Consequences for people

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Topic: People changing climate. Basics.
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Consequences for people

Climate changes will affect people’s lives. Poor people will be hardest hit.

The poor are the hardest hit

If climate change does not happen too quickly, it may actually have a positive effect on the economy and society in some parts of the world. For example, a warmer climate may improve crop yields in Northern Europe. In other areas, however, climate change may lead to drought and starvation. Thus a new climate will generate both winners and losers. The IPCC has assessed the likely impacts of climate change in various regions of the world and concludes that the losers will far outnumber the winners.

In the examples showing the effect of a flood in Europe and a drought in India, we saw that the population in both places were hit hard. Even though the impacts of the weather in these two areas were entirely different, they both had serious consequences for society and human life.

But is it fair to say that they were equally hard hit?

peasants in India

1. Peasants in India depend on crops to avoid starvation and have little opportunity to change their farming practices. Photo: Siri Eriksen/CICERO

Impoverished peasants in India depend on crops to survive and, since they are poor, they have little opportunity to modify their farming practices so they can be prepared for future years with drought. In contrast, floods in Central Europe are hardly likely to make people permanently homeless or cause them to starve. This is partly because the countries involved have systems to help those affected – and more money to adapt to a changed climate.

It is clear that the poor countries will be the hardest hit by climate change. Richer, industrialized countries will also face serious and unfortunate impacts, but they are in a completely different position to adapt to the changes and mitigate the damages. Thus climate change can exacerbate the problems associated with poverty and increase the gap between the Earth’s rich and poor countries.

What about business and the economy?

Climate change, as we can see from the examples given, will affect population settlements, agriculture, businesses and the economy. One industry that is highly dependent on the climate is tourism. Climate change will force the tourist and travel industry to prepare for changing conditions:

  • Many traditional winter destinations may receive rain rather than snow. Perhaps winter tourism in areas such as the Alps and Scandinavia may move to other areas with more reliable snowfall?
  • Southern Europe will be hotter and get less rain, making it subject to heat waves and drought (as was the case in summer 2003). Perhaps summer tourism in Southern Europe will dwindle because it becomes too dry and too hot?

ski tourism

2. Unreliable snow fall: Warmer climates will affect winter tourism. Photo: Corel Gallery.

Another industry that is strongly dependent on the climate is agriculture. Choose the topic Farming & Climate if you want to read more about the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

And what about human health?

Climate change also affects human health. Heat waves will occur more frequently and will be more intense. These will lead to more frequent heat stroke and deaths among elderly and sick people. Several thousand people are reported to have died in France as a result of the intense heat wave in summer 2003. In areas that receive more frequent and more powerful extreme weather events, storms and strong rain will take more human lives. At the same time, the milder winters will mean that fewer people will freeze to death.

A warmer climate is also more favorable to the spread of diseases that are transferred by mosquito, mites, ticks, snails, crustaceans and other animals. Disease organisms include viruses, bacteria, fungi and various parasitic worms. Dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria and schistosomiasis (bilharzia) are examples of such diseases. While the first three are spread by the mosquito, the last is spread by a freshwater snail.

Today, malaria is especially prevalent in Africa. The disease kills between one and three million people every year and most victims are children. In addition to climate conditions, poverty is an important factor for the spread of malaria: Rich countries are generally able to exterminate malaria-bearing mosquitoes, even where the climate is favorable to them.

anopheles mosquito

3. Malarai: The mosquito carrying the malaria parasite. Photo: WHO


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About this page:

Author: Camilla Schreiner - CICERO (Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo) - Norway.
Scientific reviewers: Andreas Tjernshaugen - CICERO, Norway - 2004-01-20 and Dr. Knut Alfsen - Statistics Norway, Norway - 2003-09-12.
Educational reviewer: Nina Arnesen - Marienlyst School, Oslo, Norway - 2004-03-10.
Last update: 2004-03-27.

Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2019, 3:08 PM