Climate change is causing a wide range of impacts today. Extreme weather such as heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes and flooding rains are intensifying. Melting ice is contributing to sea level rise while acidifying oceans threatens coral reefs. These climate impacts threaten both the environment and our society.
When we burn fossil fuels, we emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Consequently, over the last few decades, our planet has been building up heat at a rate of four atomic bombs worth of heat every second.
This heat build-up is having flow-on impacts across our environment and society. Our atmosphere is becoming warmer and moister. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and droughts are intensifying. Our carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying the oceans, threatening coral reefs. Sea level is rising, posing risks to millions of people living near coastlines.
The most direct impact of this extra heat is more intense and frequent heatwaves. Heatwaves are getting hotter, lasting longer and happening more often. One surprising statistic about heatwaves in America is that they kill more people than other natural disasters combined.
More heat leads to more evaporation, with the ground losing moisture to the air. This is intensifying the water cycle, with drier regions becoming drier while wet areas are getting wetter. With more moisture in the atmosphere, we’re seeing more flooding events.
As hurricanes travel across the sea, they scoop up energy from the ocean. A warming ocean means more energy to draw upon. With global warming, hurricanes are expected to grow more intense.
Glaciers and ice sheets across the world are melting, contributing to sea level rise. Greenland alone is losing over 300 billion tonnes of ice every year – this is equivalent to 2 Mount Everests worth of ice each year. Sea level rise threatens hundreds of millions of people around the world living near coastlines.
Much of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere is being absorbed into the ocean. This is acidifying ocean waters. Coral reefs, the rainforests of the oceans, are being hit with the one-two punch of both warming and acidification.
So global warming is causing a wide range of impacts across our environment, which is hitting society in many different ways. However, one climate myth is that global warming impacts aren’t going to be too bad – or might even be beneficial.
This myth depends on the technique of cherry picking. Specifically, it focuses on a few beneficial impacts of climate change (such as cold regions becoming warmer) while ignoring the many dangerous consequences of climate change. When we look at the full range of effects of climate change, we see the negative impacts on the environment and our society far outweigh any positive benefits.