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Climate Change: The Human Cost

Monday, 29 Jul
12:00 amto1:00 pm

Monday 29 July, 12 – 1pm, Paul Barratt Lecture Theatre, Psychology Building, University of New England (UNE), Armidale

Richard Parncutt presents the seminar “The human cost of climate change: Estimating long-term human mortality”. He will present the case that we can make predictions of future death tolls as a result of climate change impacts, which presents a clear political message to defend human rights. He will argue climate change is primarily a human rights issue.

A Psychology Research Seminar of the UNE Psychology Seminar Series

FURTHER INFORMATION: Bruce Stevenson E: bstevens@une.edu.au P: (02) 6773 2565

Full description:

Greenhouse-gas emissions are indirectly causing future deaths by multiple mechanisms. For example, reduced food and water supplies will exacerbate hunger, disease, violence, and migration. Predicted death tolls are crucial for policy formulation, but uncertainty increases with temporal distance from the present and estimates may be psychologically biased. How will anthropogenic global warming (AGW) affect global mortality due to poverty around and beyond 2100? Roughly how much burned fossil carbon corresponds to one future death? What are the psychological, medical, political, and economic implications? Order-of-magnitude estimates can be made by comparing literature from diverse relevant disciplines. The carbon budget for 2°C AGW (roughly 10^12 tonnes of carbon) will indirectly cause roughly 10^9 future premature deaths (10% of projected maximum global population), spread over roughly two centuries. This zeroth-order prediction is relative and in addition to existing preventable death rates. It lies between likely best- and worst-case scenarios of 3 x 10^8 and 3 x 10^9, corresponding to plus/minus one standard deviation on a logarithmic scale in a Gaussian probability distribution. It implies that one future premature death is caused every time roughly 1000 (300 to 3000) tonnes of carbon are burned; any fossil-fuel project that burns millions of tons of carbon is probably indirectly killing thousands of future people. The prediction may be considered valid, accounting for multiple indirect links between AGW and death rates in a top-down approach, but unreliable due e.g. to the uncertainty of climate change feedback and interactions between physical, biological, social, and political climate impacts (e.g., ecological cascade effects, co-extinction). Given universal agreement about the value of human lives, a death toll of this unprecedented magnitude must be avoided at all costs. As a clear political message, the “1000-tonne rule” can be used to defend human rights, especially in developing countries, and to clarify that climate change is primarily a human rights issue.

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