Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change


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Cambridge University Press, , pp. More: Economics. Stay informed. Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox. Related Articles. However, as we noted in Chapter 2 , climate change can result in events that create shocks to globalized systems that support human life and well-being and that can therefore affect populations far from where the climate events occur.

Here we discuss the susceptibilities of several key globalized systems to harm from such shocks. Under normal conditions the globalization of markets, access to humanitarian relief, and public health systems all tend to reduce the susceptibility of countries and their populations to local climate risks.

For example, one of the first responses of governments to expected shortfalls in domestic production is to secure food imports Timmer, Yet these global institutions have evolved in, and in some sense been calibrated to, a climate regime that may differ in important ways from the climate of the coming decades. For example, a key feature of commodity markets is the maintenance of stocks that buffer the impact of short-term fluctuations in supply or demand.

The levels of these stocks are determined by several factors, including storage costs, interest rates, and the perishability of the commodity, but a key factor is the expected volatility of supply Wright, If climate change were to increase the chance of relatively large shortfalls in global production, stocks based on historical expectations of supply variability could be insufficient.

Similarly, the capacity of countries to provide humanitarian or public health assistance is related to historical experience with the level of aid needed around the world. Relatively little peer-reviewed literature has focused on how climate changes in the coming decades and the ability or inability of institutions to adapt to these changes will affect the likelihood of global systemic shocks to food systems, such as rapid price increases.

For example, Figure in Chapter 1 shows that the total fraction of land area experiencing extremely warm temperatures more than three standard deviations above average has risen sharply in the past three decades, even if some individual regions have not seen dramatic warming.

A shortfall in food supply that arose from multiple bad harvests around the world and that was large by historical standards would not necessarily result in rapid price increases, given that other important factors affect price fluctuations. If a sufficient number of preceding good harvests had helped to build up stocks, if growth in biofuel demand related to energy policies slowed or reversed, or if a global recession reduced aggregate food demand, supply shortfalls could have relatively little influence on global markets.

However, when bad harvests occur in an already tight market, this will generally result in large increases in food prices, as analyses of recent episodes of high prices in — and — have emphasized Abbott et al.

Policy responses to the initial shortfalls, such as export bans designed to stabilize domestic markets, then often act to further amplify price changes. In light of recent food price increases, there has been a renewed interest in the effects of high international food prices on domestic prices and social and political stresses. One clear finding is that domestic prices in many countries change substantially less than global prices, partly because of exchange rate variability and partly because of policies aimed at stabilizing domestic prices, such as tariff adjustments, export restrictions, and the use of government storage Dawe, ; Naylor and Falcon, Nonetheless, in and most countries witnessed significant increases in prices versus historical levels, with consequences for local producers and consumers.

The MENA Middle East and North Africa region is the main area of the world that relies on food imports for a large more than 30 percent fraction of calories consumed. Wheat prices are especially important in the MENA, given that nearly half of all calories consumed in some countries are from wheat Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, A recent World Bank study Ianchovichina et al.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also relatively dependent on food imports, with roughly 40 percent of rice and 70 percent of wheat consumption derived from imports Naylor and Falcon, Because the prices of basic commodities such as bread or flour are often subsidized, demonstrations and even riots frequently occur in response to efforts by governments to reduce subsidies, for example as part of structural adjustment policies. In general these disturbances are contained without an impact on the regime, even if there may be significant violence or property damage. The issue with regard to climate change is whether that pattern could change and that the countries most vulnerable to food price increases could become vulnerable to severe social and political unrest.

One notable exception is a recent working paper Bellemare, that presented an econometric analysis of global data since and found that high food prices were significantly correlated with political unrest related to food prices, with the latter measured by counting the number of news stories with at least five mentions of terms related to food and riots or their synonyms. It is worth noting that the rapid food price increases in the MENA during this period were not driven by local weather conditions, but by events around the world including a severe heat wave in Russia.

A report by Lagi et al. Although they do not identify a causal link between high food prices and riots, the authors argue that a food price index value of represents a simple potential predictor of increased unrest in food-importing countries. Breisinger et al. All of these analyses are careful to note that drawing direct causal links between food prices and political instability is not possible, but they argue that food prices must be considered along with political and cultural factors in explanations of the uprisings.

Like the food system, markets for energy commodities have become increasingly integrated globally over recent decades.

In the case of petroleum, this integration is essentially complete: There is one global market that determines prices of crude petroleum, linking producers and consumers around the world Yergin, Thus, possibilities for energy system shocks to have global impacts in the coming decade lie primarily in the petroleum sector. The integration of petroleum markets was stimulated by desires to safeguard the supply of oil from manipulation by political actors in the wake of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries embargoes in the s Yergin, Furthermore, the sensitivity of the system has increased because of a rapid growth in global petroleum consumption that has not been matched by a corresponding increase in production.

The result has been an extremely tight market, with petroleum supplies not significantly greater than demand Gupta, In this tight, sensitive market, climate events that disrupt the production or distribution of oil could lead to price spikes across the global energy market. Several types of climate events could cause such disruptions.

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change

Tropical storms and the increased storm surges that result from sea level rise and, in some cases, land subsidence, can disrupt production, refining, and transport of petroleum. For example, one-third of U. Similar infrastructure vulnerabilities exist in Europe and China as well International Institute for Strategic Studies, In addition, because offshore oil and gas platforms are generally not designed to accommodate a permanent rise in mean sea level, climate-related sea level rise would disrupt production Burkett, The effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in illustrate this potential.

