Firstly, let’s throw some science your way.
When people say ‘global warming’, they often refer to the phenomenon of ‘anthropogenic climate change’, which is the rise in average temperatures around the Earth since the late 19th Century. Temperatures over land and ocean have gone up 0.8° Celsius, on average, in that time.
Climate scientists believe this increase in temperature has been driven by extra greenhouse gases that have been pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide heat the planet up by trapping the heat of the sun’s rays in our atmosphere instead of allowing it to escape back out to space. Our use of fossil fuels has pumped even more of these gases into the atmosphere warming the planet considerably.
Global warming also refers to what climate researchers think will happen if we continue adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected a worrying scenario in 2013 that saw temperatures rising between two and four degrees by the end of the century.
And now for what all that means.
Although this change sounds ridiculously small it would still have disastrous consequences around the world. A two degree rise in temperature would be enough to cause wide spread drought, increased flooding, extinctions, and any number of ecological disasters. Furthermore the melting of the world’s sea ice is throwing the natural weather systems, which are controlled by the sea, out of balance.
The potential impact on humans are also extremely concerning. Shifting patterns of weather would impact our ability to reliably grow food and farm, potentially leading to food shortages. Deserts would grow in size and there are also concerns that a number of low lying cities would be submerged as sea level increases. All of this would cause the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who would no doubt attempt to move to better places creating a refugee crisis beyond imagining. This would further stress the remaining available resources such as food further compounding the situation.
Climate change deniers will claim that there are natural shifts in the Earth’s climate, and that’s just what we’re experiencing now. What they never mention is that the Earth’s natural climate variation takes millennia not centuries. The speed of changing climate is the concern, not the change, and perhaps even hints at a feedback mechanism within Earth’s climate system that we don’t yet understand.
To avoid the potentially apocalyptic effects of climate change we’d need a complete change how we produce power. Fossil fuels currently provide 87 per cent of the world’s energy. To cut out emissions this century, we’d have to replace most of that with low-carbon sources like wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, or carbon capture.
Right now that seems an impossible attack and there are huge technological and political hurdles standing in the way. So the world’s nations have been slow to act on global warming, it’s a genuinely difficult issue to tackle, and efforts to revamp the energy system often encounter heavy opposition but it’s a threat that we can no longer ignore.