When it comes to explaining how climate change will harm future civilization, many media outlets (including this one) tend to focus on hurricanes or rising sea levels. These are natural topics to generate interest in the heating Earth – the mental image of a city overrun with briny water, like New Orleans after Katrina, is charged with worry and doom.
But what the media should be focusing on is not the ocean but the land, specifically how dried out vast regions are becoming and the major effects it's having on societies. Intense droughts influenced by climate change are happening now, devastating farmers, causing mass migrations, and perhaps even contributing to the recent uprisings in the Middle East.
Arguing that the media should pound less on rising sea levels might not be appropriate when talking with somebody from the Pacific islands, or any other low-lying area that's anticipating nasty flooding. But the most punishing impacts of sea-level rise – excluding, perhaps, its debilitating amplification of tidal surges as with Superstorm Sandy – isn't expected to occur until later in the century. Meanwhile, many researchers say that climate change is actively worsening droughts and shriveling up access to water for hundreds of millions of people.
"When talking about what the greatest threats are that we face with climate change, I would put right at the top drought and water availability," says meteorologist Jeff Masters, who I spoke with recently. Masters, who co-founded the Weather Underground, finds it understandable that reporters don't rush to the site of droughts as much as they do for whirling cyclones: It's not like descriptions of hardened mud and wheat slowly dying in the field makes an intrinsically great narrative. "It's not as exciting; people don't run away from giant droughts like they do with hurricanes."
For the complete article, please see The Atlantic Cities.