CONSEQUENCES

The consequences of global warming are immense. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting and sea levels are rising as oceans are warming and expanding. Extreme weather events like torrential rain, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts are becoming more frequent and more powerful. We are experiencing a destruction of both coral reefs and forests. We are watching the extinction of animal and marine life. As our environment changes in unpredictable ways the consequences are and will disrupt our health, our food supplies, our economics, and our safety.

= The most basic and urgent information

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CREDIT: Felipe Galindo

Q: What are the other effects of global warming?

A: Each year, scientists learn more about the consequences of global warming, and many agree that environmental, economic, and health consequences are likely to occur if current trends continue. Here’s just a smattering of what we can look forward to:

  • Melting glaciers, early snowmelt, and severe droughts will cause more dramatic water shortages and increase the risk of wildfires in the American West.
  • Rising sea levels will lead to coastal flooding on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in Florida and Tidewater Virginia, and in other areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. This flooding will be most acute during storm surge events associated with hurricanes and other storms.
  • Forests, farms, and cities will face troublesome new pests, heat waves, heavy downpours, and increased flooding. All those factors will damage or destroy agriculture and fisheries.
  • Disruption of habitats such as coral reefs and Alpine meadows could drive many plant and animal species to extinction.

Allergies, asthma, and infectious disease outbreaks will become more common due to increased growth of pollen-producing ragweed, higher levels of air pollution, and the spread of conditions favorable to pathogens and mosquitoes. More at NRDC

AIR

CORONAVIRUS

Q: How did the coronavirus affect the consequences of climate change?

A: The results have been immediate and astonishing (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/coronavirus-pollution.html). Skies have cleared across areas of China usually beset by smog and air pollution. CO2 emissions in China declined 25 percent in the last week of February 2020. Meanwhile, scientists across the globe are tracking and quantifying meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases and carbon emissions  (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-affecting-co2-emissions/) across Europe and North America. One unfortunate consequence came to light as oil prices dropped significantly — causing the price of making “virgin” plastic cheaper than using “recycled” plasticMore at Eco-Business.

 

POLLUTION

Q: How is air pollution connected to climate change?

A: Air pollutants include more than just greenhouse gases—principally carbon dioxide but also methane, nitrous oxide and others—but there’s a big overlap: the two often interact with each other. For instance, air pollution in the form of particulate matter from diesel engines is circulated around the globe, ending up in the most remote places, including the polar regions. When it lands on ice and snow it darkens them slightly, leading to less sunlight being reflected back into space, and contributing to global warming. More at UN Environment.

 

LAND AND DEFORESTATION

Q: How does deforestation affect climate change?

A: Deforestation is the destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses. Some common reasons for it are: to create room for cattle ranching, to harvest soy for feeding cattle, and to create ingredients for consumer items (such as the oil from palm trees). Currently, about 300 billion tons of carbon, 40 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, is stored in trees, according to Greenpeace. Deforestation releases that stored carbon dioxide into the air. According to the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment, trees are releasing nearly a billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere per year as we cut down an estimated 18 million acres of forest, roughly the size of the country of Panama, each year. According to National Geographic, the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. More at Live Science

PERMAFROST

Q: What is permafrost and why does it matter?

A: “Permafrost is a lot like concrete. In permafrost, ice binds together soil, rocks, sand and organic matter. Some of that organic matter includes the remains of plants and animals that have been frozen since the last Ice Age, more than 11,000 years ago.

Now, human-induced climate change – caused by the buildup in the atmosphere of greenhouse gas emissions from industrial activity, mainly the burning of coal, oil and natural gas – is raising global temperatures and driving heat waves that can cause permafrost to thaw. And as permafrost thaws, the organic matter locked within it is starting to decompose, a process that releases even more climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.” More at Reuters with a brilliant infographic

EARTHQUAKES

Q: Does fracking for gas cause earthquakes?

A: While quakes can be caused by hydraulic fracturing — the high-pressure injection of fluid and sand into rock, opening cracks that release oil and gas — more often, it’s the underground injection of wastewater after fracking that is the culprit. The federal government posted this 2014 report here. More at National Geographic 

DROUGHT

Q: How will growing drought affect the U.S.?

A: Across the United States , the risk of drought is expected to grow due to reduced precipitation and higher temperatures caused by climate change. Drought’s far-reaching impacts can ripple through communities, regions, watersheds, economies and ecosystems. More at C2es 

FARMING

Q: How will climate change affect major crops?

