In a year in which extreme weather wreaked frequent havoc on the world, a new study finds that if global temperatures continue to rise at their current pace, today’s kids will experience three times the number of climate disasters as their grandparents did.
Published Sunday in the journal Science, the study concludes that the average 6-year-old can expect to face “twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960,” the Washington Post reported.
The study helps quantify the worsening reality of climate change, which for years was written off by some as a harmless phenomenon. The past few years of record wildfires, crippling drought, increasing flash-flooding and more powerful tropical cyclones have helped many people appreciate that the effects of climate change are already being felt. Yet, while a growing number of Americans seems to accept the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are pushing the Earth’s temperatures higher and causing dire consequences, the stakes for young people are markedly higher.
In all, today’s children will have to contend with “an average of five times more disasters than if they lived 150 years ago” if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed in a meaningful way, the Post reported. For young children in sub-Saharan Africa, the risks are especially pronounced. Infants who live in that part of the world are likely to endure 50 to 54 times as many heat waves as those experienced by someone born in preindustrial times.
Wim Thiery, a climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and the lead author of the study, said the work was in part inspired by his own children, who are 7, 5 and 2.
“Young people are being hit by climate crisis but are not in position to make decisions,” he told the Post. “While the people who can make the change happen will not face the consequences.”
That same frustration has been voiced by youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke last week at a climate strike rally in Berlin.
“Time and time again, the leaders today show that they do not care about the future — at least it doesn’t seem like it,” Thunberg, 18, said in a video conference call from Stockholm ahead of the Berlin rally. “They say that they listen to us young people, but they are obviously not. They have proven that now again. And that’s why we will be back on the streets.”
Thunberg has called on world governments to do more to keep temperatures from exceeding a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, above which the vast majority of climate scientists say will result in a cascading sequence of extreme weather disasters.
A recent study found that 45 percent of young people ages 16 to 25 said they suffer “high levels of psychological distress” due to climate change and the lack of action being taken to fix it by world governments.
When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest assessment to policymakers in August, it noted that the window of opportunity to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius was quickly closing.
“If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said.
The next big opportunity for world leaders to commit themselves to lowering greenhouse gas emissions will come in November at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
For researchers like Thiery, activists like Thunberg and officials like Guterres, there’s no time to waste.
“We can still avoid the worst consequences,” Thiery told the Post. “That is what gives me strength as a father.”
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