That’s the Pinwheel of Doom

Oh, what a pretty pinwheel! Until you look at what it illustrates. The height of each bar is the approximate number of hazards to the human concern listed from the impact of climate change. We’re in big trouble because each hazard compounds the others — it’s saying that if one thing doesn’t get you, something else will, and here’s an objective attempt at real risk assessment.

Six different aspects of human systems are shown (health, food, water, infrastructure, economy and security), with their subcategories for which impacts were observed. The heights of the bars indicate the number of hazards implicated in the impacts. Here we analysed ten climate hazards. The complete table of climate hazards and human aspects impacted is available at

The authors conclusion could be shorter. They could have just written “We’re fucked.”

Given the vast number of components in coupled human–climate systems, assessing the impacts of climate change on humanity requires analyses that integrate diverse types of information. Contrasting temporal and spatial patterns of climate hazards, compounded with varying vulnerabilities of human systems, suggests that narrow analyses may not completely reflect the impacts of climate change on humanity. Our integrative analysis finds that even under strong mitigation scenarios, there will still be significant human exposure to climate change, particularly in tropical coastal areas; such exposure will be much greater if GHG concentrations continue to rise throughout the twenty-first century and will not differentiate between poor or rich countries. The multitude of climate hazards that could simultaneously impact any given society highlights the diversity of adaptations that will probably be needed and the considerable economic and welfare burden that will be imposed by projected climate change triggered by ongoing GHG emissions. Overall, our analysis shows that ongoing climate change will pose a heightened threat to humanity that will be greatly aggravated if substantial and timely reductions of GHG emissions are not achieved.

Every election from here on out is going to be all about who is going to save my grandchildren from onrushing doom.

Camilo Mora, Daniele Spirandelli, Erik C. Franklin, John Lynham, Michael B. Kantar, Wendy Miles, Charlotte Z. Smith, Kelle Freel, Jade Moy, Leo V. Louis, Evan W. Barba, Keith Bettinger, Abby G. Frazier, John F. Colburn IX, Naota Hanasaki, Ed Hawkins, Yukiko Hirabayashi, Wolfgang Knorr, Christopher M. Little, Kerry Emanuel, Justin Sheffield, Jonathan A. Patz & Cynthia L. Hunter (2018) Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nature Climate Change


  1. robro says

    Do you have a URL for the wheel graph? The link takes me to a table, which is fine but the graph is definitely more eye-catching.

  2. says

    Like I was saying in a less erudite way over here, the worst thing about climate change is that we don’t know what effects any given aspect of this environmental devastation can have. Everything is interlinked in ecology.

    The world is ludicrously complex. We’ve been hosing it down with fire, and now we get to find out firsthand what happens when you do that. For every one negative effect that’s been predicted, I bet we can expect at least ten more.

    It’s really hard to avoid using ableist terms to address the way humanity has blundered into this. No matter how many Jiminy Crickets the human species produces, we have more than enough Candides to send us skipping off every cliff.

  3. says

    Great American Satan:
    The world is ludicrously complex. We’ve been hosing it down with fire, and now we get to find out firsthand what happens when you do that. For every one negative effect that’s been predicted, I bet we can expect at least ten more.

    That’s why I want to scream at the “let’s terraform Mars!” Clods. We’ve just finished terraforming Earth, you bozos! Get up into space and an overabundance of some fungus might wipe you out. Or a lack of some fungus. It’s interconnected everywhere, and forms an infinitely complicated dynamic system. Anyone who thinks humans can create that, hasn’t been watching what’s happened to Earth.

  4. says

    Great American Satan @2
    [blockquote]It’s really hard to avoid using ableist terms to address the way humanity has blundered into this.[/quote]

    Not anymore thanks to a great new non-ableist word given to us.

    Humanity are a bunch of magas who really magaed ourselves.

  5. Rebel 16 says

    rorbro @1

    At the bottom of the post, the citation includes the title of the paper as a hyperlink. The graph is part of the paper itself. While it looks like it is normally behind a paywall, it seems to be accessible for free thanks to Springer Nature.

  6. yknot says

    “Every election from here on out is going to be all about who is going to save my grandchildren from onrushing doom.”

    You and other self-proclaimed single-issue voters will have a tough decision to make when (not if) you have to decide between a politician who recognizes global warming as a threat to your grandchildren but used to behave badly toward women, and a politician who thinks global warming is a fraudulent conspiracy but lived a life of impeccable chivalry and virtue toward women.

