Credit By: Union Of Concerned Scientists
Using fossil fuels in our present era carries severe repercussions for the future, amounting to a potential catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude.
A recent comprehensive review involving the analysis of 180 articles focusing on the human toll of climate change paints a profoundly unsettling picture. The projection is grim: over the next century or so, the conservative estimate suggests that climate-related catastrophes could claim the lives of approximately one billion people, perhaps even more.
As with any future forecast, this one rests upon several underlying assumptions. One of these foundational elements is a concept referred to as the ‘1000-ton rule.’ In essence, this rule posits that for every thousand tons of carbon emissions humans release into the atmosphere, an indirect death sentence looms over a future individual.
The trajectory we are currently on points toward a global temperature increase of 2°C above the average global preindustrial temperature, a prospect we are likely to confront in the coming decades. Under such conditions, the potential loss of life is staggering. For every additional 0.1°C of warming beyond this point, the world could witness an estimated 100 million deaths.
Energy specialist Joshua Pierce from the University of Western Ontario in Canada elucidates this sobering reality: “If you take the scientific consensus of the 1,000-ton rule seriously and run the numbers, anthropogenic global warming equates to a billion premature dead bodies over the next century. We have to act. And we have to act fast.”
Even today, calculating the human death toll resulting from climate change is an exceptionally intricate endeavor. The United Nations reports that environmental factors claim approximately 13 million lives annually. Nevertheless, the precise attribution of these deaths to climate change, whether directly or indirectly, remains elusive.
Some experts argue that extreme temperatures alone may already be responsible for up to five million deaths yearly, while other estimates suggest lower figures. The complexity arises from the multifaceted global consequences of climate change, encompassing crop failures, droughts, floods, extreme weather events, wildfires, and rising sea levels, all of which exert subtle and interwoven effects on human lives.
Predicting the future death toll resulting from these climate-related catastrophes inherently involves uncertainties. Yet, Pierce and his collaborator, Richard Parncutt from the University of Graz in Austria, contend that it is an endeavor worth pursuing.
They argue that quantifying emissions in terms of human lives lost serves to make the statistics more accessible to the public, emphasizing the urgency of our current inaction.
Pierce underscores this point: “Global warming is a matter of life or death for a billion people. As predictions of climate models become clearer, the harm we are doing to children and future generations can increasingly be attributed to our actions.”
To underscore this perspective, Pierce and Parncutt applied the ‘1000-ton rule’ to the Adani Carmichael coalmine in Australia, slated to become the largest coalmine globally. According to their calculations, burning this coal mine’s reserves could result in the premature deaths of approximately three million people in the future.
Notably, the ‘1000-ton rule’ does not incorporate the potential impacts of climate feedback loops, which could exacerbate the environmental consequences of carbon emissions even faster.
This rule serves as an “order of magnitude best estimate,” implying a range of outcomes between 0.1 to 10 deaths per 1000 tons of carbon emitted. This broad range leaves ample room for scenarios even more dire than those outlined here.
Pierce elucidates, “When climate scientists run their models and report on them, everybody leans toward being conservative because no one wants to sound like Doctor Doom. We’ve done that here, too, and it still doesn’t look good.”
While it is undeniably a challenging reality to confront, it is a truth that must be acknowledged and addressed by both the public and policymakers head-on.