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 Summer 2011

Global warming is already affecting locales all over the world. A new UCS website illustrates the need to combat climate change by putting Earth’s threatened places and ecosystems on the map.


By Nancy Cole

Why in the world are frozen lakes erupting in flames—and where in the world is this happening? Why is Earth’s tiniest plant kingdom being threatened—and where can you find this wonderfully unique ecosystem?

For the answers to these questions and more, join the scavenger hunt in progress on our new website, Climate Hot Map. This interactive site, which launched in June, allows you to trek all over the world, exploring the “hot spots” where the scientific evidence shows climate changes are already under way, and where scientists are now assessing the risks associated with further warming.

Change Is in Everyone’s Backyard

UCS and six other organizations launched the original Climate Hot Map in 1999; now we have completely redesigned the site to take advantage of the wealth of climate data—and useful online tools—available today. The Hot Map aims to:

  • Share the widespread and compelling evidence demonstrating that global warming is affecting our physical and biological world
  • Emphasize the fact that climate change is a problem with consequences the world over
  • Motivate visitors to do something about the problem once they see how places they know and love are at risk of irreversible change


The website uses Google Maps to display 60 hot spots around the globe—on every continent and in most oceans—with more to be added in the months ahead. (Google Earth users can also see the hot spots in the program’s Showcase section.) Hot spots are chosen based on three criteria: scientific robustness (i.e., a wealth of literature demonstrates the impact global warming is having in that location), multiple impacts in the same location, and compound stresses (i.e., global warming’s impact is being exacerbated by destructive human activities such as overfishing, inefficient water use in drought-prone areas, or sprawling development).

Clicking on a hot spot icon opens a postcard-sized pop-up window featuring a photo and list of key facts summarizing how climate change is affecting that location and what that means for the people who live there. Jefferson City, MO, for example, will experience devastating flooding (similar to this past spring) more frequently. On the other side of the world, we show how shrinking glaciers threaten freshwater resources in the mountain town of Ürumqi, China.

Clicking on a hot spot icon opens a pop-up window that illustrates how global warming is affecting that location.

Each pop-up links to a more detailed description of the impacts in that location, cross-referenced with a glossary of technical terms and a list of the scientific literature used to develop the text. These detailed pages also discuss how changes in the local climate might be part of a larger pattern such as El Niño, and what scientists project could happen in the location a few decades from now. 

Visitors can also view an index of hot spots by region, or search for hot spots based on the type of changes taking place.   Hot spots fall into five major categories—people, freshwater, oceans, ecosystems, and temperatures—and each category is further divided into three or four types of impacts. The People category, for example, is outlined here:

(Click to enlarge)

The Hot Map explains the many ways in which global warming will affect the environment, economy, health, and well-being of global communities.

Local Solutions to a Global Problem

Thankfully, all is not doom and gloom on the Climate Hot Map. Throughout the website, we provide information about solutions that will help prevent the worst consequences of a warming world. Because global warming is caused by too much carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases distributed throughout the atmosphere, many solutions apply universally. However, each region of the world varies in terms of which sectors of the economy are releasing the most emissions, the vexing social and economic issues that contribute to the problem, and the capacity to prepare for those changes that are unavoidable. Taking this into account, we have organized solutions by region so visitors can see the highest priorities for each area of the world.

In addition to suggesting solutions applicable to either individuals or governments, we provide an opportunity for visitors to voice their support for policies that will get the world on a lower-carbon pathway. Whether you are viewing the home page, a hot spot, or a regional solutions page, you can click the "Take Action" button to send an email to key decision makers that urges them to get serious about global warming. You can also share the Climate Hot Map by using the Facebook and Twitter links on the home page and each hot spot.

Despite a prolonged economic recession, a dramatic shift in the U.S. political landscape, and a determined attack on science by climate change deniers (see “Perspective”), it is essential that we re-engage the public on the urgency of global warming and strengthen the political will for action to reduce heat-trapping emissions. The Climate Hot Map is one way UCS can help in this effort; by making the effects of global warming real and immediate, and showing how it is already having a potentially disastrous effect on places people know and love, we can help ensure these places will still be around for our children to love, too.

Nancy Cole is director of outreach in the UCS Climate and Energy Program.


Get started on the Climate Hot Map scavenger hunt today.