The central contradiction of climate change is that it is at once the most epic problem that our species has ever faced yet it is largely invisible to the average human.
From the comfort of your home, you may not realize how climate change is already affecting mental health, or ripping apart ecosystems, or how cities like Los Angeles are taking drastic measures to prepare for water shortages.
But a new interactive map is perhaps one of the best visualizations yet of how climate change will transform America.
Click on your city, and the map will pinpoint a modern analog city that matches what your climate may be in 2080.
New York city will feel more like today’s Jonesboro, Arkansas; the Bay Area more like LA; and LA more like the very tip of Baja California.
“The idea is to translate global forecasts into something that’s less remote, less abstract, that’s more psychologically local and relevant,” says University of Maryland ecologist Matt Fitzpatrick, lead author on a new paper in Nature Communications describing the system.
(Depending on the city, climate might be more “stable,” or swing more wildly between years.)
“Framing results in a digestible manner for the public sector, to inform policy, and for the scientific community, is notoriously difficult,” says University of Wisconsin–Madison climate scientist Kevin Burke, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“One notable outcome of this work is the potential for cities and their analog pairs to transfer knowledge and coordinate climate adaptation strategies.”
If San Francisco does indeed end up with a climate like LA’s in 60 years, that’s going to be a big public health problem.
“Los Angeles is far ahead of the Bay Area in terms of having put in place incentives to move away from the more water-intensive outdoor landscaping that we still have even in the progressive Bay Area,” says Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at UC Berkeley, who wasn’t involved with this new work.
But something more subtle will also unfold: As the climate changes, so too will the makeup of local ecosystems.
“Humans might adapt to some extent, and move, but animals and ecosystems won’t be able to in that short time period,” says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology climate scientist Reto Knutti, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“It’s not necessarily the direct changes in climate, it’s these indirect impacts on natural and agricultural systems given the magnitude and rate of these changes.”
To be clear, though, this climate analog technique simplifies things—for instance, the researchers left out complicating factors like the urban heat island effect, in which cities absorb more heat than surrounding rural areas.
And necessarily so: Climate systems are monumentally complex, though bit by bit scientists are getting a better grasp on how our planet will transform in the time of climate change.
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