Why Climate Change Matters & Why We Must Act Now.
This article is also available on our youtube channel as an informational video; both discuss why climate change matters using data & analysis from the scientific community, and the leading climate science bodies. Understanding why climate change matters requires us to first understand what our scientific community projects global average temperatures to be towards the end of the century. The chart on the right, which was released by the IPCC, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, lists 2 scenarios under which they’ve projected global average surface temperature changes.
Under the red scenario, which is RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) 8.5, a higher carbon emissions scenario, global average temperatures are forecasted to rise roughly 3-4 degrees Celsius by 2100. This is the likely case if humanity continues its course, with little action taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Lately though, the focus has been on the chart below, which accompanies the IPCC’s latest findings on the need for the world to limit global temperature rise to roughly 1.5 degrees Celsius, alongside a pathway there.
“We will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us. If we wait until nature forces us, the cost will be astronomical.”
– Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Why 1.5 degrees Celsius? The original aim of the Paris Climate Accords was to limit warming to around 2 degrees Celsius, but continued research and data show that beyond a certain threshold of global warming, the earth crosses tipping points where there is a limited capacity for life on earth to adapt to the amplified risks of warming.
Our 3 areas of focus in this article are:
- A 6th mass extinction, also known as the Anthropocene extinction, entailing the loss of numerous animal & plant species
- Severe weather events, including floods, heatwaves, & droughts,
- Climate Equity, where unfortunately the most vulnerable and those with limited access to resources & wealth will be disproportionately impacted by a rapidly changing earth.
This article is focused more on the impacts of Climate Change, but we have a separate informational article titled “Climate Change: Just the Facts, the Truth, and the Science” that focuses more on the causes of climate change, and dives into the data of CO2 emissions, temperature changes, and sea level fluctuations.
A 6th Mass Extinction: The Antropocene Extinction
Mass extinctions are defined as: “The extinction of a large number of species within a relatively short period of geological time,” and by some definitions the loss of at least 75% of living species within a geologically short period of time. There have been 5 recorded extinctions in the historical fossil record, as shown in the chart below, and many in the scientific community believe that the 6th is under way, and can be attributed to human activity, thus the name Anthropocene, or “period of human activity.”
Many studies have shown that modern extinction rates for numerous animal species are 100 to 1000 times higher than their pre-level human levels, and future rates could be 10,000 times higher with the impact of human activity upon natural ecosystems; upwards of 1 million unique Animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction . The number of endangered species just continues to rise, with no end in site. The IUCN estimates that just in the past decade alone the total number of endangered mammals, reptiles, birds and others has nearly doubled!
A significant reason for the large magnitude of wildlife die-off, and endangerment is due to a phenomenon known as “Ocean Acidification.”
- The ocean absorbs around 30% of the CO2 that is present in the atmosphere, which triggers chemical reactions in the water that lead to its acidification.
- As CO2 emissions continue to rise due to human activity with little end in sight, the oceans will continue to absorb CO2, and further increase in acidity to levels not experience in over 20 million years
This acidification adversely impacts a large portion of marine life, and their habitats. A number of very frightening & tragic reports have already concluded that a majority of Australia’s great barrier reef is “dead” or “dying.” It is estimated that roughly 70-90% of all coral reefs will disappear within the next 3 decades as a result of warming, and acidification, and by 2100 there may exist very few suitable coral habitats remaining, threatening a vast majority of ocean life as we know it, and the many species that humanity has yet to discover.
severe weather events
In the past few years alone, we’ve seen an increasing number of “once in a hundred year storms” such as Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston and Texas’ east coast, as well as ample data showing that there is a statistical relationship between Atlantic sea surface temperatures, and the power dissipation index of these hurricanes. The chart below from the NOAA displays a forecasted rise in the intensity & strength of future storms suggesting the possibility of a large anthropogenic influence on Atlantic hurricanes.
A recent NOAA report concludes that:
“…it is likely that greenhouse warming will cause hurricanes in the coming century to be more intense globally and have higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes” since physically, a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor that can enhance moisture convergence and rainfall rates in storm systems such as hurricanes.”
