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Climate Change Likely to Simultaneously Bring Abrupt and Slow-Moving Disasters, Study Suggests

Posted November 21, 2018

While decades of research have solidified the case for anthropogenic climate change, some remain under the impression that even if the science is right, negative effects are still far off in the distance, and will take place in a sequential manner.

As a counterpoint, a new study, recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that what the future really holds for us is actually a rolling cascade of disasters, both gradual and abrupt.

“Facing these climate changes will be like getting into a fight with Mike Tyson, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Jackie Chan – all at the same time,” said lead author Camillo Mora. “I think we are way above our heads”.

In the study, Mora and colleagues have identified 467 distinct ways in which society is already being impacted by climate change, and detailed a number of likely scenarios of how the risks will compound on each other in the decades ahead if greenhouse gas emissions are not dramatically cut.

After reviewing over 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, the researchers have determined that instead of dealing with a single major hazard at a time, people worldwide may have to handle as many as three to six at any given moment.

In the coming decades, various climate change impacts are likely to compound, making adaptation more difficult. Image credit:, CC0 Public Domain.

The greatest value of the study – which the University of Hawaii at Manoa crowned as one of the most comprehensive assessments of the impacts of climate change on human civilizations – is its focus on interactions between different threats.

“If we only consider the most direct threats from climate change, for example heat waves or severe storms, we inevitably will be blindsided by even larger threats that, in combination, can have even broader societal impacts,” said co-author Professor Jonathan Patz.

The important thing to remember, Mora said, is that all of the aforesaid problems are not something that might happen many years or decades from now, but are already here with us.

According to Mora, even though exposure to multiple climate hazards will be very similar between rich and poor countries, there will likely be differences in how they will impact the public – either through higher economic losses or higher losses of life, respectively.

The researchers have also developed an interactive map showing worldwide risks under different emissions scenarios, which can be access here.


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