  7. consciousness razor says

    yknot: That’s quite a prediction. What makes you so certain that we will, without question, have to make that decision? I mean, do you have a bunch of information that I don’t? Are you just being petulant?

  8. Bruce says

    I note that “coastal barrier” is only the fourth most serious issue specifically in the transport category, and there are several other key categories.
    “Coastal Barrier” seems the closest I see to rising sea levels.
    I think thus there are many issues of equal or greater importance. I wish the media etc would point out that there are several bigger concerns than rising sea levels.
    I think rising sea levels are often mentioned as a minimizing tactic, because it sounds like an item of little or no concern, because boats float and docks can be made higher.
    The big problems with climate change are much more important and less evadable, such as food crops no longer growing well in the areas with the soil they evolved in.
    Step one on any problem is to realize that one has a problem.

  9. says

    #8: We’ll scream in the primaries, we’ll emphasize climate change in the platform, and when some asshole with a history of mistreatment of women jumps on the bandwagon, we’ll throw him off. It’s not as if there’s only one person to choose from.

    And really — “chivalry”? I don’t want that guy either. Ick.

  10. says

    It’s hard to shake the feeling that enough of the population thinks the end of the world is a GOOD thing, that they’ll probably add fuel to the fire…

  11. vucodlak says

    @ yknot, #8
    What makes you think a candidate’s treatment of women isn’t a relevant to the world’s future?

    Wait a minute, that argument seems awfully familiar… is that you, Bill Maher?

  12. chrislawson says

    Not disputing the general argument as there are plenty of parallel sources of information that lead to much the same conclusion. But there are quite a few peculiarities about that graph (why are transport, roads, and railroads all separate categories for instance, and why are water supply and water scarcity given different bars?). And the linked table is even more odd. Why are there red and blue ticks without a legend? Why do they table that droughts will lead to famine, but not heatwaves, floods, warming, storms, precipitation, fires, sea level rise, or oceanic climate change? Why is gender inequality impacted by drought but nothing else? Why is democracy impacted by floods but nothing else? Hopefully it’s all explained in the paper.

  13. unclefrogy says

    it seems clear that those things will likely happen the question really is in what order they will happen and how all the feedback loops work out.
    I grew up in the shadow of an impending atomic war as the most apparent imminent danger. There was a moment back there when Gorbachev started to tear down the wall (we got another idiot trying to build one) where I felt a little optimistic.
    it was nice while it lasted but it was just an illusion. like watching a train wreck in slow motion looks OK at first but there is this little anomaly that begins to grow.
    uncle frogy

  14. says

    I just notice under water, they score both “supply” and “scarcity” effectively putting the same problem on the chart with two different results.

    It’s an OK illustration but I think it’s a bit too close to bullshit. If they are trying to explain projected impact of interdependency I don’t think it does that very well. In fact it sets my bullshit meter giving off a kind of low buzz.

  15. Dunc says

    “Water supply” and “water scarcity” are not the same thing.

    Water scarcity refers to the (lack of) availability of fresh water resources. Water supply refers to the ability to provide water to end-users via a distribution system.

    Water supply is (normally*) ultimately dependent on the availability of fresh water resources, but you can have ample resources and still have a water supply problem – for example if your water treatment infrastructure fails, or your distribution network is shot. Both of these are common in disaster scenarios.

    *Then there’s options like desalination or various forms of long-distance transport, which can give you water supply even if you are suffering from water scarcity. At a cost.

  16. brutus says

    I’m not sure this infographic (short on info, long on graphic) really says much. Links below the frontpage undoubtedly include much more content than, say, “3 hazards under social order.” Having paid relatively close attention to the issue of collapse/doom for more than a decade, I’m cynical about humanity’s ability to respond beyond a short-lived fit of pique. Never mind hazards (what might or will happen at some undetermined future); what about all the things that have already occurred, not to mention ongoing evolutionary and geological processes that are accelerating to fit within the timescale of a single human lifetime? Some of us wring our hands, sound the alarm, and vote our conscience, but we all end up lumbering forward to the next crisis in a cascade of crises. Too many intervening deadlines — papers to grade, report due at school/work, laundry, etc. — to fix attention on saving the planet from our own short-sighted destructiveness. And besides, that Thanksgiving turkey isn’t going to buy or bake itself.

  17. Jazzlet says

    @ chrislawson
    Water supply affect gender inequality, because in places where there is no piped water it is the women who go and get all the water a houshold uses, which obviously impacts on their time to do other things.