A frequent objective of human societies is to reduce their sensitivity to weather and climate, for example, by controlling the climate in buildings within which people live, shop and work or by controlling the channels and flows of rivers or the configurations of sea coasts. Recent experience with weather variability, however, reminds us that - at least at feasible levels of investment and technological development - human control over climate-related aspects of nature can be limited (see Box 7.4).
In fact, sensitivities of human systems to climate and climate change abound: 1. Environmental quality is a case in point, where weather and climate can affect air and water pollution and, in cases of extreme events, exposures to wastes that are hazardous to health. Consider the interaction between the ambient air temperature of an urban area and its concentration of ozone, which can have adverse health implications (Hogrefe et al., 2004; Section 126.96.36.199; Chapter 8), or effects of hurricane flooding on exposures to health threats (Marris, 2005).
2. Linkage systems, such as transportation and transmission systems for industry and settlements (e.g., water, food supply, energy, information systems and waste disposal), are important in delivering ecosystem and other services to support human well-being, and can be subject to climate-related extreme events such as floods, landslides, fire and severe storms. Such exposed infrastructures as bridges and electricity transmission networks are especially vulnerable, as in the experience of Hurricane Georges in 1998, which threatened port and oil storage facilities in the Dominican Republic (REC, 2004), or the 2005 experience with Hurricane Katrina (Box 7.4; Section 188.8.131.52).
3. Other physical infrastructures can be affected by weather and climate as well. For example, the rate of deterioration of external shells of building structures is weather-related, depending on the materials used, and buildings are affected by water-logging related to precipitation patterns. Another kind of impact is on demands for physical infrastructures; for instance, demands for water supplies and energy supplies related to temperature.
4. Social systems are also vulnerable, especially to extreme events (e.g., Box 7.1). Storms and floods can damage homes and other shelters and disrupt social networks and means to sustain livelihoods; and risks of such impacts shape structures for emergency preparedness, especially where impacted populations have a strong influence on policy-making. Climate is related to the quality of life in complex ways, including recreational patterns, and changes in temperature and humidity can change health care challenges and requirements (Chapter 8). For instance, it has been estimated that of the 131 million people affected by natural disasters in Asia in 2004, 97% were affected by weather-related disasters. Exposures in highly-populated coastal and riverine areas and small island nations have been especially significant (ADRC et al., 2005). Moreover, some references suggest relationships between weather and climate on the one hand and social stresses on the other, especially in urban areas where the poor lack access to climate-controlled shelters (e.g., the term 'long, hot summers' associated in the 1960s in the United States with summer urban riots; also see Arsenault, 1984 and Box 7.1). In some cases, tolerance for climatic variation is limited, for example in tightly-coupled urban systems where low capacity drinking water systems have limited resilience in the face of drought or population growth, not only in developing countries but also in industrialised countries. Another case is the sensitivity of energy production to heatwaves and drought (Box 7.1; Section 184.108.40.206).
5. Climate can be a factor in an area's comparative advantage for economic production and growth. Climate affects some of an area's assets for economic production and services, from agricultural and fibre products (Chapter 5) to tourist attractions. Climate also affects costs of business operation, e.g., costs of climate control in office, production and storage buildings. Not only can climate affect an area's own economic patterns; it can also affect the competitive position of its markets and competitors, and thus affect prospects for local employment and individual livelihoods. Many workers are 'marginal', whose livelihoods can be especially sensitive to any changes in conditions affecting local economies.
6. Impacts of climate on industry, settlements and society can be either direct or indirect. For instance, temperature
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