How Does Climate Change Affect Us?

Inspire Clean Energy

16 min read

category: Clean Energy 101

How does climate change affect us?

Climate change has contributed to and will continue to contribute to many dramatic effects that we humans experience. Climate change undoubtedly affects our environment, which further contributes to the effects that we see and feel as humans. The cumulative effects on humans can be directly or indirectly traced to climate change.

Here are some of the ways that climate change can affect us now and in the future:

  • Increasing food scarcity and food prices: Increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns are creating extreme droughts in many regions of the world. When droughts occur, livestock and crops suffer. Unfortunately, it is not only droughts that can cause significant damage to crops. When frosts begin to occur later in the growing season or in regions that do not normally experience frosts, it can cripple entire agricultural industries. Unpredictable frosts are the result of changing climate patterns and extreme temperatures. Warmer temperatures and increased moisture can also increase pathogens or fungi that can wipe out entire crops. All the damage that climate change does to livestock and crops can be felt directly by consumers with higher prices and fewer options.
  • Diminished water quality: Heavy precipitation and extreme weather events can cause water runoff from cities to overflow sewage systems. This allows untreated sewage to enter bodies of water that supply the drinking water. Also, runoff from cities can contain numerous other pollutants that it picks up from commercial industries, vehicles, and household chemicals. All these pollutants enter the drinking water supply along with the untreated sewage. The same occurs in rural areas, but instead, you may see larger quantities of animal waste, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides enter the drinking water supply.
  • Outdoor activities become more difficult: Over the past few decades, climate change has increased the occurrence, duration, and frequency of regional heat waves. Construction workers, miners, agricultural workers, firefighters, and many other types of workers do a majority of their labor outdoors. When temperatures are extremely high for long periods of time, doing work outdoors becomes increasingly difficult and oftentimes dangerous. Heat waves can be dangerous not just for outdoor workers but also for workers who work in a large industrial building or compound with little to no climate control. Even if you do not work outdoors, your ability to exercise and enjoy outdoor recreation safely becomes more difficult with the increasing presence of heat waves. Every year, thousands of people are sent to the ER with heat-related illnesses from both outdoor work and outdoor recreational activities.
  • Increased damage to our homes and businesses: Climate change has increased the frequency of severe weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, and flooding is often a direct result of these types of natural disasters. Flooding, landslides, and heavy precipitation can do significant damage to homes and businesses. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lack of precipitation can increase the conditions that cause wildfires. Wildfires, like flooding, are responsible for millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses located throughout the United States.

These examples above are only a few of the many ways that climate change directly affects humans and the environment. Other examples include increased allergies, increased pathogen and disease presence, higher electric bills, power blackouts, rising taxes, and much more.

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How does climate change affect human health?

Climate change, directly and indirectly, affects the environmental determinant of health, especially when it comes to clean air, clean drinking water, sufficient food production and availability, and secure shelter.

Other main health impacts have to do with the following conditions that are a result of and exacerbated by climate change:

  • Extreme heat: Extreme air temperatures can contribute directly to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, especially in the older demographic. Also, higher temperatures can raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that can cause complications in people who have pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Aside from an increase in air pollutants as a result of extreme temperatures, people can experience heatstroke, extreme dehydration, and other adverse health effects during a prolonged period of extreme heat.
  • Natural disasters: Natural disasters have the immediate impact of destroyed homes, businesses, and medical facilities, but they can also cause longer-term damage to local economies. Rebuilding after a natural disaster is extremely expensive, and not all natural disasters are covered by insurance. As sea levels rise and temperatures increase, there is going to be a likely increase in coastal flooding and severe weather events. Natural disasters can also take out crops, livestock, and contribute to food scarcity. Flooding that is a result of natural disasters can provide the breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes and other insects. Disease can easily spread and enter into the drinking water supply during times of flood as well.
  • Increased infections: Climate change can help create the environmental conditions needed for water-borne and air-borne diseases and infections to thrive and spread rapidly.

These are some of the most basic ways that human health is impacted by climate change. There are still numerous other human health impacts to consider as well that can have dramatic and adverse effects on our health.

How does climate change affect the global economy?

The global economy is affected by climate change in many ways. Looking at different economic sectors, you can have more specific forecasting for what kinds of potential losses will be suffered from a continued increase of global surface temperatures and changes in climate and precipitation patterns.

For example, the most vulnerable sector of the global economy is agriculture. Floods, droughts, wildfires, all results of climate change, can do epic damage to farmland. The loss of crops and livestock can make a dramatic impact on parts of the world that are economically dependent on the success of agriculture. This includes many areas of the developing world, but also many regions within the United States whose biggest economic drivers are agriculturally based. For example, any significant damage done to the pig population or corn crop in Iowa could have regional economic consequences that would be catastrophic to many of the local economies. Even though most of the consequences would be felt locally, there would still be a ripple effect that would affect the entire U.S. economy as well as corn and pork prices.

How does climate change affect a country?

