Experts agreed in 2015 that if we did not cap global warming at another 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit), the effects will be “catastrophic” and “irreversible”. A panel of UN scientists recently predicted that it is all but impossible for us to meet that goal.
“If you don’t hang on to that goal, what you’ll achieve is a total disaster,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres told AP reporters last week. He believes that, despite the odds, enacting transformative measures immediately could prevent some of the most destructive effects of global warming from coming to fruition.
To move in this direction, ‘global warming’ as a topic of discussion and point of concern needs to move from the realm of theoretical and future-oriented conversation into that of current events and action. The worst case scenario of the rapid heating of the planet is happening, now.
Are we sure global warming is happening already?
YES. The cyclical warming and cooling of the planet is natural and has occurred regularly for millennia. What is happening to the planet today is not part of that cycle, occurring at a much more alarming rate that is directly correlated with the rise in global CO2 levels. What are some of the undeniable signs of global warming already seen today?
The Planet Is Heating Up
2016 was the hottest year ever recorded around the planet.
Global temperatures were an average of 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than usual that year, contributing to more dramatic weather patterns and storms everywhere.
This is just part of the overall warming trend that has seen worldwide temperatures rise by 1.1 °C (about 2 °F) since the end of the 19th century. Watch how much the world has heated up:
The Ocean is Hotter and More Acidic
The top 700 meters (2,300 feet) of the ocean, where the vast majority of sea life lives, has risen an average of 0.2 °C (about 0.4 °F) in the last fifty years. Changes of just a few hundredths of a degree can wreak havoc on sensitive marine ecosystems.
Two-thirds of the world’s biggest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, has already weakened or died as a direct result of the ocean’s rising temperatures. Scientists estimate that just 7% of the once vibrant habitat is thriving at previous levels.
Even more, higher levels of CO2 cause reactions in salt water that increase the overall acidity of the water. In fact, the pH of the ocean has decreased by 0.1 pH units in the last century, making it a whopping 30% more acidic than any time in the last 20 million years.
Ice Caps and Glaciers Are Disappearing
The world’s biggest repositories of fresh water in Antarctica, Greenland and the Arctic have been melting at rates never seen before. Glaciers that have covered the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies and other great mountain ranges for millennia are retreating. The ice is melting mostly due to the rise in global temperatures.
Sea Levels Are Rising
When the ice caps’ and glaciers’ billions of tons of water melt each year, where do they go? Ultimately, most of that water ends up in the ocean. This is what has led to an 8 inch increase in global sea levels over the last century. Today, global sea levels are increasing at a rate of about 3.4 millimeters per year. The rate of increase has more than doubled in the last decade, however, leaving us to a face water levels unlike any that have ever been seen before.
Is climate change definitely caused by people?
YES. NASA came up with a handy graph to demonstrate the shocking increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere over the last 400,000 years. Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 levels are directly responsible for increased air, land and sea temperatures and the direct result of human manufacturing and industrialization. The planet is heating up, fast:
What disasters and deaths has global warming already caused?
At least 150,000 deaths can be attributed to global warming every year, according to the best estimates of a coalition of researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists expect this annual rate to increase by a minimum of twofold by 2030. Even more, an additional five million people have suffered from various illnesses due to these worldwide changes.
Extreme weather events continue to increase in number and intensity across the world. More cases of extreme rainfall, leading to flooding and other disasters, along with heat waves have been reported in the U.S. in the last fifty years than ever before. Low temperature events are more rare. Unstoppable forest fires are becoming commonplace, as seen most recently across California and Alaska.
What can we expect next as a result of climate change?
Everything discussed above, but worse. Sea levels could rise as much as 8 feet in the next century, making millions of people homeless and cutting off access to millions of acres of farmland. Extreme weather events will no longer be considered exceptional, but routine. And the list goes on.
Forget trying to quantify the ‘potential’ for disastrous effects and start counting the casualties that have already piled up due to global warming. Acknowledging that we have not only brought about an unprecedented alteration to the natural cycle of the planet but that we are continuing to do so today is paramount to facing the problem and finding a way to adapt to the consequences.
Get informed about how serious the effects of global warming are and stop contributing to the ‘prevention’ debate. Let’s focus on talking about how we can manage the current and future effects of global warming starting now.