Climate change is now underway and the effects of a volatile and fluctuating global climate potentially represent the greatest ever threat to the survival of our species. With predictions varying from uncertain and severe weather patterns to a potentially global extinction event, knowing how to prepare for climate change is no longer a future issue. A cascade of planetary climate change is very likely now unfolding in front of us and preparing for the effects yet to come needs to begin today.
This guide will help you get started.
Whatever the underlying causes, it’s now becoming crystal clear to many that our climate is changing faster than ever.
The results of a rapidly changing climate are beginning to manifest around the world in what can feel like an almost endless number of ways.
Initially, the signs of serious long-term climate change have now started to express themselves in the form of unseasonable weather and temperature fluctuations around the world.
From raging wildfires which seem to be increasing in frequency and severity worldwide, to serious weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms, and the subsequent devastation they leave in their wake.
The thing is though, these natural disasters and fluctuating weather conditions are really just the early symptoms of what’s in store for us further down the road, a bit like the early signs that you’re coming down with a cold or the flu, before a life-threatening virus actually takes hold.
When you think of the earth as a human body in this way, you begin to be able to form a pretty good mental image of the kind of threat we’re talking about if we enter a point of irreversible climate change.
A sore throat or aching muscles are just the start – the orchestra is just warming up.
The likely dangers of climate change are now very real and it’s likely that as the situation deteriorates, you’re going to hear a lot of fearful predictions as overwhelm begins to set in and people begin to panic.
By not being ignorant to the likelihood of climate changes today however will help to insulate you from the very worst effects of a very challenging world tomorrow.
This guide is your handbook to getting prepared now, to minimize the consequences when the situation deteriorates.
Table of Contents
- 1 Preparing for Climate Change? Start Here.
- 2 Understanding the Initial Effects of Global Climate Change
- 3 How to Begin Preparing for Climate Change
- 4 How to Prepare for Climate Change – The Major Risks
- 5 The Most Likely Climate Change Effects by Area and Region
Preparing for Climate Change? Start Here.
In practice, preparing for climate change and more importantly, the effects that a changing climate will bring about in the world is not simply about preparing for a single event.
Knowing how to prepare for climate change actually looks like preparing for a series of potential and probably overlapping situations – some natural, some man-made.
What this means is adopting a flexible and all-encompassing strategy that ensures every base is covered, whatever the eventuality.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll be breaking this complex subject down into actionable steps that will help you cut through the noise, dispel the fear and panic, and generally get down to the actionable steps of preparing for climate change today.
If you want to get straight into how to prepare without the background information, then head straight to the guide here.
If you want to prepare yourself with the full context of the situation and the potential threats ahead, then read on.
Understanding the Initial Effects of Global Climate Change
When thinking about how to prepare for climate change, it’s important to remember that the effects of a changing climate aren’t going to develop in any single way.
It’s highly likely that climate change will cause both environmental and economic devastation in the coming decades and no country will be isolated from the global effects of these changes.
Some of the most immediately noticeable consequences of a changing climate will continue to be seen in unpredictable weather events and major natural disasters but almost as severe (if not more so over time) will also be the man-made disasters and emergencies that will be triggered by climate change.
Severe blizzards and winter storms, droughts, major heatwaves, hurricanes and flooding will be the natural disasters that people will immediately pick up on as being the direct result of climate change and in the areas directly affected by these events, things will be very challenging indeed for the unprepared.
Perhaps the more disruptive and destructive of events across the wider scale however will be those events which are caused as a result of the human reaction to the severe adversity of climate change around the world.
Think mass migrations from afflicted areas with potentially hundreds of thousands of people on the move in search of safety. Global instability of this kind almost inevitably leads to increased tensions domestically as well as between nation states making the likelihood of serious conflicts increasingly probable as climate pressures escalate.
Somewhere in between the natural and man-made challenges caused by climate change will also come the likelihood of major disease pandemics as well as food and water security issues and shortages, all of which will likely have a devastating effect on populations.
In order to prepare for climate change today, it’s essential to get a clear handle on what exactly the results are going to be as the situation deteriorates.
Armed with this knowledge, it’s possible to approach the problem calmly and without fear, adopting a strategy that will help you mitigate the consequences as they begin to unfold.
