The Immediate Climate Threat Is Water Scarcity, Not Rising Sea Levels

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When it comes to explaining howclimate changewill harm future civilization, many media outlets (includingthisone) tend to focus on hurricanes or rising sea levels. These are natural topics to generate interest in the heating Earth - the mental image of a city overrun with briny water, like New Orleans after Katrina, is charged with worry and doom.

But what the media should be focusing on is not the ocean but the land, specifically how dried out vast regions are becoming and the major effects it's having on societies. Intense droughts influenced by climate change are happening now, devastating farmers, causing mass migrations, and perhaps even contributing to the recent uprisings in the Middle East.

Arguing that the media should pound less on rising sea levels might not be appropriate when talking with somebody fromthe Pacific islands, or any other low-lying area that's anticipating nasty flooding. But the most punishing impacts of sea-level rise - excluding, perhaps, itsdebilitating amplificationof tidal surges as with Superstorm Sandy - isn't expected to occur until later in the century. Meanwhile, many researchers say that climate change isactively worsening droughtsand shriveling up access to water for hundreds of millions of people.

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