Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2030, How You Can Fix It

IN BRIEF

  • The rate at which the earth's temperature has been rising eased slightly in the past decade, but temperature is still increasing; calling the slowdown a “pause” is false.

  • New calculations by scientists indicate that if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, global warming will rise to two degrees Celsius by 2036, crossing a threshold that will harm human civilization.

  • To avoid the threshold, nations will have to keep carbon dioxide levels below 405 parts per million.

Right now, the world is about 2.1 degrees F (1.2 degrees C) warmer than it was during preindustrial times, deMenocal said. The 144 countries participating in the 2016 Paris Agreement announced that the world should limit the global increase in this century to 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), a stricter limit than the former goal of a 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) increase.

Earth's climate changes over time — the last ice age is evidence of that — but it's the rapid rate of change and the amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide filling up the atmosphere that have scientists concerned, deMenocal said. Moreover, global warming doesn't just increase temperatures; it also threatens the food, water, shelter, energy grid and health of humans, he said.

Food

Climate change affects the ecosystems that provide food, "and therefore our security of food is linked to the security of those ecosystems," deMenocal said.

The oceans, for instance, provide people with about 20 percent of their dietary protein, deMenocal said. However, ocean acidification caused by climate change makes it difficult, if not impossible, for thousands of species, including oysters, crabs and corals, to form their protective shells, which in turn disrupts the food web, Live Science previously reported.

On land, an increase of 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) would almost double the water deficit and would lead to a drop in wheat and maize harvests, according to NASA.

Northern latitudes may see a temporary boost in soy and wheat farming, partly because of the warmer temperatures farther north and partly because increased carbon dioxide helps plants grow, NASA said. But at an increase of 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C), this advantage almost disappears for soy, and entirely vanishes for wheat, NASA reported.

If temperatures get too hot when these plants are flowering, their growth can become stunted, leading to decreased or no edible food crop, such as corn or grain, NASA said. [How Often Do Ice Ages Happen?]

Shelter

As temperatures warm and glaciers melt, the corresponding sea-level rise can destroy homes and cities. About 40 percent of the world's population lives within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the coast, deMenocal said. In 2010, more than 123 million people, or 39 percent of the United States' population, lived in counties touching the shoreline, according to the National Ocean Service.

"Collectively, that is the single biggest investment at risk due to climate change as sea level rises," deMenocal said.

From 1901 to 1990, the average global sea levels rose about 0.04 inches (1.2 millimeters) per year, but from 1993 to 2010, the levels rose about 0.11 inches (3 mm) a year, meaning the rate of rise more than doubled, according to a 2015 report in the journal Nature.

Energy

About 7 percent of the United States' electricity generation in 2013 came from hydropower, which accounted for 52 percent of the nation's generated renewable energy that year, according to the Department of Energy.

However, reduced snowpack and shifting rainfall patterns may reduce hydropower in the long run, deMenocal said.

"This is now threatening the American West and some European areas as well," he said.

Health

Increases in temperature and changing rain patterns are associated with the spread of vector-borne diseases (which another organism transmits between humans or from animals to humans), such as Lyme disease and malaria, deMenocal said.

"Even if it [a vector-borne disease] is eradicated locally in a particular region, the weather changes associated with climate change can lead to migrations of these vector-borne diseases to new regions," he said.

Furthermore, because of health concerns, some regions of the globe, such as parts of the Middle East and the American West, may become inhabitable to humans because of extreme temperatures, deMenocal said.

That's because humidity often increases with the heat index. When both are high, the human body is unable to evaporate sweat to cool itself. "If you're unable to evaporate [sweat], you can actually die from exposure," deMenocal said.

Extreme temperatures can also lower productivity among workers. According to a 2014 Bloomberg report on the economic risks of climate change, extreme heat, especially in the American Southeast, may lead to a 3 percent drop in outdoor worker productivity, including among people who work in construction, utility maintenance, landscaping and agriculture. This drop is twice that of the "productivity slowdown" that happened in the 1970s, which likely occurred because of high inflation and economic instability, the report said.