Weather and Temperature Changes
Increasing temperatures are one of the key areas often highlighted by climate scientists as one of the greatest threats posed by an unfolding climate crisis.
A Rise in Global Temperatures
The immediate effects of this will most likely be felt in longer and increasingly deadly heatwaves alongside severe droughts that have the potential to drastically affect both the production of food and the security of water globally.
Locally, these changes will cause varying levels of damage and disruption with the developed world probably suffering most economically due to the impact on production, trade, and the cost of food. In poorer, developing countries and those in areas which will be affected more seriously by temperature increases, the situation will be considerably more dire and will almost inevitably lead to huge movements of displaced people, seeking shelter and safety from the direct and indirect effects of these changes.
Unpredictable and Severe Seasonal Changes
Many people often fail to understand the true meaning of the term ‘global warming’ and quickly point to the fact that winters are getting colder and events such as winter storms and blizzards are proof of this.
While it’s easy to confuse the difference between yearly weather and climate (the latter referring to the longer term average of weather trends over many years), there is increasingly reason to believe that serious winter weather is also a hallmark of a changing climate as regional disruptions, interruptions, and changes then cause wider knock-on effects.
The reality is that in many scientific circles, it’s now widely accepted that deadly low winters on the tail of record high summers are very much the kind of erratic pattern that can be expected to continue and increase in frequency as the climate continues to change, particularly as the situation in areas such as the Arctic deteriorates, exacerbating the severity of winter weather in certain parts of the world.
Natural Disaster Frequency and Severity
Of course what these changes look like on the ground are devastating weather events as well as natural disasters such as wildfires and severe flooding which can respectively occur as a result of scorching summers and tropical and winter storms (the latter of which often lead to prolonged rainfall and snow melt).
On this front, it’s probable that an ever-unpredictable climate situation is likely to increase the frequency of almost every type of natural disaster excluding geological/tectonic events (volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunami) and those from space (asteroid/meteor strikes, solar flare/storm activity).
Preparations for an increase in natural weather disasters will largely be based upon geographical location but will almost certainly mean that preparing for climate change will mean expecting some form of extreme weather event or disaster in almost every month of the year.
Increased Disease Prevalence and Severity
The potential for massive outbreaks of epidemic disease are likely to be greater than ever during a climate shift and as such, preparations for global pandemics should form part of a long-term climate preparedness strategy.
Probably the two most important considerations on this front are the role of water-borne and vector-borne diseases in relation to a changing climate.
In the first instance, vector-borne diseases (those transmitted by other living organisms) are highly likely to increase in occurrence and potentially in severity as temperatures rise and climatic conditions change to a possibly optimal state for the viruses, bacteria, and the insect or animal carrying them.
On the other side of the coin, water-borne diseases and infections are also likely to increase as a result of rising sea levels and more extreme weather events which subsequently lead to increased rainfall and flooding, both of which are the ideal transportation medium for spreading the diseases, particularly if sewer systems fail on a large scale during natural disasters. Combine this with rising temperatures which will also affect the growth and survival of waterborne pathogens, and you’ve very quickly got a perfect storm for a mass outbreak of water-borne disease.
There’s also a wildcard which many scientists now also believe could become a threat as climate change progresses and that’s the potential ‘awakening’ of prehistoric (and previously frozen)
Climate Refugees and Climate Migration
We’ve already begun to see the effect of climate migration in the recent migrant crises that have caused people to seek safety from climate-induced deterioration in their home countries.
Climate refugees tend to leave due to one of three factors – sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought and water scarcity – all of which can be expected to increase and intensify in the coming decades.
Alongside these causes, it’s also important to remember that both food shortages and major disease outbreaks could very well swell the numbers of climate refugees in future years to levels previously unimaginable.
In fact, the World Bank estimates that climate change will lead to more than 140 million people becoming climate migrants escaping crop failure, water scarcity, and rising sea levels.
These mass-exodus population shifts are most likely to come from the hot-spot countries in the immediate line of fire from serious climate change from areas in South Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa – areas representing over half of the developing world’s population and therefore, also the least equipped to deal with the epic challenges that are round the corner.
