Climate change is real and it’s already impacting humans.
Mike Berardino, IndyStar
Climate change is real and increasingly a part of our daily lives. New research and studies out in just the past six months highlight the latest facts about the human-caused shift to our global weather systems and its effects on our planet.
First among them, there’s no longer any question that rising temperatures and increasingly chaotic weather are the work of humanity. There’s a 99.9999% chance that humans are the cause of global warming, a February study reported. That means we’ve reached the “gold standard” for certainty, a statistical measure typically used in particle physics.
The mechanism is well understood, and has been for decades. Humans burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, which release carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. CO2 is the greenhouse gas that’s most responsible for warming.
Study lead author Benjamin Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, told Reuters that “the narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong.”
Hottest on record
The past five years have been the five warmest since recordkeeping began in the late 1800s. The Earth has experienced 42 straight years (since 1977) with an above-average global temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Based on five separate data sets that keep track of the Earth’s climate, the global average temperature for the first 10 months of 2018 was about 1.8 degrees above what it was in the late 1800s. That was when industry started to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Australia experienced all-time record summer heat in January of this year. The town of Port Augusta reached the hottest day since record-keeping began in 1962 with a temperature of 121, according to the Guardian.
The heat was so intense it caused bats to fall from trees, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Carbon dioxide up 46%
Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases being released into the atmosphere by industry, transportation and energy production from burning fossil fuels are enhancing what’s known as the planet’s natural greenhouse effect.
Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent among all greenhouse gases produced by human activities, attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.
The atmospheric carbon dioxide level for March was 411.97 parts per million and continue to rise. It has now reached levels in the atmosphere not seen in 3 million years.
That’s an increase of 46% from just before the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, when CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million. Levels began to rise when humans began to burn large amounts of fossil fuels to run factories and heat homes, releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Scientists say to keep a livable planet, we need to cut the level to 350 parts per million.
A consequence of higher temperatures is the melting of the polar ice caps, which is causing sea levels to rise. The world’s oceans have risen about an inch in the past 50 years due to melting glaciers alone, a study published this month in the journal Nature found.
Global warming has caused over 3 trillion tons of ice to melt from Antarctica in the past quarter-century and tripled ice loss there in the past decade, another study, released in June, said.
Killing Americans, costing billions
Extreme weather events exacerbated in part by climate change killed almost 250 Americans and cost the nation at least $91 billion in 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Unusual warmth in the U.S. West in 2018 contributed to a disastrous wildfire season that killed dozens of people. In monetary terms, western states endured their costliest wildfire season on record: $24 billion in damage.
Hurricanes Michael, resulting in $25 billion damages, and Florence, with $24 billion in costs, were the other two big weather disasters in 2018.
New York City with Arkansas’ weather
If the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t lowered, temperatures will continue to increase. A study released in February mapped just how different the climate in U.S. cities will be in 60 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue.
The Nature study found that on average, the future climate will resemble the one experienced by an area 528 miles to the south today.
That means that by 2080, New York City could have the climate of Arkansas. Minneapolis could be more like Kansas and San Francisco could have weather closer to Los Angeles than its current foggy climate. Other cities further south could experience climates with no modern equivalent in North America.
“The children alive today, like my daughter who is 12, they’re going to see a dramatic transformation of climate. It’s already underway,” said study lead author Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.
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