A: Crops like wheat, peaches, coffee, corn, and almonds will see the impact:

  • Wheat will suffer from hotter temperatures. India is likely to see a large drop in wheat production due to heat stress — about 8 percent if average global temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius, according to one recent study.
  • Peaches, like many fruit trees, must experience enough chill during wintertime otherwise they get confused and don’t bloom properly. No bloom, no harvest. California’s Central Valley peach trees require about 700 “chilling hours” during the winter and scientists are predicting that by the end of the century, only 10 percent of the valley will reliably see that much chilling.
  • Coffee can’t take freezing temperatures, but it doesn’t like extreme heat, either. Brazil is the biggest coffee producer in the world, by far, but as the globe warms up, most of its main coffee-growing regions probably won’t be suitable for growing this crop anymore, due to heat as well as more frequent rainstorms.
  • Almonds are a dramatic illustration of how subtle shifts in climate can have huge effects. California’s farms rely heavily on snow that piles up in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter, and then slowly melts during the summer, delivering a vital flow of water to the state’s irrigation canals. As the climate warms, though, winter precipitation will arrive more often as rain, and the snow that does fall will melt much more quickly, leaving farmers scrambling for water to keep crops alive in late summer. Catastrophic shortages of water are especially bad for tree crops, of which almonds are the biggest. More at NPR

WATER

Q: How will climate change impact water resources?

A: Climate change will be responsible for changing patterns of water availability, and shrinking glaciers and changing patterns of precipitation will increase the likelihood of drought and flood. If climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth and it is an issue on which businesses need far greater levels of awareness and understanding. More at Water Footprint Calculator

MELTING ICE

Q: As the climate warms, how much, and how quickly, will Earth’s glaciers melt?

A: When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1910, it was home to an estimated 150 glaciers. Since then the number has decreased to fewer than 30, and most of those remaining have shrunk in area by two-thirds. Daniel Fagre, a research scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program, predicts that within 30 years most if not all of the park’s namesake glaciers will disappear. “Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime,” says Fagre.”It’s like watching the Statue of Liberty melt.” More at National Geographic 

 

Q: Why are glaciers and sea ice melting?

A: Ice acts like a protective cover over the Earth and our oceans. These bright white spots reflect excess heat back into space and keep the planet cooler. In theory, the Arctic remains colder than the equator because more of the heat from the sun is reflected off the ice, back into space.

Glaciers around the world can range from ice that is several hundred to several thousand years old and provide a scientific record of how climate has changed over time.
Today, about 10% of land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice. Almost 90% is in Antarctica, while the remaining 10% is in the Greenland ice cap. Rapid glacial melt in Antarctica and Greenland also influences ocean currents, as massive amounts of very cold glacial-melt water entering warmer ocean waters is slowing ocean currents. And as ice on land melts, sea levels will continue to rise.

Human activities are at the root of this phenomenon. Specifically, since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions have raised temperatures, even higher in the poles, and as a result, glaciers are rapidly melting, calving off into the sea and retreating on land. More at WWF

 

OCEAN WARMING AND SEA LEVEL RISE

Q: If fossil fuel use continues at this pace, what are the consequences to the oceans?

A: “The world’s oceans and cryosphere have been taking the heat for climate change for decades,” said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produced the report on climate change’s impact on the oceans and cryosphere. “The consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe.” Just how severe the impacts will become—whether sea level rise stops at 1 to 2 feet by 2100 or continues to rise as high as 3.5 feet; whether the planet sees 20 times more marine heat waves or 50 times more—depends on how, and how quickly, humanity responds to the crisis, the report found. More at InsideClimate News

RAINFALL & FLOODING

Q: How is climate change accelerating flooding?

A: Floods are the most common (and amongst the most deadly) natural disasters in the United States. They have brought destruction to every state and nearly every county, and in many areas they are getting worse. As global warming continues to exacerbate sea level rise and extreme weather, our nation’s floodplains are expected to grow by approximately 45 percent by century’s end. Here’s how climate change plays a role in flooding, and how we can better keep our heads above water. More at NRDC

A: The increase in high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts since 2000 has been “extraordinary,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported, with the frequency of flooding in some cities growing fivefold during that time. That shift is damaging homes, imperiling the safety of drinking water, inundating roads and otherwise hurting coastal communities, the agency said. More at The New York Times.

POLLUTION

Q: How is climate change polluting the oceans?

A: The same greenhouse gases causing climate change are also having disastrous effects on the ocean. Our oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide, rapidly causing them to become more acidic. This is threatening the habitat of every species that calls the ocean home, particularly vulnerable coral as well as many types of plankton, which form the base of the food chain.More at Greenpeace

Q: Does climate change affect your drinking water?

A: Climate change is making heavy intense downpours, droughts and rising water  temperatures more common. This can alter the quality  of our drinking and recreational water . Bacteria and viruses thrive in these new conditions and when they come into contact with humans, can cause numerous illnesses. More at PSR

LAKES AND RIVERS

Q: What about our freshwater lakes and rivers?

A: As air temperatures rise, water temperatures do also—particularly in shallow stretches of rivers and surface waters of lakes. Streams and lakes may become unsuitable for cold-water fish.  In a warming climate, a warmer upper layer in deep lakes slows down air exchange—a process that normally adds oxygen to the water. This, in turn, often creates large “dead zones”—areas depleted of oxygen and unable to support life. More at Union of Concerned Scientists

EXTREME WEATHER

Q: How is global warming linked to extreme weather?

