10 Thought-provoking Facts About Climate Change

Climate Change Facts

Turn on the news, and we see that numerous cities are flooding due to extreme rainfall, countries fighting against wildfires, and people being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. Climate change is a reality of the present and is happening as we speak of it. 

Here are ten thought-provoking facts that might give us an idea of what changes have been brought about by climate change. And, most importantly, what does the future on Earth look like?

1. Accelerating Carbon Dioxide Levels in the 21st Century

Carbon dioxide levels on Earth have never been this high in the last 800,000 years. The carbon dioxide levels went up by 11% until 1950. However, recently the concentration of carbon dioxide has gone up by a staggering 40% since the industrial revolution. 

global distribution of mid-tropospheric CO2 in ppm
Global distribution and variation of the concentration of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) (source)

According to the reports made public by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is hoarding in the atmosphere at an accelerated rate. These data brought about a situation of fear among the environmentalists that climate change might be sliding away from human control.

Scientists have concluded that our planet is losing its capacity to absorb tons of carbon dioxide each year due to human activities. Forests and oceans have not been able to absorb even half the amount of carbon dioxide. As a result, the emissions are bound to say in the atmosphere until human activities are controlled.

A study confirmed that the recent increase in carbon dioxide emissions came down to three significant causes: extensive coal usage in China, growth in the world economy, and wearying of natural “CO2 sinks” such as forests, oceans, and soil.

2. The Hottest Year since 1880

Each year of the 21st Century has been ranked as one of the 14 hottest years since 1880. Furthermore, by 2100, it has been projected that the average temperature will go up by 5.8 degrees Celsius due to global warming. And, heat-related deaths have been estimated to go up by 150,000 between the year 2000 to 2100.

Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index
Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index (Source)

The extensive heat and climate change are warming up the Earth’s colder regions, rendering threats posed by the thawing of historic microorganisms. Heat-trapping gases have contributed to this alarming increase in the Earth’s temperature, causing a greenhouse effect.

Scientists assert that global warming and climate change are the significant peril of the 21st Century. If not controlled, this trend will cause a massive loss of life and biodiversity in the years to follow.

3. Coastal Blue Carbon is endangered, and so are we

The coastal ecosystem comprises seagrasses, tidal marshes, and mangroves that absorb the carbon dioxide from the environment and store it in sediments and plants, thus forming blue carbon. If these carbon-rich ecosystems are destroyed, imagine the amount of carbon dioxide likely to be dumped into the atmosphere.

Coastal ecosystems are the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. Every year an estimated 340,000 to 980,000 hectares are being destroyed. Round 30% to 50% of the mangroves have been lost over the last 50 years. And the trend continues at the rate of a 2% loss each year.

Unmanaged coastal development and human activities that depletes marine water quality has resulted in the loss of coastal ecosystems. It has been estimated that the degradation of these coastal blue carbon could release as much as 10% of the total emissions from global deforestation.

4. 800 million people at risk

At present, about 11% of the world’s population is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Floods, landslides, drought, heatwaves, excessive rainfall, and other drastic weather events continue to take the lives of millions of people every year.

Climate change has been contributing towards environmental and social determinants of health such as availability of food, clean drinking water, pure air, and so on. Hence, the overall health effects of climate change are devastating.

Extreme heat continues to take the lives of many people around the globe. In the summer of 2003, about 70,000 deaths were recorded in relevance to high temperatures in Europe. If the current trend continues, climate change is expected to take the lives of approximately 250,000 people every year between the years 2030 to 2050. Malaria, heat, malnutrition, and diarrhea would be the four leading causes of such high death rates.

Children and older people, especially in developing countries, are considered more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with life-long health consequences.

5. Countries continue to go deep in the ocean bed.

Climate change is expected to redraw the world map, and many countries will cease to exist. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are expected to be the primary bearer of the consequences of climate change with the threat of disappearance.

It is calculated that with 3 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise, 275 million people around the globe will be flooded. And, about 70% of the affected people will come from eight countries in Asia.

Nine countries expected to disappear due to climate change are Kiribati, Maldives, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Fiji Islands, and the Marshall Islands. The disappearance of these countries isn’t a mere prediction, as it has already begun. Many parts of these countries have their lands swallowed up by the sea.

Global mean sea level trends 1919-2019.
Global mean sea level trends 1919-2019. (source)

Some other cities that will sink and disappear by 2100 are Jakarta (Indonesia), Lagos (Nigeria), Houston (Texas), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Venice (Italy), Virginia Beach (Virginia), Bangkok (Thailand), New Orleans (Louisianan), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Alexandria (Egypt) and Miami (Florida).

The sea levels in Miami are rising at an accelerated rate in comparison to others resulting in floods and damage to the environment. With the increasing climate change, it might be impossible for these cities to stay above water in a few decades.

