Many scientists have declared a climate emergency. Over the past 10 years, global temperatures have increased, the glacial mass has been decreasing at astounding rates, global sea levels have risen, greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, ocean pH has been altered, and biodiversity has been profoundly impacted. The Anthropocene, as some call it, is the proposed geological time period in which we are living. It is defined as the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a profound impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.
Arguably, we are living in the 6th mass extinction of Earth’s geological history. The past 5 mass extinctions occurred due to natural causes, but this one is being caused by human activities. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction. Scientists predict that these species will be extinct within 20 years.
So it is now more important than ever to act. But first, let’s look at 4 major aspects of the evolution of climate change over the past 10 years.
1. Global temperatures have risen
In 2010, the global average temperature was 0.88˚C above pre-industrial levels. How does global warming impact the health of humans? Well, the World Meteorological Association released a publication revealing correlations between rising global temperatures in 2019 to the prevalence of heat-related illnesses and deaths.
In 2019, record-setting high temperatures from Australia, India, Japan, and Europe impacted health and well-being. “ Changes in climatic conditions since 1950 are making it easier for the Aedes mosquito species to transmit dengue virus. In parallel, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. In 2019, the world has experienced a large increase in dengue cases, compared with the same time period in 2018” (World Meteorological Association, 2019).
2. Global Glacial Mass has Drastically Declined
As a result of the rising global temperatures, global glacier mass has decreased substantially between 2010 and 2020 based on the graph below. This year, climate scientists state that Greenland’s ice sheet has melted to a point of no return.
Source: World Glacier Monitoring Service
Why is this important, you may ask? Well, the increasing global temperature causes glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost to melt at a quicker rate. When there is less ice, there is less sunlight being reflected. White colours reflect more sunlight than darker colors, referred by a natural phenomena called albedo. As a result, there is more dark water available to absorb the sunlight resulting in a further increase in global average temperatures. All of this results in a positive feedback loop of continuous global warming.
A loss in global ice mass can also contribute to coral bleaching. As stated by the National Ocean Service, “When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.” More water on Earth will result in more heat being absorbed by ocean bodies, contributing to the death of coral reef ecosystems.
3. Sea levels continue to rise
As a result of the melting ice, global sea levels have risen over 1.6 inches over the past 10 years. Between 2010 and 2018, sea-levels rose to about 4.4 mm/yr. In 2018, the global mean sea level was the highest in the satellite record. The following are the consequences of rising sea levels:
“When sea levels rise as rapidly as they have been, even a small increase can have devastating effects on coastal habitats farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants.” (Nunez, National Geographic Society, 2019)
4. CO2 Emissions Reached a Record High
The graph below from the World Resources Institute depicts an upward trend in CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2018.
The NOAA revealed that carbon dioxide levels in 2019 were higher than at any point in history in the past 800 000 years. The World Meteorological Association refers to the CO2 levels of 2019 as a record-level high.
Between 2009-18 the growth rate of global CO2 levels was approximately 2.3ppm. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that is effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere. This will result in continuous positive and negative feedback loops causing further global climate change.
Another issue with CO2 is the acidification of the ocean. CO2 dissolves into the ocean bodies, resulting in a lower ocean pH. The NOAA states that global ocean acidity increased by 30% since the industrial revolution. Increasing acidity interferes with the ability of marine life to extract calcium from the water to build their shells and skeleton.
But There Is Hope.
China has taken initiative to combat desertification and soil loss by planting billions of trees in the past decades. Endangered species are being rehabilitated in animal rehab facilities globally. Green technologies are being embraced in Canada and around the world. Slowly but surely, these global green initiatives can mitigate the effects of global climate change. Whether that be the conservation of endangered birds or the embracement of climate treaties like the Paris Climate Agreement, we are one step closer to living in a sustainable and equitable world