The heatwaves struck Europe, South Asia, Australia, and North America such that the weather records got smashed in the summer of 2019. The Intergovernmental Planet for Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that human-induced activities are causing a major shift in the earth’s climate. We have warmed the earth by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. This is majorly caused by:
- Massive changes in land use pattern around the world
- Breakdown of natural systems that control temperature
- Release of green-house gases.
The earth’s temperature is expected to rise to 1.5 degrees Celcius from 2030 to 2050 and it entirely depends on the actions we take today! Geologically speaking, climate change is unusual and happening too fast compared to climate changes that happened in the past by the natural cycles.
Given that earth’s temperature is already increasing, why should we worry about it?
Here are ten ways in which a warmer globe would directly affect you – cyclones, heatwaves, droughts, ice melting, ocean temperature change, carbon cycle imbalance, food insecurity, water insecurity, global migration, and air pollution.
#1: Increasing heat waves
The IPCC found that, due to global warming, ‘one-quarter of the land has experienced an intensification of hot extremes (maximum temperature on the hottest day of the year) by more than 1°C and a reduction in the intensity of cold extremes by at least 2.5°C (minimum temperature on the coldest night of the year)‘. These extreme temperatures were misunderstood to be due to natural variability. Already thousands of people died due to the heatwaves of 2015, 2016 and, 2019. The climate-change-induced heatwaves are already striking various regions of the world.
Heatwaves are basically caused by:
- Hot temperatures
- Failing monsoon
- Low water availability
- Changes in global and regional wind circulation.
The heat waves cause hot air that removes water vapor leading to high humidity. High temperature and high humidity for a prolonged time might be directly fatal to human beings. The heatwaves directly cause hyperthermia and heat rashes in human beings and, indirectly, require more water to cool down. This might turn ugly in water-stressed regions. This will also necessitate air condition, leading to the consumption of more fossil fuels releasing greenhouse gases and local heating. The heatwaves indeed create a vicious trap for human beings.
The urban heat island effect where warmer cities are surrounded by cooler suburban areas does not help. It further enhances the misery due to fossil fuel-based transportation systems and cooling exhaust systems.
#2: Increasing intense cyclone
Cyclones are predicted to be more intense soon. The IPCC assessed that ‘the global monsoon, aggregated over all monsoon systems, is likely to strengthen, with increases in its area and intensity, while the monsoon circulation weakens’.
Major causes of intense cyclones are:
- Changes in temperature distribution over land
- Chemical composition of air along with greenhouse gases
- Global atmospheric circulation systems.
It is not completely clear how climate change leads to cyclones, floods, and droughts but it is certainly fueled by global warming.
The increasing emissions and corresponding greenhouse effect lead to soil dryness in many regions around the globe. Global warming along with various other factors increases the intensity of drought and water scarcity. Those factors may be:
- Changes in land use pattern
- Poor surface water management
- Ground water depletion
- Excessive irrigation practices.
If you need an introduction to the concept of droughts, click here.
The water is removed from the soil and surface of the water systems like rivers and lakes by the atmosphere due to high temperatures. Groundwater depletion also leads to dryness of the soil. This problem was tackled by forests that provide the natural services of water capture, storage, and recharge. Human mismanagement has to lead to large quantities of irrigation water evaporate and the remaining surface water getting polluted and unfit for use. The final nail in the coffin is overpopulation. With such drought conditions and a lack of forests, the process of desertification would take over soon.
#4: Melting of ice
The average temperature of the earth is 288K whereas the average temperature of the universe is 2.73K. Earth maintains this temperature with the help of massive heat gain from the earth’s interior and the sun’s radiation. It depends on the thermal inertia of the atmosphere and the lithosphere to capture the heart. But now, the earth to overdo it.
The changes that are happening in the Arctic and Antarctic have everything to with human activities. Global warming leads to the melting of ice over time, especially during summer. The melted ice exposes the dark ocean water, which leads to the absorption of more sunlight and further melting of ice. Such melting of ice unleashes the viruses that are frozen in the ice leading to more epidemics and pandemics. This also affects the aquatic organisms and their food web, indirectly affecting the entire earth’s ecology. The ecosystem of the Arctic and the Antarctic suffers the most, affecting the lives of many animals like polar bears, walrus, seals, and penguins. The disappearance of ice causes direct harm to them, including aquatic plants and microorganisms, because their livelihood and survival involve ice and cold temperature.
