Impacts of Climate Change: Perception and reality.

Discipline: environment: Keywords: climate change, extreme weather conditions, human well being, green revolution, carbon dioxide, clean water, fertilizer.

In a report by Dr Indur Goklany who was a founding member of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects we currently experienced and other evidence which are considered as evidence of climate change, the author challenged the interpretations. The reference to the paper is: I.M. Goklany, 2021. Impacts of Climate Change: Perception and reality. Report 46, The Global Warming Policy Foundation. The question is what should we make of this. Below I gave his summarized conclusions and I then give my view on what are possible outcomes and consequences. 

The summary is structured according to what climate scientists and observations suggest and then the response of Dr Goklany of what his analysis showed:

Regarding extreme weather conditions:

  • More hot days and fewer cold days; yes, the results/ observations are supported.
  • Cyclones/hurricanes more intense or fre­quent; no, not supported
  • Tornadoes increase and become more intense; no, not supported
  • Floods more frequent and more intense; no, not supported
  • Droughts more frequent and intense; no, not supported
  • Area burned by wildfire increasing; no, area peaked in mid-19th century
  • Cereal yields decrease; no, they have tripled since 1961 because of green revolution
  • Food supplies per capita decrease; no, increased 31% since 1961
  • Land area and beaches shrinking, coral islands submerged; no, marginal expansion

Regarding human wellbeing:

  • mortality and economic losses to extreme weather events have declined;
  • access to clean water has increased;
  • death rates from climate- and weather-sensitive vector-borne and parasitic diseases have declined;

Most importantly, as carbon dioxide emissions have increased since the start of the Industrial Revolution (from 277ppm to 409ppm in 2019), virtually every measur­able and significant objective indicator of human wellbeing has advanced:

  • life expectancy and income levels have improved;
  • poverty levels have declined;
  • people are living longer and healthier lives;
  • the human development index has advanced virtually every­where.
    My comments and interpretations:
  • One should keep in mind that analyses in a global context (averages for the world) may differ substantially from analyses in a country context. Having said that, Dr Goklany’s analyses did consider strategic countries across the globe.
  • Depending upon parameter, his analyses were done either between the 1800’s and 2010, or 1960 to 2015, or 1995 to 2015 or 2017. Some of the periods may be too short to obtain conclusive evidence given the substantial fluctuations in natural weather patterns; this in relation to some parameters in the extreme weather condition parameters. In relation to human wellbeing, I do not think there is any surprise in the findings – human wellbeing has improved since pre-industrial times because of infrastructure structure improvement, technology development and medical advances. However, the perceived climate change in the last decade has little relevance to human wellbeing up to the last decade.
  • The average global temperature has increased by about 1oC in the last century in close association with the increase in carbon dioxide levels, but the increase is progressively more in the last twenty years. This implies that if extrapolated from the current increasing trends and no reduction in carbon dioxide levels, the temperature increase may reach 1.5oC in the 2030’s and 2oC by the end of the century. This is quite drastic and the real concern, i.e. the focus is on the more future scenario.
  • Dr Goklany advances the argument that fossil fuel in terms of fuel, fertilizer and pesticide application was good for human wellbeing because of technology development and the green revolution. Again the argument is not disputed, but the negative consequences are undoubtedly beginning to exceed the positives, because of the carbon dioxide accumulation argument and the negative effect of chemical fertilizer and pesticide on soil health and organic matter, in addition to monoculture practices. We need to reduce if not abandon this altogether in favour of regenerative practices with organic (manure) fertilizer, multispecies cropping and cover crops as yields with monoculture will not be sustainable with the depletion in soil nutrients of conventional practices.