Climate change trends over the past century are man-made; this fact has been agreed upon by 97% of climate scientists. It is, therefore, our responsibility to make a change and reduce the long-term effects of this phenomenon in order to preserve the environments that so many people, animals, and plant life depend on to survive.
While President Trump’s intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement has alarmed many environmentalists, activists and scientists in many countries, it is vital that we do not become distracted from our mission.
Last year was the hottest year the world has seen since 1880, when scientists first began keeping records of global temperatures. It is the fifth annual heat record of the past dozen years. To put this in perspective, the Earth has warmed 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.26 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial averages – that’s extremely close to the 2.7-degree (1.5-degree-Celsius) limit outlined in the Paris Climate agreement, which was signed by a total of 170 heads of state and diplomats on Earth Day last year.
“There’s no stopping global warming,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, told Business Insider. “Everything that’s happened so far is baked into the system.” Essentially, even if carbon emission were to drop to zero today, we will still see the effects of climate change play out in the future – the damage already done is simply irreversible. However, this does not mean that the planet is beyond saving.
Instead, we need to work to prevent further damage and devise ways to adapt to the environmental changes that are to come. So, what would the world look like if we succeed in curbing carbon emissions?
“I think the 1.5-degree [2.7-degree F] target is out of reach as a long-term goal,” Schmidt said. In fact, Schmidt predicts that we will surpass this limit as early as 2030. Despite this, Schmidt does believe that it’s possible to stay at or under 3.6 degrees F, or 2 degrees C, above preindustrial levels, the level of temperature rise the UN hopes to avoid.
If we were able to limit the global temperature rise to something that falls between those two targets – say 3 degrees, for instance – the effects on different areas of the world would vary greatly. On November 15, 2016, temperatures near the north pole soared to between zero and 1.2C. This is dangerously high for this region.
These anomalies, which will become more frequent as the temperature continues to rise, will have a number of effects on the environment including a decline in sea ice, drought and rising sea levels. The ice in Antarctica, however, will remain relatively unaffected.
While the ice in Antarctica is believed to be safe, sea levels are expected to rise by 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) by 2100 – and that the best case scenario is the displacement of up to 4 million people. The oceans themselves will also change dramatically. Oceans absorb about one-third of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This causes them to warm and become more acidic. As a result, even if we are able to curb emissions, it is estimated that half of all coral reefs will become bleached – leaving many marine species at risk of extinction.
Meanwhile, life for communities around the world will most certainly be significantly different from what we perceive as normal today. Summers in the tropics, for example, could see a 50 percent increase in their extreme-heat days by 2050, while 10 percent to 20 percent of the days in the year will be hotter farther north. This increase will put further strain on diminishing fresh water sources and will increase the number of natural disasters including storm surges, wildfires, and heat waves.
So there it is – the likely future of planet Earth and all that call it home. It is all too easy to ignore a future that will not immediately affect our lives. The signs are there, we just have to take notice of them and make the changes needed to reduce the possible damage – our future as a species depends on it. We have a whole host of stories that will give you tips on advice on how you can reduce your carbon footprint. Take a look here, and start making the future brighter (or in this case, cooler) today.