Climate change is scary business, and we have the numbers back it up.
According to National Geographic, the average global temperature could rise as much as 5.8 degrees by the year 2100. For the record, the average global temperature rose by 0.6 degrees during the 20th century. Scientists say that an increase of that size could trigger a meltdown of the Greenland Ice Shelf, which in turn could cause massive flooding worldwide.
According to The Guardian, 2012 was among the top 10 warmest years on record — but that’s not the scariest part. Based on data compiled by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies, each year of the 21st century ranks among the 14 hottest years on record since 1880, when scientists began keeping track of such things. Additionally, annual temperatures have exceeded the long-term average every year for the last 36 years.
It’s a well-established fact that fossil fuel burning emits chemicals that are linked to climate change — we’ve known this for decades. According to The World Bank, Americans consumed 83.9 percent of total fossil fuel reserves in 2011. This might seem like a modest, somewhat respectable figure, unless you consider that the U.S. consumed 90.8 percent of total fossil fuel reserves in 1981. That’s right — in 30 years, the U.S. has barely managed to curtail its fossil fuel usage by seven percentage points.
Every time a major heat wave strikes, casualties invariably occur — though the elderly and chronically ill typically comprise most of these deaths. Now, the Natural Resources Defense Council projects that the number is likely to rise considerably: between the years 2000 and 2100, the annual number of heat-related deaths will rise by 150,000. The three U.S. cities that experts predict will record the most yearly heat-related deaths are Louisville (19,000 deaths), Detroit (18,000) and Cleveland (17,000).
Here’s one consequence of climate change you might not have considered, courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists: as temperatures increase worldwide, traditionally colder areas of the globe are recording more cases of tropical disease. Malaria is already the deadliest disease in the world, with more than 200 million clinical cases and 655,000 deaths reported every year. Scientists predict that the number of annual malaria cases could rise by as much as 80 million by the year 2100. The plague is another concern; due to wetter than normal winters in warmer areas, doctors have noted a significant rise in plague cases (including a 60-percent jump in New Mexico). The UCS also fears that dengue fever could make its way north in the coming years.
Remember last March? It was a hot one, apparently — according to Science Daily, more than 15,000 temperature records for the month of March were broken in 2012 in the United States alone. Most occurred in the eastern half of the country, particularly New England and the Deep South. The average nationwide temperature was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average. Washington was the only state to record cooler than normal temperatures that month, so definitely keep Seattle in mind with your future real estate purchases.
How do you put a price-tag on climate change? According to the United Kingdom’s Government Economic Service, failure to prevent global warming could cause an economic collapse that would cost 20 percent of the global gross domestic product to fix. If we act now, the cost is much smaller — a mere 1 percent of the global GDP, or just a hair under $700 billion.
Climate change advocacy is a tough nut to crack because widespread outreach requires people to think about the big picture; if global warming won’t affect us during our lifetimes, then honestly, why both with it? Let the grandkids sort it out. Well, according to Global-warming.net, the global temperature average could rise by as much as two degrees Fahrenheit by 2030 (also known as 17 years from now). If two degrees doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that it’s double the global temperature average rise recorded over the last 100 years.
Fittingly, Montana’s Glacier National Park is a good place to observe the detrimental effects of climate change. According to National Geographic, the park boasted 150 different glaciers in 1910. Today? Glacier N.P. has 27 glaciers — 82 percent fewer than one century ago.