Part 1 of this series addressed how global warming is affecting us now, but what if we do not reduce our contribution to global warming? What can happen in the future? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated, “In most parts of the world and most segments of populations, lifestyles are likely to change as a result of climate change.” Let’s look at some of the predicted effects of global climate change, including changes in sea level, precipitation patterns, wildlife, ecosystems, agriculture and human health.
By 2100, the IPCC’s February 2007 report projected that sea levels could rise between 7 and 23 inches (18 to 59 centimeters). If it rises a mere 4 inches (10 centimeters) it could submerge many South Seas islands and flood huge parts of Southeast Asia. The Maldives, a chain of 1200 Islands in the South Pacific, is only 1m (39 inches) above sea level with its highest point only 2m above sea level. The entire chain could be wiped out during a severe storm because as sea levels rise, the storm surge rises as well. The country of Maldives has sent a representative to the UN to highlight the danger to his nation and convince them that the world now needs to start working to stop global warming before it’s too late.
This rise in sea level will also affect coastal cities, especially those in Louisiana and Florida in the US. In fact much of the world’s population lives in vulnerable cities with one hundred million people living on the coast at an average of 3 feet (1 meter) at sea level. Other countries at risk are Egypt, Vietnam, Mozambique and Bangladesh. A rising sea level could cause Bangladesh to lose as much as 18% of its land.
Another report by the IPCC released in April 2007 warned that global warming could lead to food and water shortages all over the world. In the spring and summer seasons, melting of glaciers and snowcaps is part of nature’s processes and many farming areas are dependent on this springtime runoff for fresh water. It also is what replenishes the rivers and streams. Glaciers all around the world, however, are retreating which can create water shortages. The World Wildlife Federation reported, “…that under the future influence of climate change, rivers in the Himalayas, where glaciers are retreating at 10 to 15 meters per year, could be changed into seasonal streams as the area warms. This effect would give rise to freshwater scarcity in the summer months when melt waters contribute the about three quarters of the volume of water in Himalayan rivers. The group found that in the Ganga River alone, the loss of glacier melt water would reduce river flows from July to September by two thirds, causing water shortage for 500m people and 37 per cent of India’s irrigated land. But effects like this are probably still several decades away.”
With climate change there are also changes in precipitation patterns that also can affect the availability and quality of fresh water. There could be an increase of risks of floods for tens of millions of people due to increased heavy rains. In water-scarce regions the rise in temperature could make water availability even less, this especially might happen in the subtropics and even in the US Midwest.
The frequency of stronger storms developing over the warmer waters may also increase. Fueled by warmer ocean temperatures, super powerful hurricanes may become the norm and not the rarity. According to Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2002, “Other projected changes due to climate extremes are droughts, avalanches, heat waves, and windstorms could have major consequences, as the frequency and severity of these events are expected to increase.”
If water is affected in such huge ways then so will the growing of food, which could lead to food shortages. The world already has a hard time growing enough food for everyone sustainable, but with global warming continuing this will cause even more problems.
A predicted reduction of crop yield was caused by temperature increases which could lead to widespread food shortages. The growth of deserts may also cause food shortages in many places. Rising sea levels could cause “saline water intrusion into groundwater aquifers near the coasts and will decrease the available groundwater resources” one report stated, which affects the farmer’s ability to grow crops and will spoil some of the richest land. According to the IPCC “by 2080, between 200 million and 600 million [additional] people could be hungry because of global warming’s effects.”
Global warming will also have catastrophic effects on wildlife. More than a million species face extinction because of disappearing habitat and changing ecosystems. As species are forced to move to better climates and conditions, diseases can spread to new geographic areas. More people will be exposed to Malaria, Dengue Fever, Encephalitis and other diseases (as well as heat related deaths) because as temperatures rises, disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents spread. Recent U.S. outbreaks of dengue fever, malaria, Hantavirus and other diseases have been linked directly to climate change, according to doctors at the Harvard Medical School. Also the IPCC predicts that death rates for the world’s poor from global warming-related illnesses such as malnutrition and diarrhea will rise by 2030.
