I’m not afraid of ghosts, zombies, or haunted houses. Those spooks haven’t scared me since I was a tween, but there is one thing I’m so afraid of it makes me want to hide under the bed; climate change.
Last month the United Nations IPCC published a terrifying report stating that we have just 12 years to limit the irreversible effects of climate change, something that can only be done by cutting carbon emissions drastically and immediately. In order to do so, we must vote, organize, and make active changes in our lives – and we all have to be in touch with the very real, long-term threats that climate change poses if we hope to escape the worst of it.
It’s time to stop hiding our heads in the sand and face our fears so we can save ourselves and our planet. Here are 8 facts about climate change that are a hundred times scarier than any living dead:
Greenhouse gas emissions and Earth’s temperature have increased at record speeds in the last decade.
Despite knowing about climate change and understanding the measures that we must take to minimize carbon emissions since the 1970’s, the global output of carbon dioxide continues to rise. Every year since 2014 has broken the previous year’s record as the hottest year ever. Check out this cool New York Times graphic that shows the stark contrast in temperature between the last 50 years and the 50 years before them.
If we cut greenhouse gas emissions now, the planet will warm by about .6°C anyway. If we don’t cut emissions now, average temperatures could rise up to 6°C.
The IPCC report stressed the importance of keeping warming temperatures below 1.5°C or 2°C at the most. Even at those levels, we will face significant hardships all around the globe. In order to keep warming below 1.5°C, we would need to emit half as much or less greenhouse gas this century than we have in the last two.
The number of worldwide climate-related disasters (hurricanes, floods, droughts, forest fires) each year has tripled since 1980, displacing over 200 million people in the last decade alone.
We’ve already seen the effects of climate change in the increasing frequency of catastrophic weather events. As heat waves intensify, storms and fires drive people out of their homes, and flooding compromises crops, we are going to see our resources for food, water, shelter, and medicine dwindle. Poverty will rise as will the number of refugees, putting further stress on governments and infrastructures around the world.
We are currently using 1.7 times the amount of Earth’s resources each year, and our consumption continues to go up.
Earth Overshoot Day tracks human’s usage of renewable resources like lumber, fish and game, and fossil-fuels (they are technically renewable...it just takes a really long time!) each year, finding that we are using those resources much more quickly than it takes for the planet to replenish them - and it’s been getting worse every year.
If the Earth warms up to 2°C, we could lose up to 10% of rangeland for livestock around the world, and more than 50% of our fisheries.
Global fisheries are already facing risks from ocean warming and acidification, and according to the IPCC report, that risk increases exponentially at just 1.5°C of warming. Land that is used for feeding livestock will be threatened as well, with areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America suffering the highest risk. Irregular weather patterns have already driven Guatemalan farmers into famine, and the more our planet warms, the worse conditions will get for small and large agricultural operations around the world.
47% of animal and plant species are already being negatively impacted by warming temperatures.
Overfishing, deforestation, and warmer weather have already put many different species at risk. Ocean acidification and rising global temperatures will continue to push animals out of their habitats and render specific biospheres extinct. Many animal and plant species will adapt, but many more will not be able to do so quickly enough, resulting in a significant loss of biodiversity and causing unknown effects on communities and ecosystems which rely on certain species’ existence.
Coral reefs will pretty much disappear by the time global warming hits 1.5°C.
Already we’ve seen warmer waters and unseasonal storms devastate two thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. More coral bleaching and loss of life is to come as ocean acidification rises, and marine ecosystems are expected to reach critical thresholds at just 1.5°C of warming. The ocean absorbs more warmth as the polar ice caps melt, all the while soaking in more than 30% of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Current levels of ocean acidification are already unprecedented in the last 65 million years.
If we continue with business as usual, sea levels could rise up to 200 feet by the end of this century.
According to the UN, the last time CO2 levels were this high (about 3 million years ago), sea levels were 20 feet higher than they are today. With every ton of CO2 emitted now, approximately 32 square feet of arctic ice is melted as a result, meaning that oceans will continue to rise and surpass those historic levels. With half of the world’s population living within 37 miles of the sea, and the majority of large cities being located on the coast, sea level rise poses a serious problem.