With this in mind, one of the greatest threats to global security will undoubtedly continue to be the pressure of millions of people fleeing the effects of climate change throughout the world.
The natural extension of this will likely be major political instability in wealthier nations, potentially extreme social disorder and unrest, and in the worst scenarios, national security emergencies either at borders or as a result of increased tensions between nations dealing with an influx of refugees.
Reduced Crop Production and Food Insecurity
The exacerbation of food insecurity is almost guaranteed as a result of climate change, predominantly driven by two major causes – extreme weather events and longer term climate risks.
In the first case, the intensity and frequency of events such as major storms, flooding, and drought have the potential to cause major disruption to growing patterns, destroy crops, and even halt the supply of food in the most serious outcomes.
The second cause will be primarily driven by the rise in sea level as well as glacial melt, both of which have the potential to drastically change the quantity and reliability of water supplies as well as causing severe flooding in low-lying and coastal areas.
Food insecurity and shortages will have a couple of major direct impacts that will be felt globally and should be prepared for.
Primarily, shortages and crop failures at source have the potential to cause widespread famine as well as an almost inevitable surge of migration if a humanitarian crisis subsequently develops.
The secondary consideration which will be felt in developed nations ahead of any climate refugee consequences will be increases in food prices as well as the possibility of some foods and commodities simply becoming unavailable.
Increased Global Tensions and Conflict
There are many things which cause a disruption in the social order both on the domestic scene and on the international stage but historically, severe unrest and conflict can usually be boiled down to just a few key contributing factors which appear again and again, namely – food and resource security, perceived physical threat (and subsequent panic/paranoia), nationalism, revenge, opportunism, and the reverse side of this final factor, self-defense or preemptive action.
Climate change is almost certain to deliver most if not all of these factors at some stage, undoubtedly between smaller countries, and with increasing probability between larger powers as the situation deteriorates.
As people become desperate, force and by extension, violence are often resorted to in order to survive.
Whether this is caused by a lack of water, food, shelter, or medicine (or all of the above), it should be expected that a serious climate change cascade will probably lead to multiple instances of conflict on various scales around the world.
On the international level, increased tensions between nations will be exacerbated by a combination of highly challenging environmental and economic factors and this could cause anything from minor skirmishes along border regions to major global wars.
Similarly, civil unrest and social disorder domestically have the potential to profoundly shape the geographical security balance if governments of major developed countries or highly populated nations suddenly become pre-occupied with quelling serious dissent at home.
In this instance, it wouldn’t take much for an opportunistic rival to take advantage of the perceived gap and exploit another nation’s chaotic domestic situation at home in order to achieve the pursuit of their own national interests and objectives.
This is a very possible scenario which could play out as climate changes increase pressures on countries from multiple angles and at the most extreme expression could lead to a clash between nuclear armed nations.
How to Begin Preparing for Climate Change
When answering the question “how do I prepare for climate change?” it can be helpful to get a clear understanding of the situation from a high level perspective first, assessing the symptoms as they’re likely to manifest and coming up with a prognosis of likely outcomes that will come about as a result.
With this information in hand, you’ll be well equipped to look at your individual situation (including geographical, economic, health and other considerations) and put a treatment plan in place to help minimize the worst of the effects of climate change driven challenges over the long term.
The effects of climate change are going to primarily show up in two forms initially, environmental and economic.
Off of each of these, it’s important to remember that there will be a whole lot of social and political knock on effects, but from a top level, the issues that express themselves through the environment and economy will be the major factors driving almost all of the serious challenges we face first.
The Environmental Effects of Climate Change
When you think of preparing for climate change, the chances are that you’re thinking about how to prepare for environmental adversity of some kind.
There’s a good reason for this and it will be the environmental issues that are already beginning to show now, that will continue to increase in frequency and impact the largest numbers across the planet.
Many view the environmental effects of climate change in terms of simply weather events and temperature changes and while at the most basic level, these will be the physical forces driving the changes we experience, it’s actually going to be the wider consequences of these – things like severe droughts, water shortages, and agricultural disasters – that are likely to cause the most chaos.
