Editor’s Note: To mark the culmination of the 2018 Season of Creation we offer our readers the following photographic essay which first appeared in 2016. However, given what we have undergone in 2018 – a very damp Spring with fodder shortages; and a very long Indian Summer that, literally, scorched the Irish landscape – it is timely to recall the growing impact of Global Warming.
This essay is thought provoking and we encourage you to click on the source links provided.
Slide 1: © AP Matt York
At this point, you’re probably fully aware of how hot it is. But in case you’re unaware: It’s really, really hot.
In fact, it’s likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, increasing 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial averages.
That brings us dangerously close to the 2.7-degree-Fahrenheit (1.5-degree-Celsius) limit set by international policymakers for global warming.
“There’s no stopping global warming,” Gavin Schmidt, climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, told Business Insider. “Everything that’s happened so far is baked into the system.”
That means even if carbon emissions dropped to zero tomorrow, we’d still be watching human-driven climate change play out for centuries. And, as we all know, emissions aren’t going to stop tomorrow. So the key thing now, Schmidt said, is slowing climate change down enough to make sure we can adapt to it as painlessly as possible.
This is what the Earth could look like within 100 years if we do, barring huge leaps in renewable energy or carbon-capture technology.
Slide 2: © Stephane Mahe/Reuters
“I think the 1.5-degree [2.7-degree F] target is out-of-reach as a long-term goal,” Schmidt said. He estimated we’ll blow past that somewhere around 2030.
Slide 3: © Thompson Reuters
But Schmidt is more optimistic about staying at or under 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels — the level of temperature rise the United Nations hopes to avoid.
Slide 4: © NASA
Let’s assume we land somewhere between those two targets. At the end of this century, we’re already looking at a world that is, on average 3 degrees or so Fahrenheit above where we are now.
Slide 5: © Oli Scarff/Getty
But average surface temperature alone doesn’t fully capture climate change. Temperature anomalies — or how much the temperature of a given area is deviating from what would be “normal” in that region — are going to swing wildly.
Source: Tech Insider
Slide 6: © Bob Strong/Reuters
For example, the temperature in the Arctic Circle last winter soared above freezing for one day. It was still cold for Florida, but extraordinarily hot for the arctic. That’s abnormal, and it’s going to start happening a lot more.
Source: Washington Post
Slide 7: © NASA Goddard Flickr
That means years like this one, which set a record for lowest ever sea-ice extent, are going to become common. Summers in Greenland could become ice-free by 2050.
Slide 8: © Flickr/Ville Miettinen
Even 2015 was nothing compared to 2012, when 90% of the Greenland Ice Sheet melted in the summer. But given the damage already done, we could see this kind of extreme melt every 6 years by the late 2000s.
Source: Climate Central
Slide 9: © Andreas Kambanis on Flickr
On the bright side, ice in Antarctica will remain relatively stable, making minimal contributions to sea level rise.
Slide 10: © Thompson Reuters
But in our best-case scenarios, oceans are on track to rise by 2 to 3 feet by 2100. Even sea level rise below 3 feet could displace up to 4 million people.
Slide 11: © Brandi Mueller for Argunners Magazine
Not only will oceans have less ice at the poles, but they will continue to acidify in the tropics. Oceans absorb about a third of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which causes them to warm and become more acidic.
Slide 12: © Matt Kieffer/flickr
If climate change continues unabated, nearly all coral reef habitats could be devastated. Under our best case scenario, half of all tropical coral reefs are still threatened.
Slide 13: © Lionel Cironneau/AP
But the oceans aren’t the only place heating up. Even if we curb emissions, summers in the tropics could increase their extreme heat days by half after 2050. Farther north, 10% to 20% of the days in a year will be hotter.
Source: Environmental Research Letters
Slide 14: © Reuters
Even a little bit of warming will strain water resources. In a 2013 paper, scientists used models to estimate that the world could see more severe droughts more frequently — about a 10% increase. If unchecked, climate change could cause severe drought across 40% of all land, double what it is today.
Slide 15: © REUTERS/Max Whittaker
And then there’s the weather. If the extreme el Nino event of 2015-2016 was any indication, we’re in for much more drastic natural disasters. More extreme storm surges, wildfires, and heat waves are all on the menu for 2070 and beyond.
Slide 16: © Reuters
Right now, humanity is standing on a precipice. We can ignore the warning signs and pollute ourselves into what Schmidt envisions as a “vastly different planet” — roughly as different as our current climate is from the last ice age.
Slide 17: © Reuters/Aly Song
Or we can innovate solutions. Many of the scenarios laid out here assume we’re reaching negative emissions by 2100 — that is, absorbing more than we’re emitting through carbon-capture technology.
Source: The Guardian
Slide 18: © Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters
Schmidt says it’s likely we’ll reach 2100 with a planet somewhere between “a little bit warmer than today and a lot warmer than today.”
Slide 19: © Benoit Tessier/Reuters
But the difference between “a little” and “a lot” on the scale of Earth is one of millions of lives saved, or not.