Global warming does not sound threatening, it doesn’t inspire fear or instil panic. It’s a term that belies the serious and threatening nature of climate change because the sensation of being warm, for most people, is a pleasant one. Why would we spend billions of dollars each year seeking out sun, sea and sand if sun-bathing, sun-seeking, relaxation and warmth was not a primary motivating factor?
But the perception of global warming around the world is beginning to change. Global warming is creating very tangible changes in the climate which are threatening our food production, our homes and our very way of life. Within the space of a human lifetime, we can now observe very stark changes, increasing in rapidity, around the world. Glaciers are disappearing, wildfires are increasing in intensity. Plants and animals are shifting habitat ranges in a bid to survive and global sea levels are rising.
Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Over 95% of scientists worldwide now agree that the consequences of global warming, as caused by humans, is climate change and that unfettered our actions will contribute to this warming even further and with a higher degree of intensity.
To fully understand the implications of global warming it’s important to be aware of the worst, most catastrophic effects as predicted by scientists. Then we can appreciate the consequences of our actions and explore the options available.
Catastrophic Effects of Global Warming
Sea Level Rise 1-4 feet
A conservative scientific estimate from the IPCC has estimated that sea-level rise could be between 1.7 and 3.2 feet by 2100, which means that actual rises could be much higher. The collective association of cities, C40 Cities, predicts that by 2050 over 570 low-lying coastal cities will face sea-level rise. This could put over 800 million people at risk from flooding and storm surges and lead to an economic cost of $1 trillion. C40 Cities also notes that we are beginning to see an increase in weather-related problems affecting cities around the world, including New York City which was inundated by flooding when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012.
Extreme infrastructure projects will be needed around the world in order to protect millions from rising sea levels and there have even been proposals to Dam the Entire North Sea as reported in the Independent Newspaper.
Melting of the world’s glaciers and the disappearance of freshwater drinking supplies
Around the world, glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate and this is especially pronounced in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau which is commonly known as the third pole because of the amount of freshwater this region contains outside of the North and South pole. Glaciers around this region have lost up to 25% of their mass since 1970 and scientists warn that up to two-thirds of the region’s glaciers will disappear by 2100 according to a special report on the cryosphere (the areas where water are found in its solid form) published by the IPCC.
And this will be catastrophic because nearly 2 billion people depend on Himalayan glaciers with 240 million of those people depending on the glacial meltwater directly for their freshwater supplies.
Deserts getting bigger
The Sahara Desert has expanded significantly by around 10% over the last 100 years and desertification has been described as “the greatest environmental challenge of our time”. In regions that may already be susceptible to drought and heatwaves the combined pressures of farming and land mismanagement mean that a perfect storm has been created threatening the security and livelihoods of countries around the world that are straddled by huge, continental deserts.
Desertification threatens up to 38 percent of the world as reported in Mongabay.
Increased rainfall and flooding
Widespread flooding will become commonplace as increased precipitation and global sea-level rise combine to inundate the land, low-lying countries and human habitations. The IPCC released a report that indicated scientists expect to see more extreme rainfall in a warming world. The report predicts and Europe is more likely to see heavy rainfall events, at an increased frequency, by the end of this century. The intensity of these rainfall events will mean the unprepared communities and whole nations will be at risk from an increased level of flash floods and unexpected weather.
Wildfires more intense
In 2019-2020 Australian Wildfires made international headlines when Australia’s warmest and driest year on the record created tinderbox conditions that led to devastating wildfires right across the continent. These fires even threatened Sydney, blanketing the city in an intense and dangerous smog and threatening the health of its citizens.
Wildfires in Australia destroyed 6 million hectares, 1,300 homes and killed dozens of people. Because there are weather-related influences on the Australian wildfires, most notably the Indian Ocean Dipole, climate change detractors may argue the wildfires are a result of normal weather patterns. But under global warming the Indian Ocean Dipole is set to increase threefold by 2100, leading to a much greater frequency of wildfires and the conditions that cause them. And according to BBC News Scientists now say fires like this may become the new normal in a future world of 3C degree warming.
