People often warn about what climate change will mean for our future, but it is no longer about our future. The impacts are being felt now.
Take, for example, Newtok, an Eskimo village in western Alaska. Climate-linked erosion is causing the village to flood as permafrost melts and sea levels rise. A study by the Army Corps of Engineers found that the highest point in the village will be below water level by 2017. Residents are already making plans to move and have been dubbed “America’s first climate refugees.”
The evidence is not just anecdotal. A study from the University of Adelaide shows rainfall extremes are already increasing around the world and that rainfall intensity will increase by between 5.9% and 7.7% for each degree of warming.
The USA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shown that over the last six decades, the increase in heat and humidity has cut the amount of work that people can do in the worst heat by 10%. If one takes the more extreme 6 degrees Celsius warming projection, it would become impossible to work during the hottest months in many parts of the world. Heat stress in New York would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, while in Bahrain the heat and humidity could cause hyperthermia.
Winning Minds Still A Battle
A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last October showed that while the majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, only 42% believe that human activity is the main driver. This is vastly at odds with academia. A survey of more than 4,000 academic papers published over 20 years showed that over 97% agreed that climate change is anthropogenic. Copenhagen climate change talks in 2009 resulted in a pledge to limit global warming to 2 C, but time is running out to achieve this. Indeed, Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, recently declared that technical progress at addressing climate change has come faster than anticipated, but the lack of global political will has become the biggest hurdle.
How Big Is the Challenge?
The effects of a 2 C rise in temperature from 2009 levels are considered broadly manageable. However, a rise of 4 C or more will be overwhelming. In order to stop any further rises in the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we would have to reduce our burning of fossil fuel in the region of 60% immediately. Even if this were possible, it would be an economic disaster.