From serious long-term temperature changes and rising sea levels to increases in extreme weather events and natural disasters, the environmental effects of a changing climate are very real and need to be planned against and prepared for today, to mitigate the very worst effects tomorrow.
The Economic Effects of Climate Change
Economic considerations can (although not always) take longer to present themselves and therefore tend to take a back seat to the more tangible consequences of extreme weather and natural disasters, however as the situation of a changing climate develops, the effects on the economy can have devastating effects at both the individual and national level if not adequately prepared for.
Some of the greatest threats on this front will however ultimately be driven by wider environmental factors and will likely include resource and commodity shortages of anything from water and food to gas and raw materials.
As well as reduced supply, expect increased prices as the situation deteriorates as well as the possibility of major inflation and a significant drop in the standard of living depending on how the economy reacts to the unfolding changes.
The perfect storm will likely also form during this window when periods of recession strike as well as the fact that this kind of economic situation will likely be exacerbated by other events caused by changes to the climate.
In order to build economic resilience against these kinds of shocks, you should look to diversify investments if you currently have any, put money away for the ultimate ‘rainy day’ scenario, hold physical assets, and build a stockpile of shelf stable food to see you through for anywhere up to a month or more if possible.
Geographical Considerations – Assessing the Threat
First and foremost, when we talk about the environmental effects of climate change, the priority planning consideration is a geographical one.
If you live in a coastal, low-lying area or close to rivers and other major bodies of water, flooding is almost certainly going to become a serious and increasing risk over the coming years as storms increase in frequency and intensity and sea levels rise.
Similarly, areas of forest or high-density woodland are going to be increasingly prone to wildfires as extreme summer temperatures continue, preparing a comprehensive wildfire strategy an essential first step in your planning arrangements here.
A very generalized (although not inaccurate) way of assessing your location against environmental threats and climate change risk, is to look at the kinds of natural weather event and disasters that have afflicted the area historically.
If your region has suffered from hurricanes, winter storms, drought, flooding, or forest fires in the past (even if only the one time), then there’s a very good chance it’s highly susceptible during any period of increasing climate changes.
Density and large population areas usually become a problem when social disorder becomes a possibility and from an environmental point of view, extreme heat, winter storms, and flooding can pose a serious threat to infrastructure and logistics, potentially threatening the supply of power and utilities, as well as the availability of food and fuel.
How to Prepare for Climate Change – The Major Risks
Preparing for climate change will mean taking a multi-faceted approach to planning for a range of likely scenarios and whether you live in a city, on the coast, or in the desert, there’s a very strong chance that when the environmental and economic consequences of a changing climate begin to play out, you’ll be affected by multiple challenges simultaneously.
With this in mind, the major risks and strategies outlined in this part of the guide can (and should) be used interchangeably as components of a larger comprehensive climate change plan for you and your family based on your circumstances.
If for example, you live in an area prone to hurricane activity, using the tropical storm and flooding sections below will allow you to form a base strategy which should then be supplemented with others around them. It’s highly likely if this scenario applies to you, that you’ll also want to integrate strategies relating to food security and power generation alongside the core risk area plans.
Flooding and Water Level Risks
The risk of major global flooding will represent one of the greatest threats to those living in vulnerable areas and has the potential to lead to a number of subsequent effects from property damage and blackouts on the one hand to total population displacement, destruction of crops, and the spread of water-borne disease on the other.
While a possible increase in hurricane, typhoon, and tropical storm activity will represent one cause of serious flooding, higher levels of precipitation, glacial melting, and rising sea levels are believed to be an extreme likelihood as climate change advances.
These new sources of increased flood activity will not only see the frequency and severity of flooding increase, but will also expose areas previously considered safe, to major flood events.
The two main types of climate change related flooding will come in the form of coastal flooding and inland flooding.
In the case of coastal flooding scenarios, the biggest risks are going to come from a combination of rising sea levels, increased storm activity, and surges.
With global sea level projected to rise by anything up to another 4 feet by 2100 as a result of melting land ice and warming sea water (which expands as it warms), the serious changes to the coastal landscape and boundaries are going to be inevitable.
What this will look like in practice is increased storm surge activity and higher tides which combine with already raised sea levels, exacerbating the number of coastal floods as well as the damage they cause.
