How is climate change already affecting the earth?
- 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded
- East coast suffers from severe winter storms
- West coast suffers from drought and severe fires
- Hurricane season is longer and more intense
- Glacier melt causes sea level rise and coastal erosion
In the ocean
- The ocean is warming and rising (NASA)
- Melting sea ice destroys polar bear habitat
- Ocean acidification
- Coral bleaching
Today, not Tomorrow
Climate change is no longer a threat for the future; it is reality, here and now. Every region of the planet has been significantly affected. The clearest measure is globally-averaged temperatures, which have risen steadily for decades. The graph below shows that global warming has accelerated dramatically since the year 2000. Every year since 2000 has been hotter than any year before 1998 (NASA, 2018)
You may note that the global atmosphere has warmed by just 1.5 degrees since 1900, which may not sound like much. However, most scientists and policy makers agree that a further two degrees of warming could be devastating. For example, heat waves are predicted to last 40% longer, while the amount of fresh water available decreases by almost 20% and wheat production decreases by 15%.
NASA data from 2018 show that the earth’s atmosphere has warmed steadily for over a century, and that the warming has accelerated dramatically since 2000.
The effects of this global temperature rise are readily observed in every part of the United States. Roughly stated, whatever severe weather most affects a given region is exacerbated by climate change. Thus, California is hit with drought, extreme heat, and wildfires. The Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Seaboard experience a longer and more severe hurricane season. The East Coast, especially the Northeast, is battered by more violent storms. These events are expensive – in 2017 alone, the combined cost of climate related disasters exceeded $306 billion dollars.
Effects on the Ecosystems
Countless species are already being severely impacted by climate change. Here, we discuss just a few poster children.
Polar bears, which rely on Arctic sea ice to survive, will probably be extinct by 2050 or sooner. Several other cold-adapted animals, such as reindeer, penguins, puffins and cold-water fish are also severely threatened. Frog populations, already severely impacted by chemical pollution, could be devastated.
Speaking of posters, one of the most beloved marine ecosystems is also the most threatened. The image below shows the same reef in American Samoa before, during, and after a coral bleaching event. It took less than one year to kill this reef. Source: NBC Chicago
||A healthy coral is a symbiosis between coral polyps (small animals related to jellyfish) and zooxanthellae (a type of algae). If the coral is stressed, for example by warmer-than-usual water, algae will leave the coral, leaving it bleached white. The bleached coral is soon covered with a different type of alga that can smother the coral (see images to left and below),
If bleached coral is not subjected to further stress, it can recover fully within 10-15 years. The problem with global warming is that corals world wide are now bleaching about every 6 years.
“It’s like getting hit by a serious disease every couple of years, or at such short intervals that you don’t have time to recover in between,” says … Julia Baum, a marine biologist at the University of Victoria.
There is no denying that this is a very frightening situation. Some of the damage already done by climate change is irreversible, and things will get worse before they get better. There is no silver bullet to solve climate change, but there is silver buckshot. Read on to learn more about personal lifestyle changes and political actions that will help.