Loading...
No BYH to Trump voters, you elected a bulldozer to our norms, institutions and very stability. and whatever happens...

Climate change is scary. 'Rat explosion' is way scarier.

fayeflam

Faye Flam

Loading…

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What's so scary about climate change?

The term is not scary — at last not in a visceral, skin-crawling sense. Scientists have shown that the likely 2 degrees of global warming to come this century will be extremely dangerous, but, you know, "2 degrees" is hardly a phrase from nightmares and horror films.

How about "rat explosion"?

As the climate warms, rats in New York, Philadelphia and Boston are breeding faster — and experts warn of a population explosion.

Like rats, humans are hardy animals, and we've adapted to all kinds of climates. So it can be tempting to brush off the prospect of 2 degrees of warming. Especially for Americans, who mostly use Fahrenheit. That 2 degree warming is Celsius. Think of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Still not scared? Fine.

The physics of climate change doesn't have the same fear factor as the biology. Many living things are sensitive to small changes in temperature, so warming of 2 degrees Celsius will transform the flora and fauna that surround us in a big way. Other life forms are also very sensitive to moisture, and so populations will crash or explode as anthropogenic climate change continues to make wet areas more sodden and dry areas, more parched.

And while extinctions may inspire a sense of tragedy, it's the creatures multiplying in outbreaks and infestations that generate horror. As rat expert Bobby Corrigan of Purdue has told various media outlets, rats have a gestation period of 21 days. The babies can start reproducing after a month. That means that in one year, one pregnant rat can result in 15,000 to 18,000 new rats. Warmer winters will continue to dial up rat fecundity. People in urban areas such as New York and Boston are already noticing a lot more rats, not just in downtown alleyways, but even in the posh suburbs.

Rats are just the beginning. Biologists have calculated that with the expected warming this century of 2 degrees Celsius, populations of dangerous crop-eating insects are likely to explode as temperate areas warm, reducing crop yields by 25 to 50 percent. Similar horrors lurk offshore, where biologists have found that a population explosion of purple sea urchins — "cockroaches of the ocean" — is choking out other denizens of Pacific kelp forests. There's something deeply troubling about a single species taking over what was a diverse ecosystem.

In recent years, psychologists have accused conservatives of being more innately fearful than liberals, but that never quite squared with the fact that conservatives express less fear over environmental problems. Some social scientists are finally starting to question the broad equation of political preferences with fear, recognizing that different people fear different things depending on their upbringing, education and surroundings. But we're all sharing this warming planet, and at the very least surely we can unite against a future filled with rats.

Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

January 20, 2019

The Wall Street Journal

By now readers have heard that progressive luminary Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports a 70 percent top marginal tax rate, which she says will help finance a “green new deal.” Higher taxes on the rich is the stock socialist answer on how to pay for any project,…

January 20, 2019

The New York Times reports that in the days after President Donald Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, law enforcement officials became “so concerned by the president's behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.…

Knapp

January 20, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written President Trump to suggest that he postpone his State of the Union address, citing her "security concerns" over the ability of the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security to protect government officials during the shutdown.

With all due respect,…

Marc_Thiessen

January 20, 2019

It was an extraordinary year.

No, that’s not boosterism by two of ECU’s biggest fans. It was a truly amazing year.

No question, 2018 was colored by the departures of our athletics director, a football coach and a basketball coach, a lot of change in one year. Follow those departures…

082116GuestColumnStatonPic.jpg

January 20, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is driving President Trump nuts — a very short drive indeed — by doing something he simply cannot abide: She's stealing the spotlight.

She is also seizing the initiative in the trench warfare over Trump's government shutdown and his imaginary border wall,…

Eugene Robinson

January 19, 2019

“Drain the swamp!” was one of those memorable Donald Trump campaign promises that remains unfulfilled, much like “Mexico will pay for the wall!” and “Repeal and replace Obamacare!” with “something terrific.”

Unlike the latter two promises,…

Senate EPA Wheeler-1

January 19, 2019

As state superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools, I often hear from other leaders that standardized tests help hold students, teachers and schools accountable. Accountability is important for our schools but also for our leaders. The testing system that the education-industrial…

Mark Johnson

January 19, 2019

Imagine traveling from Raleigh to Charlotte in about 22 minutes; not by train, plane or car, but instead in a pod, transported through an almost friction-free tunnel. This concept is under experimentation right now, as nearly 1,000 learned last week at the N.C. Transportation Summit.

Sponsored by…

020417Campbell

January 17, 2019

President Trump's political strategy is completely clear: use his persistent promotion of a border wall to energize his core supporters. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, told Fox News that "border security" is the "No. 1 reason" those ardent advocates will vote to re-elect him. Trump himself…

Steve and Cokie Roberts

January 17, 2019

Since the Knights of Columbus recently became a political issue, I've seen a constant refrain on social media that goes something along the lines of: "What do you mean, the pancake breakfast guys?" The point being: Could you be picking on nicer guys? But the Knights' goodness goes far beyond…

kathrynlopez
324 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 33
        Next Page»   Last Page»