Global warming, as a consequence of human activity, has the capacity to change our atmospheric climate at a rate unprecedented in recorded history. We have joined the experiment of life, unique as a species, in our ability to change the environment around us.
Never before in the long history of our planet has one species had the potential to change the Earth’s climate in such astonishing and varied ways. Nature, on planet Earth, has evolved over billions of years into a finely tuned instrument that enables all species of living animals and plantlife to play out their lives in harmony with each other.
The first step in realising how we are fundamentally changing the atmosphere of our planet is to look at some of the most important facts around global warming. In doing this we can increase our understanding physical environmental changes being experienced around the globe.
12019 is set to be the hottest year ever whilst 2016 is officially recorded as the hottest year on record.
Data from around the world was independently verified by organisations such as NASA and the UK’s Met Office revealed that global averages for 2016 were, overall, 1.78 degrees fahrenheit warmer than temperatures from the mid-20th century.
217 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.
3Climate change could result in severe global warming effects that are irreversible by as soon as 2030.
In 2018 a report by the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a stark warning that humanity has only 12 years to change our current course and head off the worst effects of global warming and climate change.
4The Rainforest Alliance reports that in excess of 10 percent of all emissions worldwide are caused by deforestation.
The report puts on a spotlight on this largely illegal activity which ‘robs us of a crucial weapon in the battle against climate change—and creates further emissions’
5One million species are facing extinction according to a landmark UN report.
The report states that nature’s dangerous decline is ‘unprecedented’ and species extinction rates are ‘accelerating’. Following an intensive review of 15,000 scientific and government sources and written by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the report paints a comprehensive picture of the ways in which human economic activity impacts nature.
6Up to 800 million people are at risk from the adverse effects of global warming.
According to the World Bank who state ‘more than 800 million people in South Asia currently live in communities that are projected to become hotspots under a carbon-intensive climate scenario.’ but suggest ‘Global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the severity of hotspots.’
7Wildlife populations have been decimated by human activity.
In just 40 years the number of wild living creatures, relative to each particular species, has declined from the Earth by a huge 60%. Scientists increasingly understand the role between global warming, climate change and extinction rates.
8There are significantly higher amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than at any time in our recorded history.
And this peak was recorded at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in May 2019 when atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 414.7 parts per million. Scientists are now closely tracking the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to record how it’s increased abundance is impacting the Earth and changing the climate.
9Extreme weather events are becoming the new normal.
Global warming can change the jet streams around the planet and the way the ocean influences the weather. This has a ripple effect which results in more intensive extreme weather events. Heatwaves, droughts, blizzards and rainstorms are predicted to grow in size and scale, whilst seasonal temperature variations have a direct impact on the planet’s ecological wellbeing. Greenpeace has long advocated for the need for our politicians to do more and in 2019/20 Australia experienced wild-fires on an apocalyptic scale as they raged across the continent. Greenpeace reported:
In 2019, the southern half of Australia experienced the driest January to August period on record. Since 2017, New South Wales has seen one of the worst droughts ever recorded for the state. Drought, combined with a warm winter, fuels the fire season, which leaves soils, grasses, and plant life extremely dry.
10Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels to drive our cars and power our homes.
When we burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas we release hydrocarbons into the atmosphere which disperse around the world and create the greenhouse effect — much like a greenhouse in your garden this warms the planet as a whole, leading to global warming and changing climate.
11The world’s glaciers are melting.
A study funded by NASA has found that the huge Thwaites glacier in Antarctica could melt, leading to irreversible ice loss which would trigger a 50cm rise in global sea levels. The Guardian has also reported on recent research that reveals an ‘extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets across Antarctica. The report found that a warming Southern Ocean is resulting in glaciers disappearing into the ocean a a rate five times faster than in the 1990s. Scientists calculated that the complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels around the world by 5 metres, swamping coastal cities globally and displacing billions of people.
12Human activities are heating up the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), representing over 1,300 scientific experts from across the globe. They have established that human activities over the past 50 years have heated up our planet, with a 95% probability rating and publicly stated ‘Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.’. They have attributed industrial activities from our civilisations as the primary drivers for global warming, raising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million since the beginning of the industrial revolution, 400 years ago.
13Our oceans are warming at an unprecedented rate.
In the IPCC 5th Assessment Report it was concluded that since 1955 over 90% if the excess heat trapped by the greenhouse gas effect has been absorbed by the oceans. The remaining 10% of this energy remains in the atmosphere and contributes to the melting sea ice, ice caps, glaciers and warming of the planet. The complex interactions between the world’s oceans and the atmosphere are not yet fully understood, but as more carbon is absorbed, the oceans begin to lose their ability to absorb ever more carbon. Additionally an increase level of carbon in the oceans is decreasing the PH levels of the oceans and increasing ocean acidification. This is creating an existential threat to coral reefs which are largely unable to survive in acidic waters.