Inland flooding is a real risk if you live close to large bodies of water or rivers with the threat increased significantly if your property is on low-lying land in the surrounding area.
Preparing for climate change related flooding involves taking similar preparedness steps regardless of the kind of flooding risk posed with the best strategy looking to reduce the exposure and preparing a comprehensive flood preparedness plan should disaster strike.
As the planet continues to warm, the seasonal temperatures that we consider to be normal will also continue to rise, leading to hotter months, dry summers, deadly heatwaves, and a number of other cascade effects resulting as a consequence of a warming environment.
Air quality is known to deteriorate as temperatures increase and alongside scorching averages and a higher dewpoint (leading to increased humidity), the health hazards of seasons of extreme heat will become more commonplace and frequent among those vulnerable to these kinds of conditions.
Perhaps one of the most clearly defined visual results of average temperatures rising, the increase in wildfires is a clear example between cause and effect in this area with unseasonably dry conditions and extreme heat producing the ideal conditions for devastating fires which can cause destruction across vast areas.
The immediate threat to family and property should be the priority consideration if you live close to woodland and forest areas in the coming years, even if there’s not been a history of wildfire activity in the area.
Increases in heat and changing rainfall patterns will see drier months and more instances of severe drought in the coming decades.
As global temperatures increase, there is likely to be an amplification of drought effects as a result with rising temperatures exacerbating evaporation of water from soils and worsening periodic droughts.
As plant cover and moisture in the soil contribute to rainfall, there is also the risk that prolonged periods of drought could come about through a positive feedback scenario where long droughts actually reduce the likelihood of rainfall in the areas which need it most.
Probably the greatest threat from severe drought is that food supplies could become crippled to the point of major famine as happened during the Global Famine of the late 1800s which is thought to have been responsible for more than 50 million deaths worldwide, putting it on par with the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19.
Researchers think that this is very much a scenario that we could be facing as a result of future droughts caused by changes in the climate.
One area which is gaining increasing attention and raising serious alarm is the cumulative effect of the loss of biodiversity on the planet, sometimes directly caused by, and often exacerbated by the changing climate.
While it would be considered within the normal range for extinctions to occur on the level of 1-5 species per year, the fact that this is now happening on a daily basis is extremely worrying given the effect that this loss will likely have on the overall natural balance and the subsequent feedback that will effect humans directly.
People often fail to see the monumental significance of the die-offs of other species, but there are a couple of simple, yet terrifying examples that bring the effects of this home, even to the layperson.
A decline and eventual extinction of bees or other pollinators would mean that we would very quickly be left without the ability to pollinate plants that require it. This would mean a devastating drop in the supply of food.
Similarly, the removal of almost any animal from the biodiversity web, begins a domino effect that is felt at different stages down the line, often increasing in severity, the further down the chain you go.
A rise in temperatures combined with a major loss of species which control the population of disease carrying insects is another very real possibility, and in this case, the end-result isn’t hard to picture over time.
The drastic fall in biodiversity will have an incrementally extreme effect upon areas such as food supplies with crops becoming more vulnerable to unmitigated pests and potentially devastating disease outbreaks.
On top of this, the supply of fresh water risks being put under serious threat of depletion if the natural ecosystem which supports the planet’s self-regulating web begins to break down.
Again, the major impacts felt from this symptom will be the knock-on effects relating to famine, water shortages, and disease outbreaks (exacerbated by exploding insect populations, severe malnutrition. and access to safe water).
As with the other effects of climate change, while biodiversity loss may seem disconnected from the everyday lives of many, the ‘chain reaction’ effect of these issues will in turn be highly likely to trigger severe disruption and disorder at both the national and international level, meaning economic consequences, social disorder, and drastically increased potential for major conflict between nations are all likely outcomes stemming from this seemingly unrelated set of events in nature.
The Most Likely Climate Change Effects by Area and Region
In this part of the guide, we’ve broken down the particular climate vulnerabilities and effects that will likely develop in different regions of the world.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, use it as a top level guide to help you prepare against the most likely climate change effects in your area and baseline a preparedness strategy around it.
