The Unexpected Effects of Climate Change

A survey released earlier this year finds evidence that political candidates talking about climate change as a reality we must address does more good than harm. Considering the many and varied ways in which we are experiencing the effects of global climate change, the public’s openness toward the discussion can only be a step in the right direction.

Talking about climate change has always been seen as difficult: between the magnitude of the problem and our uncertainty with how to deal with it, the topic inevitably feels overwhelming and depressing. In a weird way, however, as we describe and study the effects of climate change, the task of dealing with it seems easier. Instead of seeing one gigantic problem with a complicated and difficult-to-enact solution, we face many smaller problems with easy and immediately accessible solutions. While adapting to climate change is not sufficient if we continue to pump out huge amounts of carbon dioxide, it at least provides a foothold, a steady ground from which to start our journey.

This past week, Scientific American ran two stories about two very different and possibly surprising side effects of a changing climate: chocolate farming could be threatened in Ghana and West Africa, and football in the southern United States may have to adapt to increasing temperatures. Regardless of your feelings about chocolate or football (though, for real, how can’t you love chocolate and football), it is impossible to dismiss the importance of these issues. For starters, cocoa farming is economically important to many West African nations. Sure, you’ll be able to still get your chocolate, even if West Africa becomes too hot and dry for cocoa trees, because other countries could increase their cocoa production. But that won’t alleviate the economic impacts felt by those West African nations. Research into drought resistant cocoa trees or movement toward other forms of agriculture, however, can – especially when the work is driven and motivated by those on the ground (a.k.a researchers, farmers, community organizers in and from those West African nations). The problem is still complicated, but at least now it is concrete – it can be tackled.

The issues facing football players in the south play out the same way. Over the years, as we’ve seen hotter and hotter temperatures, more and more high school football players have been suffering from or even dying due to heat-related illness (think heat stroke, for example). Recent changes to practice schedules and rules in Georgia have started to address these health concerns. Shorter practices, more frequent breaks, and only holding practices when heat and humidity are at appropriate levels all help kids stay safe without keeping them from engaging in a sport they enjoy.

Adapting to climate change is only one way to address the issues that arise and it may not be sufficient unless paired with directly addressing its anthropogenic roots. Still, the conversation about what to do about this problem has often felt intractable. By addressing specific issues with straightforward adaptations, climate change starts to seem like a problem with a solution.


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