New climate tool highlights varied effects of global warming

Climate change is affecting Goshen College programs around the world in very different ways, a climate tool published in a New York Times article confirms. 

In Goshen, the number of days in a year at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) has hardly changed, hovering around 11 since 1960, but that number has increased profoundly in warmer study abroad locations, the tool shows. By the end of the century, projected warming is more striking still, even in best-case scenarios. 

In Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where 17 Goshen College students are currently living with host families on SST, the number of very hot days, which the model defines as 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, has more than tripled from 22 in 1960, to 75 today. By the end of the century, there will likely be almost four months each year of 90-degree-or-higher temperatures. 

Jakarta, Indonesia experience 153 very hot days in 1960, but today the number is 235. By the end of the century, it is unlikely that daily temperatures will drop below 90 degrees for almost the entire year, according to the model.

Warming over the last 60 years is perhaps most dramatic in Dakar, Senegal, where 40 very hot days in a year was typical in 1960. Today, the number has risen to 226. 

The tool can calculate temperature changes in most cities around the world that experience hot weather, and can be found in the New York Times article “How Much Hotter is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?”

Higher temperatures bring a variety of heat-related risks and illnesses that are especially dangerous for vulnerable populations, according to a 2018 report from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment from Purdue University. Children, the elderly, people of color, low income people, and outdoor workers are more likely to face greater exposure to extreme heat, lack access to cool spaces, or both. 

In humid regions like Goshen, temperature increases are more dangerous and uncomfortable than in drier regions. 

The tool, developed by The Climate Lab, a group of scientists, economists and data analysts from the Rhodium Group, the University of Chicago, Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley, makes future projections for warming based on the assumption that countries will reduce emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

In reality, only two countries, Morocco and the Gambia, are on track to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement, to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action. No country is set to meet the 1.5 degree warming limit said to be necessary to avoid widespread and irreversible climate change impacts by the landmark 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

A Climate Action Tracker update from December reports that the planet has warmed almost one degree Celsius and that current climate policies will likely result in 3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. At 3 degrees of warming, the number of very hot days around the world would increase much faster, and entire regions would experience sustained temperatures beyond what humans can endure, rendering them uninhabitable. 

The tool used in the New York Times article is useful because it helps personalize the impacts of climate change for users around the world, said John Mischler, assistant professor of sustainability and environmental education. 

But using 90-degree days as a metric for warming simplifies a complex process, Mischler said.

In colder areas, like the Arctic, temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else, he said. In some cases thawing ice releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that further accelerates global warming. 

Additionally, in places like Goshen, the most significant climate impact isn’t warming, according to Mischler, but rather precipitation. Floods like the one that inundated downtown Goshen in 2017 will become more frequent, Mischler said, as will heavy spring rains like the ones that delayed farmers from planting for weeks this spring.

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Written by Gabe Miller, News Editor

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