Climate change’s impacts are having immediate and observable effects on Earth, including loss of sea ice, rising sea levels, and endangerment of plants and animals, all of which are expected to “continue for centuries” at current emission levels.
In the previous blog post of this series, we looked at ‘whys’ of climate change, mainly focusing on CO2 emissions from the past. This post, however, will be looking at the present effects that climate change is having, and is expected to have on the planet if current trends continue.
Both sea and glacial ice plays a large role on Earth, together covering around 10% of the Earth’s land area.
Glacial ice is crucial to humans in particular, serving as an important source of water for many communities all around the world.
Sea ice on the other hand provides habitat for all kinds of life. Together they help reflect a sizable amount of sunlight from Earth to help regulate global temperatures.
However both of these are threatened massively, the West Antarctic ice sheet losing between 47 to 148 cubic kilometres per year, and most mountains around the world losing ice.
Mount Kilimanjaro alone has lost around 80% of its glacial ice, and will lose all remaining ice within the next decade if current rates of ice loss persist.
Some (such as the article from the previous post) attempt to claim that some sea ice and glacial ice reforming is evidence that they are not in decline. However they fail to take into account the amount of ice being lost, which far outweighs how much is being reformed.
One other effect of glacial ice melting is the increasing of sea levels. Since this ice is present only on land, it being displaced into ocean waters contributes to the increase.
Rising ocean temperatures also contributes to rising sea levels, as water expands as its temperature increases. As a result, sea levels have risen 15 to 20cm in the last 100 years.
Though why do rising sea levels matter? Well they threaten millions of people who live in coastal towns and cities.
85% of Australia’s population within 50km of the ocean, it’s likely that if you live in Australia right now rising sea levels could impact you greatly.
A projected increase of 1.1m could, in Victoria alone, cost over $30 billion in damages. This isn’t even taking into account any of the other states or territories in Australia.
Climate change is also having a large effect on the different plants and animals around the world. Currently 68% of plants, and 20% of mammals and reptiles are threatened with extinction.
Rising temperatures, acidification of sea waters, and rising sea levels are all large causes for many of these species being threatened. Losing large amounts of species has disastrous impacts on the environment, and can severely diminish or even eliminate the ecosystem services that were once present.
Ecosystem services are the different ways in which environments help and benefit our societies, such as providing us food and clean water. Crash Course goes into more detail on this topic in their video.
So the impacts of climate change are looking pretty severe, and are projected to worsen further. It makes sense that scientists treat this as the “biggest challenge facing the human race today”.
Though there are still ways to fix and mend the damage which has been done, and stop further damage from occurring. This will be explored in the next blog post.