When it comes to communicating climate change, there can be a thin line between making things seem completely hopeless in the world and making adaptation and even mitigation seem possible.
New research from the University of Maine finds that there is one way to engage people on the subject: give them an estimated date for what's known as "climate departure." That's a crucial benchmark, meaning the warmest day of each year will be as warm or warmer going forward.
The study of about 400 people in New York and Singapore used that strategy but set the benchmark at different times in the future with different results.
Laura Rickard, assistant professor of communications at the University of Maine in Orono, is the lead author of the study, which appeared in the journal Global Environmental Change.
To read the study, click here. And this is the most effective scenario, according to the study:
A New Normal? Climate ‘Departure Date’ Suggests Major Impacts on NYC Residents by 2066
NEW YORK CITY – In the future, the average temperature will be hotter across most parts of the planet than it had been at those locations in the past. Scientists refer to this as a region’s “departure date,” which is the point after which “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead author of a recent paper in the journal Nature. As temperatures increase, plants and animals that cannot adapt to changes in the environment will be forced to move, or will be driven to extinction. Weather will also become more unpredictable and extreme.
The scientists used computer models to determine the departure date for several cities. If emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide remain high, the departure date for New York City will be 2066. In other words, unless current emissions levels are substantially reduced, New York City will experience the effects of this new climate, such as severe heat waves, in just over 50 years.
When told about the prediction, long-time New York City resident Kevin Lee reflected on how his daily life might change. “One of the best parts of living in this city is being able to walk to work, walk to the market, or walk to the park for most of the year,” he said. “If what the scientists predict is true, though, the heat may be just too intense for me to do that.”
Unfortunately, oppressive temperature is not the only change that New Yorkers may face in 2066. More unpredictable weather, including periods of drought and intense rainfall, may pose a challenge to urban water supplies. Having safe drinking water from the faucet or taking daily showers may no longer be feasible. Warmer, wetter weather may also increase vector-borne diseases, such as those spread by mosquitoes. “I never thought I would need to wear bug spray to work,” Mr. Lee noted, adding, “it may be part of my new normal.”
A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can help postpone climate change impacts in New York City. If the reduction is large enough, these climatic changes could be delayed by 20 to 25 years. While that may not sound like a lot, scientists say the delay could buy critical time to allow nature and human society to adapt, and for the development of technologies to further reduce emissions.