Children today will live through three times more climate disasters than their grandparents, study suggests

If the planet continues to warm at its current trajectory, the average 6-year-old is expected to live through three times more climate disasters than their grandparents, according to a new study released from the journal, Science this week.

The research suggested that children today will live through twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960, according to the Washington Post.

The lead author of the study, Wim Thiery called the research the “intergenerational inequality” of climate change.

In order to conduct the research, Thiery and 36 colleagues compared the climate risks of older generations to the number of extreme climate events that today’s children are likely to experience, according to the Post.

In fact, children are expected to encounter an average of five times more disasters than people who lived 150 years ago, the study suggests, unless leaders at the United Nations climate summit this fall agree to more ambitious policies, the Post reported.

Locally, the northeast of the United States is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the contiguous U.S., according to Michael Rawlins, associate director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Between 1895 to 2020, the Bay State had a warming rate of 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, totaling 3.75 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 125 years, based on a best-fit trend line.

This means that Massachusetts is already closing in on a warming of two degrees Celsius, which exceeds the standards set in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, according to Rawlins.

“With the signing of the Paris Agreement to try and limit greenhouse gas emissions, many people have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that the 2-degrees C target is somehow a ‘safe’ limit for climate change. But the 2 C number is a global average, and many regions will warm more, and warm more rapidly, than the earth as a whole,” Raymond Bradley, NE CSC principal investigator and director of UMass’s Climate Systems Research Center said after releasing a study suggesting that temperatures across the Northeast will increase much faster than the global average.

“Our study shows that the northeast United States is one of those regions where warming will proceed very rapidly, so that if and when the global target is reached, we will already be experiencing much higher temperatures, with all of the related ecological, hydrological and agricultural consequences,” Bradley continued.

Globally, the impacts of climate change are expected to be most dramatic in developing countries. For example, infants in sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to experience 50 to 54 times as many heat waves as someone born in the preindustrial era, according to the Post.

“Young people are being hit by climate crisis but are not in position to make decisions,” Thiery said, according to the newspaper. “While the people who can make the change happen will not face the consequences.”

For example, people under 40 are expected to experience unprecedented climate crises, facing rates of extreme weather events that only had a 1 in 10,000 chance of happening before industrialization, according to the Post.

“It used to be a story of, like, ‘yeah we have to limit global warming because of grandchildren,’” Thiery said in the newspaper. “This study is making clear that climate change has arrived. It’s everywhere.”

But there is still a chance for countries to adapt to the incoming changes, co-author Joeri Rogelj, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London said, according to the Post. Installing flood barriers, implementing fire-safe building codes and providing shelter for people at risk from heat are all methods to make weather less destructive in the future, according to the Post.

“Our aim is for this not to be the conclusion of this debate,” Rogelj said, “but for this to be the start of looking at the lived experience of children being born today.”

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