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Workshop 5

“Anthropogenic Climate Destabilization: A Worst-case Scenario”
Participant Statement

September 12–14, 2008 | Bellevue, Washington

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Kristie L. Ebi

What are the three critical questions you would ask pertaining to “anthropogenic climate change: a worst-case scenario” – and why?

1. How can the capacity of individuals, communities, and nations be increased to prepare for and effectively cope with the possibility of severe and disruptive impacts due to climate change?

It is known from the psychological literature that people typically are unaware of the hazards they (and other systems) face, underestimate those of which they are aware, overestimate their ability to cope when disaster strikes, often blame others for their losses, underutilize pre-impact hazard strategies, and rely heavily on emergency relief when the need arises. A large number of possible worst-case scenarios can be constructed, given the size of the current adaptation deficit and the limited efforts to increase the capacity to prepare for and cope with rapid climate change and possible thresholds and non-linearities.

2. How might decreasing soil moisture, decreasing crop yields, and changes in disease patterns lead to complex humanitarian crises in sub-Saharan Africa and/or Southeast Asia?

If projected reductions in soil moisture due to climate change are accurate, then significant decreases in crop yields from rain-fed agriculture could be expected within a few decades. This would lead to high rates of malnutrition and widespread migration, creating humanitarian crises and possibly fueling conflict. Such a situation could interact with the changing temperature and precipitation patterns that are projected to increase the rates of diarrheal diseases, and the geographic range and increase the incidence of malaria and other vectorborne diseases, increasing the probability of high-mortality epidemics.

3. How could climate change affect national and international security?

Climate change-related increases in water insecurity, infectious disease epidemics, food insecurity, extreme weather events, and other impacts are projected to occur more frequently, with some likely to occur jointly, thereby magnifying their overall impact. These increasingly complex disasters could interact to interrupt trade and destabilize national and world security. Preparing for and coping with these impacts requires active engagement from all sectors of society.