, the Emperor penguins have seen a 53% reduction in their numbers recently.

Meanwhile, in SOUTH AMERICA — From the frigid peaks of Patagonia to the tropical wetlands of Brazil, worsening droughts this year are slamming farmers, shutting down ski slopes, upending transit, and spiking prices for everything from coffee to electricity. The levels of the Paran’ River running through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina are so low that some ranchers are herding cattle across dried-up riverbeds previously lined with cargo-toting barges. Raging wildfires in Paraguay have brought acrid smoke to their capital. Earlier this year, the historically rushing cascades of Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian-Argentine frontier have been reduced to a relative drip.

All around the planet, it is expected that mountain areas will experience higher temperatures, forcing the animals and plants to migrate to higher altitudes, endangering their species. Other regions will have more droughts, more forest fires, and fewer rains.

These changes jeopardize human health. Shifting rainfall patterns and higher temperatures affect agricultural productivity and impact food security. Low crop yields and high food prices make it harder and harder for people to feed their families, ALL ACROSS THE GLOBE.

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Linda Eve Seth, M. Ed, SLP is a mother, grandmother, concerned citizen and member of MOVCA.

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