BY JIMO KOO
We are in a global warming crisis. But what does that mean to us? Why should we care about climate change? By listing the potential consequences of global warming, this article examines why it is potentially the biggest problem in our hands right now.
Art by Sophia Hidalgo
What causes global warming? Simply put, it is the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that consist of about 80% carbon dioxide and 16% methane. These gases in the atmosphere absorb or reflect the radiated heat bounced off the Earth's surface and retain the atmosphere's heat. These problematic gases have risen to absurd levels since the industrial revolution began. According to NOAA's Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), GHGs had increased to 45% above the 1990 baseline by 2019. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will gradually raise the global temperature of our Earth. So what will happen if the temperature keeps rising? Here are three major consequences of global warming.
1. Zoonotic Diseases
Photo courtesy of PREDICT/Mike Cranfield
The outbreak of zoonotic diseases will increase as climate change worsens. As global temperature rises, wild tropical species won't stand the heat and will migrate towards the colder regions. According to National Geographic, roughly half of all the species worldwide are on the move; terrestrial species are moving an average of 10 miles per decade, and marine species are moving four times faster. So why does this matter? There's a high possibility that the migrating species carry unknown diseases that have not yet been introduced to other species, including humans. Exposure to new species means exposure to new infections. Once these diseases are presented to the species that we frequently interact with, the possibility of newly introduced diseases to humans will skyrocket.
Additionally, global warming significantly alters the El Niño cycle, which influences the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and Rift Valley fever. Warmer weather creates new mosquito habitats and provides the perfect temperature for their activity. Recent researchers have found that mosquitoes will significantly expand their range, possibly threatening half of the world's population. We now all know how such diseases can impact our lives thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. We should lower the rate of possible future zoonotic diseases by working on climate change together.
2. Extreme Weather
We will suffer from more severe wildfires. Increased temperatures will dry out forests and soils, causing fires to spread faster and longer. The number of massive wildfires has doubled between 1984 and 2015. The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) suggests that wildfire seasons will be three weeks longer and twice as smoky by 2050. The recent Australian fire crisis shows how disastrous a wildfire can become. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Australian fire burnt more than 12 million acres of land, killing nearly 3 billion animals in Australia.
NASA scientists used tree rings to understand past droughts and climate models incorporating soil moisture data to estimate future drought risk in the 21st century.
Warmer climate and precipitation change can cause intense droughts in the future. The consequences of droughts include agricultural crises, higher food production costs, more wildfires, and biodiversity loss. Between 2000 and 2004, the U.S. had the worst drought in the past 800 years, causing a lasting effect on the American West's crops and forests. Dr. Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned that we could expect drought in 30% of the global land area by 2100. Since nearly 1.3 million people make a living off of agriculture, the agricultural crisis can be more problematic than we realize.
Floods will continue to cause billions of dollars in property and crop damages, and they will only get worse. Due to climate change, the northeastern part of the United States has witnessed an extreme rainfall rate, 53% higher since 1996. In 2019, flooding in Illinois and the Midwest caused approximately 6.2 billion dollars in damage. By 2050, floods may cost nearly 60 billion dollars to coastal cities around the world.
The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of our planet, and it is changing. According to NOAA, the global sea level rose about 6.1 millimeters from 2018 to 2019, and it is expected to increase at least 300 millimeters above 2000 levels by 2100. Coastal cities face a threat of sea-level rise, including most in Florida, which risk entirely going underwater. Global warming not only increases the sea level, but also acidifies the ocean. Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reacts with water (H2O) and makes carbonic acid (H2CO3), which decreases the pH of the ocean. Since 1850, the average pH of ocean surface water has fallen about 0.1 units, corresponding to a 26% increase in acidity. Acidification of the ocean leads to various problems such as coral reef extinction, a crisis of hard-shelled ocean species, and food deprivation. With this acidification rate, over 90% of coral reefs will become extinct by 2050, destroying hundreds of marine species' habitats.
The U.S. alone has had 279 weather and climate disasters since 1980, which cost over 1.825 trillion dollars. The estimated cost of zoonotic diseases over the last decade is over $200 billion, and Covid-19 has cost us $16 trillion so far. These consequences of climate change are not only inevitable; they are already happening. It is undeniable that global warming is potentially the biggest problem in our hands right now. We all should try to solve this crisis from every perspective. Climate Change is asking us to make real changes.