U.S. Regional Effects
The following breakdown of climate change effects have been observed in the United States in recent years and are likely to significantly worsen over the coming years.
Northeastern United States
Expect high extremes of seasonal weather including extended heat waves and heavy downpours. While these may seem to counter one another, the combination has the potential to cause severe soil erosion, greatly exacerbating flooding in vulnerable areas over the long term.
Rising sea levels will pose significantly increasing challenges to areas in the Northeast, particularly around coastal communities and large population centers which are focused in this area. Major coastal cities in the BosNyWash region will be exposed to sea level rises and will be at significant risk of tropical storm activity and storm surges in the coming decades. With this in mind, many states and authorities in the area have now begun to incorporate the effects of climate change into their planning.
Given the high economic value and dense population centers in the area, major challenges will be faced by humans relating to infrastructure and food systems while ecosystems are also likely to suffer from the effects of a changing climate here.
Northwestern United States
The major threats relating to the Pacific-Northwest and the surrounding States are relatively wide ranging, encompassing issues relating to water and high temperatures. Both of these factors will likely play into the natural geography and economy of the area in a number of ways.
Coastal communities will be at risk of sea level rise here as with in other parts of the country with low-lying communities at particular risk.
On top of this, ocean acidity and soil erosion are likely to cause increasingly serious issues for the area, increasing the risk to infrastructure in the immediate vicinity as well as having wider economic repercussions.
The high density of woodland and forest area in this region will greatly increase the likelihood of serious wildfire activity during heatwaves and hotter summers, while climate fluctuations have a potential to lead to a significant increase in insect outbreaks and tree die-off caused by increased tree diseases.
Water security could become an issue in the Northwest if changes to the timing of stream-flow are sufficient to reduce the availability of water supply for different uses.
Southeastern United States
In an area historically associated with major hurricane during storm season, one of the major effects of climate change in the Southeast will likely be an increase in frequency and strength of storms.
Alongside this, sea level rises are already beginning to have an effect on some communities in Florida and will continue to represent the major risk to coastal areas year on year.
These water level rises will pose a widespread and continual threat to both the economy of the region as well as having a major detrimental effect to the immediate environment.
The effects of inland flooding are also a serious risk to southern river communities as witnessed by States such as Mississippi and Louisiana that dealt with the aftermath of the worst flooding in US history less than a century ago.
Extreme heat will play a major role in this part of the country in the coming decades and the potential for severe heatwaves should be considered in terms of the effect upon health and food supply.
Expect to see rising tidal levels, stronger tropical storms, increased inland and coastal flooding, and longer mosquito seasons as climate change progresses.
Midwestern United States
The Midwest has a reputation for extreme weather conditions and in the past, the area has played host to some of the most devastating flooding, dust-storms, and extreme drought events in the country’s history.
Greatest threats in this area will come mainly from increased temperatures, but huge areas are likely to also be affected by rising water levels, despite the inland nature of the region.
At particular risk of water related challenges will be the areas adjacent to major rivers as well as the vast area alongside the Great Lakes which will be affected by climate change.
Flooding risk further inland will be caused and exacerbated largely by heavy downpours but changes in water levels will also show in multiple areas here causing the greatest damage and disruption to agriculture and infrastructure.
Extreme heat is probably going to be the most immediately expressed result of climate change in the Midwestern states and the threats caused by record temperatures should not be overlooked. The risk of almost biblical levels of drought by fluctuating water supply and extreme temperatures have the very real possibility to cripple food supply and logistics chains.
Southwestern United States
Heat is likely to be the most serious threat faced by this region with higher temperatures leading to a combination major heatwaves, wildfires, severe drought, and insect outbreaks.
Wildfires in forest areas, particularly in the California region will continue to prove increasingly vulnerable to periods of intense heat and dry conditions.
Major risks to urban areas will be comprised of heat related health issues and reduced air quality, alongside the risk of declining water supplies and in coastal cities, erosion and flooding.
The potential fall in water supplies has the potential to threaten agricultural activity in the area with fluctuating supply competing with intense demand to make a bad situation even worse.
Reduced rainfall and record high temperatures may combine to cause major and prolonged drought situations such as the one experienced in California between 2011 and 2017.