The main contradiction Climate change is that it is also the most epic problem that our species has ever faced, but is largely invisible to the average person. In the comfort of your own home, you may not be aware of how climate change affects mental health or ecosystems, or how cities like Los Angeles are taking drastic measures to prepare for water shortages.
The challenge for scientists is to alert something that is difficult to imagine. But the new interactive map is probably one of the best visualizations of how climate change will change America. Click on your city and the map will show you a modern analogue city that suits your climate in 2080. New York will be more similar to today's Jonesboro, Arkansas; The Bay area is more like LA; and LA more like the very peak of Baja California. If it does not create a threat of climate change for you, I'm not sure what I will do.
The data behind him are nothing new, but they are friendly to society repackaging this data, called climate-analog mapping, presents a change in the way science reaches society. "The idea is to turn global forecasts into something less distant, less abstract, more psychologically local and accurate," says Matt Fitzpatrick, ecologist at the University of Maryland, principal author Nature Communications describing the system.
Fitzpatrick analyzed 540 urban areas in North America using three basic data sets. One captures the current climatic conditions (average from 1960-1990), the second contains predictions of future climates, and the third provides historic climate variability from year to year, taken from the NOAA weather records. (Depending on the city, the climate may be more "stable" or more rapidly change over the years.) Scientists particularly regarded the temperature and precipitation, although of course they are not the only two variables in climate modeling – more on this topic in a moment.
If you click on an interactive map, you will notice certain trends in the scenario in which emissions will rise for 60 years. "Many cities on the east coast will become more like locations in the southwest, an average of around 500 miles away," says Fitzpatrick. On the West Coast, cities generally look like places south of them. For example, Portland in 2080. It will be more similar to Central Valley in California, which is generally warmer and drier. In addition, the map has an option (on the left) that uses other calculations to show what changes will look like if emissions peak around 2040 and start to fall.
The implications are shocking, but potentially useful. "Creating frames gives an easy-to-digest way for the public sector to inform about politics, and is very difficult for the scientific community," says Kevin Burke, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study. "One of the remarkable results of this work is the potential for cities and their analogue couples to transfer knowledge and coordinate strategies for climate adaptation."
Take, for example, extreme heat. This is the norm in a place like Phoenix, a city full of air conditioners. But in a place like San Francisco, air conditioning is rare. If San Francisco really ends up in a climate like LA in 60 years, it will be a big public health problem. Extreme heat easily kills, as in the case of deadly heat waves in Europe in 2017.
Water is another important issue. Many urban areas will become drier, but others may see that their total rainfall remains unchanged. However, rainfall patterns can change – for example, for all who fall in the winter. "So even if it has the same amount, it can have really big implications for places that are not used to a long drought in the summer, or what are you," says Fitzpatrick.
San Francisco can learn water management techniques from the 2080 analogue. Climate models predict that in the coming decades LA will see less but more intense storms. To prepare, the city has begun an ambitious program to capture these huge dumps with a network of tanks built into the median road. The rain capture program decreases its dependence on water flowing into the city from a distance.
The Bay area, which was historically blessed with more rainwater than the neighbor in the south, was not so forward-looking. Rich societies shed hissing attacks when new water requirements meant their lawns.gasp– Brown. "Los Angeles is far ahead of the Bay Area in terms of incentives to move away from the more water-consuming outdoor landscape that we still have in the progressive region of the bay," says Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at UC Berkeley, who was not involved in this new job.
Changes in precipitation would, of course, have serious implications for agriculture. But something more subtle will also develop: With the change in climate, so will the creation of local ecosystems. For example, pests, such as mosquitoes, can grow in your community. Some plant species may not be able to cope with sudden changes and die out.
"People can adapt and move to some extent, but animals and ecosystems will not be able to do so soon," says a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Reto Knutti, who was not involved in the study. "We are running a risky experiment with the Earth, with partly unknown consequences."
"This is actually my biggest worry," says Fitzpatrick. "It's not necessarily direct climate change, it's an indirect impact on natural and agricultural systems, given the size and speed of these changes."
Even more terrifying, some of the North American cities that Fitzpatrick examined, will not have a modern equivalent in 2080. This means that you can not compare them with the climate we see today. What makes reacting to a threat even more difficult – Bay Area can predict that it feels more like Los Angeles for 60 years and adapts accordingly, but if you have no idea what is coming, it is difficult to mitigate the threat.
However, to be clear, this analogous climate technique simplifies certain things – for example, scientists have omitted complicating factors, such as the effect of the urban heat island, in which cities absorb more heat than the surrounding rural areas. And this is average climatenot the weather. For example, the recent cold snap on the east coast was generated by warmer temperatures in the Atlantic.
"None of them is intercepted by these analogies," says Andrew Jarvis, a researcher at CGIAR, an institute for agricultural research. "So from the point of view of communication, this is one of the dangers of this, it simplifies it too much." And necessarily: climate systems are monumentally complicated, although gradually scientists are increasingly understanding how our planet will change during climate change. The map itself can not convey all this knowledge.
The idea with this new interactive map is aimed at better visualization – both for ordinary citizens and decision makers – which was previously presented as impenetrable datasets. "I hope that, first of all, I open my eyes and that more discussions begin so that more planning can be carried out," says Fitzpatrick.
Climate change is here and is wreaking havoc. Think about it, a plan that will help you navigate chaos.
More great WIRED stories