Climate Report Warns of Huge Heat-Driven Exodus

Researchers predict that in just a few decades life in many parts of the world could become unlivable, Julia Conley reports.


By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

In the next five decades, more than 3 billion people—one third of the world’s population—could live in regions with climate conditions considered unlivable, according to a new study.

Researchers at Washington State University, Nanjing University in China, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands examined the history of the conditions in which humans have comfortably lived, starting in the mid-Holocene era about 6,000 years ago and up to the present day. 

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Over that period of time, the study shows, the vast majority of the world’s population has lived in areas with a mean annual temperature between 50º and 60º Fahrenheit. 

Scientists are pushing world governments to take action to keep the warming of the Earth below 1.5º Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, by drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions. But many fear limiting global warming to this degree won’t be possible.

With every 1º Celsius (1.8º Fahrenheit) that the planet’s temperature rises, the new study says, one billion people will be forced to either migrate or adapt to new climate conditions which will affect crops and livestock and may make their outdoor environments impossible to work in. 

“I think it is fair to say that average temperatures over 29º [84º Fahrenheit] are unlivable,” Professor Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University told The Guardian.” You’d have to move or adapt. But there are limits to adaptation. If you have enough money and energy, you can use air conditioning and fly in food and then you might be okay. But that is not the case for most people.” 

About 25 million people today live in the hottest areas of the world, mainly in the Sahara region of Africa where mean annual temperatures top 84º Fahrenheit.


At the rate the planet is expected to warm, a larger share of Africa and parts of India, South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia could become too hot for people to live comfortably — driving many to migrate elsewhere in order to grow crops and obtain sufficient food and water. These areas are now home to about 3.5 billion people.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that most population growth happens to be in the place that will be hardest to live in,” Scheffer told The Washington Post. 

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused carbon emissions to drop due to reduced traffic and shut-down economies around the globe, Adam Browning of Vote Solar tweeted, “we should look to recover from this crisis in ways that prevent the next.”

According to The Guardian, more than one billion people are expected to live in untenably hot climates by 2070 “even in the most optimistic outlook” presented by the study, which was published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“We were frankly blown away by our own initial results. As our findings were so striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations,” Xu Chi, a researcher at Nanjing University who co-authored the study, told  The Sydney Morning Herald. “Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

The study demonstrated how the world could look very different by 2070, even in parts of the world which aren’t expected to face the extreme temperatures the researchers described, with billions of people forced to migrate elsewhere.

“It is likely climatic changes will in effect move large cities and whole countries into temperature niches that present inhabitants would find unimaginable,” Neil Adger of the University of Exeter, who reviewed the study, told the Post. “So will cities move? Unlikely. But will they become less attractive destinations for people to move to? Definitely. And ultimately some present cities will stop growing and ossify.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from Common Dreams.

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7 comments for “Climate Report Warns of Huge Heat-Driven Exodus

  1. Tim S.
    May 15, 2020 at 04:39

    Why no link to the actual study, and only quotes from the usual MSM daily newspapers?

      May 15, 2020 at 06:54

      The link to the study is in the usual MSM daily newspaper. It has now been inserted in the article above.

  2. Hide Behind
    May 15, 2020 at 04:14

    Adaptation by humans does not necessarily mean they will find comfort, long lives and decent living and working conditions under a warmer climate.
    Firstly what portion of worlds populace contribute to world prosperity; automation has already greatly eliminated need for unskilled largely illiterate workers of Industrial Age and its Agriculture economics.
    We are already seeing decrease in age longevity in US, drops in fertility and increase in deformity, still births and rates of children under 5 years dying.
    Without pharmaceuticals from age 45 upward a damn lot of people would not only be out of work but outright die.
    Lots of talk by those who hold useless degrees that we need to bring manufacturing back to US, but .manufacturing platforms now take little brainpower of human resource, and fewer humans, and they with degrees will not be on production floors, they want to be high paid managers.
    Vast areas of US largely unseen by city dwellers, and they are crowding more density of population into them yearly, and more acerage added yearly are already oil gas and mining wastelands.
    US has top 13 of worlds most toxic, in area and population , cancer belts in world and workers wait In line for dead or too I’ll for a job opening.
    Pregnant women cannot find a domestic fish safe to eat, yet they hubby and children eat them, heavy metals and all.
    Farmers have so denuded the grasslands it takes twice the acre per beef it took 5 years ago and they open more park lands for them, either that or allow more chemical enhancers and raise safe levels.
    Our Ozone is losing density yearly and many more places and nations days are above human safe levels and plants (forest) can no longer grow as well in those ozone heavy areas.
    Peru has days when UV me else are in 30 or 40 levels and many drought areas are in 12-2] levels, human life shortening ( ski. cancers) and plant killer days.
    But we will adapt, 60% of we the non essentials that is.
    We will adapt or die while the “Essential Ones” will be protected.
    The greatest and most damaging to humanity in US of wealth seperation has not been between middle class and top 10:, no it is the huge gap between the middle class and the poor, the middle class tax and wages go he’s the. expendable Incomes, that which the poor never have attained.
    We will adapt, become satisfied, maybe less contented
    and comfortable, no matter what changes climate makes to world, and majority of our future generations will never know truth of “good old days, neither will their folks.

    • Tedder
      May 18, 2020 at 09:52

      All correct, but you fail to emphasize the strain on our food system. The plants we consume do not do well in extreme heat.

  3. rosemerry
    May 14, 2020 at 15:52

    Why does the USA persist in these measurements like Fahrenheit degrees, pounds, ounces, miles etc which I cannot believe China and the Netherlands stoop to using? The exceptional USA hates to belong to the world and prefers to spend half its income on “defense” rather than work with others and look after its own people by having decent jobs, healthcare, education for all, not just the very rich with their “billions” of US dollars!

  4. Stan W.
    May 14, 2020 at 11:00

    Thus, the reasons for exploring other planets, beginning with Mars.

  5. J. Edward Tipre
    May 13, 2020 at 17:47

    Apropos the final few sentences in the piece: A neighbor’s young adult son who lives in New York City stated he is leaving New York because former qualities–particularly for the young–and economic opportunities have seriously dissipated since COVID-19. Young people in fifty years will therefore head ________? Paradigm shifting? Seems certain. Who is betting we keep global temperatures “1.5 degrees Celsius” over the next 70+ years?

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