All of these threats are just around the corner, deMenocal said. The Earth is anticipated to exceed the 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) milestone in about 15 years — between 2032 and 2039, deMenocal said. The planet is expected to surpass the 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) benchmark between 2050 and 2100, he said.

"If we're on our current emissions scenario, it's even sooner than that," he said. "Even over the last 8,000 years, we haven't seen a temperature extreme this rapid and this fast and large.

Original article on Live Science.

1. Speak up!

What’s the single biggest way you can make an impact on global climate change? “Talk to your friends and family, and make sure your representatives are making good decisions,” Haq says. By voicing your concerns—via social media or, better yet, directly to your elected officials—you send a message that you care about the warming world. Encourage Congress to enact new laws that limit carbon emissions and require polluters to pay for the emissions they produce. “The main reason elected officials do anything difficult is because their constituents make them,” Haq says. You can help protect public lands, stop offshore drilling, and more here.

2. Power your home with renewable energy.

Choose a utility company that generates at least half its power from wind or solar and has been certified by Green-e Energy, an organization that vets renewable energy options. If that isn’t possible for you, take a look at your electric bill; many utilities now list other ways to support renewable sources on their monthly statements and websites.

3. Weatherize, weatherize, weatherize.

“Building heating and cooling are among the biggest uses of energy,” Haq says. Indeed, heating and air-conditioning account for almost half of home energy use. You can make your space more energy efficient by sealing drafts and ensuring it’s adequately insulated. You can also claim federal tax credits for many energy-efficiency home improvements.

4. Invest in energy-efficient appliances.

Since they were first implemented nationally in 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and products have kept 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s about the same amount as the annual carbon pollution coughed up by nearly 440 million cars. “Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost way to reduce emissions,” Haq says. When shopping for refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you which are the most efficient.

5. Reduce water waste.

Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too. That's because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and switch to WaterSense-labeled fixtures and appliances. The EPA estimates that if just one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year would be saved—avoiding 80,000 tons of global warming pollution.

6. Actually eat the food you buy—and make less of it meat.

Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food—about 40 percent of which just winds up in the landfill. “If you’re wasting less food, you’re likely cutting down on energy consumption,” Haq says. And since livestock products are among the most resource-intensive to produce, eating meat-free meals can make a big difference, too.

7. Buy better bulbs.

LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents. They’re also cheaper in the long run: A 10-watt LED that replaces your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the lightbulb’s life.

8. Pull the plug(s).

Taken together, the outlets in your home are likely powering about 65 different devices – an average load for a home in the U.S. Audio and video devices, cordless vacuums and power tools, and other electronics use energy even when they're not charging. This "idle load" across all U.S. households adds up to the output of 50 large power plants in the U.S. So don't leave fully charged devices plugged into your home's outlets, unplug rarely used devices or plug them into power strips and timers, and adjust your computers and monitors to automatically power down to the lowest power mode when not in use.

9. Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Gas-smart cars, such as hybrids and fully electric vehicles, save fuel and money. And once all cars and light trucks meet 2025’s clean car standards, which means averaging 54.5 miles per gallon, they’ll be a mainstay. For good reason: Relative to a national fleet of vehicles that averaged only 28.3 miles per gallon in 2011, Americans will spend $80 billion less at the pump each year and cut their automotive emissions by half. Before you buy a new set of wheels, compare fuel-economy performance here.

10. Maintain your ride.

If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.

11. Rethink planes, trains, and automobiles.

Choosing to live in walkable smart-growth cities and towns with quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less pollution in the air. Less frequent flying can make a big difference, too. “Air transport is a major source of climate pollution,” Haq says. “If you can take a train instead, do that.”

12. Shrink your carbon profile.

You can offset the carbon you produce by purchasing carbon offsets, which represent clean power that you can add to the nation’s energy grid in place of power from fossil fuels. But not all carbon offset companies are alike. Do your homework to find the best supplier.