One of the NOAA’s models projects a large (~100%) increase in Atlantic category 4-5 hurricanes over the 21st century, and the primary cause of this is the fact that the ocean’s stored heat content is rapidly increasing, giving life to these more powerful storms. Now that the data on the recorded increases in global land & sea temperatures is absolutely undeniable, many have been projecting out what temperatures are expected to do under the different carbon emission scenarios.
The simulation below provided by NASA’s Climate Change department, projects surface air temperatures out to the year 2100, showing a roughly 3-4 degrees Celsius, or roughly 7 degrees Fahrenheit increase in many parts of the world that are already subject to intense droughts, and heat waves.
The 10 hottest years on record are shown in this chart here, where the recorded temperatures date back to as early as 1880. The last 5 years have been the hottest on record, and we’ve seen an increasing number of droughts & wildfires in already resource constrained areas.
The map below by the National Center for Atmospheric Research anticipates large swaths of the earth with high risks to drought conditions as global temperature rises change the fragile nature of our current climate. Drought conditions may even take hold even in places where total rainfall increases.
As our earth anticipates increased flooding, hurricanes, destruction, drought, and wildfires, we must begin to think about who is most impacted by these. Our third focus area leads right to that discussion.
Climate Equity & Justice
The world’s population has rapidly increased in the last 100 years, from roughly 2 billion people in 1920, to around 7.7 billion people today. Many estimates have us heading towards approximately 11 billion people in 2100, which will certainly put pressure on our already resource constrained system, that is already incapable of handling the 7 billion we have today. Even now around 2 billion people, or roughly 25% of the world’s population, are living on less than $3 a day, and around half of the world’s population is living on less than $6 a day. Approximately 1 billion people on this earth live in extreme poverty – that’s more than double the population of the United States.
What’s equally shocking is the chart above on carbon emissions and income. The study found that the world’s richest 10% of the population produce over half of the world’s carbon emissions, whereas the poorest 50% referenced here, only account for 10% of emissions.
So what exactly then is Climate Equity? Unfortunately, as the projected impacts of climate change come to realization, the most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations on our earth, and communities with livelihoods heavily reliant on agriculture, or coastal resources, will be subject to the highest amounts of climate change risks, even when these populations in some cases emit less 175 times less carbon than the wealthiest in society. As projected droughts, coastal flooding, and resource shortages exacerbate into the 21st century, many people will undoubtedly be required to move, and relocate to places where the earth’s resources can sustain them, thus creating millions, and potentially even billions of human beings on this earth who will indisputably become climate refugees.
Mass immigration, millions of refugees, and poverty are already huge concerns for the world, and many developed nations are continually struggling with the influx of refugees from around the world. What does the future look like when millions more are forced to leave their homes and are displaced due to impending climate disasters? I don’t believe we as a society should wait to find out, and I believe it is our duty to ensure that the world is habitable for all future generations to come.
To recap, we’ve been through numerous pieces of data, and general consensus findings from the scientific community that maintain:
- Human activity has caused thousands of species to already go extinct, and we are most probably living in the age of the Anthropocene extinction, or human-activity dominated extinction
- Severe weather events are expected to intensify & increase as we move forward into the future and droughts, floods, and heat waves amplify in number
- Millions, if not billions of people will be adversely impacted by the rapidly changing biosphere, and will be disproportionately impacted by the changing climate.
Ultimately, the responsibility of being caretakers for this earth falls upon us, and it is our duty as one collective humanity to come together to solve this climate crisis. It is important to have a heart that feels for others, and put ourselves in the shoes of those who are less fortunate than us, who will be disproportionately impacted. Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’re one of the lucky few individuals on this earth with resources, namely electricity and access to the internet. I often participate in an exercise known as “perspective taking.” How would you feel if everything you knew, your home, your livelihood, your means of sustenance, and everyone you loved was all lost in the middle of a cyclone, hurricane, drought, flood, or other catastrophe?
This is our home, this is our planet, and there is no planet B. We all need to be a part of the solution, and I hope that in the coming years we can all make true, meaningful progress towards solving the climate crisis.
Thanks for reading everyone, and I will leave you with this quote to end by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his letter written in a Birmingham Jail cell:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.