Many, but not all of these effects can be prevented, so can we as a world stop this? “If within a generation the world slows down its emissions of carbon dioxide and if the level of greenhouse gases sticking around in the atmosphere stabilizes. If that’s the case, most major impacts on human welfare would be avoided; but some major impacts on ecosystems are likely to occur,” according to the IPCC.
Scientists have 2 basic ways to attempt to rectify this problem One is called mitigation, in which we to find ways to moderate or postpone global climate change, which will buy us time to find other more permanent solutions. The other way is adaptation, which assumes that global warming is going to happen no matter what so we need to develop strategies to adapt.
If mitigation is the way to go then we must develop alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind, solar, tidal, nuclear, and geothermal energy. Energy conservation techniques are also a big way to address the problem and by increasing the energy efficiency of cars and appliances, this could go a long way to help at a small cost. Another approach could be that a carbon tax be levied against users of the fossil fuels based on according to one study, “the proportion of carbon dioxide emissions produced per unit of heat released when the fuel is burned.” Using that formula, coal would have the highest tax because it is filled with CO2.
Planting trees and reducing forest cutting can remove carbon dioxide from the air because trees use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. It is estimated that trees could remove 10-15% of excess CO2 from the atmosphere.
There are also some new technologies being developed, one of which is carbon management, which is a way to capture or convert CO2, but this is very new technology. There is a technical innovation that is being developed whereby the carbon being emitted from smoke stacks could be trapped. Governments are also developing new technologies and offering incentives for companies to come up with ways to capture and get rid of the CO2 in the atmosphere.
Adaptation is still being studied and is still very much in the development stages but plans include helping those affected by rising sea levels move inland, or to construct dikes and levees to protect the coastal land. Also changing what we grow where, a process called agro climatic compensation is another adaptation that may be necessary. Many countries are trying to determine which crops will grow best in their region as the climate warms and drought-resistant trees have been developed and are being planted now to be full grown by the last half of the 21st century!
What can we do ourselves? Each of us in our daily lives contribute to global warming and to the amount of CO2 being released. (To see how much you contribute see the carbon calculator: Carbon Calculator.)
Here are just simple suggestions that can make a difference if we all do them now and in the future. According to stopglobalwarming.com:
a) Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: Save 300 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $60 per year.
b) Run your dishwasher only with a full load: Save 100 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $40 per year.
c) Make sure your printer paper is 100% post consumer recycled paper. Save 5 lbs. of carbon dioxide per ream of paper.
d) Move your heater thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in the summer. Save 2000 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $98 per year.
e) Plant a Tree: Trees suck up carbon dioxide and make clean air for us to breathe. Save 2,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide per year.
f) Take Shorter Showers: Showers account for 2/3 of all water heating costs. Save 350 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $99 per year. (See the full list at www.stopglobalwarming.com)
So in summary according to the Pew Center on Global Climate change, “Addressing climate change is no simple task. To protect ourselves, our economy, and our land from the adverse effects of climate change, we must ultimately dramatically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. To achieve this goal we must fundamentally transform the way we power our global economy, shifting away from a century’s legacy of unrestrained fossil fuel use and its associated emissions in pursuit of more efficient and renewable sources of energy. Such a transformation will require society to engage in a concerted effort, over the near and long-term, to seek out opportunities and design actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Meeting the challenge of global warming will require sustained effort over decades – on the part of governments, who must establish the rules and modify them as we learn more of the science, and as technological solutions begin to manifest themselves; on the part of industry, who must innovate, manufacture, and operate under a new paradigm where climate change will drive many decisions; and on the part of the public, who must also switch to a more climate-friendly path in their purchases and lifestyles.”
I hope I have given you something to think about because not only does global warming affect us now, it will affect our children’s children in the future. It is my hope that the world will come together and tackle this problem now so that we can preserve and save beautiful mother earth and its people.