See this video to get a sense of the ice melting process: http://fng-ads.fox.com/fw_ads/content/m/1/116450/52/5577780/Responsible20Tourism2030sec_1444573_435.mp4
Ice shelves, ice sheets, the glaciers themselves hold 68% of freshwater and we are letting them go into the ocean by global warming. Glacial melt might lead to more water to the plains and agriculture may flourish for a short period of time. The crucial aspect of this is that these glaciers are a thousand years old and that cannot be renewed.
#5: Ocean temperature change
One might wonder why a 1.5 increase in temperature is making such a fuss in the scientific community, you will change that perspective here!
About 90% of global warming-induced by human activities is being stored in the ocean since 1955. This means that the atmosphere does not bear the heat associated with human activities. Even though oceans are unimaginably huge, we have managed to heat them between 0.05 degrees Celcius to 0.11 degrees Celcius over the last 60 years. In this way, the ocean acts as a thermal reservoir and takes up heat that directly affects marine life and the seafood industry. As a result, seafood security has been threatened. Such temperature changes also affect ocean circulation. The human induces temperature changes in the specific regions of the ocean is threatening the life-saving ocean currents.
#6: Carbon cycle and associated imbalance
There is a delicate and beautiful imbalance between the plant world and the microbial world that decomposes and returns nutrients. By human intervention, this carbon cycle between the physical world and ocean biosphere that maintains the balance is disrupted. Plants and oceans have “extra” carbon to absorb due to these human activities.
- Forests, grasslands, swamps and estuaries are destroyed that are capable of removing carbon
- The more heated ocean is, lesser is the solubility of carbon. About 30% of the anthropogenic carbon are stored in ocean. And now we are over-stressing it.
- The oceans are deoxygenated and acidified to an extent that has an impact on marine life. This vital ecosystem is a major part of carbon recycling.
Also, check out corals being destroyed by ocean temperatures here!
#7: Water insecurity
By now we know that changes in temperature patterns across the globe directly influence precipitation and freshwater sources. Precipitation is the main reason behind the replenishment of fresh water. The challenges around water security are:
- The land use patterns have been drastically affected for the past 200 years. Agriculture comes under this category and it contributes to green-house emissions! This furthers the intensity of extreme precipitation. Also, agriculture is water intensive and most of the water simply evaporates.
- The surface water has been intensively used for agriculture and industry. And less water remains for physical consumption. This severly impacts the river ecosystem.
- Deforestation is a problem for soil integrity and water recharge.
- Over-exploitation of groundwater to meet the raising demands leads to water table level. And the sea levels are raising due to glacial melting. The resulting sea water is unfit for consumption.
#8: Food insecurity
The WHO released a report on the state of the food security in the world says the following — ‘Hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture.’
Can you think of a country that was colonized by the British and did not reciprocate – ‘Rain, rain, go away!’?
Indians beg to differ in this scenario! We worship and are heavily dependent on the monsoon!
Climate change leads to the destruction of crops via:
- increase in the intensity of storms
- increase in the frequency of droughts
- threatening water availability
Of course, all the above might not happen always but we can clearly see a worsening trend. Above all, such natural disasters also increase social inequality and lead to a lot of political and social struggles across countries.
#9: Air pollution
Air quality is directly related to the source of global warming – greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide and other poisonous gases contribute majorly to the same. Much of the immediate emissions around us come from transportation. Air pollution alone might be causing 4.2 million premature deaths all over the world. During winter, the low temperature and high air pressure allow the poisonous gases to linger around for longer. And such pollution does not stay in the places where it was created but moves to unpolluted places as well.
There is a separate economy emerging to cater to our needs of air pollution. This industry seems to be stronger than the initiative to stop air pollution/emissions. We have reached the level of putting a cost on the very air we breathe.
#10: Global migrations
The most threatening of all impacts are global migration from flooding, droughts, heatwave, sea-level rise, and shoreline erosion. When the environment poses challenges to the rising population, the world leaders will become more conservative and protective than today! How would NRC function in Assam when entire Bangladesh is vulnerable to floods? Are we expecting more conservative leaders than Trump and Bolsanaro? People getting killed by political conflicts will be higher than the actual physical harm and scarcity due to climate change.
On a more positive note:
Most of these impacts can be managed by direct human intervention! But of course, if we choose to do it.