Are these extreme environmental disasters we see regularly on the news a foretaste of what’s to come for this new decade? In the past scientists and activists have been warning us that these events would take place.
As early as 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified to the US congress the dangers of climate change (Nuccitelli, 2018).
Now it is happening and will continue to worsen if carbon emissions continue to rise and exceed the 1.5 temperature increase target.
HuffPost’s article, “7 Numbers Show How Dire Climate Change Got This Decade” enumerates the extreme weather events that happened in the last decade, linking it to the warming of the planet (Grossman, S.R & O’Connor, 2019). Grossman and O’Connor wrote, “In the past decade, the climate crisis, and its fatal consequences, deepened further, as temperatures rose around the globe, ice caps melted, sea levels rose and record-breaking hurricanes, floods and wildfires devastated communities across the US.”
And of course, the bushfires that are ravaging across Australia killing millions of animals, destroying ecosystems, and burning down homes. It has come earlier this year and due to prolonged hot and dry season (Australia fires, 2020).
In their Huffpost article, Grossman, S.R. & O’Connor, 2019 enumerated the seven ‘figures’ of extreme weather events that have occurred in the last decade, showing how critical the climate problem is.
No. 1 – the last 5 years, from 2014 to 2018, shows record high temperatures.
These were recorded by NASA and the NOAA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. High temperatures create extreme floods, hurricanes, and deadly wildfires. Since 2016, at least 50% of coral reefs have died in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world.
No. 2 – Four of the five largest wildfires in California history has happened this decade.
The Mendocino Complex fire in July 2018 that scorched around 200 hectares of land, the Campfire that burned down nearly the whole town of Paradise killing 85 people, and fires in Napa and Sonoma which see 22 people dead and burned down houses in Santa Rosa.
No. 3 – Six Category 5 hurricanes have torn through the Atlantic in the past four years.
Hurricane Dorian landed in the northern Bahamas in early 2019, flooding 70% of Grand Bahama. Hurricane Lorenzo in September, Hurricane Michael in 2018, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 killing thousands in Puerto Rice, and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Hurricane Harvey in 2017, a category 4 hurricane, brought a record amount of rainfall in parts of Texas, killing more than 80 people. Scientists said that climate change makes the storms at least 15% stronger because of global warming.
No. 4 – The Arctic sea ice cover decreased by 13% this decade.
There has been an ‘unprecedented’ melting of ice sheets and shrinking glaciers this decade according to the UN report in 2019. Sea-level is rising because of this. The most remarkable event was the death of the Okjokull glacier in Iceland. Both scientists and environmentalist held a funeral near the site where the OK glacier has been (Bouhassira, 2019).
Scientist warned that rising sea-level due to the melting of glaciers and sea ice will make coastal cities and town more vulnerable to climate-related hazards such as tropical cycles, flooding, marine heatwaves, permafrost thaw, and sea ice loss.
No. 5 – 1000-year floods have occurred frequently.
These floods are not ordinary ones but a deluge of water from very heavy rainfall, based on the century of flood data that researchers have come up with. These once-in-every-one thousand floods are occurring more frequently.
Hurricane Harvey was one of these 1000-year events. It’s hard for people to grasp this 1000-year phenomenon, but in 2016, five of this kind of flooding has already hit the US making the experts wonder whether the global rise in temperatures has made these current-prediction model obsolete.
No. 6 – More than 100 “billion-dollar” disasters have happened, twice more than the previous decade.
The US has experienced more than 100 disasters events with a loss of more than a billion dollars each. This figure is twice as much as the cost in the past decade. The 5 most expensive evens are the 2017 Hurricane Harvey with an estimated loss of $130 billion. The next is Hurricane Maria at $93 billion, Hurricane Sandy at $73 billion, and Hurricane Irma at $52 billion.
No. 7 – Amidst all these climate disasters, we’ve released 40.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2019.
Decades of increasing Carbon emissions
Carbon emissions have increased four times from 1960 and in 2018 it reached a new high. The increase is mainly due to outputs in China and India.
Based on current emission trends, scientists are projecting a temperature increase of 3.2 Celsius by the end of this century. The increase is more than double than what scientists project to cause irreversible damage to the planet.
The next ten years is crucial, a time to make urgent, sweeping, and unprecedented climate actions the article says, to prevent the worst of disasters to come.
What will happen if Global temperature keeps rising in 2020 and beyond?
In another article by David Roberts, the message is bleak. The ambitious target to limit global temperature rise by 1.5 Celsius is ‘almost certainly not going to happen’. A graph by the Carbon Brief shows that emissions must drop drastically starting in 2020, like a cliff or a reduction of 15 per cent in carbon emissions every year to keep track with the 1.5C temperature rise or until we hit net zero. (Roberts, 2020).
So, how did scientist come to a consensus that 1.5C is acceptable and safe enough?
This is because the 2°C rise in temperature will be devastating to humanity based on the special report by the IPCC. A 1.5°C increase will even see “high multiple interrelated climate risks” for some low-lying small island states in the Pacific and least developed countries (Roberts, 2020).
At 2 °C temperature rise, it will be 2.6 times more severe heat events, double the plant and vertebrate’s species loss, three times insect loss, twice the decline in marine life. Ninety-nine per cent of coral reefs will die compared to 70 to 90 per cent of 1.5°C rise.
With only 1.3°C temperature rise, we see unprecedented burning in the US and Australia, how much worse will it get with 1.5°C and even 2°C rise?
If indeed we go above 1.5°C and even exceed 2°C, what should we do about this?
To summarize Roberts’s article, he writes that we should be doing what we should have done 20 years earlier, to drastically reduce carbon emissions.
As he says “there is no magic switch that flips at 1.5, 1.7, 2.3, or 2.8, or 3.4 C” rise in temperature. And amidst these bleak predictions of the consequences of the warming planet, we shouldn’t lose hope at all. For the many who have started to battle climate change, they should not stop but forge on until emissions drop. This also means getting serious with climate adaptation. Prepare communities and helping them prepare for more extreme climate events such as those living in fire-prone areas or coastal areas at risk of sea-level rise and its consequences (Roberts, 2019).