In recent decades, changes in climate have caused significant impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across all oceans. Changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality. The effects of these changes can be seen most dramatically in arid areas, where droughts and floods have become more frequent and severe. At the same time, rising sea levels threaten to inundate low-lying coastal communities around the world. These threats will only increase as global temperatures continue to rise due to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning.
In some parts of the world, such as Africa and South America, extreme weather events have increased in frequency and intensity. Extreme heat waves are becoming more common in many regions. This has led to an increase in deaths from heat stroke, which now kills thousands each year. Floods have also become more frequent and intense. They cause millions of dollars worth of damage every day, destroying homes and businesses. As with other forms of extreme weather, the consequences for humans and ecosystems are devastating.
As the Earth continues to warm, glaciers throughout much of the world are receding at an accelerating rate. Many glaciers that once covered large portions of Greenland and Antarctica are now retreating rapidly into those respective countries’ territories. Glaciers in Alaska and Canada have already retreated enough that they could potentially disappear entirely within this century if nothing is done to slow their retreat.
Sea level rise is another threat facing coastal cities and islands around the world. Rising seas threaten to submerge entire island nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, and even small Pacific Island states such as Samoa. The Maldives has been particularly hard hit by sea level rise because its location makes it vulnerable to storm surges caused by typhoons.
My purpose in describing these changes is to emphasize the scope of the climate change problem. It is clear that we are currently facing a climate crisis that will have serious consequences for human systems and ecosystems around the world.
There has been a great deal of scientific and popular discussion of climate change in the last few years. In part, this has occurred because the consequences of rising carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere are becoming more apparent. Changes that were once regarded as potentially occurring far in the future are now taking place before our eyes.
Is it too late to do anything to prevent climate change from occurring? No, but time is running out. Fortunately, it is possible to stop or at least slow down climate change through a combination of greatly increased energy efficiency and the rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The most important way to achieve these aims is to stop burning fossil fuels because they emit carbon dioxide when burned. We must also take steps to preserve and regenerate Earth’s forests since trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The only way to completely stop global warming is for humans to reduce their energy usage and switch to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Some reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved through the development of more efficient means of transportation and manufacturing. It is also necessary to develop ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as through reforestation (planting trees), ocean fertilization (adding nutrients to the oceans to promote plant growth), and artificial carbon sequestration (collecting CO2 and storing it in a place where it won’t enter the atmosphere, for example, underground).
These measures are necessary for the survival of human civilization in the long run, but they may not save us in time for the short run. Even if no new measures are taken to curb climate change, Earth will be able to survive in its current state, but humans may not. The reason for this is that climate change is expected to cause food shortages, mass migrations, and war.
To prevent these potential negative effects, society must be restructured to provide for human needs first and foremost; money and markets must be eliminated or at least greatly reduced in importance. This may seem like a tall order, but such measures must be taken to ensure the survival of our species.