Nobody Mentioned Scorpions: Global Warming’s Secondary Effects Sting
Quick: What do Thanksgiving blackouts in Southern California, anticipated shortages of Christmas trees and an explosion of scorpions in Egypt have in common?
They are inconveniences that are the result of climate change that the experts never told us about.
For decades, scientists warned of heavy precipitation, drought, and sea-level rise. The world hesitated to act, and now we do indeed live in an era of wildfires, extreme flooding and frequent hurricanes. What the scientists were less good at spelling out — perhaps because it wasn’t their job — was how those changes would ripple through the economy and areas that seem protected from the direct effects of warming and even ruin your Thanksgiving turkey.
That’s because climate disasters build upon each other.
“It is not just the event that is going on but the event that preceded it,” said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane scientist who now is an author for Yale Climate Connections.
It’s been easy enough to think, “Well, I don’t live by the coast, so sea-level rise is not my problem.” Or, “I don’t live in a dessert so extreme heat, so water shortages won’t plague me.” But humans and the systems they create are intricately interconnected and we are beginning to acutely feel downstream effects of climate change.
Not every person in British Columbia was flooded out in November’s record rains. Relatively few lost their homes in the brutal forest fires in the same area the previous summer. But tens of thousands will have Christmas hassles as a result.
That’s because the forest fires killed trees, which loosened soil, which became mudslides in the torrential downpours. That mud collected on tracks and shut down critical rail lines from the Port of Vancouver, a major shipping center from Asian markets. That is where the vast majority of your Christmas loot is manufactured.
Flooding and fire is also hampering Christmas-tree exports. Canada is the world’s largest exporter — and many of the nearly 2 million trees they export come to its large neighbor to the south, the U.S.
Let us not forget the scorpions. It seemed almost biblical when a rare storm caused sudden floods in Egypt in mid-November and forced the tiny stinging insects en masse from their burrows. The result was hundreds of stings in the city of Aswan.
“It is a perfect story for getting the public’s attention, because it is so visceral. These are horror-movie creatures,” said Jeff Opperman, global lead fresh water scientist for the U.S. arm of the World Wildlife Fund, which focuses on animal conservation. But, he says, such home invasions by creatures as a result of extreme temperatures are common. During droughts, spiders and snakes also enter homes searching for water.
Fear of forest fires caused Southern California Edison to turn off power to more than 16,000 customers across Los Angeles and Ventura counties on Thanksgiving Day, which caused a major Twitter freakout about lost turkeys. Many even asked whether the utility would reimburse them for spoiled food costs. The answer was that they are free to apply for damages.
In October, the globe was 0.89 degrees Celsius warmer than in preindustrial times, according to Bloomberg’s temperature tracker. So the next time you suffer a minor domestic calamity — an imperfect holiday or a band of marauding insects — don’t blame fate. Blame carbon.
Leslie Kaufman writes the Climate Report newsletter about the impact of global warming.
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