More Killer Heatwaves
In 2019 summer heatwaves in England resulted in an extra 900 deaths. Up to 35,000 people died in European heatwaves in 2003 and the World Health Organisation estimates that in the near future up to 255,000 people could die every year worldwide from heatwaves. This has been underlined by the Earth Policy institute who recently stated:
Though heatwaves rarely are given adequate attention, they claim more lives each year than floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined, Heatwaves are a silent killer, mostly affecting the elderly, the very young, or the chronically ill.Earth Policy Institute
And this could become the new normal for summer periods around the world. June temperatures in 2019 broke records around the world, including in Europe, Africa and South America.
Rise in droughts
Droughts are becoming more severe and lasting longer thanks to climate change. A warmer world leads to enhanced evaporation and creates a positive feedback loop whereby drier habitats lead to less rainfall. In drought conditions topsoil can be blown away, leading to the irreversible decline of land suitable for farming, and the potential for grasslands to transform into deserts.
Hurricanes and freak weather events will increase
Extreme weather events have existed on the planet since there was, well weather, but climate change if increasing the odds, frequency and intensity of this naturally occurring phenomenon because an increase in temperature means there is more energy in the atmosphere to driver bigger storms and more intense weather events.
Research has shown that in the Midwestern United States intensity of tornadoes is one of the effects of climate change. Whilst, according to The Guardian hurricanes and typhoons are getting much stronger over time. The strongest storm ever recorded was Typhoon Haiyan resulting in 10,000 deaths and devasting whole regions across South East Asia, most notably the Phillippines.
The Arctic to become ice-free
The Arctic is not predicted to be ice-free, in the summer months, by sometime between 2040-2050 and has already decreased by 40%. This has unknown consequences for ocean currents, will have a major impact on sea level rises. According to Scientific American “If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet thawed, Dutton says, it would raise sea levels by an average of seven meters. That would significantly flood coastal megacities such as Mumbai and Hong Kong.”
Diseases spread more rapidly
Global temperature rises and warmer winters give insects a longer breeding season. As key transmitters of a whole host of diseases, the risk to human communities will grow. Mosquitoes transmit West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever as well as Malaria. Increase levels of heat worldwide have been linked to more than 12 diseases.
Less food available for humans
With rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers and the evaporation or melting of fresh-water supplies for billions of people around the world, farmers are facing a severe lack of access to freshwater. The lack of fresh water, essential for irrigating farmland, growing rice and feeding livestock means that by as soon as 2030 half of the world’s population will be living in regions experiencing stresses as a consequence of lack of fresh water. The website Quantum Run predicts:
climate change could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, just as the global community needs to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050 (according to the World Bank) than we do today.
Huge increase in Mass Immigration and Refugees
It is believed that climate change will create the world’s biggest refugee crisis as tens of millions of people are forced to flee their regions as a result of drought, food scarcity, wars and insecurity. Climate change is already exacerbating existing conflicts in regions such as the Middle East, where millions of people have migrated as a result of drought leading to conflict, wars and an increasing number of refugees seeking safety and security elsewhere.
Acidification of oceans
Acidification occurs in the oceans because they act as a sponge for CO2 and, since the start of the industrial era, the oceans have soaked up around 29 percent of global CO2 emissions.
When carbon dioxide enters the seawater it slowly dissolves in the ocean. This makes the seawater more acidic. It reduces the number of carbonate ions in the water and makes life more difficult, if not impossible, for clams, mussels, crabs, corals and all sea life that relies on carbonate ions to grow their hard outer shells and survive in the deep.
According to a landmark, UN report up to one million species around the world are facing extinction. 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.
Climate change will cost… a lot
It has been estimated that climate change will cost the world economy $7.9 trillion 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 affecting developing nations over richer nations.
Overpopulation increases stresses on the natural environment
The Devastating Effect of Overpopulation is varied but ultimately increase the number of individuals, depending on the natural world for survival and the desire for many countries to adopt Western consumerism, a resource-intensive lifestyle. The effects of overpopulation have been described by Paul R. Ehrlich who described the current state of the planet and our exploitation of it in a 2017 article with The Observer:
Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. … if everyone consumed resources at the US level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths. We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems.