6. Deforestation has caused 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions

According to the United Nations (FAO) data, deforestation causes approximately 25% of carbon dioxide emission, equal to the same amount of carbon dioxide production by the United States of America. Additionally, around 120,000 square kilometers of tropical forest disappeared in 2018.

Global Forest Expansion and Deforestation 1990–2020 (Million Hectares per year)
Global Forest Expansion and Deforestation 1990–2020 (Million Hectares per year) (source – FAO)

If you wonder why deforestation and climate change are related on such a significant scale, here is a simple equation; Trees are 20% carbon; they act as a “carbon sink” by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it. The total carbon stored in forest biomass is around one trillion tonnes, which is 50% more than the amount of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere at present.

Imagine how much carbon dioxide is released in thin air when we clear the forest lands for human settlements. Deforestation and destruction of tropical forests in Africa, Asia, and South America release approximately two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

7. Air Pollution posing a critical health risk across the globe

Quality of air can impact climate change, and likewise, climate change affects air quality. The global warming associated with climate change has the potential to intensify ground-level ozone in some locations, which can serve as a severe threat.

Pollution brought about by climate change, and global warming is more severe than we can imagine. The air pollutants spread rapidly across the Earth and trap heat. And, this heat remains in the Earth’s atmosphere for around 50 to 200 years.

Air pollution is the fourth prominent and most extensive threat to human health. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), more than nine out of ten people live in places where air pollution exceeds the safety limits. And there were over six million deaths worldwide in 2012 from air-pollution-related diseases, about 11.6% of the global death.

WHO reports that around 94% of the deaths occur in underdeveloped or developing countries such as parts of Eastern Europe, India, China, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa.

8. The holes in Earth’s ozone layer 

Excessive chemical compounds containing gaseous chlorine and bromine from industries and regular human activities have vastly depleted the ozone layer, especially over Antarctica. The hole over Antarctica is over 29 million square kilometers, which is larger than Canada and Russia combined.

Global warming due to the excessive release of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HFC) has increased the ratio at which the ozone layer is depleting. The ozone layer is estimated to bounce back to its thickness as it was in 1980 only after the next 55 years.

Scientists have informed that we will have an additional 300,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year across the globe. Furthermore, a sustained 10% ozone layer degradation will cause cataracts in about two million people globally per year.

9. Mass extinction: Over 1 million species are extinct 

We have been very well warned that about one-third of plants and animal species could face mass extinction by the year 2070 as an outcome of climate change. And, more than 11,000 scientists worldwide have declared “climate emergency.”

According to the United Nations, around one million species are at the risk of disappearing from the planet due to human activities. Furthermore, it has been reported that a mass extension is already on its way, all thanks to human-induced climate change!

Numerous studies informed that animals tend to migrate to colder lands to escape global warming. However, it was found that the species might not cope with all the changes in the environment and increased population density resulting in extinction.

Only as much as a one-degree rise in temperature can cause severe and unexpected outcomes to plants and animals, impacting their population, behavior, survival, and genetic structure. In the United States, a great majority of birds, as much as two-thirds, are under constant threats of extinction.

10. Bleaching and disappearance of the coral reef ecosystem

As reported by UNESCO, 29 coral reef World Heritage sites will disappear by the end of the 21st Century if the emissions are kept unchecked.

Climate change serves as the greatest threat to the coral reef ecosystem. Today, mass coral bleaching is becoming more and more frequent with the increasing temperatures. As much as only two degrees of rise in water temperature can cause corals to remove all the algae.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, about 75% of the world’s tropical coral reefs experienced heat-stress enough to trigger bleaching. In due process, we lost 30% of the corals. Additionally, ocean acidification has begun to reduce the calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated creatures.  

Thousands of marine creatures depend upon the coral reef ecosystem for food and survival. Once the coral reef starts disappearing, it is only a matter of time before the sea creatures start disappearing at an unstoppable rate.

Coral reefs shelter the largest biodiversity compared to any other ecosystem. Not to forget, they directly support about five hundred million people across the globe. Additionally, they protect human lives by acting as a natural barrier that absorbs the strong ocean waves and storm surges. They keep the coastal areas safe from natural disasters.

In the absence of coral reefs, we might have to build up walls to protect our coastal areas.

Conclusion

The facts and figures don’t end there. Plants are flowering earlier, glacier sheets are melting, harvest is diminishing, humidity is increasing in the atmosphere, lives are lost, and the list goes on. There have been numerous implications that in about only 80 years from now, the Earth might not look the same way it does today.

The footprint of humanity is all over climate change and is not stopping anytime soon. Humans and other innocent life forms on Earth will have to pay for climate change one way or another.

Unless we control our actions and minimize the foreseeable outcomes, doomsday might not be so far. We are running out of time.