The effects could be enormous. Relative to the hectic pace of your daily life, global warming is a slow-moving problem. But that does not mean you should “wait and see” what happens. If we wait, we may be creating an unsolvable problem, an unstoppable climatic shift that could have devastating impacts in years to come.
The majority of effects will be devastating to human and animal populations. An insecure food supply, increased frequency and intensity of storms, and rapidly rising sea levels are just a handful of the possible effects you will see in coming years. But it isn’t too late. You can even take action right now to help stop global warming!
Destroying Earth As You Know It
The effects could be far greater than you imagine. Global warming does not occur evenly across the world. Temperature changes have been, and will be, much more extreme in the Arctic and Antarctic. A 5 degree Fahrenheit warming for the whole world means only 1 degree at the equator, but 12 degrees at the poles. Global temperatures have already risen about .8 degrees Celsius, or 1.4 degree Fahrenheit.
The arctic tundra is melting already, which may be causing an increase in methane levels in the atmosphere. A mysterious spike in atmospheric methane was measured in 2007. In addition, the rate of carbon increase in the atmosphere is accelerating each year, which may also be related to the thawing of arctic areas. You may be contributing to a positive feedback loop whereby the warming of polar regions puts more carbon and methane into the atmosphere, thus causing yet more warming in an unstoppable cycle.
Dangerous Weather Patterns
Increased storm activity and intensity is caused by global warming. Did you know in the last several years, even insurance companies have faced regular, increasing costs from these types of storms? Sadly, you are likely to see the ravages of global warming induced weather on the economy become yet more severe in the future.
Severe drought and flooding will occur as weather pattern become more extreme. Unfortunately, the world’s economic and agricultural systems rely on existing patterns of weather, and as global warming changes these patterns, our ability to produce food is declining.
The overall trend is clear, regardless of knowing if any particular weather change was “caused” by global warming. Increased overall average temperatures cause more extreme weather, more devastating storms, and more severe and prolonged droughts and floods. These changes impact ecosystems and the human economy.
Unstable Agriculture and Economy
The price you pay for food is getting higher already as a result of global warming effects on agriculture. What’s worse is that this is leaving many of the world’s hungry in a desperate situation, unable to afford adequate food. In the future, it could make it so hard for humans to grow enough food that even wealthy people experience food scarcity.
We depend on a predictable climate to keep our agricultural markets and our economy as a whole stable. Climate change makes our markets unstable, less efficient, and thus more expensive. Prices are increasing for a number of reasons, a few of which are not related to global warming, but global warming induced heat waves have already been shown to reduce grain harvests in India, Canada, and the U.S. significantly.
Drought conditions have doubled since 1970. Many plants become less productive or will not pollinate when it gets too hot. For all of these reasons, we should be concerned about the impacts of climate change on agriculture and food scarcity.
Effects on Animals
The danger to animals is severe as well. As sea levels rise and lowland coastal areas are flooded, many animal species will be harmed. Coastal areas serve as natural hatcheries for fish and are home to a greater diversity of land and sea creatures than any other ecosystem. The flooding of coastal estuaries by rising sea levels would have dramatic effects on animals across the world.
Countless species will be wiped out if global warming continues unchecked. It could play a major role in the extinction of many species that are crucial to stabilizing the food chain that you and I (and countless other animals) depend on for our food. It will surely mean an end to the polar bear, which depends on sea ice for hunting.
A Hostile Planet
For Your Children
A 20-foot sea level rise is likely if either the Greenland Ice Shelf or the East Antarctic Ice Shelf were to melt and slip into the sea. You may think a 20-foot rise in sea level is unlikely, but even a relatively small rise in sea levels could have an enormous impact on people around the world. For example, in Bangladesh, 15 million people live within 1 meter of sea level and in India, the number of people at a similar elevation is 8 million.
The changes have been extreme, developing far faster than anyone foresaw, despite the fact that scientists have been predicting that significant rises in sea level could only happen decades or centuries in the future. In the summer of 2007, the ice in the Arctic receded further than any of the climate models had predicted.
This is significant, because as white arctic ice is replaced by dark water (or land, in the case of tundra), our planet absorbs more heat. The reason for this is ice reflects more light and heat than do water and land, something scientists refer to as the “albedo effect.” The albedo effect of ice is believed to have had a major impact on Earth’s climate over the eons and the loss of albedo could accelerate the warming of the Earth significantly. All of this means an ever more dangerous future for your kids.
It could even affect santa!
The Full Effects on Humans
If the current trend continues and warming at the poles triggers a positive feedback loop whereby more carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere, then the 20-foot sea level rise could come much sooner than was previously predicted. Such a change would inundate many of the world’s largest cities and much of the world’s most productive farmland.
The consequences could be devastating. In addition, much more dramatic sea level rises in the future are possible. If global warming catalyzes further warming and melts all of the ice in the arctic regions and at high altitudes, sea levels will rise by 230-260 feet.
Earth could be drastically altered. The Earth might even come to resemble the steamy planet that was ruled by the dinosaurs! The harm to human populations and civilization would be incalculable.
But you can help. As an individual you have more power than you can imagine to help solve this problem. Do you know how?
Brown, Lester, Plan B 2.0; Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Norton, NY NY, 2006, p.59; Brown, Paul, and Leipold, Gerd Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change, Readerrrrrrrrr’s Digest, Pleasantville NY, 2007, p.153; Pearce, Fred, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007, p.40
Author: Brown, Nathan. A Cooler Climate, 2008.