The storms disrupted oil and gas production from offshore rigs, refining at facilities in the coastal zone, and transportation via port facilities and pipelines, causing a spike in global prices U. Department of Energy, ; Yergin, ; Schaeffer et al. The pattern repeated, although with a smaller magnitude, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit the Gulf Coast region in , destroying drilling rigs and disrupting refineries Paskal, Other climate events could also affect the global oil market. Oil refining requires large amounts of water for cooling purposes; hence, reduced water availability during a drought would reduce refining capacity.

If drought is accompanied by increased temperatures, refineries will require more cooling water to operate, potentially exacerbating the situation Schaeffer et al. Also, Arctic energy infrastructure pipelines and drilling operations is vulnerable to damage from subsidence caused by melting permafrost Paskal, ; International Institute for Strategic Studies, The likely magnitude and duration of these price shocks, however, has not been addressed in the research literature.

There has been some analysis of their potential macroeconomic effects.


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Hamilton , , reviewing six decades of oil price and macroeco-nomic data, reported a very strong relationship between oil price shocks and recessions. To the extent that economic disruptions drive political instability see, e. However, little research to date has directly addressed the political impacts of energy price shocks, whether caused by climate-related supply disruptions or other factors. These possibilities deserve more careful empirical analysis, particularly as energy markets continue to tighten with increased consumption from Asian nations and as risks increase of climate events disrupting energy supplies.

Over the past few decades the globalization of many industries has been accompanied by a streamlining of their supply chains in order to reduce costs. Climate events can thus be a source of major disruptions in world markets for critical non-food commodities. Such events are counted as one of the major risks to be addressed in the U.

Although not attributed to the effects of climate change Peterson et al. Much of Thailand, including portions of the capital Bangkok and its surrounding manufacturing districts, was flooded for extended periods between July and January The flooding resulted in more than deaths, affected Thailand is a flood-prone country with an extensive system of dams, drainage canals, levees, and other flood-control systems, but a series of events in overwhelmed this system.

The most immediate event was the abnormally high rainfall that year. In March , for example, the rainfall in northern Thailand was more than three times the mean level.

Climate Impacts on Human Health

The abnormally low rainfall of was another contributing factor. But when major rains unexpectedly continued, the reservoirs filled, and the dams had to release the water, resulting in flows too large for the downstream drainage canals and levees. This overflow was exacerbated by the many decades of deforestation that have taken place in northern Thailand, which allowed a greatly increased runoff from the rains and helped to overwhelm the downstream flood defenses. The Thai government suffered significant criticism for what many saw as its mismanagement of the situation. The government was criticized for its forecasts that underestimated the scale of the flooding, for its management of the upstream dams that exacerbated downstream flooding, and for poor communications.

Once the flood waters began to overwhelm the existing flood defenses, the government launched many emergency responses, including evacuations, the placing of sandbags, and the diversion of water from some channels to others. In one case the government placed hundreds of anchored boats in one river so that their propellers could help push water toward a second river. As the damages increased, many of these responses were criticized as inadequate. In addition, resistance appeared in some localities where flooding had increased due to barriers designed to protect neighboring communities.

Some people ripped down the sandbags that they saw as unfairly diverting flood waters to their areas. The floods also caused significant disruption to regional and global supply chains.

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Manufacturing parks located near Bangkok supply parts for the worldwide automobile and electronics industries. Many of these Thai manufacturing areas were covered by up to 3 meters of water, causing parts shortages worldwide. Even the computer firms located elsewhere in Thailand that escaped the flooding found they could not get critical parts. Production is not expected to fully recover until Mearian, In the meantime, component prices rose as suppliers attempted to stockpile what was available and manufacturers found they could not get the parts they needed.

The flooding of automotive parts production facilities forced Honda and Toyota to slow production lines in many countries Fuller, Climate events might also put stress on global health systems in various ways, most of them hard to predict. As discussed in the next chapter, climate change is expected to alter the ranges of disease vectors or pathogens in ways that expose large human populations to diseases to which they have not been previously exposed.

Effects of global warming - Wikipedia

This could lead to a rapidly increasing. If such health problems arise in combination with a disruption of supply chains for critical inoculations or medications, the potential for a severe health crisis could grow dramatically. Again, the effects might be felt far from the locations where the climate events occur. Climate events, especially when they occur in clusters, can also stress the capacity of international disaster response and humanitarian relief systems and thus cause harm in places that are not directly affected by the events but that need international assistance for other reasons.

Such shocks to integrated global social, economic, health, or technological systems are likely to have different effects in different places. It is reasonable to expect that they would be most disruptive in countries that are dependent on imports of the products of the global system that is shocked and in places or among populations that are particularly susceptible to harm if the availability of the outputs of those systems is restricted by price or policy. Since the s the number of recorded natural disasters related to weather and climate events has roughly doubled, while the number of those related to geophysical events, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, has neither increased nor decreased Munich Re, Reported losses from global weather- and climate-related disasters also increased over the past few decades, mainly because of monetized direct damages to assets, with the amounts of losses varying greatly from year to year and region to region Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Loss estimates are lower bounds because many impacts, including the loss of human lives, cultural heritage, and ecosystem services, are difficult to monetize and so are poorly reflected in these estimates.

Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change
Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change
Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change
Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change
Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change
Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change Does the Weather Really Matter?: The Social Implications of Climate Change

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