One person will die today because of climate change

Climate change could wipe us out someday. That’s the story line, yet it doesn’t seem to be resonating on a broad scale. The truth is climate change is already killing us – if by us you mean humans on this planet.

According to a new report,

  •  350,000 individuals die every year as a result of climate change we’ve already experienced;
  • More than 99 percent of the mortality is occurring in developing countries;
  • 5 million will die over the next 10 years if we don’t change;
  • Nearly 1 million will die every year starting in 2030 if action isn’t taken; and
  • Climate change drains $150 billion from the global economy every year.

The report, by DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, reflects death due to climate-related diseases and weather disasters; loss of habitat due to rising seas and desertification; and economic stress, including loss of natural resources.

How you receive these stats depends heavily on what you believed about climate change prior to reading this post. But even if you’ve bought in to the idea that climate change is occurring and is perilous, big numbers have a way of overshooting emotions.

The truth is we care more about individual suffering than group suffering. It’s human nature. That’s because of the way people regulate their emotions, according to another new study, out of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “People expect the needs of large groups to be potentially overwhelming,” the authors write. “As a result, they engage in emotion regulation to prevent themselves from experiencing overwhelming levels of emotion.”

So when you read the stats, don’t picture 350,000 people dying. That’s a data point. Picture the suffering of just one person – say, an infant – starving to death because the local farmland has dried into a brick.