Climate change and extreme weather events: A snapshot

August 31, 2018

The UCGHI Planetary Health Center of Expertise (PHCOE) addresses climate change and extreme weather events that affect human, animal, and environmental health by promoting integrated solutions to health and environmental problems. 

The center seeks to identify how vulnerable human, animal and plant communities can adapt and thrive in the future amidst extreme climate events that cause environmental shifts. For example, adverse climatic and weather events often affect regions of agriculture and aquaculture that provide food and other life-sustaining resources to people, many of which live on or near the edge of poverty worldwide. Farmers and farm laborers in these vulnerable regions toil in extreme heat or cold weather to bring food to market for an ever-expanding global population. Pastoral and nomadic communities are also affected, many of which live in remote corners of the globe with limited resources to mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns.

Two unusual examples of extreme warming weather events that affect nomads and farm laborers occurred this year, one in far eastern Siberia a record high temperature of 38.4ºF was recorded in January when temperatures are usually well below 0ºF, and in the United Kingdom when roads melted and train tracks buckled this summer.

Scientists from diverse disciplines, including climatologists and agricultural experts, and many world leaders have verified that we are living on a planet facing dramatic changes in the environment, with many of these anthropogenic impacts resulting in increasing temperatures.  More importantly, farmers and indigenous herding communities have observed shifts in regional climate and seasons with dramatic effects on their livestock and crops from drought, extreme winter storms, or overheating. 

Agriculture is in the climate-warming cross-hairs. Feeding the world’s growing population and food security/insecurity are major concerns among global scientists, leaders, (including the United Nations) and humanitarian organizations. The PHCOE researchers are focusing their think tank efforts on Farming in the 21st Century and Women at the Center of Planetary Health Solutions. California is a global leader in agriculture, and the PHCOE is well-aligned to spearhead research that investigates the environmental and health impacts of a warming planet, and to identify what mitigation strategies can be implemented to manage agriculture production and adapt to these climate changes. 

Half way around the world, human population and physical landscape shifts are also present, with desertification of the Sahara and the parts of the Sahel region documented over the past two decades. Change is prominent in the tropics as well, with storms and hurricanes increasing in intensity over the past decade, resulting in more extreme weather events. Recent shifting climate trends in California with years of drought and inconsistent rainfall (e.g. turbulent storms or rain during off seasons) is creating uncertainty in the future of agriculture and crop management in this breadbasket of the world. According to Dr. Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist in the Computational Research Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), “a hot day in 2050 will be testing the limits of human endurance,” so imagine how plants and crops will be affected as well. 

We are living in a pivotal moment of history, with a short window of time to shift the trajectory of our planet’s populations and environments.  If we implement changes in energy use, land use management and consumption now, we can still have a positive impact on our human footprint around the globe. Every person makes a difference. Some simple solutions that can be implemented, by individuals or communities, to mitigate climate warming trends include:

  • Living close to where you work to minimize fuel emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and global temperature increases
  • Planting trees in urban, suburban and rural environments to provide carbon sinks and offset greenhouse gas emissions
  • Using more energy efficient building materials to decrease energy requirements and environmental impacts that result from generating energy.  

When integrated with other pillars of change such as education and family planning, our impacts on positive change for future generations are magnified.   

As the PHCOE enters its third year, center scientists and stakeholders will continue to explore and identify measures to implement that will mitigate and adapt to the growing effects on humans, animals, and the environment caused by extreme events. 

What can you do now?

Get involved every day in making climate-friendly choices and by advocating for what you believe in, for now and for the future generations of our planet.