Climate change can affect a country by having some sort of influence and consequence on every aspect of that country’s health, economy, and infrastructure. Climate change impacts the overall health of a country’s population, it can have dramatic economic impacts on all sectors of a country’s economy, and it can increase the frequency of natural disasters that destroy homes, businesses, and infrastructure.

How is the U.S. affected by climate change?

One of the largest ways the U.S. is affected by climate change is that not only have natural disasters increased in frequency, they have increased in severity as well. Hurricanes are stronger. Heavy rainfall can create more flash floods and landslides, or the lack thereof can create longer drought cycles and wildfires. The wildfires that are occurring burn hotter and longer, and the potential damage they can cause is increasing rapidly.

What countries are most affected by climate change?

As mentioned earlier, climate change will affect many aspects of life. Across all aspects, these ten countries are considered to be the most affected or the most at risk from the devastating consequences of climate change.

The list includes the following countries:

  • Japan
  • Philippines
  • Germany
  • Madagascar
  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Kenya
  • Ruanda
  • Canada
  • Fiji

Although every country in the world is at risk of some sort of devastation as a result of climate change, these countries represent the countries that will be the greatest affected in the next few decades.

How does climate change disproportionately affect communities in poverty?

Impoverished communities can be disproportionately affected by climate change and its consequences for many reasons. For example, impoverished communities typically rely on the success of their seasonal crops as a source of income. These natural disasters due to climate change hit agricultural communities the hardest as food scarcity can result from floods, drought, and wildfires. Prolonged food scarcity can create famine, which then creates a migration crisis, and any influx of a greatly impoverished population into an already economically delicate region, can create further problems for everyone involved. Impoverished communities of the world are more likely to be agricultural societies where there is a lack of employment opportunities and a lack of commerce.

What are large-scale solutions to climate change?

If we fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, we will face devastating impacts across the board. On a large-scale, there are actions that need to be taken to reduce climate change effects. These actions include electrifying as much fossil fuel-reliant products or services as possible, and moving to 100% renewable energy production for commercial and consumer use. It will take entire industrial committees and government bodies to enact these positive changes and ensure their successful introduction or progress.

What can individuals do to reduce the effects of climate change?

As an individual, you can help reduce the effects of climate change by finding ways to use energy more wisely on a daily basis. For example, you can do this by installing energy-efficient appliances, unplugging unused electronics, and switching to renewable or cleaner energy sources. As an Inspire member, you can accelerate the world’s transition to a net-zero carbon future by accessing renewable energy for your home.

You have the power to make a difference by signing up for a 100% clean energy supply plan for your home. Not sure if renewable energy is right for you? Read some of our Inspire Clean Energy reviews to see how we've helped customers make the switch.

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What evidence supports the basis of climate change? 

Despite the fact that the climate has slowly changed over time due to natural causes, human activity has been contributing to climate change since the mid-20th century. In fact, as a result of human activity, current warming trends are 10 times faster than after an Ice Age, and carbon dioxide is increasing approximately 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age. Human activities have warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land, and they’ve forever altered the atmosphere, ocean, cyrosphere, and biosphere. 

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological breakthroughs have allowed scientists to see the broad picture and collect global climate data. This long-term data shows a changing climate. 

Take a look at the main symptoms of climate change:

  • Rise in Global Temperature - Since the late 1800s, Earth's average surface temperature has risen around 2 degrees, owing mostly to rising carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities. The last 40 years have seen the most warming, with the last seven years being the warmest, with 2016 and 2020 tying.
  • Ocean Warming - The water has absorbed much of the extra heat, warming more than 0.6 degrees in the top 328 feet since 1969. The oceans store 90 percent of the surplus energy produced by  Earth.
  • Ice Sheets Shrinking - The bulk of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets has shrunk, with Greenland losing an average of 279 billion tons of ice every year between 1993 and 2019. Antarctica has lost roughly 148 billion tons per year.
  • Retreating Glaciers - The Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa are all seeing glaciers disappearing, as are all other locations.
  • Snow Cover Decreasing - The amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has reduced during the last five decades, according to satellite data, and the snow is melting earlier than in the past. 
  • Rising Sea Levels - In the last century, the global sea level has risen by around 8 inches. However, in the recent two decades, the rate has roughly doubled that of the previous century and slightly increases each year.
  • Arctic Sea Ice Declines - Over the last several decades, Arctic sea ice's extent and thickness have significantly decreased.
  • Extreme Weather Events - Since 1950, the number of record hot-temperature events has increased in the United States, while the number of record low-temperature events has decreased. In addition, the United States has seen an increase in the number of severe rainfall events.
  • Ocean Acidity Levels - The acidity of surface ocean waters has grown by around 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This rise is due to humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is then absorbed by the ocean in greater amounts. As a result, the ocean has absorbed between 20 and 30 percent of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades.

What are the main global effects of climate change?

Global warming has impacted every aspect of the environment. Glaciers are shrinking, river and lake ice is melting earlier, and trees are blooming earlier. Additionally, sea ice loss, increased sea level rise, and longer, more intense heat waves are effects of global climate change. Scientists are confident that human-produced greenhouse gasses will keep global temperatures rising for decades. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a 2.5 to 10 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise over the next century. According to the IPCC, the level of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with societal and environmental systems' ability to mitigate or adapt to change. 

