Climate Change Impacts Are Real And Growing
The Earth’s climate is changing, and human activity is the main cause. 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming trends are clear and “extremely likely” due to human activities, most prominently the rising emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a powerful greenhouse gas that blocks heat from escaping into the atmosphere, and the dramatic increase of our use of carbonaceous fossil fuels like coal and oil since the 19th century has increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from 280 to over 400 parts per million (ppm) – enough to shape the climate of the entire planet.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming is already likely resulting in measurable impacts, including increasingly frequent heat waves and other extreme temperature events, increased incidence of flooding and heavy precipitation events, and rising sea levels. Concrete examples of these impacts are making the news on a frighteningly regular basis. For example, in April 2016 alone:
- Danish scientists reported that Greenland’s ice sheet was melting far earlier than any year on record – so early, in fact, that “we had to check that our models were still working properly.” This trend threatens to greatly accelerate rising sea levels.
- The United Nations estimated that 60 million people in Africa, Latin America, and the Asian-Pacific region face severe impacts including droughts, famine, and outbreaks of disease stemming from the 2015-2016 El Niño weather event, one of the worst on record.
- Australian scientists announced that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is suffering from coral bleaching due to warming oceans that could result in much of the reef dying off – a potential catastrophe for biodiversity and marine ecosystems around the world.
If global warming continues unabated, these impacts will grow far worse, as interactions between elements of the climate system could result in what the IPCC calls “severe, pervasive, and in some cases irreversible” damage. These risks include mass starvation as food production is undermined around the world, the loss of entire coastal cities and island nations to rising sea levels, and widespread extinctions of countless plant and animal species. It’s a terrifying future that nobody wants – but one that is inexorably approaching unless we change our existing course.
Renewable Energy and Climate Change Mitigation
To prevent catastrophic climate change and preserve our planet for future generations, we need to dramatically and rapidly reduce CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, gas, and oil. While there are a range of options that can contribute to this goal – including greater energy efficiency, switching from higher to lower carbon fuels, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies – the most important and wide-ranging solution is the replacement of fossil fuels with zero-carbon renewable energy.
The IPCC released an extensive special report in 2012 examining the role that renewables can play in climate change mitigation scenarios, titled “Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.” Under the scenarios explored in this report, stabilizing global atmospheric concentrations below 440 ppm required a median increase in renewable energy use of 248 exajoules (EJ) per year by 2050, and potentially as much as 428 EJ. For a sense of scale, in 2008 the world produced 64 EJ of renewable energy, including 30 EJ from traditional biomass, for a total of 12.9% of global primary energy supply – so we’ve got a long way to go!
Is increasing our use of renewable energy by a factor of six or seven in the coming decades a huge task? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely – especially given the kinds of skyrocketing growth we’ve seen in wind and solar power over the past few years! But if we’re going to save the climate and preserve our planet for future generations, we’ll need everyone to pitch in.
Doing Your Part With Mosaic
Empowering everyday people to join in the fight against climate change has been a core part of Mosaic’s mission from day one – click here to get a free quote and see how easy it can be to do your part to preserve our planet for future generations.