The Arctic is becoming lush, and that's a problem

polar bear in the arctic
© chbaum/Shutterstock

Scientists just brought back a discovery from the Arctic wilderness that looks peaceful, yet could wreak havoc on the lives of people and animals around the world.

140 researchers conducted a study on plants in the Arctic. They slogged through three decades of data and found that taller plants are moving into Santa's neighborhood.

No palm trees yet though. The Arctic is a tough place to live, whether you're a plant or an animal. The plants that can hack it are mostly scrubs that creep along the ground.

But that's changing. Since climate change is making the Arctic warmer, the region can now support new species. For instance, vernal sweetgrass, a plant that's normally found in lowland Europe, is now creeping into Sweden. The scientists found that plants in the Arctic are set to double in height by the end of the century.

"That doesn't seem like a very dramatic increase, but if you compare it to the ecosystems around your house like the forest nearby - if you imagined that forest getting twice as tall; that is a pretty dramatic change," Isla Myers-Smith, one of the lead researchers, told BBC News.

This is a big deal. Often, when people talk about global warming, they imagine hurricanes and forest fires. But things like taller plants could actually cause more unrest than more "exciting" disasters. If some places are getting worse and some are getting better, we could be in for a massive refugee crisis of the likes we've never witnessed in human history.

"We're going to have to deal with the aftermath of climate change. And what does that mean?" asked Michael Muthukrishna, a professor of economic psychology at the London School of Economics. "It means mass migration. What's really gonna happen is destabilization of the world."

Some places, like the Arctic, are going to warm and become more hospitable for plants ... and people.

"This is dirty truth, right?" Muthukrishna told me. "Some places are going to get better. They're going to become more temperate and more livable. And other places are going to get worse."

As global warming plagues some places with droughts and other problems, people will have to leave behind countries that can't provide for them and move to ones that can.

"I feel like the Syrian migration crisis might be the first example of that," Muthukrishna went on. "Droughts in Syria led people away from the countryside, where they were previously farming, to find jobs."

This put pressure on city resources in Syria. People weren't getting what they wanted, they revolted, and the situation turned into a massive civil war.

"And now you have masses of people trying to find a new home," Muthukrishna said.

For now, climate change is affecting developing countries more than wealthy ones. But if wealthy countries can't solve the problem they started, they'll find it at their doors.

The Arctic is becoming lush, and that's a problem
Scientists discovered that plants in the Arctic are growing twice the height.

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