Yes, we know. A fraction of the potential readers that encountered the headline above while browsing were probably too busy to read this article. For others, the perspective of a catastrophic future is just too much. ‘There is enough drama in life already’, you know. And yet that won’t make climate change go away. In case you are one of the brave people who ventured this far, here are four essential take-home messages on climate change:
1. Global warming must stay under 1.5 °C!
Technically, there is no ‘safe’ limit for global temperature increase. Human civilization has developed and flourished during a rather stable period in Earth’s climate history. However, at some point we also discovered that we really enjoy activities that emit heat trapping gasses into the atmosphere and have turned our planet’s thermostat up. Scientists have studied the impacts of different levels of global warming and their conclusion can be summed up as follows: global temperature increase higher than 1.5 °C will have catastrophic consequences.
For example, according to Carbon Brief, 2 °C vs. 1.5 °C warming changes the warm spell duration in Sahara from 26 to 49 days, increases the population exposed to water scarcity in East Africa from 6 to 22 million people, quadruples the number of severe heat waves in India, changes the average drought length in western Asia from 4 to 9 months, doubles the annual warm spell duration in China to 30 days, etc.
But most importantly, an increase in our planet’s global temperature above 1.5 °C risks making some regions in the tropics uninhabitable. This is due to a dangerous effect that high temperatures in combination with high humidity have on the human body (and its ability to cool down). Bearing in mind that many regions in the tropics are also quite densely populated, we can only begin to imagine the kind of havoc this would cause.
2. There are many ways climate change can impact our health and life expectancy
Wherever you live, climate change will find a way to impact your life and health. Increased occurrence and duration of heat waves expected in the future will affect not only one's thermal comfort but also lead to heat strokes and increased mortality. Similarly, an increase in waterborne diseases after heavy rainfall or flooding, an increase in vector-borne diseases (think mosquitoes!) due to a prolonged warm season and extended geographic spread of warm-weather vectors, an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular issues due to poor air quality caused by wildfires, ground level ozone or dust storms will all have an effect on one’s health and life expectancy.
Suffer from allergies? Be prepared for more allergens due to higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons.
Finally, climate change will impact water availability. For example, the Mediterranean region is projected to become much drier, many coastal regions will suffer a decrease in water quality due to sea level rise and intrusion of saline water into coastal aquifers. This will in turn affect food production and have impacts on nutrition and food security.
3. Where are we now with our current policies?
Not close enough. According to Climate Action, current policies and actions are estimated to be taking us to +2.7 °C global warming (median value) by 2100. Greta Thunberg was completely right to be angry.
And also we are already very close to the 1.5 °C target: the global mean temperature in 2021 was estimated to have been 1.21°C above the pre-industrial average (1850-1900).
Source: Climate Action Tracker
4. Solutions? SMART CITIZENS and RENEWABLES!
Yes, you can choose a more plant based diet, fly less often, use public transport, stop buying the latest technology and just take a walk in nature. Any of these actions will benefit your as well as our planet’s health. At the end of the day, it is crucial that you understand which aspects of your life create the most carbon emissions and change your ways.
But you will also need help from all levels of governing bodies in your country, city and municipality. If the majority of the energy you consume does not come from renewable sources and you don't have an option to switch to more renewable ways then this is actually a political problem. For example, if you live in a country with many sunny days but do not see solar panels anywhere around you, then this is a failure of your elected officials to implement timely measures. You should demand action and explanation from the responsible governing bodies (and choose wisely in the future).
The most recent IPCC report has it all nicely ‘summed up’ in its factsheets or Mitigation of Climate Change summary report for policymakers.
Now, if you made it this far, please, share this post. All of us need to take urgent action!