In the past few years, record-breaking fire has been seen across California, and that’s not a coincidence. Over the last century, California has warmed by about 3 degrees, 2 more than the global average. While that might sound small, it’s massive. Heat has an exponential relationship with forest fires. As the climate gets hotter, evaporation speeds up, soil and plants dry out, literally turning them into fuel. The erratic weather only continues the unmanageable, devastating fire. Previously, fire season was just that: a season in the fall. But now, that season is extending - fire season could soon be year round. There’s no future ahead of us without fire, but there are steps we can take to mitigate the impact.
When functioning as it should, the Amazon plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy global climate. However, the “lungs of the Earth” are at risk due to deforestation and wildfires. This year, deforestation levels are the highest they have been in over a decade, and if that trend continues, we are headed for a world unknown. The Amazon is the planet’s largest tropical rainforest and absorbs and stores vast amounts of carbon dioxide and forests are one of nature’s primary tools for climate change mitigation. But as land is cleared for industrial development, and wildfires spread (many human-set), we see great risk to a precious ecosystem and carbon sink that we, and all life on Earth, depend on.
Rising Sea Levels
In 2018, the global sea level was the highest on record. Eight of the 10 biggest cities in the world are on a coastline. Sea level rise causes devastating flooding, erosion, and storms. Higher water levels threaten our societal infrastructure, roads, bridges, subways, landfills, and more. There are two primary reasons for sea level rise: melting land ice, glaciers and ice sheets, and “thermal expansion,” an increase in volume as water warms. Rising sea levels, if not stopped, would change life in irreparable ways.
Arctic Ice Loss
Arctic ice is critical to maintaining a safe climate and we are losing it rapidly. As of 2018, the oldest and thickest Arctic sea ice has declined by 95%. As ice melts, more pathways are available for oil and gas extraction, releasing more of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for the melting. The impact of ice loss is devastating for the Arctic ecosystem, but it also has a drastic impact on the world. If we lose a functioning Arctic, we will see more extreme weather patterns and rising tides. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic, and has global consequences that would affect every one of us.
Nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere's land sits above permafrost. Trapped in that frozen soil is more than twice the carbon in our atmosphere right now. As the Earth heats, the ground thaws, releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the air. The softening soils also release vestiges of ancient life, like bacteria and viruses, that have been safely frozen for millennia. Melting permafrost causes houses to sink, roads to fall apart, and new conditions that have massive impact on daily life. If the frozen greenhouse gases were to all be released, it would accelerate climate change to a level that would be difficult, if not impossible, to return from.
Of all the continents, Africa will be impacted the most severely by the climate crisis. Africa’s ecosystems are especially susceptible to shifts in weather patterns, and the risk and impact is escalated by the continent’s limited adaptive capacity and poverty. There is broad consensus that temperatures will rise faster in Africa than globally. It will become notably more difficult to produce crops, requiring people to leave their homes and migrate from rural to urban areas, and, eventually, across borders. If nothing is done, parts of Africa could become uninhabitable, seeing loss of biodiversity, climate refugees, and the end of a functioning ecosystem.
Gulf of Mexico, North America
Climate change might not cause an increase in hurricanes, but it does make them worse. Warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels result in higher wind speeds and more rain. Storms like Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Doriane that decimated the Bahamas are occurring every 15 years instead of every 100. The oceans have taken in nearly all of the excess energy created by global warming. This creates conditions that increase intensity of extreme weather. Plus, higher sea levels give coastal storm surges a stronger starting point. The recovery from Category 5 hurricanes can take decades and billions of dollars. In our heating world, Category 5’s could become the new normal.
South Pacific, Asia
Close to half of the world’s population lives in a region affected by monsoons. In India, 75% of their annual rainfall comes from monsoons. Thus, a reliable monsoon season is vital for their survival. Even a slight shift in timing or amount of water can be devastating. As the climate changes, monsoons are becoming more unpredictable. We see periods of reduced rainfall or the polar opposite, especially intense monsoons that bring floods and landslides, damaging communities that are often recovering from dry spells. Communities need reliable weather, and if we do not address the climate crisis, unpredictability will become the new normal.