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Steve Fleischli

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We Are Not All Going to Die From Climate Change

Posted: 08/04/11 07:28 PM ET

The climate is changing. That simple fact really shouldn't be subject to dispute.

Something else that probably shouldn't be subject to dispute: We are not all going to die from climate change.

Undoubtedly, some people will die. Those without resources. Those with no place to go. Those without water. Or those with too much water as the seas rise or local floods increase. And there certainly will be misery for many of those that don't die.

But the simple truth, also, is that some people will have access to sufficient resources to withstand the changes. Some will be prepared. Some will adapt. Some will move. Some could even flourish in the face of a disproportionate allocation of resources.

So why should you care about climate change? You probably don't live in Bangladesh or on some tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. You've got nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong.

No matter where you live, you will not be immune to climate change. Scientific studies show that nearly every community in the U.S. will be impacted in some way by climate change. As a new report from NRDC highlights, cities like New York, Miami and San Francisco all face serious challenges from sea level rise. Phoenix and communities across the southwest face water shortages. Places like Chicago and St. Louis face more intense storms and floods.

The impacts from floods, drought and heat could have profound effects on human health. For example, heavy rains increase risk of drinking water contamination and illness; floods can force communities to relocate. Hotter days and nights and changing rainfall patterns reduce water supply quantity and quality and diminish food security. Heat-related premature deaths and illnesses will increase; for New York City, a quadrupling of days above 90 degrees F is projected by the 2080s.

Sure, you might not die from climate change, but you certainly could be a lot worse off, more uncomfortable and a lot less healthy. Your wallet could also be a lot lighter, especially if the price of water, electricity, food -- or even homeowner's insurance -- rises.

You should also care about climate change because of the simple fact that some people will not escape its impacts. Communities will be torn apart. Cultures will vanish. Some people will be miserable -- or worse yet -- die. As human beings, that should bother us more than it seems to.

Awhile back I read a story about the future disappearance of a remote island community due to sea level rise. One commenter said he didn't care about the impact of climate change on the island because he had never been there and never planned to go there.

Now, I can be a pretty cynical person at times, but no matter how callous I might be, I have a hard time understanding such a comment. I mean, I just don't understand how a fellow human being could seriously make such a statement. I have never been to the islands of Nauru, Kiribati or Tuvalu either, but the fact that so many lives -- and entire cultures -- are at risk from climate change troubles me greatly. Have we really become so self-centered that we no longer care about what happens to those innocent people who have done little, if anything, to contribute to this problem?

I grew up in Nebraska, where I was taught the importance of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and making sure you adequately provide for yourself and your family. I still believe in that. But I was also taught that once you have pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, you should help level the playing field so your neighbors can more readily do the same.

When it comes to climate change, there certainly is no level playing field about it. There will be winners and there will be losers. Some of those most harmed will be in far off places; some will be close by. For all these compelling reasons it seems to me that we -- as individuals, communities and a nation -- should be doing a lot more to help minimize the pain and suffering that may befall ourselves and our neighbors all across the globe -- so that we all can live more prosperous and enjoyable lives on this rapidly changing planet.

This blog is cross-posted on NRDC's Switchboard.