We’ve all heard about the concept of climate change–the earth is getting warmer as greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere, glaciers are melting, turtles are dying, etc. But as we hear these things again and again, it’s easy to block them out and tell ourselves that we don’t really need to be doing anything, that global warming really isn’t that bad, and that we can just go on with our lives as normal. After all, we still have drinking water, an adequate amount of food, and a warm bed to sleep in at night.
However, there’s more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any point in time in the last 800,000 years. The forecasts that scientists have made for the next century are incredibly dire.
Human activity such as deforestation and fossil fuel burning have caused an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the most immediate effect of this is the rise in global temperature. Since the 19th century, the earth’s temperature has risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this may not seem like a lot, the effects that it has had on the planet have been far from small. In addition, scientists predict that temperatures are likely to rise by 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming century.
As a result of the increase in temperature, the oceans have become warmer, causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt, which then add to the water in the sea. Scientists have estimated that over 4,000 gigatons (equivalent to four billion metric tons) of ice sheets have melted into the ocean, causing weather patterns to change and extreme weather events to occur. Additionally, the sea levels have risen nearly 7 inches in the past century due to melting ice. Scientists believe that this could have massive effects in various places; Venice, for example, is expected to be completely underwater in the next fifty years. But it’s not just the increase in sea water that is causing problems, but the decrease in glacier ice. Normally, the melting glaciers in the northern hemisphere provide a steady stream of freshwater to surrounding ecosystems every summer, and every winter, snowfall replenishes those glaciers. In recent years, however, glaciers have been melting faster than snowfall can replace them. When they’re gone, the animals and plants living in those ecosystems won’t have a steady stream of freshwater.
Extreme events are also increasing in ferocity as a result of climate change. Tropical storms, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, extreme heat, and drought have also grown in frequency and intensity over the years, and this trend is predicted to continue in the coming years. All of these not only have a profound effect on the ecosystems and wildlife on earth, but on humans too—not only because the world will be harder to live in, but because we’re connected in ways that we can’t even imagine to many of the plants and animals that live on earth.
The bottom line is that, as this way of life continues, the costs of climate change will become costlier and harder to control. Perhaps we are living comfortably now–but what about in fifty years, and what about the next generation? The effects of climate change will continue to worsen unless we make significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take care of the planet we were given.