14Even if humans disappeared from the Earth global warming would continue for centuries, if not thousands of years.
15Arctic sea ice has decreased by 40%.
Since 1979, when satellites first began measuring sea ice in the Arctic, sea ice has decreased by 40%. According to a report published on scienceedirect.com. The report noted ‘Arctic sea ice is a major element of the Earth’s climate system. It acts to regulate regional heat and freshwater budgets and subsequent atmospheric and oceanic circulation across the Arctic and at lower latitudes.’ It is now certain that the Arctic will be ice-free in the near future, triggering further environmental influences that could hasten global warming. The question for scientists now is when. Carbon Brief have attempted to answer this question by producing an in-depth interactive report to explore the evidence and look at when we might first see the Arctic ice-free.
16Global sea levels are rising at an increasing rate.
And have been doing so for the last century. The National Ocean Service highlights that in 2014 global sea levels were 2.6 inches above their 1993 averages and that ‘Sea level continues to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year’.
17It is predicted that, by 2050, over 570 coastal cities will be underwater or at threat of inundation.
In their in-depth report, The Future We Don’t Want, C40, a network of the world’s megacities around the world addressed this issue, warning ‘If city governments do not act swiftly to meet their mitigation and adaptation commitments under the Paris Agreement, water scarcity affecting over half a billion people living in 500 cities would lead to cascading socioeconomic impacts, hurting urban economies and threatening their stability.’
18Rises in atmospheric methane could hugely exacerbate the problem of global warming.
Methane is produced by livestock such as cattle and sheep. It is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide but is found in lower concentration in the atmosphere as it breaks down far more quickly.
19Volcanoes emit carbon. But not as much as humans.
Human activities around the world emit around 60 times the amount of carbon into the atmosphere as volcanoes do each year. Volcanoes will emit high levels of carbon in infrequent burts, but because these are inconsistent events they do not compare when matched up against human emissions.
20In total, humans have emitted roughly 40 billion metric tonnes of carbon per year.
This figure continues to increase adding to the 2000 billion metric tonnes that we have emitted since the start of the industrial revolution.
21China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon.
This is followed by the United States in second place and India in third. China’s emissions have roughly tripled in the last 15 years but in terms of emissions per capita (i.e. relative to the number of people who live in that country) China is ranked 7th with each person emitting on average 7.5 tonnes per person, whilst the US is ranked is ranked 1st at 16.5 tonnes for the world’s largest economies.
22It is predicted that Fossil Fuels will peak in the mid 2020s as renewables supply all growth in energy demand.
And the impacts of transitioning to a world that is dependent on renewable energy should not be underestimated. The fossil fuel sector is embedded within our advanced economies around the world at every level, including assets, infrastructure and investment. Untangling the last 100 years of fossil fuel reliance at an economic and cultural level will not be without significant hurdles.
23Despite ‘peak oil’ being reached over the next decade, oil output is expected to keep rising with 85% of the increase in oil production coming from the United States.
24The Urban Island Heat Effect will be exacerbated by global warming and contribute to the causes of global warming.
This is because as the planet heats up temperature increases are transferred more rapidly to materials that absorb heat well, such as concrete, road surfaces and buildings. This in turn increases demand for energy as temperature rises because more people, who live in increasingly overcrowded cities, will attempt to cool down via the use of air conditioners and fans.
25It has been estimated that climate change will cost the world economy $7.9 trillon by 2050
This is the equivalent to taking around 3% of global GDP by 2050 in order to finance the fight against climate change and, in research by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Climate Change Resilience Index researchers found that global warming would have a significant impact disproportionately effecting developing nations over richer nations.
26Global warming may lead to a longer growing season for farmers.
But it could also lead to an increase in pest populations and the breeding cycle for insects, such as locusts. Additionally a report from the United Nations Panel on Climate Change as argued that agriculture needs to drastically change in order to slow the worst effects of global warming. That’s because harvesting peat, cutting down forests, removing wetlands and destroying natural meadows for farming all drastically reduces the ability of the natural world to absorb carbon.
27For every 1 degree fahrenheit increase in global temperature the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by approximately 4%.
This means extreme rainfall is more likely heightening the risk of flooding, severe economic and social disruption and the increased incidence of extreme weather events.
This interconnected web of life depends on a myriad number of species co-existing with the environment to help create the conditions habitable for life. And, in the give and take of nature the Earth has had a long time to experiment. But now the experiment has a new player to consider: humans.
To truly understand global warming a better awareness of our place in the web of life is essential. In order to live in harmony with nature we need to understand the consequences of our actions, we need to respect the natural world and we need to consider how realistic, if at all, it is for us to live at one with nature.