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The Unrecognized Impacts of Climate Change

September 6, 2023

Coastal erosion caused by rising sea levels

When discussing the effects of climate change, most people think of melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and natural disasters increasing in intensity and frequency. However, the environmental impacts of climate change go beyond these sometimes life-changing events. 

The world we live in faces changes that affect the daily routines of all humans, the systems we depend on and global health. These subtle climate change effects may often go unnoticed but should be just as alarming.

Transportation Challenges in a Changing Climate

Transportation systems keep people, goods and services moving to drive our economy and support our daily lives. Unfortunately, many of these systems are the first to be challenged by the unseen impacts of climate change. From roads to railways, our ability to move freely is at risk in a constantly changing environment.

Climate Change Effects on The Roads We Travel

Americans rely heavily on our nation’s roadways, with an average driving distance of 13,476 miles per person per year. However, climate change has escalated extreme weather conditions, causing constant degradation. These challenges translate to inadequate road conditions, from potholes caused by repeated freeze-thaw cycles, to road washouts from heavy rains much like the impacts caused by Tropical Storm Hilary in California. 

In addition to infrastructure damage, these deteriorating road conditions due to climate change can significantly increase vehicle maintenance costs and the overall financial burden of car ownership. In many cases, average Americans are the ones who will feel the most direct impact of these changes.

How The Impacts of Climate Change Create Air Travel Concerns

The aviation industry is another sector feeling the heat. As temperatures rise, the air becomes less dense, affecting an airplane's ability to lift off. As a result, airlines may need to reduce cargo or limit operations to accommodate temperatures. These changes have steep economic implications, resulting in higher operating costs that are passed on to consumers.

Rail Travel Disruptions Caused By Climate Change

While railroads are often an overlooked form of transportation, their role in moving freight is vital. Extreme heat can cause tracks to warp, resulting in slower trains and increased delays. The issue can be more than an inconvenience—it can affect already-strained supply chains by impacting industries reliant on timely deliveries.

These issues can also affect passenger rails. Recently, Amtrak’s Adirondack train line from New York City to Montreal was closed indefinitely due to heat and warping rails.

Environmental Impacts of Climate Change

The natural world is full of diverse ecosystems that live in a delicate balance. Unfortunately, climate change disrupts this balance, leading to consequences that affect plant and animal life alike. While these shifts often go unnoticed by many, they play a significant role in defining the health of our planet and its inhabitants.

Even small temperature changes can have cascading effects on natural environments. For example, seasonal shifts may seem minor initially, but they can dramatically disrupt sensitive ecosystems. Earlier springs can affect crop planting schedules, while warmer winters can increase pest populations. These changes impact our food sources, economies and even our health, with effects like pollen-induced allergies starting earlier and lasting longer.

Additionally, animals constantly search for optimal habitats on land and in the sea. Climate change is shifting these habitats, causing species migrations that are more than just natural shifts—they're leading indicators of alarming trends. Changing temperatures permanently shift these habitats, leading to potential clashes with human populations or threatening species that cannot adapt, such as polar bears.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Structures and Systems

Human architecture and infrastructure achievements are evident in every corner of society. However, climate change's effects on structures, both ancient and contemporary, are evident. Balancing modern-day demands with growing needs for resiliency presents an ongoing challenge.

Historical Structures and Unseen Climate Change Impacts

Preserving historic buildings is difficult, but it's even more daunting with extreme weather. Many of these structures lack modern cooling systems and may become uninhabitable during heat waves, while warmer temperatures may also encourage damaging fungi, plant growth and insect infestations. Additionally, retrofitting existing structures presents a costly challenge that requires balancing usability and historical integrity.

Modern Data Centers at Risk

Data centers are at the heart of the modern digital world and store all the information we take for granted. These buildings have specific environmental requirements, but cooling these centers becomes more costly and challenging as urban areas increase in temperature. Resiliency is critical for data center owners to remain in business. A malfunctioning data center can disrupt vital services, such as banking and emergency care, highlighting the importance of managing power and reliability concerns.

Our Food in a Changing Climate

Our relationship with food goes beyond sustenance—it also touches culture, health and the economy. The subtle effects of climate change on this relationship might not always make headlines, but there are far-reaching consequences nonetheless. Understanding these changes is crucial to ensure food security and adaptation practices for agriculture.

Crops are susceptible to their environments. A few degrees can spell the difference between a profitable and successful harvest, and a failed one. Crops like coffee may see even more significant yield reductions due to the unique growing conditions they require. These changes could have dramatic impacts on both supply and pricing.

Post-harvest, the journey from farm to plate is just as heavily impacted by climate change. Unstable temperatures strain electrical grids. An unstable grid places increased pressure on backup and emergency power generation systems to manage power outages, emphasizing the need for robust infrastructural solutions.

How Stanley Consultants is Pioneering Awareness and Climate Change Solutions

Climate change adaptation and mitigation will present future challenges across all industries. However, among these tumultuous changes, we at Stanley Consultants stand ready to address these challenges head-on. Backed by the extensive research and expertise of Resilient Analytics, a Stanley Consultants company, we are implementing strategies to counteract unseen and unaddressed climate change impacts. From creating a more resilient infrastructure of the future to providing data-driven insights that help clients understand climate risk, we're working to prioritize human safety and capital investments. We help clients understand the cost and infrastructure impacts resulting from climate change.

We are also committed to delivering solutions that utilize renewable energy sources that create a carbon-free future for all. Social responsibility and sustainability are among our core values and most deeply held beliefs.

Find Actionable Solutions for Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change

The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and multifaceted. While some effects are glaring, many remain unseen, silently reshaping our world. At Stanley Consultants, we offer not just awareness but actionable solutions. We understand the importance of action across all industries to ensure a sustainable and resilient future.

For more than a century, we have been committed to our founding principle of improving lives in the communities where we live and work, and we continue to live by that philosophy today. Learn more about how we can partner with you to address the needs of your project with innovative engineering, design and consulting services to create a connected, sustainable and enriched world for all.

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