More storm damage
It’s not just hurricanes and superstorms that will result in a devasting loss to life. Storms and weather patterns the world over will become more intense and frequent and battering countries as increase levels of heat and energy in the atmosphere are dissipated through the physical force of wild weather.
Coastal cities will drown
There is much debate over which coastal cities will be worst affected as a result of climate change but The Guardian has reported that Asian cities will be the worst affected with Osaka in Japan, Alexandria in Eygpt, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Shangai in China and Miami in the US being amongst the global cities that experience the highest degree of inundation.
Conflict and Climate Wars over resources
David Tal on the futurism site, Quantum Run, predicts that freshwater will become very scarce over the next two decades and with it the world’s farming capacity. Tal believes this ‘would be bad news for the nine billion people projected to exist by 2040. And as you’ve seen on CNN, BBC or Al Jazeera, hungry people tend to be rather desperate and unreasonable when it comes to their survival. Nine billion hungry people will not be a good situation.’
The WWF has highlighted the important need for humanity to implement transformative changes to the way we interact with the natural world in order to protect ecosystems and the species within them.
“Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of our societies, our economies, our food production, our health – and yet, we are destroying them at an alarming rate. With our lifestyles and levels of consumptions, we are robbing future generations of their livelihoods, and they will hold us to account for our failure to act.”Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office
Coral reefs disappear
The Great Barrier Reef could be facing an existential crisis, having experienced four bleachings (mass reef deaths) in 19 years. It may not yet be in terminal decline, but with coral reefs taking an average of 10 years to recover to their full health after a bleaching event and with bleaching events becoming more frequent, the outlook is not good.
World’s seas emptied of fish
A study published in the journal Science predicts that ‘Projected increases in greenhouse gas emissions could suppress marine biological productivity for a thousand years or more..’ The study fishery yields could dive by up to 20% globally and by up to 60% in the North Atlantic. This is because many species of fish, including mackerel, cod and sardines, thrive in the colder waters of the North Atlantic. As waters warm the North Atlantic could be emptied of the fish we depend on for our own survival.
Small island states to disappear
Small Island Nations are at the front-line of the global warming crisis as sea levels increase and they slowly, or sometimes very rapidly, drown in rising waters. Many of the islands flooded so far have been small and uninhabited, but scientists say that disappearing islands are a sign of what’s to come for coastal cities around the world.
Jellyfish swarm the oceans
Whilst fish and corrals face unprecedented levels of extinction around the world Jellyfish are thriving. Research shows a direct link between a warmer world and jellyfish populations. This is because they thrive in warmer seas and, unlike many species, they are not incapacitated by warmer water with less oxygen. Over-fishing has also removed their primary predators, such as turtles, and the species of fish that would provide competition. As a result, Jellyfish have the oceans to themselves and a big, empty ecological niche to occupy.
Worlds rainforests disappear
The Amazon is being annihilated in the race to clear pristine forests that have grown in this region for millions of years. Politicians are driving this change is a desire to free up the space occupied by the Amazon in order to allow for resource exploitation and farming. In Borneo much of the original rainforest has been cleared, destroying the home of the Orangutan and killing many in the process, in order to make space for palm oil plantations for use in chocolate and other products.
Permafrost melts, increasing feedback loops
Permafrost across the northern hemisphere is melting with significant, and yet not fully understood consequences. The National Geographic has published an in-depth investigation into the causes and effects of permafrost melt, highlighting the rippling influences of this consequence of climate change via known, and yet-to-be-researched feedback loops:
All permafrost thaw leads to greenhouse gas emissions. But standing water accelerates the threat. The gas that bubbles from the oxygen-deprived mud under ponds and lakes is not only carbon dioxide but also methane, which is 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2.
Humans face extinction…
…or an irreversible and continued threat to our existence. After all, we do not exist as separate or independent from nature. Rather we exist because of nature, because of the insects that pollinate fruit and vegetables, the freshwater streams that provide suitably filtered drinking water and oceans that provide food and fishing.
Without the natural world in a healthy state in which all other life can thrive, we threaten our own existence and the existence of all other living things on the planet.
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