A: The impacts of global warming are being felt across the globe. The earth’s rising temperatures are fueling longer and hotter heat waves, more frequent droughts, heavier rainfall, and more powerful hurricanes. The earth’s ocean temperatures are getting warmer, too—which means that tropical storms can pick up more energy. So global warming could turn, say, a category 3 storm into a more dangerous category 4 storm. Extreme heat waves have also caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world in recent years. And in an alarming sign of events to come, Antarctica has been losing about 134 billion metric tons of ice per year since 2002. This rate could speed up if we keep burning fossil fuels at our current pace, some experts say, causing sea levels to rise several meters over the next 50 to 150 years. More at NRDC

HEAT

Q: What are the consequences of extreme heat?

A: Climate change is a pattern of change in average weather that’s happening over many years, such as warming temperatures. With climate change, extreme heat events are on the rise. More areas will likely be affected by extreme heat more often, more severely, and for longer periods of time. More at EPA

HURRICANES

WILDFIRES

Q: Is climate change responsible for the California wildfires?

A: California has battled four of its five largest fires since 2012, and scientists have concluded that climate change has increased the frequency of extreme weather and will continue to do so. Even after major periods of rain, uninterrupted high heat can produce arid conditions quickly, which leads to big fires. A 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that human-caused climate change is responsible for about half the additional drying that researchers have found since the 1970s, resulting in a doubling of the area forest fires have consumed since 1984. Climate change may also increase lightning strikes, which are a major source of wildfires, and generate the high winds that can drive big blazes. More at the Washington Post

Q: What effect do megafires have on carbon dioxide levels?

A: A megafire (defined by burning 25,000 sq acres–a bit smaller than Long Island) burned in Canada in 2014. In that case, it burned 7 million acres, scorching a region of boreal forest the size of Maryland. One result was that it released half as much carbon back into the atmosphere that all the plants, shrubs and trees in Canada typically store in an entire year. More at NASA

POPULATION

Q: How do climate and population affect one another?

A: Rapid population growth exacerbates vulnerability to the negative consequences of climate change, and exposes growing numbers of people to climate risk. Population growth is also one of the drivers of the growth of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. More at Population Action International

A: The world’s population doubled in the past 50 years and is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, (https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html) according to the United Nations. “Every single person on the planet should have the knowledge and ability to choose for themselves if and when they want to have children and how many, says Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity. More at MPR news

A: More people means more demand for oil, gas, coal and other fuels mined or drilled from below the Earth’s surface that, when burned, spew enough carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere to trap warm air inside like a greenhouse. According to the United Nations Population Fund, human population grew from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion people during the course of the 20th century. (Think about it: It took all of time for population to reach 1.6 billion; then it shot to 6.1 billion over just 100 years.) During that time emissions of CO2, the leading greenhouse gas, grew 12-fold. More at Scientific American

FEEDING MANY

Q: Can planet earth feed 10 billion people?

A: Farmers can’t plant much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable soil is already in use. Nor can the use of fertilizer be increased; it is already being overused everywhere except some parts of Africa, and the runoff is polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. Irrigation, too, cannot be greatly expanded—most land that can be irrigated already is. In so far as beef currently requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more GHG emissions per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans, perhaps we need to shift our crops for livestock feed to plant proteins.  More at WRI

POLITICS

Q: Why does it matter that the Trump administration is planning to make it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute the atmosphere with methane gas?

A: In an interview by Amy Goodman, Michael Mann says that methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Now, it exists in much lower concentrations, and it does not hang around for as long, but if we release enough methane into the atmosphere over the next decade or so, that could boost the warming that we see. At a time when the impacts of climate change are so obvious that not even the most fervent climate change denier can deny that they are there, we see efforts by the Trump administration to roll back the very policies—regulation of carbon emissions, in this case methane—that have the potential to stave off dangerous warming, that have the potential to help us meet our obligation to the Paris agreement so that we avoid catastrophic warming of the planet. More at Democracy Now

SECURITY

MIGRATION

EXTINCTION

HOW WILL THIS AFFECT ME?

Q: How will the changing climate affect us in the next few decades?

A: After more than 10,000 years of relative stability—the full span of human civilization—the Earth’s climate is changing. As average temperatures rise, climate science finds that acute hazards such as heat waves and floods grow in frequency and severity, and chronic hazards, such as drought and rising sea levels, intensify. Read this report from McKinsey to explore the nature and extent of physical risk from a changing climate over the next one to three decades, exploring physical risk as it is the basis of both transition and liability risks. More at McKinsey

Q: How long before my home goes underwater?

A: Increasingly, people are realizing the reality of sea level rise (SLR) but have no sense of how soon and how high. There are 4 issues to consider: Flood factors, your property’s vulnerability, understanding sea level rise, and the value of your property. More at John Englander