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Is climate change the number one threat to humanity?



This paper challenges claims that global warming outranks other threats facing humanity through the foreseeable future (assumed to be 2085–2100). World Health Organization and British government-sponsored global impact studies indicate that, relative to other factors, global warming's impact on key determinants of human and environmental well-being should be small through 2085 even under the warmest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenario. Specifically, over 20 other health risks currently contribute more to death and disease worldwide than global warming. Through 2085, only 13% of mortality from hunger, malaria, and extreme weather events (including coastal flooding from sea level rise) should be from warming. Moreover, warming should reduce future global population at risk of water stress, and pressures on ecosystems and biodiversity (by increasing net biome productivity and decreasing habitat conversion). That warming is not fundamental to human well-being is reinforced by lower bound estimates of net gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. This measure adjusts GDP downward to account for damages from warming due to market, health, and environmental impacts, and risk of catastrophe. For both developing and industrialized countries, net GDP per capita—albeit an imperfect surrogate for human well-being—should be (1) double the current US level by 2100 under the warmest scenario, and (2) lowest under the poorest IPCC scenario but highest under the warmest scenario through 2200. The warmest world, being wealthier, should also have greater capacity to address any problem, including warming. Therefore, other problems and, specifically, lowered economic development are greater threats to humanity than global warming. WIREs Clim Change 2012, 3:489–508. doi: 10.1002/wcc.194

This article is categorized under:

  • Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Knowledge and Practice