Here are some global effects of climate change: 

  • Continued Climate Change - The magnitude of future climate change depends on the amount of heat-trapping gasses generated globally and how sensitive Earth's climate is to them. 
  • Continued Warming - Because human-caused warming is overlaid atop a naturally fluctuating environment, the temperature rise has not been and will not be uniform or smooth. 
  • Lengthening Frost-Free and Growing Seasons - Since the 1980s, the length of the frost-free and growing seasons has been increasing across the western U.S., altering ecosystems and agriculture. The U.S. growing season is expected to lengthen. By the end of the century, if heat-trapping gas emissions continue to rise, the frost-free and growing seasons might be a month or longer across most of the U.S. The western U.S.—especially high-elevation and coastal locations—will have the highest frost-free season expansions, extending over eight weeks. However, heat-trapping gas emissions will reduce the rise. 
  • Rainfall Changes - Since 1900, average U.S. precipitation has grown, but certain locations have seen declines. This century, the North will see more winter and spring precipitation than the Southwest. Future climate projections for the U.S. imply heavy precipitation will rise. This tendency is expected even in regions with less precipitation, like the Southwest. 
  • Droughts and Heat Waves Increase - Droughts in the Southwest and worldwide heat waves are expected to become stronger, and cold waves everywhere will become less intense. Summer temperatures are expected to rise, and a decline in soil moisture will worsen heat waves in the western and central U.S.
  • Hurricane Intensity Will Increase - Since the early 1980s, the severity, frequency, and length of North Atlantic hurricanes have all increased. 
  • Sea Level Rising - Since 1880, when reliable records began, the sea level has risen 8 inches. By 2100, it might increase 1 to 4 feet due to melting land ice and warming saltwater. In the coming decades, storm surges, high tides, sea-level rise, and land subsidence could worsen flooding. 
  • Arctic May Become Ice-Free - Arctic summers could be ice-free by mid-century.

How does climate change impact the different regions of the United States?

The following impacts are already obvious throughout the United States:

  • Northeast - Heat waves, severe downpours, and sea-level rise imperil Northeast life, with infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems suffering.
  • Northwest - Changing streamflow timing reduces water for competing needs, leading to sea-level rise, erosion, flooding, infrastructural concerns, and ocean acidification. In addition, wildfires, insect infestations, and tree diseases are killing trees. 
  • Southeast - Rising seas threaten the region's economy and ecosystem. Less water will have economic and environmental consequences. Heat affects health, energy, agriculture, and more.
  • Midwest - Extreme temperatures, torrential rains, and flooding will disrupt infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and such. Climate change will worsen and put the Great Lakes in danger. 
  • Southwest - Climate change has escalated wildfires through heat, drought, and insect outbreaks. Further issues include declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, heat-related health implications in cities, and coastal floods and erosion.

How will climate change negatively affect us in the future?

How actively we fight climate change matters. By the end of the century, heat waves across the Middle East and South Asia will make it  too hot to go outside. At the same time, Central America, the Mediterranean, and southern Africa will experience drought. Many areas like islands, peninsulas, and low-lying areas will be submerged. 

In addition, climate change might warm the upper Midwest, Canada, the Nordic countries, and Russia, harming indigenous traditions and infrastructure. Unchecked climate change will likely worsen disparities, as poorer countries feel more discomfort, such as reduced inhabitants, crops, and storms, leading to costly restructuring of cities. Climate change is projected to encourage human migration as a result.

Individual, communal, and regional inequities will lead to large transfers of wealth. Even countries that gain from the warming climate will face climate repercussions. Migrants will flood desirable areas, causing crop failures and leading to a global food crisis. Warmer weather helps spread infectious diseases and their vectors, such as ticks and mosquitoes. Climate change increases threats that enhance the odds of larger internal and international conflicts. Over time, climate change will bring changes and money cannot stop.

What is the cost of tackling climate change?

Not addressing climate change will cost a lot and inflict human pain and ecological damage, whereas switching to a greener economy would benefit many people and ecosystems. Reducing the warming to below 2 degrees celsius will require investments in renewable energy and electric cars. Furthermore, the costs will require infrastructure, plus efforts to adapt to greater temperatures, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change.

While cost estimates vary, the prices range between $4 trillion and $60 trillion, with a median estimate of $16 trillion. Keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius might cost between $10 trillion and $100 trillion, with a median estimate of $30 trillion. Most countries cannot afford these necessary expenditures, which reduces global effectiveness.

Unchecked climate change will hit the most vulnerable hardest. Sea-level rise and extreme weather damage property and infrastructure. Moreover, natural disasters will cause death, illness, pollution, and infectious disease. Rising temperatures reduce agricultural yields and labor productivity, water availability and energy costs rise, and species extinction and habitat destruction occur.

According to studies, climate change has already decreased poor countries' revenues by 30 percent  and worldwide agricultural productivity by 21 percent since 1961. Extreme weather has also been expensive, costing approximately $100 billion in losses in the U.S in 2020 alone.

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