10/13/2014

Human Adaptation to Climate Change Stressors

An animals’s individual personality may be among the factors that could improve chances of successfully coping with environmental stressors caused by climate change (Cockrem 2014).  This applies in particular to humans. Differences in the level of the stress hormone secreted when exposed to stressful  climate change stimuli have been measured, and confirm that people can suffer when exposed to climate change information. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts temperatures could jump by over 6 degrees within 100 years, turning the word into an extremely hot desert (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. The world of the future according to the IPCC. 
This vision can really stress some people. 

Global warming has been confirmed by the global climate models run by the IPCC using the current emissions pathways, which are believed to continue as the world ignores the warnings given by 97 % of scientists (Figure 2).

Figure 2. IPCC plot modified to show that, under extreme conditions,
 temperatures will increase 6.5 degrees C or more within a century. 
This plot can really stress some  people.

This information can cause enormous stress in those exposed to it. The stressful effects are magnified by repetitive announcements about temperature increases, sea level rise, and higher incidence of tornadoes, super cyclones, drought, heat waves, forest fires,  ocean acidification, disappearing fish and the future extinction of the human race.

As the global climate continues to change, the ability of people to adapt to the news cycle  is being put to the test.  Urban populations connected to cable news and with access to the internet may be at particular risk as they are bombarded with information about global warming. This stress is compounded by real heat stress caused by improper clothing worn by maladapted individuals (Figure 3).  

Figure 3. Heat stroke can lead to fainting in those who fail to adapt.

Our research shows that individual personality may be among the factors that could improve chances of successfully coping with these environmental stressors. The keys are the individual´s “laid back” and “skepticism” factors,  and knowledge about homo sapiens´ ability to adapt to extremely hot environments.

As Pankey reports “There is currently substantial debate over the role of phenotypic plasticity in adaptation to new environments.  The genetic assimilation hypothesis holds that environmentally induced phenotypes are often the first step in adaptation to environmental change, and later become genetically “assimilated,” such that the original environmental stimulus is no longer required to produce the phenotype.” (Pankey 2014)

Adaptation to the inevitable rise in temperatures will be the key for survival. But only those individuals with the phenotypic plasticity to adapt will survive. If the IPCC is right, the future environment will be extremely bleak, similar to what is observed today in the Danakil Depression, in Africa. In Danakil the population has to practice agriculture in extremely hot and dry weather (Figure 4)

Figure 4. Danakil Depression (average temperature

 34 degrees C),  farmer trying to toil the soil  

“Peak heat stress, quantified by the wet-bulb temperature TW, is surprisingly similar across diverse climates today. TW never exceeds 31 °C. Any exceedence of 35 °C for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible.” (Sherwooda 2010).

Our study confirms these findings. However, adaptation can allow humans to survive in very tough conditions. Those living in cold climates, where temperatures will rise from cold to a little bit warm, can adapt using the umbrella hat, shorts, and sandals (Figure 5).


Figure 5. The umbrella hat being sold on EBAY

To understand the personality traits which allow one to adapt to the global warming news stressors we performed shock experiments using latest-generation loud speakers and high definition screens to inform test subjects about the forthcoming global warming disaster.

 To identify the genetic basis of adaptation to heat stress, and to elucidate the genetic linkage between phenotypic plasticity and genetic adaptation in primates we obtained a population sample at a Climate Change protest site in three representative cities (Berkeley, San Jose  and San Francisco, California).

The subjects were connected to stress monitors (blood pressure, breathing rate, and a sweat resistivity device was used  to measure electrolyte salt output). The measurement showed 86 % of the sample was extremely stressed while watching “An inconvenient truth”, a film made by Nobel Peace Prize winner A. Gore (Figure 6). This 86 % can be divided into high strung and gullible sub groups. The high strung sub group exhibited signs of stress such as vomiting, shakes, and crying as they watched the movie and were exposed to those segments were Mr Gore gave his speeches. The effect was even more pronounced if the loud speakers were set at 87 db. This population was designated the “doomsters”.

Figure 6. Nobel Peace Prize Winner A. Gore in 
“An inconvenient truth” scaring viewers with 
super hurricanes.

A counterpart sample of residents from Lubbock and Waco, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska was subjected to the same procedure. Statistical analysis using a properly  skewed sample demonstrated this population included 5 % “doomsters” and 12 % "gullibles". However, 38 % was completely oblivious when the movie was played (they seemed to enjoy the popcorn and preferred to discuss sports).  This group was designated the “laid back” individuals. The other 45 % spent most of the time exhibiting two types of behaviors: uncontrollable laughter and boredom.  The laughter was more pronounced when Mr. Gore spoke about global warming.  These are properly labeled “deniers”, although some would use a more delicate term, “skeptics”.

Despite the uncertainty in future climate-change impacts, it is often assumed that humans would be able to adapt to any possible warming. Here we argue that personality will be highly determinant in the individual ability to survive. Those whose phenotype tend towards gullibility and are easily stressed  (“doomsters) will likely not survive the impact of the global warming scare. On the other hand those who are “laid back” and “skeptic” will likely do fine. After the world warms they´ll learn to use their umbrella hats,  and as time goes by their skins will  turn black and they will look as if they had been born in the Danakil depression. (Figure 7).


Figure 7. Danakil dwelling Homo Sapiens and camels,
 evolutionary pressures led to adaptation to very hot weather. 

Appendix 1. Sample Climate Change Stressor: NBC News show: 


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