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Researchers Detail How Climate Change Will Alter Our Lives


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Today we are going to have a clearer picture of how climate change will affect the way we live. A U.N. panel has released a report from scientists who are getting a much better understanding of the affects of climate change. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that it's not just predictions for the future, it's also about how we should already be dealing with the impact.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Floods, fires, drought, war. These are the sorts of problems that scientists think might come with climate change. In the past, that's made these reports sound a little apocalyptic.

CHRIS FIELD: Historically we've been the doom and gloom group, but one of the things that's really important about the new report is that I believe that we've turned a corner.

BRUMFIEL: Chris Field is the co-chair of the latest study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He and hundreds of other scientists from around the world wrote this new report. Since the last one seven years ago, a lot has changed. For one thing, climate change is happening right now.

FIELD: We're seeing lots and lots and lots of indications of changes in species locations, or in fisheries operations or in agriculture, forest die-offs. It's really pretty dramatic how many examples there are and how far along the climate change path we've moved.

BRUMFIEL: But scientists have also realized that it's very tricky to predict just how those changes are going to affect people. Extreme weather events are the pointy end of climate change. But it's hard to know where and how they'll occur. And humans can show creativity and resilience, they can adapt. It's that second part, helping humans cope, that is the focus of this latest report.

FIELD: We need to think about managing risks in an era of deep uncertainty.

BRUMFIEL: If you're imagining giant walls to hold back rising oceans, that could be part of it. But Field says adapting is more about building a society that's able to cope with unexpected weather and climate.

FIELD: A lot of the smartest things to do are things that we should be doing anyhow: improving public health infrastructure, improving transportation communication infrastructure.

BRUMFIEL: To understand what adapting to a warming climate might look like, take Bangladesh. In 1991 a cyclone killed more than 100,000 people there. That cyclone wasn't directly linked to climate change. But Saleemul Huq, an author on this report who works in Bangladesh says the response shows how to become more resilient.

SALEEMUL HUQ: We have built a whole series of cyclone shelters, done a lot of raising awareness about early warnings. And we've had several very big cyclones of similar magnitude in the last decades where, you know, the warnings were given, people moved into shelters - more than two million people were evacuated.

BRUMFIEL: And very few people died. Digging shelters, telling people what to do when they hear a siren, these solutions aren't costly and high-tech.

HUQ: The rich don't have any particular advantage here; it's not technology that makes a difference.

BRUMFIEL: In fact, Huq says that Bangladesh may even have an advantage. Because it's prone to flooding, it is more likely to feel climate change first. So Bangladeshis may actually adapt sooner than the rest of us. Chris Field, the co-chair of the new study, says, overall, poor people will undoubtedly have a harder time than the rich in coping with change. But he adds, impacts will be felt everywhere.

FIELD: We see vulnerability from equator to the poles, you know, the coast to the mountains, big cities to rural places and in rich communities to poor communities.

BRUMFIEL: We'll all have to deal with a warming world. This new report emphasizes that it will go a lot better if we work together. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.