Last week, ProPublica journalist Abraham Lustgarten published a piece covering recent scientific research detailing how and where dramatic climate changes are or will soon force populations out of the habitable zones called the “climate niche”.  The authors of the research, Timothy Lenton and their team, find that over 600 Million people are already living in locations considered to no longer be hospitable to human survival due to heat alone. Billions more vulnerable people around the globe will be pushed out of the climate niche as global temperatures continue to rise absent effective climate policy.

You may be familiar with the concept of climate niche through a separate, but not unrelated topic- the habitats, or ranges, of species. Species of plants and animals each have specific locations where they thrive- the temperature, water, food, threat levels are all just right. Humans, while highly adaptable, also have limits to where we can thrive. In the simplest terms, the latitudes where human population can thrive from a physiological and ecological standpoint is our climate niche. As global temperatures rise over the next century,  Lenton et al’s recent analysis suggests our climate niche, our species range, shifts and billions of people will find themselves critically vulnerable.

This is sobering work. Rather than highlighting the economic costs and benefits of climate in/action, considering the human element in terms of human life frames the issue of finding effective ways and the political will to implement strategies to mitigate climate change as an ethical issue. The authors state,”[f]rom an equity standpoint, this is unethical- when life or health are at stake, all people should be considered equal, whether rich or poor, alive or yet to be born” (Lenton et al, 2023, p. 1).  How can we, as a global community, prevent this potential human crisis from unfolding at such a dramatic scale?

The UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation seeks to make vulnerability visible in its multifaceted and interconnected complexity. As with Lenton et al,  Blum Center researchers are interested in the human component of climate change, the vulnerabilities that are disproportionately allocated and often unaccounted for or even unrecognized. To have actionable solutions, the problem, including its causes and diverse impacts, need to be visible and well-understood. The projects within our Climate Change & Nature Loss Division each attend to a different facet of the human and environmental toll of climate change, aiming to illuminate the scale and depth of the challenge before humanity as well as provide research-based solutions.


Read the ProPublica piece here.

Find the peer-reviewed article here.